City of the Seven Hills - S. B. Harding

Romulus and the Beginning of Rome

We do not know just when, or how, or by whom the first beginning of Rome was made. It happened so long ago, and so few people could write in those early days, that no account, written at the time, has come down to us. Indeed, it is very likely that nobody then dreamed that the world would ever care to know how this little city was first commenced.

But, after Rome had begun to grow, and to conquer her neighbors, and people had begun to read and write more, then the Romans themselves began to be curious to know about the beginning of their city. It was too late to find out then, for the persons who had been alive at the time that it was founded were now long dead and forgotten. But the Romans continued to wonder about it, and at last they made up many stories of the early years of their city; and they came to believe these stories themselves, and have handed them down to us who have come after them.

According to these stories, the first settlers at Rome came from a little city named Alba Longa; and the way they happened to leave that place and settle at Rome was this.

The rightful king of Alba Longa had been put out of power by his brother. Then this brother had killed the true king's sons, and shut his daughter up in prison; and there the princess had given birth to beautiful twin sons. When her cruel uncle heard this, and saw how large and strong the children were, he was much troubled; for he feared that, if they should grow up to be men, they might someday take his ill-gotten throne from him. He determined, therefore, to put them to death; so he took the sleeping children in the wooden trough which served as their cradle, and gave them to a servant, and told him to drown them in the River Tiber.

The river at this time was overflowing its banks, and the main current ran so swift and strong that the man was afraid to go near the bed of the stream. For this reason, he merely set the trough down in the shallow water at the river's edge, and went his way. There the children floated gently, for some time, while their cradle was carried by the waters to a place where seven low hills formed the southern bank of the stream. The river was now going down as rapidly as it had risen; and here, at the foot of a wild fig tree which grew at the base of one of these hills, the cradle at last caught in a vine and came safely to land.

In this way the children escaped drowning, but they were still alone and uncared for, far from the homes of men. Soon, however, they were provided for in a wonderful manner. When they began to cry of hunger, a mother wolf that had lost its cubs came to them, and gave them milk; and a woodpecker flew down from the trees and brought them food.

In this way the children lived for some time. At last a shepherd of Alba Longa, who had often watched the wolf coming and going from the place, found the boys and saw how they had been cared for. The Italians thought that wolves and woodpeckers were sacred to Mars, their god of war; so this shepherd had no doubt that the children were favorites of that god. He took them up, therefore, and brought them to his little hut, and he and his wife named the boys Romulus and Remus, and adopted them as their own.

As they grew up among the shepherd people, Romulus and Remus became strong and brave, and showed spirits that nothing could subdue. Whenever there was a hunting party, or a contest in running or wrestling, or a struggle with robbers, who tried to drive off their flocks and herds, Romulus and Remus were sure to be among the foremost.

In this way, they won great fame among the shepherds, but they also gained the hatred of evil-doers. At last, some lawless men, in revenge, seized Remus at a festival, and bore him to the false king of Alba Longa, and charged him with robbery. There the true king saw the young man, and he was struck with his appearance, and questioned him about his birth, but Remus could tell him little.

In the meantime, the shepherd who had found the boys told Romulus the whole story of the finding of himself and Remus; and Romulus gathered together a company of his companions, and hurried to the city to save his brother. In this he soon succeeded; and then the two brothers joined together to punish the cruel king of Alba Longa, and to set their newly-found grandfather on his throne once more.

After this, the brothers were not willing to remain in Alba Longa unless they could govern there, and yet they did not wish to take the government from their grandfather. As there were now more people in the city of Alba Longa than could live comfortably within its walls, it was decided to build a new city under the leadership of Romulus and Remus; and the two brothers decided to build the city near the fig tree, where they had been found as children by their foster-father.

This was an excellent place for a city. On the nearest hill, which was called the Palatine, they could build their citadel; and at its foot were valleys in which they could plant their grain. If they wanted to trade with other cities, there was the River Tiber near at hand, for their boats to come and go upon; and, if, at any time, the city should grow too large for this one small hill, there were the six other hills nearby to which the city might spread.

After Romulus and Remus had decided upon the place for their city, a difficulty arose. A new city must have a founder, who should give his name to it; but which of the brothers should have this honor? As they were both of the same age, and could not settle the matter by giving the honor to the elder, they agreed to leave the choice to the gods of the place. So each took his stand upon one of the hills to receive a sign from the gods by watching the flight of birds. Then Remus saw six vultures from his hilltop; but Romulus, a little later, saw twelve. This was thought to be a better sign than that of Remus; so Romulus became the founder of the new city, and it was called Rome after him.

Then Romulus began to mark off the boundaries of the city. He did this by hitching a bull and a cow to a plough, and drawing a deep furrow about the hill. After that they raised a wall about the place, and Romulus invited to his city all persons who might wish to come and settle there. And many of his rude shepherd friends and many of the young men of Alba settled there with him; and men from other places, both slaves and freemen, joined them from time to time.

In this way there were soon enough men in the city to make it a match for its neighbors in war. But still there were few women in the town, for the neighboring people would not allow their daughters to be taken in marriage by the runaway slaves and rude herdsmen of Rome.

At last, Romulus planned to get by a trick what he could not get by fair means. He made a great festival in honor of the gods, and invited the people of the cities near at hand, and especially those of the tribe of the Sabines, to come and behold the games that were to take place. The people came, bringing their sisters and their daughters with them; then, while the visitors were intently watching the spectacle, the young men of Rome suddenly seized upon the young women and carried them off to their homes to be their wives.

Of course, this broke up the festival, and the visitors left Rome, furiously angry at the wrong that had been done them. The men of Rome soon found that they must fight to keep the wives that they had taken by force.

At first, it was only the people of the cities near at hand that came against them, and these the Romans easily defeated. But soon the powerful Sabine tribe, with their king at their head, came against Rome; and then the Romans were not so successful. First a fort, which the Romans had built on the hill called the Capitol, fell into the hands of the Sabines. Then, on the next day, the Romans and the Sabines met in battle in the valley between the Capitol and their city. The fight raged fiercely for a long time. First one side, and then the other, seemed victorious; but the battle still went on.

At last, the captive Sabine women took courage to interfere and stop the bloodshed. They threw themselves between the weapons of their fathers and their brothers on the one side, and those of their newly-made husbands on the other; and they implored them to cease the fight, as it must bring sorrow to them, no matter who became the victors.

Then the battle ceased, and the leaders of the Sabines, moved by the appeal of the women, came forward to make peace. It was agreed that the Romans should keep their wives, and that the Sabines should go to Rome to live, and that the two peoples should share the city between them.

From this time the city grew rapidly, and it soon spread to others of the seven hills by the Tiber. Its people became so strong in war that none of their neighbors could harm them; and in war and in peace, Romulus was their leader, and was greatly beloved by the people. He made many laws for them and established many good customs. He ordered that every eighth day there should be a market held at Rome, at which the country folk might sell their produce; and he himself heard cases and dealt out justice there in the market place. And to aid him in the government, he formed a council of the older and wiser men, which was called the Senate, or the council of the city fathers.

In this way, Romulus tilled his people for thirty-seven years. Then, one day, as he was reviewing the army, a sudden darkness fell upon the earth, and a mighty storm of thunder and lightning came upon them. When this had passed, and the air was clear once more, Romulus could nowhere be seen.

While the citizens were seeking their king, and mourning for him, a citizen came forward, who said that, in the midst of the storm, he had seen Romulus carried up to heaven in the chariot of his father, Mars. After that the people ceased to mourn for him, for they now believed that he had become a god, and from that time on they not only honored him as the founder of their city, but they worshiped him as one of the gods of heaven.