The Founding of Rome
The Founding of Rome is
very much embroiled in myth.
Traces found by archaeologists of early settlements of the Palatine
Hill date back to ca 750 BC.
This ties in very closely to the established legend that Rome was
founded on 21 April 753 BC. Which was traditionally celebrated in
Rome with the festival of Parilia.
The founding legends exist - Romulus and Remus and Aeneas.
Rather than contradict each other, the tale of Aeneas adds to that
of Romulus and Remus.
Romulus and Remus
Numitor of Alba Longa was ejected by his younger brother Amulius. To
do away with any further possible pretenders to his usurped throne,
Amulius murdered Numitor's sons and forced Numitor's daughter, Rhea
Silvia, to become a vestal virgin. (Vestal virgins were priestesses
to the goddess Vesta and were expected to guard their virginity in
the goddess' honour on pain of death.)
However Mars, the god of war became enchanted by her beauty and has
his way with her while she slept. As a result of this Rhea Silvia
bore twins, Romulus and Remus.
An enraged Amulius had Rhea Silvia thrown into the river Tiber where
she was caught beneath the waves by the river god who married her.
The twins were set adrift on the river in a reed basket. They
floated downstream until the basket was caught in the branches of a
This was where they were found by a she-wolf who suckled them (wolves
are sacred to Mars) until a shepherd found them.
Another version of the same story tells of the shepherd finding them
and taking them to his wife, who had just lost a stillborn child and
who breast fed them. The tale says the shepherd's wife was a former
Which one of the two versions is the original is hard to tell. In
Latin lupa means both 'she-wolf' and 'prostitute'.
As the two boys had grown to men in the care of the couple, they
were told of their true origins. Amulius was subsequently slain in
battle and Numitor was restored to his throne.
The twins decided to found a new city close to where they had been
washed ashore, caught by the fig tree.
Reading omens of the flight of birds they decided to build their
city on Palatine Hill and that Romulus should be King.
Romulus took to marking the city's boundaries with a plough drawn by
a white bull and a white cow.
Remus however leapt over the furrow, either in jest or derision.
Romulus lost his temper and killed his brother.
The new city, little more than a small settlement, had almost no
women. So, determined to solve this problem, Romulus invited the
neighbouring tribe of the Sabines to a harvest festival. Once their
guests had arrived the Romans though chose not to entertain them but
far more to abduct at swordpoint 600 Sabine daughters.
If the tale of Romulus
and Remus appears the more popular Roman founding tale today, then
the tale of Aeneas, harking back to yet earlier times, was perhaps
the more popular in the days of the Roman Empire. In fact through
Virgil the Aeneid became the national epic of the Roman
empire and the most famous poem of the Roman era.
Aeneas was to have been a hero fighting the Greeks in the Trojan
wars. The son of Venus and a mortal father he escaped as the great
city of Troy was sacked and after quite an odyssey he landed in
Latium through which the river Tiber flows. Aeneas married the
daughter of King Latinus, only to aggrieve King Turnus of Rutuli who
himself had his eye on her. As usual in ancient tales, there ensued
a war for the princess between Turnus and Aeneas, who was by then
supported by King Tarchon of the Etruscans. Naturally Aeneas, son of
Venus, was triumphant.
The sack of Troy is dated to around 1220 BC. To fill the years from
Aeneas to Romulus the Romans therefore were required to produce a
string of fictional Kings to make the tale work. This was done
across all the generations with some ease from Ascanius, son of
Aeneas to Numitor the
such the Latins settled in the wider area of Rome around 1000 BC.
Though those early settlements were not to be mistaken for anything
like a city. They kept pigs, herded sheep, goats, cattle and lived
in primitive huts.
So how could such
archaic beginnings ever lead to a city of power which would rule the
world ? The rise of Rome was certainly not inevitable, but it had
many advantages right from the start. Rome lies only a few miles
from the sea with all its possibilities of trade. It lies central to
the Italian peninsula, which in turn lies central to the entire
Mediterranean Sea. Italy is guarded by the Alps to the North and by
the sea all around. Add to this the influence of the Greeks which
were settling Italy, founding cities like Cumea, and hence bringing
advanced civilization to the country and you have a place with lots
of potential. From the Greeks the Romans learnt fundamental skills
such as reading and writing, even their religion is almost entirely
derived from Greek mythology. i.e. for Jupiter write Zeus, Mars is
Ares, Venus is Aphrodite, etc... If the Greeks settled to the south
of them, then the Roman had the Etruscans to the north. Etruria was
predominantly an urban society, drawing its considerable wealth from
seaborne trade. Were the Etruscans rather extravagant people, they
were generally seen by the more hardy Romans to be decadent and weak.
While being distinctly unique in their right the Etruscans too had
very much developed from the more advanced and civilized cultures of
the east, owing much of their culture to the Greeks. At around 650
to 600 BC the Etruscans crossed the Tiber and occupied Latium. It is
through this, so one believes, that the settlement on the Palatine
Hill was brought together with the settlements on surrounding hills,
either in an attempt to fend off the invaders, or, once conquered,
by the Etruscan master who sought to rule their kingdom via a
structure of city states. It is at this point that the first known
Kings appear. Always assuming that the likes of Romulus were to be
seen as myth.
The Roman Kings
Historical details are still too obscure for any definite records of
a Roman state which is still half mythical.
But it was under the Roman Kings that the Roman ability to create an
empire of sorts first came to the fore, even though any original
intentions will hardly have been of an imperial nature.
there was said to have been seven kings of Rome covering a period of
over two hundred years.
first king of Rome was the mythical Romulus, the fabled founder, was the
To him is attributed the founding, the extension to four of the
Roman hill, - the Capitoline, Aventine, Caelian and Quirinal -, and
the infamous rape of the Sabine women.
of Rome, Numa Pompilius, owing to the influence of his adviser, the
nymph and prophetess Egeria, enjoyed a peaceful reign.
however, Tullius Hositilius, was responsible for the destruction of
Alba Longa and the removal of its inhabitants to Rome.
With the literal destruction of this opponent they took over the
sacred festivals of Latium and all the regional prestige and status
that came with it.
Ancus Marcius, extended the city further, built the first bridge
across the across the Tiber and founded Ostia at the mouth of that
river to serve Rome as a seaport.- All evidence of the city's
Tarquinius Priscus, was an Etruscan, though how he secured his
kingship is unknown. He continued the work of conquest, but found
time to build the first sewer, the Cloaca Maxima, laid out the
Circus Maximus, and began to erect on the Capitoline Hill a great
temple to Jupiter.
Servius Tullius, was a celebrated monarch of great achievements. He
made the division of the people into tribes and classes, thus
setting up a constitution in which wealth was the dominant
consideration. Also he is said to have enlarged the city by building
a wall around it, five miles in circumference with nineteen gates,
embracing all the seven hills of Rome. He transferred the regional
festival of Diana from Aricia to the Aventine Hill of Rome. Shortly
afterwards a massive temple of ca. 60 metres length and 50 width (begun
by Tarquinius Priscus) was dedicated on the Capitoline Hill to
Tarquinius Superbus, was Rome's last. He continued with great vigour
the work of extending the power of the city, and the founding of
colonies by him was the beginning of Rome's path to supremacy of the
world. But on other matters Tarquinius was less politically astute.
He irritated the people by the burdens he placed upon them. And when
his son Sextus outraged Lucretia, the wife of a prominent Roman,
Tarquinius was exiled, the lead being taken by a rich citizen named
Brutus, whose father's property he had seized.
whilst the Kings rules Rome that the roots of the the later Roman
constitution were laid down.
The King was appointed by the senate, an advisory body of patricians.
The King's rule was a total one. He possessed the right of capital
punishment, was responsibility for foreign relations and war, for
public security, public works, justice and proper maintenance of
It was these Roman Kings whose symbols which later too in imperial
Rome were still born for the emperor which introduced the fasces as a symbol of their power (an axe, tied in the centre of a bundle
Society was organized in a patriarchal way. The heads of this
society, the Patricians (derived from pater for father),
stood each at the fore of a group of clients, an extended body of
hereditary hangers-on. The clients depended on their patrician
family for patronage and economic support. In return they gave their
labour and, if necessary, their military service.
Their was a sharp difference made between the patricians and the
clients on the one side and the plebeians (or plebs),
the common people, on the other.
The overall community was divided into three tribes. Each tribe was
responsible for providing 1000 men of infantry and 100 cavalry in
times of war (which was frequent!). Further each tribe was divided
into 10 curiae. The representatives of this curiae met
with the King to discuss matters of national importance. However,
their role was purely advisory. The power lay with the King.
Servius Tullius is credited with reforming the army, to whom he also
granted the status of a political assembly in its own right, the comitia centuriata.
under the Kings is a far cry from primitive peasants living in huts.
Craftsmen plied their trades in the cities, organized by guilds,
since the very first King of Rome, Numa Pompilius.
However, contrary to the Greeks, this early Roman society did not
use money. Far more they bartered - salt for pottery, grain for wood,
etc... Where the system proved in adequate the Romans expressed
value in for of 'heads of cattle'. One such head of cattle was worth
ten sheep. The head of cattle (pecus)became the first Roman
monetary unit. From this came the first Latin word for money - pecunia. A primitive monetary system evolved based on ingots of
raw copper of the Roman pound (libra) of 327 g.
Such an ingot could then be broken up into yet different sizes and
King Servius was the first to have a stamp put onto the copper,
until then it was just the raw metal. The design to have been used
supposedly was either an ox or sheep.
from the Etruscans the Roman learnt there later famed ability in
engineering and architecture. Most significantly it was from the
Etruscans that they learnt to use the arch to bridge space. A
feature not used by the Greeks.
The great temple to Jupiter was planned by Tarquinus Priscus, but it
was his grandson Tarquinus Superbus.
It was a project of some magnitude for the Rome of its day and it
involved forcing the plebs into labour in great numbers.
Craftsmen being called upon from Etruria as well as Latium. Many
Roman craftsmen being forced from their private businesses to
contribute for the public good.
the era of the Kings also the sewers were begun to be built. Some
reportedly 'large enough to drive a loaded hay-waggon to pass
through'. Though this cloaca maxima (great sewer) was
originally an open ditch, simply designed to drain the water from
the valleys between the hills of Rome.
of the kings appears to be largely due to a gradual development
toward democratic rule, much like in Greece, rather than to a
singular event. Also the growing use of forced labour made Tarquinus
Superbus increasingly unpopular. In any case a band of nobles, led
by Lucius Junius, later called Brutus, conspired against the King
and overthrew him.
It is well possible that this revolt was part of a larger rebellion
by several Latin cities (Antium, Aricia and Tusculum) against a
foreign Etruscan King. However, Tarquinus was not killed in the
revolt and escaped to the Etruscans, on whose help he naturally
could count. One Etruscan chief, known as Porsena, occupied Rome for
some time. But Porsena having narrowly survived an assassination
attempt was sufficiently unnerved to withdraw his garrison, taking
Rome for some time lay under the continued threat of Etruscan
intervention. But the days of Etruscan dominance were over. Rome had
won its independence.