Romulus and Remus

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Statue of Romulus and Remus

Adapted by Bertie
Illustration by Adobe Stock
Sponsored by Outschool.

Hello, this is Bertie

And I’m here with a story about the foundation of the great city of Rome. The story has some history in it, but also elements of a fairytale. You can decide for yourself which parts are true, and which parts are probably a myth.

Once upon a time, about 2,800 years ago, there was a city in Italy called Alba Longa. Its name means white and long. The king of Alba Longa was called Numitor, and his brother was Amulius. Now Amulius thought that he could do a better job as king than Numitor was managing. So one day, he gathered together some rough men, invaded the palace, and dragged Numitor off his throne. After that, there wasn’t much brotherly love between Numitor and Amulius.

Some time later, the daughter of Numitor, Sylvia, gave birth to twin boys. Some say that the father of these boys was Mars, the god of war. At any rate, the tiny babies were destined to achieve great things.
When Amulius heard about his brother’s new grandchildren, he was afraid that one day, when the boys were grown into men, they would take revenge on him. It was better to act sooner rather than later, so he ordered an old servant to take the baby twins from their mother.

The old man did not like these orders, but he did as he was told. He put the babies in a basket and took them down to the river. At the time it had been raining for several weeks, and the Tiber had overflown its banks. When the servant set the basket down in the flood water, he watched it float off down stream, until it hit a stone and overturned. The babies were tipped out into the mud, where they lay wallowing and crying. The old man felt tears well up in his eyes at the pathetic sight. Then, through his blurry gaze, he saw a wolf emerge from behind a fig tree and lope down to the twins. He thought this event would surely bring a sudden end to the story, but Instead of eating the children, or doing them any harm, the wolf licked the mud off them. Next, she gently picked up the children in her mouth, one by one, and carried them off to her cave. The Shepherd returned to the palace and reported to the king that he had fulfilled his orders.

But the babies survived. Indeed, some shepherds spotted the infants playing with the wolf cubs, and they saw the mother wolf feed the babies with her own milk, and then they watched in amazement as a woodpecker popped berries into the young-ones mouths. When the mother wolf was away from the cave, the shepherds picked up the twins and whisked them away to a couple who had recently lost a child. The couple named the twins Romulus and Remus, and they brought them up in their humble hut made of sticks and reeds.
When Romulus and Remus grew up to be strong lads, they worked as herdsmen and looked after animals. Sometimes they got into fights with other herdsmen over matters like which goat belonged to who, and which part of the hill they could feed their animals on. There was quite a bit of rivalry, and one day, when they were on their way to a festival of the god Pan, a band of herdsmen attacked them, and captured Remus. They dragged Remus off to the court of King Amulius where they accused him of stealing one of their goats. Amulius asked Remus some questions about where he came from and who his parents were. Remus told him his story: that he had a twin brother, and they had both been abandoned, and then rescued by a wolf by the river. When Amulius heard this, he immediately suspected that Remus was one of the twins that he ordered to be drowned 18 years beforehand. He threw Remus into jail. While this was going on, Romulus was busy gathering up a band of men. They soon attacked the palace, rescued Remus and killed Amulius. Now the boys learned who they really were. Of course they restored their grandfather Numitor to his rightful position as King of Alba Longa. And they were reunited with their true mother, Sylvia, who told them that their father was the god, Mars, and they were surely destined to achieve great things. Having learned all this, Romulus and Remus decided to found a new city which they were sure would grow into something quite magnificent. After all, they had the backing of the gods.

Romulus chose the Palatine Hill as the ideal spot to found the city. Remus had his eye on another hill called the Aventine. The brothers began to quarrel about which was the best hill for a city, but in truth, they were really arguing about who was going to make the decisions and be the king of the new city. Eventually they agreed to settle the quarrel by looking for a sign from the gods called an omen. One especially powerful omen could be found in the flight of birds. So Romulus and Remus agreed that each would stand on their favourite hill, and the one who first saw an impressive flight of birds would win the contest. Of course, a guard would stand with each of them to make sure that there was no cheating.

At the crack of dawn, on the appointed morning, Romulus stood on the Palatine hill and Remus stood on the Aventine. Romulus searched the skies but they seemed to be empty of all birds. He began to worry that his brother Remus would spot a flight of birds before him, and so he decided to play a trick. He sent a servant to fetch Remus and distract him from his task. But while the messenger was still on his way, Remus saw six vultures flying from the right. This was a clear sign of good luck. Remus received the messenger and went over to Romulus on the other hill. When he arrived, he said,

“Brother. I have seen 6 vultures flying from the right. What have you seen?”
And Romulus answered: “Nothing.” But just then, 12 vultures appeared in the sky, and Romulus said: “There, that’s twice as many birds as you have seen! It’s obvious. The gods have shown me to be the winner!”
So of course Remus felt cheated, and argued back. The contest had settled precisely nothing.

Regardless, Romulus pressed ahead with his plan to build a city on the Palatine Hill.

First he offered a prayer to the gods:
“Lord Jupitor, Father Mars, Mother Vesta, and all you gods who watch over us, look down on my city. May it last long, and may it rule the world.”
Jupiter answered Romulus’s prayer with lightning and thunder. Delighted by this reply, the followers of Romulus let out a great cheer. Then Romulus ordered a man with a plough and an oxen to dig a trench in a great square around the hill. This trench was to mark out the lines of the walls. Only then did the workers begin to lay the stones. At first of course, the walls were not particularly high. In the evening, Romulus ordered his trusted soldier, Celer, to guard the walls and make sure nobody did any harm to them. When Remus came to see the progress, he mocked the work saying: “Will the people be safe behind these puny walls?” To make his point he began to jump over the walls in the most insulting fashion. Celer grew angry and hit Remus with a spade. Unfortunately he killed him.
And so the city of Rome was built upon a tragic quarrel between two brothers. Romulus was the first king of Rome. He founded the city on the 21st of April 753 BC.

Romulus set up many of the symbols of Roman kingship, including a purple toga and a bundle of sticks called fasces. He also created some of the institutions of Rome, including a council of elders called the Senate. Rome expanded into a vast city - the richest and most powerful in the world at the time. But even as the city and streets and buildings grew up, the Romans always preserved the cave where the she-wolf looked after Romulus and Remus. And there was a statue in the forum of the wolf and the baby twins. At one stage, lightning struck its paw. You can see the statue in the museum on the Capitoline hill in Rome.

And that was the story of Romulus and Remus. In a moment, I’ll be bringing you and another legend or perhaps history from the early days of Rome. It’s about a bad Roman king called Tarquinius and about a Roman hero called Horatius. but first let’s hear from our fantastic sponsor, Outschool.

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Now, let’s travel back to ancient times, to 500 years BC. What was happening in the world and two and a half thousand years ago.
Well in China, a famous general called Sun Tzu was winning battles. He wrote a book called the Art of War which has come down to today. His main idea was to spend as little energy and force as possible to win a war. Instead of fighting, he suggested using spies or sieges or deception. And the Chinese philosopher and politician, Confucius was alive. He had many famous sayings - for example - Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. And his wisdom guides millions of people, especially in Asia, to this day.

In the Middle East, the Persian Empire was growing ever richer and stronger, and the Emperor Darius was on the throne. He later tried to conquer Greece and failed.

And one of the Greek Cities, Athens, was becoming a democracy in which people had the right to vote.

But today, we are focused on Rome, the city in Italy which was still young, but which was destined to head an extraordinary empire. I’m going to be telling some stories about how Rome got rid of its kings and became a republic in the year 509 BC. I think our American listeners will see some parallels with their own history.

But first a quick recap. As we heard before, the founder and first king of Rome was Romulus.

When Romulus died, the Senate, or council of wise old men, chose a new king. All in all, there were 7 kings of Rome over a period of about 250 years. At first the kings ruled wisely, but each new king was a little more arrogant, selfish and greedy than the one before. Eventually, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus seized power in the year 509 BC by means of murder and foul play. The Roman citizens particularly hated Tarquinius and his family, including his wife and son, both of whom were accused of horrible crimes.
The following anecdote may or may not be true, but it’s fun all the same, so I’ll tell it to you.

When the sons of Tarquinius travelled to Greece, their cousin, Lucius Brutus, went with them. The group visited the Oracle of Delphi where the priestess claimed she could tell the future, though she normally spoke in riddles, which made it hard to understand what she actually meant.
The sons of Tarquinius asked the Oracle of Delphi who would be the next King of Rome, and she answered that the first among them to kiss their mother would be the next king. Now Brutus decided that she was referring to Mother Earth, or Gaia, so on the way out he pretended to trip on a stone, and when he fell, he kissed the ground. He thought that this kiss would make him the eighth king of Rome. But that’s not quite what happened. In fact, history makes out that Brutus stood against the whole idea of kings.
When Brutus returned to Rome, King Tarquinius was away fighting a war against a rival city. Brutus went into the forum, which was the busy market place of Rome, and gave a speech urging the people to take power.
A mob rose up to seize the palace and bar the gates of the city so that Tarquinius could not return.

However, Brutus did not make himself King of Rome.Instead, he asked every Roman to take an oath swearing never to allow anyone to be king of Rome again. The oath of Brutus went something like this:

“I swear with the gods as my witness, to use sword, fire and any means to prevent Tarquinius, or any member of his wicked family, or anyone else from ruling Rome as king ever again.”

Brutus declared that Rome would be a Republic, which is a state without a king. Instead, the Senate, followed by a vote of the people, would choose two leaders called Consuls to jointly govern Rome for one year.

The First Consuls of Rome were Brutus and Valerius, but when they were elected, the fate of Rome was far from certain. Tarquinius gathered an army, and fought back. There was a battle between the forces of the new Republic and those of the former king. Brutus led the cavalry for the Republican side, and and in the midst of the battle, he jousted with one of the sons of Tarquinius. They both charged at each other on horseback and killed one another with their lances. Eventually, the Romans won the day and pushed the forces of Tarquinius back. When the one surviving consul, Valerius, returned to Rome, he held a magnificent funeral for Brutus, and it is said that the women of Rome mourned Brutus for an entire year, more because of his honour than his looks. 450 years later, a descendant of Brutus became equally famous when he took part in the assassination of Julius Caesar, who wanted to end the Republic and become a dictator of Rome.
But Tarquinius was no quitter. He joined forces with the Etruscans from Northern Italy, and their king Lars Porsena.

First of all, Lars Porsena sent messengers to Rome with demands to take Tarquinius back as their king. When the Romans refused, he declared war on them.

At first, the Etruscans defeated the Romans, who retreated back across the River Tiber. The way across the Tiber was over a wooden bridge. The Romans needed to destroy it to prevent the Etruscans following them. According to a famous story, a soldier called Horatius stood on the bridge over the River Tiber, guarding it against the entire Etruscan army. Horatius was a fierce soldier, who had lost an eye in battle, and his friends called him Cyclops after the race of one eyed giants. This Horatius single handedly fought off the Etruscans, while two of his fellow soldiers were working to cut down the bridge. When eventually, the bridge began to collapse, he jumped into the river still wearing full armour. The Etruscans. rained spears down on him, and one wounded him in the buttock, but somehow he managed to swim ashore and survive.

The inspirational story of Horatio’s courage lived on even after the fall of Rome. When Britain’s most famous Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was young, he learned an epic poem about the incident, by heart.

Churchill was not particularly good at lessons, but he managed to impress his teachers by reciting the poem in front of the school. The poem about this story may have inspired some of Churchill's famous speeches inspiring courage during World War II

These are a few lines from Horatius at the Bridge' by Thomas Babington Macaulay,

Then out spake brave Horatius
Captain of the gate
To every man upon this Earth
Death cometh soon or late
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods

Haul down the bridge, Sir Consul,
With all the speed ye may.
I, with two more to help me,
Will hold the foe in play.
In yon strait path a thousand
May well be stopped by three.
Now who will stand on either hand,
And keep the bridge with me?

In this episode of Storynory we heard quite a bit of Roman history and Legend. Here’s a quick recap. We learned how Romulus and Remus were abandoned as babies, and adopted by a wolf. Romulus went on to found the City of Rome and become its first king. There were seven kings in all, and the last, Tarquinius Superbus, was a cruel and arrogant ruler. A Roman Noble called Brutus overthrew him, and the Romans swore that they would never be ruled by Kings again. Instead they became a Republic. But Tarquinius fought back with the help of the Etruscans.. Brutus was killed in the first battle with the Etruscans. Then an Etruscan king called Lars Porsena attacked Rome and Horatius held the invaders off at the bridge.

There are more heroic stories about the founding of Rome. One day, I’ll return to tell you about them. But next week I very much hope that Jana will be back with the next episode in our Series, the Dutch Hotel.