The origins of Rome’s name are wrapped in a fascinating mixture of myth and historical evolution. If you’ve ever wondered how Rome got its name, you’re delving into a story steeped in legend.
Tradition holds that the city is named after Romulus, one of the twin brothers who, according to myth, founded Rome.
The legend says that Romulus and his brother Remus, descendants of the Trojan hero Aeneas, were raised by a she-wolf after being abandoned by the Tiber River.
The brothers decided to establish a city but disagreed on the location.
The dispute ended when Romulus killed Remus and named the new city Rome after himself, thus becoming the first ruler of one of the most powerful empires in history.
The name Rome and its founding legends are integral to the cultural fabric of the ancient city, echoing through centuries as a powerful symbol of civilization and authority.
As you explore Rome’s past, you’re not just learning about a place, but also about the mythological and historical narratives that forged the identity of an empire.
Mythological Origins of Rome
In the rich tapestry of ancient myths, Rome’s name is said to derive from the dramatic and legendary tale of twin brothers.
Tale of Romulus and Remus
Your journey into Rome’s mythological past starts with the tragic tale of Romulus and Remus, twin sons of the war god Mars and the priestess Rhea Silvia.
Ovid, along with other ancient sources, chronicles their abandonment as infants and their remarkable survival.
The twins were sentenced to death by exposure, a method not uncommon in ancient times for unwanted children, by their great uncle who usurped their grandfather’s throne.
But fate had other plans, and instead of dying, they were discovered by a she-wolf.
Mars and the She-Wolf
The she-wolf, sent by Mars, took pity on the helpless infants and nurtured them with her milk.
This nurturing by a she-wolf, or lupa, has become emblematic of the city’s origins and a symbol of Rome itself.
The protective she-wolf not only saved their lives but also ensured their place in myth and history.
The Founding of Rome
After growing up and reclaiming their status, Romulus and Remus sought to establish a city.
The brothers, however, disagreed on the location. In the ensuing conflict, Romulus killed Remus and became the sole founder of a new city, which he named Rome after himself.
Your understanding of Rome’s name thus begins with this mix of divine intervention, sibling rivalry, and the legendary foundation of one of the most influential civilizations in human history.
Why Is Rome Called “The Eternal City”?
Rome has garnered the nickname “The Eternal City” for several reasons that are deeply rooted in its history and the perceptions of ancient Romans and poets.
Here’s what has contributed to this enduring title:
- Historical Longevity: Rome’s history spans thousands of years, with civilizations dating back to the ancient Romans.
- Cultural Impact: The city’s ability to influence and integrate different cultures over time contributes to its perception as eternal.
- Resilience: Throughout history, despite facing numerous invasions and conflicts, Rome has managed to survive and maintain its significance.
- Literary Endorsement: The first known reference to Rome as “The Eternal City” was by the poet Tibullus. This idea was further popularized by Virgil and Ovid, whose works praised Rome’s everlasting nature.
- Tibullus (First known reference)
- Virgil (Promoted Rome’s eternal nature)
- Ovid (Continued the motif of Rome’s everlastingness)
To understand why you hear “The Eternal City” in relation to Rome, look back at the history of the Romans who believed in the ceaseless endurance of their city, and the poets who captured that belief in their work.
The title embodies the collective consciousness of the Roman people and the lasting legacy of Rome through the ages.
Nicknames for Rome
Rome, the capital city of Italy, wasn’t just known by its formal name.
It collected several nicknames over the centuries, each reflecting a different aspect of its vast history and influence.
The Eternal City is perhaps the most famous nickname, underlining Rome’s longstanding presence and the idea that it will always exist. This term connotes Rome’s timeless appeal and historic significance.
Caput Mundi, or “Capital of the World,” harkens back to a time when Rome was the epicenter of the Roman Empire, influencing culture, law, and politics far beyond its borders.
For those with a romantic view of the city, Rome is also known as the City of Love, a nickname it shares with Paris due to its picturesque streets, rich history in literature and the arts.
To historians, Rome might evoke the title City of Seven Hills, a geographical nickname that describes the city’s topography, made up of the seven hills Rome was said to be founded on.
Rome’s mythological origin gave rise to the nickname Urbs Aeterna which aligns with the concept of the Eternal City, further entrenching its legacy as an immortal hub of culture, history, and power.
Each nickname serves as a reminder of the city’s diverse heritage and the different facets of its identity through the ages.
Did the Romans ever call their city Rome by any other name?
Certainly, Rome wasn’t always referred to by the name you’re familiar with.
Throughout its long existence, the city has had several monikers.
The Romans themselves called it Roma, but it went beyond that simple designation.
- The Eternal City: This poetic term is a nod to Rome’s longevity and enduring presence. It’s rooted in ancient literature, famously mentioned by the Roman poets Tibullus and Ovid.
- Caput Mundi: Translating to “Capital of the World,” this label reflects Rome’s historical position as a hub of power, culture, and religion during the Roman Empire.
- Urbs Aeterna: Another version of “The Eternal City,” used in classical literature and Latin texts.
It’s also important to note that while these names are rich in historical significance, they were more often used in writing and formal speech.
In everyday usage, Roma would have been the go-to term for its citizens.
The power and influence of ancient Rome were so profound that even the city’s name, in any form, evoked a sense of grandeur and timelessness.
The tale of Rome’s origin is steeped in mythology, with the legend of Romulus and Remus at its core.
Historically, Rome’s beginning dates back to 753 BC, starting as a small settlement and expanding to a vast empire at its zenith.
Rome’s name thus embodies the spirit of both myth and historical achievement.
While you can’t pinpoint the exact moment it got its name, you can appreciate the blend of legend and recorded history that contribute to Rome’s storied past.
The city’s influence and legacy remain evident, not just in ruins and texts, but in the very language and governance systems you’re familiar with.