In Roman mythology Romulus and Remus were two brothers that were kept alive by suckling from a wolf. Romulus later kills Remus and that is supposedly how Rome got its name.

But were Romulus and Remus real people?

2 Answers 2


Depends on what you mean, but probably not.

Most scholars would not consider them to be real. Their tale is too far-fetched to be literally true, and in this sense they weren't real. On the other hand, legends could be based on real events, so there might have been real historical figures who inspired the stories. You might, with a great deal of stretching, call them "Romulus and Remus", but they probably bore no resemblance to the legends even if they actually exist.

In fact, the names Romulus and Remus are thought to be backformations. That is, Romulus' name was invented based on the the city's name of Rome.

The name of Romulus means simply 'Roman', cf. the two forms Sicanus and Siculus; Remus (who in the Latin tradition replaces the Rhomos of most Greek authors), if not a back-formation from local place-names such as Remurinus ager, Remona, is possibly formed from Roma by false analogy with such doublets as Kipvapa, Corcyra, where the o is short.

- Hornblower, Simon, and Antony Spawforth, eds. The Oxford classical dictionary. Vol. 3. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Moreover, the legend is not regarded to be as old as the city's founding. A historical event should be better remembered when closer in time. Instead, the story as we know it developed later during the 3rd and 4th centuries BC.

This legend, though probably as old as the late 4th cent. BC in one form or another, cannot be very old.

- Hornblower, Simon, and Antony Spawforth, eds. The Oxford classical dictionary. Vol. 3. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Therefore, while there's no way to know for certain, the legendary Romulus and Remus are most likely fictional, or at least heavily distorted from historical reality.


To complete @Semaphore answer, historian Angelo Brelich in his 1960 article "Quirinus: una divinita romana alla luce della comparazione storica" and later in 2001, Rebecca Allen in her article 'Romulus and Quirinus: an etruscan deity in Ancient Rome' both expressed the idea that the character of Romulus may actually derive from the Sabine god of war Quirinus.

For those of you who do not speak italian, Wikipedia offers an english summary of Brelich's theory:

Religious historian A. Brelich has argued that Quirinus and Romulus were originally the same divine entity which was split into a founder hero and a god when Roman religion became demythicised. Among the features of Romulus that make of him the human equivalent of Quirinus is his death at the hands of the patres which occurred on the date of the Quirinalia, February 17, also the last day of the Fornacalia or Stultorum Feriae according to Ovid's Fasti II 481 ff. Brelich maintains the identity of a god and founder hero with a staple food of a community, spelt in this case, is a well-known theme in anthropology, as shown in the myth of Hanuwele, which Jensen named as dema myth. The possible presence of the flamen Quirinalis at the festival of Acca Larentia would corroborate this thesis, given the fact that Romulus is a stepson of hers, and one the original twelfth arval brethren (Fratres Arvales).

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