Romulus slew Remus over a dispute about which one of the two brothers had the support of the local deities to rule the new city and give it his name. The name they gave the city was Rome. Supposedly, Romulus had stood on one hill and Remus another, and a circle of birds flew over Romulus, signifying that he should be king. After founding Rome, Romulus not only created the Roman Legions and the Roman Senate, but also added citizens to his new city by abducting the women of the neighboring Sabine tribes, which resulted in the mixture of the Sabines and Romans into one people. Romulus would become ancient Rome's greatest conqueror, adding large amounts of territory and people to the dominion of Rome.
After his death, Romulus was deified as the god Quirinus, the divine persona of the Roman people. He now is regarded as a mythological figure, and it is supposed that his name is a back-formation from the name Rome, which may ultimately derive from a word for "river". Some scholars, notably Andrea Carandini believe in the historicity of Romulus, in part because of the 1988 discovery of the Murus Romuli on the north slope of the Palatine Hill in Rome.
Romulus and Remus are pre-eminent among the famous feral children in mythology and fiction.
Because Amulius held the treasury, thus having more power than his brother, he dethroned Numitor as the rightful king. Out of fear that Numitor’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, would produce children who one day would overthrow him as king, he forced Rhea to become a Vestal Virgin, a priestess sworn to abstinence. But Mars, god of war, (in Greek, Ares) was smitten by her and secretly while she slept bore her two sons. They were twin boys, as told, of remarkable size and beauty, later named Romulus and Remus. Amulius was enraged and ordered Rhea and the twins killed. Accounts vary on how; in one account, he had Rhea buried alive (the standard punishment for Vestal Virgins who violated their vow of celibacy) and ordered the death of the twins by exposure; In another, he ordered Rhea and the twins thrown into the Tiber.
The servant ordered to kill the twins could not, however, because they were too beautiful and innocent, the servant placed the two in a basket and laid the basket on the banks of the Tiber river and went away. The river, which was in flood, rose and gently carried the basket and the twins downstream.
Romulus and Remus were kept safe by the river deity Tiberinus, who made the cradle catch in the roots of a fig tree growing in the Velabrum swamp, which therefore, has a high symbolic significance. He then brought the infant twins up onto the Palatine Hill. There, they were nursed by a wolf, Lupa in Latin. Lupa is a name for the priestesses of a fox goddess, leading to an alternative theory that the wolf was human. There is speculation that the nurturers were harlots (she-wolf being a name for them in ancient Rome) They were nurtured underneath a fig tree and were fed by a woodpecker. Both animals were sacred to Mars.
Romulus and Remus were then discovered by Faustulus, a shepherd for Amulius, who brought the children to his home. Faustulus and his wife, Acca Larentia, raised the boys as their own. The roots of her name imply a religious cult of an earth mother. Some mythological traditions have her as the prostitute 'she-wolf' who suckled Rome's founders.
In another Roman legend Hercules married Acca Larentia off to the shepherd Faustulus, who saved the lives of the twins Romulus and Remus after they had been thrown into the Tiber. Acca Larentia had twelve sons, and on the death of one of them, Romulus took his place. He and the remaining eleven, founded the college of the Arval brothers Fratres Arvales. Acca Larentia is therefore identified with the Dea Dia of that collegium. The flamen Quirinalis acted in the role of Romulus (deified as Quirinus) to perform funerary rites for his foster mother (as the goddess).
Another, later tradition relates that Romulus and Remus were suckled by a wolf, has been explained by the suggestion that Larentia was called Lupa (courtesan, literally she-wolf) on account of her immoral character (Livy i. 4; Ovid, Fasti, iii. 55).
Yet another tradition relates also that Romulus and Remus were nursed by the Wolf-Goddess Lupa or Luperca, who was identified with Acca Larentia, whose rapport with wolves kept them from harming the sheep, but add that Luperca's husband is the Wolf-and-Shepherd-God Lupercus who brought fertility to the flocks.
The many names associated with Acca Laurentia, are, Acca Larenta, Larentia, Laurentia, Lara, Larunda, Larenta, Larentina, and Mater Larum, the "Mother of the Lares" as well as, Fauna, who had an oracle on the nearby Aventine Hill and was the wife of Faunus, the Bona Dea, Lupa, Luperca, and Dea Dia.
In 2007 the Lupercal where supposedly the children were found being suckled by the wolf was discovered by archaeologists. Its location is beneath Palatine Hill. Although the main worship area has been unearthed, it is a fragile grotto and already partially caved-in. Because of this, it would not survive a full-scale dig, leaving archaeologists to examine the remaining sections with sensitive tools such as endoscopes and laser scanners.
Nonetheless, once their origins are resolved, most traditions agree that as they grew, their noble birth showed itself in their size and beauty while they were still children. When they grew up, they were manly and high-spirited, of invincible courage and daring. Romulus, however, was thought the wiser and more politic of the two, and in his discussions with the neighbors about pasture and hunting, gave them opportunities of noting that his disposition was one which led him to command rather than to obey.
On account of these qualities, they were beloved by their equals and the poor, but they despised the king's officers and bailiffs as being no braver than they were, and cared neither for their anger nor their threats. They led the lives and followed the pursuits of nobly born men, not valuing sloth and idleness, but exercise and hunting, defending the land against brigands, capturing plunderers, and avenging those who had suffered wrong. Thus they became famous throughout Latium.
One day when Romulus and Remus were eighteen years old, a quarrel occurred between the shepherds of Numitor and the shepherds of Amulius. Some of Numitor’s shepherds drove off many of Amulius’s cattle, causing Amulius’s men to become enraged. Romulus and Remus gathered the shepherds together, found and killed Numitor’s shepherds, and recovered the lost cattle. To the displeasure of Numitor, Romulus and Remus collected and took into their company many needy men and slaves of Numitor, exhibiting seditious boldness and temper.
While Romulus was engaged in some sacrifice, as he was fond of sacrifices and the deities, some of Numitor’s shepherds attacked Remus and some of his friends and a battle broke out. After both sides took many wounds, Numitor’s shepherds prevailed and took Remus as their prisoner and returned him to Numitor for punishment. Numitor did not punish Remus, because he was in fear of Amulius, but went to Amulius and asked for justice, since he was his brother, and he had been insulted by the royal servants. The people of Alba Longa, too, sympathized with Numitor, and thought that he had been undeservedly outraged. Amulius was therefore induced to hand Remus over to Numitor to treat him as he saw fit.
When Numitor took Remus to his home for punishment, he was amazed at the young man's superiority in stature and strength of body. After hearing of his acts and deeds and of his noble virtues, Numitor asked Remus of his birth and who he really was. When Remus told him that they had been found and nursed by a wolf on the banks of the Tiber river, and conjecturing Remus’s age from his looks, he began to think of the possibility that Remus was Rhea's son.
Upon Romulus's return from his sacrifices, Faustulus told Romulus that Remus had been captured and told him to go to his brother’s aid. Romulus left Faustulus and set out to levy an army to march against Alba Longa. Faustulus took the cradle in which he had found Romulus and Remus and quickly ran to Alba Longa. When Faustulus reached the gates of the city, the guards stopped him. By chance, one of the guards had been the servant who had taken the boys to the river. This man, upon seeing the cradle, and recognizing it, knew that Faustulus spoke the truth, and without any delay told the matter to Amulius, and brought the man before him to be examined. He admitted that Romulus and Remus were alive and well, but said they lived at a distance from Alba Longa as herdsmen.
Acting out of fear and rage, Amulius quickly sent a friend of Numitor to see if he had heard any report of the twins being alive. As soon as the man entered Numitor’s house, he found Numitor embracing Remus, thus confirming that Remus was Numitor’s grandson. He then advised Numitor and Remus to act quickly, for Romulus was marching on the city with an army of those who hated and feared Amulius. Remus acted quickly and incited the citizens within the city to revolt, and at the same time Romulus attacked from without. Amulius, without taking a single step or making any plan for his own safety, out of sheer confusion, was taken to be put to death.
With Amulius dead, the city settled down and offered Romulus and Remus the joint crown. However, the twins refused to be the kings so long as their grandfather was still alive, and would not live in the city as subjects. Thus after restoring the kingship to Numitor and properly honoring their mother Rhea Silvia, the two left Alba Longa to found their own city upon the slopes of the Palatine Hill. Before they left Alba Longa, however, they took with them fugitives, runaway slaves, and all others who wanted a second chance at life.
Once Romulus and Remus arrived at the Palatine Hill, the two argued over where the exact position of the city should be. Romulus was set on building the city upon the Palatine, but Remus wanted to build the city on the strategic and easily fortified Aventine Hill (The Greek author Dionysius, however, places Remus' location at a place named "Remoria" after Remus himself. The precise location of Remoria is not known today). They agreed to settle their argument by testing their abilities as augurs and by the will of the deities. Each took a seat on the ground apart from one another, and, according to Plutarch, Remus saw six vultures (which were considered to be sacred to Mars, their father), while Romulus saw twelve.
Remus was enraged by Romulus’s victory. He claimed that since he had seen his six vultures first, he should have won. When Romulus began digging a trench (or building a wall, according to Dionysius) where his city's boundary was to run on April 21, 753 BC, Remus ridiculed some parts of the work, and obstructed others. At last, Remus leapt across the trench, an omen of bad luck, since this implied that the city fortifications would be easily breached. In response, Remus was killed.
We know of four possible ways Remus could have been killed - the most common being that his brother Romulus killed him (Livy's "account more generally received": "Remus, in derision of his brother, leaped over the new wall, and Romulus, enraged thereat, slew him, uttering at the same time this imprecation: 'So perish every one that shall hereafter leap over my wall'"). Livy's alternative version simply states, in a passive voice, that Remus was dead, without noting either that he was murdered or, by whom; he simply "became dead". The two other lesser known accounts state that a) Remus was killed by Romulus' commander Fabius with a shovel (St. Jerome) or that b) Celer, whose relation to Romulus is uncertain, killed Remus by striking him across the head with his spade. Once the fighting subsided, Romulus buried Remus before continuing to build his city. He named the city Roma after himself, and served as its first king.
After the completion of the city, Romulus divided the people of Rome who were able to fight into regiments of 3000 infantry and 300 cavalry. Romulus called these regiments "legions". The rest of the people became the populace of the city, and out of the populace, Romulus hand selected 100 of the most noble men to serve as a council for the city. He called these men Patricians and their council the Roman Senate. Romulus called these noble men Patricians not only because they were the fathers of legitimate sons, but also because he intended the great and the wealthy to treat the weak and the poor as fathers treat their sons. This delineates, symbolically, the inauguration of the patron-client relationship, known as clientela, which was central to Roman culture and society, and was later passed down to medieval societies.
Romulus spread the reputation of Rome as an asylum to all who desired a new life. Because of this, Rome attracted a population of exiles, refugees, murderers, criminals, and runaway slaves. Rome's population grew so much that the city settled five of the seven hills of Rome: the Capitoline Hill, the Aventine Hill, the Caelian Hill, the Quirinal Hill, and the Palatine Hill. Romulus, however, saw a problem quickly forming before him: few of the foreigners had wives. Romulus decided he needed to fill his city with women as well.
To solve his problems, Romulus held a festival, the Consualia, and invited the neighboring Sabine tribe to attend as his guests. The Sabines came en mass, and brought with them their daughters. Romulus planned to kidnap the Sabine women and bring them back to Rome as citizens. When the Sabines arrived, Romulus sat amongst the senators, clad in purple. The signal that the time had come for the onslaught was to be his rising and folding his cloak, and then throwing it round him again. Armed with swords, many of his followers kept their eyes intently upon him, and when the signal was given, his nobles drew their swords, rushed in with shouts, and captured the daughters of the Sabines, but permitted and encouraged the men to escape unharmed. In all, some 700 Sabine women were captured and brought back to Rome. This event is remembered in various works of art titled "Rape of the Sabine Women".
While most of the Sabines were still busy with their preparations, the people of a few cities banded together against the Romans, and in a battle which ensued, they were defeated, and surrendered to Romulus their cities, their territory to be divided, and themselves to be transported to Rome. Romulus distributed among the citizens all the territory thus acquired, excepting that which belonged to the parents of the ravished maidens; this he suffered its owners to keep for themselves.
This enraged the Sabines, and in response appointed Titus Tatius as the supreme commander-in-chief of all the Sabines, who then marched his army on Rome. The city was difficult to access, having as its fortress the Capitoline Hill, on which a guard had been stationed, with a man named Tarpeius as its captain. But supposedly, Tarpeia, a daughter of the commander, betrayed the citadel to the Sabines, having set her heart on the golden armlets that she saw them wearing, and she asked as payment for her treachery that which they wore on their left arms. Tatius agreed to this, whereupon she opened one of the gates by night and let the Sabines in. Once inside, Tatius ordered his Sabines, mindful of their agreement, to not begrudge her anything they wore on their left arms. Tatius was first to take from his arm not only his armlet, but at the same time his shield, and cast them upon her. All his men followed his example, and then she was smitten by the gold and buried under the shields, and died from the number and weight of them. This theme may imply the transition from one religious tradition to another.
With the Sabines controlling the Capitoline Hill, Romulus angrily challenged them to open battle, and Tatius boldly accepted. The Sabines marched down the Capitoline and battled the Romans between the hills in a swampy area which would one day become the Roman Forum. The Sabines overran the Romans and the Romans were forced back behind the very walls of Rome upon the Palatine Hill. From behind the walls, the Romans began to flee the battle. Romulus bowed down and prayed to Jupiter and the Romans rallied back to Romulus and made a stand. Later, on the very spot where Romulus prayed, a temple to Jupiter Stator ("the stayer") was built. Romulus led the Romans on and they drove the Sabines back to the point where the Temple of Vesta later would stand.
Here, as the Romans and Sabines were preparing to renew the battle, they were stopped by the sight of the ravished daughters of the Sabines rushing from the city of Rome through the infantry and the dead bodies. The Sabine women ran up to their husbands and their fathers, some carrying young children in their arms. Both armies were so moved to compassion, they drew apart to give the women place between the battle lines. The Sabine women begged their Roman husbands and their Sabine fathers and brothers to accept one another and live as one nation. With sorrow running through the ranks, a truce was made and the leaders held a conference. It was decided that both Romulus and Tatius would rule as joint kings of the Romans, including the newly added Sabines.
Rome doubled in its size. With the Romans inhabiting the Palatine Hill and the Sabines inhabiting the Quirinal Hill, the two nations chose a third hill to serve as the center of government and administration for the city of Rome, the Capitoline Hill. From the new Sabine citizens, 100 new noble men were selected to become Patricians and joined the ranks of the Senate. The legions were doubled in size, from 3000 infantry and 300 cavalry to 6000 infantry and 600 cavalry. The cultures of the Romans and Sabine also combined in this union. The Sabines adopted the Roman calendar, and the Romans adopted the armor and oblong shield of the Sabines.
These three tribes became the Romans. Each of these tribes had a tribune who represented their respective tribes in all civil, religious, and military affairs. When in the city, they were the magistrates of their tribes, and performed sacrifices on their behalf, and in times of war they were Rome's military commanders. The Ramnes derived their name from Romulus, the Tities derived their name from Titus Tatius, and the Luceres derived their name from an Etruscan title of honor.
After creating the three tribes, the Comitia Curiata were instituted. To form the basis of the Comitia Curiate, Romulus divided each of the three tribes into ten curiae, with the thirty curiae deriving their individual names from thirty Sabine women whom Romulus and his followers had kidnapped.
Each of the individual curia then were subdivided into ten gentes, which formed the basis for the nomen in the Roman naming convention. When Romulus would convene the Comitia Curiate and lay proposals from either him or the senate before the Curiate for ratification, the ten gentes within each curia would cast a vote, with the collective vote of the curia going to the majority of the gentes. This formed the basis for the modern Electoral College.
Romulus, being a martial man, formed his own personal guard, called the Celeres. The Celeres consisted of Rome's three hundred finest horsemen who were under the command of the Celerum Tribune, who was also the Tribune for the Ramnes tribe. The Celeres derived their name from their leader, a close friend of Romulus named Celers who helped him slay Remus and found the city of Rome. This special military unit functioned very much like the Praetorian Guard of Augustus as it was responsible for Romulus' personal safety and for the security of Rome while the legions were on her borders. The relationship between Romulus and his Tribune also is similar to the relation between the Roman Dictator and his Magister Equitum. Celer, as the Celerum Tribune, occupied the second place in the state, and in Romulus' absence he had the rights of convoking the Comitia and commanding the armies.
From the founding of Rome until his death, Romulus waged wars and expanded his territory, thus Rome's territory, for over two decades. He conquered many of the neighboring cities, namely Etruscan cities, and gained unequaled control over the area of Latium, Tuscany, Umbria, and Abruzzo. In what would become the traditional Roman style of warfare, although Romulus may have lost some battles along the way, he never lost a single war in which he fought.
After his final wars against the Etruscans, the king of Alba Longa, Numitor, Romulus’ biological grandfather, died. The people of Alba Longa freely offered the crown to Romulus, believing he was the one rightful ruler of the city as the blood heir to Numitor. Romulus accepted dominion over the city, but gained much favor with the city’s populace by placing the government in the hands of the people within the city. Once a year, Romulus appointed a governor over the city, a man selected by the people of Alba Longa.
During later years, Romulus grew to rely less and less upon the Senate. Though this was entirely legal, it went against tradition. The Senate essentially had lost its influence, holding no say in the administration of the city. The Senate could only be convened when Romulus called for it, and once assembled, the Senators merely sat in silence and listened to his edicts. The Senators soon found that their only advantage over the commoners was that they learned what Romulus decreed sooner than the commoners did. On his own authority, he divided the territory acquired in war among his soldiers, and without the consent or wish of the Patricians. The Patricians thought he was insulting their Senate outright. Although the Senators grew to hate him, they feared him too much to defy him openly and show him their displeasure.
One day, when Romulus and all the people had gone to the Campus Martius, a sudden storm arose. The darkness became so great that the people fled in terror. When the storm was over, the Romans returned. To their surprise, however, Romulus had disappeared. The people sent for him, but none could find him. The people were amazed, and were all talking about his sudden disappearance, and wondering what could have become of their king, when one of the Senators stood up and called for silence.
After the Senator calmed the mass of people, he told the assembled Romans that he had seen Romulus being carried up into the heavens. Romulus, the Senator said, had called out that he was going to live with the deities, and wished his people to worship him as the god Quirinus. In response, the Romans built a temple on the hill where the Senator said that Romulus had risen to heaven. This hill was called the Quirinal Hill in Romulus' honor, and for many years the Romans worshiped Romulus, the founder of their city, and their first king from that very spot.
Plutarch (Life of Numa Pompilius) tells the legend with a note of skepticism:
Livy also reports on this event:
As the god Quirinus, Romulus joined Jupiter and Mars in the Archaic Triad. Quirinus was depicted as a bearded warrior in both religious and battle clothing wielding a spear, thus he is viewed a god of war and as the strength of the Roman people, but more importantly, as the deified likeness of the city of Rome itself. Quirinus received a Flamen Maior called the Flamen Quirinalis, who oversaw his worship and rituals. The Romans even called themselves Quirites in his honor. After Romulus' death, he was succeeded by Numa Pompilius as the second King of Rome.
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).
Also there are coins with Lupa and the tiny twins placed beneath her.
Shepherd kings, as some mythographers would classify Romulus, were torn to pieces in a secret religious ceremony at the end of their "reign" and the beginning of the reign of the next "king". That mythological identity, reflecting ancient religious practices, might be supported in the notation by Livy that some stated that this was his fate. Religious mysteries and rites had to be kept secret, hence the rumor is implied for only the initiates to interpret.
The Franks Casket, an Anglo-Saxon hoard-box (early seventh century) 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. 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. So the carver transfers them into the Germanic holy grove and has Woden’s second wolf join them. Thus the picture serves—along with five other ones—to influence "wyrd", the fortune and fate of a warrior king.