Thirty More Famous Stories Retold - James Baldwin

How Rome Was Founded


A very great while ago there was a city in Italy which its people called Alba Longa, or the Long White. It stood on the slope of a hill, a mile or more from the river Tiber. Its houses stretched in a straggling line down to the shore of a little lake.

The men of Alba Longa were mostly shepherds and hunters. In times of peace they tended their flocks or ranged the woods for game. In times of war—which happened often enough—every man was ready with club and pike to fight for his home.

The people were rude and barbarous in their manners, as was common in those days. They ate mutton and coarse vegetables. They drank the milk of goats. They clothed themselves in sheepskins. They slept on the floor, and never allowed their fires to go out. They seldom went far from home, and they fancied that the whole world was seen from the top of their hill.

Now, there was a king of Alba Longa whose name was Numitor. He was an elderly man, gentle and kind. He cared little for power; indeed, there was nothing he liked so well as his farm and his garden and his flocks of white-fleeced sheep. Two children were his—a promising boy of twelve and a lovely daughter whose name was Rhea Silvia. He had also a younger brother called Amulius, a low-browed, dark-faced fellow, ready to do any sort of wickedness that came into his mind.

This brother was always stirring up the young men of Alba Longa.

"If I were king, things would be different," he would say. "You should all live at your ease, and want for nothing."

At length, one day when Numitor was at his farm, Amulius proclaimed himself king of Alba Longa. He stationed soldiers at the city gates, and declared that every man who did not acknowledge his right to the kingship should be put to death. Then he sent word to Numitor:—

"You had better stay with your sheep and goats, for I am the king!"

What else could poor, weak Numitor do? Indeed, I think he was quite glad to be rid of his kingly burdens and have nought to think about but his flocks. He would have been happy if his children had been permitted to live with him on the farm. But news soon came which filled his heart with grief and clouded all the rest of his days.

His boy was dead, slain by the hand of the false Amulius. Fair Rhea Silvia had been shut up in a temple of Vesta, there to serve as a priestess all her days, and nevermore to see her dear father or the pleasant home of her childhood.


After this, Amulius settled himself down to enjoy his kingship. The shepherds of Alba Longa tended their flocks, and were sad or joyous much as they had been before. They hated Amulius; but they feared him much more, and so said nothing. And poor, sorrowing Numitor stayed on his farm and busied himself with his sheep and his goats.

Five, six, seven years passed by, and then strange news was told in Alba Longa. Rhea Silvia, it was said, had escaped from her temple prison. She had gone away with an unknown warrior who was never seen except when dressed in a coat of mail and fully armed. Some said that this warrior was Silvanus, the protector of all cattle; but most believed that he was Mars, the mighty lord of war and battles. As for me, I think he was some hero of a neighboring tribe who had known and loved Silvia in happier days, and who now wished to rescue her from her prison and make her his wife.

Great was the excitement in Alba Longa, and great was the alarm of the false king Amulius. All through the land close search was made for Rhea; but no sign or trace of her could be found.

"I shall never be safe while she lives," said Amulius; and he doubled the guards around the city. But Numitor stayed with his flocks and seemed to know nothing of what had occurred.

Another year passed by. It was the time of the spring floods, and the Tiber had overflowed its banks. The lowlands were under water. The shepherds had driven all their flocks to the hills.

One morning King Amulius was standing alone in his palace looking out at the drenched earth and the pouring rain. Suddenly there was a great uproar at the door, and two shepherds entered bearing a covered basket in their arms.

"What have you there?" cried the king.

They removed the cover. He looked in and saw two tiny babies, wrapped in an embroidered cloak. Their eyes blinked, and they began to cry as the light fell upon their faces.

"Yesterday," said the shepherds, "the Tiber suddenly flooded all our pasture lands. As we were hurrying toward the hills with our sheep we beheld a woman standing on a rock in the midst of the flood. We drew nearer, and saw that she was none other than Rhea Silvia, the daughter of old Numitor. When we would have seized her she leaped into the river, and the swirling waters carried her beyond our reach. But on the rock she left her cloak; and wrapped in the cloak, as you see them now, were these twin baby boys."

"I doubt you not," said Amulius, "for the cloak is the same that Rhea Silvia wore when a girl. Why did you not fling the brats into the river and let them die with their mother?"

"We dared not do so without your command," was the answer.

"Well, then," said the king, furious with rage, "I command it now. Carry them back to the place where you found them, and make sure that they are drowned. Out of my sight, and be quick about it!"

The shepherds again drew the cloak over the faces of the crying infants, and hurried away to do the king's bidding.


"I cannot bear to see the pretty babes drown before my eyes," said one of the shepherds.

"Neither can I," said the other. "They make me think of my own twin boys at home."

"I could not see a lamb struggling in the waves without trying to save it," said the first.

"Only yesterday," said the second, "I saved two young wolves from drowning. And now what am I about to do?"

Thus the men talked to each other while they went on their undesired errand. Just as they reached the river they saw, floating in an eddying pool, a small trough, such as shepherds used when feeding their lambs in winter.

"I have it now," said the second shepherd. "Let us put the babes in the trough and send it floating into the current. They will be drowned, but not by us nor while we are looking on."

"You are right! You are right!" answered his companion. "Seize the thing as it comes near the shore, and let us end this ugly business."

They dipped the water out of the trough and wiped it dry and clean. Then they wrapped the babes in their mother's cloak and laid them down, side by side, in the bottom of the rude vessel.

"Fare you well, sweet babes," said the second shepherd. "I could never look my own twin boys in the face were I to see you drown."

"Fare you well, and a long, safe voyage," said the other, as he pushed the trough far out from the shore.

Then, without once looking behind them, the two men silently turned away and returned to Alba Longa to tell Amulius that they had done his bidding.

"Now at last I can breathe freely," he said to himself.


Far down the stream floated the little trough boat with its tiny passengers. In the strong current it was rocked like a cradle, yet not a drop of water found its way into the frail craft. Lulled by the gentle motion and soothed by the rippling music of the waves, the babes soon fell asleep.

Then the boat drifted into smoother water. It was caught in a broad eddy and carried toward the shore. Slowly now it floated among logs and brushwood and over the flooded land. At nightfall it grounded in shallow water at the foot of a wooded hill; and the voyage was ended.

That night an old she-wolf was roaming through the underwoods by the shore, looking for her whelps which had been carried away by the flood. Suddenly she heard a feeble, wailing sound, as of some young creature in distress.

She paused and listened. Could it be her own little ones?

The sound seemed to come from some driftwood close at hand. She ran out into the shallow water, leaped upon a floating log, and looked down upon the strangest sight that wolf ever saw—two babies lying in a sheep trough and wailing, oh, so pitifully!


As the beast scrambled to the top of the log the children were attracted by the sound; they looked up and smiled and held out their tiny arms.

The wolf wondered, as only wolves can wonder. Could it be possible that these were her own lost whelps, strangely changed in form since she last saw them? At any rate they were young and helpless and hungry; and she would be a mother to them.

Her den was not far away. It was high and dry on the hillside. She would carry them thither.

With her strong jaws and huge, sharp teeth she seized the cloak to tear it away. But the infants were wrapped in it so tightly that she lifted them at the same time. What a fine way to carry them! It was much better than grasping them by the nape of the neck as she had always done with her own babies.

The babes were small and light; the wolf was big and strong, and it was easy for her to carry them. She ran joyfully up the hill, holding her head high so that they would not drag on the rocks. Into her dry, warm den she hastened, as glad as any mother returning home with her lost loved ones.

In a few minutes the wailing of the infants ceased; they fancied themselves in the arms of their own dear mother. The night was dark. Around the foot of the hill the waves lapped against the shores. In the wolf's den all was silent.


Summer came. The rains had ceased. The river Tiber was no longer a foaming torrent overflowing the plains, but only a narrow, yellow stream creeping along toward the distant sea. The mountain torrents were dried up; the earth was dusty and hot; the grass was withering on the hillsides.

Early one morning a wolf broke into the fold where the king's sheep were kept, and carried away a lamb. The head shepherd, whose name was Faustulus, gave chase to the robber. He followed her to the very cave in which she had her den. It was on the slope of the hill called the Palatine.

At the door of the cave the wolf turned and showed fight. Faustulus was ready for her. As she rushed fiercely toward him, a well-aimed blow from his ax felled her to the ground; another blow put an end to her life.

Faustulus bethought him then that he would look in the den—perhaps there were young wolves there. The door of the cave was low and narrow; but with his ax in his hand he crept forward and peered inside. At first he could make out nothing plainly; but in a little while his eyes became accustomed to the darkness and he could see quite well. What a strange sight was that which met his gaze! In the farthest corner of the cave was the wolf's lair—a rough pile of sticks and leaves and dry grass, with a torn cloak lying beside it. On the top of this rude bed sat two baby boys. They were cooing and goo-gooing as happily as though they were in their mother's lap. They were fat and hearty and appeared to be seven or eight months old; and when they saw Faustulus coming toward them they shrank back and began to scream with fear.

Faustulus picked them up in his arms. He wrapped the remains of the old cloak around them. He crawled out through the low door and, without stopping to take another look at the place, hurried home.

His wife, Acca Larentia, was astonished to see the two babes in his arms.

"Where did you find them, and what shall we do with them?" she asked.

He told her about finding them in the cave, and showed her the torn cloak.

"This is the cloak of Rhea Silvia," he said; "and no doubt these are her babes whom the king ordered to be drowned. Shall we be less kind to them than was the savage wolf?"

"Ah, no!" she answered. "Although we have twelve children of our own to care for, there is still plenty of room in our poor hut. We will keep the twins and care for them as our own."

"And nobody must know that they are not our own," said Faustulus; "for should this be told to King Amulius it would mean death to us all."

The two babies were therefore taken into the shepherd's family and given the same food and the same care and love as the other children. They were named Romulus and Remus, and they looked as much alike as two grains of wheat on the same stalk.


Many years passed, and Romulus and Remus grew up to be tall young men, graceful and strong and fearless. With their foster brothers they tended the flocks on the Palatine Hill, and they were known among the shepherds as the sons of Faustulus. They hunted wild beasts in the forest by the Tiber; they fought with robbers; they became noted throughout the land for their fearless valor. In every enterprise they were the leaders.

Just across the valley from the king's pastures there was another hill called the Aventine. It was there that poor old Numitor had his farm, and there he pastured his sheep and his goats.

"The grass is greener and taller on the Aventine," said Romulus one day. "Let us drive our flocks over there to fatten in the fields of old Numitor."

"Agreed!" said his companions; and soon the thing was done.

It was not long, however, before the shepherds of Numitor discovered the intruders. There was a great outcry. Numitor's men rushed down the hill-side with clubs and stones and pikes, and there was a sharp fight. The king's shepherds were out-numbered four to one. They fought fiercely, but in the end were glad enough to hurry their flocks back to their own pasture.

A day or two after this, when Romulus was absent on a hunting excursion, it was discovered that the finest lamb in the king's flock was missing.

"Wolves!" said the shepherds.

"Yes," said the sharp-sighted Remus, "the two-legged wolves that keep old Numitor's sheep! If you had as good eyes as I have, you could see the lamb now, tethered to a stake just this side of the great rock over there. Stay you here, and I will go and fetch it back."

And all alone, with nothing but his staff in his hands, he strode off toward the Aventine.

"Let us go with you, Remus," cried the shepherds. "You may need help."

"Attend to your sheep, and do my bidding," Remus roughly answered.


An hour later there was a great ado on the Aventine Hill. Remus had made his way up the slope without seeing a single enemy. He had reached the lamb and cut the cord with which it was tethered. He was about lifting it in his arms, when a dozen dark-faced fellows rushed suddenly upon him from their hiding place behind the great rock.

Remus dropped the lamb and fought manfully with his staff. But what could he do against so many? He was thrown to the ground; his hands were bound behind him; and then he was led over the hill to the farmhouse of old Numitor.

"Here is the ringleader of the gang that trespassed on your grounds," said his captors.

"Then away with him!" cried Numitor, without looking up or rising from his couch. "Take him away and make an end of him."

But before the men could turn round with their prisoner, there was a great hubbub at the door, and the king's shepherd, Faustulus, pushed his way into the room.

"My lord Numitor, my lord Numitor," he cried, "would you put your own grandson to death?" And then he hurriedly told the story of the twin babies and the wolf, and of the manner in which the boys had been brought up in his own house.

"And where is the other young man?" asked old Numitor, his memory going back slowly to his dear lost daughter Rhea Silvia.

"Here I am, grandfather," said Romulus, coming suddenly in, and going boldly forward to the old man's couch. He had returned from hunting just at the moment that the news of his brother's capture was told on the Palatine Hill. Calling to the shepherds to follow him, he was hurrying toward the Aventine to rescue the prisoner by force, when Faustulus had met him and told him about his parentage and urged him to another course.

"Here I am, too, grandfather," said Remus, as Numitor raised himself slowly and gazed at the two brothers with his weak old eyes.

"Whom do I see?" cried Numitor. "They have the face, the eyes, the look of Rhea Silvia; but what manly forms, what grace and strength! Yes, I must believe your story, Faustulus. They are my grandsons—their looks prove it."

"And if further proof were wanting," said Faustulus, "look upon this embroidered robe that was found with the children in the wolf's den."

Numitor took the soiled, torn garment in his hands, and his eyes filled with tears. "Alas, my dear lost daughter!" he moaned. "And cruel Amulius will slay your sons, too, when he learns they are still alive."

"Not so, not so, King Numitor!" cried a voice at the door. "Down with Amulius!"

"Romulus and Remus! Let Romulus and Remus lead us!" shouted all the shepherds and serving men. "Down with Amulius the tyrant! Hail to our King Numitor!"

Within an hour a strong force of men, armed with axes and pikes and clubs, was marching against Alba Longa; and Romulus and Remus were the leaders.

Amulius was feasting in his palace, little thinking of danger, when the brothers rushed in at the head of their shepherd army. The fight was sharp but quickly over. The people of Alba Longa were so tired of Amulius that few cared to aid him. When he found that all was lost he tried to escape; but a shepherd from the Palatine pastures felled him with a club, and an end was soon put to his wicked life.

"Our grandfather, Numitor, is again the king of Alba Longa!" cried Romulus.

"Long life to King Numitor!" shouted the rabble of shepherds. Some of them hastened to fetch the old man from his farm; and amid great rejoicings he was again seated on the throne from which he had been driven so long before.


Romulus and Remus might have remained in Alba Longa and lived at ease in their grandfather's palace; and, indeed, the poor man needed their help badly enough. But they longed for the pleasant hills where they had spent their childhood—for the Palatine and the Aventine, with their pasture lands and their green woods.

"Grandfather," they said, "you are the king of Alba Longa and we wish you long life and prosperity. But Alba Longa is no place for us. Give us leave to go out in the wild region by the Tiber and build a new town of our own."

What could Numitor do but tell them to go wherever they pleased? And so, at the head of a company of reckless men,—some shepherds and some robbers,—they went back to the hills by the Tiber.

"We will build our town on the Palatine," said Romulus.

"No, indeed," said Remus, "we will build it on the Aventine."

They could not agree; neither could the men who were with them. At last, when they were about to come to blows, old Faustulus stepped between them.

"For your own sakes, my boys," he said, "don't be wolves, but men. Settle this question in a peaceful way. Let the augurs decide."

"You are right," said the brothers; "the augurs shall decide. To-night we will watch for such signs as the powers above may send us."

All night long Romulus sat alone on the summit of the Palatine; all night long Remus sat alone on the summit of the Aventine. Thick clouds concealed the sky; the world was wrapped in pitchy darkness; nothing could be seen; nothing was heard. At last the dawn appeared, feeble and gray on the hilltops. Then Remus, watching from his lonely post, saw some large birds winging their way toward the woods beyond the Tiber.

"The augurs are for me," he cried to the shepherds in the valley below him. "I see six vultures flying from the Aventine."

A few minutes later the clouds rolled away and the rising sun gilded the tree tops with its golden beams. Then the shepherds heard from the summit of the opposite hill the deep-toned voice of Romulus crying,—

"The victory belongs to me. I see twelve vultures flying over the Palatine."

"The augurs decide for Romulus," said the shepherds. "The town shall be built on the Palatine, and it shall be called Rome in honor of our captain."

Romulus began at once to lay off the bounds of his little town. A few huts of brush and bark were built for the men. A better one of stones and clay was put up for the brothers. But Remus sulked and complained and tried in every way to hinder the work. "And this is the city of Rome, is it?" he sneered. "What a grand city, indeed!"

"We must have a strong wall around our city," said Romulus.

At once, with sharpened stakes and wooden spades, the men began the work. The space to be inclosed was not large, and soon a wall of earth and loose stones arose around the new city of Rome. It was but waist high, crooked, and uneven; and it was little wonder that Remus laughed at it.

"What a fine, strong wall it is!" he scornfully cried; and, running forward, he leaped over it at a bound.

Romulus and Remus

" 'What a fine strong wall it is!' "

But his feet had scarcely touched the ground when an angry shepherd struck him fiercely with a spade. As he fell, speechless and dying, the men crowded to the spot with rough cries and savage exultation.

"Thus perish all who attempt to pass the walls of Rome!" they shouted.