They are the most famous twins in history and, together with a she-wolf, Romulus and Remus symbolise the city of Rome.
The story of how Romulus came to found Rome is a strange one. After the collapse of Troy, Aeneas (son of Anchises and the goddess Aphrodite/Venus) and a small band of his fellow Trojans spent years wandering across the Mediterranean. They finally settled in Italy on the banks of the river Tiber, not far from the sea.
In time Aeneas' son, Ascanius, founded the city of Alba Longa, 12 miles to the southeast of Rome. He was succeeded by Numitor, who was usurped by his younger brother Amulius. Amulius imprisoned Numitor and forced Rhea Silvia, his brother's daughter, to become a Vestal Virgin. Her sanctity did not stop her from being seduced by the God Mars, who fathered on her the twins, Romulus and Remus. Amulius instantly ordered their death, but the servant charged with the task did not have the courage to commit such a heinous crime. Instead, he put the twins into a wicker basket, which he floated down the Tiber.
R & R came ashore at the foot of the Palatine hill, where they were found by a she-wolf (lupa), who took them to her den, the Lupercal, where she suckled them. There they were discovered by a shepherd called Faustulus, who, with his wife Acca Larentia, adopted the twins. As soon as the boys grew up, they returned to Alba Longa, where they killed Amulius, and restored their grandfather to his throne.
The twins then decided to found a new city and chose, as the site, the spot where they had been found by the she-wolf. However they disagreed as to which of the famous seven hills their new city should be built on; Romulus preferred the Palatine, while Remus opted for the Aventine.
And so they decided to resolve the disagreement by resorting to the long-established tradition of augury, the interpretation of omens from the flight of birds. Remus was the first to see a flock of six birds flying past, which he took to be a favourable sign, but shortly afterwards, Romulus trumped this by seeing a flock of twelve birds.
Declaring that the gods had chosen him to found the new city, Romulus began building a wall on the Palatine hill. This provoked Remus, who stepped over the wall, an act that prompted Romulus to kill his brother.
And so Rome was born with Romulus ruling as the first of its seven kings.
Images of a she-wolf suckling two baby boys can be seen all over the Eternal City. The Fascist government of Benito Mussolini (r. 1922-43) made particular use of the image and it is emblazoned on the shirts of A.S. Roma, one of Rome's two football teams, which was founded in 1927.
Blogging about Rome:
its art, history and culture.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
small-group walking tours