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by Grace Lancieri-Olivo
When the Colosseum falls, Rome shall Fall;
When Rome falls, the world shall fall."
Bede (c. 673-735)
According to legend, Rome was founded where the lands of the Latins, Sabines and Etruscans converged by twins named Romulus and Remus on April 21, 753 BC, stretching over seven hills: Aventino, Campidoglio, Celio, Esquilino, Palatino, Quirinale and Gianicolo. Legend says the twin’s parents were the Vestal Virgin Rea Silvia, King Numitore's daughter, and the god Mars. When the King was dethroned by his brother, Rea Silvia was forced become a Vestal Virgin. When her uncle, the new king Amulius, learned of the babies, he had them abandoned in a basket by the Tiber River bank. The twins were found by a wolf that suckled them, keeping them alive until shepherds Fauscolo and his wife Laurenzia found them and raised them. As adults the twins freed their grandfather, who reclaimed his throne and gave them permission to build a city on the banks of the Tiber River where they were raised. To decide whose name the city would have they decided that the one who saw the most birds in flight would have the honor. Romulus won. Remus’ envy spurred him to challenge Romulus, who killed him and became the first King of Rome. Immediately Rome opened its arms to refugees and exiles from the surrounding area. It is said that Romulus died during a tempest when he was kidnapped by his father, Mars.
There were seven legendary Kings: Romulus, Numa Pompilius (a Sabine), Tullus Hostilius (a Latin), Ancus Marcius, Tarquinius Priscus (an Etruscan who built Circus Maximus and the first settlement on Capitoline Hill), Servius Tullius (who further expanded Rome by occupying the Quirinal, and built the Servian Walls that enclosed Rome) and Tarquinius Superbus (the last of the Roman Kings, dethroned in 509 BC by the people because of the violent deeds of his son Sextus).
Rome became a republic in 510 BC. Its emperors were from throughout the empire: Trajan was born in Spain, Diocletian in the Balkans, and Constantine in England. Some were German, others Gallic/French, even Arabic. Their common bond was the Latin language. Rome was almost totally destroyed by the Gauls in 390 BC, but reorganized and defeated the Samnites and later Pyrrhus in 275 BC. There was no stopping her after that, and the Roman Empire spread rapidly over the following centuries. It all came to an end in 476 AD when Romulus Augustulus, namesake of Rome’s founder, abdicated to Odoacer and the empire was no more. Drainage work was abandoned, water stagnated, and disease raged through the province devastating the population.
The Tiber River cuts the city of Rome into unequal parts today, but ancient Rome was wholly on the left bank of the river where the seven hills rise. Archeology has proven that the city developed from settlements on the Palatino (Palatine Hill) and around today’s Roman Forum. Excavations have unearthed three gates and a rectangular walled area of tufa blocks in an area called Roma Quadrata of Romulus.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, it was ruled by the Byzantines and Germanic barbarians, its population slipping to about 20,000 by the early middle ages. By the 17th century 100,000 called Rome home. In 1870 the population had grown to 212,000 and Rome was named capital of unified Italy.
Until the Middle Ages, the language spoken in the region was Latin, which evolved into Italian. In the Middle Ages Romanesco was the local dialect, similar to the dialect spoken in Naples. During the Renaissance the influence of a large number of residents from around Florence changed the Roman dialect dramatically to become closer to the Tuscan Italian.
Lyrics from the opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini
About the author:
Grace is the editor of the Comunes of Italy magazine. The magazine's goal is to promote Italian genealogy and culture through awareness, research, writing, lecturing, instruction and the preservation and understanding of genealogical and historical material. Comunes of Italy is published six times per year. For subscription information please visit the Comunes of Italy web site.
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