Founding of Rome

Romolo_e_remo.jpg

Faustulus (to the right of picture) discovers Romulus and Remus with the she-wolf and woodpecker. Their mother Rhea Silvia and the river-god Tiberinus witness the moment. Painting by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1616 (Capitoline Museums).

Founding of Rome 

Part 1

Founding myths

The founding of Rome can be investigated through archaeology, but traditional stories handed down by the ancient Romans themselves explain the earliest history of their city in terms of legend and myth.

aeneas27_flight_from_troy_by_federico_barocci
Aeneas flees burning Troy,Federico Barocci,1598.

The most familiar of these myths, and perhaps the most famous of all Roman myths, is the story of Romulus and Remus, the twins who were suckled by a she-wolf. This story had to be reconciled with a dual tradition, set earlier in time, the one that had the Trojan refugee Aeneas escape to Italy and found the line of Romans through his son Iulus, the namesake of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

Aeneas

The national epic of mythical Rome, the Aeneid of Virgil, tells the story of how the Trojan prince Aeneas came to Italy. The Aeneid was written under Augustus, who claimed ancestry through Julius Caesar from the hero and his mother Venus. According to the Aeneid, the survivors from the fallen city of Troy banded together under Aeneas, underwent a series of adventures around the Mediterranean Sea, including a stop at newly founded Carthage under the rule of Queen Dido, and eventually reached the Italian coast. The Trojans were thought to have landed in an area between modern Anzio and Fiumicino, southwest of Rome: probably at Laurentum, or in other versions, at Lavinium, a place named for Lavinia, the daughter of King Latinus, whom Aeneas married. This started a series of armed conflicts with Turnus over the marriage of Lavinia. Before the arrival of Aeneas, Turnus was engaged to Lavinia, who then married Aeneas, starting the war.Aeneas won the war and killed Turnus. The Trojans won the right to stay and to assimilate with the local peoples. The young son of Aeneas, Ascanius, also known as Iulus, went on to found Alba Longa and the line of Alban kings who filled the chronological gap between the Trojan saga and the traditional founding of Rome in the 8th century BC.

Toward the end of this line, King Procas was the father of Numitor and Amulius. At Procas’ death, Numitor became king of Alba Longa, but Amulius captured him and sent him to prison; he also forced the daughter of Numitor, Rhea Silvia, to become a virgin priestess among the Vestals. For many years Amulius was then the king. The tortuous nature of the chronology is indicated by Rhea Silvia’s ordination among the Vestals, whose order was traditionally said to have been founded by the successor of Romulus, Numa Pompilius.

 

Romulus and Remus

She-Wolf_Suckling_Romulus_and_Remus.pngThe myth of Aeneas, Greek in origin, had to be reconciled with the Italian myth of Romulus and Remus, who, taken as historical figures, would have been born around 771 BC. They were purported to be sons of Rhea Silvia and Mars, the god of war. Because of a prophecy that they would overthrow their great-uncle Amulius, who had overthrown Silvia’s father Numitor, they were, in the manner of many mythological heroes, abandoned at birth; in this case, on the Tiber River by servants who took pity on the infants, despite their orders. The twins were nurtured by a she-wolf until a shepherd named Faustulus found and took Romulus and Remus as his sons. Faustulus and his wife, Acca Larentia, raised the children. When Remus and Romulus became adults, they killed Amulius and restored Numitor. They decided to establish a city; however, they quarreled, and Romulus killed his brother. Thus Rome began with a fratricide, a story that was later taken to represent the city’s history of internecine political strife and bloodshed.

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