Romulus and Remus

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The Capitoline She-Wolf suckles the boys Romulus and Remus (these were later added to the figure)
Romulus and Remus, painting by Peter Paul Rubens
Romulus and Remus, architectural sculpture in Rome

According to Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus were the founders of the city of Rome in 753 BC. According to legend, they were the children of the god of war Mars and the priestess Rhea Silvia .


A first mention of Romulus is seen in the mention of a "Rhomylos" as the son of Aeneas . He was the father of the city founder "Rhomos". After Plutarch's biography of Romulus, Diocles of Peparethos put the myth down in writing for the first time. He was largely followed by the first Roman historian, his contemporary Fabius Pictor , where he now described the myth from a Roman point of view. Its text is not transmitted directly, but only through the reproductions in Plutarch and Dionysius of Halicarnassus . Dionys mentions other historians who would have adopted the version from Quintus Fabius. All sources are Greek, the story is told differently by both (see below).

The Origo gentis Romanae also brings this legend, but reports that Fabius Pictor and Vennonius wrote that Rhea Silvia was surprised by a thunderstorm while fetching water for ritual acts, which drove away her companions. In this thunderstorm Mars appeared and raped her. The original text by Fabius cannot be extracted from the reproductions of Plutarch and Dionysius.

The subject of the twins is based on a Latin tradition in which the she-wolf and the woodpecker were also sacred animals and in which the rape of Ilia by Mars was passed down as the fathering of the twins. The motive for abandoning infants was not, however, Italian, but is already known from the Old Testament ( Exodus 2 : 1-10). The story of Fabius is therefore a conglomerate of many myths and reports of Greek, Italian and other Mediterranean origins.

The saga of Romulus and Remus

Suspension and rescue

The suckling wolf looks down at the twins. Relief on the facade of the Nîmes amphitheater , around 100 AD

Version of the Plutarch

In Plutarch's version, Amulius , the king of Alba Longa , had overthrown his older brother Numitor from the throne. His daughter Rhea Silvia - also called Ilia - he forced to become a vestal virgin . Amulius wanted to prevent the brother's family from creating descendants who could endanger his throne. Mars, however, went down to her temple, raped her, and from him she conceived the twins Romulus and Remus.

After their birth, Amulius ordered the children to be placed in a wicker basket on the Tiber and Ilia was taken to prison. The Tiber was in high water, however, and when the water receded the tub at the Ficus Ruminalis was stranded in the mud. A she-wolf ( Mamma Lupa ) attracted by the screaming of the children brought her into her den and suckled her. A woodpecker brought them additional food. However, they were discovered by King Amulius' shepherd Faustulus . Faustulus, the farm swineherd, and his wife then took up the children and raised them without knowing who they were. (This section of the legend shows - as in the version mentioned below - a striking parallel to the story of Phylonome and her twin sons Lykastus and Parrhasios .)

One day Romulus and Remus got into an argument with the shepherds of Numitor and even stole some of their cattle. Once when Romulus was busy with a sacrifice and Remus was traveling with little company, the shepherds of Numitor met Remus and took him prisoner. He was shown to Numitor and Remus reported what he had learned about his and his brother's origins. Then Numitor suspected the connections. When Faustulus found out about Remus' captivity, he also let Romulus know about his origin and encouraged him to free Remus. He himself wanted to rush to Numitor, but was intercepted and taken to Amulius. Under torture he confessed so much that Amulius asked the numitor whether his grandchildren were still alive despite exposure. A riot broke out in the city when Romulus arrived to rescue his brother. So the tyrant Amulius was overthrown and killed.

Version of Dionysius from Halicarnassus

Dionysius of Halicarnassus 'version begins with Amulius' command to put the twins in a basket on a river. The basket ran aground and a wolf held out her teats and suckled them. Shepherds observed the she-wolf and found the children. The she-wolf then went away and the shepherds saved the twins. The overseer of the royal swineherd, Faustulus, who had just learned of the dishonor of Ilia , her confinement and the abandonment of her twins, had taken the twins without telling anyone about the connection. He gave them the names Romulus and Remus. They also became shepherds.

When they turned 18, there was a dispute between them and the shepherds of Numitor over pastureland between the Palatine and the Aventine . The twins forcibly evicted the shepherds of Numitor. They then set a trap for the two and attacked their herds at night. Since Romulus had just been absent because of a sacrifice, they only caught Remus and brought him to Alba. Romulus wanted to immediately pursue, but was stopped by Faustulus. Faustulus then informed him of his origin. Therefore Romulus decided to gather a larger force to take action against Amulius. Remus had been taken to Numitor. He then waived any punishment on the condition that he help him against Amulius. He also told of the sad fate of his daughter and the forced abandonment of the twins. Then he sent a messenger to Romulus so that he could join the fight, which he did.

Romulus then told Numitor what he had learned from Faustulus, and now Numitor knew that he had found his grandson. Faustulus, who did not know about this turn of events, had hurried to the city with the basket in which the twins were abandoned in order to enlighten Numitor, but was arrested by the guards of Amulius. He had to tell him all the circumstances. Amulius then asked Faustulus about his whereabouts, because he no longer wanted to let his relatives, who had been saved by divine assistance, be shepherds. Faustulus suspected that he had really wanted to kill her and told him a place in the mountains. Amulius then sent Faustulus off with some reliable men whom he had previously secretly given the order to capture the two shepherds and bring them to him. Then he wanted to put Numitor under arrest until he had settled the situation with the twins in his favor, and sent a messenger to Numitor with a request to come to him. But the messenger had revealed Amulius' plan to the Numitor. Numitor and the twins then rushed to the palace with many warriors and the citizens of the city, stormed it and killed Amulius.

Foundation of the city of Rome

As a thank you, Numitor allowed Romulus and Remus to found a city on the spot where they had been abandoned (at the foot of the Palatine Hill ). Romulus and Remus got into a dispute when they wanted to determine with the help of an eagle flight oracle ( Auspicium ) who would be the builder and thus the namesake of the city. Each of them looked at the eagles from a different hill. In the end, they both claimed to be right. Remus saw six eagles and Romulus twelve.

Romulus won because he had more followers. Immediately he drew the sacred furrow that determined the size of the city and began building the moat and wall. The defeated Remus mocked him and jumped over the still low barrier into the facility. That was a serious violation of law and order, because a city wall was considered sacred. Enraged, Romulus slew his brother with the words "So may it happen to everyone who leaps over my walls!"

According to Titus Livius , Rome was founded on April 21, 753 BC. After the murder of his brother Romulus ruled over the city. However, Remus was immortalized on his throne with his sword.

The robbery of the Sabine women

Robbery of the Sabine women on a Roman denarius from 89 BC Chr., Albert 1198
Robbery of the Sabine women ; Painting by Johann Heinrich Schönfeld , oil on canvas, around 1640, Hermitage , St. Petersburg

Many displaced people, refugees and exiles came to the new city. Since most of them were men, there was a shortage of women.

To solve this problem, Romulus used a ruse and invited the residents of the neighboring cities to a great fighting game in honor of Neptune. In the middle of the game, the Roman warriors rushed at the barely armed guests and blew them apart. In doing so, they seized all unmarried girls whom they could get hold of. The brothers and fathers swore vengeance. However, the girls, most of whom were Sabine women, were persuaded to marry one by one.

When the Sabines later came with a strong army and fought a battle with the Romans, the women crowded the battlefield and asked to end the fight that was being waged for them, with their brothers and fathers on one side and their fathers on the other their husbands and children would die. Their requests were finally successful, Romulus and Titus Tatius , rulers of the Sabines, shook hands. The fighters fraternized, and the Romans and Sabines merged their state under the dual rule of Romulus and Titus Tatius.

Following the ancient story, Romulus managed to unite the Palatine and Quirinal settlements into the 'Populus Romanus Quiritium' through his cunning, subsequent battles and a peace treaty forced by the Sabine women. He and the Sabine king Titus Tatius ruled together from then on. After the union of the two peoples, the Capitolium was built on the original settlement of the Sabines, the hill dedicated to Quirinus, the Sabine god of war. The temple of Quirinus (Saturn), which was particularly venerated by the Sabine people, stood here.

Romulus' end

Romulus ruled for 37 years. There was a solar eclipse during an army show on the Martian field in front of the city . A violent hurricane ensued and Romulus disappeared into the black clouds in front of the others: Mars had come to abduct his son into the circle of the heavenly ones. Romulus became the god Quirinus ; a legend, behind the components of which there may be reminiscences of an archaic weather ritual, as there are striking parallels to the very similar traditions around the deification of Aeneas, Latinus, Aventinus, Aremulus Silvius, Titus Tatius and Tullus Hostilius.

According to another legend, Romulus was slain as a tyrant by the Roman senators.

Possibilities of interpretation

The wolf - like the woodpecker - was an animal of the god Mars. Possibly the she-wolf was also a separate deity. She was worshiped in Rome as the goddess of love under the name Lupa . Perhaps that was the case before the Romulus and Remus legend came about. So it is possible that the story was told to the twins later to emphasize their divine origin. The first figurative representations of the she-wolf with her twins go back to the Etruscan period.

The word "Lupae" was used not only to refer to women wolves, but also to the priestesses of Lupa and prostitutes (see Acca Larentia ).

Impact history

Illumination in a medieval manuscript of parts of the history of Livy in the French translation by Pierre Bersuire (Petrus Berchorius). Depicted are scenes of the founding of Rome and its prehistory. Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Ms. 777, fol. 7r (around 1370)

The scene of the robbery of women by the warriors of Romulus is often shown very dramatically in art history. Based on written sources, “The Rape of the Sabine Women” (based on a Venetian painting from the 16th century) is interpreted in detail by Helga Wäß. In note 14 of the publication, the author cites the following sources:

  • Livy: Ab urbe condita. I, 8 ff.
  • Plutarch: Vitae, Romulus. IV, 13 ff.
  • Virgil: Aeneid. 8th chant, 636.

In the fourteenth century in Petrarch's De viris illustribus added, found in the late Cinquecento , as documentation of the humanist Bildungsguts renaissance of interest, already illustrated editions of Roman history:

  • Francesco Petrarca: De viris illustribus. I. De Romulo primo romanorum active. German-language illustrated edition: Voss: Arrival and origin of the Roman Empire. Titus Livius and Lucius Florus. 1st book: Foundation of Rome; War with the Sabines. s. l. 1596.

Many festivals go back to the legend, including the " Lupercalia " (February 15), which were celebrated at the "Lupercal", the cave in which the she-wolf is said to have suckled the two children. There is probably a fertility ritual behind it, which was transformed into the Feast of Mary in 494 AD.

With Romulus (Remus as the inferior always resigns), the Romans later associated numerous institutions and locations that existed in their time (e.g. the Senate , the Romans are called Quirites, the temple of Jupiter stator). Romulus was stylized as the founder not only of the city of Rome, but also of the Roman state. At times (especially in the late republic ) he was seen quite negatively because he established the rule of kings, which was replaced by the republic. Under Octavian / Augustus , however, there was again a more positive picture of Romulus. The first king of Rome was in some ways a model for the first Roman emperor, up to and including the elevation among the gods after death: the deification of Augustus was depicted based on the direct model of Romulus.

Further spread

Bruce Lincoln sees the roots of the legend of Romulus and Remus in old Indo-European myths of twin pairs, as represented in the Indian tradition by Manu and Yama . Yama also denotes the twin in the meaning of the name. According to Lincoln are to be tapped a proto-Latin form * yemos and their Suffixform * yemonos the Latin word geminus "twin" basis. By alliterarische approximation of the word beginning at R omulus whether from Yemus R become emus. He also sees an analogy in the story with the story of the biblical brothers Cain and Abel , a prototypical conflict between pastoral and peasant cultures.

The fact that children are suckled by female wolves is a recurring motif in folk legends. In general, the fairy tale of the abandoned hero child is widespread.

Copper coins with the same motif of a wolf suckling a boy, as it is known from the time of Emperor Justinian (r. 527-565), were found in Old Punjakent (near Punjakent ) and other Sogdian places in present-day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan . The myth could therefore have reached Central Asia via Byzantium . The representation of the myth in five scenes on a six-meter-long mural from the 7th / 8th centuries is remarkable. Century, which was located in the palace of the city of Bundschikat .

The rune box by Auzon , an Anglo-Saxon carving from a whale bone from the early 7th century, shows Romulus and Remus in an unusual setting: instead of the lupa (she-wolf) there are two wolves, instead of the cave or grotto on the Tiber a forest instead of the swineherd Faustulus four kneeling warriors. The carver has thus added the two wolves of Odin (Woden) to the twins, who are venerated here as travel and combat helpers, and relocated the scene to the sacred grove according to the Germanic imagination. The depiction, together with five other motifs, serves the magical purpose of directing the fate (a. E. Wyrd ) of the owner, presumably a pagan warrior king.


The Romuleische years of tradition to have been at the time of Romulus and Remus after a ten-month calendar year.

Romulus Augustulus was the last Western Roman emperor (475–476). He was deposed by the East Germanic mercenary leader Odoacer , with which the Western Roman Empire came to an end.

"Romulus" and "Remus" were named two satellites of the asteroid 87 Sylvia (which in turn takes its name from the mythical mother of the brothers) in 2005 .

In the sci-fi saga Star Trek there are the two neighboring planets Romulus and Remus, the home of the Romulans and the Remans they rule.

The saga has been filmed several times, namely in 1961 as Romulus and Remus and in 2018 in Old Italian (an early form of Latin ) as Romulus & Remus: The First King .


Web links

Commons : Romulus and Remus  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Andreas Bendlin : Romulus . In: The New Pauly. Encyclopedia of Antiquity. Volume 10, Col. 1130-1133. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2001. ISBN 3-476-01470-3 . Sp. 1130
  2. Hans Beck, Uwe Walter: The early Roman historians. Volume I: From Fabius Pictor to Cn. Gellius. (Original texts, translation, commentary). Series: Texts on Research. Darmstadt 2001. ISBN 3-534-14757-X . P. 89.
  3. ^ Adolf Schirmer : Lykastus 3 . In: Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher (Hrsg.): Detailed lexicon of Greek and Roman mythology . Volume 2.2, Leipzig 1897, column 2174 ( digitized version ).
  4. Theodor Eisele : Parrhasios 3 . In: Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher (Hrsg.): Detailed lexicon of Greek and Roman mythology . Volume 3.1, Leipzig 1902, column 1646 f. ( Digitized version ).
  5. Helga Wäß: The robbery of the Sabine women of the Gradenigo family. Latest research on Tintoretto's early work. A homage to the founding fathers of Venice in an unknown Venetian painting from the period after 1539. Schnell & Steiner Verlag, Passau 2000 (with an English-language summary), ISBN 3-7954-1338-9 .
  6. Plutarch, Romulus 29.7 ; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, antiquitates Romanae 2.56 .
  7. ^ Sources and analyzes in David Engels: Postea dictus est inter deos receptus. Weather magic and regicide: On the background of the deification of early Roman kings, in: Gymnasium 114 (2007) pp. 103–130.
  8. Johannes Irmscher (Ed.): Lexicon of antiquity . VEB Bibliographisches Institut Leipzig, Leipzig 1987, p. 507, ISBN 3-323-00026-9 .
  9. For an overview see Katrin Dolle: Sabinerinnen. In: Peter von Möllendorff , Annette Simonis, Linda Simonis (ed.): Historical figures of antiquity. Reception in literature, art and music (= Der Neue Pauly . Supplements. Volume 8). Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2013, ISBN 978-3-476-02468-8 , Sp. 819-834.
  10. Helga Wäß: The robbery of the Sabine women of the Gradenigo family. 2000
  11. Bruce Lincoln: The Indo-European Myth of Creation. In: History of Religions. Volume 15, 1975, pp. 121-145, here: p. 138; See also Douglas Q. Adams , James Patrick Mallory (Eds.): Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. Fitzroy-Dearborn, London / Chicago 1997, p. 129 f.
  12. Bruce Lincoln: Myth, Cosmos, and Society. Cambridge MA 1986, p. 66 ff.
  13. Gerhard Binder: The suspension of the king's child. Cyrus and Romulus. Publisher Anton Hain, Meisenheim am Glan, 1964
  14. Namu Jila: Myths and Traditional Beliefs about the Wolf and the Crow in Central Asia: Examples from the Turkic Wu-Sun and the Mongols . In: Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 65, No. 2 , 2006, pp. 161–177, here p. 172.
  15. Johannes Irmscher (Ed.): Lexicon of antiquity. VEB Bibliographisches Institut Leipzig, Leipzig 1987, p. 507, ISBN 3-323-00026-9 .
  16. Romulus and Remus in the Internet Movie Database (English)Template: IMDb / Maintenance / Unnecessary use of parameter 2
  17. Romulus & Remus: The First King in the Internet Movie Database (English)
predecessor Office successor
- Kings of Rome
753–717 BC Chr.
Numa Pompilius