In Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus are twin brothers, whose story tells
the events that led to the founding of the city of Rome and the Roman Kingdom
by Romulus. The killing of Remus by his brother, and other tales
from their story, have inspired artists throughout the ages. Since
ancient times, the image of the twins being suckled by a she-wolf has been
a symbol of the city of Rome and the Roman people. Although the tale
takes place before the founding of Rome around 750 BC, the earliest known
written account of the myth is from the late 3rd century BC. Whether
the twins' myth was an original part of Roman myth or a later development
is a subject of ongoing debate.
Romulus and Remus were born in Alba Longa, one of the ancient Latin cities
near the future site of Rome. Their mother, Rhea Silvia was a vestal
virgin and the daughter of the former king, Numitor, who had been displaced
by his brother Amulius. In some sources, Rhea Silvia conceived them
when their father, the god Mars visited her in a sacred grove dedicated
to him. Through their mother, the twins were descended from Greek
and Latin nobility.
Seeing them as a possible threat to his rule, King Amulius ordered them
to be killed and they were abandoned on the bank of the Tiber River to
die. They were saved by the god Tiberinus, Father of the River and
survived with the care of others, at the site of what would eventually
become Rome. In the most well-known episode, the twins were suckled
by a she-wolf, in a cave now known as the Lupercal. Eventually, they
were adopted by Faustulus, a shepherd. They grew up tending flocks,
unaware of their true identities. Over time, their natural-born leadership
abilities attracted a company of supporters from the community.
When they were young adults, they became involved in a dispute between
supporters of Numitor and Amulius. As a result, Remus was taken prisoner
and brought to Alba Longa. Both his grandfather and the king suspected
his true identity. Romulus, meanwhile, had organized an effort to
free his brother and set out with help for the city. During this
time they learned of their past and joined forces with their grandfather
to restore him to the throne. Amulius was killed and Numitor was
reinstated as king of Alba. The twins set out to build a city of
After arriving back in the area of the seven hills, they disagreed about
the hill upon which to build. Romulus preferred the Palatine Hill,
above the Lupercal; Remus preferred the Aventine Hill. When they
could not resolve the dispute, they agreed to seek the gods' approval through
a contest of augury. Remus first saw 6 auspicious birds but soon
afterward, Romulus saw 12, and claimed to have won divine approval.
The new dispute furthered the contention between them. In the aftermath,
Remus was killed either by Romulus or by one of his supporters. Romulus
then went on to found the city of Rome, its institutions, government, military
and religious traditions. He reigned for many years as its first
The origins of the different elements in Rome's foundation myth are a subject
of ongoing debate. They may have come from the Romans' own indigenous
origins, or from Hellenic influences that were included later. Definitively
identifying those original elements has so far eluded the classical academic
community. Although the tale takes place before the founding of Rome
around 750 BC, the earliest known written account of the myth is from the
late 3rd century BC. There is an ongoing debate about how and when
the "complete" fable came together.
Some elements are attested to earlier than others, and the storyline and
the tone were variously influenced by the circumstances and tastes of the
different sources as well as by contemporary Roman politics and concepts
of propriety. Whether the twins' myth was an original part of Roman
myth or a later development is the subject of an ongoing debate.
Sources often contradict one another. They include the histories
of Livy, Plutarch, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Tacitus as well as the
work of Virgil and Ovid. Quintus Fabius Pictor's work became authoritative
to the early books of Livy's Ab Urbe Condita, Dionysius of Halicarnassus's
Roman Antiquities, and Plutarch's Life of Romulus.
These three works have been among the most widely read versions of the
myth. In all three works, the tales of the lupercal and the fratricide
are overshadowed by that of the twins' lineage and connections to Aeneas
and the deposing of Amulius. The latter receives the most attention
in the accounts. Plutarch dedicates nearly half of his account to
the overthrow of their uncle.
Modern scholarship approaches the various known stories of Romulus and
Remus as cumulative elaborations and later interpretations of Roman foundation-myth.
Particular versions and collations were presented by Roman historians as
authoritative, an official history trimmed of contradictions and untidy
variants to justify contemporary developments, genealogies and actions
in relation to Roman morality. Other narratives appear to represent
popular or folkloric tradition; some of these remain inscrutable in purpose
and meaning. Wiseman sums the whole as the mythography of an unusually
problematic foundation and early history.
The three canonical accounts of Livy, Dionysius, and Plutarch provide the
broad literary basis for studies of Rome's founding mythography.
They have much in common, but each is selective to its purpose. Livy's
is a dignified handbook, justifying the purpose and morality of Roman traditions
of his own day. Dionysius and Plutarch approach the same subjects
as interested outsiders, and include founder-traditions not mentioned by
Livy, untraceable to a common source and probably specific to particular
regions, social classes or oral traditions. A Roman text of the late
Imperial era, Origo gentis Romanae (The origin of the Roman people) is
dedicated to the many "more or less bizarre", often contradictory variants
of Rome's foundation myth, including versions in which Remus founds a city
named Remuria, five miles from Rome, and outlives his brother Romulus.
Roman historians and Roman traditions traced most Roman institutions to
Romulus. He was credited with founding Rome's armies, its system
of rights and laws, its state religion and government, and the system of
patronage that underpinned all social, political and military activity.
In reality, such developments would have been spread over a considerable
span of time. Some were much older and others much more recent.
To most Romans, the evidence for the veracity of the legend and its central
characters seemed clear and concrete, an essential part of Rome's sacred
topography. One could visit the Lupercal, where the twins were suckled
by the she-wolf, or offer worship to the deified Romulus-Quirinus at the
"shepherd's hut", or see it acted out on stage, or simply read the Fasti.
The legend as a whole encapsulates Rome's ideas of itself, its origins
and moral values. For modern scholarship, it remains one of the most
complex and problematic of all foundation myths, particularly in the manner
of Remus's death. Ancient historians had no doubt that Romulus gave
his name to the city. Most modern historians believe his name a back-formation
from the name Rome; the basis for Remus's name and role remain subjects
of ancient and modern speculation. The myth was fully developed into
something like an "official", chronological version in the Late Republican
and early Imperial era; Roman historians dated the city's foundation to
between 758 and 728 BC, and Plutarch reckoned the twins' birth year as
771 BC. A tradition that gave Romulus a distant ancestor in the semi-divine
Trojan prince Aeneas was further embellished, and Romulus was made the
direct ancestor of Rome's first Imperial dynasty. Possible historical
bases for the broad mythological narrative remain unclear and disputed.
The image of the she-wolf suckling the divinely fathered twins became an
iconic representation of the city and its founding legend, making Romulus
and Remus preeminent among the feral children of ancient mythography.
Although a debate continues, current scholarship offers little evidence
supporting the Roman foundation myth, including an historical Romulus or
Remus. Starting with Pictor, the written accounts must have reflected
the commonly-held history of the city to some degree, as were not free
to make things up. Historical bases for the broad mythological narrative
remain unclear and disputed. The archaeologist Andrea Carandini is
one of the very few modern scholars who accept Romulus and Remus as historical
figures, based on the 1988 discovery of an ancient wall on the north slope
of the Palatine Hill in Rome. Carandini dates the structure to the
mid-8th century BC and names it the Murus Romuli. In 2007, archaeologists
reported the discovery of the Lupercal beneath the home of Emperor Augustus,
but a debate over the discovery continues.
Ancient pictures of the Roman twins usually follow certain symbolic traditions,
depending on the legend they follow: they either show a shepherd, the she-wolf,
the twins under a fig tree, and one or two birds (Livy, Plutarch); or they
depict two shepherds, the she-wolf, the twins in a cave, seldom a fig tree,
and never any birds (Dionysius of Halicarnassus).
The twins and the she-wolf were featured on what might be the earliest
silver coins ever minted in Rome.
The Franks Casket, an Anglo-Saxon ivory box (early 7th century AD) shows
Romulus and Remus in an unusual setting, two wolves instead of one, a grove
instead of one tree or a cave, four kneeling warriors instead of one or
two gesticulating shepherds. According to one interpretation, and
as the runic inscription ("far from home") indicates, the twins are cited
here as the Dioscuri, helpers at voyages such as Castor and Polydeuces.
Their descent from the Roman god of war predestines them as helpers on
the way to war. The carver transferred them into the Germanic holy
grove and has Woden's second wolf join them. Thus the picture served
— along with five other ones — to influence "wyrd", the fortune and fate
of a warrior king.
In popular culture:
Romolo e Remo: a 1961 film starring
Steve Reeves and Gordon Scott as the two brothers.
The Rape of the Sabine Women: a
1962 film starring Wolf Ruvinskis as Romulus.
In the Star Trek universe, Romulus
and Remus are neighbouring planets with Remus being tidally locked to the
star. Romulus is the capital of the Romulan Star Empire, which is
loosely based on the Roman Empire.
The novel Founding Fathers by Alfred
Duggan describes the founding and first decades of Rome from the points
of view of Marcus, one of Romulus's Latin followers, Publius, a Sabine
who settles in Rome as part of the peace agreement with Tatius, Perperna,
an Etruscan fugitive who is accepted into the tribe of Luceres after his
own city is destroyed, and Macro, a Greek seeking purification from blood-guilt
who comes to the city in the last years of Romulus's reign. Publiusa
and Perpernia become senators. Romulus is portrayed as a gifted leader
though a remarkably unpleasant person, chiefly distinguished by his luck;
the story of his surreptitious murder by the senators is adopted, but although
the story of his deification is fabricated, his murderers themselves think
he may indeed have become a god. The novel begins with the founding
of the city and the killing of Remus, and ends with the accession of Numa
In the game Undead Knights, the
main characters are brothers named Romulus and Remus.
In Harry Potter, one of the characters
is named after Remus—Remus John Lupin. And at one point uses the
code name Romulus. Professor Lupin is a teacher of defence against
the dark arts, and is in fact a werewolf. This reflects the Remus
of Roman mythology, who was raised by a wolf. In fact, the name Lupin
comes from the Latin word lupus, meaning wolf.
In Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
Romulus is worshipped as a god by the Followers of Romulus cult.
The main character, Ezio Auditore, comes into conflict with the cult on
several occasions during his adventures in Rome while trying to locate
the keys to the Armor of Brutus, wiping out the cult in the process.
In the Death Grips song, "Black
Quarterback" Romulus and Remus are mentioned. In characteristic Death
Grips style, their lyric isn't contextualised in any typical linear sense.
"Up the Wolves" by The Mountain
Goats is a song that alludes to Romulus and Remus.
Ex Deo released an album in 2009
titled Romulus. Its title track concerns the myth of Romulus and
Remus and the founding of Rome.
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