Who built Rome?
Rome, a city steeped in history and legend, has a story passed down through generations. Although the legend of Romulus and Remus is a beloved one, no archaeological evidence supports it. The earliest evidence of human settlement in Rome dates back to the 9th century BC. This evidence suggests that Rome was founded by people who migrated from the surrounding countryside.
The legend of Romulus and Remus
There are the most disparate versions of the origin of the city’s name, Romulus name is one, according to the legend.
Ascanius, son of Trojan War hero Aeneas, founded Alba Longa (today Albano Laziale). After his descendants, Numitor and his brother Amulius took over, Amulius forced his niece Rhea Silvia to become a vestal virgin, preventing her from bearing children who could claim the throne.
Amulius seized the throne and forced Rhea Silvia, Numitor’s daughter, to become a vestal virgin. This meant she had to take a vow of chastity to prevent her from having any children who could claim the crown.
Mars, the Roman god of war, fell in love with Rhea Silvia. She gave birth to twin boys, Romulus and Remus. Amulius, the king of Alba Longa and Rhea Silvia’s uncle, commanded the soldiers to kill the babies, but the soldiers left them in a basket along the Tiber River. The infants were found by a she-wolf who raised them on Mount Palatine.
Likely, a shepherd and his wife found the babies and adopted them.
Another hypothesis is that the babies were found by a Lupercale, a cave where sacrifices to bring about a good harvest took place.
When the twins grew up, they killed Amulius and returned Alba Longa to their grandfather, Numitor. They then decided to found a new town near the Tiber’s right bank as a colony of Alba Longa.
Romulus and Remus disagreed about where to found their colony. Observing the flight of birds according to the Etruscan method, Romulus won the dispute: Romulus saw 12 birds on Palatine Hill, while Remus saw only 6 on Aventine Hill.
Romulus plowed a squared border around the Palatine Hill and vowed to kill anyone who crossed it. Remus crossed the line and was killed by his brother, who became Rome’s first king. According to ancient historical accounts, this event is said to have occurred in 754 BC.
Romulus and Remus and she-wolf
Where did Rome get its name?
So, does Rome derive from Romulus? Maybe the contrary!
- “Rumon” is an Etruscan word referring to a river, likely the Tiber.
- The Etruscans founded other cities in Italy and in the same way, they founded Rome.
- The bronze statue of the she-wolf breastfeeding the mythical twins is Etruscan.
- The Etruscans dug caves for funeral and sacred use, later reused by early Christians.
- Pre-Christian burials were found near an ancient Etruscan oracle in the Vatican basement in 1949.
- Even the fasces, a symbol of Roman power that would become the symbol of fascism, is Etruscan.
Frescoes inside an Etruscan underground tomb, illustrating life at the Etruscan age
Why the Etruscans?
Romans denied being ruled by the Etruscans, so they only referred to the last kings as Etruscans. Rome’s name may come from Ruma, the name of a powerful Etruscan family.
The Romanization of the Etruscans merged their civilization with the Roman one in various ways. Rome’s victory over Etruria in 396 BC, with the conquest of Veii, gave them control of the mouth of the river Tiber. The clash was mythologized in ancient sources like Titus Livy, who likened it to the capture of Troy.
Horace, Propertius, and Virgil connected the Trojan origin myth with the Etruscan civilization. Cultural and linguistic evidence suggests Rome was founded by this ancient Italian population, possibly by the city of Tarquinia, after the name of the Tarquin dynasty in Rome.
Tito Livio stated that aristocratic Romans spoke Etruscan fluently. They perfected their pronunciation by studying in Caere, now called Cerveteri. They aimed to speak like Etruscans without any foreign inflections.
Etruscan inscriptions found in Rome’s Forum Boarium and at the foot of the Capitoline Hill prove that during the 6th century BC, people of different languages and cultures participated in the Roman religion. As the name eloquently indicates, a vicus Tuscus (an ancient name for a group of houses in a small portion of a city) alluded to the presence of an “Etruscan” area in the urban body of Rome. It was located on the southwestern side of the square of the future Forum, between the Capitoline Hill and the Palatine.
So, did the Etruscans found Rome?
Testimonies that the Latins occupied these lands between 3,000 and 2.000 BC have given rise to other legends.
In the early 1900s, archaeologists discovered prehistoric burials at the Roman Forum, now at the Archaeological Area Museum.
But these are other challenging tips to go deeper into the vast history of Rome.
We hope these stories inspired you! If you’re planning a trip to Rome, make sure to book a knowledgeable guide to ask all the questions coming to your mind while walking in the footsteps of the ancient population of this intriguing city.
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