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I've writen two books about Greece and Rome, introducing each civilization with their most famous authors woven into the narrative. Check them out on their own website!

Romulus – Bellicose Founder and Fratricide

Romulus founded a city in unpromising circumstances that would later come to rule an empire on three continents unrivaled in power or prestige until the British Empire of the 19th-century. Plutarch takes us back to the beginning to understand the roots of greatness.

Parallel – Theseus

The story of Romulus and Remus being suckled by a wolf is not a meaningless fable. The founders of every State which has risen to eminence have drawn their nourishment and vigor from a similar wild source. It was because the children of the Empire were not suckled by the wolf that they were conquered and displaced by the children of the Northern forests who were.

Henry David Thoreau in “Walking

Origin Stories

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Romulus and Remus, Musei Capitolini, Rome, Italy. Wikimedia Commons.
Rubens remembered the woodpecker!
  • Rome: What’s in a name?
  • From Aeneas to Alba Longa
    • Later Numitor, father of Romulus, keeps the kingdom but gives brother, Amulius, money
    • Works out poorly
  • Romulus and Remus: Childhood
    • Left to die by a river
    • Wolf and woodpecker
    • Shepherd finds and adopts them
      • He sees them as “born to rule rather than obey”
    • Numitor discovers their identity
    • Romulus & Remus restore Numitor to his throne (maniples etym.)
  • Romulus and Remus: Off to Found a City
    • Twins leave Alba Longa to found a new city
    • Near where they were left (the banks of the Tiber River)
    • Rome is for runaways! Open the gates and seize the…day?
    • Location, location, location!
    • Vultures? 6/12? First/Second?
    • Walls and Ditches – death of Remus
    • Romulus Selects the center
    • Ploughs the circumference: pomerium etym.
      • First fruits? < poma, pomae – fem- fruit
      • Outside the wall? post-moerium (i.e. murus)

Rome’s Birthday – April 21, 753 BC

  • Mnemonic?
  • The precision of contemporary astronomy (Varro, friend of Cicero’s)
  • Founding date
  • Romulus’s birthday

Roman Customs: More Etymologies and etiologies

  • Legion v. Populus
    • legio – from lego, legere – to select, collect (i.e. troops),
      • those selected from the people for military service
    • populus – from pleo – to fill (cf. plebs) – the entire people of Rome
  • Patricians
    • Friend of Evander?
    • Prove your parentage?
    • Patres v. patres conscripti
  • Senate < senex – old man
  • Patrons and Clients
  • Advisors and supporters of those beneath them
  • Immunity from testifying against each other (like spouses today)

Sabine Women

  • Not the Sobbin’ Women…
  • Did Romulus need women or want war?
    • Pl. thinks he needed the women
  • R. sets up a feast (finds an altar?)
  • Conses < consilium
    • On my signal…
    • How many taken?
      • 30, 527, or 683?
    • Talasius – a man or a greeting? both!
    • Traditions of carrying women across the threshold

Origin of the Roman Triumph

  • Acron v. Romulus: 1 v. 1
  • R. wins and dedicates his armor to Jupiter
    • These spoils, songs, and crowning with laurels: the first-ever triumph
    • Opima Spolia – The rich plunder
    • Romulus redistributes captured land
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780–1867), Romulus’ Victory over Acron (i.e. the first Roman Triumph), (1812), tempera on canvas, 276 x 530 cm, École des Beaux Arts, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

Plutarch’s Walking Tour of Rome

  • Tarpeian Rock
    • Tarpeia, motivated by shiny bracelets, turns traitor and allows the Sabines onto the Capitoline
    • Plutarch’s on treachery
    • Other great men may have benefitted from treachery, but they never appreciated the treachery itself.
      • Hate the sinner, love the effect of the sin
      • Caesar and Antigonus
    • She gets what she asked for, buried in shield and gold
  • Lacus Curtius
    • The Tiber floods
    • A Sabine, named Curtius, gets his horse stuck in the mud
    • When he nobly prevents his comrades from also getting stuck, the place is named after him
    • Now a place online with lots of free translations of Latin classics (don’t get stuck there)
  • Jupiter Stator
    • Where Romulus turns to resist, but the women intervene
    • Sabines and Romans will inhabit the city together
    • Etym. Comitium (co-ire)
  • Etym. Quirites? – modern name speakers of Latin and Ancient Greek?
    • A word used to describe the Roman when focusing on them as citizens rather than soldiers.

Civic Duties

  • Three Tribes – Romulus, Tatius, Lucus (grove of Asylum, etym.)
  • 100 more Senators (all Sabines)
  • Privileges for Women
  • Feasts, old and new
    • Matronalia
    • Carmentalia
    • Palilia (described elsewhere, find where)
    • Lupercalia – plays an important role in the Life of Julius Caesar, and the play by Shakespeare
    • Nefasti (etym. nefarious)
  • Vestals, sacred fire (more on this in the Life of Numa)
  • Lituus – the sacred rod of the augurs
    • Augurs = Bird-watchers
      • harkens back to the vultures
      • The gods communicate with man through the sky and its inhabitants, i.e. birds
  • Laws
  • Divorce
  • Murder / Parricide
    • No one kills his father for almost 600 years

Romulus’ End and Rome’s Beginning

  • Tatius, co-king, killed
    • The gods disapprove – plague, bloody rain (cf. plague in the Life of Theseus)
  • The Last Battle (for Romulus)
    • kills 7K in a single day (Plutarch protests)
  • Haughty King
    • Lictors – etym.
      • Roman etym. from ligō – to bind
      • Greek etym. from λειτουργοι – liturgī – officers of the people
  • Numitor dies; Romulus inherits Alba
  • Romulus disappears
    • Murdered?
    • Taken up into heaven?
    • Plutarch’s opinion of the body
      • No way does the body end up in heaven
      • “We must not, therefore, violate nature by sending the bodies of good men with their souls to heaven, but implicitly believe that their virtues and their souls, in accordance with nature and divine justice, ascend from men to heroes, from heroes to demi-gods, and from demi-gods, after they have been made pure and holy, as in the final rites of initiation, and have freed themselves from mortality and sense, to gods, not by civic law, but in very truth and according to right reason, thus achieving the fairest and most blessed consummation.”
  • Romulus’ advice to the Romans:
    • “Tell the Romans that if they practice self-restraint, and add to it valor, they will reach the utmost heights of human power.”
Romulus being taken up to Olympus by Mars by Jean-Baptiste Nattier (1678-1726) Museum of John Paul II Collection – Wikimedia Commons

Resources for Further Study

Great resources on Romulus and Remus in art, explaining and contextualizing the artwork included here as well as many more:

A helpful video on the Roman Pomerium.

The Life of Romulus: English | Greek

Ovid’s Description of Romulus’ Apotheosis.

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