Roman Conquest of Italy

Developments at Rome

Roman Temples: Temple of Quirinus

Fragment of the Templum Gentis Flaviae (Museo Nazionale, Rome)

It probably depicts the facade of the temple of Quirinus after its Augustan restoration of 16 BC

Copyright ©1997, 2002 Ministero per i Beni Culturali e Ambientali, Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma

and the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan  

According to Pliny the Elder:

  1. “... the temple of Quirinus (or, in other words, of Romulus himself) was one of the most ancient [temples] in Rome”, (‘Natural History’, 15: 36).

  2. Cicero asked Atticus whether he agreed accepted the:

  3. “... fact that Romulus, after his death, while wandering about near the place where your house now stands [i.e., on the Quirinal], met Proculus Julius, told him that he was a god, and was called Quirinus, and ordered that a temple be dedicated to him on that spot?”, (‘On the Laws’, 1: 3, translate by Clinton Keyes, at p. 299).

According to Varro:

  1. “The Quirinal Hill was so named because there was the fanum of Quirinus; others say that it is derived from the Quirites, who came with Tatius from Cures to the vicinity of Rome, because they established their camp there”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 51, translated by Roland Kent, at p. 49).

Festus (‘De verborum significatu’, 305 L) recorded that it was on the Quirinal Hill. 

Servius, in his commentary on Virgils ‘Aeneid’, claimed that

  1. Mars enim cum saevit Gradivus dicitur, cum tranquillus est Quirinus. denique in urbe duo eius templa sunt:

  2. unum Quirini intra urbem, quasi custodis et tranquilli;

  3. aliud in Appia via extra urbem prope portam, quasi bellatoris, id est Gradivi”, (‘ad Aen’, 1: 292)

  4. “When Mars rages, he is called Gradivus: when he is tranquil, he is called Quirinus. He has two temples in Rome:

  5. one within the city, to Quirinus, as guardian of peace; and

  6. one on via Appia, outside of the city, near the gate, to Gradivus as warrior”, (my translation)

Matthew Robinson (referenced below, at p. 601 and notes 3 and 4) observed that:

  1. “... we know:

  2. from the extant fasti that [the Quirinalia] was a ‘large letter festival’. and that it fell on the 17th February; [and]

  3. from the literary sources, ... that the day was sacred to Quirinus, and that some unspecified rites to the god were performed ...”

Cult of Quirinus

It is

Livy recorded that, after his victories at Aquilonia and Saepinium over the Samnites in 293 BC, towards the end of the Third Samnite War, the consul L. Papirius Cursor:

  1. “... dedicated the temple of Quirinus.  I do not find in any ancient author that it was he who vowed this temple in the crisis of a battle, and certainly he could not have completed it in so short a time; it was vowed by his [homonymous] father when dictator, and the son dedicated it when consul, and adorned it with the spoils of the enemy”, (‘‘History of Rome’’, 10: 46: 6-7).

This victory had been secured against a magnificently armed Samnite army, and:

  1. “There was such a vast quantity of [spoils] that, not only were the temple and the Forum adorned with them, but they were distributed amongst the allied peoples and the nearest colonies to decorate their public spaces and temples”, (‘‘History of Rome’’, 10: 46: 8).

Pliny the Elder recorded that:

  1. “The first sundial is said to have been erected among the Romans twelve years before the war with Pyrrhus, by L. Papirius Cursor, when dedicating the temple of Quirinus, which had been vowed by his father”, (‘Natural History’, 7: 60).

Caesarian Restoration

According to Cassius Dio, as Caesar sailed for Greece in 49 BC in pursuit of Sextus Pompeius and his army:

  1. ... at the very moment that he landed at Dyrrachium [on the coast of modern Albania], he learned that he would not obtain a prosperous outcome.  For [there had been a series of evil omens, including] a fire that consumed the temple of Quirinus  [in Rome]... ”, (Roman History’, 41: 14: 3).

Cassius Dio (among other sources) recorded that the Senate granted a series of quasi-royal privileges to Julius Caesar in 45 BC.  As Beatrice Poletti (referenced below, at p. 130) observed, at least three of these highlighted his familial link to Romulus:

  1. “... named [Caesar] father of his country ...”, (‘Roman History’, 44: 4: 4);

  2. “ ... [mandated the setting up of a likeness of him] in the Temple of Quirinus with the inscription, ‘To the Invincible God’, and another on the Capitol beside the former kings of Rome”, (‘Roman History’, 43: 45: 3); and

  3. “... gave him the right to offer spolia opima, as they are called, at the temple of Jupiter Feretrius, as if he had slain some hostile general with his own hands”, (‘Roman History’, 44: 4: 3).

Cassius Dio also recorded an honour related to the ludi Circenses (chariot races at the circus, held during religious festivals):

  1. “.. the Senate ... decreed ... [first] that an ivory statue of [Caesar] and later that a whole chariot should appear in the procession at the  games in the Circus, together with the statues of the gods.  Another likeness they set up in the Temple of Quirinus with the inscription, ‘To the Invincible God’, and [yet] another on the Capitol beside the former kings of Rome”, (‘Roman History’, 43 :45: 2-3 ).

Cicero made his opinion of this latest honour clear in his letter to Atticus of 26th May 45 BC, in which he responded to what must have been a suggestion by Atticus that he should write a conciliatory letter to Caesar:

  1. “... don't you see that even that famous pupil of Aristotle [Alexander the Great], distinguished for the very best ability and the most perfect conduct, no sooner got the title of king than he became haughty, cruel, and ungovernable?  Well now, do you think that this god of the procession [i.e., Caesar], this messmate of Quirinus, is likely to be gratified by temperate letters such as I should write?”, (Letter to Atticus, 13: 28).

When Cicero (who was still at Tusculum awaiting for Caesar’s return) heard about Caesar’s statue in the Temple of Quirinus in a letter from Atticus, he replied that

  1. “I would rather that he shared temples with Quirinus than with Salus [the god of safety]”, (Letter to Atticus, 12: 45).


  1. “... Caesar ... could claim a close relation to Romulus on account of his Trojan genealogy and the role, in the Romulean legend, of his ancestor Julius Proculus, the patrician who supposedly witnessed Romulus’s apotheosis.”  

Poletti noted that,Stefan Weinstock (referenced below, at p. 233) observed that the third of these was:

  1. “... an extraordinary decree, because[Caesar] had not killed an adversary in battle.  It was the greatest military distinction, awarded [before that time] only to Romulus [and to two other Roman commanders who had killed an enemy leader in single combat.  Caesar] was to be the fourth [to receive this distinction, although there is no surviving evidence that he did dedicate spoils in the temple].”

He also noted (at p. 232) that Caesar had allowed Marcus Claudius Marcellus (consul 51 BC) to return to Rome at the behest of both his cousin, Caius Claudius Marcellus (consul 49 BC) and Cicero.

Cassius Dio recorded that, before setting out from Rome for Gaul in 16 BC, Augustus:

  1. ... dedicated the temple of Quirinus, which he had rebuilt.  I mention this because he adorned it with 76 columns, which was the exact number of the years that he lived, and thus caused some to declare [obviously in retrospect] that he had chosen this number deliberately and not by mere chance”, (‘Roman History’, 54: 19: 4). 

According to Vitruvius, as rebuilt by Augustus, the temple, which he characterised as Doric, belonged to a type known as:

  1. The dipteros, [which] has eight columns in front and behind and ... double rows of columns around the sanctuary ... ”, (‘Ten Books of Architecture’, 3: 2: 7).

The temple in the relief above seems to be tetrastyle, probably for the purpose of simplification. 

Apotheosis of Romulus/ Quirinus


Our surviving sources for the narrative of the alleged apotheosis of Romulus as Quirinus all date from or after the time of Cicero.  However, it is unlikely that these accounts originated in this period.  In this context, Timothy Cornell (referenced below, 1986, at p. 244) observed that:

  1. “...  the Romans of Cicero's day  ... who had any sort of education probably obtained their first and most lasting impressions [of their own history] from Ennius' ‘Annals’, an epic poem in eighteen books written in the first decades of the 2nd century BC.”

This work no longer survives, although there are many references to it in other sources that do.  John Newman characterised Ennius as:

  1. “...  the pioneer at Rome of Hellenistic ideas ...  In conscious imitation of Greek legend about Heracles  ..., he invented (or at least gave classic formulation to) the story of Romulus' apotheosis and and thus foisted upon Roman belief a notion before utterly alien to it. 

Three surviving fragments are relevant here (from the Warmington translation in the Attalus webpage ‘Ennius: Annales (fragments): Books 1-6’):

  1. Servius, in his commentary on Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’, referenced two passages on the deified Romulus from Ennius’ ‘Annals’:

  2. referetur [Romulus] inter deos cum Aenea (Romulus will be counted with Aeneas among the gods)”, (fragment 113, in a commentary on ‘Aeneid’, 6: 777); and 

  3. Romulus in caelo cum dis genitalibus aevum digit (Romulus lives from age to age in Heaven with the gods that gave him birth))”, (fragment 114, in a commentary on ‘Aeneid’, 6: 763).

  4. In the 4th century AD, the grammarian Marcellus attributed the following line to Book I of the ‘Annals’:

  5. Teque quirine pater veneror Horamque quirini (Thee I worship, father Quirinus, and thee, Hora, consort of Quirinus)”, (fragment 116).

These fragments indicate that Ennius recorded cults of the deified Romulus and of Quirinus in Rome in  the 2nd century BC, although we cannot assume that the deified Romulus was equated with Quirinus at this early date.


According the Cicero:

  1. “... the period in which the story of Romulus' immortality gamed credence [at Rome] was one in which human life had become a matter of old experience, and men had already reflected upon it and ascertained its nature.  And yet certainly there was in Romulus such conspicuous ability that men believed about him, on the authority of that untutored peasant, Proculus Julius, that which for many ages before they had not believed about any human being: we are told that this Proculus, at the instigation of the senators (who wanted to free themselves from all suspicion in regard to Romulus' death) stated before a public assembly that he had seen Romulus on the hill now called Quirinal; and that Romulus had charged him to ask the people to build him a shrine on that hill, as he was now a god and was called Quirinus”, (‘On the Republic’, 2: 20).


Livy later elaborated on this incident: the the last time that Romulus was seen alive, he was conducting:

  1. “... a review of his army at the ‘Caprae Palus’ in the Campus Martius.  A violent thunder storm suddenly arose and enveloped  [him] in so dense a cloud that he was quite invisible to the [assembled men].  From that moment, Romulus was no longer seen on earth.  ... [When] bright, calm sunshine [returned] after such fearful weather, .. the royal seat was vacant.  ... The senators who had been standing close to him [asserted] that he had been snatched away to heaven by a whirlwind ...  At length, ...[all] those present hailed Romulus as a god, the son of a god,  and regem parentemque urbis Romana (the king and father of the city of Rome).  They made  supplications for his grace and favour, and prayed that he would be propitious to his children [i.e., the Romans] and save and protect them”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 16: 1-3).

Livy was extremely sceptical about this reported apotheosis:

  1. “I believe ... that, even at that time, there were some who secretly hinted that [Romulus had actually been torn limb from limb by the senators, presumably under the cover of the violent storm]; a tradition to this effect, although certainly a very dim one, has filtered down to us”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 16: 4).

Livy noted that:

  1. “... the generally-accepted belief [in the apotheosis of Romulus] was strengthened by one man's clever device: the tradition runs that a man called Proculus Julius, whose authority had weight in matters of even the gravest importance, saw how deeply the community felt the loss of the king, and how incensed they were against the senators”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 16: 5). 

He therefore appeared before the assembly and reported that, at dawn on that very day:

  1. “... the father of this city [i.e., Romulus] suddenly descended from heaven and appeared to me.  Whilst, thrilled with awe, I stood rapt before him in deepest reverence, praying that I might be pardoned for gazing upon him, ‘ He addressed me as follows:

  2. ‘Go, ‘tell the Romans that it is the will of heaven that my city of Rome should be the head of all the world.  Let them henceforth cultivate the arts of war: let them know for certain that no human might can withstand the arms of Rome, and let them  hand down this  knowledge to posterity’”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 16: 7). 

Plutarch had Romulus end his message to Proculus Julius with the words:

  1. “... farewell, and tell the Romans that, if they practise self-restraint and add to it valour, they will reach the utmost heights of human power.  And I will be your propitious deity, Quirinus”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 28: 2).

Livy dismissed this tale by observing that:

  1. “It is marvellous what credit was given to this man's story, and how the grief of the people and the army was soothed by the belief that it created in the immortality of Romulus”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 16: 8).

Dionysius of Halicarnassus 

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who made no mention of proculus Julius, Romulus’ third triumph (following his defeat of the Etruscan city state of Veii) was his last:

  1. “His failure to subdue any more of the neighbouring nations seems to have been due to his sudden death, which happened while he was still in the vigour of his age for warlike achievements.  There are many different stories concerning it.

  2. Those who give a rather fabulous account of his life say that while he was haranguing his men in the camp, sudden darkness rushed down out of a clear sky and a violent storm burst, after which he was nowhere to be seen; and these writers believe that he was caught up into heaven by his father, Mars.

  3. But those who write the more plausible accounts say that he was killed by his own people; and the reason they allege for his murder is that he released without the common consent, contrary to custom, the hostages he had taken from the Veientes, and that he no longer comported himself in the same manner toward the original citizens and toward those who were enrolled later, but showed greater honour to the former and slighted the latter, and ... chiefly because he now seemed to be harsh and arbitrary and to be exercising his power more like a tyrant than a king.  For these reasons, they say, the patricians formed a conspiracy against him and resolved to slay him; and having carried out the deed in the senate-house, they divided his body into several pieces ... and then emerged, each one hiding his part of the body under his robes and afterwards burying it in secret.

  4. Others say that while haranguing the people, he was slain by the new citizens of Rome, and that they undertook the murder at the time when the rain and the darkness occurred, the assembly of the people being then dispersed and their chief left without his guard.  And for this reason, they say, the day on which this event happened got its name from the flight of the people and is called Populifugia [a festival celebrated on 5th July], down to our times.

  5. Be that as it may, the incidents that occurred by the direction of Heaven in connexion with this man's birth and death would seem to give considerable authority to the view of those who make gods of mortal men and place the souls of illustrious persons in Heaven.  For ,they say that, at the time when his mother was violated, whether by some man or by a god, there was a total eclipse of the sun and a general darkness as in the night covered the earth, and that at his death the same thing happened.  Such, then, is reported to have been the death of Romulus, who built Rome and was chosen by her citizens as their first king. He left no issue, and after reigning 37 years, died in the 55th year of his age; for he was very young when he obtained the rule, being no more than eighteen years old, as is agreed by all who have written his history”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 56: 1-7).


Ovid, in his entry for 17th February, noted that:

  1. “For when the father [Mars], lord of arms, saw the new walls and the many wars waged by the hand of Romulus, he cried:

  2. ‘O Jupiter, the Roman power is strong: it no longer needs the services of my offspring: to the father, give back the son.  Though one of the two, [Remus], has perished, the one who is left to me will suffice both for both.  You, yourself, have promised that:

  3. ‘There will be one that you will exalt one of them to the blue heavens.’

  4. Let the word of Jupiter be kept.’

  5. Jupiter nodded assent.  At his nod both the poles shook and Atlas shifted the burden of the sky. There is a place which the ancients call the the Caprae Palus  (Marsh of the Goat).  It chanced that, there, Romulus, you were judging your people.  The sun vanished and rising clouds obscured the heaven, and there fell a heavy shower of rain in torrents. Then it thundered, then the sky was riven by shooting flames.  The people fled, and the [Romulus] soared to the stars on his father’s horse.  There was mourning, and the senators were falsely charged with murder ... But, as  Julius Proculus was coming from Alba Longa ... the hedges on his left suddenly shook and trembled. ... It seemed to him that Romulus ...  [appeared to him] and said:

  6. ‘Forbid the Quirites to mourn, let them not profane my divinity by their tears.  Bid the pious throng to bring incense and propitiate the new Quirinus, and bid them cultivate the arts their fathers cultivated, the art of war.’

  7. So he ordered, and from the other’s eyes he vanished into thin air.  Proculus called the people together and reported the words as he had been bid.  Temples were built to the god, and the hill also was named after him, and the rites observed by our fathers come round on fixed days”, (‘Fasti’: 2: 480-511, translated by James Frazer, referenced below, at pp. 91-5). 

Varro used the same words as Ovid for Jupiter’s promise to Mars that one of his sons will be deified, attributing it to ‘the poets’: Eric Warmington included the Varronian quotation as fragment 63-4 of Ennius’ ‘Annals’.

Read more:

B. Poletti, “Dionysius of Halicarnassus and the 'Founders' of Rome: Depicting Characters in the Roman Antiquities”, (2018, thesis of the University of Alberta

M. Robinson, “Festivals, Fools and the Fasti: The Quirinalia and the Feriae Stultorum (Ovid, Fast. II 475-532)”, Aevum Antiquum N.S.3 (2003),  609-621

E. Curti, “From Concordia to the Quirinal. Notes on Religion and Politics in Mid Republican/Hellenistic Rome”, in:

  1. E. Bispham and C. Smith (Eds), “Religion in Archaic and Republican Rome and Italy: Evidence and Experience”, (2000) Edinburgh. at pp. 77-91

T. J. Cornell, “Review of ‘The Annals of Q. Ennius by O. Skutsch [1985, Oxford]’, Journal of Roman Studies, 76 (1986) 244-250

J. K. Newman, “Ennius the Mystic (III)”, Greece & Rome, 14:1 (1967) 44-51

R. Kent (translator), “Varro: On the Latin Language, Volume I: Books 5-7.”, (1938) Harvard MA

J. Frazer (translator), “Ovid: Fasti”, (1931) Harvard MA

C. Keyes (translator), “Cicero: On the Republic.: On the Laws”, (1928) Harvard MA

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