Roman Gods and Heroes

32 Roman Foundation Myths

One side of a coin. Small, child figures of Romulus and Remus under the belly of a she-wolf. Both children are down on one knee and reaching up towards the wolf's teats. The wolf stands with her head turned to look at the two children.
Romulus, Remus, and the Wolf, Roman coin, ca. 217 BCE (Classical Numismatic Group)

Romulus and Remus

Birth and Childhood

Romulus and Remus were the descendants (after many generations) of Aeneas. Their mother was Rhea Silvia, the daughter of King Numitor of Alba Longa (the city founded by Aeneas’ son Ascanius). She was a Vestal Virgin of the city, tasked with keeping the city’s sacred flame burning and held to a vow of permanent virginity.

Rhea Silvia was raped by the god Mars (Ares) and became pregnant with twins. Out of displeasure at Rhea Silvia’s broken vow of chastity, the goddess Vesta (Hestia) caused the holy fire in her temple to go out. Amulius, Numitor’s younger brother, who had seized the throne of Alba Longa by force, imprisoned Rhea Silvia and, once she had given birth, gave her babies to a slave and ordered him to kill them. The enslaved man took pity on the babies and instead of killing them, he set put them in a basket and set them afloat on the Tiber River.

The infants were deposited on the river bank, where they were found by a wolf who had just lost her cubs. She suckled the babies and raised them. They were then taken in by a shepherd and his wife. Once Romulus and Remus grew to adulthood and learned of their true identity, they overthrew the usurper, Amulius, and reinstated their grandfather, Numitor, as king of Alba Longa. They then decided to found a city of their own.

The Foundation of Rome

Traveling north west from Alba Longa, Romulus and Remus came to an area with seven hills, which they deemed suitable for building their city. But they disagreed on which hill to construct their city. Romulus preferred what would eventually become the Palatine hill and Remus preferred what would become the Aventine. They decided to look to the gods for guidance by way of augury– the interpretation of the flights of birds. Remus saw the first augury of six auspicious birds. But then Romulus saw an augury of twelve auspicious birds. They argued over which augury signalled the favour of the gods, with Remus claiming that he had been favoured because he saw his birds first and Romulus claiming that he had been favoured because he saw twice as many birds. Their quarrel turned violent and Romulus ended up killing Remus. He built the city of Rome on the Palatine hill.


Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, Book 1.1-8 (trans. D. Spillan, adapted by P. Rogak)

Latin history, 1st century BCE

[content warning for the following source: sexual assault (1.4)]
Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita, or From the Founding of the City, is a history of Rome written in Latin during the 1st century BCE. It spans the time from the arrival of Aeneas in Italy all the way to Livy’s own era during the rule of the emperor Augustus. The following excerpt recounts Aeneas’ arrival in Italy, the birth and growth of Romulus and Remus,  the foundation of the city of Rome by Romulus, and the early events of Romulus’ reign.

[1] Now first of all, it is sufficiently established that, Troy having been defeated, the utmost severity was shown to all the other Trojans; but that towards two, Aeneas and Antenor, the Greeks forbore all the rights of war, both in accordance with an ancient tie of hospitality, and because they had always been the advisers of peace, and of the restoration of Helen—then that Antenor after various twists of fate came into the innermost bay of the Adriatic Sea, with a group of the Heneti, who having been driven from Paphlagonia because of a civil commotion, were in quest both of a settlement and a leader, their king Pylaemenes having been lost at Troy; and that the Heneti and Trojans, having expelled the Euganei, who lived between the sea and the Alps, took possession of the country; and the place where they first landed is called Troy; from this also the name of Trojan is given to the canton; but the nation in general is called Veneti. That Aeneas was driven from home by a similar calamity, but the fates leading him to the founding of a greater empire, he came first to Macedonia: that he sailed from thence to Sicily in quest of a settlement. From Sicily he made for the Laurentine territory; this place also has the name of Troy. When the Trojans, having disembarked there, were driving plunder from the lands,—as being persons to whom, after their almost immeasurable wandering, nothing was left but their arms and ships,—Latinus the king, and the Aborigines,[1] who then occupied those places, assembled in arms from the city and country to repel the violence of the new-comers. On this point the tradition is two-fold: some say, that Latinus, after being overcome in battle, made first a peace, and then an alliance with Aeneas: others, that when the armies were drawn out in battle-array, before the signals were sounded, Latinus advanced to the front of the troops and invited the leader of the adventurers to a conference. That he then inquired who they were, where (they had come from), or by what chance they had left their home, and in quest of what they had landed on the Laurentine territory. After he heard that the host were Trojans, their chief Aeneas, the son of Anchises and Venus, and that, driven from their own country and their homes, which had been destroyed by fire, they were seeking a settlement and a place for building a town, struck with admiration of the noble origin of the nation and of the hero, and their spirit, alike prepared for peace or war, he confirmed the assurance of future friendship by giving his right hand. Upon this a pact was struck between the chiefs, and mutual greetings passed between the armies. Aeneas was hospitably entertained by LatinusLatinus, in the presence of his household gods, added a family alliance to the public one by giving Aeneas his daughter in marriage. This event confirms the Trojans in the hope of at length terminating their wanderings by a fixed and permanent settlement. They build a town. Aeneas calls it Lavinium, after the name of his wife [ Lavinia ]. In a short time, too, a son was the issue of the new marriage, to whom his parents gave the name of Ascanius.

[2] The Aborigines and Trojans were soon after attacked together in war. Turnus, king of the Rutulians, to whom Lavinia had been engaged before the coming of Aeneas, enraged that a stranger had been preferred to himself, made war on Aeneas and Latinus together. Neither side came off from that contest with cause for rejoicing. The Rutulians were defeated; the victorious Aborigines and Trojans lost their leader Latinus. Upon this Turnus and the Rutulians, not confident in their strength, seek help from the flourishing state of the Etruscans, and their king Mezentius; who holding his court at Coere, at that time an opulent town, being by no means pleased, even from the beginning, at the founding of the new city, and then considering that the Trojan power was increasing much more than was altogether consistent with the safety of the neighbouring states, without reluctance joined his forces in alliance with the Rutulians. Aeneas, in order to conciliate the minds of the Aborigines to meet the terror of so serious a war, called both nations Latins, so that they might all be not only under the same laws, but also the same name. Nor after that did the Aborigines yield to the Trojans in zeal and fidelity towards their king Aeneas; relying therefore on this disposition of the two nations, who were now daily mixing more and more, although Etruria was so powerful, that it filled with the fame of its prowess not only the land, but the sea also, through the whole length of Italy, from the Alps to the Sicilian Strait. Though he might have repelled the war by means of fortifications, he led out his forces to the field. Upon this a battle ensued, successful for the Latins, the last also of the mortal acts of Aeneas. He was buried, by whatever name human and divine laws require him to be called, on the banks of the river Numicius. They call him Jupiter Indiges.[2]

[3] Ascanius, the son of Aeneas, was not yet old enough to take the government upon him; that government, however, remained secure for him until the age of maturity. In the interim, the Latin state and the kingdom of his grandfather and father was secured for the boy under the regency of his mother (such capacity was there in Lavinia). I have some doubts (for who can state as certain a matter of such antiquity) whether this was the Ascanius, or one older than he, born of Creusa before the fall of Troy, and the companion of his father in his flight from from there, the same whom, being called Iulus, the Julian family call the creator of their name. This Ascanius, wherever and of whatever mother born, (it is at least certain that he was the son of Aeneas,) Lavinium being overstocked with inhabitants, left that flourishing and, considering these times, wealthy city to his mother or step-mother, and built for himself a new one at the foot of Mount Alba, which, being extended on the ridge of a hill, was, from its situation, called Longa Alba. Between the founding of Lavinium and the transplanting this colony to Longa Alba, about thirty years intervened. Yet its power had increased to such a degree, especially after the defeat of the Etrurians, that not even upon the death of Aeneas, nor after that, during the regency of Lavinia, and the first essays of the young prince’s reign, did Mezentius, the Etrurians, or any other of its neighbours dare to take up arms against it. A peace had been concluded between the two nations on these terms, that the river Albula, now called Tiber, should be the common boundary between the Etrurians and Latins. After him Silvius, the son of Ascanius, born by some accident in a wood, ascends the throne. He was the father of Aeneas Silvius, who afterwards fathered Latinus Silvius. By him several colonies, called the ancient Latins, were transplanted. From this time, all the princes, who reigned at Alba, had the surname of Silvius. From Latinus sprung Alba; from Alba, Atys; from Atys, Capys; from Capys, Capetus; from Capetus, Tiberinus, who, being drowned in crossing the river Albula, gave it a name famous with posterity. Then Agrippa, the son of Tiberinus; after Agrippa, Romulus Silvius ascends the throne, in succession to his father. The latter, having been killed by a thunderbolt, left the kingdom to Aventinus, who being buried on that hill, which is now part of the city of Rome, gave his name to it. After him reigns Proca; he begets Numitor and Amulius. To Numitor, his eldest son, he bequeaths the ancient kingdom of the Sylvian family. But force prevailed more than the father’s will or the respect due to seniority: for Amulius, having expelled his brother, seizes the kingdom; he adds crime to crime, murders his brother’s male descendants; and under pretence of honouring his brother’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, having made her a Vestal Virgin, by obliging her to perpetual virginity he deprives her of all hopes of descendants.

[4] But, in my opinion, the origin of so great a city, and the establishment of an empire next in power to that of the gods, was due to the Fates. The Vestal Rhea, being raped by force, when she had brought forth twins, declared Mars to be the father of her illegitimate offspring, either because she believed it to be so, or because a god was a more creditable author of her offence. But neither gods nor men protect her or her children from the king’s cruelty: the priestess is bound and thrown into prison; the children he commands to be thrown into the current of the river. By some interposition of providence, the Tiber having overflowed its banks in stagnant pools, did not admit of any access to the regular bed of the river; and the bearers supposed that the infants could be drowned in water however still. And so, as if they had effectively executed the king’s orders, they exposed[3] the boys in the nearest land-flood, where now stands the ficus Ruminalis [goat-fig tree] (they say that it was called Romularis). The country thereabout was then a vast wilderness. The tradition is, that when the water, subsiding, had left the floating trough in which the children had been exposed on dry ground, a thirsty she-wolf, coming from the neighbouring mountains, directed her course to the cries of the infants, and that she held down her teats to them with so much gentleness, that the keeper of the king’s flock found her licking the boys with her tongue. It is said his name was Faustulus; and that they were carried by him to his homestead to be nursed by his wife Laurentia. Some are of opinion that she was called Lupa among the shepherds, from her being a common prostitute, and that this gave rise to the surprising story.[4] The children thus born and thus brought up, when arrived at the years of manhood, did not waste away their time in tending the folds or following the flocks, but roamed and hunted in the forests. Having by this exercise improved their strength and courage, they not only encountered wild beasts, but even attacked robbers laden with plunder, and afterwards divided the spoil among the shepherds. And in company with these, the number of their young associates daily increasing, they carried on their business and their sports.

[5] They say, that the festival of the Lupercalia,[5] as now celebrated, was even at that time solemnized on the Palatine hill, which, from Palanteum, a city of Arcadia, was first called Palatium, and afterwards Mount Palatine. There they say that Evander, who belonged to the tribe of Arcadians, that for many years before had possessed that country, appointed the observance of a feast, introduced from Arcadia, in such manner, that young men ran about naked in sport and wantonness, doing honour to Pan Lycaeus,[6] whom the Romans afterwards called Inuus. The robbers, through rage at the loss of their booty, having lain in wait for them while they were focused on this sport, as the festival was now well known, while Romulus vigorously defended himself, took Remus prisoner. They delivered him, when captured, to king Amulius, accusing him with the utmost impertinence. They principally alleged it as a charge against them, that they had made incursions upon Numitor‘s lands, and plundered them in a hostile manner, having assembled a band of young men for the purpose. Upon this Remus was delivered to Numitor to be punished. Now, from the very first, Faustulus had had hopes that the boys whom he was bringing up were of the blood royal; for he both knew that the children had been exposed by the king’s orders, and that the time at which he had taken them up aligned exactly with that period: but he had been unwilling that the matter, as not being yet ripe for discovery, should be disclosed, until either a fitting opportunity or necessity should arise. Necessity came first; accordingly, compelled by fear, he revealed the whole affair to Romulus. By accident also, while he had Remus in custody, and had heard that the brothers were twins, on comparing their age, and observing their turn of mind entirely free from servility, the recollection of his grandchildren struck Numitor; and on making inquiries he arrived at the same conclusion, so that he was close to recognising Remus. Thus a plot was arranged for the king on all sides. Romulus, not accompanied by a body of young men, (for he was unequal to open force,) but having commanded the shepherds to come to the palace by different roads at a fixed time, forced his way to the king; and Remus, with another party from Numitor‘s house, assisted his brother, and so they killed the king.

[6] Numitor, at the beginning of the fight, having given out that enemies had invaded the city and assaulted the palace, after he had drawn off the Alban youth to secure the citadel with a garrison and arms, when he saw the young men after they had killed the king advancing to congratulate him, immediately called an assembly of the people, and told them of the unnatural behaviour of his brother towards him, the extraction of his grandchildren, the manner of their birth and education, and how they came to be discovered. Then he informed them of the king’s death, and that he was killed by his orders. When the young princes, coming up with their band through the middle of the assembly, saluted their grandfather king, an approving shout, following from all the people present, ratified to him both that title and the sovereignty. Thus the government of Alba being committed to Numitor, a desire seized Romulus and Remus to build a city on the spot where they had been exposed and brought up. And there was an overflowing population of Albans and of Latins. The shepherds too had come into that design, and all these readily inspired hopes, that Alba and Lavinium would be but small places in comparison with the city which they intended to build. But ambition of the sovereignty, the bane of their grandfather, interrupted these designs, and from this arose a shameful quarrel from a beginning that had been sufficiently friendly. For as they were twins, and the respect due to seniority could not determine the point, they agreed to leave to the patron gods of the place to choose, by augury, which should give a name to the new city, which govern it when built.

[7] Romulus chose the Palatine and Remus the Aventine hill as their stands to make their observations. It is said, that to Remus an omen came first, six vultures; and now, the omen having been declared, when double the number presented itself to Romulus, his own party saluted each king; the former claimed the kingdom on the ground of priority of time, the latter on account of the number of birds. Upon this, having met in an altercation, from the contest of angry feelings they turn to bloodshed; there Remus fell from a blow received in the crowd. A more common account is, that Remus, in derision of his brother, leaped over his new-built wall, and was, for that reason, slain by Romulus in a passion; who, after sharply chiding him, added words to this effect, “This is what will happen everyone who dares to leap over my fortifications.”[12] Thus Romulus got the sovereignty to himself; the city, when built, was called after the name of its founder. His first work was to fortify the Palatine hill where he had been educated. To the other gods he offers sacrifices according to the Alban rite; to Hercules, according to the Grecian rite, as they had been instituted by Evander. There is a tradition, that Hercules, having killed Geryon, drove his oxen, which were extremely beautiful, into those places; and that, after swimming over the Tiber, and driving the cattle before him, being fatigued with travelling, he laid himself down on the banks of the river, in a grassy place, to refresh them with rest and rich pasture. When sleep had overpowered him, satiated with food and wine, a shepherd of the place, named Cacus, trusting his strength and charmed with the beauty of the oxen, wished to steal those spoils but, because if he had driven them forward into the cave, their footsteps would have guided the search of their owner to there, he therefore drew the most beautiful of them, one by one, by the tails, backwards into a cave. Hercules, waking at day-break, when he had surveyed his herd, and observed that some of them were missing, goes directly to the nearest cave, to see if by chance their footsteps would lead him there. But when he observed that they were all turned from it, and directed him no other way, confused, and not knowing what to do, he began to drive his cattle out of that unlucky place. Upon this, some of the cows, as they usually do, lowed on missing those that were left; and the lowings of those that were confined being returned from the cave, made Hercules turn that way. And when Cacus attempted to prevent him by force, as he was proceeding to the cave, being struck with a club, he was killed, begging uselessly for the assistance of the shepherds. At that time Evander, who had fled from the Peloponnesus, ruled this country more by his credit and reputation than absolute power. He was a person highly revered for his wondrous knowledge of letters, a discovery that was entirely new and surprising to men ignorant of every art; but more highly respected on account of the supposed divinity of his mother Carmenta, whom these nations had admired as a prophetess, before the coming of the Sibyl into Italy. This prince, alarmed by the concourse of the shepherds hastily crowding around the stranger, whom they charged with open murder, after he heard the act and the cause of the act, observing the body and manner of the hero to be larger and his gait more majestic than human, asked who he was. As soon as he was informed of his name, his father, and his native country, he said, “Hail! Hercules! son of Jupiter, my mother, a truth-telling interpreter of the gods, has revealed to me, that you will increase the number of the celestials; and that to you an altar will be dedicated here, which some ages from now the most powerful people on earth will call Ara Maxima,[7] and honour according to your own institution.” Hercules having given him his right hand, said that he accepted the omen, and would fulfil the predictions of the Fates by building and consecrating an altar. There for the first time a sacrifice was offered to Hercules of a chosen heifer, taken from the herd, the Potitii and Pinarii, who were then the most distinguished families that inhabited these parts, having been invited to the service and the entertainment. It so happened that the Potitii were present in due time, and the entrails were set before them; when they were eaten up, the Pinarii came to the remainder of the feast. From this time it was ordained, that while the Pinarian family subsisted, none of them should eat of the entrails of the solemn sacrifices. The Potitii, being instructed by Evander, carried out this sacred duty as priests for many ages, until the office, solemnly appropriated to their family, being delegated to public slaves, their whole race became extinct. This was the only foreign religious institution which Romulus adopted, being even then a supporter of immortality attained by merit, to which his own destinies were conducting him.

[8] The duties of religion having been duly performed, and the multitude summoned to a meeting, as they could be incorporated into one people by no other means than fixed rules, he gave them a code of laws, and judging that these would be best respected by this rude class of men, if he made himself dignified by the insignia of authority, he assumed a more majestic appearance both in his other appointments, and especially by taking twelve lictors[8] to attend him. Some think that he chose this number of officers from that of the birds, which in the augury had portended the kingdom to him. I do not object to be of the opinion of those who will have it that the apparitors (in general), and this particular class of them, and even their number, was taken from their neighbours the Etrurians, from whom were borrowed the curule chair, and the gown edged with purple; and that the Etrurians adopted that number, because their king being elected in common from twelve states, each state assigned him one lictor. Meanwhile the city increased by their taking in various lots of ground for buildings, whilst they built rather with a view to future numbers, than for the population which they then had. Then, in case the size of the city might be of no use, in order to augment the population according to the ancient policy of the founders of cities, who after drawing together to them an obscure and lower-class population, used to pretend that their offspring sprung out of the earth, he opened as a sanctuary, a place which is now enclosed as you go down “to the two groves.” To here from the neighbouring states, without distinction whether freemen or slaves, fled crowds of all sorts, seeking change: and this was the first accession of strength to their rising greatness. When he was now not dissatisfied with his strength, he next sets about forming some means of directing that strength. He creates one hundred senators, either because that number was sufficient, or because there were only one hundred who could name their fathers. They certainly were called Fathers, through respect, and their descendants, Patricians.


Taken from:

The Rape of the Sabine Women

[content warning for the following section: sexual assault, kidnapping]


Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, Book 1 (trans. D. Spillan, adapted by P. Rogak)

Latin history, 1st century BCE

[content warning for the following source: sexual assault and kidnapping (1.9)]

[9] And now the Roman state was become so powerful, that it was a match for any of the neighbouring nations in war, but, from the scarcity of women, its greatness could only last for one age of man; for they had no hope of offspring at home, nor had they any intermarriages with their neighbours. Therefore, by the advice of the Fathers, Romulus sent ambassadors to the neighbouring states to seek an alliance and the privilege of intermarriage for his new subjects. Cities, like everything else, rose from very humble beginnings; those which the gods and their own merit aided, gained great power and high renown. This he knew full well, both that the gods had aided the origin of Rome, and that merit would not be lacking. For this reason, as men, they should feel no reluctance to mix their blood and race with men. Nowhere did the embassy obtain a favourable hearing: so much did they at the same time despise, and dread for themselves and their legacy, so great a power growing up in the midst of them. They were dismissed by most with the repeated question of whether they had opened any asylum for women also, because only with such a plan could they obtain suitable matches. The Roman youth resented this conduct bitterly, and the matter unquestionably began to point towards violence. Romulus, in order that he might afford a favourable time and place for this, hiding his resentment, purposely prepares games in honour of Neptunus Equestris;[9] he calls them Consualia. He then orders the spectacle to be announced to their neighbours; and they prepare for the celebration with all the magnificence they were then acquainted with, or were capable of doing, that they might render the matter famous, and an object of expectation. Great numbers assembled, from a desire also of seeing the new city; especially their nearest neighbours, the Caeninenses, Crustumini, and Antemnates. Furthermore, the whole multitude of the Sabines came, with their wives and children. Having been hospitably invited to the different houses, when they had seen the situation, and fortifications, and the city crowded with houses, they became astonished that the Roman power had increased so rapidly. When the time of the spectacle came on, and while their minds and eyes were intent upon it, according to plan, disorder arose, and upon a signal given the Roman youth ran different ways to carry off the virgins by force. A great number were carried off randomly, according to how they fell into their [the Romans’] hands. People from the common people, who had been charged with the task, conveyed to their houses some women of surpassing beauty, destined for the leading senators. They say that one, far distinguished beyond the others for stature and beauty, was carried off by the party of one Thalassius, and while many inquired to whom they were carrying her, they cried out every now and then, in order that no one might disturb her, that she was being taken to Thalassius; from this circumstance this term became a nuptial one. The festival being disturbed by this alarm, the parents of the young women leave in grief, appealing to the compact of violated hospitality, and invoking the god, to whose festival and games they had come, deceived by the pretence of religion and good faith. Neither had the ravished virgins better hopes of their condition, or less indignation. But Romulus in person went about and declared, “That what was done was because of the pride of their fathers, who had refused to grant the privilege of marriage to their neighbours; but nonetheless, they will be joined in lawful wedlock, participate in all their possessions and civil privileges, and, than which nothing can be dearer to the human heart, in their common children.” He begged them only to calm the fierceness of their anger, and cheerfully surrender their affections to those to whom fortune had consigned their persons. [He added,] “From injuries love and friendship often arise; and they should find them kinder husbands on this account, because each of them, besides the performance of his conjugal duty, would try to the utmost of his power to make up for the lack of their parents and native country.” To this the caresses of the husbands were added, excusing what they had done on the plea of passion and love, arguments that work most successfully on women’s hearts.

[10] The minds of the ravished virgins were soon much soothed, but their parents by putting on mourning, and tears and complaints, roused the states. Nor did they confine their resentment to their own homes, but they flocked from all quarters to Titus Tatius, king of the Sabines; and because he bore the greatest character in these parts, embassies were sent to him. The Caeninenses, Crustumini, and Antemnates were people to whom a considerable portion of the outrage extended. To them Tatius and the Sabines seemed to proceed somewhat dilatorily. Nor even do the Crustumini and Antemnates take sufficient action to suit the impatience and rage of the Caeninenses. And so the state of the Caeninenses by itself makes an invasion into the Roman territory. But Romulus with his army met them ravaging the country in straggling parties, and by a slight conversation convinces them that resentment without strength is of no use. He defeats and routs their army, pursues it when routed, kills and despoils their king in battle, and having slain their general takes the city at the first assault. Having led his victorious army back from there, and being a man highly distinguished by his exploits, and one who could place them in the best light, went in state to the capitol, carrying before him, suspended on a frame curiously wrought for that purpose, the spoils of the enemy’s general, whom he had slain, and there after he had laid them down at the foot of an oak held sacred by the shepherds, together with the offering, he marked out the bounds for a temple of Jupiter, and gave a surname to the god, “Jupiter Feretrius,”[10] he says, “I, king Romulus, upon my victory, present to thee these royal arms, and to you I dedicate a temple within those regions which I have now marked out in my mind, as a receptacle for the grand spoils, which my successors, following my example, will, upon their killing the kings or generals of the enemy, offer to you.” This is the origin of that temple, the first consecrated at Rome. It afterwards so pleased the gods both that the declaration of the founder of the temple should not be frustrated, by which he announced that his posterity should offer such spoils, and that the glory of that offering should not be depreciated by the great number of those who shared it. During so many years, and in so many wars since that time, grand spoils have been only twice gained, so rare has been the successful attainment of that honour.

[11] While the Romans are achieving these exploits, the army of the Antemnates, taking advantage of their absence, makes an invasion into the Roman territories in a hostile manner. A Roman legion being marched out in haste against these also, surprise them whilst straggling through the fields. Accordingly the enemy were routed at the very first shout and charge: their town taken; and as Romulus was returning, exulting for this double victory, his consort, Hersilia, plagued by the pleading of the captured women, begs him to pardon their fathers, and to admit them to the privilege of citizens, so that in this way his power might be strengthened by a reconciliation. Her request was readily granted. After this he marched against the Crustumini, who were beginning hostilities; but as their spirits were sunk by the defeat of their neighbours, there was even less resistance there. Colonies were sent to both places, but more were found to give in their names for Crustuminum, because of the fertility of the soil. Migrations in great numbers were also made from there to Rome, mainly by the parents and relatives of the ravished women. The last war broke out on the part of the Sabines, and proved by far the most formidable: for they did nothing through anger or cupidity, nor did they make a show of war before they actually began it. To caution, stratagy also was added. Sp. Tarpeius commanded the Roman citadel; Tatius bribes his maiden daughter with gold, to allow armed soldiers into the citadel: she had gone by chance outside the walls to fetch water for the sacrifice. Those who were allowed in crushed her to death by heaping their weapons upon her, either so that the citadel might seem to have been taken by storm, or for the purpose of establishing a precedent that no faith should, under any circumstances, be kept with a traitor. A story is added that the Sabines commonly wore on their left arm golden bracelets of great weight, and large rings set with precious stones, and that she bargained with them for what they had on their left hands, and so their shields were thrown upon her instead of the golden presents. There are some who say that, in pursuit of the deal to give her what was on their left hands, she specifically demanded their shields, and that appearing to act with treachery, she was killed by the reward that she herself had chosen.

[12] The Sabines, however, kept possession of the citadel, and on the day after, when the Roman army, drawn up in order of battle, filled up all the ground lying between the Palatine and Capitoline hills, they did not descend from there into the plain until the Romans, fired with resentment and with a desire to retake the citadel, advanced to attack them. Two chiefs, one on each side, animated the battle, viz. Mettus Curtius on the part of the Sabines, Hostus Hostilius on that of the Romans. The latter, in the front ranks, supported the Roman cause by his courage and bravery, on disadvantageous ground. As soon as Hostus fell, the Roman line immediately gave way and was beaten to the old gate of the Palatium. Romulus, too carried away with the general rout, raising his arms to heaven, says, “O Jupiter, commanded by your birds, I here laid the first foundation of the city on the Palatine hill. The Sabines are in possession of the citadel, purchased by fraud. From there they are now advancing to here, sword in hand, having already passed the middle of the valley. But you, father of gods and men, keep back the enemy at least from here, dispel the terror of the Romans, and stop their shameful flight. Here I solemnly vow to build a temple to you as Jupiter Stator,[11] as a monument to posterity, that this city was saved by your immediate aid.” Having offered up this prayer, as if he had felt that his prayers were heard, he cries out, “At this spot, Romans, Jupiter, supremely good and great, commands you to halt, and renew the fight.” The Romans halted as if they had been commanded by a voice from heaven; Romulus himself flies to the foremost ranks. Mettus Curtius, on the part of the Sabines, had rushed down at the head of his army from the citadel, and driven the Romans in disorder over the whole ground now occupied by the forum. He was already not far from the gate of the Palatium, crying out, “We have defeated these perfidious strangers, these dastardly enemies. They now feel that it is one thing to ravish virgins, another far different to fight with men.” On him, thus boasting, Romulus makes an attack with a band of the most courageous youths. It happened that Mettus was then fighting on horseback; he was on that account the more easily beaten back: the Romans pursue him when he fled, and the rest of the Roman army, encouraged by the gallant behaviour of their king, routs the Sabines. Mettus, his horse taking fright at the din of his pursuers, threw himself into a lake; and this circumstance drew the attention of the Sabines at the risk of so important a person. He, however, his own party beckoning and calling to him, acquires new courage from the affection of his many friends, and makes his escape. The Romans and Sabines renew the battle in the valley between the hills; but Roman prowess had the advantage.

[13] At this juncture the Sabine women, from the outrage on whom the war originated, with hair dishevelled and garments torn, the timidity of their sex being overcome by such dreadful scenes, had the courage to throw themselves amid the flying weapons, and making a rush across, to part the angry armies, and calm their fury; imploring their fathers on the one side, their husbands on the other, that as fathers-in-law and sons-in-law they would not contaminate each other with impious blood, nor stain their offspring with parricide, the one their grandchildren, the other their children. [They say,] “If you are dissatisfied with the affinity between you, if with our marriages, turn your resentment against us; we are the cause of war, we of wounds and of bloodshed to our husbands and parents. It were better that we perish than live widowed or fatherless without one or other of you.” The circumstance affects both the people and the leaders. Silence and a sudden suspense follow. Upon this,  the leaders come forward in order to arrange a treaty, and they not only conclude a peace, but form one state out of two. They associate the regal power, and transfer the entire sovereignty to Rome. The city being in this way doubled, that some compliment might be paid to the Sabines, they were called Quirites, from Cures. As a memorial of this battle, they called the place where the horse, after getting out of the deep marsh, first set Curtius in shallow water, the Curtian Lake. This happy peace following suddenly a war so distressing, rendered the Sabine women still dearer to their husbands and parents, and above all to Romulus himself. Accordingly, when he divided the people into thirty curiae,[12] he called the curiae by their names. Since, without doubt, the number of the Sabine women was considerably greater than this, it is not recorded whether those who were to give their names to the curiae were selected on account of their age, or their own or their husbands’ rank, or by lot. At the same time three centuries of knights were enrolled, called Ramnenses, from Romulus; Tatienses, from Titus Tatius. The reason of the name and origin of the Luceres is uncertain.

[14] From then on the two kings held the regal power not only in common, but in harmony also. Several years after, some relatives of king Tatius beat the ambassadors of the Laurentes, and when the Laurentes began proceedings according to the law of nations, the influence of his friends and their importunities had more weight with Tatius. He therefore drew upon himself the punishment due to them; for he is killed at Lavinium, in a conflict which arose on his going there to an anniversary sacrifice. They say that Romulus resented this with less severity than the case required, either because of their association in the kingly power being without friendship, or because he believed that he was killed fairly. He therefore declined going to war; in order, however, that the ill-treatment of the ambassadors and the murder of the king might be expiated, the treaty was renewed between the cities of Rome and Lavinium. With this group, indeed, peace continued, contrary to expectation; another war broke out much nearer home, and almost at the very gates. The Fidenates, thinking that a power too near to themselves was growing to a height, resolve to make war, before their strength should become as great as it appeared it would be. An armed body of young men being sent in, all the land is laid waste between the city and Fidenae. Then turning to the left, because the Tiber confined them on the right, they continue their attacks to the great concern of the peasantry. The sudden alarm reaching the city from the country, served as the first announcement. Romulus, roused at this circumstance, (for a war so near home could not admit of delay,) leads out his army: he pitches his camp a mile from Fidenae. Having left there a small garrison, marching out with all his forces, he commanded a party of his soldiers to lie in ambush in a place hidden by thick bushes which were planted around. Then advancing with the greater part of the foot troops and all the horse, and riding up to the very gates of the city in a disorderly and menacing manner, he drew out the enemy, the very thing he wanted. The same mode of fighting on the part of the cavalry likewise made the cause of the flight, which was to be faked, appear less surprising: and when, the horse seeming irresolute, as if in deliberation whether to fight or fly, the infantry also retreated, the enemy suddenly rushed from the crowded gates, after they had made an impression on the Roman line, are drawn on to the place of the ambush in their eagerness to press on and pursue. Upon this the Romans, rising suddenly, attack the enemy’s line in flank. The standards of those who had been left behind on guard, advancing from the camp, further increase the panic. The Fidenates, thus dismayed with terrors from so many quarters, turn their backs almost before Romulus and those who had accompanied him on horseback could wheel their horses round; and those who a little before had pursued men who were pretending to flee, now ran back to the town in much greater disorder, for their flight was in earnest. They did not however get clear of the enemy: the Romans pressing on their rear rush in as it were in one body before the gates could be shut against them.

[15] The minds of the Veientes being excited by the contagious influence of the Fidenatian war, both from the tie of shared blood (because the Fidenates also were Etrurians), and because how close they were to the situation, in the event that the Roman weapons should be turned against all their neighbours, urged them on, they made an invasion into the Roman territories, more to commit raids than after the manner of a regular war. Accordingly, without pitching a camp, or awaiting the approach of the enemy’s army, they returned to Veii, carrying with them the loot collected from the lands. The Roman army on the other side, when they did not find the enemy in the country, being prepared for and determined on a decisive action, cross the Tiber. And when the Veientes heard that they were pitching a camp, and intended to advance to the city, they came out to meet them, so that they might rather settle the matter in the open field, than be shut up and fight from their houses and walls. Here the Roman king obtained the victory, his power not being helped by any stratagem, but just by the strength of his veteran army. And having pursued the routed enemies to their walls, he made no attempt to attack the city, strong as it was from its fortifications, and well defended by its situation. On his return, he lays waste their lands, rather from a desire of revenge than loot. And the Veientes, being humbled by that loss no less than by the unsuccessful battle, send ambassadors to Rome to negotiate for peace. A truce for one hundred years was granted to them after they were fined a part of their land. These are the principal transactions which occurred during the reign of Romulus, in peace and war, none of which seem inconsistent with the belief of his divine original, or of the deification attributed to him after death, neither his spirit in recovering his grandfather’s kingdom, nor his project of building a city, nor that of strengthening it by the arts of war and peace. For by the strength attained from that outset under him, it became so powerful, that for forty years after it enjoyed a profound peace. He was, however, dearer to the people than to the fathers; but above all others he was most beloved by the soldiers. And he kept three hundred of them armed as a body-guard not only in war but in peace, whom he called Celeres.[13]

[16] After performing these immortal achievements, while he was holding an assembly of the people for reviewing his army in the plain near the lake of Capra, a sudden a storm arose with great thunder and lightning and enveloped the king in so dense a mist that it took all sight of him from the assembly. Never was Romulus after this seen on earth. The concern being at length over, and fine clear weather succeeding so turbulent a day, when the Roman youth saw the royal seat empty, though they readily believed the fathers who had stood nearest him, that he was carried aloft by the storm, but, struck with the dread as it were of orphanage, they preserved a sorrowful silence for a considerable time. Then, a few people having started, the whole multitude salute Romulus a god, son of a god, the king and parent of the Roman city; they ask for his favour with prayers, that he would be pleased always propitiously to preserve his own offspring. I believe that even then there were some who silently surmised that the king had been torn in pieces by the hands of the fathers, for this rumour also spread, but was not credited. Their admiration of the man, and the gravity felt at the moment, attached importance to the other report. By the arrangementes also of one individual, additional credit is said to have been gained to the matter. For Proculus Julius, while the state was still troubled with regret for the king, and felt angry with the senators, a person of importance, as we are told, in any matter however important, comes forward to the assembly. “Romans,” he says, “Romulus, the father of this city, suddenly descending from heaven, appeared to me this day at day-break. While I stood covered with awe, and filled with a religious dread, begging him to allow me to see him face to face, he said, ‘Go tell the Romans, that the gods wish for my Rome to become the capitol of the world. Therefore let them cultivate the art of war, and let them know and hand down their legacy, so that no human power will be able to withstand the Roman arms.’ Having said this, he ascended up to heaven.” It is surprising what credit was given to the man on his making this announcement, and how much the regret of the common people and army, for the loss of Romulus, was calmed upon the assurance of his immortality.


Taken from:

Media Attributions and Footnotes


Media Attributions

  1. From the Latin ab origine, meaning "original people." Refers to the people of Latium who lived in Italy before the settling of Aeneas and the foundation of Rome.
  2. Jupiter Indiges was the name given to Aeneas upon his death and apotheosis. Note that this does not refer to Zeus/Jupiter.
  3. The process of "exposure" in ancient Greece and Rome was a fairly common method of getting rid of an undesired child (often a female child when a male child was wanted) by abandoning them out in nature.
  4. The Latin term lupa was both the term for a female wolf, and a derogatory name for a female sex worker.
  5. The Lupercalia was an important Roman fertility festival. For further description of the Lupercalia, see Ovid's Fasti, 2.15.
  6. An epithet for Pan meaning "wolf-Pan." The epithet Lycaeus was also sometimes used for Zeus.
  7. The Ara Maxima, near the Forum Boarium, is the oldest known site of worship of Hercules in Rome.
  8. Civil servants who acted as bodyguards to Roman officials.
  9. The epithet Equestris, meaning "of horses", refers to Neptune's role as the father of horses and patron of horse sports (horse racing and chariot racing).
  10. The epithet Feretrius refers to Jupiter's aspect as a guardian of oaths and contracts. The temple of Jupiter Feretrius is the oldest documented temple built in Rome, but no archaeological remains of it are known.
  11. Epithet for Jupiter meaning "preserver."
  12. A curia was a group of citizens that shared certain powers, such as the election of magistrates, and were viewed as a unit or clan for some legal purposes.
  13. Meaning "fast ones."


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Mythoi Koinoi Copyright © 2021 by Tara Mulder is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book