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Romulus and Remus

This is an article about Roman mythology. For information about the Star Trek planets, see Romulus and Remus (Star Trek).

Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome in Roman mythology, were the twin sons of the priestess Rhea Silvia, fathered by the god of war Mars. According to the legend recorded as history by Livy, Romulus was the first King of Rome. After his death, Romulus was deified as the god Quirinus.

Their mother, Rhea Silvia, had been forced to become a Vestal Virgin by her uncle, Amulius, because he had overthrown her father, Numitor, and wanted to ensure she would not have any sons that might have a better matrilineal right and could attempt to overthrow him. However, Mars, the god of war, came to her in her temple and of him she conceived her twin sons, Romulus and Remus. When they were born, Amulius ordered a servant to kill the twins, but the merciful servant set them adrift in the river Tiber (compare Perseus and Moses).

Romulus and Remus, however, were found by Tiberinus, the river god, and nursed by a female wolf underneath a fig tree, among the most famous feral children in mythology and fiction. Romulus and Remus were then discovered by Faustulus, a shepherd, who brought the children to his home. Faustulus and his wife, Acca Larentia, raised the boys as their own. According to Livy, some said that Faustulus's wife had been named Loba ("lupa", she-wolf), and that she had suckled the twins. Upon reaching adulthood, Romulus and Remus returned and killed Amulius and reinstated Numitor, their grandfather, as King of Alba Longa.

Then they built a settlement on the Palatine Hill, beginning on April 21, 753 BC, according to the traditional date given by Varro (but see below). Remus then thoughtlessly jumped the unfinished city wall, an omen of ill fortune, and Romulus instinctively killed him. Remorsefully he then named the city Roma, and made himself king, marrying Hersilia.

According to a medieval Sienese founding legend, Siena was founded by Senius , a son of Remus.

Romulus attracted a population to his city by inviting exiles, refugees, murderers, criminals and runaway slaves, a population that extended the infant city to settle four of the seven hills of Rome: the Capitoline, Aventine, Caelian and Quirinal. The outlaw squatters acquired women and matrilineal respectability by inviting the Sabine men to the festival of Consualia. While the men were occupied, the Romans stole the women, the theme of the Rape of the Sabine Women . Marriage by abduction remained a Latin tradition. Eventually, the Sabine women effected a truce and the Sabines accepted Romulus as their king.

Romulus's end, in the 38th year of his reign, was a supernatural disappearance, if he was not slain by the Senate. Plutarch (Life of Numa Pompilius) tells the legend with a note of skepticism:

"It was the thirty-seventh year, counted from the foundation of Rome, when Romulus, then reigning, did, on the fifth day of the month of July, called the Caprotine Nones, offer a public sacrifice at the Goat's Marsh, in presence of the senate and people of Rome. Suddenly the sky was darkened, a thick cloud of storm and rain settled on the earth; the common people fled in affright, and were dispersed; and in this whirlwind Romulus disappeared, his body being never found either living or dead. A foul suspicion presently attached to the patricians, and rumors were current among the people as if that they, weary of kingly government, and exasperated of late by the imperious deportment of Romulus towards them, had plotted against his life and made him away, that so they might assume the authority and government into their own hands. This suspicion they sought to turn aside by decreeing divine honors to Romulus, as to one not dead but translated to a higher condition. And Proculus, a man of note, took oath that he saw Romulus caught up into heaven in his arms and vestments, and heard him, as he ascended, cry out that they should hereafter style him by the name of Quirinus."

After Romulus' death he was succeeded by Numa Pompilius.

The mythic theme of twins is deep-seated in Mediterranean mythology: compare Castor and Polydeuces (the Dioscuri) of Greece, and Amphion and Zethus of Thebes.

Redating the founding of Rome

A new study claims to supersede the traditional date given by Varro, that is used worldwide, though never scientifically confirmed. The foundation of Rome took place 437 years after the capture of Troy (1182 BC), according to Velleius Paterculus (VIII, 5). It took place shortly before a solar eclipse that was observed at Rome, now being associated with one on June 25, 745 BC which had a magnitude of 50.3%; its beginning occurred at 16:38, its middle at 17:28, and its end at 18:16.

Varro may have used the consular list with its mistakes, and called the year of the first consuls "245 ab urbe condita" (a.u.c., "from the founding of the city"). He may have accepted from Dionysius of Halicarnassus an interval of 244 years for the kings after the foundation of Rome. Some modern historians claim that an era ab urbe condita did not, in reality, exist in the ancient world, and the use of reckoning the years in this way is modern.

According to an obscure 16th-century astrologer, Lucius Tarrutius of Firmum, Romulus was conceived in the womb on the 23rd day of the Egyptian month Choiac , at the time of a total eclipse of the Sun. (This eclipse occurred on June 15, 763 BC, with a magnitude of 62.5% at Rome. Its beginning took place at 6:49, its middle at 7:47 and its end at 8:51.) He was born on the 21st day of the month Thoth. The first day of Thoth fell on March 2 in that year (Prof. E.J. Bickerman, 1980: 115). It means that Rhea Sylvia's pregnancy lasted for 281 days. Rome was founded on the ninth day of the month Pharmuthi , which was the 21st of April, as universally agreed.

The Romans add that about the time Romulus started to build the city, an eclipse of the Sun was observed by Antimachus, the Teian poet, on the 30th day of the lunar month. This eclipse (see above) had a magnitude of 54.6% at Teos, Asia Minor. It started at 17:49 it was still eclipsed at sunset, at 19:20. Romulus vanished in the 54th year of his life, on the Nones of Quintilis (July), on a day when the Sun was darkened. The day turned into night, which sudden darkness was believed to be an eclipse of the Sun. It occurred on July 17, 709 BC, with a magnitude of 93.7%, beginning at 5:04 and ending at 6:57. (All these eclipse data have been calculated by Prof. Aurél Ponori-Thewrewk, retired director of the Planetarium of Budapest.) Plutarch placed it in the 37th year from the foundation of Rome, on the fifth of our July, then called Quintilis, on "Caprotine Nones", Livy (I, 21) also states that Romulus ruled for 37 years.


Most of the legends of Romulus have been recorded by Plutarch (Lives of Romulus, Numa Pompilius and Camillus), Florus (Book I, I), Cicero (The Republic VI, 22: Scipio's Dream), Dio (Dion) Cassius. Dionysius of Halicarnassus (L. 2). Dio in his Roman History (Book I) confirms our data by telling that Romulus was in his 18th year of age when he founded Rome. Therefore, three eclipse records prove that Romulus reigned from 746 to 709 BC.

External link

  • Grafton, Anthony 2003. "Some Uses of Eclipses in Early Modern Chronology" in Journal of the History of Ideas (The Johns Hopkins University Press) vol. 64:2, April 2003, pp 213-229

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