Rome celebrated its magnificient 2,774th birthday

Last week, Rome celebrated its 2,774th birthday.

Mayor of Rome Virginia Raggi celebrated it by visiting the Victor Emmanuel II National Monument. She stated through social media: “Let’s kick off the celebrations for the 2774th birthday of Rome! This morning at the Altare della Patria in Piazza Venezia I placed a laurel wreath to celebrate our city. Happy birthday Rome!”

If you were ever wondering how the date and year of Rome’s birthday were determined, here is the explanation. According to the legend, son of the goddess Aphrodite and prince of the doomed Greek city of Troy, Aeneas, led the survivors of the Trojan War across the Mediterranean and all the way to the Italian peninsula. Having been guided by gods and destiny to the southwest coast, the hero fought a rival king and married a local princess, winning the right for the Trojans and their descendants to settle. Two of these descendants were Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers abandoned by the River Tiber because the reigning king feared they might one day challenge him for the throne. The boys survived thanks to a she-wolf who nursed them and a shepherd who took them in, before growing into brave fighters with ambitions to found a city of their own.

Myth says that the brothers couldn’t agree on which hill should be the starting ground: the Palatine Hill, preferred by Romulus, or the Aventine Hill wanted by Remus. Romulus began drawing up the limits of the new city. When Remus crossed the boundary he had etched on the ground, his brother (or one of his henchmen) was so angered he killed him. Romulus would go on to found Rome on the Palatine Hill, becoming its first king and its namesake.

Although historians dispute almost every element of this story, that’s the version that Ancient Romans told about their city.

They also pinned the events to a specific day: April 21st, which is the date named by the Roman poet Ovid in his ‘Book of Days’, a literary account of the origins of various Roman festivals throughout the year.

It seems that Roman emperors co-opted an earlier agricultural festival traditionally held on April 21st, which saw shepherds symbolically ‘purify’ their sheep in honour of the god of livestock, Pales. Known as the Parilia, the ritual saw shepherds pray for forgiveness for any accidental offences they and their flock might have given the god, such as trespassing on sacred ground, then make offerings and finally leap through the cleansing flames of a sacred bonfire.

As Rome grew into a metropolis, its rulers repurposed the Parilia and turned it into a celebration of Rome’s legendary origins as a way of uniting Romans behind the city’s old and new identities. Julius Caesar introduced games; Caligula added a procession of the city’s great and good. Over the years, April 21st went from a farming festival to the imposing dies natalis Romae, or ‘birthday of Rome’.

As for the year of Rome’s birth, ancient historians pegged it as 753 BC (though archaeologists have found traces of much older settlements on the Palatine Hill and surrounding areas). Writing in the 1st century BC, Marcus Terentius Varro identified this date from the records available and set it as the starting point of Roman chronology: years were subsequently measured ab urbe condita, or ‘from the founding of the city’, making 753 BC the year AUC 1, explains Photo creditPeter van Briel for Pixabay