Romulus and Remus

Background: Romulus and Remus are the two legendary characters that are associated with the myth regarding establishment of Roman civilization. The legend has it that they were twin brothers, born to Rhea Silvia, daughter of Numitor, who was the king of Alba Longa (present day central Italy). Numitor was deposed by his brother, Amulius and all his male heirs were killed.

Silvia conceived twins (Romulus and Remus) by god of war, Mars. According to Roman mythology, they were abandoned as infants and a series of miracles helped them survive. They were suckled by a she-wolf, fed by a woodpecker and raised by a shepherd and his wife. They initially remained unaware of their background but later on found out the truth. After fighting Amulius and killing him they restored their grandfather, Numitor to the throne and then decide to found their own city.

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Dispute over Selection of Site: The two brothers went about selecting a site for their proposed city and soon entered dispute over the selection of the site. The dispute was over selecting one of the Seven Hills of Rome for the purpose of starting the construction of the city. While Romulus wanted to use Palatine Hill, Remus was adamant to select Aventine Hill. The two brothers decided to resolve the dispute through augury (interpreting divine will by studying flight of birds). However, the two brothers disagreed over the interpretation of augury as well.

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Murder of Remus: After failing to reach consensus, both of them went about constructing their own city at different locations. Romulus constructed a wall around his city. Remus, one day made fun of Romulus’ wall and leapt over it to insult the wall and Romulus. Romulus in a fit of rage killed his brother and later regretted his actions. Some historians believe that Remus was not killed by Romulus. They hold Fabius, one of Romulus’ commanders, responsible for killing Remus.

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Establishing Rome: Romulus established the city and named it ‘Rome’, after himself. He welcomed settlers from all backgrounds and did not differentiate between slaves and freedmen. The population of city grew and soon the city was expanded to cover five of the seven hills, including Aventine Hill, which was selected by Remus. Romulus established military, judiciary and senate of Rome. Senators worked as his advisors. The early population was mostly men and there were not enough marriageable women in Rome.

Romulus abducted young women of neighboring Sabines and Latins for the purpose, which resulted in a war between Romans and Sabines. The war ended in a stalemate and Romulus agreed to rule jointly with Sabine King Titus Tatius. Romulus also accepted 100 Sabine elders into his senate. Romulus and Titus jointly ruled for five years. After the assassination of Titus, Romulus ruled solely. Romulus waged wars for two decades and expanded the territories of Rome. After his grandfather died, he took over Alba Longa as well and incorporated it as a part of Rome.

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54Death: Plutarch has mentioned that Romulus was in his fifty fourth year when he died or disappeared and he ruled for thirty seven years. This essentially means that he was only seventeen years old when he founded Rome. According to legend Romulus vanished into a storm or a whirlwind after offering a public sacrifice near Quirinal Hill. Some sources state that Roman senate had him killed to gain power, which was not possible under his rule. Roman senate however, decided to accord divine status to Romulus by declaring him an exalted being who was not dead but had translated to a higher state of being.

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