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Who were Romulus and Remus?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2014
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Romulus and Remus are two brothers in Roman mythology who are credited with the founding of Rome. Historians believe that Romulus and Remus may have existed in some sense, but their story has probably been largely invented. The city of Rome is named for Romulus, who turned out to be the dominant twin.

The story of Romulus and Remus is certainly interesting. According to legend, the brothers were actually twins, born to Mars, the god of war, and the Vestal Virgin, Rhea Silvia. When the two children were born, they were cast adrift in the River Tiber, and discovered by a female wolf, who chose to nurse them, rather than killing them. The two were discovered by a shepherd, Faustulus, who raised them to adulthood, and they deposed the usurper-king of Alba Longa, a city in central Italy, and then they went on to found Rome.

The relationship between the brothers was not, however, without discord. Legend has it that Romulus was picked as the king of Rome by a flock of crows, and the two brothers fought bitterly before Romulus killed Remus. Romulus went on to establish the Roman Legions and Senate, and proved to be an adept conqueror, by all accounts, spreading Roman influence across Italy in the 700s BCE and laying the groundwork for the mighty Roman Empire.

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By all accounts, Romulus probably was not a very nice person. He was certainly unafraid to pursue brutal measures to secure his empire, including kidnapping women from the Sabines, a powerful tribe, to help populate his new city. Romulus also had a testy relationship with the Senate, despite the fact that he founded it, and in many stories he is depicted as a dangerous and paranoid man in his later years.

Romulus and Remus appear in a great deal of Roman iconography, as does the female wolf who allegedly nursed them. In 2007, a large cave was found in the vicinity of the area where Romulus and Remus were supposedly raised, and evidence suggests that the cave was used as a place of worship by the Romans, lending credence to the myth of Romulus and Remus. The practice of infanticide through exposure was, after all, widely practiced at this time; perhaps Romulus and Remus were real people who managed to survive to become leaders despite extraordinary circumstances in their early lives.

It is also possible that the story was largely invented by the real Romulus to give his reign greater weight, and it certainly worked; Romulus was treated as a deity after his death.

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