21 April 2013

21 April - Founding of Rome

According to tradition, this is the dies natalis of the city of Rome, future ruler of most of the known world, founded by Romulus in 753 B.C. on the left bank of the Tiber River.

You know already the story of Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of Mars and grandsons of the exiled king Numitor; how the usurping king ordered the semi-divine infants drowned in the Anio River, and how instead their cradle drifted downstream until it was cast ashore on the banks of the Tiber; how they were suckled by a she-wolf until they were found and raised by shepherds on Palatine hill; how they learned of their true birth and avenged their grandfather by slaying the usurper and returning the rightful king to his throne.

If you don’t know it, you should.

This version of the founding of Rome is taken from “A Classical Dictionary of Biography, Mythology, and Geography” (1891), by Sir William Smith:

“Romulus and Remus loved their old abode, and therefore left Alba to found a city on the banks of the Tiber.  A strife arose between the brothers where the city should be built, and after whose name it should be called.  Romulus wished to build it on the Palatine, Remus on the Aventine.  It was agreed that the question should be decided by augury; and each took his station on the top of his chosen hill. 

The night passed away, and as the day was dawning, Remus saw six vultures; but at sun-rise, when these tidings were brought to Romulus, 12 vultures flew by him.  Each claimed the augury in his own favor; but the shepherds decided for Romulus, and Remus was obliged to yield. 

Romulus now proceeded to mark out the pomœrium of his city, and to raise the wall.  Remus, who still resented the wrong he had suffered, leapt over the wall in scorn, whereupon he was slain by his brother. 

[The Pomœrium was a symbolical wall, marked by stones or stone pillars erected at intervals.  The custom when founding a new town was to yoke a bullock and a heifer to the plow, and draw a furrow, with the clods falling inward, around the place to be occupied.  The furrow represented the moat, and the little mound of clods formed the symbolical wall. The actual stone walls were built outside this furrow, but near to it. The original pomœrium probably ran around the foot of the Palatine hill.]

Map of Ancient Rome
Palatine Hill (Romulus) in red
Aventine Hill (Remus) in blue
Capitoline Hill and Quirinal Hill (Sabines) in green
Tiber River in brown.
As soon as the city was built, Romulus found his people too few in numbers.  He therefore set apart, on the Capitoline hill, an asylum, or a sanctuary, in which homicides and runaway slaves might take refuge.  The city thus became filled with men, but they wanted women.  Romulus, therefore, tried to form treaties with the neighboring tribes, in order to obtain connubium, or the right of legal marriage with their citizens, but his offers were treated with disdain, and he accordingly resolved to obtain by force what he could not gain by entreaty.

In the fourth month after the foundation of the city, he proclaimed that games were to be celebrated in honor of the god Consus, and invited his neighbors, the Latins and Sabines, to the festival.  Suspecting no treachery, they came in numbers, with their wives and children.  But the Roman youths rushed upon their guests, and carried off the virgins.  The parents of the virgins returned home and prepared for vengeance.”

[Battles ensue, first one side gaining, then the other.]

“At length, when both parties were exhausted with the struggle, the Sabine women rushed in between them, and prayed their husbands and fathers to be reconciled.  Their prayer was heard; the two people not only made peace, but agreed to form only one nation.  The Romans continued to dwell on the Palatine under their king Romulus; the Sabines built a new town on the Capitoline and Quirinal hills, where they lived under their king Titus Tatius.  The two kings and their senates met for deliberation n the valley between the Palatine and Capitoline hills, which was hence called comitium, or the place of meeting.”


In honor of Eternal Rome, fix a Roman banquet.  This website has several delightful recipes and a few extras to help give your dinner a Roman ambiance.  If you can’t manage all three courses or the ingredients are just too wild to try, fix something simple like Chilled Peas Vinaigrette or Carrots Sautéed in Peppered Wine Sauce from the Gustatio (1st course) and Pears Cooked with Cinnamon and Wine or Roman Custard from the Secundae Mensae (3rd course). 

Eating while reclining is optional.  A good centerpiece for the Christian table would include a lion or two.

Bonum Appetitionem!

SPQR by Piotr Michal Jaworski.  Swiped from Wikipedia

Map taken from Sir William Smith, “Map of Ancient Rome Showing the Walls of Servius and those of Aurelian”, from A Classical Dictionary of Biography, Mythology, and Geography (1891) p. 646

Guercino, Hersilia Separating Romulus and Tatius, 1645, Louvre. Swiped from Wikipedia.