The Beginnings of Rome
According to Livy & Plutarch
1 For dates, I’m using the Holocene Era system, which begins at 10,000 bce to make the negative integers of bce dates positive.
- 10,000 bce = 1 he
- the year of the first Olympiad (776 bce) is 9225 he
- the founding of Rome (753 bce) is 9248 he
This according to the work of Titus Livius, known today as Livy (9942-10017)1, and his book Ab Urbe Condita Libri, written between 9974 and 9992. The founding of the city and the history of Romulus & Remus is from Book I (Benjamin Oliver Foster trans. 11919) and dates to 9974-76. According to Livy himself, at the time of writing, it had been 726 years since the founding of Rome, ab urbe conditia, a.u.c.
With additional information from Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus, known today as Plutarch (10046-10120) who wrote a biography of Romulus in the first volume of Lives, which is dated to 10075, a hundred years after Livy’s work.
I. From Aeneas to Romulus
1. Aeneas to Latinus Silvius
Livy begins his history with the Trojan War. He tells that Aeneas led a group of Trojans to Italy where he was welcomed by the Latins and their king Latinus. Aeneas married Latinus’ daughter Lavinia and founded the city of Lavinium in her name. Latinus was later killed in a battle so that Aeneas became king and his son Ascanius his successor. While Lavinium had grown too large, Ascanius set off to found his own city, Alba Longa, at the foot of present-day Monte Cavo (then known as Monte Albano). This new city was called Alba Longa, and its founding occurred thirty years after the founding of Lavinium.
2. Latinus Silvius to Tiberinus
As Livy states, the power of the new city had become great enough that surrounding tribes left them be, and the agreed-upon boundary between the Etruscans and the Latins was the River Albula (the present Tiber). Ascanius was succeeded Silvius (“born by as it chanced in the forest”; silvia is the Latin word for ‘forest’) and Silvius in turn was succeeded by Aeneas Silvius and he in turn by Latinus Silvius. Latinus Silvius founded several colonies whom Livy referred to as the Ancient Latins, and “thereafter the cognomen Silvius was retained by all who ruled at Alba”. Livy here relates a simple genealogy: Latinus Silvius ⇒ Alba ⇒ Alba Atys ⇒ Atys Capys ⇒ Capetus ⇒ Tiberinus.
3. Tiberinus to Aventius
Tiberinus drowned while crossing the Albula River, at which point it became known as the Tiber. His son Agrippa was then King, and after he Romulus Silvius. This is not yet the Romulus of legend, and this Romulus was killed by lightning, after which Aventius became king. After Aventius died he was buried “on that hill which is now part of the City of Rome and gave his name to that hill.” (The Aventine).
Thus so far we have this genealogy from the beginning:
Aeneas ⇒ Ascanius ⇒ Silvius ⇒ Aeneas Silvius ⇒ Latinus Silvius ⇒ Alba ⇒ Alba Atys ⇒ Atys Capys ⇒ Capetus ⇒ Tiberinus ⇒ Agrippa ⇒ Romulus Silvius ⇒ Aventius of the Aventine Hill.
4. Aventius to Romulus
After Aventius, Proca ruled, who had two sons, Numitor and Amulius. Numitor was the elder, and he inherited “the ancient realm of the Silvian family”. Numitor had two children, an unnamed son and a daughter Rhea Silvia.
Amulius though acted as an upstart and “drove out his brother and ruled in his stead”. Amulius also killed his nephew to secure his position, and he appointed his niece Rhea Silvia to be a Vestal Virgin “under pretense of honouring her” but also her perpetual virginity would ensure no children.
Romulus & Remus Rhea Silvia was raped and became pregnant with twins. As Livy states, she named Mars their father “so believing, or because it seemed less wrong if a god where the author of her fault.” (vi compressa vestalis cum geminum partum edidisset, seu ita rata seu quia deus auctor culpae honestior erat, martem incertae stirpis patrem nuncupat).
A 21st Century note must be added here, since what is implied by “her fault” was the loss of her avowed virginity, however vi compressa (vi: strength/power/violence/force + compressa: copulate/pressed/subdue) clearly implies rape. The victim blaming here is a statement reflecting ancient patriarchal values and those of two thousand years ago when Livy wrote.
9230 | 771 bc Amulius ordered Rhea arrested and cast into prison, and after she gave birth, he ordered the children to be cast into the river. The Tiber at that time had flooded and the men carrying out the deed expected the newborns to drown no mater where they were left, and so abandoned them at one of the flood-pools “at the nearest point of overflow, where the fig-tree Ruminalis now stands. In those days this was a wild and uninhabited region.” This fig tree stood near a cave which became known as the Lupercal, and it was at the foot of the Palatine Hill. According to Plutarch’s romulus the twins were born in 9230 he (771 bce).
Apparently, as the flood water receded the basket carrying the babies was left on land and here is where the famous story of the wolf begins. Now, as even Livy points out, the Latin word lupa can mean a she-wolf or a prostitute. The traditional story is that the wolf came down from the hills and heard the crying babies and gave them succor. Faustulus, who was the shepherd of the royal flock (according to Plutarch a swineherd) found the babies being nursed by the wolf and took them to his hut where his wife Larentia took care of them. Here Livy states that by his time, the understanding was that Larentia was probably a prostitute and thus the babies had been found by her, which in turn gave rise to what Livy called “the marvelous story”.
Romulus & Remus were raised by Fautulus and Larentia and as they grew they helped tend the farm and the sheep and hunt the area. They would also “attack robbers laden with spoils” — that is raiding raiders and they would share their bounty with other shepherds, in this way developing a gang.
Livy tells that the Palatine Hill, where Romulus & Remus lived, was even then the site of the Lupercali festival, the story being that the Palatine had been named after the Arcadian city of Palanteum where Evander (originally from Arcadia) had imported the rite, where “youths should run naked about in playful sport in honour of Lycaen Pan”. The Lupercali happened in mid February, and while Romulus & Remus played in this, some of the robbers who'd been plundered by the R&R gang attacked them in retribution, and captured Remus. In turn, they delivered Remus to King Amulius.
In delivering Remus, they also pointed out that Remus and his gang “had made raids on the land of Numitor like an invading enemy”.
Again let’s remind ourselves of the genealogy:
Aventius (of the Aventine Hill) ⇒ Proca ⇒ Numitor ⇒ Rhea Silvia ⇒ Romulus + Remus.
While displaced by his brother Amulius, Numitor still lived, and presumably within the realm of Amulius. As Livy states, the captured Remus had been “given up to Numitor to be punished”. Faustulus, having known about Amulius’ decree to abandon newborns around the time he’d found them, had always suspected who they were but understanding the danger had kept the secret. At this point however, recognizing the danger to Remus, he disclosed the identity to Numitor, the twins’ grand-father. Faustulus confirmed Numitor’s own suspicion about this twin without “a servile nature”. According to Livy, he was “almost ready to acknowledge Remus” when Romulus sprang his surprise attack.
Romulus ordered his shepherd to gather at the palace individually by clandestine means, and at the given time struck. He rescued Remus but also killed King Amulius, while Numitor had taken a garrison to defend the citadel. After Romulus had recovered Remus, they young men went to Numitor. As Livy wrote,
When Numitor saw the young men approaching, after they had dispatched the king, to congratulate him, he at once summoned a council, and laid before it his brother's crimes against himself, the parentage of his grandsons, and how they had been born, reared, and recognized. He then announced the tyrant’s [Amulius’] death, and declared himself to be responsible for it. The brothers advanced with their band through the midst of the crowd, and hailed their grandfather king, whereupon such a shout of assent arose from the entire throng as confirmed the new monarch's title and authority.
II. The Foundation of Rome
“The Alban state thus being made over to Numitor”, the brothers desired a city of their own, in the region where they had grown up. As twins, there was no “elder brother” so it was agreed that they should chose the new settlement’s name by signs of the gods. Romulus took the Palatine Hill for his division, and Remus the Aventine.
Remus saw his sign in the flight of six vultures, but then twelve vultures appeared to Romulus. This appearance of two signs divided the new city, Remus followers believing he’d been first, Romulus’ believing in the superior number of the vultures. A wall between the division was built, and later during a fight between the two camps, is is said that Remus jumped over the wall, and a furious Romulus killed him, saying “So perish whoever else shall leap over my walls! sic deinde, quicumque alius transiliet moenia mea”.
In this way Romulus became the only king, and the new city acquired his name. According to Plutarch's work, the twins at the time of the city's founding were 18 years old. According to present chronologies the year was 9248 he | 753 bc, and according to Plutarch the founding occurred on April 21st.
2. April – August 9248 he (753 bc)
Romulus assembled the people to give them the rule of law, believing only law could unite them. Also, believing the law would only be “binding the eyes of a rustic people” he needed to “invest his own person with majesty by adopting the emblems of authority”. Livy believed that Romulus borrowed the trappings of power from the Etruscans: the curule chair and purple-bordered toga, as well as twelve lictors, attendants who carried axes in bundles of rods, which symbolized their readiness to scourge and decapitate at the king's command. Some believed the number 12 reflected the number of vultures Romulus had seen, while others saw the 12 as coming from Etruscans and their twelve cities.
I should note here that what Livy refers to as cities we should understand to mean a settlement of a huts, tents, something they called a palace. Livy writes that his new City was “reaching out its walls to include one place after another” yet this was done ambitiously, in anticipation of the population they hoped to have rather than what they actually had. Romulus’ plan at this time was to offer sanctuary, “a plan long employed by the founders of cities, who gather about them an insecure and lowly multitude”. At the present Capitoline, which Livy described as “the place now enclosed between the two groves as you go up the hill” he opened a sanctuary, to which gathered from surrounding tribes & cities the “miscellaneous rabble, without distinction of bond or free, eager for new conditions.” Romulus in effect had proclaimed that which was enshrined twenty-six centuries later by the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
This policy was successful and so Romulus then appointed 100 senators, which Livy notes, was either because he the number 100 was sensible or there were no more than 100 who were appropriate to be named Fathers, that is head of clans, the patres familiarum. Their decedents were called patricians.
3. The Rape of The Sabine Women
August 9248 Let’s first note that in Latin, this is named the sabinae raptae, where raptae means abduction, not rape in our conventional sense. That being said, Romulus had by this time founded a city and attracted a population of mostly men. According to the ancient value, Romulus believed that the city was “strong enough to hold her own in any ware with adjacent states” that is, they had attained a measure of greatness, but understood that this would not last without women and offspring. The City had “neither the prospect of posterity nor the right of intermarriage with her neighbors.”
Having conferred with the 100 senators and on their advice, Romulus sent envoys to the neighboring populations seeking colonists, the privilege of intermarrying and alliances. They argued that while new-founded, great things have small beginnings, and they expected a glorious future. Remember that by this time, Romulus & Remus were believed to have been the sons of Mars, protected by the gods against infanticide and given signs by the gods as to where to found their settlements. Their belief in future glory was in turn a faith in what they believed to have been favour by the gods. Romulus’ envoys made these arguments in order to convey the message that there were deserving of prestige and it would not be inappropriate for intermarriages to take place.
The envoys were treated poorly, and occasionally mocked when they were told that the only way to get women would be to open a sanctuary for women as well as men. Livy states that this insult could only lead to violence, which Romulus arranged by invited neighboring peoples to solemn games in the honour of Neptune. The games he named Consualia, and according to Plutarch this event took place on August 18th.
“Many people eager to see the new city” arrived for the festival, including the neighboring Sabine tribe, who came with their children and wives. Livy wrote that they were “hospitably entertained in every house” and they marveled “that Rome had so rapidly grown great” noting and the walls and the many buildings. According to the dates available, the city at this point was only four months old.
The festivities were to be a sacrifice and public games. Plutarch wrote that Romulus sat in front of his nobles (the appointed patricians) clad in purple. The signal was to be when he rose and gathered up his robe and threw it over his body, and when he did so, his men drew their swords and abducted the daughters of the neighboring tribes. Plutarch wrote the number abducted was 30, but states one his sources (Valerius Antias) had it at 527; another source (
The abduction of course was a dramatic event, creating panic and fury. After things had settled down, and the neighboring tribes had left, Romulus spoke to the women and blamed their parents, saying they had refused them the right to intermarry. He told them they were to be married and “become co-partners in all possessions of the Romans, in their citizenship and in their children”. He also told them that because of the manner in which they found themselves betrothed, their husbands would be more affectionate and kinder to them “to console his wife for the home and parents she had lost”. Livy writes here that “his arguments were seconded by the wooing of the men who excused their act on the score of passion and love, the most moving of all pleas to a woman's heart | accedebant blanditiae virorum, factum purgantium cupiditate atque amore, quae maxime ad muliebre ingenium efficaces preces sunt.” I do not know if within our 21st Century I can say that remark is sexist, for it is a sentiment still echoed by popular culture and one that it is 2049 years old.
While it is said that the Romans abducted only unmarried women, it is said by Plutarch that one woman had been married, and that was Hersilia, the bride of Romulus. She had been married to Hostius. Plutarch, in downplaying the crime according to the received tradition, states that her married state was unknown, because the Romans “did not commit this rape wantonly, but with a design purely of forming alliance with their neighbors by the greatest and surest bonds.”
Having inflamed his neighbors by this terrible act, they in turn raised armies. The first battle was with the Caeninenses, which Romulus and his men won. Romulus deposit the spoils of the battle by an oak which the shepherds held sacred, and made this an offer to Jupiter marking out the limits of what became a temple, the first in the City.
The Roman Citadel atop the Capitoline Hill was commanded by Spurius Tarpeius, who had a daughter named Tarpeia. Tarpeia left the citadel to fetch water for a sacrifice, when she encountered Titus Tatius, the king of the Sabines, bribed her with gold to let them into the fortress. She did so, but once within they threw the shield on her and killed her. Her body was thrown from the Capitoline Hill at a spot now known as the Tarpiean Rock.
The Sabines held the citadel atop Capitoline overnight. The next day, the Roman forces gathered “and covered the ground between the Palatine and Capitoline”. The Roman soldiers through “rage and eagerness to regain the citadel” and having been taunted by the Sabines, began to march up the hill. The Sabines were led by Mettius Curtius and the Romans by Hostius Hostilius. Hostius displayed “reckless courage” in the midst of the fighting and held the Romans firm, but he fell and with him the Roman line, which began to retreat to the old gate of the Palatine.
Romulus, swept up the crowd, raised his sword and shield to the sky and prayed to Jupiter that the Romans stop their “shameful flight” and to deliver the City, vowing a temple if they were victorious. The retreat stopped and Romulus rushed to the head of the battle.
Metius Curtius had led the Sabine charge down from the hill and they were gathered on the ground now occupied by the Forum, part of which was swamp. Mettius was near the Palatine gate, and shouting “We have beaten our faithless hosts, our cowardly enemies! They know now how great is the difference between carrying off maidens and fighting with men!; vicimus perfidos hospites, imbelles hostes; iam sciunt longe aliud esse virgines rapere, aliud pugnare cum viris.” While distracted by his boasting, he was attacked by Romulus and a band of young men. Mettius was fighting on horseback and fled easily, but the Romans followed, and they drove the Sabines forward. Mettius ran his horse into a swamp and his horse became unmanageable. However, Mettius managed to escape, while the the Romans and Sabines continued to fight.
The Intervention of the Sabine Women The Sabine women ran amidst the soldiers, arguing with their fathers and husbands, telling them that sons-in-law should not taint future generations with the parricide of their fathers-in-law. They were willing to accept blame for the war, as its cause, and it had the effect of making the men put down their weapons. “A stillness fell on them, and a sudden hush.” A peace was made, and they agreed to unite the populations. While sharing sovereignty, authority was transfered to Rome. The population was instantly doubled; the pool where the horse of Mettius Curtius emerged from the swamp was named Curtian Lake.
As Livy wrote, that Rome’s first war had resolved so amicably endeared the Sabine women to their husbands and parents, and especially to Romulus. When he divided the population into 30 curiae he named them after Sabine women. At the same time, three centuries of knights were created: the Ramnenses, the Titienses and the Luceres. Livy says that the two kings (Romulus and the Sabine Tatius) ruled harmoniously together.
Of the fate of Tatius, he who had bribed Tarpeia with gold and was then reconciled to Romulus and co-ruled with him as King, some years later (Plutarch tells us it was five) relative of his robbed ambassadors of the Laurentians and angered demanded justice. Tatius traveled to Lavinium for a sacrifice and was killed by a mob angered by the initial crime. Livy says that the assisnation of Tatius did not anger Romulus, and speculates it was either because he didn't not enjoy sharing power, or felt he had deserved it. “Here therefore declined to go to war” and renewed diplomatic ties to Lavinium.
After this, Livy tells of another war between neighboring peoples, who raided the fields around the City. Romulus raised his army and fought them, and a truce and treaty was brought about to ensure a peace for a hundred years. After this, Livy states Rome “enjoyed a peace for the next forty years”.
Of Romulus, he was liked more by the people then by the Senate, and was beloved by his soldiers. He kept a bodyguard of three hundred, which he named the ‘Celeres’ (which in Latin means "swift").
9285 he The End of Romulus According to Plutarch this occurred on the Nones of July (the 7th). Romulus was review the soldiers on the Field of Mars near its swamp Capra, when a sudden thunder storm arose. A cloud was blown up which enveloped him, and when it dispersed Romulus was gone.
After the storm dissipated the weather was sunny and calm, and the soldiers, struck by the sudden loss of their commander and king, believed the Senators, who had been standing with Romulus, that he had be swept up into the sky. There was a rumor however that Romulus had been assassinated by the Senators, and this story of his disappearance into the sky was just a story to hide their act. This rumor obviously had enough currency to survive seven hundred years to Livy's telling. Proculus Julius enabled the story of the sky disappearance by proclaiming he had been visited by Romulus, who had come down from the sky at dawn that morning and told him to declare Rome's glory: “Go,” Romulus said, “and declare to the Romans the will of Heaven that my Rome shall be the capital of the world; so let them cherish the art of war, and let them know and teach their children that no human strength can resist Roman arms” | ‘abi, nuntia,’ inquit ‘romanis caelestes ita velle ut mea roma caput orbis terrarum sit; proinde rem militarem colant, sciantque et ita posteris tradant nullas opes humanas armis romanis resistere posse.’. After this, Romulus once again disappeared into the sky.
As Livy states, “It is wonderful what credence the people placed in that man's tale, and how the grief for the loss of Romulus, which the plebeians and the army felt, was quieted by the assurance of his immortality.”
- Composed in July 2016 but unpublished
- March 2018: Published here