If you know anything about ancient history, chances are you’ve heard the legend of Romulus and Remus, who are said to have founded the city of Rome.
The legend claims that the twin brothers were the sons of Mars, God of war, and a mortal priestess. They were said to have been abandoned at birth, on the orders of a local ruler who felt threatened by their existence, before being found and raised by a she-wolf. The twins were said to be natural leaders, who ultimately amassed a following of loyal supporters. They overthrew other local leaders, and decided to found a city of their own. The legend states that Romulus, or a supporter acting on his orders, ultimately murdered Remus, allowing Romulus to reign supreme as Rome’s first king.
Unsurprisingly, historians reject this version of events. Some have even proposed that the legend has no basis in fact at all, and that Romulus and Remus never existed.
However, claims that Romulus never existed have recently been challenged. Italian archaeologists working in the Roman Forum, located in central Rome, are claiming to have found his tomb.
The tomb in question dates from the 6th Century BC, and was found amongst the remains of an ancient temple. Experts have speculated that it could be Romulus’s final resting place because it is located extremely close to the Lapis Niger, which is traditionally thought to have been either the site of Romulus’s death, or the site of his tomb. The tomb also bears an inscription claiming it belongs to a ‘holy king’, and historians have pointed out that Romulus would indeed fit this description, given his status as a demi-God ruler.
Yet, experts have stopped at officially stating that the tomb belongs to Romulus. In part, this is because his very existence has always been contested- some historians believe that the myth of Romulus and Remus is probably based around real men, but others claim the twins are entirely fictitious. It has been suggested that the name ‘Romulus’ is simply a back-formation, coming from the word ‘Rome’, which was created after the city was founded, in order to create an interesting origin story. Some also believe that Rome was probably created when several pre-existing settlements were joined together, meaning it is unlikely that the city ever had a single founder.
The discovery is also controversial because the ‘tomb’ doesn’t actually contain any bones. This has led some to claim that it is most likely a holy site where a cult worshipped Romulus, rather than a burial place. Others have pointed out that it is hypocritical for believers of the legend to claim that Romulus was ever buried at all, given the myth says he died when members of the Roman senate ripped his body to pieces.
It’s extremely unlikely that we’ll ever know whether Romulus really existed, let alone whether his tomb has really been discovered, yet the story seems likely to fascinate historians for the foreseeable future.
Last modified: 9th March 2020