The Birth of Rome: Romulus and Remus Story

Birthday of Rome


Today is 21st April 2020 which means today is the birthday of Rome.  The 2773rd birthday to be precise! And speaking of precision…if you believe that we know the exact day when Rome was founded then I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn!  But Rome must celebrate and today is the day. And if Romans can do one thing well it is “La Festa”. 



Each year thousands flock to the historic centre to celebrate this event. We line the streets around the Colosseum to marvel at the reenactment of a great Roman triumph.  Everyone from the elderly Italian ladies still in their fur coats and carrying their tiny dogs to excited tourists snapping away and puzzling if this show occurs daily!

The parade feels rather like the 4th July celebrations but the participants are emperors, generals, marching legions carrying aloft the famous military standard proclaiming SPQR, captured slaves, vestal virgins, drummers and senators in togas.  The procession marches with great dignity to the drumbeats and it is difficult for the onlookers not to be enthralled by the spectacle and maybe be reminded of the splendour of the ancient empire.


Romulus and Remus Story


But how did Rome arrive at this splendour?  We have to go back to the beginning…long before the story of Rome . . we go back to ancient Troy!  When Helen of Troy (maiden name being Helen of Sparta) was taken by Paris (Prince of Troy . . not the city) the Greeks laid siege to Troy for 10 years to get her back.  They were totally unsuccessful until one bright spark decided to build THAT wooden horse and Troy fell. But what does that have to do with Rome? 


The Birth of Rome: Romulus and Remus Story 3


The family who escaped the burning of Troy were Aeneas, his father Anchise and his young son Julio Ascanius.  IF you are very interested read the Aeneid by Virgil . . it is a laugh a minute! But Aeneas ends up in Italy and his great great great great great great great great great great great great (roughly) granddaughter was Rhea Silvia. . . forced to become a vestal virgin to ensure she would have no children who could claim the right to power. 

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Mars | God of War

What went wrong?  Enter the God Mars . . .  the Roman gods were notoriously promiscuous and often took a fancy to their endlessly entertaining human subjects . . particularly the young ladies.  It is said that Rhea Silvia was visited in the night by Mars and miraculously fell pregnant with twins. Did it happen that way? Possibly . .but consider that the punishment for a Vestal virgin breaking her vow of chastity was to be buried alive outside the city walls!  I just wonder what I would say in that situation . . .honestly . . not my fault . . it was the work of a god . . not just any god but the god of war….do you want to incur his wrath? So the superstitious Romans dithered abit and decided to just exile her . . no point upsetting the gods!


Romulus and Remus Story


Romulus and Remus Story | Carpe Diem Rome


So if that is the ANCIENT ancient history, I am now going to make some generally acknowledged and oft repeated statements.  How many do you think are true?

Rome was founded on the Palatine Hill by Romulus, one of the famous twins Romulus and Remus.

They were the sons of Rhea Silvia, a vestal virgin, and the war god Mars.

When babies they had been put into a basket and thrown into the river where they were found by a she wolf…the lupa.. Who decided not to eat them but look after them carefully.

How confident or skeptical are you feeling about that story?  To be honest I am not sure if it is true or not….and I am a tour guide!  Maybe we should ask a few more questions…..

Baby in a basket in river… sound familiar?

One brother killing the other brother…sound familiar?

A virgin birth….sound familiar?

Lupa can mean she wolf or prostitute !!!!!

So there may have been many influences on the back story of the foundation of Rome, but I think we should go with it!  It makes exams so easy!  

Who founded Rome? Romulus 

Where does the name Rome come from? Romulus

Who was the first king of Rome? Romulus

Who organised the legions? Romulus


Romulus and Remus Story


Lupa the She-Wolf | Romulus and Remus story

But at least the time is right and the place is right.  Some of the earliest archeological remains in Rome were found on the Palatine hill and have been dated to the 8th century BC.

But how did a stone age settlement next to the Tiber river in central Italy develop into such a great civilisation?  For one thing, brand new King Romulus had nobody to rule. Allegedly (and when I say allegedly I do not know for sure!) Romulus sent out requests to neighbouring tribes.  He invited people to become the first citizens of Rome . . and he chose a meeting point. Another of the 7 hills of Rome is the Capitoline hill. Part of that hill was called the asylum (sounding familiar?). Romulus stated that anyone arriving at the asylum would become citizens, no questions asked.


Rome Palatine Hill


Palatine Hill in Rome | Carpe Diem Rome


Well do you think that settled farmers and families would take up his generous offer?  I think it is fair to say that you would not have wanted to invite the first citizens of Rome to dinner.  It would be convicts, bandits, runaway slaves. And all were accepted. But they were loyal and courageous and ambitious.  Sometimes the best way to succeed is to have nothing to lose?

Problem number 2 . . . . they were all men!  Obviously women would be needed if this project was to move forward.  So Romulus requested intermarriage rites from local tribes who all replied. .. duh NO.  We do not want our daughters to marry you scoundrels. Incensed, Romulus hatches a plot.  

He organised a large festival . . maybe on the site of what would become the Circus Maximus… and the guests included members of the Sabine tribe.  When all the guests were good and lubricated (allegedly) Romulus gave the signal and the Roman men each carried off a Sabine woman. This abduction, reported by Plutarch, is commonly known as the rape of the Sabine women and has passed into popular culture, being the topic of many poems and works of art. 


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The Rape of the Sabina Women |  Pietro da Cortona


Now while this act naturally caused a little friction between the arrogant Romans and the outraged Sabines, it is told that the women saw sense and intervened to cease the hostilities saying “we are wives and mothers now, do not leave us widowed and our children orphaned”.

If any of you gentlemen carried your wife across the threshold of your home on the wedding day . . did you ever wonder where that tradition came from?

So ancient Rome was up and running! It would go on to dominate the entire Mediterranean but that is for another day!

Happy birthday Rome from all who have been fascinated by your history and beauty!



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