Founding in a later period the fratricidal plot was

Founding myths are vital in order to unite a
nation and foster a sense of belonging among an organized group of people
(Mayor, 70). Roman literary tradition well embodies
this concept well as it handed down several
different mythological accounts concerning the origins of the Eternal City. Amongst
the most renowned accounts are that of pius Aeneas, and Romulus and Remus.

Given the chronological discrepancy, Paduan historian Livy attempts to bridge
the two stories at the beginning of his masterpiece Ab Urbe Condita (AUC). By
recounting founding myths, Livy intends to deepen the roots of Roman
self-identity, and conveys the message that the mos maiorum is key in defying the violence upon which the
establishment of Rome rests.

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Historical Context

Since Livy writes in the period following the
battle of Actium in 31 BC, he cannot be strictly considered a primary source
for the foundation of Rome with the result that his AUC is filtered through the lenses of his own historical time and
it might provide insights concerning the author’s view on the political
dynamics of his period. Therefore, in order to understand the way Livy shapes
the myth, one must be familiar with the historical context. In fact, as Wiseman
highlights, the legends that a culture hands down about
itself evolve over time and are forged by “tensions from within and without.”
For example, initially tradition dictated that a pastoral community appointed
Romulus and Remus as equal rulers, but in a later period the fratricidal plot
was added.

When Livy composeds
his work, Rome had just faced a long series of exhausting civil wars and the
victory of Octavian at Actium seemed to have potentially broken that horrific cycle,
and to prefigure a new founding. In fact, Kenneth Scott argues that perhaps
Livy, strong supporter of the Republic, suggests that Augustus deserved to be
considered as a second founder of the city, a
second Romulus (94).

Mos maiorum

In the
preface of his greatest literary accomplishment, Livy informs the reader about
the pedagogic intent behind his history. According to the Paduan historian the
analysis of the past represents the foundation of understanding one’s current
time, and the key for success. Through his exempla
Livy sends across the clear message that honoring the ancient values of Rome
was a source of power, and
the only way to safeguard peace within the City,
while the decline of the traditional morals represented the seed of discontent
and civil conflicts. The idea that Livy conveys is corroborated by Augustus’
attempt to restore and reinforce the principles of the mos maiorum in order to gain the trust and support of the Romans, a
fact which shows that values such as war, peace, moderatio and pietas had been embedded in the Latin culture since the very
foundation of the Rome. The employment of this paradigmatic literary technique must have inspired feelings of respect for
the past and for the lessons it contains in Livy’s audience (Chaplin, 111). By
the way method that
the author employs to recount founding stories, the reader must have felt urged
to unifty
after the rivalry of the civil wars. Livy is therefore conveying the idea of
restoration in terms of a Copernican
revolution, namely the necessity to recommit to the founding principles that
were essential in the creation of Early Rome.

In the description of the miraculous rescue
and survival of Romulus and Remus, Livy suggests to the reader that Rome was
divinely founded and destined to greatness (Bernard, 39-51); in fact, in Book 1
of AUC Romulus was commanded to
“announce to the Romans that it is the will of heaven that Rome become caput orbis terrarum.” This prophecy was
perfectly tailored to Livy’s audience as Rome was facing a stage of exponential
growth, and most likely represented a reminder of their identity and a
celebration of the virtue of romanitas—an
invitation to turn against hostes,
and not against inimici as it
happened in the case of civil conflicts.


Although at first blush AUC appears as a eulogy of the origin and glory
of Rome, a more in- depth
reflection of Livy’s founding myth might reveal something more. In fact, as
Wiseman points out, it appears bizarre that murder is the act that sanctions
the establishment of the City. In fact, Romulus’ assassination of his brother
Remus seems to suggest that Rome was founded on the seed of self-destruction
from which monarchy and the decline of the mos
maiorum sprung, as illustrated by the story of the rape of Lucretia. The
fruit of monarchy, represented by Sextus Tarquinius, corrupts the traditional
Roman values incarnated by Lucretia. Livy’s audience who had just experienced
the detrimental effects of the civil wars might have interpreted Livy’s
founding story twofold. Some readers might have developed a pessimistic view
concerning the imminent future of Rome—after all, the civil wars mirror the
fratricide of Remus at the hand of Romulus, and therefore their story must have
instilled fear of a potential monarchy (Augustus was initially considered and
considered himself a new Romulus). On the other hand, Livy’s audience might
have understood civil conflicts and /fratricide
as a necessary sacrifice necessary
for the foundation and expansion of Rome, and contemplated the
civil wars as a heart wrenching, yet crucial
moment for Rome’s pursuit of its divine destiny (Mayor, 73). Perhaps,
this is also Livy’s view as he doesn’t seem to deem Remus’ murder as the “original
sin,” but he instead finds the kernel of Rome’s failure in the greed for
absolute power (Levick, 25) which was the catalyst that triggered the fight between
the twins—as stated in Book 1: “avitum
malum, regni cupido.” Through his stories Livy warns his audience and
Rome’s leaders to purge themselves from this “ancestral vice” that is only
capable to separate and destroy, and urges his fellow citizens to unite again
in traditional values.


reporting the foundation story of Rome, Livy obtains the result that his
monumental Ab Urbe Condita appears to
be structured as a parable. In fact, it is possible to identify several layers
of meaning depending on the reader’s capacity to look beyond the surface. The undisputable
message his myths convey is the importance to achieve greater unity, and the
necessity of a new foundation established upon roots of morality and not upon
the mortiferus seed of communal
suicide dictated by individualistic thirst for power.