Experts May Have Identified the Long Lost Tomb of Romulus, Founder of Rome
Myths were very important in the ancient world. The Roman myth of Romulus and Remus is one such example and many believe that it is based on real-life events. Now experts claim that they may have located the over 2,500-year-old ‘tomb’ of Romulus - the legendary founder and king of Rome. They theorize that this sarcophagus is located underground in the heart of the city. The tomb was a symbol of the founder of the city on the Tiber and will not contain any remains which would prove his historical existence.
Romulus is often stated as having founded Rome in 753 BC. He established the city after he murdered his brother Remus in a fight about where the city should be built. Despite his bloody deed, Romulus was revered in ancient Rome both in the Republic and later during the Empire. Many areas associated with him, such as the Lupercal cave where he and his brother found refuge as abandoned infants, were of great significance in the city and regarded as sacred places. However, the actual tomb of Romulus has been lost for centuries, despite it being documented in records as being built in the 4th century BC.
Romulus plowed a furrow to delineate the periphery of Rome. (Public Domain)
Has the Long-Lost Tomb of Romulus Been Found?
Now, Italian archaeologists believe that they have found the tomb of the founder of Rome underneath the Forum. This was once the most important public space in the city; it was the area where the Senate met and where the early kings of Rome resided. A team of experts led by Patrizia Fortini decided to investigate ancient sources to identify the long-lost location of Romulus’ sarcophagus.
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The Forum Romanum. View facing north east from above the Portico Dii Consentes. (DannyBoy7783/GNU Free Documentation License)
The focused their attention on the Forum because there was a Cult dedicated to Romulus practiced there for centuries until the Christianization of the Empire. The Telegraph reports that Fortini and her team investigated many ‘’classical texts, including accounts by Horace and Livy, as well as records left by a 19th-century archaeologist, Giacomo Boni’’. In particular, they re-examined an account by Boni in which he claimed that he found an archaic Roman stone casket. The Italian archaeologists now believe that this is the actual tomb of Romulus, but it was not recognized as such at the time.
The Telegraph quotes Fortini as stating that she and her team are working on the assumption that the sarcophagus discovered by Boni ‘’is linked to the cult of Romulus”. The 19th century archaeologist left the casket in place and sealed it up again. However, he did identify the location of his find and this means that archaeologists now can readily locate the stone casket, which may be that of the first king of Rome.
‘The Pride of Romulus’ (detail). (Public Domain)
The experts believe that the casket of the founder of Rome is some 10 feet (3 meters) beneath the ground under marble paving that dates from the era of the Roman Emperors in the Forum. It is near the Lapis Niger, an ancient shrine with the oldest Latin inscription that ‘’was venerated by the Roman people as the location of the tomb of Romulus’’ according to the Forum Romanum website. This was the center of the cult of Rome’s first king and founder. The proposed site of the sarcophagus is also not far from the Comitium, an open space where public and religious assemblies were held in Rome.
The Lapis Niger (i.e. Black Stone), an ancient inscription in Old Latin from a cultic site where the Roman Forum now stands, perhaps the earliest Latin inscription dating to the 7th or 6th century BC, during the Roman Kingdom. (Sailko/CC BY SA 3.0)
No human remains expected to be found
The experts do not expect to find any human remains in the stone casket. It was made to commemorate the achievements of Romulus and to honor his memory and was buried some 300 years after his alleged founding of Rome. This means that the discovery will not prove if he was a real historical figure. The fact that no remains will be found does not disprove that he did not exist either. It is widely accepted by academics and experts that the foundation myths of cities in the ancient world were always based on some historical event.
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‘Romulus being taken up to Olympus by Mars’ by Jean-Baptiste Nattier. (Public Domain)
If the team’s thesis is correct and they eventually unearth the tomb of Romulus it will be conserved and eventually opened to the public. It will be another one of the many historic attractions in the Roman Forum. However, proving conclusively that the casket that was originally found by Boni is that of Romulus could prove difficult. By coincidence, a motion picture on the early history of Rome and its foundation is also currently on general release in Italy.
A still from a new film about Romulus - Il Primo Re (The First King). (The Telegraph)
Top Image: Ruins of Roman Forum in Rome, Italy during sunrise. (twindesigner /Adobe Stock) Insert: Denarius featuring the laureate, long-haired, and bearded head of Quirinus (Romulus). (Classical Numismatic Group, Inc./CC BY SA 3.0)
By Ed Whelan