The story of the founding of Rome begins with Aeneas, a Trojan hero who after the end of the Trojan War, managed to escape with a few followers. On reaching Laurentum, an ancient city between Ostia and Lavinium, Aeneas and his followers were welcomed by the king Latinus, who offered his daughter Lavinia to Aeneas.
This alliance was not taken kindly by Turnus, the prince of a nearby tribe called the Rutuli. Lavinia had been offered to him in marriage and he decided to attack both the Trojans and the Latins. The Rutuli were defeated but king Latinus was killed during the fighting. This left Aeneas in charge of the growing population of Trojans and Latins who had begun to intermarry and become a single population.
The defeated Turnus turned to the Etruscans, the powerful neighbors of the Latins, for help. The Etruscans who were only too willing to diminish the growing power of their neighbors, led several attacks against the Latins. But Aeneas managed to lead a final victory against them and the river Tiber was established as the boundary between the Latins and the Etruscans.
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Rhea Silvia and the Birth of the Twins
As generations passed, the Latins became a powerful population ruled by kings. The fateful events that led to the founding of Rome occurred during the reign of king Numitor. Numitor had a brother Amulius who decided to seize the throne. Numitor was driven out of the city of Alba Longa, the center of the Latin kingdom, and his sons were killed.
His daughter Rhea Silvia was forced by Amulius to become a Vestal virgin to ensure that she wouldn’t bear any sons who would pose a threat to Amulius. But Rhea Silvia was raped and bore twins, whose father she claimed was the god Mars.
She was then thrown in prison and Amulius ordered the twins to be drowned in the Tiber. But the men who were ordered to do the deed found the Tiber overflowing and left the newborns on the banks of the river believing that they would die anyway. But once the floodwater receded, the twins were left alive and well. It is here that the most famous incident connected to the founding of Rome took place.
According to legend, a thirsty she-wolf that had arrived on the banks of the river found the twins and allowed them to suckle on her teats.
The king’s herdsman Faustulus, who was passing by the river found the wolf gently licking the babies and took them to his wife to raise them.
Numitor restored to the throne
The twins who were named Romulus and Remus by Faustulus and his wife, grew up to be men who enjoyed fighting thieves and raiding the camps of local brigands. Everything they took, they then distributed amongst a group of shepherds.
During the festival of the Lupercalia on the Palatine Hill, the thieves who were angered by the loss of their plunder attacked Romulus and Remus who were enjoying the day’s festivities. While Romulus managed to escape, Remus was taken prisoner.
The lands where the twins plundered the brigands were owned by none other than Numitor. Thus, Remus was charged with trying to invade Numitor’s lands and was brought before him. On hearing that Remus had a twin and realizing that his grandchildren would be the same age as Remus and Romulus, Numitor began to enquire about the twins’ upbringing. He was then convinced that they were his grandchildren.
At the same time, Faustulus who had always suspected that the boys were of royal birth and was worried about the safety of Remus, revealed the truth to Romulus. Together they then hatched a plan to restore Numitor to the throne. Romulus along with his band led a sneak attack on Amulius and was joined by Remus who had brought together another band while he was at Numitor’s house. Together they killed Amulius and Numitor was restored to the throne.
The Birth of Rome
Once Numitor was restored as king, Romulus and Remus expressed the desire to build a city on the spot where they had been left to drown. However, as the saying goes, ambition is a good servant but a bad master. The twins, consumed by ambition, quarreled about who gets to rule their new city.
There are two accounts regarding the founding of Rome that are recounted. According to one, Romulus and Remus decided to ask the deities for signs to resolve the matter of who gets to name the city and who gets to rule it after its foundation.
As they waited for the signs, Romulus decided to retire atop the Palatine hill and Remus atop the Aventine. Six vultures then landed at the feet of Remus. Immediately after this was announced to Romulus, twelve vultures landed at his feet.
The quarrel still could not be resolved for Remus claimed superiority being the first to receive a sign while Romulus claimed superiority based on the larger number of birds. This caused a fight between the brothers during which Remus was killed. The other more common account is that Remus, in an act of contempt jumped over the newly raised walls.
An enraged Romulus killed his brother and exclaimed, “So shall it be henceforth with everyone who leaps over my walls.”
Romulus thus became the sole ruler and the city was named after him. The founding of Rome is said to have taken place on 21st April, 753 BC.
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