The founding of Rome can be investigated through archaeology, but traditional stories handed down by the ancient Romans themselves explain the earliest history of their city in terms of legend and myth.
The most familiar of these myths, and perhaps the most famous of all Roman myths, is the story of Romulus and Remus, the twins who were suckled by a she-wolf. This story had to be reconciled with a dual tradition, set earlier in time, the one that had the Trojan refugee Aeneas escape to Italy and found the line of Romans through his son Iulus, the namesake of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
The national epic of mythical Rome, the Aeneid of Virgil, tells the story of how Trojan prince Aeneas came to Italy. The Aeneid was written under Augustus, who claimed ancestry through Julius Caesar from the hero and his mother Venus. According to the Aeneid, the survivors from the fallen city of Troy banded together under Aeneas and underwent a series of adventures around the Mediterranean Sea, including a stop at newly founded Carthage under the rule of Queen Dido, eventually reaching the Italian coast. The Trojans were thought to have landed in an area between modern Anzio and Fiumicino, southwest of Rome, probably at Laurentum or, in other versions, at Lavinium, a place named for Lavinia, the daughter of King Latinus whom Aeneas married. This started a series of armed conflicts with Turnus over the marriage of Lavinia. Before the arrival of Aeneas, Turnus was betrothed to Lavinia, who then married Aeneas, starting the war. Aeneas won the war and killed Turnus. The Trojans won the right to stay and to assimilate with the local peoples. The young son of Aeneas Ascanius, also known as Iulus, went on to found Alba Longa and the line of Alban kings who filled the chronological gap between the Trojan saga and the traditional founding of Rome in the 8th century BC.
Toward the end of this line, King Procas was the father of Numitor and Amulius. At Procas' death, Numitor became king of Alba Longa, but Amulius captured him and sent him to prison; he also forced Numitor's daughter Rhea Silvia to become a virgin priestess among the Vestals. For many years, Amulius was the king. The tortuous nature of the chronology is indicated by Rhea Silvia's ordination among the Vestals, whose order was traditionally said to have been founded by Romulus's successor Numa Pompilius.
Romulus and Remus
The myth of Aeneas was of Greek origin and had to be reconciled with the Italian myth of Romulus and Remus, who would have been born around 771 BC if taken as historical figures. They were purported to be sons of Rhea Silvia and either Mars, the god of war, or the demi-god hero Hercules. They were abandoned at birth, in the manner of many mythological heroes, because of a prophecy that they would overthrow their great-uncle Amulius, who had overthrown Silvia's father Numitor. They were abandoned on the Tiber River by servants who took pity on the infants, despite their orders. The twins were nurtured by a she-wolf until a shepherd named Faustulus found the boys and took them as his sons. Faustulus and his wife Acca Larentiaraised the children. When Remus and Romulus became adults, they killed Amulius and restored Numitor. They decided to establish a city; however, they quarreled, and Romulus killed his brother. Thus, Rome began with a fratricide, a story that was later taken to represent the city's history of internecine political strife and bloodshed.
The ancient Romans were certain of the day Rome was founded: April 21, the day of the festival sacred to Pales, goddess of shepherds, on which date they celebrated the Par ilia (or Palilia). However, they did not know the exact year the city had been founded; this is one reason they preferred to date their years by the presiding consuls rather than using the formula A.U.C. or Ab Urbe Condita. Several dates had been proposed by ancient authorities, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus records these: the Greek historian Timaeus, the first to write a history of the Romans, stated that Rome was founded in the 38th year prior to the first Olympiad, or 814 BC; Quintus Fabius Pictor, the first Roman to write the history of his people, stated Rome was founded in the first year of the eighth Olympiad, or 748/7 BC; Cincius Alimentus claimed Rome was founded in the fourth year of the twelfth Olympiad, or 719/8 BC; and Cato the Elder calculated that Rome was founded 432 years after the Trojan War, which Dionysius stated was the first year of the seventh Olympiad, or 752/3 BC. Dionysius himself provided calculations showing that Rome was founded in 751 BC, starting with the Battle of the Allia, which he dated to the first year of the ninth Olympiad, or 390 BC, then added 119 years to reach the date of the first consuls, Junius Brutus and Tarquinius Collatinus, then added the combined total of the reigns of the Kings of Rome (244 years) to arrive at his own date, 751 BC. Even the official Fasti Capitolini offers its own date, 752 BC.
The most familiar date given for the foundation of Rome, 753 BC, was derived by the Roman antiquarian Titus Pomponius Atticus, and adopted by Varro, having become part of what has come to be known as the Varronian chronology. An anecdote in Plutarch where the astrologer Lucius Tarrutius of Firmum provides an argument based on a non-existent eclipse and other erroneous astronomical details that Rome was founded in 753 BC suggests that this had become the most commonly accepted date. Through its use by the third-century writer Censorinus, whose De Die Natali was the ultimate influence of Joseph Justus Scaliger's work to establish a scientific basis of ancient chronology, it became familiar.
Recent discoveries by Andrea Carandini on Rome's Palatine Hill have also yielded evidence of a series of fortification walls on the north slope that can be dated to the middle of the 8th century BC. According to the legend, Romulus plowed a furrow (sulcus) around the hill in order to mark the boundary of his new city.