ROMULUS, the legendary eponymous founder and first king (753-716?) of Rome, represented as the son of Mars by the Vestal Rhea Silvia or Ilia, daughter of Numitor, who had been dispossessed of the throne of Alba by his younger brother Amulius. Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of Silvia, were placed in a trough and cast into the Tiber by their granduncle. The trough grounded in the marshes where Rome afterwards stood, under the wild fig tree (ficus ruminalis), which was still holy in later days. The babes were suckled by a she-wolf and fed by a woodpecker, and then fostered by Acca Larentia, wife of the shepherd Faustulus. They became leaders of a warlike band of shepherds on the Palatine, and in course of time were recognized by their grandfather, whom they restored to his throne, slaying the usurper Amulius. They now proposed to found a city on the site where they had been nurtured; but a quarrel for precedence broke out and Remus was slain. Romulus strengthened his band by offering an " asylum " to outcasts and fugitives, found wives for them by capture and waged war with their kinsmen. His most formidable foe was Titus Tatius (q.v.), king of the Sabines, but after an obstinate struggle he and Romulus united their forces and reigned side by side till Tatius was slain at Lavinium in the course of a blood-feud with Laurentum. Romulus then reigned alone till he suddenly disappeared in a storm. He was thereafter worshipped as a god under the name of Quirinus, which, however, is really a Sabine form of Mars. The story of Romulus, best preserved in the first book of Livy (see also Dion. Halic. i. 75-ii. 56; Plutarch, Romulus; Cicero, de Republica, ii. 2-10), belongs throughout to legend. This was felt in later times by the Romans themselves, who gave a rationalistic explanation of the miraculous incidents. Thus, Mars was converted into a stranger disguised as the god of war, and the she-wolf into a woman of ill-fame (lupa); Romulus was not taken up into heaven, but put to death and carried away piecemeal by the patricians under their cloaks.
The whole story, probably first given by the annalists Fabius Pictor and Cincius Alimentus, contains religious and aetiological elements. The foundation of the city by twins may be explained by the worship of the Lares, who are generally represented as a pair of brothers, especially as the mother of Romulus and Remus was connected with the worship of the hearth of the state. The introduction of the wolf may be of Greek or eastern origin; it may have a totemistic significance; or may be due to the ficus ruminalis, the fig tree near the Lupercal on the Palatine, where the twins were first exposed. This tree was sacred to a goddess Rumina (ruma, " breast," whence the suckling incident), and the resemblance between Romulus and ruminalis led to the fig tree and the founder of the city being subsequently connected by the Roman antiquarians. The wolf would then be suggested by the proximity of the Lupercal, the grotto of Faunus Lupercus, with whom the shepherd Faustulus is identical. According to Professor Ducati of Bologna, in a paper on an old Etruscan stele, on which a she-wolf is represented suckling a child, the wolf legend is an importation from Etruria, the original home of which was Crete. Miletus, son of Apollo and a daughter of Minos, having been exposed by his mother, was suckled by she-wolves, being afterwards found and brought up by shepherds. To escape the designs of Minos, Miletus fled to Asia Minor, and founded the city called after him, where the Etruscans first became acquainted with the legend. The opening of the " asylum " is a Greek addition (as the name itself suggests). Down to imperial times, the Romans seem to have been ignorant of the Greek custom of taking sanctuary; further, the idea was entirely opposed to the exclusive spirit of the ancient Italians. The story was probably invented to give an explanation of the sacred spot named " Inter duos lucos " between the arx and the Capitol. Another Greek touch is the deification of an eponymous hero. The rape of the Sabine women is clearly aetiological, invented to account for the custom of marriage by capture. Census, at whose festival the rape took place, was a god of the earth and crops, the giver of fruitfulness in plants and animals. It is generally agreed that the capture of the Capitol by Titus Tatius may contain an historical element, pointing to an early conquest of Rome by the Sabines, of which there are some indications. Subsequently, to efface the recollection of an event so distasteful to Roman vanity and national pride, Sabine names and customs were accounted for by a supposed union of Romans and Sabines during the regal period, the result of a friendly league concluded between Romulus and Tatius. According to E. Pais, Romulus is merely the eponym of Roma; his life is nothing but the course of the Sun, and the institutions ascribed to him are the result of long historical development.
Romulus, like his double Tullus Hostilius, is regarded as the founder of the military and political (see ROME), as Numa and his counterpart Ancus Marcius of the religious institutions of Rome.
For a critical examination of the story, see Schwegler, Romische Geschichte, bks. viii.-x. ; Sir George Cornewall Lewis, Credibility of early Roman History, chap. 1 1 ; W. Ihne, History of Rome, \. ; Sir J. Seeley, Introduction to his edition of Livy, bk. i.; E. Pais, Storia di Roma (1898), i. pt. I, and Ancient Legends of Roman History (Eng. trans., 1906) ; also O. Gilbert, Geschichte und Topographic der Stadt Rom im Altertum (1883-1885).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)