It’s known by archeology and ethnology in general, that more than thirty thousand years ago, the modern man already lived at the Italian peninsula, and eight thousand, in the neolithic era, ligurian tribes settled to the north and sicel tribes to the south. Around 1000 BC nothing could presage that a territory inhabited by backward people, could get to be the biggest center of power and culture of all antiquity, since at the Near East (mainly hittites, assyrians, babylonians and phoenicians), Egypt and Crete, for example, advanced civilizations had already flourished. They shone enough in many aspects for leaving an indelible mark on history and presenting a more promising candidacy to the absolute hegemony than the roman’s ancestors.
At the time, something shook the world at the continental Europe that pushed the Peoples of the North to the south. These peoples dominated the iron while the south civilized armies used bronze. They ended with some of these civilizations and because of in Italy they did not exist they supposed an advance for that territory. These invaders are known in this peninsula as Villanovans because of some remains found in the suburbs of Villanova in Bologne. It is believed that from the fusion of these Peoples of the North with Ligurians and sicels, the Umbri emerged, as well as the Sabines and Latins
During the next centuries the next focuses of power that would take the lead on the first steps in the roman history were consolidated:
By sea appeared mainly the Greeks and the Phoenicians. The first established multiple colonies by the Mediterranean and, among other enclaves, those that interest us are those of the eastern part of Trinacria (primitive name used by the Greeks to name the island due to its three-pointed shape), later known as Sicily (located to the southwest of the peninsula whose name comes from that people that had been in the area for some time and the oldest one that is recorded in the island: the Sicels), where Syracuse stands out, founded in 734 BC. Also in the southeast extreme of the Italian peninsula they founded prosperous cities, where Taranto stands out, founded around 707 BC. This area enjoyed such splendor that over time it was known as Magna Graecia.
On the other hand, the Phoenicians, eminently commercial people and great sailors, from the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, established multiple factories on the western side. Among the many cities that established by North Africa, Carthage stood out, founded in 814 BC, being the closest to Sicily (150 km) and to Italy (460 km), and in a few centuries would dispute the leadership to Rome endangering even its own existence. In Sicily they occupied the western part.
By land arose the first developed civilization, that of the Etruscans, who called themselves rasena and by the Greeks tyrrhenoi (here we have the etymological origin of the Tyrrhenian Sea and its area of influence). The Etruria region stretched through central Italy from the Tiber River to the Arno River, located 360 km northwest. Its origin is still not entirely clear and its language is still a mystery, although there are theories that point to its descendant from the Villanovans, others to peoples of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) fleeing just from the invading Villanovans of that territory (accepted theory in times of Rome and that could have good part of truth), others to very old peoples corresponding to populations previous to the migration of Indo-European (like the Basques), and others that mix several of these possible origins to give as a result of miscegenation to the Etruscan civilization.
Its art had a strong oriental influence, something that does not have to prove the theory of Asia Minor due to the abundant commercial flow. Religion was centered on death, like the Egyptians, and they erected elaborate tombs. Its technology was at the forefront of its time: cities very well built with walls composed of large blocks of stone embedded without cement, they had advanced communication channels and perforated tunnels, they had larger temples than the Greeks and used the arch in them, which they did not do. They also had games, celebrations and rites (such as the triumphal, of city government, and divinatory) and from all of this widely drank the Roman culture. The Etruscans enjoyed the regional hegemony and its maximum splendor between the years 700-500 BC dominating central Italy, reaching the northern lands of the Po and the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. They had almost all the necessary to become the dominant people, but also a defect that equaled them to the Greeks of their time: a political system around city-states formed by coalitions not too cohesive at certain moments that allowed later that Rome defeated them separately, even though it was weaker than each of them separately. The most bloody and long-lasting confrontation was against the city-state of Veii, a conflict that lasted many years and comparable to what it had in Republican times with Carthage. They were wars to the death, and after the victories were thoroughly engaged in the task of erasing their tracks. Long before, around the year 900 BC the Latin League was formed, a coalition of 30 cities belonging to Latium, the existing district on the other side of the Tiber River (the frontier then), with the same customs and the same language (Latin) and surely formed to protect themselves from the growing power of the Etruscans. The domain of this coalition was exercised by Alba Longa, who together with Lavinium, are considered the precursors of Rome. The first one was located only 20 km away of it and the second 53 km.
The legends (many of them of Greek origin) tell us the story of their mythical birth. About the legends there is usually a lot of idealization and sometimes, as in this case, something of truth. According to the Aeneid, written by Virgil in the first century BC the following events happened:
The main protagonist is Aeneas, son of the Trojan hero Anchises and the goddess Venus, protector of Troy, who fled from this city with his son Ascanius (also known as Julus or Iulus). He was a widower of Creusa, the daughter of the kings of Troy Priam and Hecuba. He saved his father from destruction but later he died in Sicily. Then he took refuge in Latium with his son, where he agreed with the Latin king and married his daughter Lavinia. In his honor he founded the city of Lavinium (precursor of Rome and in its beginnings the main center of the Latin League). Before that Aeneas had to fight against the Rutulians and their allies, since their leader, Turnus, was disgusted at having been denied the marriage previously agreed with the Latin king.
Later, Ascanius founded the city of Alba Longa (another precursor of Rome and ultimately the main center of the Latin League). There twelve kings succeed him (a lineage of Latin kings). The niece of the last of them (Rea Silvia) has two children with the god Mars: Romulus and Remus, whose uncle Amulius, who had dethroned his brother and firstborn: Numitor, throws to the banks of the Tiber to erase all offspring that could claim the throne. The famous wolf saves and nurses them in a Palatine grotto, until they are discovered and bred by Faustulus and Larentia. Titus Livius points out by historical vocation that the wolf would be Larentia, since she was denominated lupula by the shepherds of the zone, being this term used as much to designate wolves as women who practised the prostitution, later becoming part of the symbolic legend by a very appropriate misrepresentation of the meaning of the word. As for the aforementioned paternity of Mars, it is probably due to Rea Silvia was raped after being forced to enter the college of priestesses of the goddess Vesta (a very old institution that would last until the absolute implantation of Christianity), whose mission was to watch over the sacred fire that guaranteed the security of the State and that could never be extinguished. The service of these vestal maidens was 30 years and demanded absolute chastity, an obligation whose infraction supposed to be buried alive. Later, as expected, Rea Silvia is executed by order of King Amulius.
Time goes by, the twins grow and when they are strong enough they manage to regain their position in Alba Longa and restore Numitor to the throne. Immediately they ask permission to the king to found a new city, something that is granted to them, and together with other young people they march with the little they have in search of a favourable place. There was a custom quite common in this period due to the surplus of population: shortly after puberty groups of men went in search of new enclaves or were integrated into similar ones. Finally they decide to found a new city in a place where the omens are favourable. It is precisely a site next to the Tiber River, the border with Etruria, on a beautiful hill: the Palatine. Despite its beauty, with views of the Alban Hills, to the north the snow-capped peaks of the Apennine Mountains and a river that flowed sweetly to the nearby sea, the entire surrounding region was a wasteland depopulated by malaria. In that location Romulus sees twelve vultures, while his brother Remus sees six. After this and following traditions of Etruscan origin, Romulus furrows with a plow pulled by a white ox and a cow the margins that would be walled in this new city, taking care to lift it in the places where the citizens would penetrate. Remus reacts mockingly through the furrow and his brother assassinates him saying: «So perish every one else that shall hereafter leap over my wall». This crime comes to give meaning to an inviolability of the city that for many centuries would be maintained. At that time they could get to work in the construction of a new city without being able to imagine the fate that awaited them.
Next, Romulus and his companions, strive to open in the center of the hill the sacred place, the mundus, digging a well where all the new citizens would deposit a handful of land from their place of origin. The legend assured that this well was a gateway to the underworld. At the present time some remains of the Umbilicus Urbis Romae (the navel of Rome) of the 4th century AD are preserved in the Roman Forum and it is supposed to coincide with that sacred place, marking the theoretical and symbolic center of Rome and from where all the military ways were measured.
The etymology of Rome generates controversy and there are several theories: it could come from its founder, Romulus, but also from the Etruscan lineage of the ruma, or also from the term rumon that means river (Rome, city of the river). As for the famous statue of the wolf, it is known that it was Etruscan (6th-7th century BC) and was exhibited as a symbol of the city, although it was lost until the Middle Ages, when it was recovered in the Lateran. The twins were added by Palliolo in the 15th century.
Later, before the scarcity of women of the incipient Roman people, the legend tells us that Romulus congregates all the shepherds of the neighbouring peoples in a great celebration and the Romans take advantage to kidnap the sabines. The neighbours claim vengeance, but are defeated by the troops of Romulus. Later a battle is fought that reaches the gates of the citadel of Rome, but the hostages manage to avoid war between their husbands and their brothers, thus achieving the establishment of many Sabines in Rome. The most probable thing is that a type of agreement was reached with the Sabines (quirites) to save the demographic crisis that was being faced by a Rome mainly composed of men, in exchange for some compensation (such as military relief in case of danger).
The primitive location on the Palatine (Roma quadrata) is joined by the hills of the Sabines: Quirinal and Viminal, after an agreement with the Latin king Titus Tatius, and a joint reign is agreed that would remain in the hands of the one who survived the other. The sabine king dies and from that moment one can already consider Romulus as the first king of Rome who would end up being divinized as Quirinus. In these historical facts it is explained that the Romans called themselves quirites.
Rome was already walking unstoppable towards the septimontium, the city of the seven hills.
Author: Eduardo Ortiz Pardina