The Legend of Romulus & Remus

The Legend of Romulus & Remus

roman empire Jun 14, 2021

Romulus and Remus: The Founding of Rome

Chances are that you have seen images of two young boys being suckled by a she-wolf before. This ancient symbol is what you will find on the Romulus and Remus coin in our Roman Empire series. After all would your collection of ancient Roman commemorative coins be complete without it?

The wolf suckling the twins Romulus and Remus is a common theme on ancient Roman coins. For many this picture was the symbol of Rome itself. Isn’t it amazing how Rome continues to impact the world around us? A symbol and story from thousands of years ago continues to be used today on everything from bumper stickers to advertisements.

Romulus Remus sculpture on Sienne Duomo, Italy
Romulus Remus sculpture on Sienne Duomo, Italy

Did you know that…

• The symbol of Rome’s founding is a she wolf suckling the twin babies, Romulus & Remus?
• Romulus and Remus were the twin sons of the god Mars?
• The wolf is a sacred animal of the god Mars?
• Romulus and Remus' mother was a descendant of Aeneas of Troy, a minor Trojan hero from Homer’s Iliad, and the main hero in Virgil’s Aeneid?
• Rome was founded around 750 B.C.?
• Rome believed that the story of their founding shows that they were destined to rule the world?

The story of Romulus and Remus is depicted on Roman coins as early as 269 B.C. and perhaps earlier. This is about 480 years after Rome was founded. The oldest accounts of the story are also dated to the 3rd century B.C. This means that the story of Romulus and Remus was developed from oral tradition that was not written down for centuries. It is a mix of myths and facts. It is a story of the gods and men.

Ancient Roman ruins in Rome, Italy
Ancient Roman ruins in Rome, Italy

The Myth of Romulus & Remus

There are variations in the myth of Romulus and Remus. Here is the most common version of the story.

Romulus and Remus were the twin sons of Rhea Silvia and the god Mars. Rhea Silvia was the daughter of Numitor king of Alba Longa, a city 12 miles to the southeast of Rome founded by Aeneas. Aeneas was the Trojan who fled from Troy before it fell.

(You can find the stories of Aeneas in Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid. This lineage shows the Roman connection to Greek culture. We now often use the term Greco-Roman when referring to the Greek & Roman stories and artifacts. Greco-Roman influence can be still seen in western culture today.)

Numitor was deposed by his younger brother Amulius. Amulius banished Numitor and forced his daughter, Rhea Silvia, to become a vestal virgin for the god Vesta. Thus she would not be allowed to marry nor have children. If she had children they would have a claim to the throne.

Unfortunately for Amulius the war god Mars became infatuated with Rhea Silvia. Mars forced himself upon Rhea Silvia and she became pregnant with twin boys. When Amulius found out he wanted to execute her. (A vestal virgin who violated her vows of chastity for the god Vesta was supposed executed by being buried alive.)

However Amulius was afraid of the wrath of the gods if he were to harm Rhea Silvia or her twin sons. Instead, Amulius, imprisoned Rhea Silvia and sentenced her twin sons to be abandoned outside. Babies left in the wilderness would normally die of exposure to the elements or by wild animals.

Amulius reasoned that if the elements killed Romulus and Remus then the gods would not blame him for their death. He gave a trusted servant the task of throwing the baby boys into the river. This servant had pity on them and instead put them in a basket on the River Tiber. The fate of the twins was left to the gods.

The river god Tibernus caused the basket to catch in the roots of a fig tree. This tree was located at the base of the Palatine Hill. The twins were then discovered by a she-wolf. The she wolf, (the wolf was one of the 3 sacred animals of Mars) had pity on the crying hungry boys. The boys were suckled by the she wolf in a cave at the base of the Palatine Hill. (This would become the scene that artists would use to refer to this entire story.)

Eventually a shepherd named Faustulus found them. He took Romulus and Remus home to his wife Acca Larentia. They grew up as shepherds like their adopted father. As they became young men they were natural leaders and gathered followers from the community to fight bandits that would steal from the shepherds.

There are different accounts of how it happened, but Remus ended up being captured by Amulius’ men and taken to Alba Longa. Romulus gathered his band and went to free his brother. During this rescue Amulius was killed. Romulus and Remus are discovered to be the rightful heirs to the kingdom of Alba Longa.

Ancient marble statue in Rome, Italy of Romulus and Remus being protected by Roman God
Ancient marble statue in Rome, Italy of Romulus and Remus being protected by Roman God

Instead of accepting the kingdom they decide to reinstate their grandfather, Nimitor, as king. However, they now believe having their own city would be a great idea. Now that they have discovered they are royalty it makes sense to take their followers and start their own city-state. The twins decide the perfect place to build their own city would be where the she-wolf suckled them.

The twins had thought to found a city together, but they disagreed on where exactly they should build their city. Romulus decided it should be established on Palatine Hill. Remus wanted to build it on Aventine Hill. These hills are right next to each other (2 of the 7 hills of Rome) but the brothers could not agree on which one should become their citadel.

They decided that should use augury to decide. Augury is a type of religious observation of birds as signs from the gods as to what men should do. Each brother set about creating their sacred spot on the hill they had chosen and waited to see what signs the birds would give them.

Remus triumphantly saw 6 vultures circling his spot. Then Romulus saw 12 vultures circling his hill. Remus asserted since he saw birds first, the gods had declared in favor of Aventine Hill. Romulus strongly disagreed since the gods had sent 12 vultures to Palatine Hill. The brother’s argument became a physical combat.

In the fight, Romulus killed his brother Remus. Many of the accounts of this myth tell us that Romulus was grieved by his brother’s death and gave him a proper burial. Romulus went on to build his city and named it after himself. This was around 753 B.C.

Romulus would continue to add to his followers and built his city. He built a system of government that included an elected group of his followers he called the senate. This system of government by the people would be foundational to Rome.

Romulus was the Roman Kingdom’s first king. There would be 7 kings before kings were overthrown in favor of 2 consuls and a more powerful senate.

It is said that Romulus disappeared into the mists around 717 B.C. and went to live with the gods.

Statue in Piazza Del Popolo, Rome
Statue in Piazza Del Popolo, Rome

Man or Myth?

The story of Rome’s founding has various different versions. The different versions had different political and religious applications. When Caesar Augustus commissioned Vergil’s epic The Aeneid, for example, it helped him legitimize his authority as a lone emperor for life instead of an annually elected co-consul.

The ancient scholars and philosophers would discuss the founding myth of Rome with respect and look for applications to Roman life in their own time. Here are some of the implications for Romans as they built their civilization:
• Rome has always been favored by the gods.
• Might makes right – if you are given victory by the gods you must be in the right.
• Rome has always been destined to rule the world.
• Competition among leadership made a nation stronger.

What would a collection of commemorative coins on the Roman Empire be without the coin of Romulus and Remus? Incomplete, definitely.

Here are the details of 7k's exclusive
Romulus & Remus 1oz Silver Coin
Year of Issue : 2021
Country of Issue : Cook Islands
Face Value : 5 Dollars
Coin Weight : 1 Troy Ounce
Metal Purity : .999
Metal Composition : Fine Silver
Mintage : 500

Roman Empire Coin Series
Exclusively from 7k Metals: A 12 coin series featuring prominent historical figures from the Roman Empire.
See the whole collection here


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