A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Archaeologist Andrea Carandini claims he has evidence for a flesh-and-blood Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome. Many of his colleagues dispute his interpretation, believing Romulus to be a mythic figure. Who's right? In this special report, we present both sides of the debate, plus interviews with Carandini and critic Albert Ammerman.
Excavations in the Forum may support the legend of Romulus and Remus. (Photos.com)
April 21, 753 B.C.—After being raised by a she-wolf along the banks of the Tiber River, the orphan twins Romulus and Remus decide to found a city. They consult the augurs to see which of them will be king, and the answer comes back: "Romulus." So he marks out a sacred boundary on the Palatine Hill and orders his men to dig a ditch and build a wall around it. Remus, in a fit of jealousy and rage, jumps over the wall. For this sacrilegious transgression, Romulus kills his brother and goes on to fulfill the prophecy by becoming the first king of Rome.
For more than 2,000 years, historians have made a living poking holes in this legend, pointing out that there are inconsistent versions of the story and that parts of it are simply impossible. But over the past two decades, Italian archaeologist Andrea Carandini has uncovered startling evidence in the heart of the Roman Forum that seems to confirm parts of the myth. A professor at the University of Rome, Carandini is one of the deans of contemporary Italian archaeology. His discoveries include a wall (possibly the sacred boundary of legend) and a "royal palace" that he has connected to Rome's earliest years. Based on this evidence he argues that Romulus was a real historical figure. His defense of Rome's mythic origins, which has earned him the admiration of the Roman public but the disapproval of many of his colleagues, represents a sharp break with two millennia of scholarship.
Andrew Slayman is a former ARCHAEOLOGY editor and the director of ArtfulMedia. Marco Merola is ARCHAEOLOGY's Naples's correspondent.