How One Vestal Virgin May Have Helped Found Rome

The legend of the founding of Rome is one of the most epic tales you will hear. After they were purportedly orphaned by their mother, twin brothers Romulus and Remus established the city of Rome on April 21, 753 B.C. on the site where they were suckled by a she-wolf, per History. The brothers eventually had a falling out that resulted in Romulus killing Remus, which allowed the former to become the first king of Rome. Obviously, the creation of this city was a significant event as it laid the foundation for one of the most influential empires in world history. What is often skipped over, however, is how the brothers ended up at the place where they established this settlement.

Remember how the story says the twin boys were orphaned? It turns out that is not completely true, and this part of the legend is often skipped over. The boys' mother was a woman named Rhea Silvia, daughter of King Numitor of Alba Longa. When her uncle, King Amulius, overthrew her father, she was left at his mercy. As stated by the Brooklyn Museum, Amulius added insult to injury when he forced his niece into service of the goddess Vesta. While that may not sound so bad on the surface, there was a strategic reason for why he did this.

A Vestal Virgin gives birth to the founders of Rome

Vesta is the Roman goddess of hearth, home, and domestic life, per the World History Encyclopedia. Those who served this Roman goddess were known as the Vestal Virgins, and there were many things required of them in order to serve. As a Vestal Virgin, you obviously had to be a virgin, and this rule was the sole reason why Rhea Silvia's uncle forced her to become one. Indeed, King Amulius wanted to eliminate the possibility of any future heirs, and the sure-fire way to do that was to make sure his niece was celibate. Too bad his plan backfired in a major way.

Legend says that the god Mars didn't seem to care that Rhea Silvia was supposed to be chaste and took her virginity anyway. As a result of their coupling, she became pregnant with twins Romulus and Remus. Following their birth, she was imprisoned, and the boys were thrown into the Tiber River to kill them. Per Livy's "The History of Rome, Book 1," that plan failed when the twins washed up onshore and were rescued. Amulius' worst nightmare came true when the brothers returned to Alba Longa, overthrew him, and restored their grandfather Numitor to the throne. Romulus and Remus subsequently founded the city Rome, effectively planting the seeds for what would become the Roman Empire.