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Romulus and Remus facts for kids

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She-wolf suckles Romulus and Remus
La Lupa Capitolina "the Capitoline Wolf". Traditional scholarship says the wolf-figure is Etruscan, 5th century BC. The figures of Romulus and Remus were added in the 15th century AD by Antonio del Pollaiuolo. Some modern research suggests that the she-wolf may be a Romanesque sculpture dating from the 13th century AD.
Altar Mars Venus Massimo
Altar to Mars (divine father of Romulus and Remus) and Venus (their divine ancestress) depicting elements of their legend. The god Tiberinus ("Father Tiber") and the infant twins being suckled by a she-wolf in the Lupercal are below. A vulture from the contest of augury and Palatine hill are to the left. (From Ostia, now at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme)

In Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus were the founders of Rome. They were twin brothers, children of Rhea Silvia and the god Mars.

Birth and youth

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A Roman relief from the Cathedral of Maria Saal showing Romulus and Remus with the she-wolf

Romulus and Remus were born in Alba Longa, one of the many ancient Latin cities near the future site of Rome. Their mother was the daughter of Numitor Silvius, king of Alba Longa. When Numitor's brother Amulius overthrew Numitor and became king, he made Rhea Silvia a Vestal Virgin, which means she could not have children who would be kings.

According to the legend, the god Mars visited Rhea Silvia in a secret grove, where she conceived the twins. When King Amulius learnt about this, he was mad with anger. He feared that Rhea's children could pose a threat to his rule and ordered them to be killed. The twins were then thrown into the Tiber, but were saved by the river god Tiberinus. Romulus and Remus were found by a she-wolf who suckled them in a cave now known as the Lupercal. Finally, they were adopted and raised by Faustulus, a shepherd. They grew up tending flocks, not knowing their true identities.

As adults they became involved in a dispute between supporters of Numitor and Amulius. As a result, Remus was taken prisoner and brought to Alba Longa. Both his grandfather and the king suspected his true identity. Romulus, meanwhile, had organized an effort to free his brother and set out with help for the city. During this time they learned of their past and joined forces with their grandfather to restore him to the throne. Amulius was killed and Numitor was reinstated as king of Alba. After that the twins set out to build a city of their own.

Origo Gentis Romanae written by an unknown author contains a variety of versions of the story. In one, woodpecker brought the boys food during the time they were abandoned in the wild. Also, the capture of Remus is not mentioned. Instead, Romulus, simply decided to avenge crimes suffered by him and his family at the hands of the Alban king. He took his supporters directly to the city and killed Amulius, restoring his grandfather to the throne.

The founding of Rome

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Romulus and Remus on the House of the She-wolf at the Grand-Place of Brussels

When the two brothers arrived back at the seven hills, they disagreed about which hill to build the city upon. Romulus preferred the Palatine Hill, while Remus insisted on the Aventine Hill. They decided to settle the dispute by asking the gods. Each brother stood on his respective hill. Remus first saw six birds fly overhead, and Romulus saw twelve. However, Remus countered that he had seen the birds first. Nonetheless, Romulus started to build a wall around his city. Then, Remus jumped over the wall as an insult to his brother. Angered, Romulus killed Remus. He regretted it, and took Remus to Amulius's palace, and buried him there.

Romulus then went on to found the city of Rome, its institutions, government, military and religious traditions. He reigned for many years as its first king.

Primary sources

Details of Romulus and Remus on the allegory of Tiber
Detail of Romulus and Remus on the allegory of Tiber

Different elements of the myth are still debated. Roman historians believe Rome was founded around 753 BC, but the earliest known written account of the myth is from the late 3rd century BC. So it's impossible to say whether the legend of Romulus and Remus was originally part of Rome's foundation myth or was added later.

Sources that mention Romulus and Remus include Ab Urbe Condita by Livy, Life of Romulus by Plutarch, Fasti by Ovid, the histories of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Tacitus as well as the work of Virgil.

Franks Casket the left panel
Panel of the 8th-century Anglo-Saxon Franks casket

The archaeologist Andrea Carandini is one of very few modern scholars who accept Romulus and Remus as historical figures, and dates an ancient wall on the north slope of the Palatine Hill to the mid-8th century BC and names it the Murus Romuli.

Lost sources

  • Quintus Fabius Pictor wrote in the 3rd century BC. His History, written in Greek, is the earliest-known history of Rome. He is cited by all three canonical works.
  • Diocles of Peparethus wrote a history of Rome that is cited by Plutarch.
  • Lucius Calpurnius Piso wrote a history cited by Dionysius.
  • Quintus Aelius Tubero wrote a history cited by Dionysius.
  • Marcus Octavius (otherwise unknown) wrote an account cited in the Origo Gentis.
  • Licinius Macer (died 66 BC) wrote an account cited in the Origo Gentis.
  • Vennonius wrote an account cited in the Origo Gentis.
  • Juba II wrote a history cited by Plutarch

In popular culture

Steve Reeves e Gordon Scott in Romolo e Remo
Steve Reeves and Gordon Scott
  • Romolo e Remo, a 1961 film starring Steve Reeves and Gordon Scott as the two brothers.
  • The First King: Birth of an Empire (Il Primo Re), a 2019 Italian historical film by Matteo Rovere depicting the foundation of Rome. The film's script features a reconstructed Old Latin language.
  • Romulus, a 2020 Italian TV series by Matteo Rovere about the founding of Rome. It also features a reconstructed Old Latin language.

Depictions in art

The myth has been an inspiration to artists throughout the ages.

Palazzo Magnani

In the late 16th century, the wealthy Magnani family from Bologna commissioned a series of artworks based on the Roman foundation myth. The most important works were an elaborate series of frescoes collectively known as Histories of the Foundation of Rome by the Brothers Carracci: Ludovico, Annibale, and Agostino Carracci.

Fresco of Palazzo Trinci

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The birth of Romulus and Remus

The Loggia di Romolo e Remo is an unfinished, 15th century fresco by Gentile da Fabriano depicting episodes from the legend in the Palazzo Trinci.

Interesting facts about Romulus and Remus

  • Origo gentis Romanae (The origin of the Roman people) has a different version of the myth. According to it, Remus founds a city named Remuria, five miles from Rome, and outlives his brother Romulus.
  • Ancient pictures of the Roman twins either show a shepherd, the she-wolf, the twins under a fig tree, and one or two birds (Livy, Plutarch); or depict two shepherds, the she-wolf, the twins in a cave, seldom a fig tree, and never any birds (Dionysius of Halicarnassus).
  • The twins and the she-wolf were featured on what might be the earliest silver coins minted in Rome.
  • Ancient historians had no doubt that Romulus gave his name to the city. Most modern historians believe Romulus's name is a back-formation from the name Rome.
  • Roman History by Cassius Dio mentions "another Romulus and Remus" and another Rome having been founded long before on the same site.

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Rómulo y Remo para niños

  • Asena, a similar legend concerning the origin of the Turks
  • Castor and Pollux
  • The Golden Bough, a tale concerning Aeneas and Rome
  • Greco-Roman world
  • Hengist and Horsa, legendary brothers from the tale of the 5th-century AD Jutish invasion of Britain.
  • Lares
  • Proto-Indo-European religion, §Twin Founders
  • Romulus of Fiesole, a 1st-century saint who was also abandoned in the wild and nursed by a she-wolf.
  • Senius and Aschius, the legendary twin founders of Siena
  • Cain and Abel, first sons of Adam and Eve
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