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The founding of Romemarker is reported by many legends, which in recent times are beginning to be supplemented by more scientific reconstructions.

Virgil's Aeneid is an important source for information about those early times or, at least, the myth-historical events current in the Augustan period.

The Latins originally stayed in Colli Albani (the Alban hills, modern Castelli 30–80 km (20–50 miles) southeast of the Capitoline hill); later, they moved down towards the valleys, which provided better land for animal breeding and agriculture. The area around the Tiber river was particularly advantageous and also offered notable strategic resources, as the river was a natural border on one side, while the hills could provide a safe defensive position on the other side. This position would also have enabled the Latins to control the river (and commercial or military traffic on it), from the natural observation point at Isola Tiberinamarker (the island facing modern Trasteveremarker). Moreover, road traffic could also be controlled, since Rome was at the intersection of the principal roads to the sea coming from Sabinum (in the northeast) and Etruria (to the northwest).

The development of the town is presumed to have started from the development of separate small villages, located on top of hills, which joined together to form Rome.

Although recent studies suggest that the Quirinal hillmarker was very important in ancient times, the first hill to be inhabited seems to have been the Palatinemarker (therefore confirming the legend), which is also at the center of ancient Rome. Its three peaks, minor hills (Cermalus or Germalus, Palatium, and Velia) united with the three peaks of the Esquiline (Cispius, Fagutal, and Oppius), and then villages on the Caelian hill and Suburra (between modern Rione Monti and the Oppius hill) joined them.

These hills had expressive names: the Caelian hill was also called Querquetulanus, from quercus (oak), while Fagutal points to beech-woods, from fagus (beech). Recent discoveries reveal that the Germalus on the northern part of the Palatine, was the site of a village (dated to the 9th century BC) with circular or elliptic dwellings. It was protected by a clay wall (perhaps reinforced with wood), and it is likely that this is where Rome was really founded.

The territory of this federation was surrounded by a sacred border called the pomerium, which enclosed the so-called Roma Quadrata (Square Rome). This would have been extended with the inclusion of the Capitoline hill and Tiber island at the time Rome became an oppidum or fortified town. The Esquiline still was a satellite village that would be included at the time of the Servian expansion of Rome.

Festivals for the Septimontium (literally "of the seven hills"), on December 11, were in the past considered related to the foundation. However, as April 21 is the only datum for foundation upon which all the legends agree, it has been recently argued that Septimontium was likely to have actually celebrated the first federations among Roman hills: a similar federation was, in fact, celebrated by the Latins at Cavemarker (a village southeast of Rome) or at Monte Cavomarker (in Castelli).

According to Francis Owen in The Germanic People (1960), the people which settled Rome may have been immigrants from outside the Italian peninsula, possibly an off-shoot from the same group that would become Celtic or Germanic peoples. Traces of the founding population were apparently evident in the appearance of the aristocracy long into the time of the republic. According to Owens the evidence available from Roman literature, historical records and statuary and personal names shows that in physical appearance the Roman aristocracy differed from most of the population in the rest of the peninsula. The records describe a very large number of well known historical personalities as blonde. In addition, 250 individuals are recorded to have had the name Flavius, meaning blonde, and there are many named Rufus and Rutilius, meaning red haired and reddish haired respectively. The following Roman gods are said to have had blonde hair: Amor, Apollo, Aurora, Bacchus, Ceres, Diana, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Minerva and Venus.

The legend

Aeneas and Julus

According to Virgil's Aeneid, the defeated army of Troymarker crossed the Mediterranean Seamarker on the orders of prince Aeneas, reaching the Italian coast. Here they were considered to have landed in an area between modern Anziomarker and Fiumicinomarker, southwest of Rome. Most commonly it is supposed that they landed at Laurentummarker (or Larentum); other versions say that they landed at Laviniummarker, a place named for Latinus' daughter Lavinia.

King Procas was the father of Numitor and Amulius. At Procas' death, Numitor became king of Albalonga, but Amulius captured him and sent him to prison; he also forced Rea Silvia (Numitor's daughter) to become a priestess of the Vestan cult. For many years Amulius was then the king.

Gods and priestesses

According to myth Mars had two sons with Rea Silvia, a priestess devoted to the sacred cult of Vesta. The name Rea Silvia (often written Rhea Silvia) suggests a minor deity, a demi-goddess of forests. Silva means woods or forest, and rea may be related to res and regum. Rhea was also the mother of Zeus, later renamed Jupiter by the Romans.

Romulus and Remus

The earlier legend of the founding of the Rome (i.e., that it was founded personally by Aeneas), was supplanted over the centuries by the attribution of the founding to twin brothers, Romulus (c. 771 BC–c. 717 BC) and Remus (c. 771 BC–c. 753 BC). In Roman mythology, they are sons of the priestess Rhea Silvia and Mars, the god of war, abandoned at birth at Tiber by servants in charge of executing them. The twins were taken by a she-wolf. Later a shepherd named Faustulus came and took Remus and Romulus. Faustulus and his wife (Acca Larentia) raised the children. When Remus and Romulus became adults they decided to establish a city. They couldn't decide who would rule the city so they gave it to omens. Remus was the first to see six vultures flying in the sky. Soon after Romulus saw twelve vultures. Remus saw the birds first but Romulus saw more. Finally Romulus was the one who was designated. When Remus saw how weak Romulus was he laughed. In retaliation Romulus killed Remus.

The date of the founding of Rome

During the Roman republic, several dates were given for the founding of the city, all in the interval between 758 BC and 728 BC. Finally, under the Roman empire the date suggested by Marcus Terentius Varro (753 BC) was agreed upon, but in the Fasti Capitolini the year given was 752. While the years varied, all versions agreed that the city was founded on April 21, day of the festival sacred to Pales, goddess of shepherds; in her honour, Rome celebrated the Par ilia (or Palilia). (The Roman Ab Urbe Condita (or a.u.c.) calendar, however, begins with Varro's dating of 753 BC.)

According to legend, the foundation of Romemarker took place 438 years after the capture of Troymarker (1182 BC), according to Velleius Paterculus (VIII, 5). It took place shortly before an eclipse of the sun; some have identified this eclipse as one observed at Rome on June 25, 745 BC, which had a magnitude of 50.3%. Varro may have used the consular list with its mistakes, calling the year of the first consuls "245 ab urbe condita" (a.u.c.).

According to Lucius Tarrutius of Firmum, Romulus was conceived on the 23rd day of the Egyptian month Choiac, at the time of a total eclipse of the sun. This eclipse occurred on June 15, 763 BC, with a magnitude of 62.5% at Rome. He was born on the 21st day of the month of Thoth. The first day of Thoth fell on 2 March in that year (Prof. E. J. Bickerman, 1980: 115). That implies that Rhea Silvia's pregnancy lasted for 281 days. Rome was founded on the ninth day of the month Pharmuthi, which was April 21, as universally agreed. The Romans add that, about the time Romulus started to build the city, an eclipse of the Sun was observed by Antimachus, the Teian poet, on the 30th day of the lunar month. This eclipse (see above) had a magnitude of 54.6% at Teos, Asia Minormarker. Romulus vanished in the 54th year of his life, on the Nones of Quintilis (July), on a day when the Sun was darkened. The day turned into night, which sudden darkness was believed to be an eclipse of the Sun. It occurred on July 17, 709 BC, with a magnitude of 93.7%. (All these eclipse data have been calculated by Prof. Aurél Ponori-Thewrewk, retired director of the Planetarium of Budapestmarker.) Plutarch placed it in the 37th year from the foundation of Rome, on the fifth of our month July, then called Quintiles, on "Caprotine Nones". Livy (I, 21) also states that Romulus ruled for 37 years. He was slain by the Senate or disappeared in the 38th year of his reign. Most of these have been recorded by Plutarch (Lives of Romulus, Numa Pompilius and Camillus), Florus (Book I, I), Cicero (The Republic VI, 22: Scipio's Dream), Dio Cassius and Dionysius of Halicarnassus (L. 2). Dio in his Roman History (Book I) confirms these data by telling that Romulus was in his 18th year of age when he founded Rome. Therefore, three eclipse records indicate that Romulus reigned from 746 BC to 709 BC. Surprisingly this is very close to the calculation of the founding given by Rome's first native historical writer Quintus Fabius Pictor, who wrote that Rome was founded in the first year of the eighth Olympiad, 747 BC (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Book 1, ch. 74,2).

In the modern period debate has raged over the validity of the stories of Rome's foundation. Scholars have supported both extremes—those who want to believe nothing of the legend, and those who want to believe the legend wholeheartedly without skepticism. Archaeology offers the best chance of sorting out the debate, and indeed recent discoveries on the Palatine Hillmarker in Rome have offered some tantalizing pieces of evidence. Chief among these is a series of fortification walls on the north slope of the Palatine Hill that can be dated to the middle of the 8th century B.C., precisely the time when legend says Romulus plowed a furrow (sulcus) around the Palatine in order to mark the boundary of his new city. The remains of the wall, and other evidence, has been discovered by the excavations of Andrea Carandini.

The name of Rome

The name of the town is generally considered to refer to Romulus, but there are other hypotheses. Some have suggested an Etruscan word, "rhome", meaning "hard", cognate with Greek "ῥώμη, rhōmē", strength, vigor. Another one of them refers it to Roma, who is supposed to have been the daughter of Aeneas or Evander. The Basque scholar Manuel de Larramendi thought that the origin was the Basque word orma (modern Basque horma), "wall".

Rome is also the Urbs, and this name (that in later Latin generically meant any towns) comes from urvus, the furrow cut by a plough in this case, by that of Romulus. Urbs could also come from Urbs, Urbis meaning city in Latin.

On the Capitoline hill, at noon on April 21 every year, a special bell called Patarina rings from the Campidoglio to commemorate the founding of Rome. On that occasion, the famous cannon of Gianicolo remains silent, the only day in the year on which it does not sound.


  1. Francis Owen, " The Germanic people; their Origin Expansion & Culture", 1960 Barnes & Noble Books ISBN 0880295791, page 49.
  2. Cf. Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his "The Social Contract", Book IV, Chapter IV, written in 1762, where he writes in a footnote that the word for Rome is Greek in origin and means force. "There are writers who say that the name 'Rome' is derived from 'Romulus'. It is in fact Greek and means force."

Further reading

  • Forsythe, Gary. A critical history of early Rome : from prehistory to the first Punic War. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005 (hardcover, ISBN 0520226518); 2006 (paperback, ISBN 0520249917).
  • Raaflaub, Kurt A. Social Struggles in Archaic Rome: New Perspectives on the Conflict of the Orders. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005 (hardcover, ISBN 1405100605; paperback, ISBN 1405100613).

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