Founding of Rome

Numerous stories have been drafted of the origins of Rome, mostly crossed with mythological and literary elements. Historical sources include epigraphic evidence, narrations from Greek or Roman historians, and various archaeological findings.

According to legend, Aeneas disembarked in Italic shores, his son Ascanius founded Alba Longa, and their successors ruled the city for centuries (a different version omits the succession of Alban kings and considers Romulus to be Aeneas’s grandson).

Not willing to share his power, it is said that one of Aeneas’s descendants, Amulius, dethroned and expelled his brother Numitor. He killed his lineage as well, with the exception of his daughter Rhea Silvia, who was introduced into the cult of the goddess Vesta to ensure her eternal virginity.

Haunted by her beauty, the god Mars possessed her while she was asleep, and the vestal priestess gave birth to twins, Romulus and Remus. Instead of killing them, an enraged king Amulius decided to put both children in a cradle on the banks of the Tiber River for them to die.

The god Tiberinus protected the cradle as it was carried downstream, and Romulus and Remus were safely placed on the river’s shore. A she-wolf nursed them with her milk. After discovering their true origin, the brothers went back to Alba Longa to take revenge on Amulius and to reinstall their grandfather Numitor in power.

They did not stay there for a long time; accompanied by a group of men, they walked to found a new city in the hills of the Tiber. It was necessary to decide who would be considered the founder and where the city would be placed, so they agreed that he who would see a greater number of birds would be the winner of the dispute: Remus saw six vultures on the Aventine, and Romulus spotted 12 over the Palatine.

The ritual ceremony was then organized: Two white oxen began digging a ditch, which symbolized the walls. Anyone who crossed the limits of the city had to be put to death, so when Remus leaped across the trench, implying that the new city would be easily breached, Romulus had to kill him in sacrifice, in an event dated in 753 b.c.e.

If archaeological evidence is considered, some aspects of the legend may be true. From a scientific point of view, it is possible to affirm that 2,000 years before Jesus (Christ) of Nazareth several tribes arrived in Italy from central Europe.

They headed southward and founded the city of Villanova, perhaps near Bologna. The city gave name to the civilization that is believed nowadays to be in the origin of Umbrians, Sabines, and Latins.

They founded various villages in the regions extending from the Tiber to Naples, and Alba Longa seems to have been the biggest one. The explorers who several years later founded the city of Rome, some miles to the south, apparently came from that primitive urban center.

Some strategic advantages of the chosen spot included the closeness to the sea—but at the same time a relative distance that prevented pirate attacks—an easily navigable river, and hills that could serve as natural protection. It was precisely on one of those hills, the Palatine, that the first inhabitants of the village settled, according to the evidence discovered.