Roman Forum: Origin of Rome

The myth and inception of Rome

Lupa Capitolina Rome
photos: La Lupa Brussel: Emdee and Romulus and Remus: Istam

La Lupa in Rome and Brussel      Romulus and Remus

The founder of Rome allegedly descended from Aeneas. Aeneas fled from Troye and after a lot of wandering found himself in Italy. One later family member of Aeneas was Rhea Silvia. She bore a twin by the god Mars: Romulus and Remus. These twins were thrown into the Tiber by their uncle Amulius, the brother of Rhea Silvia’s father, and their mother Rhea was flogged and then killed. The basket with the tin babies ended up at a bank of the Tiber. The children were fed by a female wolf.

Lupa Capitolina

Lupa Capitolina Rome
photo: Adrian Russell

At reaching adulthood, they returned to the place where the basket reached land near a sacred fig tree. Out of the two of them, who was to become king of this region, devoting his name to the city? They consulted the Gods. Remus went to the Aventine and Romulus went to the Palatine. There, where they stood, they drew a circle in the sand around them. Both glanced up to the sky, awaiting a divine sign. Remus saw six vultures that penetrated the circle around the Palatine. He speeds down the hill to share this wondrous news with Romulus, but then he sees that twelve vultures fly into the circle of Romulus. Great confusion ensued. What did the Gods mean? Who was king? A heated discussion between the twins ended in blood. Remus was killed.

According to some authors, Romulus Remus killed Remus in his army camp. That is how Romulus became the first king and the city was awarded the name of this king. The population of the new city barely increased. The Romans were lacking in women. So Romulus came up with an idea. A large feast was to be held, with invitations extended to the neighbouring people, the Sabines on the Capitoline and the Esquiline. With a pre-determined signal, and unexpectedly, the Romans grabbed the young Sabine women. They were dragged past the city gate and forced into marriage. War was almost inevitable. The young, newly-wed women solved the conflict by standing in between both parties: ‘stop this war, no matter the end, we will always lose. When the Romans win, we lose our fathers and brothers, but if the Sabines win, we lose our husbands.’

Romulus village Palatine hill model

The village on the  Palatine Hill and the hut of Romulus

The first inhabitants of Rome, the Latin people, lived on the Palatine Hill. They were a people of shepherds. Archaeological research uncovered several post holes, enabling the huts they lived in to be reconstructed. Nowadays, the post holes can still be seen underneath a little corrugated roof. This is called the hut of ‘Romulus’.

According to the legend of Romulus and Remus , Rome was founded in 753 BC. This date seems to be right. Etruria, north of Rome, begins to develop rapidly and Cumae, south of Rome, is founded by the Greek. These two areas prospered in mutual trade. The Etruscans mostly traded bronze (Etruria mined for copper and tin), traded for such items including Greek pottery. The Palatine and Capitoline were situated on an important crossroads of trade routes going north to south. The Tiber allowed you reach the island in the Tiber by boat, close to the Palatine and Capitoline. What is more, two roads from Etruria to Campania crossed the Tiber, exactly at an island in this river. Trade carts could easily wade through this place.

Truscan kings ruling Rome c. 617-50

Cloaca Maxima entrance Rome
photo: That_Bee

Entrance of the Cloaca Maxima     Exit Tiber
C.W. Eckersberg 1814     National Gallery of Art

The first Etruscan king, Tarquinius Priscus, who annexed Rome, constructed the Cloaca Maxima (large sewer). For more information about this sewer, click here at Wikipedia or, for the path of the Cloaco Maxima, see the map.  As a result, the swampy soil of the area at the foot of the Palatine, the Capitoline and the Esquiline, was drained

At around 575 BC., wooden temples are constructed at the old forum, later replaced by stone versions and even later, under the rule of emperor Augustus, by marble buildings. The Roman Forum will expand into an important centre for politics, religion, trade and justice, but after 27 BC. also becomes the seat of imperial power. Later, the emperors will also construct the imperial forums.

Rome model

The old Roman Forum

According to the myth, the Forum arose in 753  BC. After the taking of the Sabine women, Romulus and the leader of the Sabines, Titus Tatius, settle for peace at the place of the Vulcanal or Volconal (see map: Shrine of Vulcan) This was the sacred place with an altar, devoted to the God of the fire Vulcan. Only a few tuff fragments remain of this old sanctuary. The Roman Forum itself is pretty small. The map of the old Roman Forum during the Roman Republic.

Roman Forum: fig tree, olive tree, vines, Marsyas
photo Marsyas: Carole Raddato

Ficus, olea, vitis

Next to the altar of Vulcanal, there were other important things at this location including an open space in the pavement. Things including a fig tree, an olive tree and vines – the traditional Italian crops – with in their midst a statue of Marsyas. This depiction of the satyr Marsyas, who believed himself to play the flute better than the god Apollo, was a warning against pride and also stood as a symbol for civil liberty.

Roman Forum: pit of Lacus Curtius
photos: Ursus and Marcus Curtius: Lalupa

The pit of Lacus Curtius       

There was also the pit of Lacus Curtius (see map: curtian pond). This sacred place, according to legend, was a deep gap in the ground. The horseman Marcus Curtius, with full gear, jumped into the gap with his horse, after which it closed permanently.

Finally there is the Lapis Niger, but in order to view this famous rock, one must descend down quite a few steps. This was home to a grave, according to some even, it was the grave of Romulus. The stone has an inscription in the most ancient of Latin. You can read more about the Lapis Niger and the grave at Wikipedia.

Continuation Rome day 3: The Roman Forum as a political centre