Romulus and Remus

In Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus (/ˈrɒmjʊləs, -jəl-...ˈrməs/) are twin brothers, whose story tells the events that led to the founding of the city of Rome and the Roman Kingdom by Romulus. The killing of Remus by his brother, and other tales from their story, have inspired artists throughout the ages. Since ancient times, the image of the twins being suckled by a she-wolf has been a symbol of the city of Rome and the Roman people. Although the tale takes place before the founding of Rome around 750 BC, the earliest known written account of the myth is from the late 3rd century BC. Possible historical basis for the story, as well as whether the twins' myth was an original part of Roman myth or a later development, is a subject of ongoing debate.


Romulus and Remus were born in Alba Longa, one of the ancient Latin cities near the future site of Rome. Their mother, Rhea Silvia was a vestal virgin and the daughter of the former king, Numitor, who had been displaced by his brother Amulius. In some sources, Rhea Silvia conceived them when their father, the god Mars, visited her in a sacred grove dedicated to him.[2] Through their mother, the twins were descended from Greek and Latin nobility.

Seeing them as a possible threat to his rule, King Amulius ordered them to be killed and they were abandoned on the bank of the river Tiber to die. They were saved by the god Tiberinus, Father of the River, and survived with the care of others, at the site of what would eventually become Rome. In the most well-known episode, the twins were suckled by a she-wolf, in a cave now known as the Lupercal.[3] Eventually, they were adopted by Faustulus, a shepherd. They grew up tending flocks, unaware of their true identities. Over time, they became natural leaders and attracted a company of supporters from the community.

When they were young 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. The twins set out to build a city of their own.

After arriving back in the area of the seven hills, they disagreed about the hill upon which to build. Romulus preferred the Palatine Hill, above the Lupercal; Remus preferred the Aventine Hill. When they could not resolve the dispute, they agreed to seek the gods' approval through a contest of augury. Remus first saw 6 auspicious birds but soon afterward, Romulus saw 12, and claimed to have won divine approval. The new dispute furthered the contention between them. In the aftermath, Remus was killed either by Romulus or by one of his supporters.[4] 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

The origins of the different elements in Rome's foundation myth are a subject of ongoing debate. They may have come from the Romans' own indigenous origins, or from Hellenic influences that were included later. Definitively identifying those original elements has so far eluded the classical academic community.[5] Although the tale takes place before the founding of Rome around 750 BC, the earliest known written account of the myth is from the late 3rd century BC.[6] There is an ongoing debate about how and when the "complete" fable came together.[7]

Some elements are attested to earlier than others, and the storyline and the tone were variously influenced by the circumstances and tastes of the different sources as well as by contemporary Roman politics and concepts of propriety.[8] Whether the twins' myth was an original part of Roman myth or a later development is the subject of an ongoing debate.[7] Sources often contradict one another. They include the histories of Livy, Plutarch, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Tacitus as well as the work of Virgil and Ovid.[6][9][10] Quintus Fabius Pictor's work became authoritative to the early books of Livy's Ab Urbe Condita, Dionysius of Halicarnassus's Roman Antiquities, and Plutarch's Life of Romulus.[11]

These three works have been among the most widely read versions of the myth. In all three works, the tales of the lupercal and the fratricide are overshadowed by that of the twins' lineage and connections to Aeneas and the deposing of Amulius. The latter receives the most attention in the accounts. Plutarch dedicates nearly half of his account to the overthrow of their uncle.

Roman Antiquities (Dionysius)

Dionysius cites, among others, the histories of Pictor, Lucius Calpurnius Piso, Cato the Elder, Lucius Cincius Alimentus.

The first book of Dionysius' twenty-volume history of Rome does not mention Remus until page 235 (chapter 71). After spending another 8 chapters discussing the background of their birth in Alba, he dedicates a total of 9 chapters to the tale (79–87). Most of that is spent discussing the conflict with Amulius.

He goes on to discuss the various accounts of the city's founding by others, and the lineage and parentage of the twins for another 8 chapters until arriving at the tale of their abandonment by the Tiber. He spends the better part of the chapter 79 discussing the survival in the wild. Then the end of 79 through 84 on the account of their struggle with Amulius. 84 with the non-fantastical account of their survival 294. Finally 295 is the augury 85–86, 87–88 the fratricide.303

Ab Urbe Condita (Livy)

Livy discusses the myth in chapters 4, 5, and 6 of his work's first book. p. 7 parentage 4 p. 8 survival. p. 8 the youth. 5 9–10 the struggle with Amulius. 6 p. 11 (the beginning only) the augury and fratricide.

Life of Romulus (Plutarch)

Plutarch relates the legend in chapters 2–10 of the Life of Romulus. He dedicates the most attention, nearly half the entire account, to conflict with Amulius.

Fasti (Ovid)

Fasti, the epic Latin poem by Ovid from the early 1st century contains a complete account of the twins' tale. Notably, it relates a tale wherein the ghost of Remus appears to Faustulus and his wife, whom the poet calls "Acca". In the story, Remus appears to them while in bed and expresses his anger at Celer for killing him and his own, as well as Romulus' unquestioned fraternal love.

Roman History (Dio)

Roman History by Cassius Dio survives in fragment from various commentaries. They contain a more-or-less complete account. In them, he mentions an oracle that had predicted Amulius' death by a son of Numitor as the reason the Alban king expelled the boys. There is also a mention of "another Romulus and Remus" and another Rome having been founded long before on the same site.[12]

Origo Gentis Romanae (Unknown)

This work contains a variety of versions of the story. In one, there is a reference to a woodpecker bringing the boys food during the time they were abandoned in the wild. In one account of the conflict with Amulius, the capture of Remus is not mentioned. Instead, Romulus, upon being told of his true identity and the crimes suffered by him and his family at the hands of the Alban king, simply decided to avenge them. He took his supporters directly to the city and killed Amulius, afterwards restoring his grandfather to the throne.[13]

Fragments and other sources

  • Annals by Ennius is lost, but fragments remain in later histories.
  • Roman History by Appian, in Book I "Concerning the Kings" is a fragment containing an account of the twins' parentage and origins.
  • The City of God Against the Pagans by Saint Augustine, claims, in passing, that Remus was alive after the city's founding. Both he and Romulus established the Roman Asylum after the traditional accounts claimed that he had died.[14]
  • Historical Library by Diodorus Siculus, is a universal history, which survives mostly intact in fragments and has a complete recounting of the twins' origins, their youth in the shepherd community, and the contest of the augury and fratricide. In this version, Remus sees no birds at all and he is later killed by Celer, Romulus' worker.
  • Origines by Cato the Elder, fragments of which survive in the work of later historians, is cited by Dionysius.

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[15]

Modern scholarship

Modern scholarship approaches the various known stories of Romulus and Remus as cumulative elaborations and later interpretations of Roman foundation-myth. Particular versions and collations were presented by Roman historians as authoritative, an official history trimmed of contradictions and untidy variants to justify contemporary developments, genealogies and actions in relation to Roman morality. Other narratives appear to represent popular or folkloric tradition; some of these remain inscrutable in purpose and meaning. Wiseman sums the whole as the mythography of an unusually problematic foundation and early history.[16][17]

The three canonical accounts of Livy, Dionysius, and Plutarch provide the broad literary basis for studies of Rome's founding mythography. They have much in common, but each is selective to its purpose. Livy's is a dignified handbook, justifying the purpose and morality of Roman traditions of his own day. Dionysius and Plutarch approach the same subjects as interested outsiders, and include founder-traditions not mentioned by Livy, untraceable to a common source and probably specific to particular regions, social classes or oral traditions.[18][19] A Roman text of the late Imperial era, Origo gentis Romanae (The origin of the Roman people) is dedicated to the many "more or less bizarre", often contradictory variants of Rome's foundation myth, including versions in which Remus founds a city named Remuria, five miles from Rome, and outlives his brother Romulus.[20][21]

Roman historians and Roman traditions traced most Roman institutions to Romulus. He was credited with founding Rome's armies, its system of rights and laws, its state religion and government, and the system of patronage that underpinned all social, political and military activity.[22] In reality, such developments would have been spread over a considerable span of time. Some were much older and others much more recent. To most Romans, the evidence for the veracity of the legend and its central characters seemed clear and concrete, an essential part of Rome's sacred topography. One could visit the Lupercal, where the twins were suckled by the she-wolf, or offer worship to the deified Romulus-Quirinus at the "shepherd's hut", or see it acted out on stage, or simply read the Fasti.

The legend as a whole encapsulates Rome's ideas of itself, its origins and moral values. For modern scholarship, it remains one of the most complex and problematic of all foundation myths, particularly in the manner of Remus's death. Ancient historians had no doubt that Romulus gave his name to the city. Most modern historians believe his name a back-formation from the name Rome; the basis for Remus's name and role remain subjects of ancient and modern speculation. The myth was fully developed into something like an "official", chronological version in the Late Republican and early Imperial era; Roman historians dated the city's foundation to between 758 and 728 BC, and Plutarch reckoned the twins' birth year as 771 BC. A tradition that gave Romulus a distant ancestor in the semi-divine Trojan prince Aeneas was further embellished, and Romulus was made the direct ancestor of Rome's first Imperial dynasty. Possible historical bases for the broad mythological narrative remain unclear and disputed.[23] The image of the she-wolf suckling the divinely fathered twins became an iconic representation of the city and its founding legend, making Romulus and Remus preeminent among the feral children of ancient mythography.


Although a debate continues, current scholarship offers little evidence supporting the Roman foundation myth, including a historical Romulus or Remus.[24] Starting with Pictor, the written accounts must have reflected the commonly-held history of the city to some degree, as were not free to make things up.[25] The archaeologist Andrea Carandini is one of the very few modern scholars who accept Romulus and Remus as historical figures, based on the 1988 discovery of an ancient wall on the north slope of the Palatine Hill in Rome. Carandini dates the structure to the mid-8th century BC and names it the Murus Romuli.[26] In 2007, archaeologists reported the discovery of the Lupercal beneath the home of Emperor Augustus, but a debate over the discovery continues.[27][28]


Ancient pictures of the Roman twins usually follow certain symbolic traditions, depending on the legend they follow: they either show a shepherd, the she-wolf, the twins under a fig tree, and one or two birds (Livy, Plutarch); or they 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 ever minted in Rome.[29]

The Franks Casket, an Anglo-Saxon ivory box (early 7th century AD) shows Romulus and Remus in an unusual setting, two wolves instead of one, a grove instead of one tree or a cave, four kneeling warriors instead of one or two gesticulating shepherds. According to one interpretation, and as the runic inscription ("far from home") indicates, the twins are cited here as the Dioscuri, helpers at voyages such as Castor and Polydeuces. Their descent from the Roman god of war predestines them as helpers on the way to war. The carver transferred them into the Germanic holy grove and has Woden's second wolf join them. Thus the picture served — along with five other ones — to influence "wyrd", the fortune and fate of a warrior king.[30]

  • Romolo e Remo: a 1961 film starring Steve Reeves and Gordon Scott as the two brothers.[31]
  • The Rape of the Sabine Women: a 1962 film starring Wolf Ruvinskis as Romulus.
  • In Star Trek, Romulus and Remus are neighbouring planets with Remus being tidally locked to the star. Romulus is the capital of the Romulan Star Empire, which is loosely based on the Roman Empire.
  • In the opening scene of The Pink Panther (1963), The Phantom removes a framed painting of Romulus and Remus from a wall to reveal a hidden safe containing jewels.
  • The novel Founding Fathers by Alfred Duggan describes the founding and first decades of Rome from the points of view of Marcus, one of Romulus's Latin followers, Publius, a Sabine who settles in Rome as part of the peace agreement with Tatius; Perperna, an Etruscan fugitive who is accepted into the tribe of Luceres after his own city is destroyed; and Macro, a Greek seeking purification from blood-guilt who comes to the city in the last years of Romulus's reign. Publius and Perperna become senators. Romulus is portrayed as a gifted leader though a remarkably unpleasant person, chiefly distinguished by his luck; the story of his surreptitious murder by the senators is adopted, but although the story of his deification is fabricated, his murderers themselves think he may indeed have become a god. The novel begins with the founding of the city and the killing of Remus, and ends with the accession of Numa Pompilius.
  • In the game Undead Knights, the main characters are brothers named Romulus and Remus.
  • In Harry Potter, one of the characters is named after Remus—Remus John Lupin. Lupin at one point uses the code name Romulus. Professor Lupin is a teacher of defence against the dark arts, and is in fact a werewolf. This reflects the Remus of Roman mythology, who was raised by a wolf. In fact, the name Lupin comes from the Latin word lupus, meaning wolf.
  • In Dance in the Vampire Bund, Romulus and Remus are two members of the elite eight, a well trained group of werewolves that serve under the command of one of the protagonists, Mina Tepes.
  • In Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Romulus is worshipped as a god by the Followers of Romulus cult. The main character, Ezio Auditore, comes into conflict with the cult on several occasions during his adventures in Rome while trying to locate the keys to the Armor of Brutus, wiping out the cult in the process.[32]
  • In the Death Grips song, "Black Quarterback" Romulus and Remus are mentioned. In characteristic Death Grips style, their lyric isn't contextualised in any typical linear sense.
  • "Up the Wolves" by The Mountain Goats is a song that alludes to Romulus and Remus.
  • Ex Deo released an album in 2009 titled Romulus. Its title track concerns the myth of Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome.
  • The music video for 'God Is a Woman' by Ariana Grande pays homage to Romulus and Remus.[33]
  • Chapter 3 of the novel Roma by Steven Saylor is devoted to Remus and Romulus, depicted as two very wild youths who are originally united in perpetrating ever more daring and outrageous pranks on the inhabitants of early Rome (depicted as already existing several generations before them) and their increasingly fierce rivalry culminating in Romulus killing Remus.
  • In Aquaman, Arthur recognizes a statue of an adult Romulus among a group of statues in Sicily, and calls Romulus the first King of Rome.
  • The First King: Birth of an Empire, a 2019 film directed by Matteo Rovere.

Depictions in art

The myth has been an inspiration to artists throughout the ages. Particular focus has been paid to the rape of Ilia by Mars and the suckling of the twins by the she-wolf.

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 artists contributing works included a sculpture of Hercules with the infant twins by Gabriele Fiorini, featuring the patron's own face. 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

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.

See also


  1. Adriano La Regina, "La lupa del Campidoglio è medievale la prova è nel test al carbonio". La Repubblica. 9 July 2008
  2. Other sources express doubt as to the divine nature of their parentage. One claims the boys were fathered by Amulius himself, who raped his niece while wearing his armour to conceal his identity.
  3. For other depictions, see Livy and Dionysius
  4. Dionysius lays out several of the different accounts of his death, along with his murder by Romulus.
  5. Tennant, p. 81
  6. Dionysius, vol 1 p. 72
  7. Tennant
  8. Wiseman, Remus
  9. Dionysius, vol. II p. 76
  10. Plutarch, Lives
  11. von Albrecht, Michael (1997). A History of Roman Literature: From Livius Andronicus to Boethius. I. Leiden: BRILL. p. 374. ISBN 978-90-04-10709-0. Retrieved 20 November 2016.
  12. Dio Cassius (1914). "Roman History I p.12-18". doi:10.4159/DLCL.dio_cassius-roman_history.1914. Retrieved 24 November 2016. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)   via digital Loeb Classical Library (subscription required)
  13. Origo Gentis Romanae XXI
  14. Saint Augustine (1957). "The City of God Against the Pagans v.I p.137". doi:10.4159/DLCL.augustine-city_god_pagans.1957. Retrieved 24 November 2016. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)   via digital Loeb Classical Library (subscription required)
  15. Roller, Duane. The world of Juba II and Kleopatra Selene : royal scholarship on Rome's African frontier. Routledge. p. 171. ISBN 0415305969.
  16. Wiseman Remus.
  17. Momigliano, Arnoldo (2007). "An interim report on the origins of Rome". Terzo contributo alla storia degli studi classici e del mondo antico. 1. Rome: Edizioni di storia e letteratura. pp. 545–98. ISBN 9788884983633.. A critical, chronological review of historiography related to Rome's origins.
  18. Momigliano, Arnoldo (1990). The classical foundations of modern historiography. University Presses of California, Columbia and Princeton. p. 101. ISBN 9780520078703.. Modern historiographic perspectives on this source material.
  19. Dillery (2009). Feldherr, Andrew (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Historians. Cambridge University Press. pp. 78–81 ff. ISBN 9781139827690..
  20. Cornell, pp. 57–8.
  21. Banchich (2004). Origo Gentis Romanae (PDF). trans. by Haniszewski, et al. Cansius College.. Translation and commentaries.
  22. Rodriguez Mayorgas p.93
  23. The archaeologist Andrea Carandini is one of very few modern scholars who accept Romulus and Remus as historical figures, based on the 1988 discovery of an ancient wall on the north slope of the Palatine Hill in Rome. Carandini dates the structure to the mid-8th century BC and names it the Murus Romuli. See Carandini, La nascita di Roma. Dèi, lari, eroi e uomini all'alba di una civiltà (Torino: Einaudi, 1997) and Carandini. Remo e Romolo. Dai rioni dei Quiriti alla città dei Romani (775/750 – 700/675 a. C. circa) (Torino: Einaudi, 2006)
  24. Rodriguez Mayorgas p.91
  25. Rodriguez Mayorgas p.90
  26. See Carandini, La nascita di Roma. Dèi, lari, eroi e uomini all'alba di una civiltà (Torino: Einaudi, 1997) and Carandini. Remo e Romolo. Dai rioni dei Quiriti alla città dei Romani (775/750 - 700/675 a. C. circa) (Torino: Einaudi, 2006)
  27. Valsecchi, Maria Cristina (26 January 2007). "Sacred Cave of Rome's Founders Discovered, Archaeologists Say". National Geographic News. National Geographic. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
  28. Schulz, Matthia. "Is Italy's Spectacular Find Authentic?" Spiegel Online, 10 November 2016.
  29. Crawford, p.31
  30. "Romulus and Remus". Franks Casket. Archived from the original on 2013-03-08. Retrieved 2012-12-20.; see also "The Travelling Twins: Romulus and Remus in Anglo-Saxon England
  31. Garcia Morcillo, Marta; Hanesworth, Pauline; Lapeña Marchena, Óscar (11 February 2015). Imagining Ancient Cities in Film: From Babylon to Cinecittà. Routledge. p. 169. ISBN 9781135013172.
  32. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
  33. Stiernberg, Bonnie. "Ariana Grande's 'God Is a Woman' Video Is an Incredible Manifesto for Empowering Female Sexuality". Glamour. Retrieved 2018-10-23.


Primary sources

Secondary sources

Further reading

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