Roman London


For centuries there was a legend in Europe about the ancient city of Troy which was defeated by the ancient Greeks, some time in the 13th or 12th century BCE, in a war which broke out over an exceptionally beautiful woman called Helen. She was married to king Menelaus of Sparta but fell in love and secretly ran away with Prince Paris of Troy. Menelaus and his brother Agamemnon raised a fleet of a thousand ships and went to Troy in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) to reclaim Helen. After ten years of the siege of Troy and death of many heroes, Achilles and Ajax and the Trojans: Hector and Paris, the Greeks, desperate to take the city, resorted to deception. They retreated with their troops from the gates of Troy and pretended to sail off leaving a large wooden horse with Greek soldiers hidden inside. After much debate, the Trojans pulled the mysterious gift into the city and when night fell, the horse opened up and a group of Greek warriors led by Odysseus climbed out and opened the gates from inside to the Greek army which meanwhile returned under cover of the night. The Greeks then sacked the Troy mercilessly including the temples which caused the wrath of Gods.1 Aeneas, the cousin of king Priam of Troy, witnessed the murder of Priam by Achilles' son, Pyrrhus, and subsequently rallied the other survivors and escaped from the city.2 After many years of journeying through land and sea, Aeneas ended up with the Trojans in Latium, near the river Tiber, where they were received by king Latinus, king of the Latins. To secure the alliance with the Latins, Aeneas courted Lavinia, the daughter of king Latinus, but Queen of Latium demanded that Lavinia be married to Tyrnus, the ruler of a local people, the Rutuli. After soliciting support from neighbouring tribes Aeneas and his men eventually defeated the Rutuli and founded a city in Latium which they called Lavinia. Aeneas married Lavinia and their son Ascanius later founded a city called Alba Longa, which was located near the present site of Castel Gandolfo. Aeneas became its first king.3

The legend has it that the founders of the mighty city of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were descendants of the Alban kings through their mother's father, Numitor. He was the king of Alba Longa but was deposed by his younger brother, Amulius. The usurper king then killed Numitor's male heirs and forced Numitor's daughter Rea Silvia to become Vestal Virgin, a woman charged with keeping a sacred fire who took vows of chastity. At some point Rea Silvia was raped by an unknown man and gave birth to two sons, Romulus and Remus. When Amulius learnt of the birth, he ordered a servant to kill the twins, but the servant showed mercy and set them adrift on the River Tiber. The basket with the boys was caught by the roots of the fig tree located near the Palatine Hill and discovered by a she-wolf, who suckled them. The toddlers were found and adopted by a local shepherd and his wife. The boys grew up tending flocks, unaware of their true identities. One day they got into a dispute with the shepherds of king Amulius. After Remus was captured by king's shepherds, Romulus gathered a band of local shepherds and freed his brother. In the process he killed the usurper king Amulius, thus avenging deposition of his grandfather Numitor. After reinstating Numitor as the king, the brothers left Alba Longa seeking to found their own city. But the brothers were in disagreement as to its location. Romulus wished to start the city on the Palatine Hill, while Remus wished to found it on the Aventine Hill. Romulus began to dig trenches and build walls around the Palatine Hill. When Remus jumped over the hill, he was killed by his brother Romulus. The place chosen by Romulus was named Rome, after his name. Thus violence and murder became foundation of a new city of Rome. Titus Livius, Roman historian who lived in the first century BCE, dated Remus' death and founding of Rome to April 21, 753 BCE. A Roman poet, Publius Vergilius Maro, better known as Virgil, who lived in the first century BCE, reminded the Romans about the Trojan roots of the Alban fathers, the founders of Rome, in his epic poem called Aeneid. In the first lines he wrote: “Expelled and exiled, left the Trojan shore… before he won the Latian realm, and built the destined town; his banished Gods restored to rites divine and settled sure succession in his line. From whence the race of Alban fathers come, and the long glories of majestic Rome.”4

Around the eight century BCE, the region of Latium came under strong influence of the Etruscans who lived in what today is Tuscany, in north Italy, and what then was Etruria, and of whom various account state they came from Asia Minor. It appears that Etruscans were the descendants of the ancient Aryans, a highly advanced culture which originated in the Indus Valley, spoke Sanskrit and later migrated into various directions reaching places such as Persia, Europe and East Asia. In Europe, the three great Aryan branches were the Celts, the Germans and the Slavonians.5 Some of the artefacts typical for the Aryan culture, including the sign of swastika, a cross with arms bent - a graphic depiction of a whirling motion of a spiral milky way galaxy - can still be found in those places including Tuscany. The Aryans brought with them the skills in stone carving, metallurgy, architecture, art and sculpture, agriculture, as well as army structure, sea and land trade, shipbuilding and state structure. Etruscans later adopted many Greek and Phoenician inventions and formed foundation for the unique Etruscan culture, which extended as far as Pompei with their fleet threatening Greek and Phoenician settlements.6 By the eight century BCE, Etruscans penetrated into Latium extending their influence over Rome. Etruscans turned the original settlement at the river Tiber into a proper city. They introduced their architecture, arts and the chambers dedicated to the Greek gods who were worshipped under Etruscan names. The Etruscan kings ruled Rome for over a hundred years. In the sixth century BCE, Servius Tullius, the sixth king of Rome, introduced important reforms. He extended the voting rights, which thus far were the privilege of the descendants of the founding families of Rome, known as patricians, to the lower classes of citizens known as plebs. He also introduced the rule that slave who became freedman automatically received Roman citizenship. To assist his reforms, the king arranged first Roman census, which divided the people depending upon their wealth and status which in turn established an individual's tax obligations and their ability to muster arms for military service. By this method, the king increased the number of tribes who could participate in public affairs, weakened the power of aristocracy and increased his army's military potential. Servius Tullius reigned for 44 years until he was murdered by his daughter Tullia and his son-in-law, Tarquinius, the last Etruscan king of Rome. Tarquinius introduced the effective drainage system, Cloaka Maxima, which transformed the swampy plain of the Forum and made it for the first time the meeting of the Popular Assembly. But despite his great construction projects and territorial conquests, Tarquinius was a violent tyrant, detested by the people of Rome. When in 510 BCE, son of Tarquinius raped a beautiful matron called Lucrecia, the Roman nobles led by Lucius Junius Brutus rebelled and expelled Tarquinius and his family from Rome, vowing that never again would a king rule Rome. And so was born a glorious Roman Republic, Res Publicae, “the property of people.”7

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1 Homer, Iliad, circa 8th century BCE, considered to be the earliest work in the whole Western literary tradition; »

2 Publius Vergilius Maro, Aeneid , 29 – 19 BCE »

3 Titus Livius (Livy), Ab Urbe Condida Libri (“Books from the Founding of the City”), 27 - 9 BCE »

4 Vergilius, Aeneid, op.cit. »

5 Robert Ellis, The Armenian Origin of the Etruscans (London: Parker, Son And Bourn, 1861), p. 1 »

6 D. H. Lawrence, Sketches of Etruscan Places and Other Italian Essays, Reprint (Cambridge University Press, 2002) »

7 Raymond Bloch, The Etruscans (London: Thames and Hudson, 1958), pp. 97-116 »