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Romulus slays Remus and founds the city of Rome

Posted in Ancient History, Geography, Historical articles, History, Legend on Tuesday, 27 November 2012

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This edited article about Romulus and Remus originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 788 published on 19th February 1977.

Romulus and Remus, picture, image, illustration

Romulus kills Remus by Severino Baraldi

The great she-wolf raised her muzzle from the river Tiber and listened. From the mudflats came a baby’s cry. The she-wolf slunk closer. Two newly-born twin boys were lying there. Her great jaws opened . . .

“She was standing over them,” the shepherd, Faustulus, told his wife, “and would you believe it, they were playing quite happily, while she licked them with her tongue!”

Laurentia leaned over the little bundles her husband had rescued from the river.

“If they’ve been suckled by a wolf, no good can come of it,” she grumbled.

Faustulus thought it better not to tell her that the abandoned children were Romulus and Remus, the descendants of Aeneas and true heirs to the kingdom of the Latins.

For the shepherd knew that Amilius, great-uncle of these twin boys, had driven his elder brother, Numitor, from the Latins’ throne.

And he knew that Numitor’s daughter had been thrown into jail, and when she gave birth to Romulus and Remus, Amilius had ordered them to be thrown into the river in their cradle. When they drifted ashore the she-wolf had found them and protected them.

Perhaps the twins inherited the strength and courage of the wolf, their fostermother, for as they grew up, their reckless daring became famous throughout the country.

Fearlessly they attacked the brigands who flourished under King Amilius’ government. Then one day they were caught in an ambush. Romulus escaped, but his brother was captured and brought before the king.

Faustulus realized it was time to reveal the truth about the twins.

And, while he raised the citizens against Amilius, Romulus burst into the palace with his friends, rescued Remus and killed the usurping king.

Then in triumph the brothers restored their grandfather Numitor to his throne.

The Latins had prospered since Aeneas’ day. Their villages were crowded with boisterous young men for whom there was not enough land. Now Romulus and Remus had come to lead them to found a new city.

But, in a place where seven hills rose up beside the Tiber, the twins began to quarrel.

Voices were raised and their words grew angry. Their followers moved uneasily, taking sides. Then Romulus contemptuously turned his back on his brother and began measuring out the land.

“Here I’ll build the city wall,” he said, “and here we’ll have the main gate.”

Remus, still angry, looked scornfully at the line his brother had drawn in the sand.

“You call that a wall?” he cried. “It couldn’t guard anything!”

“Couldn’t it?” replied Romulus ominously.

Remus laughed. “That’s what I think of your wall,” he shouted. And he jumped over it to attack Romulus.

Romulus defended himself angrily. There was a brief struggle and Remus fell dead.

It was not an auspicious beginning for the new city, but it could have been an omen for the future. For Rome was born in violence and it remained violent.

Though Romulus built a strong wall, behind it lay a frontier town. Adventurers, brigands, fugitive slaves, all the reckless elements of Italy flocked to the fast growing city on the seven hills.

The respectable Latins avoided it, and so did their cousins, the dour Sabine farmers of the neighbouring countryside.

“We wouldn’t let our daughters marry into that collection of renegades and outlaws,” they said, showing all Roman suitors the door.

Once more Romulus found a solution.

“We’ll give a celebration,” he said. “Feasts, games, festivals. And we’ll invite all the Latins and Sabines to come and see our splendid new city.”

“Will that make them change their minds?” a Roman asked doubtfully.

“I’ve got another plan as well,” said Romulus, and he began to whisper to the disconsolate suitors.

So, at the height of the festival, while the visitors were enjoying themselves on the plains below the city, the young Romans rushed among them, seized the Sabine girls and carried them off up the hill into Rome.

The massive gates of the city closed before their angry families even realized what had happened. Vowing vengeance, the Sabines went sullenly away.

The Romans now had wives; but the Sabines, though slow to act, were dangerous enemies. It took their king, Tatius, three years to gather his army. When eventually it moved against Rome, it was formidable.

At the first attack of the Sabine advance guard the Romans were driven back and only Romulus’ courage made them turn at bay.

But when he saw the size of King Tatius’ main force, even Romulus lost heart. His own army seemed pitifully inadequate.

King Tatius thought the same.

“Look at our treacherous hosts, now,” he said. “We’ll teach these Romans a lesson.”

And he raised his arm to order the charge.

Only a miracle could save Romulus’ new city from total disaster.

Then the miracle happened. The great gates in the town wall swung open. Romulus looked up, as amazed as the Sabines. For down the hill from Rome, came a long procession of women clothed in white.

Led by a tall Sabine girl, they put themselves between the two hostile armies.

“Haven’t you done enough?” they cried to Romulus and Tatius. “Must we watch our husbands and our families kill each other?”

For a moment the armies hesitated. Then they ran together and embraced each other. Romulus and Tatius made peace and the Sabines joined the Latins in the city.

So, at one stroke, Rome became the most powerful of all the towns by the Tiber.

And that is why, in Rome, women were given greater honour than anywhere else in the land of Italy.

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