The Death of Romulus

  The Death of Romulus,  Augustyn Mirys

The Death of Romulus, Augustyn Mirys

Having recently deepened my understanding of the myths of the origins of the city, I have the desire to go back and tell a bit of the back-story, pre-Romulus, as it were. Rome may have been born in 753 BC, but the whispers of what would one day come to be stretch back at least to the 12th century BC. However, my bossy, slightly-OCD side is screaming that I have to go in order, so Aeneas and Lavinia and a whole cast of personalities are going to have to wait.

Let’s finish up with Romulus' reign instead so that we can finally move on! After beginning his career with banditry, murder and abduction, Romulus went on to have a brilliant reign, and became a benign and much-loved ruler. His co-ruler, King Tatius was killed not long after having come into joint power with Romulus, and the latter ruled alone until the end of his life. A few wars are described, such as those with with Veientines and the Fidenates, but no details of Romulus' reign survive beyond the very beginnings.

 Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

So how did he die? According to legend (but this is all legend, right?), after a 36 year reign, one day as he was surveying his troops, there was an eclipse of the sun, followed by a hurricane (some less dramatic events have it as a thunderstorm) and Romulus disappeared into a fiery cloud. The interpretaion is that his father, the god Mars, returned to earth in his chariot to take his sun to heaven, who was then diefied as the war god Quirinius. He was 54 years old.

Yawn. The latter half of Romulus' life is not nearly as interesting as the first half. I must say I've always been disappointed with the story of the death of Romulus. Now, I'm not saying that the first half of his story is believable, but it could have happened. But this fantastical end seems to prove it was all just a legend. However, some sources claim that Romolus didn't disappear into the clouds at all, but was actually attacked by senators, who cut up his body into small pieces and carried them away, hidden under their robes. Not quite as romantic but equally unbelievable. I think the jury is still out on this one.

The ruins of a cave were discovered on the Palatine Hill in 2007 and are generally believed to be that of the famous Lupercal, where the she-wolf nursed the baby twins. Some now claim that this proves Romulus and Remus actually existed and that the legend of their upbringing is factual. All it really proves is that in the time of Augustus the myth was celebrated with ritualistic ceremonies, as the mosaics decorating the cave date to that period. Will we ever know if Romulus and Remus actually existed? Probably not, but as I've said before, just go with the legend. It makes life more interesting.

To be continued...

Next up:

Numa Pompilius, second King of Rome

What have we covered so far?

The Birth of Rome, 21 April 753 BC

The Rape of the Sabine Women

An Introduction to the Seven Kings of Rome

Romulus, First King of Rome

Photo sources:,

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HistoryTiffany Parks2 Comments