Dilit Italian School

The true story of Romulus and Remus

The true story of Romulus and Remus (and the wolf) 

Dilit students have always been interested in the story of Romulus and Remus. There are some who already know the legend but practically no one, not even in Italy, knows the true story of the foundation of Rome.

Let’s start with the legend anyway. To talk about the foundation of Rome we must start with Aeneas.

Virgil (Publio Virgilio Marone, 15 October 70 BC – Brindisi, 21 September 19 BC) tells us who he was in the Aeneid, an epic poem, which the Roman poet wrote at the beginning of the splendour of the Roman Empire. The purpose of the work was clearly to ennoble the origins of his people.

Aeneas was the son of Anchises, a mortal man (cousin of Priam, king of Troy), and of Aphrodite/Venus, goddess of beauty. In this epic poem Virgil tells us of our hero’s adventurous journey to the Mediterranean after fleeing from the disastrous Trojan War. After a long trip he stopped on the coast of Lazio, just southwest of Rome. Here she marries Lavinia, daughter of a king of the Latin population who occupied the area between what is now known as Castelli Romani and the sea.

After several generations, from this royal lineage Rea Silvia was born who became a “vestal” priestess. The vestals were the priestesses of the goddess Vesta linked to the cult of fire. They were sacred virgins and for this reason they had to make a vow of chastity. But the god Mars fell in love with her and from this love the twins of the god will be born; Romulus and Remus.

So according to legend, among the ancestors of the Roman people there are two gods: Venus (goddess of beauty and love) and Mars (god of war). Rea Silvia, unable to keep the twins, placed them in a basket that she then abandoned in the waters of the Tiber River. The basket stopped on the shore, between the hills of the Palatine Hill and the Capitol, and a wolf that was nearby adopted them. Then it will be the pastor Faustolo and his wife Acca Larentia who will raise them.

Nice story!

But there are points that puzzle us, people of the modern world.

The first point is that there are Mars and Aphrodite among the relatives, two gods. Second, the basket. If you put a basket in water, it will surely sink. And then this is a story which has already been heard. Do you remember Moses abandoned in a basket on the Nile? Thirdly, a wolf who adopts children is very poetic but not very credible, unless it is a “lupa” in the Latin sense, that is, a prostitute. If you had the opportunity to visit Ostia Antica or Pompeii on a visit organised by the archaeologists of DILIT, you will have seen the “lupanare”, the place of the wolf, that is, the brothel.

Cute but a very imaginative story. What is then the most credible origin of the great Roman people?

Let’ start with three preliminary observations.

1. The area where the city of Rome is now located, 800 years before Christ, was practically uninhabited because the waters of the Tiber River created large swamp areas, visited only by the shepherds of the peoples around there: Latins, Etruscans and Sabines, who used the large amount of fresh grass for their sheep.

2. The area north of the Tiber was the great and strong kingdom of the Etruscans while in the south there were various peoples that were of Greek culture, the great culture of the Mediterranean.

3. This sea was navigated, for centuries and in every direction, by the ships of the skilled navigators of the near or Middle East such as the Greeks but above all the Phoenicians, originating from the areas we now call Syria and Lebanon.

One of these ships that was travelling in the Mediterranean, due to a storm or a problem with the ship or other, entered the Tiber and continued to go up the river stopping at the Tiber Island. Ideal place because it is completely protected from water. And there is the meeting between sailors and shepherds. The sailors see the sheep of the Latin shepherds: milk, meat, cheese, fresh food finally after so many weeks at sea. And they exchange the goods they transport fabrics, wheat, pottery, wine, spices, with the shepherds.

The sailors leave and tell, in the ports they visit, about that hospitable river, of the island, about the exchange with the shepherds. In turn, the shepherds return to their homes on the hills proud of the fruits of their trade. Thus, the Tiber Island becomes, over time, a centre of exchange that also attracts neighbouring peoples. But there’s a problem If a ship does not arrive at the island or if there are no shepherds in the area, exchanges cannot take place. Consequently, the figure of the merchant who is a former sailor or a former shepherd is born. But the merchant needs a fixed place. Where can you live in a swampy area? Fortunately, there are seven small hills nearby, only 30-50 metres high, where they build their huts and establish themselves there. They are the famous seven hills on which Rome will be founded.

The progressive increase in the population and the consequent growth of these villages on the hills will lead to their union and eventually to form a city.

But up to this point those villages are home only to men, there are no women. There weren’t any dating apps at the time and so the system they adopt is to go and kidnap the women of neighbouring peoples, especially Sabine women (northeast area of Lazio).

The famous “ratto delle Sabine”. Or the rape and abduction of the Sabine women.

It is now clear that the Romans of the imperial period, could not say that their ancestors were ignorant shepherds. It was much more appropriate in their position to descend from Aeneas, Venus and Mars and above all to say this to the world. They put in practice what will become one of the principles of advertising: it’s not true, but everyone knows it. And in fact, the whole world knows the legend of Romulus and Remus.

Disappointed? Don’t stop here What the Romans did was impressive, to say the least and they left us a heritage of art and culture, unique in the world.

Come and see it, we are waiting for you!

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