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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Capitoline Wolf

Capitoline Wolf

Capitoline Wolf

The Capitoline Wolf represents the ancient legend of the founding of Rome. It is a bronze sculpture of the she-wolf suckling the twins, Romulus and Remus. The wolf is depicted in a watchful pose with alert ears and glaring eyes watching. The human twins sculpted in a completely different style, are absorbed in their suckling. The She-wolf is the symbol of the city of Rome. It is one of the ancient symbols of Rome associated with its mythology and founding story. It is a symbol which can be seen throughout Italy and Rome. The Capitoline Wolf takes its name from where it is housed, in the Capitoline Museums in Rome.

The myth of Romulus and Remus states that before Rome was founded, when the grandfather of the twins, was overthrown by his brother, the brother ordered that the twins be cast into the Tiber River and to their death. They were rescued by a she-wolf who cared for them until a herdsman, found and raised them. Thus the she-wolf from the legend of the twins has been regarded as a symbol of Rome from ancient times.

When Romulus and Remus became adults, they took back their grandfather’s kingdom and established a city, which grew into Rome. They later quarrelled, and Romulus killed his brother, Remus, thus beginning the history of Rome with a fratricide.

An interesting backstory to this sculpture is the ongoing debate with regards to the date of the Capitoline She-wolf. The wolf was initially been cast without the twins, and they were a later addition. The twins are Renaissance additions to the sculpture. It has long been believed that the wolf dated to the fifth century B.C.E. and from the Etruscan culture, however, the She-wolf’s date is now debated by new research. If the wolf of the original sculpture is Etruscan in origin, then it did not depict Rome’s she-wolf. Rome acquired the statue as it surpassed the Etruscans in military might and repurposed the art for its own political ends as it did with much of Greek art.

This sculpture image was used on the poster for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome and as the emblem for the games. Sporting teams and academic institutions have used the image. This famous image can be found in paintings, sculptures and on signs, logos, flags and building sculptures.

Founding of Rome

The Founding of Rome is recounted in traditional stories handed down by the ancient Romans themselves as the earliest history of their city in terms of legend and myth. The most famous of all Roman myths is the story of Romulus and Remus, twins who were suckled by a she-wolf as infants in the 8th century BC.

Another account, set earlier, claims that the Roman people are descended from Trojan War hero Aeneas, who escaped to Italy after the war, and whose son, Iulus, was the ancestor of the family of Julius Caesar. The archaeological evidence of human occupation of the area of modern-day Rome, Italy dates from about 14,000 years ago.

Romulus and Remus

Romulus and Remus, in Roman mythology, are twin brothers, whose story tells the events that led to the founding of the city of Rome and the Roman Kingdom by Romulus. Although the tale takes place before the founding of Rome around 750 BC, the earliest known written account of the myth is from the late 3rd century BC.

National Myths

A national myth is a revealing account of an incident about the nation’s past. Such myths often serve as an important national symbol and affirm a set of national values. A widespread myth may sometimes take the form of a national epic.

The myth of the foundation of Rome is the tale of Romulus and Remus, which Virgil broadened in his Aeneid with the odyssey of Aeneas. In which his line of descendants leading to the famous twins and their descent from his royal line, fitted into the already established canon of events.

Similarly, the Old Testament’s story of the Exodus serves as the founding myth for the community of Israel, telling how God delivered the Israelites from slavery and how they, therefore, belonged to him through the Covenant of Mount Sinai.

Highlights of the Capitoline Museums

Reflections

  • Why do nations need a National Myth?
  • Are Greek or Roman National Myths any more credible than many Indigenous Nations myths?
  • Is Rome one big museum?
  • How strange, to our modern ears, is the story of the She-Wolf?

Capitoline Wolf

  • Title:                  Capitoline Wolf
  • Date:                 11th/12th century (wolf) and late 15th century (twins) BCE
  • Material:            Bronze
  • Dimensions:      75 cm × 114 cm (30 in × 45 in)
  • Museums:         Capitoline Museums

Explore Italian Museums

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Quotes about Rome

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“I had rather be first in a village than second at Rome.”
– Julius Caesar

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“I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.”
– Augustus

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“Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning.”
-Giotto di Bondone

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“Rome will exist as long as the Coliseum does; when the Coliseum falls, so will Rome; when Rome falls, so will the world.”
– Venerable Bede

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“Yes, I have finally arrived at this Capital of the World! I now see all the dreams of my youth coming to life… Only in Rome is it possible to understand Rome.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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“Oh Rome! my country! city of the soul!”
– Lord Byron

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“From the dome of St. Peter’s one can see every notable object in Rome… He can see a panorama that is varied, extensive, beautiful to the eye, and more illustrious in history than any other in Europe.”
– Mark Twain

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“Rome is not like any other city. It’s a big museum …”
– Alberto Sordi.

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”How is it possible to say an unkind or irreverential word of Rome? The city of all time, and of all the world!”
– Nathaniel Hawthorne

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“Rome – the city of visible history, where the past of a whole hemisphere seems moving in funeral procession with strange ancestral images and trophies gathered from afar.”
– George Eliot

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“Every one soon or late comes round by Rome.”
– Robert Browning

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“Since the days of Greece and Rome, when the word ‘citizen’ was a title of honour, we have often seen more emphasis put on the rights of citizenship than on its responsibilities.”
– Robert Kennedy

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All roads lead to Rome.

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Rome wasn’t built in a day.

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Fiddle while Rome burns.

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When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

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“As a rule, people worry more about what they can’t see than about what they can.”
– Julius Caesar

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Photo Credit:1) See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons  

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