Rome was a veritable late-comer onto the scene of founding civilizations. To bring some perspective, Herodotus estimated that Homer lived sometime around 750 BCE, so Greek Literature was well underway and the Trojan War longer than that. The Zhou Dynasty was settled into China, and busy introducing the Mandate of Heaven and don’t even bother running the numbers on the Egyptian Pharaohs.
So when Romulus settled on a hill overlooking a bend in the Tiber, Romans had considerable catching up to do. Thankfully, the Italian peninsula was a favorable place to start a civilization. The area was rich in metals and agricultural products like olives and wine. The Apennine Mountains created a sense of regionalism and the ocean provided trade opportunities. Early peoples included Celts in the north and Po River valley, Greeks colonizing the South and Sicily, Venetians in Venice, Oscans, Umbrians, and perhaps most importantly, Etruscans just to the North. Very Early Rome had closer neighbors we’re aware of, the Sabines and Alba Longa for starters, but the Etruscans put their stamp on Rome most effectively.
Etruria was a loose confederation with established political and religious systems. They already traded with Egypt, Phoenicia and Greece. When the Romans set up shop in a region known as Latium, now Lazio, they knew a good thing when they saw it. Romans have a talent for adopting and adapting qualities of other cultures and they began with Etruria. The Etruscan influenced the Roman ideals of architecture, religion, divination, and politics, providing Rome with the last three Kings.
To populate his city, Romulus took in…outcasts. Slaves, refugees, exiles, criminals. Apparently a group of bachelors, because Romulus soon had to concoct the “Rape of the Sabines” to correct to shortage of women within the city. As a result war broke out with the Sabines, but the two tribes reconciled as the Sabine women became integrated into the Roman village.
Many of the small tribes amongst the neighboring hills were integrated in Romulus’s thirty seven year rule. This quick consolidation wouldn’t have been accomplished without order and governance. Romulus set up a group of lictors, who carried fasces around to enforce the King’s authority. He elected one hundred elders to the position of senator to form an advisory committee.
Where you can see it today:
As you can imagine, Romulus’s city has changed quite a bit in three thousand years. But, on the Palatine Hill near the Tiber, close to the house of Augustus, archaeologists have uncovered Romulus’s village. It doesn’t look like much, but here are the original postholes where the huts of the village stood. Detritus from the postholes and carbon dating revealed a surprisingly accurate 8th century BCE date.
If you stand in the Roman Forum and look up to the Capitoline Hill and over to the remnants of the palaces on the Palatine, imagine the Rome of Romulus. The ground you are now standing on would have been a wet, marshy bog that flooded periodically. And wouldn’t be drained successfully for centuries. Each rise you see in the city would have meant a neighboring tribe. On the other side of the Palatine would have been the small port and market on the Tiber.
These humble origins played a very prominent role in the mentality and morals of the Roman people. They had come from a village of farmers and they (for the most part) retained a close connection to that ideology. And although most of what we know about this time comes from legends, the character of the Roman culture and many of its attributes can be credited to this early stage.
To read more about the Period of Kings click here.