Romulus is universally said to have wished to build on the Palatine, while Remus, according to some, preferred the Aventine; according to others, the hill Remuria.
Continuing The Foundation of Rome,
our selection from Roman History by Barthold Georg Niebuhr published in 1848. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in nine easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Foundation of Rome.
Time: 753 BC
In the days when men had altogether ceased to believe in the ancient gods, attempts were made to find something intelligible in the old legends, and thus a history was made up, which Plutarch fondly embraced and Dionysius did not reject, though he also relates the ancient tradition in a mutilated form. He says that many people believe in demons, and that such a demon might have been the father of Romulus; but he himself is very far from believing it, and rather thinks that Amulius himself, in disguise, violated Rea Silvia amid thunder and lightning produced by artifice. This he is said to have done in order to have a pretext for getting rid of her, but being entreated by his daughter not to drown her, he imprisoned her for life. The children were saved by the shepherd who was commissioned to expose them, at the request of Numitor, and two other boys were put in their place.
Numitor’s grandsons were taken to a friend at Gabii, who caused them to be educated according to their rank, and to be instructed in Greek literature. Attempts have actually been made to introduce this stupid forgery into history, and some portions of it have been adopted in the narrative of our historians; for example, that the ancient Alban nobility migrated with the two brothers to Rome; but if this had been the case there would have been no need of opening an asylum, nor would it have been necessary to obtain by force the connubium with other nations.
But of more historical importance is the difference of opinion between the two brothers respecting the building of the city and its site. According to the ancient tradition, both were kings and the equal heads of the colony; Romulus is universally said to have wished to build on the Palatine, while Remus, according to some, preferred the Aventine; according to others, the hill Remuria. Plutarch states that the latter is a hill three miles south of Rome, and cannot have been any other than the hill nearly opposite St. Paul, which is the more credible, since this hill, though situated in an otherwise unhealthy district, has an extremely fine air: a very important point in investigations respecting the ancient Latin towns, for it may be taken for certain that where the air is now healthy it was so in those times also, and that where it is now decidedly unhealthy, it was anciently no better. The legend now goes on to say that a dispute arose between Romulus and Remus as to which of them should give the name to the town, and also as to where it was to be built. A town Remuria therefore undoubtedly existed on that hill, though subsequently we find the name transferred to the Aventine, as is the case so frequently. According to the common tradition, the auguries were to decide between the brothers: Romulus took his stand on the Palatine, Remus on the Aventine. The latter observed the whole night, but saw nothing until about sunrise, when he saw six vultures flying from north to south, and sent word of it to Romulus; but at that very time the latter, annoyed at not having seen any sign, fraudulently sent a messenger to say that he had seen twelve vultures, and at the very moment the messenger arrived there did appear twelve vultures, to which Romulus appealed. This account is impossible; for the Palatine and Aventine are so near each other that, as every Roman well knew, whatever a person on one of the two hills saw high in the air, could not escape the observation of any one who was watching on the other. This part of the story therefore cannot be ancient, and can be saved only by substituting the Remuria for the Aventine. As the Palatine was the seat of the noblest patrician tribe, and the Aventine the special town of the plebeians, there existed between the two a perpetual feud, and thus it came to pass that in after times the story relating to the Remuria, which was far away from the city, was transferred to the Aventine. According to Ennius, Romulus made his observations on the Aventine; in this case Remus must certainly have been on the Remuria, and it is said that when Romulus obtained the augury he threw his spear toward the Palatine. This is the ancient legend which was neglected by the later writers. Romulus took possession of the Palatine. The spear taking root and becoming a tree, which existed down to the time of Nero, is a symbol of the eternity of the new city, and of the protection of the gods. The statement that Romulus tried to deceive his brother is a later addition; and the beautiful poem of Ennius, quoted by Cicero, knows nothing of this circumstance. The conclusion which must be drawn from all this is, that in the earliest times there were two towns, Roma and Remuria, the latter being far distant from the city and from the Palatine.
Romulus now fixed the boundary of his town, but Remus scornfully leaped across the ditch, for which he was slain by Celer, a hint that no one should cross the fortifications of Rome with impunity. But Romulus fell into a state of melancholy occasioned by the death of Remus; he instituted festivals to honor him, and ordered an empty throne to be put up by the side of his own. Thus we have a double kingdom, which ends with the defeat of Remuria.
The question now is, What were these two towns of Roma and Remuria? They were evidently Pelasgian places: the ancient tradition states that Sicelus migrated from Rome southward to the Pelasgians, that is, the Tyrrhenian Pelasgians were pushed forward to the Morgetes, a kindred nation in Lucania and in Sicily.
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