Rome’s birthday, April 21: legends and history


    The City of Rome was born on April 21st on what is called Rome’s Christmas, il Natale di Roma, 2776 years ago!

    Celebrations involve a whole lot of events on this day, with parades, shows and games that take over the city! This anniversary is a fun occasion to re-enact the story of the foundation of Rome, with games, parades and celebrations that take over the city. In honor of one of the most important legends in mythology.

    But how can we be so sure, April 21st is in fact the day Rome was founded?
    In this article we will discover fun facts, scientific proof and myths surrounding the foundation of the Eternal city.

    History and legends about the foundation of Rome

    Studies show that Romulus founded the city on April 21st in 753 bC, according to Marcus Terentio Varrone, an illustrous literary Roman; who’s referred to this day with the latin phrase “Ab Urbe condita” which translates in the “foundation of the city”.
    Other scientific facts are connected to this day, thanks to calculation made by the 1st century BC mathematical physicist Lucius Tarutio Firmano.
    And the latin writer Titus Livius described this city as “Rome, fortunate city, invincible and eternal“.

    Let’s begin with the Rome’s foundation myths

    Titus Livius believed that Rome’s Ancestor arrived in Italy from Troy.
    According to the myth, the Greeks conquered Troy with the wooden horse strategy, which forced the trojans to flee in faraway lands. One of which was Enea, son of the Goddess Venus and mortal Anchises, who reside in the area at the South of Rome.
    Enea married Lavinia, the local king’s daughter, with whom he founded the city of Lavinio, while their son, Ascanio, as soon as he became an adult founded the city of Alba Longa.

    The events that came later led to the foundation of Rome. In the 19th-century bC a fight for power led to the falling of the legitimate king of Alba Longa, Numitore, descendant of Enea and Lavina, allowing all the power to his son, Amulio. But Amulio was so fearful of being dethroned that he forced his beloved, Rea Silvia, to become a vestal virgin, to avoid having to lose his power over eventual heirs.

    But things didn’t go according to plan: the God Mars fell in love with Rea Silvia who he had babies with. Semi-god twins, which we will later know as Romulus and Remus.

    The birth of Romulus and Remus

    Romulus and Remus

    When the twins were born, Amulio ordered for them to be killed but Rea Silvia, wanted to protect her babies, so she put them in a basket and let it float on the gentle waters of the Tiber River, hoping and praying they would be found and saved from the unfathomable destiny Amulio had in store for them.
    When the basket reached the river bend, a mother wolf found the twins alive and nourished them as they were her baby cubs. They were later discovered by a shepherd named Faustolo, who brought them home to his wife Acca Larenzia.

    Years had gone by and when the twins became adults they discovered their history so the twins went to Albalonga and killed Amulio, returning the throne to its legitimate king, Numitore.
    This act granted them permission to found a city.
    Romulus wanted to call it Roma and build it on top of the Palatine Hill, while Remus wanted to call it Remora and build it on the Aventine, resulting into yet another family feud.
    Romulus killed his brother and founded the new city as he wanted, becoming the 1st of the legendary 7 kings of Rome.

    The legend and foundation are quite unique and characteristic, which is often explained in many unpredictable symbols. Which the city is so well known for its symbolysms.
    For example, you may find yourself walking around in Rome and finding statues of a mother Wolf feeding twins. A city’s way to honor the wolf that saved the twins on the riverbend before they were discovered by humans.

    The symbols in the history of the foundation of Rome

    The legend of Rome’s foundation is rich with symbols, with incredibly deep meaning. The devine father Mars, the basket on the river, mother wolf and the adoptive family, connected all to local roots, the family fued and the murdered brother.

    An important aspect of this legend as unique and gruesome as it may be, is that Rome is connected and created by two of the most powerful forces in the universe: War and Love.

    War, represented by Romulus and Remus’ father, Mars, the God of War. In a more ample aspect of symbolism, Mars represents Power, the God of Destruction but also of Rebirth.
    And Love, because the twins’ Ancestor Enea, was son of Venus, Goddess of Love. Therefore representing, life and fertility.

    So, as we can confirm, the birth of Rome is connected with two important Roman Gods: Venus and Mars.
    These two gods, Venus and Mars were cherished by Emperor Augustus. Because the first Emperor of Rome believed to be the new Romulus. This legend is described in Virgilius’ Poem, the Aeneid, highlighting the mythology surrounding the powerful origins of Augustus.

    So April 21st and Rome’s birthday were an absolutely important celebration for this particular Emperor. But this date has a curious influence on everything that goes on in the city.

    Take the Pantheon, for example.
    The way the Pantheon is built, is unique as we all know. But it holds a special meaning. In fact, every April 21st, at noon, the sun shines through the Oculus at the center of the dome, with such an inclination that allows a strong ray of light to beam directly through the roof and that radiates into the entire entrance of the building. This temple was constructed to make sure that when the Emperor entered the building on this particular date, he would be surrounded by light. A fun fact indeed!

    To circle back to the symbolism of Rome, we can find it anywhere in the city, on the walls, in the buildings, enscripted and carved into the most unexpected places. And subject of many sayings in the City.

    For example, a big saying the Romans love to use is “Me pari la lupa ar Campidojo” translate: “You look like the wolf at Campidoglio”.
    We know it may seem like it doesn’t make much sense. But this saying refers to the a real event that took place on Capitoline hill.

    Someone may use this saying to describe a person as restless.
    The wolf in this saying, is not the legendary one that saved the twins from the river, represented today in a statue in the Capitoline Museums, where the Town hall is. This other wolf is actually a real live creature which was caged and displayed on the square of Capitoline Hill a few years after the breech of Porta Pia, by the town mayor.

    The caged wolf was a real symbol of Rome, in honor of the legendary creature from the story of Romulus and Remus. And it was displayed in the square for many years, before it was freed, as an attraction for all the Romans, that would go see the animal walk back and forth in its small cage, poor thing.
    Seeing the wolf always so agitated and restless, generated in the saying, “You look like the wolf at the Capitoline hill!”

    The events taking place on Rome’s Birthday in 2023

    There are other more colorful and peaceful aspects connected with Rome. In fact April 21st hosts all sorts of celebrations in store for the Eternal city.

    Traditionally, there would be historical reinactments on April 21st, arranged by the Historical Roman Association, Gruppo Storico Romano.
    The cultural group was founded in 1994 by Sergio Iacomoni, by a group of passionate Romans that honor Rome’s history, with reinactments, displays, parades and gladiator traditions, known all over the World.

    The events that are arranged usually take place around the Circus Maximus and include gladiator fights in traditional costumes and other fun events like the trenches digging, which symbolizes the foundation of ancient Roman cities, when a trench was excavated around the town perimeter and offerings were thrown in them, to encourage the Gods to always protect their people.
    The highlight of Rome’s birthday celebrations is a great parade in traditional garments that includes over 1500 participants in costume that walk from Circus Maximus, through the Via dei Fori Imperiali and through the Colosseum.

    This year, the Gruppo Storico Romano Association, will celebrate Rome’s Birthday with the following program: The Gruppo Storico Romano will stage “Roma Regina Aquarum”
    The event will take place from April 20th to the 23rd 2023 at the Circus Maximus and this year’s them will be a tribut of the preciousness of Water in the history of the city. Participation is entirely free of charge and it encourages local and tourist’s participation!

    This years’ prediction entails that dozens of thousands of people will par-take in the festivities! With the participation of 16 different Nations, 80 associations and 2500 reinactors.

    During these three days of celebrations, visitors will have the opportunity of reliving the traditions of an Ancient Roman Empire, immerse in the political fight of republican times and have a taste of the military traditions, between the legions, gladiators, lictors and praetorians.
    All accompanied by colorful nymphs, vestals, matrons and all the pagan religious aspect of ancient times.
    Also, the visitors can partake in different tournaments and games, and admire the beauty of the costumes and the general atmosphere.

    All in all, Rome being 2776 years old, is a great opportunity for everyone to appreciate ancient Roman times, and the traditions and culture that are very much alive in the heart of every Roman today.

    So happy birthday, Rome. Make sure to join the celebrations!

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