By Nolan Musslewhite '20
We’re back! We ended last with Trojan ships on Latian sands, as Aeneas and his motley band finally arrived in Italy, driven by fate. (A Brief Survey of the History of Rome, Part I of X)
Alban Fathers, Roman Sons
Having shored in Italy, in the words of Ragan, “Aeneas f[ound] not peace but another terrible war.” A local king, Latinus, sparked conflict when he betrothed his daughter Lavinia to newly-arrived Aeneas instead of the man to whom he had already promised her, Turnus. In the ensuing strife, in which the Trojan-Latinus coalition fought Turnus and his local allies, Aeneas slew Turnus and subsequently married Lavinia. He died shortly afterward: Aeneas, son of Venus, his name forever etched into the sprawling stele of Western civilization, a fleeting ember of once-mighty Troy rekindled into the towering inferno that would become Rome. His legacy would be taken up by his young son Ascanius (also known as Iulus). The year, as legend has it, is ca.1175 BCE.
Thirty or so years later, Ascanius founds the town of Alba Longa in the nearby Alban Hills, about 20 miles east of the Seven Hills that will later mark the site of Rome. Ascanius is the first in a 400-year line of Alban kings—the Silvian Dynasty—that ends with King Proca and his two sons: Numitor (the elder) and Amulius (the younger). Upon Proca’s death sometime in the 8th century BCE, Numitor, being the elder brother, ought to have inherited the throne. Amulius, however, had other plans, and he usurped the throne, murdered Numitor’s sons, and cast Numitor himself into exile. Wanting to end his brother’s bloodline in Machiavellian fashion, Amulius forced Numitor’s daughter Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin, consigning her to celibate priestesshood.
Divine intervention followed forthwith, as Rhea Silvia became impregnated by Mars, the goddess of war [virgin pregnancies tend to resurface, no?]. Amulius orders the resulting twin boys—Romulus and Remus—to be left on the banks of the Tiber River to perish [Go down, Moses, … ]. Escaping doom, the twins were found and nursed by a she-wolf who brought them to a cave known as “the Lupercal.” Soon thereafter, the infants were found by a shepherd, Faustulus, who took them in and raised them as his own (along with his wife, Acca Larentia). Eventually, having learned of their family story and of the injustice Amulius had wrought, they wrested back control of Alba Longa and restored Numitor, their now-agéd grandfather, to the throne. Wrongs thus righted, the brothers set out, looking to found a city of their own.
The twins and their followers journeyed west to a marshy spot near the Tiber River, ringed by seven hills—the Palatine, the Quirinal, the Esquiline, the Caelian, the Aventine, and the Capitoline. Romulus surmounted the Palatine Hill and began setting the boundaries of a new hamlet, Rome. The legendary date of this founding is April 21, 753 B.C. Remus, in scorn, leapt over the Rome’s diminutive walls. Romulus, ever the patriot, felled his brother with his blade, declaring, “Sic deinde, quicumque alius transiliet moenia mea”—“Thus henceforth to anyone who should o’erleap my bulwarks.”
Ridden of pesky Remus, Romulus set to the task of governance and growth, making Rome (specifically the Capitoline Hill) an asylum that welcomed all who wished to join the new town. Unsurprisingly, such an arrangement attracted a less-than-ideal rabble—the men were raucous and criminal, the women sparse. Stung by a neighboring tribe’s refusal to lend their daughters in marriage to the Roman ruffians, Romulus announced a festival of Neptune in his new town, attracting scores of local tribespeople. With the beady eyes of the Romans fixed upon the Sabine daughters—the young, gallivanting women of the Sabine tribe—Romulus gave the signal, and the Romans rushed out from their hidey-holes, each seizing a Sabine lass for his own and absconding back onto the fortified heights of the Palatine. The festival, needless to say, quickly dispersed.
The Roman snatching—or, as it became known, “The Rape of the Sabine Women”—was rather poorly received by the duped Sabines, who quickly armed themselves and prepared to make battle. Skirmishes ensued, but the final engagement of the war, the Battle of the Lacus Curtius, was ended when the Roman wives (yes, the very Sabine girls who had only recently been kidnapped) threw themselves into the fray and demanded that conflict cease in an event often called “The Intervention of the Sabine Women.” Impelled to peace, the two towns merged, the new entity jointly ruled by Romulus and Titus Tatius, the Sabine king.
Around this time, too, Romulus went about planting the societal seeds that would sprout into the grand trunks of Roman civilization. To 100 hand-picked followers he gave the title “patres”—“fathers”—who would serve in an official capacity as his advisory council, the Senate. The descendants of these early “fathers” would later be known as the “patricii,” or “Patricians.” The rest of the citizenry were merely the “plebs,” or “Plebeians.” The union of these two delineated strata gave us SPQR—“Senatus PopulusQue Romanus,” or “the Senate and People of Rome.” Another division of the city—into thirty “curiae,” named after thirty of the Sabine women who had intervened—provided the voting units of the “Comitia Curiata,” or “Roman Assembly.”
Over the next several years of his rule (by now Titus Tatius had perished during a riot in nearby Lavinium), Romulus oversaw the city’s continued growth as it pressed outward through military conquest. In the late 8th century B.C. (i.e. low 700s), Romulus died when, while surveying the troops arranged on the Campus Martius (Plain of Mars) from the Quirinal Hill, a cloud enshrouded him. When the cloud lifted, Romulus was nowhere to be found—either murdered in a conspiracy by the Senators or, as Livy favors, ascended to heaven under the auspices of Mars, the war god. Romulus was later deified under the name “Quirinus,” attracting a significant cult following. He reigned for thirty-seven years, the first of Rome’s “Seven Kings.”
Thus we conclude the second chapter of our history of Rome, with Romulus dead and a new king, as we shall soon see poised to spring from the ashes.