Livy, Romulus and Remus.

After some years, the throne descended to Numitor, who had many sons.  However, his younger brother Amulius decided that force counted for more than their father’s will or respect for his brother’s seniority.  He defeated Numitor and took the throne for himself.  He then heaped crime upon crime, killing off his nephews and forcing his niece to become a Vestal Virgin,1  so that under the pretense of honoring her, he might ensure that she could not produce any heirs.2

However, I think that at this point, the fates had already ordained Rome’s future greatness.  Even though she was a Vestal Virgin, [Numitor’s daughter] Rhea Silvia was raped and gave birth to twins.  She claimed the father was Mars, either because she actually believed it or because it would appear less heinous if a god was the author of the crime.  Nevertheless, neither gods nor men could save her or her babies from the cruelty of the king, who imprisoned her and ordered the twins to be thrown into the river. 

By chance or divine will, the Tiber had just flooded, and standing water surrounded its banks.  Because it was hard to get close to the river, the king’s henchmen simply left the children in the nearest pool of water, hoping the tide of the river would carry them away and drown them… but the retreating waters left the children’s floating cradle on dry land, in a spot that was then a vast wilderness.  Legend has it that a thirsty she-wolf that had come down from the mountains heard the crying children and ran to them.  Stooping down, the she-wolf offered her teats to the crying children, who nursed at her breast.  The keeper of the king’s sheep, a man named Faustulus, found this gentle wolf licking the twins with her tongue and took the children to his hut for his wife Larentia to raise.  Others believe that the shepherds had nicknamed Larentia “the she-wolf” because she was a whore and that it was this name that gave rise to the legend.

When the children were young boys, they worked on the farm, tended the sheep, and hunted in the woods.  Blessed with strong bodies and robust spirits, they not only hunted animals but also attacked bands of thieves and stole their ill-gotten loot.  They shared their booty with the other shepherds, who formed a growing band of men engaged in both serious matters and frivolous pursuits.

Even at that time, the Festival of the Lupercalia was held on the Palatine Hill…Here a Greek named Evander, who had settled that spot many years before, had instituted a solemn festival in which youths did homage to the god Pan,3 running about naked for amusement and for sport.  Everybody knew when the festival occurred, so some resentful thieves took the opportunity to avenge themselves by ambushing the twins during it.  Romulus defended himself, but Remus was taken prisoner and handed over to King Amulius.  His captors accused him of other peoples’ crimes, including robbing Numitor’s fields; thus, Remus was handed over to Numitor for punishment. 

Now, from the beginning, Faustulus had suspected that he was bringing up the royal descendants, for he knew that the children had been exposed by the order of the king, and he knew that he had found the twins around that same time.  However, he did not want to share that information too soon, so he waited for either the proper occasion or some necessity.  Necessity came first.   Fearing for the life of Remus, Faustulus told Romulus the truth about his birth.  By chance, Numitor had heard that his prisoner had a twin brother.  When he considered the boys’ ages and thought about how little their characters fit their servile condition, he was reminded of his grandchildren, and he soon realized that Remus was in fact his own grandson.  Thus, King Amulius was deceived by everyone. 

Romulus did not attack Amulius directly, for he was no match for the king in a contest of naked force.  Rather, he ordered his men to approach the city by various routes and converge on it at the same time, while Remus simultaneously led a body of armed men from Numitor’s house.  Numitor diverted the Alban army to the citadel by claiming that the enemy had entered the city and was attacking the king.  Thus, they were able to surprise the king and kill him.

When Numitor saw the twins coming to congratulate him, he gathered an assembly of the people, told them of his brother’s treachery, and recounted the story of his grandchildren, including their birth, their upbringing, and how he had recognized them.  Finally, he admitted to being the author of the tyrant’s destruction.  The youths paraded through the ranks and saluted their grandfather; then the people elected Numitor king and gave him the imperium.

Romulus and Remus then wanted to build a city at the place where they had been exposed and raised.  There were many Albans, Latins, and shepherds who needed a home; thus, the brothers hoped that their new city might grow so large that it would make Alba and Lavinium seem small.  However, these pleasant dreams were interrupted by the ancestral curse, the lust for rule (cupido regni), and before long, a shameful dispute ruined this peaceful beginning.

The twins did not know who was older, so in order to decide who should rule the new city and after whom it should be named, they read the auguries of the local gods.4  For this purpose, Romulus built a temple on the Palatine Hill, and Remus built one on the Aventine.  Remus received the first augury: the appearance of six vultures.  Just as this news was brought to Romulus, twelve vultures appeared to him. 

Each side claimed victory.  The supporters of Remus argued that his augury had appeared first; the supporters of Romulus argued that he had seen more birds.  The dispute grew so heated that Remus was struck and killed.  The more common story is that Remus jumped over Romulus’s newly built walls in order to mock his brother, and the infuriated Romulus killed him, chiding him with the words, “Let the same be done to whomever tries to take my walls.”  Either way, Romulus alone received the imperium, and the city was named after him.

Romulus first fortified the Palatine Hill, the spot where he had been raised.  He established religious rites to the sacred Alban gods and adopted the rites of the Greek Hercules, which had been instituted by Evander…

Having given due respect to the divine rites, he called the multitude to an assembly and gave them laws, thinking that this was the only way to bind them together as one people.  He thought that these uncivilized men would only respect the laws if he adopted the trappings of rule (imperium), so he surrounded himself with symbols of his authority, the most important of which were the twelve lictors.5  Some think he chose twelve because of the number of birds that had portended his rule, but I think he adopted the custom from the Etruscans, for when the Etruscans made a king, each of the twelve Etruscan nations would give him one lictor.

Meanwhile, the city continued to expand, and Romulus extended the walls in all directions, thereby hoping to populate the city.   It was an old custom in growing cities to gather together some lowly-born people and then to claim that they were born from the earth itself.  Romulus granted political asylum and accepted both slaves and free men from the surrounding areas, many of whom had fled from their own homelands, eager for a fresh start; this was the first source of Rome’s strength. 

When he was satisfied that there were enough people, he organized a senate.  He created a hundred senators, either because this number was enough or because there were only one-hundred suitable men for the job.  They were given the title of fathers (patres), and their children were called patricians.

  1. A vestal virgin was a priestess of the goddess Vesta.  They took vows of celibacy.
  2. The founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus is traditionally dated to 753 BC.
  3. Pan is the ancient Greek god of shepherds and mountain wilds.  He is traditionally represented as a faun, a being with a human head and torso but goat-like legs. Arcadia was the traditional home of Pan, whose Roman name was Lupercus and who was often depicted as a sexual dynamo with an oversized phallus.  Thus, he was the patron of the festival of the Lupercalia, in which youths ran around naked, engaging in a sort of fertility ritual.
  4. The Romans believed that the will of the gods could be interpreted by reading the omens: normally either the flight paths of birds or the entrails of an animal.  A modern equivalent might be Tarot cards or palm reading.
  5. he lictors originally functioned as the king’s bodyguard.  They had the authority to carry the fasces, a bundle of sticks with an axe sticking out, as a symbol of the imperium, or authority to rule.  Later, lictors were assigned to all the Roman magistrates who held imperium.