The day before yesterday was Rome’s 2769th birthday. Legend says the city was founded on the 21st April, 753 BCE. Which is extremely specific for a legend. I always feel one could add “at about half past three in the afternoon”.
Forgive me if you’re more than familiar with the legend, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to rattle through it just in case you’d like reminding.
The story began in Albalonga, in the long extinct (even then) volcanic hills south of Rome. It was here that the good king Numitor, distant descendent of the Trojan hero Aeneas, ruled. However, as good kings so often do, he had a bad brother. The wicked brother did away with the good king and his sons, only sparing Numitor’s daughter Rhea Silvia. The princess was forced to become a Vestal virgin, a priestess of Vesta, and her chasteness would guarantee he would reign unrivalled.
However Mars, god of war, had other ideas. He had his wicked way with Rhea Silvia and she gave birth to twin sons, Romulus and Remus. They had to be removed from the equation and the bad king’s henchmen had them abandoned in a basket in the river. The boys washed up in an inlet of the Tiber where they were found by a she-wolf who suckled them, and a shepherd called Faustulus brought them up as his sons. As they grew older they started arguing about who should be in charge. Romulus founded his settlement on the Palatine Hill; Remus, tradition says, on the Aventine.
Their rivalry came to a head on that magical date, 21st April 753 BC (just before tea time). Romulus was thrown into a fit of rage by his brother, who mocked his fortifications of the Roma Quadrata. Remus was slain and Romulus became the unchallenged ruler of the city which would take his name, and Roma was born. There is a nicer and less bloody version, which says that Remus fled north and founded Siena.
This year to celebrate the foundation of Rome, my father (visiting from London) and I took a spin around the ever splendid Capitoline Museums. We said hello to the she-wolf which is the symbol of the city (and indeed also of Siena), and watched a police brass band play the national anthem with panache.