Livy and Ennius on the Founding of Rome

Two excerpts detailing how Romulus defeated his brother, Remus, and became the founder of Rome.  

Ab Urbe Condita, Chapter 7.1-7.3, Titus Livius:

It is reported that the omen first came to Remus, six vultures; and now with the omen having been delivered when double the number showed itself to Romulus, and his own multitude greeted each as king: those (lay claim to the kingship) because of time in advance, and these men by the number of birds. With an altercation having been gathered by a contest of angers they turned to murder; there Remus, having been hit, died in the crowd. The more well known story crossed over the new walls in mockery of the brother; from which by the anger of Romulus, when he added these words while also chiding, “then thus, should anyone cross over my walls,” he killed Remus.

priōrī Remō augurium vēnisse fertur, sex volturēs; iamque nuntiātō auguriō cum duplex numerus Rōmulō sē ostendisset, utrumque rēgem sua multitūdō cōnsalūtāverat: tempore illī praeceptō, at hī numerō avium rēgnum trahēbant. inde cum altercātiōne congressī certāmine īrārum ad caedem vertuntur; ibi in turbā ictus Remus cecidit. volgātior fāma est lūdibriō frātris Rēmum novōs trānsiluisse mūrōs; inde ab īrātō Rōmulō, cum verbīs quoque increpitāns adiēcisset, ‘sīc deinde, quīcumque alius trānsiliet moenia mea,’ interfectum.

Book 1 of the Annals, Lines 81-100, Quintus Ennius:

Caring with great care and then desiring

The kingdom, they give their attention at the same time with auspiciousness and augury.

[Here] Remus devotes himself to the auspices and
alone saves the second bird. but Romulus seeks the fair on the high
Aventine, and preserves the high-flying race.
They contested whether they should call the city Rome Remoram.
All men were concerned as to which one was the most impudent.
They wait or use, when the consul sends the signal
Volt, all eagerly look at the edges of the prison,
As soon as the painted from the jaws of the chariot will issue:
Thus the people waited and the edge held
Rebus, which great victory was given to the kingdom.
In the meantime the white sun had retreated into the inferno of the night.
From the outside, the white light gave itself to the rays.
And at the same time, from afar, the most beautiful bar
The bird flew to the left: at the same time the golden sun rose.
Three or four holy bodies of birds descend from heaven
, and give themselves to precipices and beautiful places.
From this he sees that Romulus was given to him as the prior, and
the throne was established under the auspices of the kingdom.

Curantes magna cum cura tum cupientes Regni dant operam simul auspicio augurioque. [Hinc] Remus auspicio se devovet atque secundam
Solus avem servat. at Romulus pulcher in alto
Quaerit Aventino, servat genus altivolantum.
Certabant urbem Romam Remoramne vocarent.
Omnibus cura viris uter esset induperator.
Expectant vel uti, consul cum mittere signum
Volt, omnes avidi spectant ad carceris oras,
Quam mox emittat pictis e faucibus currus:
Sic expectabat populus atque ora tenebat
Rebus, utri magni victoria sit data regni.
Interea sol albus recessit in infera noctis.
Exin candida se radiis dedit icta foras lux.
Et simul ex alto longe pulcherruma praepes
Laeva volavit avis: simul aureus exoritur sol.
Cedunt de caelo ter quattor corpora sancta
Avium, praepetibus sese pulchrisque locis dant.
Conspicit inde sibi data Romulus esse priora,
Auspicio regni stabilita scamna locumque

Livy and Ennius both describe similar events in Romulus’ and Remus’ augury contest. The two authors agree that Romulus and Remus vied for their own name to be used as the name of the new city, and relied in some way on omens to determine this. However, the accounts differ in the way in which the story is told, as Livy emphasizes the crucial role the two brothers played in this contest while Ennius focuses on the role of the fates, rendering the two brothers as merely agents of the gods’ wills. 

Livy begins by detailing how six vultures showed themselves to Remus first as an omen (priori … voltures), and later 12 vultures showed themselves to Romulus as an omen as well (iamque … ostendisset). These omens made both brothers, and their followers, believe that they each should be considered king of their new city: Remus and his crowd believed the omens pointed favorably to him because he saw the birds first, while Romulus and his crowd believed the greater number of birds seen by Romulus outweighed the timing (tempore … trahebant). However, the true naming process transpired completely independently from these omens. According to Livy, the story goes that Remus was mocking Romulus by crossing over the line where Romulus’ city walls would stand, breaching into his territory (volgatior … muros). This mockery angered Romulus so greatly that he killed Remus (interfectum) and stated that anyone else who also crossed into over his city walls would receive the same fate (sic … moenia mea), an act that gave him sole power. Despite Livy’s brief discussion of the omens, Remus’ murder, and the city then being named after Romulus, occurred “from the anger of Romulus” (ab … Romulo), confirming that the contest between the brothers was decided entirely by the brothers. 

Ennius similarly leads with discussion of the omens, yet, in contrast to Livy, continues using those omens to prove why the city was named after Romulus. Both brothers look out for omens (simul … augurioque) to win the “contest” and the right to name the city after themself. Ennius further states that each brother so diligently looks for omens because that alone is how they will decide who the city is named after (certabant … vocarent). After repeated descriptions of the birds, namely the 12 that Romulus sees (cedunt … avium), Ennius writes that Romulus will be given the throne, which was established by an omen (data … stabilita). Throughout the story, Ennius barely even mentions Romulus and Remus, instead focusing entirely on the nature and beauty of the birds. He even takes time to describe the setting and rising of the sun (sol albus … lux), further emphasizing his writing flourishes over the fundamental facts of the story and differentiating himself from the fact-driven style of Livy’s writing that relies on more simple sentence structure. 

watercolor of two men looking at birds with hills in the background
Romulus and Remus – Crystalinks

My name is Matthew Abati, and I am a rising high school senior at Milton Academy just outside of Boston. I have been a Classics lover since middle school and am very excited to share some of my thoughts on the Classics here on Sententiae Antiquae! When I’m not in school, I love to read all types of books and play all types of sports.

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