Sun. May 31st, 2020

Rome unveils tomb that may belong to wolf-suckled king Romulus [photos]

An ancient tomb thought to belong to Rome’s founder Romulus will be presented to the world on 21 February 2020, bringing to a head months of investigation by history sleuths.

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The 6th century BC stone sarcophagus, with an accompanying circular altar, was discovered under the Forum in the heart of Italy’s capital decades ago, but experts could not agree on whether or not it belonged to the fabled figure.

According to legend, Romulus founded the city after killing his twin brother Remus.

The brothers had been raised by a she-wolf – the symbol of Rome shows them sucking at her teats – but later fell out over where to build the new metropolis.

Romulus acquired a cult following, making it more than plausible that the ancient city built a shrine to its beloved legendary – and possibly mythical – founder.

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Photo: AFP/Filippo MONTEFORTE

Historians have long been divided not only over whether the pair actually existed, but if so where Romulus’ body – which was reportedly dismembered after his death by angry senators – may have been buried.

The Colosseum Archaeological Park, which manages the Forum where the sarcophagus lies, said recent clues all pointed to it being the founder’s tomb, in what it labelled an “extraordinary discovery”.

The Forum was the beating heart of the Roman Empire and historical sources refer to Romulus’s possible burial in that area. No bones were found inside the sarcophagus.

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An ancient tomb thought to belong to Rome’s founder Romulus is pictured on 21 February 2020 at the Curia – Comitium in the Roman Forum of Rome, during its presentation to the media. The 6th century BC stone sarcophagus, with an accompanying circular altar, was discovered under the Forum in the heart of Italy’s capital decades ago. Photo: AFP/Filippo MONTEFORTE

‘Rome’s political birth’

“These two archaeological objects (sarcophagus and altar) have given rise to a hypothesis we can now debate,” Italian archaeologist Paolo Carafa told AFP.

Romulus, made popular by writers such as Livy, Ovid and Plutarch, is said to have ploughed a square furrow around the Palatine Hill to demarcate the walls of the future city.

When a mocking Remus hopped over the “wall” to prove how ineffective it would be against invaders, his brother killed him.

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A person stands by the access to an ancient tomb thought to belong to Rome’s founder Romulus on 21 February 2020 at the Curia – Comitium in the Roman Forum of Rome, within its presentation to the media. Photo: AFP/Filippo MONTEFORTE

A team of scientists carrying out a dig in the late 1980s discovered a long, deep gash marked by large stones, which they claimed was the “sacred furrow” ploughed by Romulus. 

Legend has it he went on to establish the Roman senate and rule as the city’s first king for nearly 40 years, before disappearing into thin air one day while out inspecting his troops.

Some versions of the tale have him taken up to heaven by the god of war while others have him brutally murdered by jealous senators who tore him limb from limb and scattered his body parts across the city.

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This undated photo handout on 21 February 2020 by the Archaeological Park of the Colosseum (Parcolosseo) in Rome shows the access to a chamber where an ancient tomb is thought to belong to Rome’s founder Romulus, at the Curia – Comitium in Rome. Photo: AFP/Archaeologica Park Of The Colosseum – Parcolosseo

There may consequently have been no body to bury. In any case, Romulus acquired a cult following, making it more than plausible that the ancient city built a shrine to its beloved legendary – and possibly mythical – founder.

“Whether Romulus existed or not is not important,” Carafa said. “What matters is that this figure is considered by the ancients to mark the political birth of the city.”

Franck Iovene © Agence France-Presse

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