Tradition tells us much about the illustrious ancestors of the founder of Rome.
Perhaps twenty generations before the birth of Romulus, his ancestor Tros founded the kingdom of Troy in Anatolia. Ilus, son of Tros, founded what became the kingdom’s foremost city on the Hellespont (today’s Dardanelles). Ilus named his city Ilion after himself. The title of Homer’s book the Iliad means “the story of Ilion.” The city later became better known as Troy.
Ilus had a son named Laomedon and through him a grandson named Priam. Priam was the last king of Troy before it fell in 1184 BC to Hellenes under Agamemnon during the Trojan War. Ilus also had a daughter named Themiste and through her a second grandson named Anchises. Priam, then, was first cousin to Anchises who was also a prince of the city and kingdom of Troy.
To punish Venus for causing him trouble, Jupiter drove her delirious with lust for the mortal Anchises. After Venus seduced Anchises, she told him she would give birth to a son named Aeneas. Nymphs cared for the boy until he is five when Venus brought him to his father. Anchises raised the boy in Troy where he grew up with his second cousins Hector and Paris.
During the Trojan War, Aeneas provided close support to his cousin Hector and was helped by his mother Venus as well as the gods Apollo and Poseidon. When, after ten years of war, Troy was burning, Aeneas carried his father Anchises on his back as he guided his own young son Ascanius by the hand to safety. After an ill-fated sojourn at Carthage, Aeneas and his companions arrived safely in Latium.
Tradition tells us enough about the violent beginnings of Rome.
Generations after the safe arrival of Aeneas in Latium, a descendant of his named Numitor, prince of Alba Longa near Rome, had a daughter named Rhea Silvia. She was raped by Mars, god of war, and later gave birth to twin boys Romulus and Remus (771 BC). Her uncle Amulius, who had usurped his older brother Numitor’s throne, ordered the twins murdered as potential threats to his power. Abandoned on the Tiber’s bank at what would become the site of Rome, they were adopted first by a female wolf and soon thereafter by a shepherd and his wife who raised the boys as their own. Romulus and Remus later learned their true identity and, together with their grandfather Numitor, overthrew Amulius. They then left Alba Longa to found their own city (753).
Romulus and Remus agreed on the site for their city but disagreed on which of the seven hills to start construction: the Palatine, sight of the cave in which Luca, the nursing wolf, saved them, or the Aventine. The argument grew hot and Romulus ended up killing his brother. He then founded Rome on the Palatine, became its first king, and ruled for 37 years until his death in 716.
Leaders of cities near Rome refused to allow their women to marry any man in predominantly male and rowdy Rome. Romulus threw a spectacular municipal party attended by people from all these cities and then, at the right moment, had each eligible Roman man grab a likely female partner and carry her off as his wife. Most of these women were Sabines. This event has been recounted through the centuries in stories, paintings, sculptures, and movies.
The fathers and brothers of these women launched a series of attacks against Rome to get their sisters and mothers back. Romulus promised Jupiter to build a temple in his honor in gratitude for his initial victory. It became the first temple built in Rome. The Sabines then attacked Rome. Romulus and his men were saved from death only by their Sabine wives who interceded on their behalf with the attacking Sabine men.
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