Roman Conquest of Italy


Roman Temples: Volcanal

Archaic Shrine of Vulcan

Adapted from the page Forum Romanum by the Khan Academy

According to Varro:

  1. “... the Annals record that [the Sabine king Titus Tatius] vowed arae (altars) to ... [a number of deities, including] Vulcan ...”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 74, translated by Roland Kent, at p. 71).

Dionysius of Halicarnassus described the tradition that accounted for the foundation of what he called the shrine of Hephaestus (the Greek precursor of Vulcan): after Romulus and Tatius had agreed a treaty of friendship, they:

  1. “... immediately enlarged the city by adding to it two other hills, the Quirinal, ... and the Caelian.  ... [Romulus and Tatius] each had his particular place of residence:

  2. Romulus occupied the Palatine, ...[the site of his original settlement, and the adjacent] Caelian ... ; and

  3. Tatius occupied the Capitol, which he had already seized, and the Quirinal. 

  4. After cutting down the wood on the plain at the foot of the Capitol and filling up most of the lake [there] ... , they converted the plain into a forum, which the Romans use even now.  They held their assemblies there, transacting their business in the temple of Vulcan, which stands a little above the Forum.  They also built shrines and consecrated altars to those gods to whom they had addressed their vows during their battles:

  5. Romulus [dedicated a shrine] to Jupiter Stator, near the Porta Mugonia ... ; and

  6. Tatius  [dedicated shrines to a number of deities, including] ... Vulcan ...”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 50: 1-3).

Plutarch knew of a tradition in which Romulus (rather than Tatius) had founded this shrine:  He asked rhetorically:

  1. “Why did Romulus build the shrine of Hephaestus outside the city?

  2. Was it in consequence of Vulcan's fabled jealousy of Mars because of Venus that Romulus, the reputed son of Mars, did not give Vulcan a share in his home or his city?

  3. Or is this a foolish explanation, and was the temple originally built as a secret place for meetings with his colleague Tatius, so that they might convene there with the senators and take counsel concerning public affairs ...?

  4. Or was it that, since Rome, from the very beginning, was in great danger from conflagrations, they decided to show honour to this god, but to place his temple outside of the city?”, (‘Roman Questions’, 47).

Pliny the Elder also attributed the foundation of this shrine to Romulus:

  1. “There is ... [a] lotus in Volcanali (in the precincts of Vulcan) founded by Romulus with the 10th part of the spoils of victory: according to Massurius, [who was writing in the early 1st century AD, the tree] is generally considered to be as old as the City, and its roots penetrate as far as the Forum of Caesar, right across the stationes municipiorum [presumably a meeting-place for municipes: that is, for visiting citizens of Roman municipalities]”, (‘Natural History’, 16: 86).

Shrine of Vulcan, Volcanal and Area Volcani

Dionysius recorded that plebeian assemblies were often held at what he called the shrine of Hephaestus in the early Republic: he also recorded three specific occasions on which this was the case: in 493 BC (‘Roman Antiquities’, 6: 67: 2); in 492 BC (‘Roman Antiquities’, 7: 17: 2); and in 447 BC (‘Roman Antiquities’, 11: 39: 1).  As we have seen, the shrine was known to Pliny the Elder (in the 1st century AD) as the Volcanal.  Festus, in his epitome of the lexicon of the Augustan grammarian M. Verrius  Flaccus, recorded that the Urban Praetor celebrated the ludi Piscatorii  on 7th June on behalf of the fishermen of the Tiber:

  1. “... whose catch [on that day] is not taken to the market but in aream Volkani, because that sort of live fish is given to [Vulcan] as a substitute for human souls”, (‘De verborum significatione’, 276 L, translated by Howard Scullard, referenced below, at p. 148).

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 625) observed that:

  1. “The area Volcani is almost certainly synonymous with the Vocanal, that is the ... area [on the edge of the forum that was, according to by Dionysius used for public assemblies], where Titus Tatius was said [by Varro] to have built an [altar] of Vulcan.”

Statues in the Volcanal


Dionysius recorded that, after Romulus had suppressed a revolt at the Roman colony at Cameria soon after his settlement with Tatius:

  1. “ ... he celebrated a second triumph.  Out of the spoils, he dedicated a chariot and four [horses] in bronze to Vulcan and, near it, he set up his own statue with an inscription in Greek characters setting out his achievements”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 54: 2).

Thus, although Dionysius, unlike Plutarch and Pliny, attributed the foundation of the shrine to Tatius rather than to Romulus,  he was aware of a tradition in which Romulus had:

  1. dedicated a bronze chariot and horses from the spoils of victory to Vulcan, presumably at this shrine; and

  2. erected his own statue and an associated inscription ‘in Greek letters’ there.

Horatius Cocles

According to Livy, in 508 BC, at the start of the Republic, when Horatius Cocles traditionally saved Rome from the army of the Etruscan Lars Porsenna:

  1. “The State was grateful for so brave a deed: a statue of Cocles was set up in the Comitium, and he was given as much land as he could plough in one day”, (‘History of Rome’, 2: 10: 12).

Dionysius of Halicarnassus described this statue:

  1. “When [Cocles] escaped death [while saving Rome from Porsenna], the people erected a bronze statue of him, fully armed, in the principal part of the Forum, and gave him as much of the public land as he himself could plough in one day with a yoke of oxen”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 5: 25: 2).

Plutarch located this statue of Cocles in the Volcanal:

  1. “Publicola, [the consul], out of admiration for [Cocles’] valour, proposed that every Roman should give him as much provision as each consumed in a day, and that he should also be given as much land as he could plough in a day.  Besides this, they set up a bronze statue of him in the shrine of Hephaestus to console him with honour for the lameness consequent upon his wound”, (‘Life of Publicola’, 16: 7),

Aulus Gellius described the sequence of events that decided the final placing of this statue:

  1. “The statue of that bravest of men, Horatius Cocles, which stood in the Comitium at Rome, was struck by lightning.  ... haruspices were summoned from Etruria [to advise on the measures required for expiation].  They ... [maliciously] gave the misleading advice that the statue should be moved to a lower position, on which the sun never shone ... [When their bad faith was discovered and they were] brought to trial before the people, ... [they] confessed their duplicity and were put to death.  ... [The statue was then] taken to an elevated place and set up in a more commanding position in area Volcani; and, after that was done, the matter turned out happily and successfully for the Romans”, (‘Attic Nights’, 4: 5: 1-4).

Pliny the Elder, who was writing in the 1st century AD, recorded that:

  1. “... the statue of Horatius Cocles was erected [because he] single-handedly prevented the enemy from passing the Sublician bridge [and] ... remains to this day”, (‘Natural History’, 34: 11).

Unknown Ludius

Festus/ Verrius Flacccus also recorded that a ludius (possibly a chariot driver) who had been killed by lightning in the Circus was first buried on the Janiculum, but, after a number of inauspicious prodigies, the Senate relocated his grave:

  1. “... in Volcanali quod est supra Comitium ... ”, (‘De verborum significatione’, 370 L)


Adam Ziolkowski (referenced below, at pp. 179-80) listed the surviving records of the festival of the Volcanalia (23rd August):

  1. the fasti Antiates Maiores (pre-Julian calendar):

  2. V[olk(ano), H]orae Qu[i(r(ini)]/  [Maiae s]upr(a) Comi(tium)

  3. [To] Vulcan, Horae Quirini, Maia above the Comitium

  4. the fasti Fratum Arvalium (ca. 29 BC), following Ziolkowski’s minimalist completion:

  5. ---------Volcano

  6. ---------[Nymp]his in Camp(o), Opi Opifer(ae)

  7. ---------[Horae] Quir(ini) in Colle, Volk(ano)

  8. ---------[supra] Comit(ium)

  9. the fasti Valenses (early 1st century AD):

  10. Volcano in circo Flaminio

  11. [To] Vulcan in the Circus Flaminius

This evidence is usefully considered alongside a passage by Aulus Gellius:

  1. “Prayers to the immortal gods, which are offered according to the Roman ritual, are set forth in the books of the priests of the Roman people, as well as in many early books of prayers.  In these, we find [a number of deities including]: ... Hora of Quirinus; the Virites of Quirinus; Maia of Vulcan; ...”, (‘Attic Nights’, 13: 23: 2).

Thus, it seems that:

  1. the gods who received sacrifices during the Volcanalia included:

  2. Vulcan and his consort, Maia; and

  3. Romulus/ Quirinus and his consort, Hersilia/ Hora;  and

  4. sacrifices were offered in at least three locations:

  5. supra Comitium (above the public meeting place in the archaic forum), almost certainly at the Volcanal;

  6. in the Circus Flaminius, the site of a Republican temple of Vulcan; and

  7. in Colle, almost certainly at the Republican temple of Quirinus on the Quirinal.

Location of the Volcanal

This plan, adapted from this website by René Seindal, follows F. Coarelli (referenced below, 1983 and 1985)

The Volcanal is hypothesised at the site of the late Republican lapis niger (see below)

As we have seen, Dionysius recorded a tradition that placed the Volcanal at the heart of public life in Rome from the time of the treaty between Romulus and Tatius: the two kings conducted the business here, on a site above the  part of the forum in which public assemblies were held.  His sources for the early Republic recorded the shrine itself as the locus of public assemblies.  Aulus Gellius placed it in a commanding position above the Comitium, and the phrase supra Comitium is often used to differentiate it from the Republican temple of Vulcan in the Circus Flaminius.  All this suggests that it was on the lower slope of the Capitol. 

Livy made three references to this area that, taken together, allow us to be more specific:

  1. in 306 BC, the aedile Cn. Favius dedicated a temple of Concordia in area Volcani”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 46: 6);

  2. in 183 BC, blood rained down for two days in area Volcani”, (‘History of Rome’, 39: 46: 5); and

  3. in 182 BC, blood rained down again in area Volcani et Concordiae”, (‘History of Rome’, 40: 19: 2).

This indicates that Pliny the Elder referred to an inscription engraved on a bronze tablet that indicated that Flavius’ ‘temple’ of 304 BC had been a small bronze shrine to Concordia:

  1. “... on the Graecostasis, which, at that date, stood above the Comitium”, (‘Natural History’, 33: 6).

He also recorded that:

  1. “In the Twelve Tables, the rising and setting of the sun are the only things that are mentioned relative to time.  Some years afterwards, the hour of midday was added: the accensus (usher) of the consuls proclaimed it aloud as soon as he caught sight from the Curia of the sun between the Rostra and the Graecostasis; he also proclaimed the last hour, when the sun had gone down from the Maenian column to the prison.  This, however, could only be done in clear weather, but it was continued until the first Punic war”, (‘Natural History’, 7: 60).

Thus, at the time that Flavius built his shrine, the boundary between the Rostra and the adjacent Graecostasis in the area Volcani et Concordiae was due south of the Curia Hostilia (although not necessarily in the precise locations 1 and 2 on the diagram above: the Comitium seems to have received its circular plan in the 3rd century BC).

It is possible to make more progress by considering other evidence for the location of Flavius’ shrine of Concordia.  Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 625) observed that it:

  1. “... seems not to have survived into the late Republic: perhaps it was knocked down [in ca. 121 BC] to make way for Opimus’ [construction] of the large temple of Concordia [and its associated basilica] that stood nearby.”

Flavius and Opimius built their respective temples to Concordia in response to recent episodes of discord between the patricians and the plebeians.  Interestingly, Plutarch knew of a tradition that, in 367 BC, when Camillus, as dictator for the 5th time, was exasperated by an intractable plebeian revolt:

  1. “... was seated in state and despatching public business in the forum, an officer, sent by the tribunes of the people, ordered him to [appear before the public assembly.  He refused and], taking the senators with him, marched off to their place of meeting [i.e. to the Curia Hostilia].  Before he entered this building, turning to the Capitol, he prayed that the gods would bring the present conflict to the optimum conclusion, solemnly vowing to build a temple to Concord when the crisis was over.  [In the meeting that followed, the patrician senators decided to meed the plebeians’ demands, and the crisis was at an end.] ... On the following day, [the plebeians] held an assembly and voted to build a temple of Concord, as Camillus had vowed, and to have it face the forum and place of assembly, to commemorate what had now happened”, (‘Life of Camillus’, 42: 2-3).

Even if we give credence to this account, there is little to suggest that this putative temple was ever built.  However, what is important here is that it seems that there was a particular place sopra Comitium that was the traditional locus of a cult associated with concord between the orders:  if so, then it is entirely likely that Flavius’ shrine did indeed make way for Opimius’ temple on this site in 121 BC.

A passage by Varro of ca. 45 BC  located Opimius’ temple (which was still standing at this time) in relation to the Graecostasis and the Comitium in its putative circular form:

  1. “In front of [the Curia Hostilia] is the Rostra... A little to the right of it, looking towards the Comitium, is a lower platform where the envoys of the nations who had been sent to the Senate were to wait; this ... [was known as] the Graecostasis.  Above it was the Senaculum (platform of the Senate), where the temple of Concord and the Basilica of Opimius are ...”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 155-6, based on the translation by Roland Kent, referenced below, at p. 147).

According to Festus, some decades later, Verrius Flacus recorded that the Senaculum had been located:

  1. “... ubi nunc est aedes Concordiae inter Capitolium et Forum”, (‘De verborum significatione’, 470 L)

  2. “... where the aedes Concordia now is, between the Capitol and the Forum” (my translation).

There is no way of knowing whether Verrius referred to Opimius’ temple or to the temple that replaced it in the Augustan period.  However, they might have been on the same site: for example, Arnaldo Momigliano  (referenced below, at p. 115) argued that:

  1. “It must be assumed for archaeological reasons, although it is never stated in our literary evidence, that ... Tiberius rebuilt [Opimius’ temple] as an aedes Concordiae Augustae, [which he] dedicated on 16 January 10 AD.”

The podium of Tiberius temple still survives, and its precise position can therefore be established with certainty (as outlined in red on the plan above). 

Pliny the Elder, who was writing in the 1st century AD, recorded that:

  1. “... the statue of Horatius Cocles  ... remains to this day”, (‘Natural History’, 34: 11).

If Filippo Coarelli (above) is correct in suggesting that the cult site survived the destruction of the monuments under the lapis niger, albeit that it was moved to the nearby find spot of CIL VI 0457, then the surviving statue of ‘Horatius Cocles’ recorded by Pliny the Elder would have also moved to this new location.

Finally, he suggested that the cult site survived the partial destruction of these monuments after 44 BC, and that it might well have been moved to the nearby site between  the Curia Julia and the arch of Septimius Severus: a slab that was found here in 1548 bore an inscribed dedication (CIL VI 0457) by Augustus to Vulcan, dated to 9 BC.

Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, 1985) located the Volcanal at location 4 in the plan above, within the area of both the archaic and the Republican Comitia, in an area that was later covered by a platform known as the lapis niger.  This hypothesis, which has been widely but not universally accepted, is based on the excavations that followed the discovery of the lapis niger in 1899.  I will discuss this archeological evidence before returning to the question of its relationship to the Volcanal.

Excavations Under the Lapis Niger

Lapis niger, in front of the Curia Julia in the Forum, before it was damaged by heavy rain in 2008

From Christopher Lyes (referenced below, at p. 47, Plate 2)

The lapis niger is the name that is given to a black stone pavement of some 14 square meters in front of the Curia Julia.  According to Christopher Lye (referenced below, at p. 49):

  1. “... the orientation of the lapis niger pavement respects the Curia Julia ... This suggests that its alignment was fixed when the Curia was rebuilt, in more or less its current form, after the fire of 52 BC ...”

According to Cassius Dio, in 44 BC, the Senate charged Julius Caesar with:

  1. “... constructing a new senate-house, since that of Hostilius, although repaired [after the fire], had been demolished ... [so] that:

  2. the name of Sulla should not be preserved on it; and

  3. ... [a] newly constructed [senate house] might be named the Julian, even as they had called the month in which he was born July ...”, (‘Roman History’, 44: 5: 1-2).

It seems that the work had not started by the time of Caesar’s murder, since, in late 43 BC, the newly-formed triumvirate of Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus:

  1. “... built the Curia Julia, named after [Julius Caesar], beside the place called the Comitium, as had been voted”, (‘Roman History’, 47: 19: 1). 

Finally, after Octavian’s triple triumph of 29 BC (on August 13th-15th, by which time he had gained control over the whole Roman state), he dedicated:

  1. “... the Curia Iulia, which had been built in honour of his father”, (‘Roman History’, 51: 22: 1).

Thus, it seems that the lapis niger pavement was laid at some time in or shortly after the period 43-29 BC.

This discovery of this pavement in 1899 was quickly associated with an entry in the lexicon of M. Verrius Flaccus, which survives in a later epitome by Festus:

  1. Niger lapis in Comitio locum funestum significat, ut ali, Romuli morti destinatum , sed non usu ob in...”, (‘De verborum significatione’, 184 L)

Although the rest of this entry is garbled in the surviving manuscripts, Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, 1985, at p. 55) translated this key passage as follows:

  1. “The black stone in the Comitium indicates a place associated with death, because the death of Romulus was assigned to it.”

As Jesse Benedict Carter (referenced below, at p. 19) summarised a decade later:

  1. “One of the first results of the new campaign in the Forum begun in December, 1898, under the leadership of Giacomo Boni was the discovery 1899, of that group of monuments which has been called [both] the ‘Lapis Niger’ and the ‘Grave of Romulus’, by convenience and at present by usage rather than by scientific accuracy.  In May of the same year the excavation at  this spot was continued, and the so-called Sacellum and the archaic stele were discovered.”

Excavations of 1898-1900

Above: Location of the lapis niger, adapted from P. Aicher (referenced below, at p. 87, Figure 21)

Below: Schematic of the excavated remains under the lapis niger, adapted from

Einar Gjerstad (referenced below, fig. 1), as  reproduced by A. Bartles (referenced below, at p. 101, Figure 3)

Christopher Lyes (referenced below, at pp. 45-6) observed that excavations carried out in 1899-1900 under the newly-discovered lapis niger unearthed:

  1. “... substantial votive deposits (mostly from the 6th/ 5th and 3rd/ 2nd centuries BC), and a collection of worked stone objects, [including]:

  2. an inscribed cippus (CIL VI 36840), ... dated to the [early] 6th century BC;

  3. a ... [truncated] conical column, 0.48 metres high, of Monteverde tufo, [dated to the 5th century BC, following Samuel Platner, ‘Sepulcrum Romuli’, referenced below, at p. 483] ...; and

  4. a discrete structure of the 4th century BC ... consisting of a rectangular ... foundation of worked tufo on which were two bases supporting moulded pedestals ... ”

He observed (at p. 49) that:

  1. “The rearrangement of the [individual] monuments onto a single platform [took place] at some more ancient date... [Einar] Gjerstad, [referenced below],  identified [the platform itself] as being of a yellowish‐brown tufo (Tufo Lionato), consistent with early works on the Capitoline.  The careful arrangement and apparent respect for these archaic monuments suggests that their curation and commemoration had in itself significant antiquity.”

Inscribed Cippus

Model in the Museo Nazionale Romano of the inscribed cippus, from this site by René Seindal

According to John North Hopkins (referenced below, 2016, at p. 51):

  1. “Some time after ca. 560 BC, ... the Romans laid a new pavement in gravel at the Comitium and on it they placed [the] stone base for the new cippus,”

Christopher Lyes (referenced below, at pp. 45-6) observed that the inscription on the  cippus under the lapis niger:

  1. “... has been described as Rome’s oldest [surviving] public document.”

John North Hopkins (referenced below, 202) pointed out that:

  1. “With a new paving of the Comitium during the late 6th or early 5th centuries BC, the Romans constructed two stepped platforms on either side of the cippus.  One, at the southern extremity of the Comitium, may be the original ... Rostra, its position in accordance with the passage by Varro quoted above].”

The testimony of Varro suggests that the other (essentially unexcavated) platform was probably the forerunner of the Graecostasis.  In other words, the cippus and the area around it were respected in the development of the Comitium in ca. 500 BC and again some 250 years later when the Comitium was rebuilt on a circular plan.

The inscription (CIL VI 36840) uses an archaic Latin alphabet, and its 16 line were read from the bottom to the top and then back to the bottom of the cippus.  Gary Forsythe (referenced below, at pp. 73-4) observed that:

  1. “Although the precise meaning of the document is uncertain, [not least because the upper part of it is missing], four words are beyond dispute:

  2. sakros (= classical Latin sacer, masculine nominative singular), meaning sacred or, more likely, accursed, thus alluding to the imposition of a religious sanction upon an offender of this law;

  3. recei (= classical Latin regi, indirect object in the dative case of rex) ... thus referring to either the Roman king or the rex sacrorum of the fledgling Republic;

  4. kala- torem (= classical Latin calatorem, direct object in the accusative case), meaning herald or crier ... ; and

  5. ioux- menta (= classical Latin iumenta, nominative or accusative neuter plural), meaning beasts of burden and hence also wagons, carriages or vehicles.

  6. Since [the] cippus ... was not taken down and solemnly buried until imperial times, it must have stood near the Rostra throughout the Republic and was therefore on permanent display for inspection by anyone interested in it.” 

He pointed out (at p. 74):

  1. “Ancient Roman historians and antiquarians, who probably had the benefit of examining the text in an undamaged state, thought that this inscribed stone was a tombstone, one thing that it certainly is not.  At least three different views were offered concerning the identity of the alleged grave’s occupant [Romulus, Fautulus or Hostus Hostilius, discussed in turn below]. ... All three of these conjectures associate the inscribed stone with the reign of Romulus, thereby dating it, [incorrectly], to the second half of the 8th century BC.”

Grave of Romulus ?

As we saw above, according to Verrius Flaccus, who would have been writing within decades of the laying of the lapis niger, this pavement indicated:

  1. “... a place associated with death, because the death of Romulus was assigned to it.”

This association might well have arisen because (as Gary Forsythe suggested) thought that the cippus was an ancient tombstone.  Verrius’ contemporary, the poet Horace, in a work of 30 BC, warned that:

  1. “A barbaric conqueror will tread on [Rome’s] ashes, his horsemen will trample on the city with clattering hooves, and ...  he will scatter in his arrogance the ossa Quirini (bones of Quirinus, the deified Romulus) that are now sheltered from wind and sun”, (‘Epodes’, 16: 10-14, translated by Niall Rudd, referenced below, at p. 307).

Horace might well have imagined that the ossa Quirini were ‘now sheltered‘ by the lapis niger.  In his commentary on this passage in the 3rd century AD, Porphyry observed that Horace’s prophecy had been formulated:

  1. “ if Romulus [had been buried rather than taken up to] Heaven or dismembered [by his enemies].  In fact Varro [also] states that Romulus had been buried behind the Rostra”, (translated by  Diana Guarisco, referenced below, at p. 14).

A probably later commentary known as the Pseudo Acronian scholia recorded that:

  1. “Most people say that Romulus was buried at the Rostra and that, in remembrance of this, there were two lions, just like the ones which today we see on the tombs, and that is because of this that dead men are praised before the Rostra”, (translated by  Diana Guarisco, referenced below, at p. 14).

Thus, we can trace the tradition that the inscribed cippus  marked the grave of Romulus/ Quirinus back to Varro, who died very shortly after the rebuilding of the Curia Julia began in 43 BC.

Grave of Faustulus ?

According to tradition, Faustulus was the herdsman who had rescued the abandoned Romulus and   and raised them as his own.  According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, when they later argued about which of them would found the settlement that became Rome:

  1. “... a sharp battle ensued, in which many were slain on both sides.  In the course of this battle, as some say, Faustulus,  ... wishing to put an end to the strife of the brothers and being unable to do so, threw himself unarmed into the midst of the combatants, seeking the speediest death, which duly occurred.  Some say also that the stone lion that stood in the principal part of the Forum near the Rostra was placed over the body of Faustulus, who was buried by those who found him in the place where he fell”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 87: 2).

This lion must surely have been one of the two lions that, according to the Pseudo Acronian scholia (above), had marked what Horace had believed to be the grave of Romulus/ Quirinus.  

Grave of Hostus Hostilius ?

According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Hostus Hostilius was the grandfather of Tullus Hostilius, traditionally the third king of Rome.  He came from:

  1. “... Medullia, a city that had been built by the Albans and made a Roman colony by Romulus after he had forced its capitulation.  [Hostilius was a] man of distinguished birth and great fortune who had moved to Rome and married a Sabine woman ...  This man, after taking part with Romulus in many wars and performing mighty deeds in the battles with the Sabines, died, leaving only a young son, and was buried by [beside ??] the kings in the principal part of the Forum and honoured with a monument and an inscription testifying to his valour”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 3: 1: 2).

Dionysius’ source(s) for this tradition very probably considered the inscribed cippus to have been the epitaph of Hostus Hostilius.


As noted above, conical column was erected very close to the inscribed cippus some decades after the erection of the cippus itself. There are a number of possible candidates for the statue that might have stood on this column.  As noted above, Dionysius of Halicarnassus recorded that, after Romulus suppressed a revolt at the Roman colony at Cameria:

  1. “ ... he celebrated a second triumph.  Out of the spoils, he dedicated a chariot and four [horses] in bronze to Vulcan and, near it, he set up his own statue with an inscription in Greek characters setting forth his deeds”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 54: 2).

It is possible that Dionysius or his source(s) imagined that this statue of Romulus stood on this column and that the nearby inscription in ‘Greek’ letters recorded his deeds: as Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, 2014, at p. 57) pointed out:

  1. “Certainly, the letters of the cippus might ... easily have been construed [as ‘Greek’ in the light of] ... the script derived from the archaic Chalcidian alphabet brought to Italy by the Greek colonists.”

Excavations of 2019-20

Sarcophagus and putative altar excavated under the steps of the Curia Julia

Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images, from the website of ‘Vintage News

Very recently, Alfonsina Russo (referenced below) reported the discovery of:

  1. “... a hypogeum or underground temple and tomb structure with a tufa sarcophagus linked with what looks like an altar ...  in the Roman Forum ... “

She observed that the excavated space:

  1. “... is believed to be part of a votive area called a heroon [that was] devoted to ... Romulus.  The sarcophagus, [which is] made out of the same tufa rock [used for the construction of the first buildings on the Capitol], is around 1.40 metres long and is believed to date back to the 6th century BC.  The find was made next to the Curia-Comitium complex, a few metres away from the famed lapis niger, which Romans thought had brought bad luck because it was linked to the death of Romulus.  The hypogeum is located below the entrance stairway to the Curia [Julia] ...”

As fas as I am aware, the details of these new excavations and their consequences for the interpretation of the site have yet to be published.  It seems to me that the sarcophagus and altar might well have been moved here shortly before the dedication of the Curia Julia in 29 BC.  They might well have belonged originally to the complex excavated in 1899-1900, where they would have added weight to the tradition that the cult site under the lapis niger had been a place of death.

Death and Putative Apotheosis of Romulus


The earliest surviving evidence for the tradition of Romulus’ apotheosis is from Ennius’ ‘Annals’, an epic poem that was written in the early 2nd century BC.  This work no longer survives, although there are many references to it in other sources that do.  Three of these 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 Nonius 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 a tradition that had Romulus deified as Quirinus and his consort Hersilia deified as Hora Quirini. 

It is possible that another fragment from Varro should be added to this list:

  1. “... I shall [now] speak of the words which have been put down by the poets, first those about places,  ... I shall begin with this:

  2. Unus erit quem tu tolles in caerula caeli templa’ (there will be one whom you will raise up to the sky’s blue templa)’

  3. [The word] templum is used in three ways ... ”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 7: 5-6, translated by Roland Kent, at p. 271-3).

Sander Goldberg (referenced below, at p. 145), like most other authorities, considered that the words:

  1. Unus erit quem tu tolles in caerula caeli templa

came from Ennius’ ‘Annals’, and Ovid reproduced them in both his ‘Metamorphoses’ and his ‘Fasti’ (see below) as the words that Jupiter had used when he promised Mars that one of his two sons (i.e. Romulus) would be deified.

John Newman (referenced below, at p. 45) 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 [that had previously been] utterly alien to it.” 

However, Stefan Weinstock (referenced below, at p. 118) argued, on the basis of a set of inscriptions from Latium that probably date to the 4th century BC, that:

  1. “... the apotheosis of Romulus and his identification with Quirinus were not the outcome of poetical fancy, and the cult was not established ... [before] the time of Ennius, who is the first authority ... ”

In short, all we can say for sure is that Ennius either invented this tradition in the early 2nd century BC or drew on an earlier tradition at that time.


Timothy Cornell (referenced below, 1986, at p. 244) observed that:

  1. “...  those 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.”

This was certainly true of Cicero himself, who observed that:

  1. “... our own Ennius  ...  wrote that, in about the 350th year after Rome was founded [i.e. in ca. 400 BC] , in the month of June (the day was then the 5th),  the moon and night obscured the shining sun.   Based on this date, which was recorded by [both] Ennius and in the ‘Annales Maximi’, the dates of previous eclipses of the sun have been reckoned, all the way back to that which occurred on Nones of Quinctilis [7th July] in the reign of Romulus.  For, even though, during the darkness of that eclipse, Nature carried Romulus away to man's inevitable end, yet the story is that his his merit led to his translation to Heaven”, (‘On the Republic’, 1: 16).  

Two surviving passages by Cicero constitute our earliest surviving evidence for the tradition that a man called Proculus Julius brought the news of Romulus’ apotheosis to Rome:

  1. In an imagined debate with Atticus, Cicero asked his friend whether he accepted:

  2. “... the ‘fact’ that Romulus, after his death, while wandering about near the place where your house now stands [i.e., on the Quirinal]:

  3. met Proculus Julius;

  4. told him that he [Romulus] was [now] a god and was called Quirinus; and

  5. ordered that a temple be dedicated to him on that spot”, (‘On the Laws’, 1: 3, translate by Clinton Keyes, at p. 299).

  6. He provided more detail in another passage:

  7. “... such was Romulus’ conspicuous ability that men believed, on the authority of that homini agresti (farmer), Proculus Julius, something that they had not believed about any other mortal for many generations: 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 the Quirinal; and that Romulus had ordered 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).

The second of the passages above is the earliest surviving evidence of the tradition that, before Proculus Julius reached Rome, many people suspected that the senators had murdered Romulus: Cicero seems here to characterise Proculus’ testimony as a fable invented at their behest in order to allay suspicion.  Two other surviving passages suggest that Cicero was generally sceptical about the deification of mortals: 

  1. “Human experience and general custom have allowed men to deify distinguished benefactors ... This is the origin of Hercules, of Castor and Pollux, of Aesculapius ... This is also the origin of Romulus, who is believed by some to be the same as Quirinus.  Since their souls survived and enjoyed eternal life, these benefactors were deemed to be gods, who are both supremely good and immortal”, (‘On the Gods’, 2: 62).

  2. “...  even in Greece they worship a number of deified mortals ... ; and with our own people, Romulus and many others, who are believed to have been admitted to celestial citizenship in recent times, by a sort of extension of the franchise!  Well, those are the superstitions of the unlearned ...”, (‘On the Gods’, 3: 39).


As we have seen, Porphyry, in his commentary on the ‘Epodes’ of Horace, recorded that:

  1. “...Varro states that Romulus had been buried behind the Rostra”, (translated by  Diana Guarisco, referenced below, at p. 14).

As Jesse Carter (referenced below, at p. 27) observed, Varro is the only one of the surviving sources who might have seen the monuments under the lapis niger [pavement].  However, as he observed, his brief record:

  1. “... may be simply the reflection of an aetiological legend that accounted for the custom of holding funeral orations at the Rostra [on the basis of a tradition] that Romulus was buried there.”

In other words, this passage certainly suggests that Varro was aware of a tradition in which Romulus was killed by his enemies and buried near the Rostra, but it does not necessarily mean that he rejected Ennius’ alternative account of Romulus’ deification.

Peter Wiseman (referenced below, at pp. 127-8) argued that Varro would not have endorsed Horace’ identification of the dead Romulus as Quirinus: for Varro:

  1. “... , Quirinus was not the deified founder [of Rome] but [rather] one of the Sabine deities introduced to Rome by Titus Tatius.”

In this context, he cited the following passage by Varro:

  1. “... the Annals record that [the Sabine king Titus Tatius] vowed arae (altars) to ... [a number of deities, including] Quirinus ...”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 74, translated by Roland Kent, at p. 71).

Varro almost certainly associated the Temple of Quirinus on the Quirinal, not with the deified Romulus, but  with this Sabine deity: 

  1. “The Quirinal Hill was so named because the fanum (shrine) of Quirinus was there; 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 [on this hill].  This name has caused the names of the adjacent localities to be forgotten.  For, there were other hills with their own names: this is clear from the [archaic sacred itinerary known as the] sacra Argeorum, in which it is written: ‘Quirinal Hill: third shrine, this side of the temple of Quirinus; ...’”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 51-2, translated by Roland Kent, at p. 49).

Wiseman cited (at note 16) fragments of lost works by Varro that suggest that he had recorded the deification of Romulus.  However,  he argued that, if so:

  1. “... it was evidently under his own name ...”

As he pointed out, Varro recorded a temple of Romulus near the Palatine: 

  1. “The Palatine ... is so-called because the Pallantes came there with Evander ... The Cermalus must have been  joined to it, ... because, it is written [in the sacra Argeorum]: ‘Germalian: fifth shrine, at the aedes Romuli, ... .’”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 53-4, translated by Roland Kent, at p. 51).

Wiseman suggested (at note 17) that this might be at the site otherwise known as the hut of Romulus on the slopes of the Palatine.

Peter Wiseman (referenced below, at pp. 127-8) suggested that Varro’s version of many aspects of the legend of the foundation of Rome, including those relating to the cult of Quirinus and thus the death of Romulus, was coloured by the fact of his own Sabine origins.


Livy is the earliest surviving source for the traditions surrounding the manner of Romulus’ death:

  1. “Romulus held 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).

This fleshes out the scant information that can be gleaned from Cicero (above), who had Romulus die during an eclipse.  However, Livy was extremely sceptical about this putative 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 then recorded 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 [suspected of having killed him]”, (‘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.  While ... I stood transfixed 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). 

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 made no mention of Proculus Julius in his initial account of the death and apotheosis of Romulus.  In this account, Romulus celebrated three triumphs during his reign, the last of which was over the Etruscan city state of Veii:

  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 [main] reason they allege for his murder is that  ... 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 kill him; and, having carried out the deed in the senate-house [presumably the shrine of Vulcan], 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 [presumably in the Forum], 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 [i.e., Mars], there was a total eclipse of the sun and a general darkness ... 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 18 years old, as is agreed by all who have written his history”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 56: 1-7).

Dionysius returned to the apotheosis of Romulus in a passage in which he recorded that Numa, the second King of Rome (traditionally 715-672 BC):

  1. “... ordered that Romulus himself, as someone who had shown a greatness beyond mortal nature, should be honoured under the name of Quirinus by the erection of a temple and by sacrifices throughout the year.  For, while the Romans had been still in doubt whether divine providence or human treachery had been the cause of his disappearance, a certain farmer named Julius, a descendant of Ascanius, who was of such a blameless life that he would never have told an untruth for his private advantage, arrived in the Forum and said that, as he was coming in from the country, he saw Romulus departing from the city fully armed and that, as he drew near to him, he heard him say these words:

  2. ‘Julius, announce to the Romans, from me, that the genius to whom I was allotted at my birth is conducting me to the gods, now that I have finished my mortal life, and that I am Quirinus’”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 56: 1-7).

Interestingly, Dionysius identified the ‘Proculus Julius’ of Cicero and Livy as ‘Julius’ tout court, but explicitly recorded his descent from Ascanius, the son of Aeneas and the first king of Alba.  A passage in the ‘Origo Gentis Romanae’ of ca. 400 AD records that:

  1. “... the Latins ... believed that, because of his outstanding courage, Ascanius [must have been] descended from Jupiter ... [Therefore], by slightly changing his name to form a diminutive [of Jove, they], first called him Iolus and afterward Iulus.  From him, the Julian family originated, as Caesar writes in Book II and Cato writes in the ‘Origines’”, (‘OGR, 15: 5).

‘Caesar’ here would have been Lucius Julius Caesar, the consul of 64 BC and author of a work known as the ‘Libri Pontificales’ (who was still alive in 44 BC, when his more famous relative was murdered).  This work is lost, and our knowledge of it derives almost exclusively from fragments of it cited in the ‘OGR’:

  1. The last-known of these fragments (‘OGR, 22: 2) related to the early part of the history of Romulus and Remus; and

  2. the ‘OGR’ itself (as it survives) ended with the death of Remus.

It is therefore entirely possible that Dionysius derived his information about ‘Julius‘ from a later and now-lost passage in the ‘Libri Pontificales‘ of Lucius Julius Caesar. 



Ovid described the apotheosis of Romulus in his ‘Metamorphoses’, which he finished in 7 AD:

  1. “After Tatius had fallen and you, Romulus, were devising equal laws for both the tribes, Mars put off his gleaming helmet and thus addressed the father of gods and men [i.e. Jupiter] as follows:

  2. ‘Since the Roman state now stands firm on strong foundations and no longer hangs on the strength of one man alone, the time is come, O Father, to grant the reward that you promised to me and to your worthy grandson [Romulus]: that you would take him from earth and set him in the Heavens.  Once, in full council of the gods, ... you declared that:

  3. Unus erit quem tu tolles in caerula caeli (there will be one that you will exalt to the blue Heavens, an almost exact rendition of the words of the poets, probably Ennius, given by Varro, above).’

  4. Now, let the full meaning of your words be ratified. The omnipotent Father nodded his assent; then, hiding all the sky with his dark clouds, he filled the earth with thunder and lightning.  Gradivus [i.e. Mars] knew this for the assured sign of the translation that had been promised him; and, leaning on his spear, dauntless he mounted his chariot drawn by steeds straining beneath the bloody yoke, and swung the loud-resounding lash. Gliding downward through the air, he halted on the summit of the wooded Palatine. There, as Ilia’s son [Romulus] was giving kingly judgment to the Quirites, he caught him up from earth.  His mortal part dissolved into thin air...  And now a fair form clothes him, worthier of the high couches of the gods, a form like that of Quirinus in his trabea (ceremonial toga)”, (‘Metamorphoses’, 14: 8-5-28, translated by Frank Justus Miller, referenced below, at pp. 357-9). 


Ovid returned to this apotheosis in his entry for 17th February, which was the day of the Quirinalia, which:

  1. “... is dedicated to Quirinus, who is so-called (he was Romulus before), perhaps:

  2. because the ancient Sabines called a spear curis and, by his weapon the warlike god [Romulus] won his place among the stars; or

  3. because the Quirites, [both latin and Sabine], gave their own name to their king [Romulus]; or

  4. because he united [the Sabines of] Cures to Rome.

Although Ovid maintained Varro’s Sabine etymologies, Quirinus himself is no longer a Sabine deity: he is now the deified form of the Latin/ Roman Romulus”, (‘Fasti’, 2: 475-80, translated by James Frazer, referenced below, at p. 91). 

The rest of this passage was devoted, not to the Quirinalia, but to the apotheosis of Romulus as Quirinus (which occurred in early July, on 5th according to Dionysius or the 7th according to Cicero):

  1. “For when the father [Mars], lord of arms, saw the new walls [that Romulus had built on the Palatine] and the many wars that Romulus waged, he cried:

  2. ‘O Jupiter, the Roman power is strong: it no longer needs the services of my son: give him back to his father.  Though one of my two sons, [Remus], has perished, the one who is left to me will suffice for both.  You, yourself, have promised that: Unus erit quem tu tolles in caerula caeli (there will be one that you will exalt to the blue Heavens).  Let the word of Jupiter be kept.’

  3. Jupiter nodded assent.  At his nod, both poles [of the earth] shook, and Atlas shifted the burden of the sky.  There is a place which the ancients call the Caprae Palus  (Marsh of the Goat).  It chanced, Romulus, that you were judging your people there.  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 [Romulus] soared to the stars on his father’s horse”, (‘Fasti’, 2: 480-96, translated by James Frazer, referenced below, at pp. 91-3). 

This section overlaps that account above from the ‘Metamorphoses’, albeit that it concentrated on the events on the ground during the apotheosis while the ‘Metamorphoses’  concentrated on Romuls’ ascent to Heaven.

Ovid then moved to the intervention of Proculus Julius: after Romulus’ disappearance during this dreadful storm:

  1. “There was mourning [among the people who had fled from the Caprae Palus ], and the senators were falsely charged with murder ... But, as Proculus Julius was coming [to Rome] from Alba Longa, ... the hedges on his left suddenly shook and trembled. ... It seemed to him that Romulus ...  [appeared to him] and said:

  2. ‘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 of their fathers, the arts of war.’

  3. Having so ordered, Romulus/Quirinus 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 a fixed days”, (‘Fasti’, 2: 496-511, translated by James Frazer, referenced below, at pp. 93-5). 


According to Plutarch, when Romulus:

  1. “... divided the territory acquired in war [with Veii] among his soldiers and released the Veientine hostages without consulting the patricians, he was thought to be insulting their Senate outright.  Therefore, when Romulus disappeared unaccountably a short time, suspicion and calumny descended upon the Senate.  He disappeared on the Nones [7th] of July, as they now call the month, then Quintilis, leaving no certain account nor even any generally accepted tradition of his death, aside from its date ... For, on that day, many ceremonies are still performed that seem to commemorate  what then came to pass”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 27: 2-3).

A later passage makes clear how Plutarch arrived at the putative date of Romulus’ death:

  1. “... the day on which [Romulus] vanished is called the Poplifugia [People's Flight] and the Nonae Caprotinae, because the people leave the city and sacrifice at the Caprae Palus [Gooat’s Marsh, in the lowest part of the Campus Martius] ... , shouting out many local names, like Marcus, Lucius, and Caius, in imitation of the way in which, on the day when Romulus disappeared [here], they called upon one another in fear and confusion”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 29: 2).

Plutarch’s following remarks make it clear that there were other explanations for these two apparently archaic festivals.  Howard Scullard (referenced below, at p. 162) explained that:

  1. “Plutarch confuses the issue by saying that ... the Poplifugia and Nonae Caprotinae [took place on the same day]: ... the calendars show that these [were separate] festivals [that] fell on different days, the 5th and 7th [of July respectively].”

In fact, it is unlikely that either of these festivals had anything to do with Romulus.

Having alluded to the mystery surrounding the death of Romulus, Plutarch then set out the main traditions that grew up to explain it:

  1. “Romulus disappeared suddenly, and no portion of his body or fragment of his clothing remained to be seen:

  2. Some conjectured that the senators, convened in the temple of Hephaestus (Roman Vulcan), fell upon and killed him and cut his body in pieces, after which each hid a portion [of the body] in the folds of his robe and so carried it away.

  3. Others think that he disappeared ... when he was holding an assembly of the people outside the city near the so‑called Goat's Marsh [see above], when ... the light of the sun suddenly failed and night descended upon them ... with awful peals of thunder and furious blasts driving rain ... [At this], the multitude dispersed ...  but the nobles gathered together .  When the storm had ceased and the sun appeared once more, the multitude returned and anxiously searched for their king.  However, the nobles would not allow them to inquire into his disappearance ... but instead exhorted them all to honour and revere Romulus, since he had been caught up into Heaven and was to be a benevolent god for them instead of a good king”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 27: 5-7). 

Plutarch then moved to the intervention of Proculus Julius.  Whatever the precise circumstances in which Romulus disappeared, most people apparently believed that he had ascended to Heaven as a god.  However, some were unconvinced and accused the Senate of having murdered him:

  1. “At this point, it is said that one of the patricians, a man of noblest birth and of the most reputable character, a trusted and intimate friend of Romulus himself and one of the colonists from Alba, Julius Proculus by name, went into the forum and solemnly swore by the most sacred emblems before all the people that, as he was travelling on the road[from Alba], he had seen Romulus coming to meet him, fair and stately to the eye as never before, and arrayed in bright and shining armour.  terrified by this apparition, had said:

  2. ‘O King, ... [why] have have you left us patricians a prey to unjust and wicked accusations, and the whole city eternally grieving the loss of its father?

  3. Whereupon Romulus replied:

  4. ‘It was the will of the gods, O Proculus, from whom I came, that I should be with mankind only a short time and that, after founding a city destined to be the greatest on earth for empire and glory, I should dwell again in Heaven.  So farewell, and tell the Romans that, if they practise self-restraint and valour, they will reach the utmost heights of human power.  And I will be your propitious deity, Quirinus.’

  5. The Romans believed this testimony because of [Proculus’] reputation and the oath that he had taken.  Furthermore, divine inspiration shaped their emotions, so that no-one contradicted Proculus: instead, they all put aside suspicion and calumny, prayed to Quirinus, and honoured him as a god”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 28: 1-3).

According to Suetonius, after Augustus’ death in 14 AD:

  1. “... his eulogy was twice delivered:

  2. by Tiberius, in front to the temple of divus Julius; and

  3. by Drusus, Tiberius’s son, from the old Rostra.

  4. [His remains were] carried on the shoulders of senators to the Campus Martius and there cremated. There was even an ex-praetor who took oath that he had seen the form of the Emperor, after he had been reduced to ashes, on its way to Heaven”, (‘Life of Augustus’, 100: 3-4). 

Cassius Dio named this witness of Augustus putative apotheosis: Augustus’ widow, Livia:

  1. ... bestowed 1,000,000 sesterces upon a certain Numerius Atticus, a senator and ex-praetor, because he swore that he had seen Augustus ascending to Heaven, in the manner that tradition tells concerning Proculus and Romulus”, (‘Roman History’, 56: 46: 1-2).

Results of excavations under the lapis niger in 1899-1900

Left: Hypothetical recreation by A. Bartles (referenced below, at p. 102, Figure 4)  of part of the original configuration

Centre: Model in the Museo Nazionale Romano of part of the remains found under the lapis niger in 1899-1900,

from this site by René Seindal

Right: Hypothetical recreation by F. Coarelli (referenced below, 1985, at p. 56) of part of the original configurati

Aaron Bartles (referenced below, at p. 102, Figure 4) hypothesised these lions on the excavated moulded pedestals under the lapis niger, as illustrated above.

The reconstructions above, which are based on literary sources discussed below, show:

  1. on the left: two hypothetical lions on the excavated moulded pedestals and an aedicule hypothesised for the excavated platform behind them; and

  2. on the right: a tall column and a figure of an armed man hypothesised for the excavated truncated column.

In a recent edition of his work on this subject that has been published in English, Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, 2014, at p. 56) asserted that this group of monuments:

  1. “... constituted the [original] Volcanal, the very ancient sanctuary of Vulcan, which various witnesses situate in the Comitium, near the Graecostasis and the Rostra. ... As Festus [quoted above], the only [surviving source for the] term lapis niger confirms, [this] was not the site of the tomb of Romulus, ... but the [traditional] site of his death ...”

He noted that Plutarch recorded that some sources that doubted the Romulus had been taken up into Heaven:

  1. “... conjectured that the senators, convened in the temple of φαίστου (Hephaestus, Roman Vulcan), fell upon and killed him and cut his body in pieces, after which each hid a portion [of the body] in the folds of his robe and so carried it away”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 27: 5).

Finally, he suggested that the cult site survived the partial destruction of these monuments after 44 BC, and that it might well have been moved to the nearby site between  the Curia Julia and the arch of Septimius Severus: a slab that was found here in 1548 bore an inscribed dedication (CIL VI 0457) by Augustus to Vulcan, dated to 9 BC.

Cult of Vulcan in the Forum in the Augustan and Imperial Period

A slab that was found between  the Curia Julia and the arch of Septimius Severus in 1548 bore an inscribed dedication (CIL VI 0457) by Augustus to Vulcan, dated to 9 BC.

Pliny the Elder

  1. “There is ... [a] lotus in Volcanali, [a shrine that] Romulus erected with the 10th part of the spoil taken from the enemy: according to Massurius, [who was writing in the early 1st century AD, the tree] is generally considered to be as old as the City, and its roots penetrate as far as the Forum of Caesar, right across the stationes municipiorum [presumably a meeting-place for municipes, that is, citizens from Roman municipalities, visiting Rome]”, (‘Natural History’, 16: 86).

  2. “... the statue of Horatius Cocles was erected [because he] single-handedly prevented the enemy from passing the Sublician bridge [and] ... remains to this day”, (‘Natural History’, 34: 11).

Read more:

A. Russo, “Hypogeum with Sarcophagus Found in Forum”, (17th February 2020) Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata

S. M. Goldberg (translator), “Ennius: Fragmentary Republican Latin, Volume I: Ennius, Testimonia. Epic Fragments”, (2018) Harvard MA

C. Lyes, “Rethinking the Lapis Niger”, Classics Students' Journal, 1 (2017) 45-63

D. Guarisco, “Ossa Quirini: Romulus' Mortality and Apotheosis between Caesar and Augustus”’ Gremium, 10 (2016) 7-16

J. N. Hopkins, “Genesis of Roman Architecture”, (2015) New Haven, CN

T. P. Wiseman, "Rome on the Balance: Varro and the Foundation Legend”, in:

  1. D. J. Butterfield (REd.), “Varro Varius: The Polymath of the Roman World”, (2015) Cambridge, at pp. 93-122

F. Coarelli (translated into English J. Clauss and D. Harman), Rome and Environs: An Archaeological Guide”, (2014) Oakland, California

J. N. Hopkins, “Comitium”, (2012) Wiley On-line Library

A. D. Bartles, “Paving the Past: Late Republican Recollections in the Forum Romanum”, (2009) thesis of the University of Texas at Austin

G. Forsythe, “A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War”, (2005)  Berkeley Los Angeles London

S. Oakley, “A Commentary on Livy, Books VI-X:Volume III: Book IX”, (2005) Oxford

N. Rudd (translator), “Horace: Odes and Epodes”, (2004) Harvard MA

F. Coarelli, “Sepulcrum Romuli”, in:

  1. E. M. Steinby (Ed.), “Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae (Volume 4)”, (1999), at pp. 295-6

A. Ziolkowski, “The Temples of Mid-Republican Rome and their Historical and Topographical Context”, (1992) Rome

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

F. Coarelli, “Il Foro Romano II: Periodo Repubblicano e Augusteo”, (1985) Rome

F. Coarelli, “Il Foro Romano I: Il Foro Romano I: Periodo Arcaico”, (1983) Rome

H. H. Scullard, “Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic”, (1981) London

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

S. Weinstock, “Two Archaic Inscriptions from Latium”, Journal of Roman Studies, 50 (1960) 112-8

A. Momigliano, “Camillus and Concord”, Classical Quarterly , 36: 3/4 (1942) 111-20 

E. Gjerstad,Il Comizio Romano dell' Età Repubblicana”, Opuscula Archaeologicaolica, 2 (1941) 97-158.

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

S. B. Platner, “A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome”, (1929) Cambridge

J. B. Carter, “The Death of Romulus”, American Journal of Archaeology , 13:1 (1909 19-29

F. J. Miller (translator), “Ovid: Metamorphoses, Volume II: Books 9-15”, (1919) Harvard MA

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