When and by whom was Rome built?

Here we present selected excerpts from Dionysius of Halicarnassus’ book ‘The Roman Antiquities‘ (The Loeb Classical Library). Dionysius here refers to the various different ancient narrations about when and by whom Rome was built in the first place.


“In the thirtieth year after the founding of Lavinium Ascanius, the son of Aeneas, in pursuance of the oracle given to his father, built another city and transferred both the inhabitants of Lavinium and the other Latins who were desirous of a better habitation to this newly-built city, which he called Alba. Alba means in the Greek tongue Leuke or ‘White’; but for the sake of clearness it is distinguished from another city of the same name by the addition of an epithet descriptive of its shape, and its name is now, as it were, a compound, made up of the two terms, Alba Longa, that is Leuke Makra or ‘Long White (town).’ This city is now uninhabited, since in the time of Tullus Hostilius, king of the Romans, Alba seemed to be contending with her colony for the sovereignty and hence was destroyed; but Rome, though she razed her mother-city to the ground, nevertheless welcomed its citizens into her midst. But these events belong to a later time. To return to its founding. Alba was built near a mountain and a lake, occupying the space between the two, which served the city in place of walls and rendered it difficult to be taken. For the mountain is extremely strong and high and the lake is deep and large; and its waters are received by the plain when the sluices are opened, the inhabitants having it in their power to husband the supply as much as they wish. Lying below the city are plains marvellous to behold and rich in producing wines and fruits of all sorts in no degree inferior to the rest of Italy, and particularly what they call the Alban wine, which is sweet and excellent and, with the exception of the Falernian, certainly superior to all others.

(…) In the next year of Numitor’s reign, which was the four hundred and thirty-second after the taking of Troy, the Albans sent out a colony, under the leadership of Romulus and Remus, and founded Rome, in the beginning of the first year of the seventh Olympiad.

(…) Cephalon of Gergis, a very ancient writer, says that the city was built in the second generation after the Trojan war by those who had escaped from Troy with Aeneas, and he names as the founder of it Romus, who was the leader of the colony and one of Aeneas’ sons; he adds that Aeneas had four sons, Ascanius, Euryleon, Romulus and Romus. And Demagoras, Agathyllus and many others agree with him as regards both the time and the leader of the colony. But the author of the history of the priestesses at Argos and of what happened in the days of each of them says that Aeneas came into Italy from the land of the Molossians with Odysseus and became the founder of the city, which he named after Rome, one of the Trojan women. He says that this woman, growing weary with wandering, stirred up the other Trojan women and together with them set fire to the ships. And Damastes of Sigeum and some others agree with him. But Aristotle, the philosopher, relates that some of the Achaeans, while they were doubling Cape Malea on their return from Troy, were overtaken by a violent storm, and being for some time driven out of their course by the winds, wandered over many parts of the sea, till at last they came to this place in the land of the Opicans which is called Latinium, lying on the Tyrrhenian sea. And being pleased with the sight of land, they hauled up their ships, stayed there the winter season, and were preparing to sail at the beginning of spring; but when their ships were set on fire in the night and they were unable to sail away, they were compelled against their will to fix their abode in the place where they had landed. This fate, he says, was brought upon them by the captive women they were carrying with them from Troy, who burned the ships, fearing that the Achaeans in returning home would carry them into slavery. Callias, who wrote of the deeds of Agathocles, says that Rome, one of the Trojan women who came into Italy with the other Trojans, married Latinus, the king of the Aborigines, by whom she had three sons, Romus, Romulus and Telegonus, . . . and having built a city, gave it the name of their mother. Xenagoras, the historian, writes that Odysseus and Circe had three sons, Romus, Anteias and Ardeias, who built three cities and called them after their own names. Dionysius of Chalcis – names Romus as the founder of the city, but says that according to some this man was the son of Ascanius, and according to others the son of Emathion. There are others who declare that Rome was built by Romus, the son of Italus and Leucaria, the daughter of Latinus.

I could cite many other Greek historians who assign different founders to the city, but, not to appear prolix, I shall come to the Roman historians. The Romans, to be sure, have not so much as one single historian or chronicler who is ancient; however, each of their historians has taken something out of ancient accounts that are preserved on sacred tablets. Some of these say that Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were the sons of Aeneas, others say that they were the sons of a daughter of Aeneas, without going on to determine  who was their father; that they were delivered as hostages by Aeneas to Latinus, the king of the Aborigines, when the treaty was made between the inhabitants and the new-comers, and that Latinus, after giving them a kindly welcome, not only did them many other good offices, but, upon dying without male issue, left them his successors to some part of his kingdom. Others say that after the death of Aeneas Ascanius, having succeeded to the entire sovereignty of the Latins, divided both the country and the forces of the Latins into three parts, two of which he gave to his brothers, Romulus and Remus. He himself, they say, built Alba and some other towns; Remus built cities which he named Capua, after Capys, his great-grandfather, Anchisa, after his grandfather Anchises, Aeneia (which was afterwards called Janiculum), after his father, and Rome, after himself. This last city was for some time deserted, but upon the arrival of another colony, which the Albans sent out under the leadership of Romulus and Remus, it received again its ancient name. So that, according to this account, there were two settlements of Rome, one a little after the Trojan war, and the other fifteen generations after the first. And if anyone desires to look into the remoter past, even a third Rome will be found, more ancient than these, one that was founded before Aeneas and the Trojans came into Italy. This is related by no ordinary or modern historian, but by Antiochus of Syracuse, whom I have mentioned before. He says that when Morges reigned in Italy (which at that time comprehended all the seacoast from Tarentum to Posidonia), a man came to him who had been banished from Rome. His words are these: ‘When Italus was growing old, Morges reigned. In his reign there came a man who had been banished from Rome; his name was Sicelus.’ According to the Syracusan historian, therefore, an ancient Rome is found even earlier than the Trojan war. However, as he has left it doubtful whether it was situated in the same region where the present city stands or whether some other place happened to be called by this name, I, too, can form no conjecture. But as regards the ancient settlements of Rome, I think what has already been said is sufficient.

As to the last settlement or founding of the city, or whatever we ought to call it, Timaeus of Sicily, following what principle I do not know, places it at the same time as the founding of Carthage, that is, in the thirty-eighth year before the first Olympiad; Lucius Cincius, a member of the senate, places it about the fourth year of the twelfth Olympiad, and Quintus Fabius in the first year of the eighth Olympiad. Porcius Cato does not give the time according to Greek reckoning, but being as careful as any writer in gathering the data of ancient history, he places its founding four hundred and thirty-two years after the Trojan war; and this time, being compared with the Chronicles of Eratosthenes, corresponds to the first year of the seventh Olympiad.

(…) if from the expulsion of the kings the time is reckoned back to Romulus, the first ruler of the city, it amounts to two hundred and fortyfour years. This is known from the order in which the kings succeeded one another and the number of years each of them ruled. For Romulus, the founder of Rome, reigned thirty-seven years, it is said, and after his death the city was a year without a king. Then Numa Pompilius, who was chosen by the people, reigned forty-three years; after Numa, Tullus Hostilius thirty-two; and his successor, Ancus Marcius, twenty-four; after Marcius, Lucius Tarquinius, called Priscus, thirty-eight; Servius Tullius, who succeeded him, forty-four. And the slayer of Servius, Lucius Tarquinius, the tyrannical prince who, from his contempt of justice, was called Superbus, extended his reign to the twenty-fifth year. As the reigns, therefore, of the kings amount to two hundred and forty-four years or sixty-one Olympiads, it follows necessarily that Romulus, the first ruler of the city, began his reign in the first year of the seventh Olympiad, when Charops at Athens was in the first year of his ten-year term as archon. For the count of the years requires this; and that each king reigned the number of years stated is shown in that treatise of mine to which I have referred.

This, therefore, is the account given by those who lived before me and adopted by me concerning the time of the settlement of the city which now rules supreme.

(…) Such, then, are the facts concerning the origin of the Romans which I have been able to discover after reading very diligently many works written by both Greek and Roman authors. Hence, from now on let the reader forever renounce the views of those who make Rome a retreat of barbarians, fugitives and vagabonds, and let him confidently affirm it to be a Greek city,—which will be easy when he shows that it is at once the most hospitable and friendly of all cities, and when he bears in mind that the Aborigines were Oenotrians, and these in turn Arcadians, and remembers those who joined with them in their settlement, the Pelasgians who were Argives by descent and came into Italy from Thessaly; and recalls, moreover, the arrival of Evander and of the Arcadians, who settled round the Palatine hill, after the Aborigines had granted the place to them; and also the Peloponnesians. who, coming along with Hercules, settled upon the Saturnian hill; and, last of all, those who left the Troad and were intermixed with the earlier settlers. For one will find no nation that is more ancient or more Greek than these. But the admixtures of the barbarians with the Romans, by which the city forgot many of its ancient institutions, happened at a later time. And it may well seem a cause of wonder to many who reflect on the natural course of events that Rome did not become entirely barbarized after receiving the Opicans, the Marsians, the Samnites, the Tyrrhenians, the Bruttians and many thousands of Umbrians, Ligurians, Iberians and Gauls, besides innumerable other nations, some of whom came from Italy itself and some from other regions and differed from one another both in their language and habits; for their very ways of life, diverse as they were and thrown into turmoil by such dissonance, might have been expected to cause many innovations in the ancient order of the city. For many others by living among barbarians have in a short time forgotten all their Greek heritage, so that they neither speak the Greek language nor observe the customs of the Greeks nor acknowledge the same gods nor have the same equitable laws (by which most of all the spirit of the Greeks differs from that of the barbarians) nor agree with them in anything else whatever that relates to the ordinary intercourse of life. Those Achaeans who are settled near the Euxine sea are a sufficient proof of my contention; for, though originally Eleans, of a nation the most Greek of any, they are now the most savage of all barbarians*.

The language spoken by the Romans is neither utterly barbarous nor absolutely Greek, but a mixture, as it were, of both, the greater part of which is Aeolic; and the only disadvantage they have experienced from their intermingling with these various nations is that they do not pronounce all their sounds properly. But all other indications of a Greek origin they preserve beyond any other colonists. For it is not merely recently, since they have enjoyed the full tide of good fortune to instruct them in the amenities of life, that they have begun to live humanely; nor is it merely since they first aimed at the conquest of countries lying beyond the sea, after overthrowing the Carthaginian and Macedonian empires, but rather from the time when they first joined in founding the city, that they have lived like Greeks; and they do not attempt anything more illustrious in the pursuit of virtue now than formerly.”

*This ‘barbarization’ phenomenon is very common in Greek Mythology/History and can explain many ‘inexplicable’ historical events and aspects or put others in order.


Research-Selection: Isidoros Aggelos


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