Romulus, Remus and the Foundation of Rome

Romulus, Remus and the Foundation of Rome

By H Strassburger

Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, Volume 34 (1987)

Introduction: Besides Aeneas, there were always Romulus and Remus. The existence of this second foundation myth posed two important problems to scholars. How strong were its credentials, and how should it be analysed? On the first point, notably, considerable progress has been made in recent times. Since the late nineteenth century many scholars have repeatedly argued that the story was a literary fabrication, and consequently spent a great deal of effort on rigorousQuellenkritik. The culmination of this scepsis was the powerful attack on the authenticity of the Romulus story by Hermann Strassburger, who argued that all the literary evidence concerning the twins was late, and, moreover, an invention of anti-Roman propaganda. His attack has been convincingly refuted by T. J. Comell, whose careful analysis well sums up the discussions of the past century.

Cornell arrived at the following conclusions. First, the story of Romulus and Remus as founders of Rome was already well established by the beginning of the third century BC. The brothers are mentioned by Callias, the court historian of the Sicilian tyrant Agathocles who died in 289 BC. At about the same time, in the year 296 BC, the brothers Ogulnius set up a bronze statue group of the twins beneath a she-wolf near the ficus Ruminalis. Somewhat later, most likely in 269, this statue figured on the reverse type of one of the earliest Roman silver coins. We could even reach a much higher date if we were sure of the date and function of the famous ‘Capitoline Wolf’ which is preserved in the Palazzo dei Conservatori. But even though the she- wolf has clearly distended udders, this alone is not sufficient evidence of the myth’s early existence; other explanations, such as that the statue was a symbol of courage, cannot be excluded.

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