Il Natale di Roma
On occasion of the birth of this blog, I thought it apt to write a few lines on the birth of Rome, a date celebrated here in the eternal city just last week. April 21st, 753 BC, Rome was founded. Or at least, that's how the legend goes.
I, for one, love legends. And I tend to believe them wholeheartedly. Sure, facts are great, archaeological evidence is terrific. But there's nothing like a good old-fashioned legend to get people really interested. Or is that just the tour guide in me talking? Regardless, Roman history is packed with legends, and none is more famous than that of Romulus and Remus, a story told first by Livy, a Roman historian active during the 1st century BC. To understand Rome, you must understand this legend.
27 hundred odd years ago, there was a princess (all good legends begin with a princess, I think you'll agree) of the kingdom of Alba Longa in the Alban hills, a settlement southeast of Rome. Her name was Rhea Silvia. Her father, King Numitor, was ousted by his younger brother, who then killed Numitor's only son, and forced Rhea Silvia to become a vestal virgin, a chaste priestess to the goddess of the hearth. Any vestal virgin who lost her virginity would be buried alive. A tidy way to cut off Numitor's heirs.
But lo and behold, (and this is where it starts to sound less like history and more like a myth) our young heroine was seduced by the god of war, Mars, while taking a nap in the forest. The result of this coupling was not one, but two twin boys. Tossed into the Tiber River, the abandoned newborns eventually washed ashore on the banks of what would eventually be called the Palatine Hill. It was here that a she-wolf, having lost her own cubs, nursed the twins until they could be adopted by a shepherd and his wife.
(It is interesting to note the the latin word for she-wolf, lupa, was also slang for prostitute. Perhaps there is some basis for this legend after all...)
Upon reaching adulthood, Romulus and Remus decide the hilly region north of the Tiber Island is an ideal place for a new kingdom. Both wanting to be king, they decide to look for a sign in the flights of birds. Romulus takes up position on the Palatine Hill, Remus on the Aventine. Six vultures fly over Remus, and twelve over Romulus. I'm betting you can guess where this is going. After a fight to the death, Romulus emerges victorious. He names the city after himself, founds the Roman Legions and the Roman Senate and becomes the first of the seven legendary kings of Rome.
Happy 2763rd birthday, Roma!
PS The first photo depicts the Capitoline She-Wolf. A bronze Etruscan work from the 5th century BC, it likely had nothing to do with the legend when it was created. The famous suckling twins were added in the late 15th century, most likely by the sculptor Antonio Pollaiolo. It has become the symbol of Rome, and can be seen anywhere, from the backs of buses to the Roma team's football jerseys. The second photo is Peter-Paul Ruben's painting Romulus and Remus.