Old World Hero Stories - E. M. Tappan

How Rome Was Founded

Just as the story of Greece begins with the tales told by the Greek poet Homer, so the story of Rome begins with the stories told by the Latin poet Vir'gil. Virgil's poem is called the Æ-ne'id, because the hero is Æ-ne'as, one of the brave warriors of Troy. Virgil takes up the tale of the Trojan War very nearly where Homer leaves it. The city was finally captured by a stratagem. The Greeks sailed away until they were out of sight behind an island, and the Trojans thought that they had gone home. They left behind them a monstrous wooden horse just outside the city. While the Trojans were wondering what it could be, a ragged, unkempt Greek was brought in as a captive. He told them that the horse was built as a offering to the goddess A-the'ne, or Mi-ner'va, but that if it was only brought within the walls, it would protect the town instead of the makers. The Trojans never guessed that the whole thing was a trick. They made a gap in the wall and pulled in the horse. That night, when all were asleep, the Greeks who were hidden in the horse crept out, and Troy was soon in the hands of its enemies. Æneas fought until the whole town was in flames and there was no longer any hope in fighting. Then he took his aged father An-chi'ses on his shoulders and with his wife and their little son As-ca'ni-us, he fled. In the confusion his wife was lost, and although he ran fearlessly through the burning city, calling her name, she was gone. At length her spirit appeared to him and told him not to mourn, for she had been taken away by the will of the gods, to preserve her both from long years of wandering and from being a slave to the Greeks.



Outside the town Æneas met many other Trojans who had also fled from the Greeks. They decided to build boats, and with him for their leader to search for some land where they might make new homes for themselves. They worked away on the vessels, and when spring had come, they bade farewell, with many tears, to the place where Troy had stood, and sailed forth upon the sea, not knowing where the fates would grant them a home.

Thrace was only a little way off, so the wanderers first went there and prepared to sacrifice a bull. Æneas began to pull up a little bush in order to cover his altar with green leaves, and to his horror the broken twigs dropped blood. A voice came from the ground, the voice of a murdered kinsman, bidding him flee from the accursed land.

Just as soon as the sea was calm, they hastened away from Thrace. They next landed on the little island of De'los, for here was the oracle of Apollo, and they hoped it would tell them where to go. "Seek your ancient mother," said the oracle; but this was not very helpful, for no one knew what was meant. At last Anchises said he remembered hearing that the Trojans first came from Crete; so to Crete they went. They began to build a city and marked off places for their homes. They ploughed the land and planted their fields. But sickness came upon them, and the fields yielded no crops. What to do next they did not know; but the images of the household gods which Æneas had brought with him spoke to him one night in a dream and told him that a mistake had been made, that the real founder of the race was Dar'da-nus, and that he had come from Hes-pe'ri-a, or Italy.

There was nothing for them to do but to set out for Italy; and now they met troubles upon troubles. At one island where they landed and spread a meal for themselves, a flock of Harpies, horrible birds with the faces of maidens ghastly pale and drawn with hunger, swooped down upon them, and could hardly be driven away by their swords. When they came to Sicily, they had a long night of terror, for they heard the thunders and saw the fires of Mount Æt'na. In the morning a wretched man called to them from the shore. He was thin and haggard, his beard was rough and tangled, and his clothes were held together with thorns. He admitted that he was a Greek and that he had fought at Troy; but he pleaded that they would take him away. "Throw me into the deep if you will," he said. "I shall at least have met my death at the hands of men and not monsters." Then he told them that he had been with Odysseus or Ulysses, as the Romans called him, and had been left behind in this country of the horrible Cyclopes. Just as he finished his story, they saw the Cyclops whom Ulysses had blinded come feeling his way downhill with a pine tree for a staff. He heard their voices and waded out into the sea in pursuit, raising such a bellowing that land and water trembled with the clamor. The dreadful company of giants rushed down to the shore, but the Trojans had escaped.

Æneas sailed safely between Scylla and Charybdis and was now close to Italy. He would soon have been in his destined home, had not Ju'no, who hated the Trojans, interfered and commanded Æ'o-lus to send out the storm winds to drive them away. They were thrown upon the shores of Car'thage, which was ruled by Queen Di'do. She promptly fell in love with Æneas; and he seemed to be perfectly willing to forget Italy and remain in her city. Jupiter, however, bade him continue his journey; and at last, after his many wanderings, he was at the mouth of the Ti'ber. Here dwelt La-ti'nus, ruler of the country. His beautiful daughter La-vin'i-a was promised in marriage to Tur'nus, king of a neighboring people; but a dream had come to Latinus to warn him to give her to a stranger from a foreign land, and he decided that Æneas must be the stranger. Of course there was war between Turnus and Æneas. The Trojans won, and Turnus was slain. This is the end of the Æneid, but it is only the beginning of the story of Rome. Æneas founded a city called La-vin'i-um; but when his son Ascanius became ruler, Lavinium proved to be far too small for the people who wished to live in it. It was an easy matter to settle a town in those days, and Ascanius founded another on a long ridge of a neighboring hill. He named this Al'ba Lon'ga, or the long white city.

When Alba Longa was three centuries old, Nu'mi-tor, a descendant of Ascanius, was reigning. His brother A-mu'li-us contrived to get possession of the kingdom and drove Numitor from the throne. He killed Numitor's son, and he disposed of the daughter, Rhe'a Syl'vi-a, by making her a Vestal virgin, that is, one of the maidens who guarded the ever-burning lamp in the temple of the goddess Ves'ta. He thought that everything was well arranged to give him peace and quiet on the throne; but one day he was told that Rhea Sylvia was the mother of twin sons whose father was the war god Mars. These children were heirs to the throne, and therefore Amulius got them and their mother out of the way as soon as possible. He put the mother to death and ordered one of his men to throw the boys into the river Tiber.

Romulus and Remus


Perhaps the man did not want to destroy the babies. At any rate, he seems not to have thrown them into the river, but to have left them in one of the pools along the bank which were made by the high water. When the river subsided, there were the children, safe and sound, on dry land, but crying with hunger. A she-wolf heard them, bore them to her den, and nursed them as if they had been her own cubs. By and by a shepherd named Faus'tu-lus came upon them, took them away from the den, and carried them home to his wife.

The children were called Rom'u-lus and Rem'us. They grew up supposing that they were the sons of Faustulus; but the shepherd had discovered in the mean time who they were, and when they were old enough, he told them that they were the grandsons of Numitor, and that the throne belonged to him, and after him to them. Then the two young men called together their shepherd friends, drove Amulius away from his stolen throne, and put him to death. Numitor was again made ruler of the kingdom.

But the two brothers had no idea of simply waiting for their grandfather to die, and they set to work to build a city near the place where they had been thrown into the water and form a kingdom for themselves. So far everything had gone on smoothly, but now there was trouble between them. Of course it was proper that the city should be named for the elder brother, and they were twins! Surely this was a question for the gods to decide; and they agreed to watch for some sign in the heavens. Romulus climbed the Pal'a-tine Hill and Remus the Av'en-tine, and there they watched. All day they sat gazing at the sky; but the gods gave no sign. All night they watched; but they were none the wiser. When the sun rose on the following morning, Remus and his followers gave shouts of delight, for he had seen six vultures fly across his part of the sky. But before they were done shouting, Romulus and his friends cried out joyfully, for Romulus had seen twelve vultures!

The question of naming the city was no nearer a settlement than at first; for it would, indeed, take a very wise man to decide which ought to count more, to see six birds first or twelve birds second. It seems to have been decided in some way in favor of Romulus, and he began to build a wall for the city. Apparently, neither of the brothers felt very good-natured; for when the wall was up a little way, Remus jumped over it and said scornfully, "That is what your enemies will do." "And this is the way they will fare," Romulus retorted, and struck his brother angrily. For this act he grieved all his life long, for Remus fell dead at his feet.

More people were needed for the new town of Rome. It was not hard to get men, for Romulus invited every one to come, even those who had fled from justice or were outcast for any other reason. They were all welcomed and all protected. It was a different matter to get women; for the tribes about them looked upon the Romans as a collection of rabble and outlaws and scorned the thought of allowing their daughters to marry such good-for-nothings. They had so much curiosity, however, about the new city that when Romulus sent them cordial invitations to attend some games in honor of Nep'tune, they came in full numbers, and the Sa'bines even brought their wives and daughters with them. The strangers were treated with the utmost courtesy, and soon they forgot everything but the games. Suddenly the Romans rushed upon them and seized the young women among their guests and carried them away to become their wives.

The Sabines meant to take some terrible vengeance upon the Romans, but they waited until they were sure they could succeed. Then they advanced upon Rome. Their victory would be certain if they could only capture the citadel, or fortress which protected the city. "What will you take," they asked Tarpeia, the daughter of the Roman commander, "to let us in?" "Give me what you wear on your left arms," she replied eagerly. She meant their heavy golden bracelets; but on their left arms they also carried their shields, and these they threw upon the traitor and so crushed her to death.

The Sabines were now within the city, and a terrible fight began between them and the Romans. But, if the Sabines had been surprised at the games of Neptune, they were thunderstruck now; for right into the midst of the battle ran the stolen women. The Romans had been very kind to them, and they had learned to like their new homes. They begged their husbands not to slay their fathers and brothers, and they begged their fathers and brothers not to slay their husbands. There was no sense in trying to avenge the wrongs of women who did not feel that they had been wronged; and the fighting stopped. The two tribes talked the matter over and became so friendly that they agreed to live together one nation.

Sabine War


These are the legends that have been handed down for many centuries about the founding of Rome. How much truth there is in them it is hard to tell; but the Roman poets and orators were never tired of referring to the tales; and in the magnificent temple of Jupiter which was afterwards built in Rome there was a large statue of the wolf and the twin brothers.


The capture of Troy. — Æneas flees to Thrace. — Delos. — Crete. — The Harpies. — The land of the Cyclopes. — Scylla and Charybdis. — Carthage. — Æneas reaches Italy. — He founds Lavinium. — Ascanius founds Alba Longa. — Amulius steals the throne. — Romulus and Remus are cast into the Tiber. — Their rescue and early life. — They restore the kingdom to Numitor. — Naming the city. — The quarrel. — The seizure of the Sabine women. — The falseness of Tarpeia. — The Sabine women stop the battle.