Since the date of our New Year dates back to the Romans, what better to write about today than the myths surrounding the founding of Rome? Of course, the year didn’t start on the first of January at that point. The official beginning of the Roman calendar was 21 April 753 BC, the traditional date for the beginning of the city. Its founding is associated with the mythical figures Romulus and Remus, twin sons of the god Mars.
You see, a prince named Amulius usurped the throne to the Italian city of Alba Longa from his brother Numitor. Amulius had all of Numitor’s sons killed, but since Numitor’s daughter Rhea Silvia had no claim on the throne herself, Amulius merely forced her to become a Vestal Virgin so she wouldn’t have any sons who could challenge his rule. By now, you should know what happened: a god (in this case Mars) showed up to impregnate Rhea Silvia, and she gave birth to the legendary twins. Amulius ordered the boys killed, but a servant set them adrift in a basket on the Tiber River, and they were adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter. No, wait, I mean the water-gatherer Akki. Actually, this time it was a she-wolf called Lupa, who suckled the babies and kept them alive.
They were then adopted by the shepherd Faustulus and his wife Acca Larentia.
Eventually, they learned who they were, restored their exiled grandfather to the throne (maybe you should try ear poison next time, Amulius), and went off to found their own city. The twins got into an argument over the location of the city, or possibly Remus jumping over a wall, depending on which version of the myth you read. Anyway, Romulus killed Remus, and this fratricidal maniac went on to rule the city for almost forty years. He then disappeared in a storm, and Rome had six more kings before beginning the consul system in 503 BC. Legend has it that Romulus himself established the Senate, but later attempted to become an autocratic ruler, probably as a reflection of later struggles between the monarchy and Senate for power over the city.
The twins actually weren’t the only mythical figures associated with the founding of Rome. There was also Aeneas, a hero of the Trojan War, son of the goddess Aphrodite and Prince Anchises of Dardania, and husband to Princess Creusa of Troy. He featured in the Iliad as one of the more noble Trojans, and apparently there was no report in Homer of his having died. I’m not sure when he was first associated with Rome (sources on the Web seem to indicate that this connection actually existed BEFORE the Romulus and Remus story), but the poet Virgil took on the task of telling Aeneas’ entire story in his first century BC work known as the Aeneid. I’ve never read this all the way through (or the works of Homer, for that matter; they’re on my list of things to read), but the epic poem is basically Homeric fan-fiction mixed with Roman propaganda.
According to the legend and the poem, Aeneas fled Troy before its destruction, and visited a lot of the same places Odysseus did before finally coming to what we now know as Italy. There, he married Lavinia, the daughter of King Latinus of the Latin tribe.
The two of them were the ancestors of King Numitor, hence cleverly tying the two founding legends together. The British later sought to tie this story in with their own history, so they decided their legendary founder was Brutus, grandson of Aeneas and his first wife.
This stone, supposedly placed by Brutus, is located in Totnes, Devon.
Julius Caesar also claimed descent from Aeneas through his son Ascanius, generally regarded as a son of Creusa, but sometimes seen as the son of Lavinia instead.
Virgil played up this connection by claiming that Ascanius was also called Iulius, the name of Caesar’s clan. See how everyone rushes to jump on the myths of earlier cultures?