Romulus and Remus


Romulus and Remus (according to the classical version of ancient tradition, both were born in 771 B.C., Remus died in April 754

In historical times Romulus was revered by the Romans as the founder of their city and was deified under the name of Quirinus. He was associated with the emergence of key military-political and cultural institutions. Modern scholarship holds that Romulus and Remus are mythical characters-eponyms whose legend arose under the influence of Greek culture. In addition, Romulus was a popular character in New Age painting – particularly in connection with the story of the abduction of the Sabine women.

Origins and Early Years

Antique tradition calls Romulus and Remus descendants of Aeneas. This hero of Greek mythology, son of Anchises and the goddess Venus, belonged to the family of Trojan kings and after the capture of Troy by the Achaeans fled westward to Italy, where he founded the city of Lavinius. His son Ascanias became the founder and first king of the city of Alba Longa.

There were different versions of the genealogy of the twins: Plutarch”s sources call Romulus and Remus the sons of Aeneas by Dexytheia, daughter of Forbant, the grandsons of Aeneas through his daughter by Lavinia Emilia, or even the sons of Latina, son of Telemachus (son of Odysseus), by the Trojan woman Roma. Plutarch himself considered the most plausible version, according to which Romulus and Remus were distant descendants of Aeneas through the kings of Alba-Longa. Titus Livy lists ancestors in fourteen generations separating Romulus and Remus from Ascanius.

The twins” grandfather, King Alba-Longa Numitor, was overthrown by his own brother Amulius. The latter exiled the deposed king, killed his son, and made his daughter Ilia or Rhea Silvia a vestal and thus condemned her to celibacy. Nevertheless, the girl soon became pregnant. According to the most ancient version, she conceived by the god Mars; according to later alternative versions, by some mortal (Livy writes of violence) or by a demon. Amulius wanted to execute his niece, but he listened to the pleas of his daughter Anto and confined himself to sending the pregnant vestal virgin to prison. When she gave birth to two twin boys, the king ordered the babies to be thrown into the Tiber. It was high tide, so the slave who was charged with this task left the basket with the children in the shallow water; it swam upstream, but got caught in the branches of a fig tree dedicated to Rumina, the goddess of infant nourishment. A wolf came to the watering hole and fed the boys with her milk, while a woodpecker (a bird dedicated to Mars) brought them some food in its beak. Witnesses to this miracle were the royal shepherds who lived on Palatine Hill. One of them, Faustulus, took the children to his home.

Faustulus and his wife, Akka Larentia, decided to raise the foundlings with their twelve sons. The twins received the names Romulus and Remus (“from the word for suckling, for they were first seen suckling a wolf”). It is known that they learned to read and write in the city of Gabia and later grew up on the Palatine with the young people there. The brothers stood out for their beauty, physical strength, and eagerness to lead others. They led their peers in their fight against brigands who raided the hills above the Tiber; on several occasions they themselves acted as brigands or were adopted as such. In one of the skirmishes Remus was captured by the shepherds of Numitor and brought before King Amulius. The latter, issuing a death sentence, sent him to his brother for execution, but Numitor guessed that he was not a simple shepherd before him. Asking Remus about the circumstances surrounding his birth, the former king recognized him as his own grandson. Remus received a military detachment from his grandfather, while in the meantime Romulus, gathering shepherds, brigands, and runaway slaves, brought a whole army to Alba Long. Acting together, the brothers took the city by storm. Amulius was killed by Romulus in the battle, and Numitor returned to the throne.

Fratricide and the Founding of Rome

When Romulus and Remus regained the power of their grandfather, they decided to establish a new community. Among their supporters were many runaway slaves and criminals, whom the inhabitants of Alba Longa did not want to accept into their midst, and the twins did not want to disband the army: in this case they would have lost the power they had just gained. So Romulus and Remus decided to build a new city in the places where the she-wolf had once nurtured them. However, they could not agree on exactly where to start building (Romulus was for the Palatine hill, Remus for the Aventine hill), what the city would be called (Roma or Remoria respectively) and which of them would rule there. On Numitor”s advice, the twins resorted to bird-guessing (the omen for Romulus was belated, but it looked more impressive – they were twelve kites. Each of the brothers was convinced that the gods had spoken in his favor, and as a result the disagreement escalated into open conflict.

Romulus began to dig a moat to mark the borders of his city. Remus constantly mocked his brother and prevented him from working. One day he jumped over the ditch, apparently committing sacrilege, and was killed instantly. He was struck with the sword either by Romulus himself or by a friend of Romulus named Caesar; in the same skirmish Faustulus and his brother Plistinus were killed. Romulus, realizing what had happened, became desperate and wanted to give up plans to build the city, but Acca Laurentia persuaded him to continue the work. Immediately after the burial of Remus (which took place on the Aventine) on the Palatine the new city was founded, called Roma (Rome). Ancient authors date this event to the eleventh day before the May Calendar, that is, April 21. According to Varron”s era, it was 754 or 753 B.C.

Rome was founded according to Etruscan customs. First, a circular pit was dug into which “the primitives of all that men have found useful for themselves in accordance with the laws, and all that nature has made necessary for them” were placed, and into which each citizen of the future city threw a handful of earth. This pit became the center of a large circle, on the borders of which the founders ploughed a furrow, thus marking the sacred border of Rome (“pomerai”). Not only the Palatinus, but also the neighboring Capitoline, a two-headed hill, were within the border. The people”s assembly proclaimed Romulus king. Romulus surrounded himself with twelve lictors, issued the first laws; to repopulate the vast territory inside the meridian, he declared the grove between the hills “a refuge” and began to grant civil rights to criminals, runaway slaves and other seekers of happiness flocking to his city.

The king divided the citizens of Rome into patricians and plebeians. To the first group he assigned one hundred “best citizens,” who sat on the king”s council, which became known as the Senate. Romulus himself became the first magistrate in the history of Rome and thus created the three founding elements of the Roman republic: the senate, the magistracy, and the popular assembly. He is also credited with creating the system of the patronate and the formation of the first legions of three thousand infantrymen and three hundred horsemen; thus, the horsemen”s class also appeared under him.

The Abduction of the Sabine Women

The young Roman state immediately faced a serious problem. The number of citizens was growing rapidly, but they were almost exclusively unmarried men, and the surrounding communities did not want to give their girls to the Romans, so Romulus decided to organize a large-scale kidnapping. He invited the residents of the neighboring Sabine cities with their wives and daughters to a feast dedicated to the god Cones. At the height of the feast, the king gave the signal, on hearing which the Romans began to seize the unmarried girls and carry them away behind the city walls. Different sources report 30, 527 or 683 of the abducted Sabine women, of whom only one, Hersilia, was married. The kidnappers took them as wives.

Romulus asked the Sabinians to recognize their marriages and live in peace, but he was refused. The king of the neighboring city of Cenina named Akron immediately marched on Rome; Romulus defeated the Cenians, killed Akron in a duel, and took Cenina by storm. The inhabitants of this city were relocated to Rome.

With this victory Romulus stormed the cities of Fidenes and Crustumeria. However, the rest of the Sabinians gathered a large army led by Titus Tacius and were able to occupy the fortress at Capitol, thanks to the treachery of Tarpea, the commandant”s daughter. A great battle took place between the Tiberian hills, in which both sides fought with extreme bitterness. Romulus himself was wounded by a stone in the head. The Romans fled, but was stopped by the intervention of Jupiter himself. At last, at the decisive moment, the abducted Sabine women rushed into the thick of the battle to stop the fighting and reconcile the fathers and brothers with their husbands. Immediately a treaty was made whereby married women in Rome were freed from domestic work (except for spinning wool), the Sabine men settled alongside the Romans and received equal civil rights, and Titus Tacius became Romulus” co-emperor. The number of soldiers in the legion (up to six thousand six hundred) and the number of senators (up to two hundred) increased accordingly. All citizens were divided into three tribes, named Ramna (after Romulus), Tatia (after Titus) and Lucera (either after the grove that had the rights of “asylum” or after the Etruscan god Lucumon). Each tribe consisted of ten curiae, named after the abducted Sabine women.

The joint reign of Romulus and Tacius lasted four years until the latter was killed by the inhabitants of Laurentus. In the years that followed, Romulus stormed and settled Cameria and defeated the army of the city of Veii. One of Plutarch”s sources claimed that in the decisive battle the king personally killed seven thousand enemies. After Numitor”s death Romulus subjected Alba Longo to the power of his viceroy; on conquered territories he distributed land to the plebs without regard for the interests of the nobility, and thus displeased the patricians.

The Disappearance of Romulus

The reign of Romulus lasted thirty-six or thirty-seven years. One day, in the days of the quintilius (July 7), when the king was making another review of the troops on the field near the Goat”s Mire, a solar eclipse occurred and there was complete darkness for a time; after the return of daylight, the Romans saw that the king had disappeared without a trace. The senators declared that Romulus had been taken to heaven by the gods, and a rumor spread among the people that the patricians had taken advantage of the darkness to kill the king and then torn his body apart and smuggled it away. Serious internal strife might have ensued because of this, but soon one of Romulus” friends named Proculus Julius announced that he had seen the missing king on the road from Alba Longa to Rome. Romulus told him that he had indeed been taken to heaven and that he himself had become a god under the name of Quirinus; he told the Romans that their city would dominate the world, and then he ascended to heaven in front of Proculus. From this point the cult of the god Quirinus began its history.


According to Zenodotus of Tresenes, to whom Plutarch refers, Hersilia (the only Sabinan woman kidnapped who was married) became Romulus” wife and bore him a daughter, Prima, and a son, Avilius. However, the same Plutarch reports that many ancient authors disagreed with Zenodotus. According to the alternative version, Gersilia became wife not Romulus, but Gestilius, “one of the most notable Romans”, and her grandson, Tullus Gestilius, became the third king of Rome. There is a hypothesis in historiography that Gostilius is an artificial “double” of Romulus created by some ancient authors and that Tullus was or was considered the grandson of the latter.

The surviving sources report nothing about Prima”s fate.

The birth and youth of Romulus and Remus (up to the overthrow of Amulius in Alba Longa) are described in detail by two Greek authors, Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Plutarch. The latter reports that “the most plausible and supported by the greatest number of accounts” of the story belongs to the Greek Dioleus of Peparethus, the first writer to take up the subject (alternatively, another Greek, Calleb of Syracuse, is said to have been the first). “Almost without change” the story of Diocles was reproduced by the most ancient Roman historian, the senior annalist Quintus Fabius Pictor, and then this story was followed by Plutarch himself, who also used Pictor”s text. Dionysius refers only to Pictor, adding that Lucius Cinzius Alimentus, Marcus Portius Cato Censor, Lucius Calpurnius Pison Frugi and others borrowed information from the latter; it seems that Dionysius, like Titus Livy, relied on the works of various annalists.

Diocles, who lived no later than the middle of the third century B.C., may have written about Romulus and Remus in his “essay on the sanctuaries of heroes,” which Plutarch mentions in Greek Questions. Nothing is known of Diocles” sources. Bartold Niebuhr in the early 19th century suggested that such sources might be Roman folk tales, but this hypothesis was later found to be incorrect. There have also been theories that Diocles was based on Pictor, not the other way around; that Plutarch mentioned Diocles, but did not use his work; that Diocles” story was based on the plot of Euripides” tragedy Ion. This play also features the son of a god and a mortal woman, who as an adult learns of his origins.

The accounts of Dionysius, Plutarch, and Livy do not contradict each other, differing only in a number of details (thus, they all go back to one main source, presumably Diocles. Two alternative versions are also mentioned. According to Promathion, who wrote the history of Italy, a cruel king named Tarchetius ruled in Alba Longa, and one day a man”s cock “rose from his hearth.” Soothsayers explained to the king that his daughter was to “marry” this phallus, and from this marriage a valiant hero would be born, but the princess sent a maid instead. The furious tsar ordered to kill the twins born to the maidservant, and events further developed as in the classic version of the legend. According to another source by Plutarch, which remains unknown, Romulus and Romus were the sons of Aeneas and were born outside Italy. These two versions had no serious impact on ancient literature.

The ancient writers who developed the classic version of the story of Romulus and Remus give a new assessment of the facts – first of all, the legendary component of the story. For example, Plutarch preferred to remain silent about Mars” paternity. Dionysius writes that Numitor”s daughter was raped by someone in the sacred grove (perhaps by Amulius or one of her suitors, who had been in love with her since childhood) and that most prefer to believe in fairy tales. Livy also reports violence and writes that the vestaless “declared Mars to be the father, either believing it herself, or because the transgression, whose culprit is a god, is a lesser dishonor.” Finally, Strabo confines himself to the following words: “Myth asserts that the children were born of Ares.

These authors write about the she-wolf with somewhat less skepticism. Dionysius tells without reservation how Romulus and Remus drank wolf”s milk, and only significantly below gives an alternative version based on two meanings of the word lupa, “she-wolf” and “promiscuous woman” (in this case the children were fed her milk by Akka Larentia, who earned her living as a prostitute). Plutarch also writes of the two versions, adding that the terminological confusion may have “turned the tale in the direction of a pure tale.” Livy prefaces the account of the she-wolf with the word “tell” and specifies that Akka Larentia “gave herself to anyone,” which is why she got her nickname. It was Livy”s version of the legend that was considered classic already in antiquity; according to the researcher Sergey Kovalev, it is “quite laconic, but not devoid of vivid moments.

Alternative details are reported by Roman poets. Gnaeus Nevius appears to have been the first to call the mother of Romulus and Remus the daughter of Aeneas, and Quintus Ennius gave her the name Elijah. Presumably he invented this name as a derivative of the second name of Troy, Ilion. Ennius was the first to introduce the Ruminilian fig tree into the narrative, and the she-wolf according to his poem lived in the cave of Mars. Elijah in his account was thrown into the Tiber with her children and became the wife of the river god Anien. Ovid writes in more detail than other authors about the conception of Romulus and Remus: he tells us that Ilia the Vestaless came to the river bank for water, decided to rest and fell asleep; she dreamed of two growing trees which Amulius wanted to cut down and which the wolf and woodpecker stood up to protect. Ten months later, Elijah gave birth to twins, with the statue of Vesta covering her face with her hands during childbirth.

All ancient authors, regardless of how they treated the legendary details, were sure that Romulus and Remus were real historical figures. It is known that Marcus Terentius Barron asked his friend, the astrologer Tarutius, to calculate the date of birth of Romulus and Remus based on their fate. He, according to Plutarch, “very bravely and confidently declared that the founder of Rome was conceived in the first year of the second Olympiad, in the twenty-third day of the Egyptian month Heac, in the third hour, in the moment of total eclipse of the sun, born in the twenty-first day of the month Toita at morning dawn, and founded Rome on the ninth day of the month Farmuti between the second and third hour. Thus, conception was dated December 772 B.C., and birth September 771 B.C. Varron dates the foundation of Rome to the third year of the sixth Olympiad, that is, 754

Antiquity: Politics and Literature

Romulus was revered in Rome as the founder of the city. Subsequently, the honorary titles “second founder of Rome” and “third founder of Rome” were bestowed on Marcus Furius Camillus and Gaius Marius respectively: one of them insisted on rebuilding the city after the Gallic invasion (many Romans then offered to move to Veii) and the other defeated the Germanic threatening the city.

The name of Romulus is associated with the emergence of a number of fundamental political institutions in Rome: the senate, the patriciate, the horsemen, the system of the patronate, the military system. He was considered the first triumphant, because after defeating the Cenotian king Akron and defeating his army, he marched through the streets of Rome in smart clothes and with a laurel wreath on his head, holding on his right shoulder a trunk of oak, on which the enemy”s armor was hung. In later times, a trophy of this kind, the armor of an enemy army commander defeated in a duel by a Roman commander (spolia opima), was considered a particularly honorable booty and was offered as a gift to Jupiter-Feretrius. After Romulus, only two Romans captured such booty: Avlus Cornelius Kossus, who killed the king of Veia Lars Tolumnius in 437 BC, and Marcus Claudius Marcellus, who defeated the king of Insubers Vertomar (Britomart) in 222 BC. All the triumphs of subsequent eras were organized along the lines of Romulus” triumphal procession. The main difference was that the first king marched through Rome on foot, while later triumphators rode in a chariot.

In connection with the story of bird-guessing before the foundation of the city, the Romans considered Romulus as the first augur and founder of the corresponding priestly college. The rod (lituus) with which he used to trace the sky was kept as a relic and was thought lost during the Gallic invasion in 390 BC, but was later found in the ashes, and the fire did not touch it. Some sources attribute the founding of the Vestal College to Romulus, although the most widespread version of ancient tradition has it that his mother was already a Vestal. Romulus is also associated with the foundation of the priestly college of the Arvalic brothers, which consisted of twelve people: it is assumed that originally they were the twelve sons of Faustulus and Accea of Larentia and that the place of one of them, died early, was taken by the future founder of Rome.

The most ancient shrines of the city were the “hut of Romulus”, the “tomb of Romulus”, the fig tree of Ruminala, under the branches of which was found a basket with newborn twins, the tree that grew on the Palatine from the spear thrown by Romulus. There was also a tomb of Remus on the Aventine. Romulus was attributed the construction of the oldest temple of Jupiter Stator (according to legend, the temple appeared in the place where Jupiter stopped the fleeing Roman army during the decisive battle with the Sabines. With the name of the first king, the Romans associated many rites, the true meaning of which has become incomprehensible in the historical era. These include the running of naked young men around the Palatine on the day of Lupercalia (it was believed that Romulus and Remus ran along this path, celebrating the overthrow of Amelius), the wedding cries of “Thalassius!” (they were connected with the kidnapping of the Sabine women) (“people”s run”), the origin of which was explained by the people”s search for Romulus after his disappearance. The Lemurian feast of the dead was associated with the death of Remus, believing that it was originally called Remuria.

There was no personalized cult of Romulus, or it died out at the very beginning: the Romans had a traditional antipathy to royal power in particular and to strong personal power in general. For this reason, too, the cult of Quirinus had little significance within the framework of Roman religion. Instead, Romulus was embedded in the gradually emerging myth of Rome as a unique city destined to dominate the world. The name of the first king was actively used in the political propaganda of the Civil War era. As the creator of a state system in which the “best citizens” exercised patriarchal guardianship over society, Romulus could be regarded as the ideal optimist. Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who introduced conservative reforms, was on a par with him, while Sulla”s enemy Marcus Aemilius Lepidus in Sallustius calls his opponent “Gore-Romulus” (Lat. Scaevus Romulus). Gaius Julius Caesar (also a descendant of Aeneas and the kings of Alba Longa) actively used the image of Romulus for self-aggrandizement: he put his statue in the temple of Quirinus, and organized games in honor of the victory at Munda (45 B.C.) on April 21, the day of parilii, as if he was the founder of the city.

The protracted civil wars led many Roman intellectuals to look to the past for the cause of this calamity. Such a cause was found in the fratricide committed at the founding of the city. Cicero writes about Romulus” trampling on brotherly feelings and humanity, but the idea that the Romans were paying for the sin of their first king is expressed in the complete form in one of Horace”s Epodes:

Virgil polemicizes with Horace. Speaking of civil wars at the end of the first book of Georgicus, he finds the cause of this disaster in the “stain of Laomedonite Troy”, thus putting the blame on the distant ancestors of Romulus. The latter turns out to be among the gods (along with Vesta and the Indiges) whom the poet asks “not to forbid” Caesar”s adopted son Octavian “to overcome the misfortunes of the age”, i.e. to establish peace. Octavian more than once openly identified himself with the founder of Rome – when he put his house on the Palatine next to Romulus” hut, when he rebuilt the temple of Jupiter Feretrius and restored the she-wolf sanctuary inside the Palatine hill (Lupercal) or when he reorganized the priestly college of Arval brothers and became its member himself. His restoration of the Republic and civil peace was seen by his contemporaries as the second foundation of the state, and so, choosing a new name for himself in 27 B.C., Octavian considered the option of Romulus. This name was rejected because of undesirable associations with royalty. However, Octavian”s choice of Augustus also evoked memories of Romulus, who had founded Rome at the behest of the gods (augusto augurio). The latter, however, was the first of the two, and the second was the first of the two, and the third was the second.

Antiquity: visual art

The famous story of the she-wolf and the twins sucking her udder was firstly embodied on the Roman coins of the late 4th and early 3rd century B.C. At the same epoch, in 296 B.C. the curule aediles of the Roman Republic – Gnaeus and Quintus Ogulnia Gallus placed the statues of Romulus and Remus near the Ruminascal fig tree. A number of depictions of the she-wolf have survived. These are marble reliefs – on the wall of the Temple of Venus (the era of Hadrian), on the altar at Ostia, on the tombstones of Julius Rafioninus, Marcus Cecilius Rufus, Volusia Prima (images on coins (denarius without the name monetarium, coined around 104 BC, bronze coins of Nero, silver coins of Galba and Vespasian and others). In some cases the she-wolf is depicted with only one infant.

For a long time it was believed that the bronze sculpture of the she-wolf nursing the twins (“Capitol she-wolf”) was also created in ancient times, in the late 4th – early 3rd century BC. However, later it turned out that the figures of Romulus and Remus were added only in the 15th century, and studies of 2008-2012 showed that the image of the wolf was created in the 11th – 12th centuries.

The divination of Romulus and Remus by birds is depicted on a relief on the wall of the Quirinus Temple, the abduction of Sabine women on a relief in the Aemilian Basilica, rebuilt in the first century B.C., The abduction of Sabine women on a relief in the Emilia Basilica, rebuilt in the first century BC, and on coins minted by Titurius Sabinus (first century BC) and on a Roman sarcophagus dated to the third quarter of the second century AD.

Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, the prevalence of ancient literary works declined radically, and the level of knowledge of Roman history and mythology decreased accordingly. For Christian writers, the theme remained in demand, but it was developed with specific aims. A characteristic example is the History against the Gentiles by Paul Orosius (fifth century). Orosius sought to show that pre-Christian history was a string of wars and disasters even more brutal than the Great Migration of Nations; the point of departure for him was the fratricide committed at the founding of Rome, which allowed him to condemn the entire history of antiquity. In the words of Orosius, Romulus “consecrated the kingdom by the blood of his grandfather, the walls by the blood of his brother, the temple by the blood of his father-in-law”. The harshness of the evaluation was aided by the fact that Orosius, following Livy, confused Numitor with Amulius: he was certain that Romulus and Remus killed not the usurper, but their own grandfather.

The Blessed Augustine also writes about fratricide. For him it was an atrocity that affected the future of all of Rome and proved that the pagan gods were not the true gods. In another chapter of his treatise On the City of God, Augustine calls the abduction of the Sabine women a great injustice, commenting sarcastically on a statement by Sallustius about Roman morals (“Law and justice rested on the dictates of nature as much as on the laws.

Stories related to the biographies of Romulus and Remus were sometimes used by medieval artists, particularly in illustrations of the Bible and historical chronicles. French illustrators were particularly adept. Around 1250 they produced a manuscript copy of the Bible for King Louis IX of France, and around 1370 a manuscript edition of Titus Livy”s History of Rome from the Founding of the City, translated into French by Pierre Bersuir. The illustrations by monk-artists depicted the founding of Rome, the murder of Remus by Romulus, the abduction of Sabine women, and the war between Rome and the Sabineans.

During the Renaissance, interest in Romulus and Remus increased. Francesco Petrarch included a biography of the first king of Rome in his work On Famous Men, and Giovanni Boccaccio wrote about the abduction of Sabine women in his book On Famous Women and advocated women”s rights. The ruling class of the Florentine Republic, which considered itself the direct heir of the Roman nobility, showed increased attention to subjects related to the founding of Rome. From the beginning of the XV century, images on such subjects often decorated the cassone – wedding chests. The scene of the abduction of the Sabine women in this era was usually combined with the scene of the festivities, whose participants wore clothes of a contemporary era for the artist.

Early Modern Times

Since the 16th century the story of Romulus and Remus has been an important theme for Western European oil painting. Giulio Romano and Peter Paul Rubens depicted the she-wolf episode, Pietro da Cortona (about 1643) and Nicola Mignard (1654) the Faustulus episode. The plot of the abduction of the Sabine women became especially popular with Baroque artists. It was addressed by Sodoma (about 1525), Frederick van Valkenborgh (early seventeenth century), Pietro da Cortona (1629), Rubens (1635

Antoine Oudar de Lamotte wrote the tragedy Romulus in 1722, in which the title character defeats Titus Tacius and marries Herselius. The German writer Augustus Lafontaine”s novel Romulus (1803) takes the title character from a foundling child to a king, the friendship of the Sabinist Sylle and the love of Herselia.

The founder of Rome became the hero of a number of operas. They are Romulus and Remus by Francesco Cavalli (1645) and The Abduction of the Sabine Women by Antonio Draghi (1674). In the eighteenth century, three operas on this theme enjoyed the greatest success: Romulus by Marcantonio Ciani (1702) and Romulus and Remus by Giovanni Porta Johann Adolphus Hasse (1765). In the latter, the author of the libretto was Pietro Metastasio.

XIX-XXI centuries

In the nineteenth century artists continued to refer to the biography of Romulus. Jean Auguste Dominique Engres in 1812 depicted his victory over Akron, Christophe Fezel (1801), Francisco Pradilla, Oscar Larsen (early 20th century) developed the subject with the Sabine women. Against this background stands out a cycle of paintings and sketches by Pablo Picasso, created in 1962-1963. It depicts the abduction of women as a crude and aggressive sexual act. By adding details like a bicycle or a red Jacobean hat, Picasso underscores the timeless nature of what is happening.

Numerous musical arrangements of the subject appeared: “Nicolo Zingarelli”s The Abduction of the Sabine Women (1800), Salvatore Vigano”s The Sabine Women in Rome (ballet, 1821), Henry Burke”s Remus and Romulus (1829), Lauro Rossi”s The Sabine Women (1851), Giovanni Cesare Pascucci”s Hersilia (opera-buff, 1882), Edgar Krones” Sabine Women in Rome (1891). In the foreground of most of these works were not Romulus and his brother, but the Sabine women.

In the twentieth century, the twins became the heroes of several feature films. These are the 1961 peplums “Romulus and Remus” by Sergio Corbucci (Romulus in it is played by Steve Reeves, Remus by Gordon Scott by Richard Potier, also 1961 (as Romulus Roger Moore “Remus and Romulus – The Story of the Two Sons of the Wolf” in 1976 (with Enrico Montesano and Pippo Franco in the title roles). Eve Sussman directed the 2005 film The Abduction of the Sabine Women, which takes the action back to the 1960s. In January 2019, Matteo Rovere”s historical drama, in which Romulus and Remus are played by Alessio Lapice and Alessandro Borghi, respectively, was released.

The satellites of the asteroid (87) Sylvia are named after Romulus and Remus: Romulus S


The reports of ancient authors on the founding of Rome were long perceived uncritically: even at the beginning of the New Age, Romulus was considered a real historical figure. The first doubts about the reliability of the ancient tradition appeared in the 17th century. In particular, the Dutch scholar Jacob Perizonius drew attention to a number of inconsistencies in the authors who wrote about the royal period; he was also the first to suggest that these authors were based not on written sources but on popular Latin tales. The Frenchman Louis de Beaufort in 1738 published “Discourse on the unreliability of the first five centuries of Roman history,” in which he supported the “song theory” and tried to prove that a reliable account of the history of Rome before the third century BC is in principle impossible. In his opinion, Roman writers relied on oral tales, Greek legends about the founding of cities, unreliable family legends, and etiological myths, and therefore their works cannot be considered reliable sources. Beaufort regarded Livy”s first books as contradictory to logic and called them “patriotic fables.

Beaufort”s work went unnoticed in contrast to Barthold Niebuhr”s Roman History, published in 1811. Niebuhr regarded the ancient tradition of early Roman history as a pile-up of falsifications and errors, and tried to isolate the true historical core. He was convinced that Romulus and Remus never really existed; their stories were legends, surviving until the first century B.C. thanks to folk tales, and the historical era begins with the reign of Servius Tullius (the sixth king according to tradition). Even more radical was Albert Schwegler (second half of the nineteenth century), who denied the existence of all seven kings of Rome.

Theodore Mommsen, who disagreed with Niebuhr in many respects, did not dwell on the problem of the reliability of the sources in his History of Rome. He does not consider in detail the activity of Romulus, confining himself to stating: “…the account of the foundation of Rome by the Albanians under the leadership of the Albanian princely sons Romulus and Remus is nothing more than a naive attempt by ancient quasihistory to explain the strange origin of the city in such an awkward place and at the same time link the origin of Rome with the common metropolis of Lacium. History must first of all reject such fables, passed off as real history, but in fact belonging to the category of not very clever fictions. Russian anti-culturalist Ivan Netushil at the beginning of the XX century believed that the first king of Rome was Tullus Hostilius, and Romulus appeared in the sources as a result of “doubling” the image of Tullus and transfer of the plot material to a deeper antiquity believed that the legend of the foundation of Rome contains information relating only to the time of its formation (IV-III century BC) completely denied the reliability of the sources messages about the times before the III century BC.

The voices of the opponents of hypercriticism were also heard. For example, the Englishman George Lewis, denying the existence of “Latin historical songs”, wrote that early Roman history should not be translated into scientific language: this work of art insisted on the partial authenticity of the tradition (in particular, Titus Livy”s History of Rome from the Foundation of the City). In his opinion, during the late Republic there must have been ancient documents which preserved information about the royal period and which became, along with the works of the annalists, an important source for Livy, Dionysius and Plutarch. De Sanctis became the founder of the moderate-critical trend that dominated historiography from the beginning of the twentieth century. After World War II, there was a growing confidence in the tradition in scholarship, and the Soviet anticologist Sergei Kovalev even called this a serious problem. Opinions sounded that the story of the assassination of Amulius should be seen as a message of Rome”s victory over Alba Longa in the struggle for hegemony over Latium and that in the eighth century BC there was indeed Sinomachism of the Latin and Sabine communities. At the same time, archaeological research has shown that the settlement of the seven hills above the Tiber did not begin with the Palatine.

Modern historians deny the possibility of a one-stage foundation of Rome in the middle of the eighth century B.C. Instead, in their view, there was a slow emergence of the city, which began in the tenth to ninth centuries B.C. and gave a definite result by the time of Etruscan domination – by the sixth century B.C. Most modern authors consider Romulus a mythological character, but he retains significance as a “cultural hero. His descent from Aeneas provides an original link between Rome and the Greek world, while his belonging to the royal house of Alba Longa and the legend of the abduction of the Sabine women provide a link to ancient Italy. The name of Romulus is associated with a number of etiological myths explaining the origin of the main cultural symbols of the Roman state.


Romulus as a mythological character has been considered in scholarship since at least the late nineteenth century. Arthur Schwegler saw in the image of Romulus a fusion of two “layers of legend”. On the one hand, he is an impersonal founder-eponym, whose name is derived from the name of the city he supposedly founded; he leads the construction, lays the foundations of the state, wins the first victories and celebrates the first triumph. On the other hand, he is the hero of the myths of the god-father, the wolf-feeder, the tearing at the Goat Swamp and his ascension to heaven. These two “layers” have different origins and arose at different times – the second earlier than the first. According to Schwegler, the image of Romulus in mythology was connected with the Faunus-Lupercus cult.

Researchers state the existence of other eponyms of Rome. These are the characters of Greek mythology Roma (a Trojan, a companion of Aeneas) and Rom – the son of Odysseus and Kirk, or the son of Italus and Leucaria, or the son of Ematione, or the son of Ascanius. It has been hypothesized that Romus was the prototype of Remus, originally the sole founder of Rome, to whom a twin brother with a name more appropriate for the eponym was later added. According to Theodore Mommsen, the first of the twins in Roman mythology was Romulus, and his brother was invented in the fourth century BC to create in early Roman history a prototype of consular power with its two bearers.

In other cultures (particularly in ancient Greek) there are stories that have much in common with the story of Romulus and Remus. Antique authors mention a number of characters who were nurtured by animals: Telephus was nurtured by a deer, Hippophonte by a mare, Aegis the goat, Antilochus some unknown animal, Atalanta and Paris the bear, Miletus the wolf, Eola and Beoth the cow. The Roman heroes especially have much in common with the story of the princess Tyro of Elyda, who gave birth to two twins, Pelias and Neleus, by the god Poseidon, and was forced to abandon them on the riverbank. Tiro was later harassed by older family members, but her grown sons rescued her. Given all these parallels, and the fact that Romulus and Remus are first mentioned in Greek literature, many scholars suggest that the legend as a whole is of Greek origin.

On the other hand, in the legend of Romulus and Remus we can discern general Italic motifs (it is similar to the legends about the founder of the city of Kura and about Ceculus, the founder of Preneste, it features the wolf, a totem animal for Italians, the patron of those who seek a new place for settlement), common to many cultures manifestations of “twin myths”. Romulus and Remus are warring brothers (like the Greek Acrisius and Pretus or the Biblical Cain and Abel), they are closely connected with zoomorphic motifs, which represent the oldest layer of myth. Many peoples had a custom to kill newborn twins, because twin births were considered unnatural and inspired “great fear”; children were carried off to the forest or riverbank, leaving them there to be devoured by wild animals. Later there was a rethinking: twins and their mothers began to be considered sacred beings and associated with the cult of fertility. For this reason, the Romans placed images of Romulus and Remus under the fig tree.



  1. Ромул и Рем
  2. Romulus and Remus