Quest 2,500 year old sarcophagus of Romulus, legendary founder of Rome

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Quest 2,500 year old sarcophagus of Romulus, legendary founder of Rome
Quest 2,500 year old sarcophagus of Romulus, legendary founder of Rome

Archaeologists in Rome are to embark on a quest for a 2,500-year-old stone sarcophagus linked to the legend of the city’s fabled founder – Romulus.

They believe it lies hidden in a chamber deep beneath the Forum, once the heart of ancient Rome and now an area of ruined temples and imperial palaces that attracts millions of tourists a year.

The stone casket is believed to date from the 4th century BC, when it was placed inside a chamber in a mystical, sacred area of the Forum that celebrated the founding of Rome.

Archeologists believe it lies around 10ft underground, buried out of sight beneath a building known as the Comitium – a precursor to the Roman Senate.

Romulus is said to have founded Rome in the 8th century BC after murdering his brother, Remus.

According to legend, the twins were ordered to be thrown into the Tiber in a basket by a vengeful king.

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Instead, his servants left them on the riverbank, where they were found and suckled by a she-wolf, which remains the symbol of the city.

Archeologists made a connection between the long-lost stone sarcophagus and Romulus after scouring classical texts, including accounts by Horace and Livy, as well as records left by a 19th century archeologist, Giacomo Boni.

He glimpsed the stone casket during excavations in 1899 but did not make the link to Romulus.

The chamber was sealed and forgotten – until now.

“This is a new hypothesis, that the sarcophagus is linked to the cult of Romulus,” Patrizia Fortini, the archeologist in charge of the project, told The Telegraph as she surveyed the sight in the Forum, beneath a giant triumphal arch.

“We don’t expect to find any bodily remains – the cask was placed there about four centuries after Romulus’ death as a symbol, a memory of the man,” she said.

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There is no concrete proof that Romulus and Remus existed. According to legend, Romulus was murdered and dismembered by members of the Senate, before ascending to the heavens as a god.

But Alfonsina Russo, the director of the archeological area that includes the Forum, the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum, believes that the legend of the feuding brothers was based on the real founders of Rome.

“He may have existed. There are always elements of truth to foundation myths like this,” she said, standing on a cracked marble pavement beneath which the sarcophagus is thought to be hidden.

The search for the casket, which is due to start in the summer, comes as a new film about Romulus is released in Italy.

Il Primo Re, or The First King, is a blood-soaked epic in which the actors converse in archaic Latin – it comes with subtitles in Italian.

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“The release of the film is a coincidence,” said Prof Russo. “We’ve been working on this project for years. The film portrays the early Romans as barbarians, almost like Stone Age people, but in fact they were very sophisticated with a highly developed social order.”

If the casket is discovered, and if it does indeed have links to the legendary founder of Rome, the area will be opened to the public.

In 2007, archeologists found a cave which was a shrine to the legend of Romulus and Remus being nursed by the she-wolf.

The cave, known as the Lupercale, derived from the Latin word for wolf, was a place of worship that was sacred to the ancient Romans.

Decorated with coloured mosaics and sea shells, it was found 50ft underground in a previously unexplored area of the Palatine Hill, where Roman emperors built their palaces.

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