Roman Mythology

Romulus and Remus

What was the Romulus and Remus myth?

The story of Romulus and Remus was well known in Rome by the fourth century B.C.E. and probably had much earlier folkloric roots. Romulus and Remus were the Roman version of the Indo-European sacred twins. They were the result of the union between Mars and the mortal Rhea Silvia (Earth). In order to prevent her from having children, King Amulius had usurped the throne of Rhea Silvia’s father, Numitor, and had forced the girl to become a vestal virgin so that she would not have a child who might seek revenge for his evil act. But, as always happens when kings in mythology attempt to thwart the will of the gods, his plans came to nothing. Rhea Silvia conceived the twins by Mars, and when they were born, Amulius tried, like Perseus’s grandfather and Oedipus’s parents, to overcome the inevitable by casting the twins away. When the ark in which he had placed them ran aground, a she-wolf found the babies and suckled them. So was born the symbol of Rome to this day.

As young boys the twins were adopted by a shepherd (again, like so many abandoned heroes—Oedipus, for example) and became famous for their unusual strength. But one day Remus was captured by followers of the old king Numitor. When Romulus went to his brother’s rescue, their identity as Numitor’s grandsons was uncovered and the newly united family made war on and defeated the usurper Amulius. Soon after, Romulus and Remus made their way to the place on the Tiber where they had been suckled by the wolf and founded the city of Rome. Here Romulus killed his brother in a fight over the name of the city. Thus, the city was named Rome after Romulus.

The new city was in desperate need of women. To solve this problem, Romulus invited the neighboring Sabine tribe to a feast, during which the Romans raped the Sabine women.

After a long war between the Romans and Sabines, the women—now Roman wives and mothers—arranged a truce between the sides. Romulus, like many heroes, was eventually taken up to heaven and made a god. So it was that Roman emperors could later claim precedence for their supposed divinity.

In terms of Indo-European parallels and significance, the killing of Remus by Romulus signifies the sacred sacrifice out of which creation is born. The world of the ancient Indian Vedas is born of the body of Yama, the twin brother of Manu. Here Rome is born of the body of Remus, allowing Romulus to become the sacred king, the first man of Rome, the instrument of the sovereignty of Iuppiter, the son of the power which was Mars, and the embodiment of the prosperity which was Quirinus. Romulus and Remus were known as the geminos quirinos, the twin quirini.

At the Museo Nuovo in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome, Italy, one can see this statue showing Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, getting nourishment from a she-wolf.


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