Stories from Roman History - Lena Dalkeith

Of Romulus and Remus

How Rome First Came to be Built

Long and long ago, it is said, Nimitur, King of Alba, was robbed of his crown, and thrust from his kingdom by his younger brother, Amulius.

Now Nimitur had one daughter. Amulius, when he had made himself king, forced this maiden to become a "Vestal",—that is to say, a high priestess, and, as a Vestal, she had to make a vow never to marry. This Amulius did in order to reign in safety, for he was afraid if the daughter of Nimitur were to marry that her children might some day try to win back their rightful inheritance. However, his cunning plan failed: the maiden was loved by the god Mars; she broke her vow, and Romulus and Remus were born.

Amulius, as soon as he heard of the birth of the twin boys, condemned their mother to be buried alive. This was the terrible punishment in those days for vestals who broke their vows. Also, he gave orders that the babies should be thrown into the river Tiber, which was at that time in flood.

These two cruel things were done: the daughter of Nimitur was put to death: her children were thrown into the Tiber. Happily they fell into a shallow pool, and by a strange chance the water shrank back as if afraid to be the cause of the babies' death, and thus Romulus and Remus were saved. To them, as they lay crying helplessly under a wild fig-tree, came a great she-wolf. The beast, pitying them, stayed to nurse and mother them, feeding them with her own milk until they were old enough to take other food. Then a woodpecker came, bringing meat every day, and in this strange way, nursed by beast and bird, these two little princes grew into strong and sturdy boys.

One day they were found by a herdsman, who took them home to his cottage and brought them up with his own children.

Romulus and Remus


There for a long time they lived contentedly, helping the man to watch the flocks on the side of Mount Palatine. This herdsman was a servant of Amulius. Now the herdsmen who called Amulius master were at war with those who belonged to Nimitur. There came a day when Nimitur's men seized Remus and carried him off to their master. Romulus followed after them, anxious to help his brother.

The two youths were brought before their grandfather, they being quite unknown to him and he to them, for the old king believed the twins to be dead, and they never guessed their royal birth. Nevertheless, although they were dressed in rough clothes, something in their look and bearing aroused the King's interest, and after questioning and hearing their strange story he found that they were in very truth his daughter's children, and with great joy he made himself known to them.

Romulus and Remus when they were told how King Nimitur had been dethroned, how their mother had been put to death, and they themselves thrown into the river, grew fierce and angry and vowed to be revenged on Amulius. They set out straightway for the city of Alba where Amulius was: there they slew him and restored King Nimitur to his throne again. This done, they refused to stay longer in the city of their forefathers. "No," they said, "we will build a city of our own close to the spot where we were saved from death."

So they returned again to that place; but soon there arose a quarrel between them as to where the city should be built. Romulus wished to build on Mount Palatine, Remus on Mount Aventine, and neither would give in to the other. What was to be done? They prayed the gods for a sign: then they agreed to watch one whole day,—Romulus on Palatine, Remus on Aventine,—and at sunrise on the second day he who saw a flight of birds should found the city. Remus first saw the sign. He saw six vultures flying on his left. A little later Romulus caught sight of twelve hovering over Mount Palatine, and this sign, he said, was more favourable than the other, and showed plainly whom the gods had chosen. Remus would not agree: the sign had been given to him first. Long and bitterly the brothers wrangled, at last they fought, and in the end Romulus killed Remus, either by a chance blow or in a wild moment of anger. Thus it was Romulus who first began to build on Mount Palatine, and the name of his city was Rome.

Now this legend, which is more than two thousand years old, you may believe or you may not, as you like: for the books which told of the first founding of Rome and the beginnings of the Roman people were destroyed. The Romans themselves believed in the legend, but now no one can really tell whether it is true, or only a tale.