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The Founding of Rome: Aeneas to Romulus

Updated on May 3, 2014
Aphrodite and Anchises
Aphrodite and Anchises | Source

The Birth of a Trojan Hero

For a complete telling of the war between the Torjans and the Greeks, please refer to my article For the founding of Rome, we need to focus on one hero, Aeneas, the son of Aphrodite and the Trojan prince, Anchises.

Aphrodite, being the goddess of love, was constantly causing the other gods and goddesses to fall in love with mortals and have children. Zeus was her favorite target, but he, not wanting to let anyone get away with playing games with him, caused her to fall in love with a mortal herself. The young man in question was Anchises, a member of the family that founded the city of Troy.

Although a prince of Troy, Anchises was living a normal life raising cattle near Mount Ida. When Aphrodite showed herself to him, Anchises knew instantly that she was a goddess and wanted nothing to do with her romantically out of fear he would be punished by the gods. He offered to make a sacrifice to her and then send her on her way. Aphrodite then lied telling him she was a mortal and a princess from Gordium, of King Midas fame, and that she would become his wife. Taking her at her word, Anchises fell in love with her and slept with her. She then put him to sleep while she got dressed. When she was ready, she took the form of a goddess, woke him and asked if she still looked the same. He knew now that she had lied and really was a goddess. This frightened him, as he was sure he would be punished for what they had done. Aphrodite then told him that he should not worry about being punished, as the gods loved him. She told him that she would bare him a son named Aeneas who would someday rule the kingdom of Troy. She also told him the nymphs, nature goddesses, of Mount Ida, would raise their son. She assured him the he would be allowed to see his infant son, but it would not be until Aeneas was five years old that Aphrodite would bring him to live with his father. She also warned him to tell no one that she was the boy's mother, or Zeus would strike him down with lightning. Following this warning, she left him as she found him. Once Aeneas had been brought to live with his father, Anchises, during a night of drinking, slipped up and told his friends that he had slept with Aphrodite, and she was the boy's mother. Zeus then struck him with a lightning bolt and he was left crippled by the attack.

Aphrodite Presenting Aeneas with Armor from Hephaestus
Aphrodite Presenting Aeneas with Armor from Hephaestus | Source

Aeneas Enters the War

During the Trojan War, Aeneas did not join the fighting. According to Homer, this was because both he and Priam, King of Troy, were grandsons of Tros, the founder of Troy, and since his mother, Aphrodite had predicted that her son would rule a kingdom he thought Troy should be his. This, however, did not stop Achilles from attacking him while he tended his cattle near Mount Ida. When Achilles attacked, Aeneas was not armed and ran away only to be followed by Achilles. When Achilles caught the son of Aphrodite, he nearly killed him before Zeus himself stepped in to save Aeneas. This insult, along with some pushing from Apollo who wanted the Trojans to win, was enough to draw him into the war. Wanting her son protected, Aphrodite then presented him with armor created by her husband, the blacksmith god Hephaestus.

Diomedes Attacks Aeneas
Diomedes Attacks Aeneas | Source

Aeneas vs. Diomedes

During the war, Aeneas found himself facing Diomedes, a mortal with the favor of Athena. Things did not work out too well for Aeneas, because Athena had given Diomedes the ability to see the gods. This meant that Diomedes could see Aeneas's mother, Aphrodite, who was ready to protect him. Diomedes first attacked the companion of Aeneas, Pandareus, taking him out with one throw of a spear right between the eyes. Instead of attacking Diomedes, Aeneas jumped in front of his friend afraid that his horses would drag the body away. This gave Diomedes's companion, Sthenelus, time to take Aeneas's horses, which were descendants of Zeus immortal stallions, and run off with them. Diomedes then picked up a giant rock and threw it at Aeneas. The rock struck him in the hip, taking him to the ground. Aphrodite then rushed in to rescue her injured son, but since Diomedes could see her, and had the permission of Athena to injure her as well, he threw his spear striking the goddess in the arm. Aphrodite dropped her son to the ground and fled in pain, but before Diomedes could kill Aeneas, Apollo swooped in to grab him. Diomedes then struck at the sun god, but after Apollo warned him to stop before he struck back, Diomedes allowed the god to take Aeneas away. Apollo took Aeneas to his home on Olympus where his own mother, Leto, and his sister, Artemis, healed his broken hip.

Aeneas Faces Achilles

Aeneas would be rescued one more time during the fighting of the Trojan War. Once Achilles returned to the fighting, following the death of Patroclus, he charged the walls of Troy looking for the one who had killed his beloved friend, Hector. Apollo once again pushed Aeneas to step forward. Despite Aeneas reminding him of how bad it had gone the first time he stood against Achilles and only lived because Zeus saved him, Apollo insisted that Aeneas could take him reminding him that Achilles was the son of a sea nymph while he, Aeneas, was the son of the great Aphrodite. Aeneas stepped forward and shocked Achilles who proceeded to make fun of him for running away the last time. Aeneas then reminded Achilles that not only was Aphrodite his mother, not some sea nymph, but that Zeus was his father seven generations back, and now that he has his armor and weapons, Achilles needed to shut up and fight. Achilles did and promptly threw his spear right through Aeneas's shield scaring Aphrodite's son nearly to death. Achilles then pulled out his sword to finish Aeneas off, while Aeneas grabbed a huge rock. Poseidon, who had been supporting the Greeks during the entire war, decided to step in and save Aeneas because Aeneas was supposed to lead the Trojans, and he felt bad that Apollo had goaded the kid into fighting Achilles then left him to die.

Aeneas Flees Troy with Anchises
Aeneas Flees Troy with Anchises | Source

Aeneas Leads His Family From Troy

Once the walls of Troy had been breached by the Greeks using the Trojan horse, Aeneas gathered up his wife Creusa and son Ascanius and carrying his crippled father Anchises over his shoulder, fled for Mount Ida with his men carrying the treasure of Troy. It quickly became apparent that the Aeneads, as his group of survivors were now called, would not be safe on Mount Ida and sailed off to find a new home. Sailing through the Mediterranean Sea, Aeneas stopped in several places including Pallene, Delos, Epirus and Sicily. In some of these locations, cities and temples were created in honor of the son of Aphrodite, hero of Troy. While at Sicily, Anchises died and was buried on the island. Aeneas also lost his wife Creusa along the journey. Eventually the Aeneads arrived in Latium along the coast of Italy. The city just happened to be named Troy.

Aeneas Rules with Latinus
Aeneas Rules with Latinus | Source
Aeneas Kills Turnus
Aeneas Kills Turnus | Source
Venus Anoints Aeneas Making Him a God
Venus Anoints Aeneas Making Him a God | Source

Aeneas Becomes a King

The king of the local territory, Latinus, originally thought to fight the Aeneads from his land, but decided that welcoming them and forming an alliance with Aeneas was in his better interest. Aeneas and his men then helped Latinus defeat his current enemy, the Rutulians. Latinus then offered his daughter, Lavinia, who had previously been promised to Turnus, the king of the Rutulians, to be Aeneas's wife. Because of the insult, Turnus soon stared another war against Latinus in which both kings were killed, Turnus by Aeneas's hand. Aeneas then became the king of Latium and founded the city of Lavinium in his wife's name.

Eventually, the Rutulians would attack again, but this time with the help of the Etruscans. Aeneas was killed in the battle. His mother, Venus (Roman Aphrodite) went to Jupiter (Roman Zeus) and pleaded for her son to be made a god. Jupiter agreed and brought Aeneas to Olympus where he became Jupiter Indiges. Ascanius, who was now going by the Latin name Iulus, became the king of his father's country. The House of Iulus (Julius) followed for generations. Two of its most well known sons were Julius Caesar and his nephew Octavian, also known as Caesar Augustus, first Emperor of Rome.

Mars with Rhea Silvia
Mars with Rhea Silvia | Source
Lupa with Remus and Romulus
Lupa with Remus and Romulus | Source

Birth of Remus and Romulus

Following the rule of Iulus, his son Silvius became king. Eleven generations later, the Latin king Procas had two sons, Numitor and Amulius. Though Amulius was the younger brother, he stole the thrown for himself and exiled his brother from the country. Amulius killed the sons of Numitor to prevent retaliation and forced his daughter Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin. Vesta (Roman Hestia) was a virgin goddess. Vestal Virgins served as priestesses of the goddess, and as part of their vow to serve her, took an oath to remain virgins for thirty years. Amulius thereby eliminated any chance of Numitor having grandchildren to retake the throne, or so he thought.

One day when Rhea went to collect water, she came upon a wolf. It scared her so badly she ran and hid in a cave. Unknown to her, Mars, the god of war (Roman Ares), was waiting for her. After forcing himself on her, he told her that she would have a special set of twins. Nine months later, she delivered twin boys, Remus and Romulus. Amulius, fearing what these two boys might do to him, sentenced the mother and babies to be drowned in the Tiber River. Rhea Silvia, because she had done nothing wrong, was given immortality and became the wife of the Tiberinus, the god of the Tiber River. The twins were set adrift on the river, but Tiberinus, now married to the mother of the two boys, caused the banks to overflow. When the water receded, the babies were left safely on the shore. A she-wolf named Lupa soon happened upon the infants. Lupa had recently lost her own pups and took the babies for her own.

When Remus and Romulus were old enough to eat food, a woodpecker provided food for the boys. This was no ordinary woodpecker, however. This particular one was the first king of Latium. Picus was known to be very handsome but also madly in love with his wife. When the sorceress, Circe, set her sights on him, he flatly rejected her. Circe would not settle for being turned down and turned Picus into a woodpecker. Years later, with woodpeckers being sacred to the god Mars, Picus was sent to provide for the god's infant sons.

Faustulus Brings the Twins Home
Faustulus Brings the Twins Home | Source

Eventually, the boys were found by a shepherd named Faustulus. Faustulus and his wife Acca Larentia had several children of their own and took the boys in raising them as their own. Remus and Romulus grew up as shepherds and defended their father, Faustulus's, land just as the other children did. The twins, however, always seemed to be more powerful than the rest of the children and became leaders of not only their brothers but of all the other shepherd boys in the area.

Remus and Romulus, as strong willed brothers, were often fighting with one another, and during one particular argument, Remus walked away with his group of followers, the Fabii. Remus was then kidnapped and taken to Numitor. Numitor, upon seeing the boy, was amazed at how much he looked like his late daughter Rhea. Remus then explained that he had a twin brother and told Numitor all of the tales of their lives. Numitor was convinced that Remus and Romulus were his lost grandsons. Meanwhile, Romulus and Faustulus set out to find his brother with Romulus's followers, the Quintilii. Now that the boys were reunited with their grandfather, and he explained how he was overthrown and their mother killed, the boys and their followers, set out to right the wrongs of Amulius and make him pay. In short order, Remus and Romulus killed their uncle, Amulius, and returned Numitor to the Latin throne.

Remus Jumping of the Walls
Remus Jumping of the Walls | Source

Romulus Kills Remus

Not wanting to leave their new homeland, Remus and Romulus returned to the Tiber River and worked to found a city on its banks. Quickly their fighting started once again. Remus wanted to build their new city on the Aventine hill. Romulus wanted them to build it on the Palatine hill. They soon started fighting over everything including a name for their new city. They boys finally decided to let the augury, a concept of interpreting the actions of birds as an omen for making important decisions, make the decision for them. Each boy climbed onto his hill and waited. Remus saw six vultures. He then went to tell his brother that the choice was his. As he climbed his brother's hill, twelve vultures flew past. Both boys, wanting to win, claimed victory, but their followers all agreed with Romulus because he had more vultures. Remus had no choice but to admit defeat, and the boys started building their city, Rome. After considerable effort was put into marking off the city, Romulus starts building a wall. Remus, still stinging at losing the fight over location, jumped over the wall and made fun of his brother. Romulus, upset with his brother's taunting, starting beating him and did not stop until his brother was dead. After coming to his senses, Romulus was heartbroken to have lost his brother. Once the city was finished and he took the throne, he set an empty throne next to his own for the spirit of his twin.

Rape of the Sabine Women
Rape of the Sabine Women | Source

Rape of the Sabine Women

Romulus, not happy with the fact that there were very few people in his city decided to invite others to move the Rome. Having killed himself, he invited other murders to take up residence. Now Romulus was the king of a city full of men. This did not suggest a sustained life for his city if there were no children. He set out to get a neighboring territory, Sabine, to agree to arranged marriages with their daughters, but they refused. Romulus decided to obtain women for his city another way. He announced a sporting competition in the name of the sea god, Neptune, and invited all of his neighbors. When time came for the Games of Neptunus Equestris, no one suspected the Romans were up to anything and everyone came bringing their families with them. During the games, the men of Rome started grabbing the Sabine virgins.

Romulus with the Spoils of War
Romulus with the Spoils of War | Source
Sabine Girl Separates Romulus and Tatius
Sabine Girl Separates Romulus and Tatius | Source

The women, or girls as they really were, did not want to stay until Romulus begged them to stay and become part of his great city. He explained that he had tried to arrange marriages, but their fathers had denied the Romans that right. He promised that the women would be respected, and they would be the mothers of the men of a great society. Eventually, they agreed, but the fathers of the stolen virgins were not going to let their daughters be stolen and do nothing about it. Several of the kings joined to fight the Romans for their daughters. Rome was successful fighting each of these in turn. Some of the battles occurred on soil of the other kings. Each time the Roman's came out victorious, many of the remaining citizens moved to Rome brining their city's treasures with them. When the king of the Sabines attacked, he almost defeated Rome with the help of a girl on the inside, Tarpeia. She was jealous of the Sabine girls and all their golden jewelry. In return for obtaining her own golden bracelets, she agreed to open the gates around Capitoline Hill and let King Tatius's men inside. She, of course, was killed for her efforts then thrown over the wall by the Sabines. Things got difficult for the Romans, but Romulus gave them a pep talk that rallied their spirits. When Romulus and his men started to get the upper hand, however, the Sabine women ran from the city and stood between their husbands and fathers to stop the fighting. Not only did the fighting stop but the Romans and Sabines agreed to become one big city. Tatius and Romulus ruled together until Tatius's death.

Romulus Ascending to Olympus
Romulus Ascending to Olympus | Source

Romulus Ascends to Olympus

Five years after the agreement with the Sabines, King Tatius was sent on what amounted to a suicide mission for some inappropriate dealings with the Laviniums. Romulus then became sole ruler of Rome, but he had instituted a Senate. He created a personal guard for himself, the Praetorian Guard. He established a vote to elect a number of officials with more authority than the Senate, known as the Tribune then spent twenty years expanding his territory. Romulus then received word that his grandfather, Numitor had died and the people of Lavinium wanted him to be their king. Romulus successfully brought them under Roman rule, but despite all of his efforts to create a society where the people ruled, as he grew older, Romulus began making decision without Senate approval. As it happened, Romulus, on his return from a public appearance with several senators, disappeared in a storm. According to Livy, some of the citizens began to suspect foul play, but one of the senators, Proculus, testified that he saw Romulus ascend into the heavens. When the people did not accept that answer, he experienced another amazing event. Romulus descended from the heavens in front of him and gave him a command, "Go, and tell the Romans that by heaven's will my Rome shall be capital of the world." From then on, the people of Rome knew a god had founded their city.


It is easy to discount the story of Rome's beginning as simply mythology, but the Romans do list Romulus as their first king. The Latin's also had a city, Alba Longa, whose first king was Latinus, followed by Aeneas, and Ascanius and the last two kings were Numitor and Romulus.

Perhaps Aeneas's mother was not Aphrodite and perhaps Romulus's father was not Mars, but the Romans loved their story and are still proud of it today.


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