Romulus and Remus

King Amulius was furious. His had just learned that his niece, Rhea Silvia, had given birth to twins even though she was a Vestal Virgin and had vowed to remain chaste.

The king paced up and down the palace corridors trying to decide what he should do. Finally reaching a decision, he ordered his men to bring Rhea Silvia to him.

When his men returned, the king was sitting in the throne room on his ornately carved chair, his face flushed with rage. The men shoved the frail young woman toward the king, and she slumped in a heap on the floor.

King Amulius looked at his young niece and snapped, "Mars, you say? The god of war made you with child? Am I to believe such an impossible story?"

As Rhea Silvia looked up at her uncle, her sad, green eyes filled with tears. She pleaded, "You must believe me. Mars is the father of my twins. He took me against my will in the gods' sacred grove. It is not my fault."

With no pity and little remorse, Amulius got up from his great chair and walked toward the door. As he left the regal throne room, he muttered, "There will never be an heir to this throne. Never." Then, turning to his men, he ordered, "Take her away, and see that she and the twins are thrown into the Tiber River. And be quick."

Rhea Silvia was terrified as the king's men snatched the basket in which her sons slept peacefully and dragged her and the innocent infants down to the river. Weeks of rain had caused the river to overflow its banks, and it was obvious that there were many deep sections in which Rhea Silvia and her babies could easily drown in the fast-flowing water.

The king's men carried out their grisly deed, disposing of the mother and children in the river. The young woman was unable to stay afloat, and soon her limp body was washed down the river and out to sea. Somehow, though, the basket carrying her twin boys drifted down the river until it became caught in the roots of an olive tree jutting out from the banks. When their basket stopped its gentle swaying movements from being carried along the current, the twins began to cry.

A she-wolf hunting along the river's edge followed the sound of their cries until she discovered the twins in their basket. The she-wolf rubbed her soft snout against their bodies until they stopped crying.

Then, she carefully lifted them, one at a time, from their woven basket and carried them back to her cave on the hillside overlooking the river. Throughout many nights, she warmed and comforted the little babies, allowing them to nurse from her whenever they grew hungry.

One day, Faustulus, a shepherd for King Amulius, was walking along the banks of the Tiber when he spotted a she-wolf out hunting. Believing this she-wolf had been responsible for stealing several of his lost sheep, he followed her back to her hillside cave. But instead of lost sheep, Faustulus saw two young boys in the shelter of the cave.

At once, Faustulus realized they were the answer to his prayers. The young shepherd and his wife had been childless for many years; here were the children they had dreamed about. "I will wait," he whispered to himself. "I will wait until the boys are left alone."

As dusk approached, the she-wolf left her cave to do the day's hunting. As soon as she had gone, Faustulus sneaked inside the cave and gathered up the babies. He tucked one little boy under each arm and raced home to his wife, Laurentia. When she saw the two beautiful baby boys, Laurentia was overcome with joy.

Quickly, she made a small bed in one corner of their tiny hut, lined it with thick sheepskins, and began tending to the children's every need. The couple named them Romulus and Remus. Days turned into months and months into years. The twin boys were diligent sons who helped to care for the house and tended the sheep with their father.

As they grew older, however, the boys grew bored with shepherding. One day, Remus suggested to his brother that they follow a band of local robbers who stole from farms in the area. Remus plan was to steal from the robbers and distribute the loot among their friends.

Romulus, on the other hand, believed that his brother's game was dangerous and was reluctant to go along with the plan. Eventually, however, he was persuaded to join his brother. Romulus followed Remus to the robbers' lair. The boys carried away fresh fruits and vegetables, tools, and whatever valuables they could find, and herded up some stolen sheep, as well.

Together they took the booty off to distribute among their friends. The game was fun - they liked robbing the robbers. But one day when Remus was out alone, one of the robbers came back to his lair, grabbed him, and twisted his arm behind his back. "You will pay for this," the robber sneered at Remus, "and you will be punished by the king himself."

Remus began to sweat as the robber dragged him down the road to the king's palace. The angry robber pounded hard on the palace door until an attendant finally opened it. "The king must see this thief. Take me to him," the robber demanded in such a loud and confident voice that the attendant was too startled to argue. Puzzled, the attendant led the man to the elegant chamber of the king.

In his most humble and respectful voice, the robber said, "Sire, I have caught a thief who dares to steal sheep from your brother Numitor's herd," lied the robber, who had made up the story hoping that the king would put the boy to death.

The king thought the situation over for a moment and said with impatience, "I have no time for young thieves. Take him to my brother. He can do the punishing."

The attendant quickly pushed Remus and the robber out the palace door and pointed in the direction of Numitor's house. As the men approached the house, the robber called out, "Brother of the king, come out. King Amulius has asked me to deliver the boy who has been stealing your sheep."

When Numitor opened the door of his house, he was shocked. There, dressed in shabby clothes, stood a handsome young boy with an unmistakable likeness to his dead daughter, Rhea Silvia. But before the king's brother could speak, the robber began, "This is the boy who stole your sheep. I caught him, and King Amulius has given you the task of punishing him." Then, the robber added slyly, "Perhaps you will reward me for my efforts, Sire?"

But before Numitor could respond, the shepherd Faustulus, accompanied by a second young man almost identical to the first, came tramping into the house. Numitor staggered backward. Rhea Silvia’s piercing green eyes shone from this young man's face, too.

The old man realized that he was face-to-face with the two grown grandsons he had thought were dead. Tears came to Numitor's eyes as he muttered, "You are my grandsons, the twin sons of my dear daughter Rhea Silvia and the god Mars. Oh, dear children, where have you been?"

For the first time, the poor shepherd Faustulus realized that the babies he had taken from the she-wolf on the banks of the Tiber were no ordinary children but the sons of a royal princess and a god. Shaking with fear, Faustulus explained what had happened and asked Numitor's forgiveness for having kept the boys and raised them as his own.

Then Numitor explained that he, not King Amulius, was the rightful king of Alba Longa and that his brother had stolen the throne. All at once, the humble shepherd replied, "But Amulius has not succeeded. Happily, your heirs have survived, and with our help, you will regain the throne."

Later that evening, Faustulus, the twins, and a group of neighboring shepherds gathered in Numitor's courtyard. They waited until darkness enveloped the palace. Then, they crept into the chamber of King Amulius and took him by surprise. The king called out for his men, but before they could arrive, the shepherds, led by Numitor and the twins, killed King Amulius.

Numitor, his twin grandsons, Faustulus, and Laurentia went to live in the palace. Numitor was so grateful to the couple for having taken such good care of his grandsons that he treated them as part of the royal family. Romulus and Remus were happy because they had been reunited with their grandfather, and they did not have to leave their doting adoptive parents.

Numitor appeared before his people and explained that he was their rightful ruler. He told how his evil brother had usurped the throne many years before. He also disclosed his brother's plot to eliminate all heirs to the throne and explained that Amulius had been killed by men who were defending themselves, not for revenge.

Numitor quickly resumed his place on the throne, and the people rejoiced. After many years, Alba Longa prospered and expanded under Numitor's exemplary rule, so much so that King Numitor asked his twin grandsons to build another city nearby to ease the overcrowding.

However, as their grandfather and uncle had done, the twins argued about who would be ruler. Since they were twins and neither could claim to be the elder, the boys agreed to hold a competition to resolve the issue. They agreed to let the gods decide the winner and send down an omen indicating their choice for the ruler of the new city.

"I will wait for a sign from the gods on Palatine Hill," said Romulus.

"And I will wait on Aventine Hill," said Remus.

Shortly thereafter, six large, black vultures landed on Aventine Hill, and Remus was very happy. Then, twelve large, black vultures landed on Palatine Hill, and Romulus cheered. Remus' followers argued that because the first vultures had landed on their hill, Remus should be the ruler. In contrast, Romulus' followers argued that because the greater number of vultures had landed on Palatine Hill,
Romulus should be the ruler.

Some legends tell of a terrible battle between the two brothers and their people and that Remus was killed during the fighting. The most popular legend tells that Romulus was certain that he should be the new king, so he had an earthen wall built around Palatine Hill.

To show Romulus that a wall was no threat to him, Remus jumped over it. Remus defiance angered his brother so much that he flew into a rage and killed him. Romulus then warned Remus followers that the same fate would befall anyone else who dared to jump over the wall.

Soon afterward, Romulus was proclaimed king and a new city was built on Palatine Hill. The city was named Rome, after its celebrated founder.

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