Rome's origins and the founding of Rome

Updated on 23 April 2023
Reading time: 15 minutes

The founding of Rome can be dated to the 8th century BC but Rome's origins go as far back as the 10th century BC. At that time, there were only a few settlements around the Palatine Hill and the river Tiber, which was used to transport goods and trade. The people living in this area belonged to a tribe called the Latins, while the region below the river Tiber was called Latium.

There were several reasons why these settlements and eventually the city of Rome prospered. The river Tiber allowed for trade and transportation to other locations, such as the sea or other villages. The fertile soil and the hills surrounding the future city of Rome also made it easy to protect and defend.

The founding of Rome

The city of Rome was founded from these settlements in the 8th century BC. The founding of Rome is traditionally dated to 753 BC, marking the beginning of the Roman Kingdom. According to legend, the first Roman King was Romulus, who named the city "Roma" (see the myth of the founding of Rome below). Romulus built the city upon the Palatine Hill and made great efforts to attract new people, including men of all kinds and even slaves, to contribute to the building and development of the city.

The Rape of the Sabine Women: is the story true?

After the founding of Rome, the city quickly grew and was able to defend itself from neighboring tribes. It is likely that the city eventually had a shortage of women, as there were too many men. According to legend, Romulus sent emissaries to the neighboring tribes to form new alliances and request the right of marriage for all the single men of Rome.

However, the men living in Rome, some of whom were slaves or ex-criminals, did not have the best reputation. Many of them were unwanted men from other towns, and therefore most of the neighboring tribes refused to arrange marriages with them. Neighboring tribes also feared that Rome's growing power would become a threat.

Romulus then came up with an idea. According to the ancient writer Plutarch, Romulus invented the Consualia festival after discovering an altar of a god called Consus underground. Consus was the protector of grains and the god of councils. During the festival, horses and mules adorned with flowers and garlands were led through the streets. Chariot races were also held, and according to Livy, the festival honored the Equestrian Neptune.

Romulus invited the surrounding tribes to the festival, including the Caeninenses, the Crustumini, the Antemnates, and the Sabines. At the festival, Romulus gave a signal, and the Romans captured the virgin Sabine women while fighting off the Sabine men. Romulus then implored the captured women to take Romans as husbands. Livy wrote that Romulus talked to every single Sabine woman and promised each one of them more rights in Rome, including civic and property rights.

The king of the Caeninenses attacked Rome and was killed, and his army was defeated. Romulus later took over Caenuna. The Antemnates and Crustumini also invaded Roman territory and were defeated, and their town was captured by the Roman army. Finally, the Sabines declared war, which turned out to be bloodier than the wars with the other tribes. The king of the Sabines, King Titus Tatius, almost succeeded in capturing Rome thanks to a traitor among the Romans. Tarpeia, the daughter of Spurius Tarpeius, the governor of the citadel on the Capitoline Hill, opened the city gates to the Sabines in return for promised gold. Later, Tarpeia was crushed to death by the shields of the Sabines and her body thrown from the Tarpeian Rock.

jacques louis david sabines

The Intervention of the Sabine Women

The Sabines held the citadel on the Capitoline Hill. The Romans, led by Hostus Hostilius, attacked the citadel held by Mettus Curtius. Hostus fell in battle, and the Romans retreated to the gate of the Palatium. Romulus then rallied his men, promising them a temple to Jupiter Stator on the very site. The Romans attacked the Sabines, and Mettus Curtius fell from his horse to flee on foot.

At this point, the Sabine women intervened and threw themselves and their children between the two fighting armies, imploring their husbands to stop fighting against their fathers and brothers. Livy wrote:

At this juncture the Sabine women, from the outrage on whom the war originated, with hair dishevelled and garments rent, 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 incensed armies, and assuage 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. 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 battle ended, and the leaders of the Romans and the Sabines signed a peace treaty. They agreed to form one state under the sovereignty of Rome jointly ruled by Romulus and Tatius, until Tatius's death five years later. The Sabines settled on the Capitoline Hill, and for three centuries knights were called Ramnenses, from Romulus, and Tatienses, from Tatius.

Is the Rape of the Sabine Women story true? Even though it is said to be a legend, it is probably more of a semi-legend, and a lot of the story is probably true. There probably was a shortage of women in Rome, and Roman men were probably unwanted in other towns. It is probably true that the Romans somehow took women from the Sabines, and then war ensued. There are many beautiful paintings related to the Rape of the Sabine Women (rape or raptio in Latin meaning kidnapping). One of the most well-known paintings is the one by Jacques-Louis David called The Intervention of the Sabine Women.

The founding of Rome myth

The story of the founding of Rome is mostly based on a myth. According to this myth, the city was founded in 753 BC by Romulus and Remus, who were twins. Their grandfather was a Latin King named Numitor of Alba Longa, who had a daughter called Rhea Silvia. Rhea was raped by Mars, the God of War, and she gave birth to the twins Romulus and Remus, who were therefore half-gods.

roman she wolf

Romulus and Remus and the she-wolf

The king who replaced King Numitor feared that Romulus and Remus would take the throne, so he ordered that they be drowned. The two children were saved by a she-wolf who raised them. When the twins reached adulthood, they deposed the king and gave the throne back to Numitor.

They founded the city of Rome. But then, Romulus killed Remus. Various reasons are given for this fratricide, including fighting over the name of the city and disagreement over the location of the new kingdom.

The she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus became the symbol of Rome, a symbol of nurturing and strength.

The founding of Rome, the Greek myth

There is another myth that explains the founding of Rome. The Greek myth says that Romulus was a direct descendant of Prince Aeneas. Prince Aeneas sailed towards Italy with a group of Trojans after Troy (located in today's Turkey) was completely destroyed following the Trojan War. His intention was to find a new Troy. After a long and perilous voyage, his ship landed on the banks of the Tiber River.

The men on the ship wanted to leave and continue their journey but the women decided that they wanted to stay. One of the women named Roma decided to burn the ships so that the men would be forced to stay. The men were initially angry at her but then they realized that they had found an ideal place to form a settlement. Eventually, they named their settlement after the woman who burned their ships. This is the Greek myth of the founding of Rome.



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