The Ancient World
ca. 2500 B.C. -
Rome: From the Beginnings to the End of the
pays tribute to the Penates,
who accompanied him from Troy to Rome
Rome's early self-conception
was derived primarily from the republican myth of its 1
founding. Its rise followed the political fall of the
Etruscans and their incorporation into the new Republic.
Rome first gained control of all of Italy, then spread
its hegemony throughout the Mediterranean area and into
the Near East. The two pillars of Roman rule were,
internally, its republican constitution, and,
externally, its expansion. The first crumbled through
social unrest, making possible the emergence of military
dictators from Marius to Julius Caesar, but the second
continued unabated as Rome continued to expand its
sphere of influence.
Myth, Founding, and Early Period
The myth of its founding shaped Rome's self-image and its
identity as a state. Out of the battle for military power came
the disparity in status between the upper (patrician) and the
lower (plebeian) classes.
In no other world empire did the myth of its creation play
such a pivotal role in the state as in Rome.
The Romans traced their ancestry back to the Trojan hero Aeneas,
who—according to Virgil's Aeneid—landed in Italy and
founded Alba Longa, the mother city of Rome,
3 Romulus, however, is
regarded as the founder—on the traditional date of April 21, 753
B.C.— and first king of Rome.
3 Romulus and Remus decide where to build
the city of Rome by reading the flight of birds
Altogether, seven kings ruled over Rome, the last of which,
Tarquinius Superbus, was toppled in 510 B.C.
The cause was, among other things, his son's
5 rape of Lucretia, the wife of
the nobleman Collatinus.
Latin in full Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (flourished 6th century
bc—died 495 bc, Cumae [near modern Naples, Italy]),
traditionally the seventh and last king of Rome, accepted by
some scholars as a historical figure. His reign is dated from
534 to 509 bc.
Tarquinius Superbus was, in Roman tradition, the son
(according to Fabius Pictor) or grandson (according to
Calpurnius Piso Frugi) of Tarquinius Priscus and son-in-law of
Servius Tullius. Tarquin supposedly murdered Tullius and
established an absolute despotism—hence his name Superbus,
meaning “the proud.” In the reign of terror that followed, many
senators were put to death. Eventually a group of senators led
by Lucius Junius Brutus raised a revolt, the immediate cause of
which was the rape of a noblewoman, Lucretia, by Tarquin’s son
Sextus. The Tarquin family was expelled from Rome, and the
monarchy at Rome was abolished (traditionally 509 bc). Tarquin
was said to have provoked a series of attacks on Rome by its
neighbours. The Etruscan cities of Caere, Veii, and Tarquinii
were defeated by Rome at the Battle of Silva Arsia. Tarquin’s
appeal to Lars Porsenna of Clusium led to a Roman defeat, but
not to Tarquin’s restoration. Finally he roused his son-in-law,
Octavius Mamilius, dictator of the Latin League, to fight Rome
at Lake Regillus. After the defeat of the Latins there, Tarquin
fled to the Greek tyrant Aristodemus of Cumae.
The text of a treaty between a Tarquin—probably Tarquinius
Superbus—and the city of Gabii, 12 miles (19 km) from Rome, did
actually exist and was preserved in the Temple of Semo Sancus in
Rome until the age of Augustus (27 bc–ad 14).
Legendary heroine of ancient Rome. According to tradition,
she was the beautiful and virtuous wife of the nobleman Lucius
Tarquinius Collatinus. Her tragedy began when she was raped by
Sextus Tarquinius, son of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the
tyrannical Etruscan king of Rome. After exacting an oath of
vengeance against the Tarquins from her father and her husband,
she stabbed herself to death. Lucius Junius Brutus then led the
enraged populace in a rebellion that drove the Tarquins from
Rome. The event (traditionally dated 509 bce) marks the
foundation of the Roman Republic. The story is first found in
the work of the earliest Roman historian, Fabius Pictor (late
3rd century bce). Its classic form is Livy’s version (late 1st
century bce). Lucretia’s story is also recounted in
Shakespeare’s narrative poem The Rape of Lucrece.
It was his nephew, 6
Junius Brutus, who was said to have initiated the reforms
instrumental to the creation of the consulate.
6 Bust of Junius Brutus
Lucius Junius Brutus, (flourished 6th century bc), a
legendary figure, who is held to have ousted the
despotic Etruscan king Lucius Tarquinius Superbus from
Rome in 509 and then to have founded the Roman Republic.
He is said to have been elected to the first consulship
in that year and then to have condemned his own sons to
death when they joined in a conspiracy to restore the
Tarquins. Tradition holds that he was killed in single
combat with the son of Tarquinius Superbus during a
battle with the Etruscans. He was credited with
establishing many of the basic institutions of the Roman
Republic. His statue, with sword bared for action, was
erected on the Capitol among those of the kings.
In reality, 2,
Rome was founded as an Etruscan colony around 650 B.C., perhaps
even as late as 575 B.C.
At first it was ruled by Etruscan kings from the Tarquin royal
family, but after the defeat of the Etruscans at Cumae in 474
B.C., Rome disposed of their rule. Even during the time of the
monarchy, Rome was characterized by the division of its citizens
into "horsemen" (knights), from whom the later patrician
families descended, and the masses (plebs) who made up the lower
military ranks. The supreme commander of the army (praetor
maximus) made the decisions concerning military leadership
posts, all of which were soon filled by patricians. With the
adoption of the Greek phalanx form of warfare, the lower ranks
became increasingly important; competition for military
leadership positions thereafter evolved into a struggle between
patricians and plebeians over access to political offices in
general and came to characterize Roman history. Early Rome, like
the Greek cities, experienced severe social conflicts when,
through agrarian crises and overpopulation, farmers and peasants
became increasingly impoverished and were forced into bonded
2 Reconstruction of the Capitol
with the temple of Jupiter
and Forum Romanum, end of second с B.C.
4 Reconstruction of the antique
as it looked after its completion,
wood engraving, ca. 1880
7 Forum Romanum:
View of the temple of Saturn, built 498 B.C.
Romulus and Remus were the twin sons
of Rhea Silvia and Mars. They were abandoned at the
Tiber River and suckled by a she-wolf—which became the
symbol of Rome.
Romulus later struck his brother dead for jumping over
the foundation walls of Rome, as no one was ever
supposed to "vault" the impregnable city walls of Rome.
"Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans"
The Capitolian She-Wolf. Etruscan
sculpture. 500 B.C.
Rape of the Sabine Women
Romulus and Remus
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Romulus (c. 771 BC–c. 717 BC) and Remus (c. 771 BC–c. 753 BC)
are the traditional founders of Rome, appearing in Roman
mythology as the twin sons of the priestess Rhea Silvia,
fathered by the god of war, Mars. According to the tradition
recorded as history by Plutarch and Livy, Romulus served as the
first King of Rome.
Romulus slew Remus over a dispute about which one of the two
brothers had the support of the local deities to rule the new
city and give it his name. The name they gave the city was Rome.
Supposedly, Romulus had stood on one hill and Remus another, and
a circle of birds flew over Romulus, signifying that he should
be king. After founding Rome, Romulus not only created the Roman
Legions and the Roman Senate, but also added citizens to his new
city by abducting the women of the neighboring Sabine tribes,
which resulted in the mixture of the Sabines and Romans into one
people. Romulus would become ancient Rome's greatest conqueror,
adding large amounts of territory and people to the dominion of
After his death, Romulus was deified as the god Quirinus, the
divine persona of the Roman people. He now is regarded as a
mythological figure, and it is supposed that his name is a
back-formation from the name Rome, which may ultimately derive
from a word for "river". Some scholars, notably Andrea Carandini
believe in the historicity of Romulus, in part because of the
1988 discovery of the Murus Romuli on the north slope of the
Palatine Hill in Rome.
Romulus and Remus are pre-eminent among the famous feral
children in mythology and fiction.
Life before Rome
Before Romulus and Remus were born, their grandfather
Numitor and his brother Amulius, descendants of fugitives from
Troy, received the throne of Alba Longa upon their father’s
death. Numitor received the sovereign powers as his birthright
while Amulius received the royal treasury, including the gold
Aeneas brought with him from Troy.
Because Amulius held the treasury, thus having more power
than his brother, he dethroned Numitor as the rightful king. Out
of fear that Numitor’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, would produce
children who one day would overthrow him as king, he forced Rhea
to become a Vestal Virgin, a priestess sworn to abstinence. But
Mars, god of war, (in Greek, Ares) was smitten by her and
secretly while she slept bore her two sons. They were twin boys,
as told, of remarkable size and beauty, later named Romulus and
Remus. Amulius was enraged and ordered Rhea and the twins
killed. Accounts vary on how; in one account, he had Rhea buried
alive (the standard punishment for Vestal Virgins who violated
their vow of celibacy) and ordered the death of the twins by
exposure; In another, he ordered Rhea and the twins thrown into
The servant ordered to kill the twins could not, however,
because they were too beautiful and innocent, the servant placed
the two in a basket and laid the basket on the banks of the
Tiber river and went away. The river, which was in flood, rose
and gently carried the basket and the twins downstream.
Altar from Ostia showing the discovery of Romulus and Remus (now
at the Palazzo Massimo)Romulus and Remus were kept safe by the
river deity Tiberinus, who made the cradle catch in the roots of
a fig tree growing in the Velabrum swamp, which therefore, has a
high symbolic significance. He then brought the infant twins up
onto the Palatine Hill. There, they were nursed by a wolf, Lupa
in Latin. Lupa is a name for the priestesses of a fox goddess,
leading to an alternative theory that the wolf was human. There
is speculation that the nurturers were harlots (she-wolf being a
name for them in ancient Rome) They were nurtured underneath a
fig tree and were fed by a woodpecker. Both animals were sacred
Romulus and Remus were then discovered by Faustulus, a
shepherd for Amulius, who brought the children to his home.
Faustulus and his wife, Acca Larentia, raised the boys as their
own. The roots of her name imply a religious cult of an earth
mother. Some mythological traditions have her as the prostitute
'she-wolf' who suckled Rome's founders.
In another Roman legend Hercules married Acca Larentia off to
the shepherd Faustulus, who saved the lives of the twins Romulus
and Remus after they had been thrown into the Tiber. Acca
Larentia had twelve sons, and on the death of one of them,
Romulus took his place. He and the remaining eleven, founded the
college of the Arval brothers Fratres Arvales. Acca Larentia is
therefore identified with the Dea Dia of that collegium. The
flamen Quirinalis acted in the role of Romulus (deified as
Quirinus) to perform funerary rites for his foster mother (as
Another, later tradition relates that Romulus and Remus were
suckled by a wolf, has been explained by the suggestion that
Larentia was called Lupa (courtesan, literally she-wolf) on
account of her immoral character (Livy i. 4; Ovid, Fasti, iii.
Yet another tradition relates also that Romulus and Remus
were nursed by the Wolf-Goddess Lupa or Luperca, who was
identified with Acca Larentia, whose rapport with wolves kept
them from harming the sheep, but add that Luperca's husband is
the Wolf-and-Shepherd-God Lupercus who brought fertility to the
The many names associated with Acca Laurentia, are, Acca
Larenta, Larentia, Laurentia, Lara, Larunda, Larenta, Larentina,
and Mater Larum, the "Mother of the Lares" as well as, Fauna,
who had an oracle on the nearby Aventine Hill and was the wife
of Faunus, the Bona Dea, Lupa, Luperca, and Dea Dia.
In 2007 the Lupercal where supposedly the children were found
being suckled by the wolf was discovered by archaeologists. Its
location is 52 feet (16 m) beneath Palatine Hill. Although the
main worship area has been unearthed, it is a fragile grotto and
already partially caved-in. Because of this, it would not
survive a full-scale dig, leaving archaeologists to examine the
remaining sections with sensitive tools such as endoscopes and
Nonetheless, once their origins are resolved, most traditions
agree that as they grew, their noble birth showed itself in
their size and beauty while they were still children. When they
grew up, they were manly and high-spirited, of invincible
courage and daring. Romulus, however, was thought the wiser and
more politic of the two, and in his discussions with the
neighbors about pasture and hunting, gave them opportunities of
noting that his disposition was one which led him to command
rather than to obey.
On account of these qualities, they were beloved by their
equals and the poor, but they despised the king's officers and
bailiffs as being no braver than they were, and cared neither
for their anger nor their threats. They led the lives and
followed the pursuits of nobly born men, not valuing sloth and
idleness, but exercise and hunting, defending the land against
brigands, capturing plunderers, and avenging those who had
suffered wrong. Thus they became famous throughout Latium.
One day when Romulus and Remus were eighteen years old, a
quarrel occurred between the shepherds of Numitor and the
shepherds of Amulius. Some of Numitor’s shepherds drove off many
of Amulius’s cattle, causing Amulius’s men to become enraged.
Romulus and Remus gathered the shepherds together, found and
killed Numitor’s shepherds, and recovered the lost cattle. To
the displeasure of Numitor, Romulus and Remus collected and took
into their company many needy men and slaves of Numitor,
exhibiting seditious boldness and temper.
Pietro da Cortona, Romulus and Remus given shelter by Faustulus
While Romulus was engaged in some sacrifice, as he was fond of
sacrifices and the deities, some of Numitor’s shepherds attacked
Remus and some of his friends and a battle broke out. After both
sides took many wounds, Numitor’s shepherds prevailed and took
Remus as their prisoner and returned him to Numitor for
punishment. Numitor did not punish Remus, because he was in fear
of Amulius, but went to Amulius and asked for justice, since he
was his brother, and he had been insulted by the royal servants.
The people of Alba Longa, too, sympathized with Numitor, and
thought that he had been undeservedly outraged. Amulius was
therefore induced to hand Remus over to Numitor to treat him as
he saw fit.
When Numitor took Remus to his home for punishment, he was
amazed at the young man's superiority in stature and strength of
body. After hearing of his acts and deeds and of his noble
virtues, Numitor asked Remus of his birth and who he really was.
When Remus told him that they had been found and nursed by a
wolf on the banks of the Tiber river, and conjecturing Remus’s
age from his looks, he began to think of the possibility that
Remus was Rhea's son.
Upon Romulus's return from his sacrifices, Faustulus told
Romulus that Remus had been captured and told him to go to his
brother’s aid. Romulus left Faustulus and set out to levy an
army to march against Alba Longa. Faustulus took the cradle in
which he had found Romulus and Remus and quickly ran to Alba
Longa. When Faustulus reached the gates of the city, the guards
stopped him. By chance, one of the guards had been the servant
who had taken the boys to the river. This man, upon seeing the
cradle, and recognizing it, knew that Faustulus spoke the truth,
and without any delay told the matter to Amulius, and brought
the man before him to be examined. He admitted that Romulus and
Remus were alive and well, but said they lived at a distance
from Alba Longa as herdsmen.
Acting out of fear and rage, Amulius quickly sent a friend of
Numitor to see if he had heard any report of the twins being
alive. As soon as the man entered Numitor’s house, he found
Numitor embracing Remus, thus confirming that Remus was
Numitor’s grandson. He then advised Numitor and Remus to act
quickly, for Romulus was marching on the city with an army of
those who hated and feared Amulius. Remus acted quickly and
incited the citizens within the city to revolt, and at the same
time Romulus attacked from without. Amulius, without taking a
single step or making any plan for his own safety, out of sheer
confusion, was taken to be put to death.
The Founding of Rome
With Amulius dead, the city settled down and offered Romulus
and Remus the joint crown. However, the twins refused to be the
kings so long as their grandfather was still alive, and would
not live in the city as subjects. Thus after restoring the
kingship to Numitor and properly honoring their mother Rhea
Silvia, the two left Alba Longa to found their own city upon the
slopes of the Palatine Hill. Before they left Alba Longa,
however, they took with them fugitives, runaway slaves, and all
others who wanted a second chance at life.
Once Romulus and Remus arrived at the Palatine Hill, the two
argued over where the exact position of the city should be.
Romulus was set on building the city upon the Palatine, but
Remus wanted to build the city on the strategic and easily
fortified Aventine Hill (The Greek author Dionysius, however,
places Remus' location at a place named "Remoria" after Remus
himself. The precise location of Remoria is not known today).
They agreed to settle their argument by testing their abilities
as augurs and by the will of the deities. Each took a seat on
the ground apart from one another, and, according to Plutarch,
Remus saw six vultures (which were considered to be sacred to
Mars, their father), while Romulus saw twelve.
Remus was enraged by Romulus’s victory. He claimed that since
he had seen his six vultures first, he should have won. When
Romulus began digging a trench (or building a wall, according to
Dionysius) where his city's boundary was to run on April 21, 753
BC, Remus ridiculed some parts of the work, and obstructed
others. At last, Remus leapt across the trench, an omen of bad
luck, since this implied that the city fortifications would be
easily breached. In response, Remus was killed.
We know of four possible ways Remus could have been killed -
the most common being that his brother Romulus killed him
(Livy's "account more generally received": "Remus, in derision
of his brother, leaped over the new wall, and Romulus, enraged
thereat, slew him, uttering at the same time this imprecation:
'So perish every one that shall hereafter leap over my wall'").
Livy's alternative version simply states, in a passive voice,
that Remus was dead, without noting either that he was murdered
or, by whom; he simply "became dead". The two other lesser known
accounts state that a) Remus was killed by Romulus' commander
Fabius with a shovel (St. Jerome) or that b) Celer, whose
relation to Romulus is uncertain, killed Remus by striking him
across the head with his spade. Once the fighting subsided,
Romulus buried Remus before continuing to build his city. He
named the city Roma after himself, and served as its first king.
After the completion of the city, Romulus divided the people
of Rome who were able to fight into regiments of 3000 infantry
and 300 cavalry. Romulus called these regiments "legions". The
rest of the people became the populace of the city, and out of
the populace, Romulus hand selected 100 of the most noble men to
serve as a council for the city. He called these men Patricians
and their council the Roman Senate. Romulus called these noble
men Patricians not only because they were the fathers of
legitimate sons, but also because he intended the great and the
wealthy to treat the weak and the poor as fathers treat their
sons. This delineates, symbolically, the inauguration of the
patron-client relationship, known as clientela, which was
central to Roman culture and society, and was later passed down
to medieval societies.
Romulus spread the reputation of Rome as an asylum to all who
desired a new life. Because of this, Rome attracted a population
of exiles, refugees, murderers, criminals, and runaway slaves.
Rome's population grew so much that the city settled five of the
seven hills of Rome: the Capitoline Hill, the Aventine Hill, the
Caelian Hill, the Quirinal Hill, and the Palatine Hill. Romulus,
however, saw a problem quickly forming before him: few of the
foreigners had wives. Romulus decided he needed to fill his city
with women as well.
To solve his problems, Romulus held a festival, the
Consualia, and invited the neighboring Sabine tribe to attend as
his guests. The Sabines came en mass, and brought with them
their daughters. Romulus planned to kidnap the Sabine women and
bring them back to Rome as citizens. When the Sabines arrived,
Romulus sat amongst the senators, clad in purple. The signal
that the time had come for the onslaught was to be his rising
and folding his cloak, and then throwing it round him again.
Armed with swords, many of his followers kept their eyes
intently upon him, and when the signal was given, his nobles
drew their swords, rushed in with shouts, and captured the
daughters of the Sabines, but permitted and encouraged the men
to escape unharmed. In all, some 700 Sabine women were captured
and brought back to Rome. This event is remembered in various
works of art titled "Rape of the Sabine Women".
War with the Sabines
The Sabines, although a numerous and war-like people, found
themselves bound by precious hostages, and fearing for their
daughters, they sent ambassadors with reasonable and moderate
demands that Romulus should give back their maidens, disavow his
deed of violence, and then, by persuasion and legal enactment,
establish a friendly relationship between the two peoples.
Romulus would not surrender the maidens, and demanded that the
Sabines should allow their marriage with the Romans, whereupon
they all held long deliberations and made extensive preparations
Romulus, Victor over Acron, hauls the rich booty to the temple
of Jupiter, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres While most of the
Sabines were still busy with their preparations, the people of a
few cities banded together against the Romans, and in a battle
which ensued, they were defeated, and surrendered to Romulus
their cities, their territory to be divided, and themselves to
be transported to Rome. Romulus distributed among the citizens
all the territory thus acquired, excepting that which belonged
to the parents of the ravished maidens; this he suffered its
owners to keep for themselves.
This enraged the Sabines, and in response appointed Titus
Tatius as the supreme commander-in-chief of all the Sabines, who
then marched his army on Rome. The city was difficult to access,
having as its fortress the Capitoline Hill, on which a guard had
been stationed, with a man named Tarpeius as its captain. But
supposedly, Tarpeia, a daughter of the commander, betrayed the
citadel to the Sabines, having set her heart on the golden
armlets that she saw them wearing, and she asked as payment for
her treachery that which they wore on their left arms. Tatius
agreed to this, whereupon she opened one of the gates by night
and let the Sabines in. Once inside, Tatius ordered his Sabines,
mindful of their agreement, to not begrudge her anything they
wore on their left arms. Tatius was first to take from his arm
not only his armlet, but at the same time his shield, and cast
them upon her. All his men followed his example, and then she
was smitten by the gold and buried under the shields, and died
from the number and weight of them. This theme may imply the
transition from one religious tradition to another.
With the Sabines controlling the Capitoline Hill, Romulus
angrily challenged them to open battle, and Tatius boldly
accepted. The Sabines marched down the Capitoline and battled
the Romans between the hills in a swampy area which would one
day become the Roman Forum. The Sabines overran the Romans and
the Romans were forced back behind the very walls of Rome upon
the Palatine Hill. From behind the walls, the Romans began to
flee the battle. Romulus bowed down and prayed to Jupiter and
the Romans rallied back to Romulus and made a stand. Later, on
the very spot where Romulus prayed, a temple to Jupiter Stator
("the stayer") was built. Romulus led the Romans on and they
drove the Sabines back to the point where the Temple of Vesta
later would stand.
The Sabine Women, by Jacques-Louis David Here, as the Romans and
Sabines were preparing to renew the battle, they were stopped by
the sight of the ravished daughters of the Sabines rushing from
the city of Rome through the infantry and the dead bodies. The
Sabine women ran up to their husbands and their fathers, some
carrying young children in their arms. Both armies were so moved
to compassion, they drew apart to give the women place between
the battle lines. The Sabine women begged their Roman husbands
and their Sabine fathers and brothers to accept one another and
live as one nation. With sorrow running through the ranks, a
truce was made and the leaders held a conference. It was decided
that both Romulus and Tatius would rule as joint kings of the
Romans, including the newly added Sabines.
Rome doubled in its size. With the Romans inhabiting the
Palatine Hill and the Sabines inhabiting the Quirinal Hill, the
two nations chose a third hill to serve as the center of
government and administration for the city of Rome, the
Capitoline Hill. From the new Sabine citizens, 100 new noble men
were selected to become Patricians and joined the ranks of the
Senate. The legions were doubled in size, from 3000 infantry and
300 cavalry to 6000 infantry and 600 cavalry. The cultures of
the Romans and Sabine also combined in this union. The Sabines
adopted the Roman calendar, and the Romans adopted the armor and
oblong shield of the Sabines.
Life after the founding of Rome
After five years of joint rule, Tatius was assassinated by
foreign ambassadors and Romulus became the sole king of the
Romans. Romulus introduced legislation that prevented adultery
and murder. As the king of Rome, Romulus was not only the
commander-in-chief of the army, but also the city’s chief
judicial authority. His judgments of many crimes were held in
place for over six hundred years without a single case being
reported in Rome of his judgments being questioned.
Under Romulus' administration, the people of Rome were
divided into three tribes: one for Latins (Ramnes), a second for
Sabines (Titites), and a third for Etruscans (Luceres).
These three tribes became the Romans. Each of these tribes
had a tribune who represented their respective tribes in all
civil, religious, and military affairs. When in the city, they
were the magistrates of their tribes, and performed sacrifices
on their behalf, and in times of war they were Rome's military
commanders. The Ramnes derived their name from Romulus, the
Tities derived their name from Titus Tatius, and the Luceres
derived their name from an Etruscan title of honor.
After creating the three tribes, the Comitia Curiata were
instituted. To form the basis of the Comitia Curiate, Romulus
divided each of the three tribes into ten curiae, with the
thirty curiae deriving their individual names from thirty Sabine
women whom Romulus and his followers had kidnapped.
Each of the individual curia then were subdivided into ten
gentes, which formed the basis for the nomen in the Roman naming
convention. When Romulus would convene the Comitia Curiate and
lay proposals from either him or the senate before the Curiate
for ratification, the ten gentes within each curia would cast a
vote, with the collective vote of the curia going to the
majority of the gentes. This formed the basis for the modern
Romulus, being a martial man, formed his own personal guard,
called the Celeres. The Celeres consisted of Rome's three
hundred finest horsemen who were under the command of the
Celerum Tribune, who was also the Tribune for the Ramnes tribe.
The Celeres derived their name from their leader, a close friend
of Romulus named Celers who helped him slay Remus and found the
city of Rome. This special military unit functioned very much
like the Praetorian Guard of Augustus as it was responsible for
Romulus' personal safety and for the security of Rome while the
legions were on her borders. The relationship between Romulus
and his Tribune also is similar to the relation between the
Roman Dictator and his Magister Equitum. Celer, as the Celerum
Tribune, occupied the second place in the state, and in Romulus'
absence he had the rights of convoking the Comitia and
commanding the armies.
From the founding of Rome until his death, Romulus waged wars
and expanded his territory, thus Rome's territory, for over two
decades. He conquered many of the neighboring cities, namely
Etruscan cities, and gained unequaled control over the area of
Latium, Tuscany, Umbria, and Abruzzo. In what would become the
traditional Roman style of warfare, although Romulus may have
lost some battles along the way, he never lost a single war in
which he fought.
After his final wars against the Etruscans, the king of Alba
Longa, Numitor, Romulus’ biological grandfather, died. The
people of Alba Longa freely offered the crown to Romulus,
believing he was the one rightful ruler of the city as the blood
heir to Numitor. Romulus accepted dominion over the city, but
gained much favor with the city’s populace by placing the
government in the hands of the people within the city. Once a
year, Romulus appointed a governor over the city, a man selected
by the people of Alba Longa.
During later years, Romulus grew to rely less and less upon
the Senate. Though this was entirely legal, it went against
tradition. The Senate essentially had lost its influence,
holding no say in the administration of the city. The Senate
could only be convened when Romulus called for it, and once
assembled, the Senators merely sat in silence and listened to
his edicts. The Senators soon found that their only advantage
over the commoners was that they learned what Romulus decreed
sooner than the commoners did. On his own authority, he divided
the territory acquired in war among his soldiers, and without
the consent or wish of the Patricians. The Patricians thought he
was insulting their Senate outright. Although the Senators grew
to hate him, they feared him too much to defy him openly and
show him their displeasure.
Death or ascension
There is a legend dating to sometime in the first century BC
that conflates Romulus and the god Quirinus. According to this
legend, Romulus's life ended in the thirty-eighth year of his
reign, with a supernatural disappearance, if he was not slain by
One day, when Romulus and all the people had gone to the
Campus Martius, a sudden storm arose. The darkness became so
great that the people fled in terror. When the storm was over,
the Romans returned. To their surprise, however, Romulus had
disappeared. The people sent for him, but none could find him.
The people were amazed, and were all talking about his sudden
disappearance, and wondering what could have become of their
king, when one of the Senators stood up and called for silence.
After the Senator calmed the mass of people, he told the
assembled Romans that he had seen Romulus being carried up into
the heavens. Romulus, the Senator said, had called out that he
was going to live with the deities, and wished his people to
worship him as the god Quirinus. In response, the Romans built a
temple on the hill where the Senator said that Romulus had risen
to heaven. This hill was called the Quirinal Hill in Romulus'
honor, and for many years the Romans worshiped Romulus, the
founder of their city, and their first king from that very spot.
Plutarch (Life of Numa Pompilius) tells the legend with
a note of skepticism:
"It was the thirty-seventh year, counted from the foundation
of Rome, when Romulus, then reigning, did, on the fifth day of
the month of July, called the Caprotine Nones, offer a public
sacrifice at the Goat's Marsh, in presence of the senate and
people of Rome. Suddenly the sky was darkened, a thick cloud of
storm and rain settled on the earth; the common people fled in
affright, and were dispersed; and in this whirlwind Romulus
disappeared, his body being never found either living or dead. A
foul suspicion presently attached to the patricians, and rumors
were current among the people as if that they, weary of kingly
government, and exasperated of late by the imperious deportment
of Romulus toward them, had plotted against his life and made
him away, so that they might assume the authority and government
into their own hands. This suspicion they sought to turn aside
by decreeing divine honors to Romulus, as to one not dead, but
translated to a higher condition. And Proculus, a man of note,
took oath that he saw Romulus caught up into heaven in his arms
and vestments, and heard him, as he ascended, cry out that they
should hereafter style him by the name of Quirinus."
Livy also reports on this event:
"Then a few voices began to proclaim Romulus's divinity; the
cry was taken up, and at last every man present hailed him as a
god and son of a god, and prayed to him to be forever gracious
and to protect his children. However, even on this great
occasion there were, I believe, a few dissenters who secretly
maintained that the king had been torn to pieces by the
senators. At all events the story got about, though in veiled
terms; but it was not important, as awe, and admiration for
Romulus's greatness, set the seal upon the other version of his
end, which was, moreover, given further credit by the timely
action of a certain Julius Proculus, a man, we are told, honored
for his wise counsel on weighty matters. The loss of the king
had left the people in an uneasy mood and suspicious of the
senators, and Proculus, aware of the prevalent temper, conceived
the shrewd idea of addressing the Assembly. Romulus, he
declared, the father of our city descended from heaven at dawn
this morning and appeared to me. In awe and reverence I stood
before him, praying for permission to look upon his face without
sin. "Go", he said, "and tell the Romans that by heaven's will
my Rome shall be capital of the world. Let them learn to be
soldiers. Let them know, and teach their children, that no power
on earth can stand against Roman arms". Having spoken these
words, he was taken up again into the sky."
(Livy, 1.16, trans. A. de Selincourt, The Early History of Rome,
As the god Quirinus, Romulus joined Jupiter and Mars in the
Archaic Triad. Quirinus was depicted as a bearded warrior in
both religious and battle clothing wielding a spear, thus he is
viewed a god of war and as the strength of the Roman people, but
more importantly, as the deified likeness of the city of Rome
itself. Quirinus received a Flamen Maior called the Flamen
Quirinalis, who oversaw his worship and rituals. After Romulus'
death, he was succeeded by Numa Pompilius as the second King of
The Struggle over the Constitution of the Republic
The early laws of Rome and political leadership by two
consuls worked towards the realization of the balance between
the patrician and the plebeian classes, which was always
threatening to tip.
The first Roman law code, the Twelve Tables, was drawn up
around 450 B.C. under pressure from the plebeians. It remained
the basis of Roman law up until the early emperors.
It guaranteed, among other things, wide-ranging legal equality
of 11 patricians and
11 Romulus divides the population
into patricians and plebeians
8 Senators with the son of a
senator or philosopher,
Fragment of a sarcophagus
The class struggle did not come to an end until 300 B.C.,
however, when the plebeians were granted access to the higher
state offices (magistrate) and positions in the priesthood.
The political system of the new republic was geared toward
creating a political balance between the patricians and the
plebeians. The 8 Senate, the
supreme advisory body to the magistrate, was forced to accept
plebeians. However, as the Senate remained dominated by
patricians, the plebeians were granted the influential office of
"tribune of the people," which publicly represented the rights
of the people and allowed them their own assembly. Rome now had
a mixed constitution with monarchic (magistrate), aristocratic
(Senate) and democratic (people's assembly) elements.
The seminal event in the struggle for equal rights was the
consulship constitution of 367 B.C .
It allowed for the 9
election of two consuls—ideally one patrician and one plebeian -
for a one-year term.
These two principal magistrates were joined by a
("he who goes ahead") as the highest civil court officer and
"arbitrator." The two counsuls were each elected for one year
during the time of the Roman Republic. They were, in case of
war, also joint supreme commanders of the armed forces, as long
as no dictator was elected. The two-counsul system remained in
force as well during the Roman Empire.
When internal stability had been reestablished after the
12 Gauls sacked the city in 387
B.C., Rome began building up its world empire in the third and
second centuries. By subjugating the Etruscans, and with the
victory over the central Italian Samnites, Rome gained control
over all of Italy and was also able to assert itself in the
Mediterranean against the sea powers of Sicily and Carthage. In
numerous wars, Rome was able to extend its power from western
Europe into Greece and the Near East. The last deadly threat to
Rome was the unsuccessful Carthaginian expedition led by
Hannibal against Rome between 218-201 B.C.
With its well-equipped and disciplined
10 army, its system of Roman colonies, and its
practice of conferring Roman citizenship or perpetual alliances
on defeated and subjugated foes. Rome could concentrate, as
Athens had done before it in the fifth and fourth centuries
B.C., on the development of internal republican freedom and
9 Dinar depicting a voter
submitting his vote for an election
12 Conquest and plundering of Rome
by the Gauls under Brennus, 387 B.C., wood engraving,
10 Roman soldier, colored