Who Founded Rome?

Can the early foundations of Rome really be known? A city that was founded thousands of years ago…Was it Myth? Legend? Let’s find out!

Rome has an extraordinary history. With crumbling ruins and epic artefacts within the city’s walls, it’s hard to learn everything about Rome in one go! The foundation of Rome is still not absolutely known as it was thousands of years ago on the 21st of April 753 BCE. But there has been numerous myths and legends on the city’s birth.

The Myth of Romulus and Remus

Legend says that the twin brother demi-gods, Romulus and Remus, founded the city of Rome. Their mother, Rhea Silvia, was forced to be a Vestal Virgin by her Uncle, King Amulius, so that she would not give birth to any rival claimants to his title. However, this plan failed as Rhea was impregnated by the War God, Mars, and gave birth to Romulus and Remus. On hearing this, Amulius ordered the infants to be drowned in the Tiber River, scared they would grow up to overthrow him. But they survived! Washing ashore on the foot of what would later be Palatine Hill. There the twins were found by a she-wolf called Lupa who took them in and let them drink her milk until they were found by a shepherd called Faustulus. Faustulus and his wife raised the boys as their own, and the twins grew up to be glorious, young, strong men. When Romulus and Remus learned of their true identity, they set out to attack the King, killing Amulius and restoring their grandfather to the throne. Instead of taking this crown, Romulus and Remus were interested in founding a city of their own, on the same site where they had been saved as infants. Tragedy struck however when the twins became involved in a petty quarrel about how they would run their new city. The quarrel turned into a deadly battle and Remus was brutally slain by his brother. With no one to challenge him Romulus became ruler of the settlement, naming it “Rome” after him.

The first thing Romulus needed was people. A population to fill his new city and citizens to rule over. He did this by inviting fugitives and exiles, offering them asylum if they came. These were mainly men however, Rome still lacked women. So, Romulus invited the neighbouring Sabines to a festival, using it as a ruse to abduct their women. The Sabine women were trapped and told to marry Roman men and bear their children. The Sabine men who rallied outside Rome’s walls were furious and demanded for their women to be returned, but Rome was unwilling. A war then ensued, Romans against the Sabine men, but the Sabine women intervened, asking both sides not to kill their fathers, brothers, sons and husbands, which were now entwined in both societies. This prevented the Sabine men from seizing Rome, and a peace treaty was drawn up, and the communities merged together. This was the beginning of Rome’s power.

When Romulus died under obscure circumstances, the Romans worshipped him as a god, believing him to be the deity Quirinus, a name potentially derived from the Sabine word quiris meaning “spear”. After Romulus there were 6 more kings of Rome, the last 3 believed to be Etruscans. In roughly the year 509 BC the Roman Republic was established, and as they say, the rest is history.

The Myth of Roma

Other retellings of the foundation of Rome have its origins in ancient Greece. It tells the story of how the mythical Trojan Aeneas founded Lavinium and started a dynasty that would lead to the birth of Romulus and Remus several centuries later. In the epic Greek poem the Illiad, written by the poet Homer in the 8th century BC, it mentions Aeneas as one of the only major Trojan hero’s to have survived the Greek destruction of Troy. One passage told of how his descendants would rule the Trojans, but since there was no record of such dynasty in Troy, Greek scholars proposed that Aeneas and his followers relocated, and that this relocation led them to settle in Rome. In the 4th century BC, Rome became to expand within the Italian peninsula, and the Romans, coming into greater contact with the Greeks, embraced this legend that Aeneas had a role in the foundation of their great city. The legend was later developed by the poet Virgil in the 5th century BC in his text the Aeneid which tells of Aeneas’ journey to Rome.

Another adaption of this legend sees Rome named after a woman called Roma. Roma travelled along with Aeneas and the other survivors from Troy after that city fell, ending up on the banks of the Tiber River. After resting for some time, the men of the group wanted to keep moving, whereas Roma and the other women objected. The men left, with Roma leading the women to burn the Trojan ships, stranding the Trojan survivors at the site which would become Rome.

Whatever adaption people believe today, we don’t know. But we do know that the Romans took pride in their beginnings, firmly agreeing that Rome was founded on the 21st April, 753 BC. Records of this date were officially recorded by the Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro in the first century BC, so it’s no doubt that it was important to them, as can be evidenced by the grand ruins that remain at Palatine Hill.

Fancying seeing the foundations for yourself? No problem, book onto our Ancient Rome and Colosseum Tour!

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