Roman History in a Nutshell: The Founding – 753 BCE and Before

It is easy to see why you’d want to settle here. Technically the ‘7 Hill of Rome’ are…well, 5 hills one of which has three projections. But Either way, those hills are defensible and make danger easy to spot. Also, protection of homes from flooding by the Tiber, which creates fertile land on the surrounding fields. It’s a dream for a group of farmers and shepherds in 800 BCE! (Credit: Renata3 GFDL & all CC-BY-SA)

CONTENT WARNING: Discusses abduction and sexual assault. Photo of statue penis.

It’s a tale as old as time, so common, right? You’re busy fannying about doing whatever and then next thing you know you’ve rubbed genitals with someone, given birth to twins, been killed by your brother, twins sent down the river, where they fortuitously washed up to be suckled by a female wolf who presumably just happened to be lactating, they grow up to form competing villages before one ruthlessly slays the other and goes on to found the city of Rome and a politico-cultural legacy that would last to this very day. S’normal. Definitely a true story.

Giambologna’s (pronounced jam-baloney if you’re American) famous ‘Rape of the Sabines’ statue in the Loggia dei Lanzi, an amazing covered, outside gallery of statues in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. You can see the copy of Michelangelo’s David in the background. It is one of the most famous artworks relating to this part of Roman history. (Credit: Arnold Paul CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Vivat Rome.

Requiescat in pace Reme.

Let’s move on.

Throw in a little bit of stealing women from neighbouring tribes with intent to rape them, only to have them allegedly so enjoy your…err…passion… (I dunno mate, 800-700BCEish was a weird time…Rape apologia was apparently taken care of by the survivors) So much that they defend you to their marauding previous fathers and husbands.

When you piece together the ‘myth’ of the founding of Rome it all sounds a bit suss. I guess, to some extent, many places have bullshit stories of ‘founding fathers’ – brave, individual pioneers who planted a flag firmly in a spot and said “This shall be the centre of our universe.” It’s mostly bollocks, though, isn’t it?

I mean, Romulus? Romulus for fuck’s sake. Okay let me throw this one at you.

Escaping the tyranny of the cold, harsh weather up North a family of ancient Britons walked tirelessly seeking their destiny. Before they could reach their hallowed land their mother fell deathly ill and the father into a languid depression. As a result, the babies were unattended and, making mischief, found their way into the river.

They were rescued by an eagle who would regurgitate food down their gullets to keep them fed. The children’s names were Mr. Londonica and Mr. Landinicus.

Having been sufficiently nourished by bird vomit they grew up to be strong men and decided to found a settlement, choosing as their location a shitty swamp by a massive river. Two islands in this river were established as the borders of the individual settlements but, one day, in a fit of madness about the bitterness of his tea, Mr. Landinicus popped over to the other island to see if he could borrow a cup of sugar. The answer was no and death. He was killed and Londonica’s settlement grew very big and now we call it London. The End.

Romulus likely didn’t found Rome any more than Londonica founded London, Jonathan Henry New York founded New York or Bruce Wayne the town of Batman in Turkey (real place, look it up.)

The Lupa, the She-Wolf, the Capitoline Wolf – A bronze statue of a frankly confused looking she-wolf wondering why two human children have taking to nibbling at her nips. This is allegedly how Romulus and Remus were raised. I recently purchased a t-shirt from Neo-Classicst on RedBubble featuring this image and I suggest you do the same because it is the best t-shirt ever.

The fact is Rome’s site is prime real estate (see the opening diagram!). Multiple hills surround a valleys and a plain touched by a pretty quick flowing river. The hills are good for housing and defence, the land by the riverside rich in nutrients and great for arable crops and pasture. Shit hot place to live, you’d never catch it on ‘Location, Location, Location’ because the Location’s taken by one of the world’s major cities, it’s that good.

Maybe there was an analogue, maybe a pair of brothers once did have homes on hills near Rome, maybe there was a fight but they would not have had a firm ‘Roman’ identity. ‘Rome’ didn’t exist then and chances are the community was a group of fragmented hill tribes, possibly migrants from various cultures nearby. Fratricide is a strong theme in human myths, but wanting to kill your brother is also quite common, so it’s hard to pull the false from the true.

The likelihood is that various peoples from around the area – Latins, Etruscans, Sabines, Oscans – there were lots of pre-Roman Italian tribes surrounding the area that would be Rome – spread. The famous Seven Hills of Rome make it a wonderful place for multiple close-proximity settlements.

Those settlements would need arrangements to stop them acting like dicks to each other. So they’d have representatives meet up and arrange rules, systems and laws. Again, maybe two of these early representatives were brothers who had a falling-out and one killed the other? We don’t know. The next thing you know you’re not three or four scattered villages, you’re one big community.

An Etruscan tomb in the ruins of Fiesole, near Florence. Whilst much of the excavation here reveals the Roman settlement of Faesulae, the Etruscan town of Viesul likely predates even the founding of Rome by 100-200 years. Etruscan culture was, pre-Roman, possibly one of the widest spread and most dominant cultures in Italy, and much of it was incorporated into future Romanitas. (Credit: Eric Parker CC-BY-NC 2.0)

Then some of these people find their way to being warlords allegedly and organise the military might of that community of villages, forming a City in the process.

In one founding story, the Romulus and Remus story, two infants with an ungodly natural pull to wolf titties were destined to found a great city. In the other version it happened by happy accident.

What little high-grade education I got was in biology and, if it taught me anything, it’s that things always evolve by happy accident – no matter how big the mutations.

The truth is Rome was a mongrel haven, a taker of all comers who could prove worthy of the three ‘F’s vital for starting a community – Fighting, farming and fucking. People from the local region all found a way to unite for a greater good.

Incidentally the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus? You know what she-wolf is in latin? Lupa. That would also be a likely slang word for a female sex worker. So even if Romulus and Remus were real they were basically some abandoned kids raised by a prostitute. That’s no judgement on sex workers, that’s a judgement on myth workers. A beautiful lie is still a lie.

Is the myth more beautiful than the reality? More romantic, sure. More beautiful? Not to me. Do you know why Romulus killed Remus? Because he stepped over a fence.

Having successfully defended the honour of his fence, Romulus’ first act was to invent ‘The Dab’. As you can see he didn’t quite do it in its modern form, but the addition of an elongated arrow makes it quite impactful. Remember kids – Never hop a fence, you never know who might kill you. (Credit: Unknown, I nicked it off pinterest. Frankly if this old etching isn’t Public Domain the ‘owner’ can fuck off.)

If that’s a beautiful myth then you’re a romantic fool.

It all started the way every big city did. People smart enough to realise the agricultural value of an area mixed with luck.

Read the other parts in our ‘Roman History in a Nutshell’ Series:

Introduction

The Kingdom – 753 BCE – 509 BCE
The Patrician Era and the Conflict of the Orders – 494 BCE – 287 BCE
Wars with Etruscans Pre-753 BCE – ~264 BCE
Wars with Sabines, Veii & Fidenae ~753 BCE – ~287 BCE
The Latin Wars 7th Century BCE – ~338 BCE
The Gallic Wars ~390 BCE – ~284 BCE
The Rest of the Med ~2,000 BCE – ~3rd Century BCE
The Samnite Wars ~343 BCE – ~290 BCE

Want to read more about Romans? We’ve got a little for you.
Bad History: Boudica and Bullshit Nationalism – Looking at the use of historical figures for current political or social agendas.
Bad History: Did Rome ever Actually Fall? Questioning the ‘Decline and Fall’ narrative and looking at structures inherited from the Romans we have to this day.

A New Lease of Life? – A Discussion about the new floor in the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Colosseum, and what Vespasian, who initially commissioned the building, might think.

Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Introduction
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Easily available abortion (CW)
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Drawing dicks on things.
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Energy Drinks
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Gender and Sexuality Liberation (CW)
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Travel and Tourist Tat.
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – AirBnB
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Bipartisan Politics
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Fast Food
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Pro-Wrestling
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Social Media (Especially Insta and Twitter)

The Fan-TAS-tic Virtues of Rome – A look at the moral virtues of Roman life.

What are the ‘Ides of March’ – Because I envitably get asked by my dad every Ides, I wrote about it!

The Mother of Rome: Livia Drusilla – Before the hit Sky TV series ‘Domina’ there was me espousing the life and works of Livia, the canny politician, the Patrician, the Patron and the wife and mother of an Empire.
The Pleb who Built Rome: Marcus Agrippa – It is my belief that the right-hand-man of Augustus had a much bigger part to play in the building and management of the Empire than did his friend with the titles. Find out why.





Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

Like a dark-chocolate fountain at a weight loss party, Karl Anthony Mercer is an under-utilised river of bittersweetness. When not busy researching or writing about any and all non-fiction topics for 'We Lack Discipline' Karl can often be found walking, staring at wildlife or writing poetry.

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