What is the legend that describes the founding of Rome?

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caledon | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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There are actually many legends regarding the founding of Rome, but only two really take prominence, and of those, only one is familiar to most of us. The less commonly-known legend is described in Virgil's Aeneid, which was constructed out of a variety of earlier materials and said that Rome was founded by Trojan refugees from the Trojan War, led by the hero and demigod Aeneas. However, the legend that most people have in mind is that of Romulus and Remus.

What most versions of the story agree on is as follows:

  • Romulus and Remus were demigod princes, born to circumstances that mirror Shakespeare's Hamlet and the story of Moses. The king of Alba Longa (a city in Italy) was Numitor, and he was deposed by his own brother, Amulius, who killed all of his male children; Numitor's daughter was allowed to live, though forced to remain chaste. She nevertheless conceived and bore Romulus and Remus through divine conception. A prophecy stated that the twins would overthrow Amulius, so they were taken from their mother and abandoned. They were raised by forest creatures, particularly a female wolf that allowed them to suckle (giving rise to the iconic image and sculpture). They were eventually found by a shepherd, grew to young adulthood, fulfilled the prophecy by killing Amulius, and then decided to create a new city rather than inheriting the old one. They fought over the exact details of where the city would be built, and Romulus killed Remus in a fit of anger. The city, Rome, prospered, but Romulus grew more and more detached and eccentric, until he either died or disappeared.

Keep in mind that this is basically the top "layer" of what might be described as a soup of myths and legends; even the Romans knew that Romulus and Remus probably weren't real people, but they were still an inspiring allegory for the city itself. For example, it is not known with certainty whether their father was Hercules or Mars. Additionally, the ending of the story is somewhat unresolved; it seems to imply that the era of Rome's kings (known for its short duration and corruption) was successful in spite of the kings, not because of them, as well as the fact that the story couldn't end with the founder of Rome going insane or being killed by his own people, so he was allowed to gracefully "disappear".

robyn-bird96's profile pic

robyn-bird96 | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted on

To go off of caledon, about Aeneas and the Trojans, Aeneas never founded Rome.  He founded the Roman race, which consists of both Trojan and Latin blood.  Aeneas and his Trojan men, after a very long journey, landed in Italy, where he was destined to start a new race.  After a fierce battle with the Latin men, he married their princess Lavinia, and he founded the city of Lavinium.  His son Ascanius, or to the Romans, Iulus, then founded Alba Longa, where his descendants ruled for generations, until finally, from his bloodline came Romulus and Remus, born from Mars, the god of war, and Rhea Silva.  Romulus and Remus were believed to have founded Rome, like what caledon mentioned above. 

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