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Temple of Quirinus

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

It probably depicts 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

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, since it is unlikely that these accounts were composed ab initio in this period, we might reasonably consider where this information might have originated.  In this context, Timothy Cornell (referenced below, 1986, at p. 244) observed that:

“...  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 [see the surviving fragments below]. 

Three surviving fragments are relevant here:

  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 comment on ‘Aeneid’, 6: 777); and 

  3. Romulus in caelo cum dis genitalibus aevum digit (Romulus lives form age to age in Heaven with the gods that gave him birth))”, (fragment 114, in a comment 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).

  6. These translations are from the Warmington translation in the Attalus webpage ‘Ennius: Annales (fragments): Books 1-6’.

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.


“After Romulus had thus reigned 37 years, and ... having disappeared in a sudden eclipse of the sun, he was thought worthy of being added to the number of the gods, an honour that no mortal man was ever able to attain to except by a glorious pre-eminence of virtue.  And this circumstance was the more to be admired in the case of Romulus because most of the great men that have been deified were so exalted by the people as celestial dignities in periods of very little enlightenment, when fiction was easy and ignorance went hand-in-hand with credulity.  But, in the case of Romulus, we know that he lived less than 600 years ago, at a time when science and literature were already advanced and  many of the ancient errors that had prevailed among less civilised peoples had been eradicated.  For if (as we consider proved by the Greek annals) Rome was founded in the 7th Olympiad, then the life of Romulus was contemporary with that period in which Greece already abounded in poets and musicians, when fables (except those concerning ancient matters) received little credit.  For, 108 years after the promulgation of the laws of Lycurgus, the 1st Olympiad was established ...  And Homer himself, according to the best computation, lived about 30 years before the time of Lycurgus.  We must conclude, therefore, that Homer flourished very many years before the date of Romulus.  So that, as men had now become learned, and as the times themselves were not destitute of knowledge, there was not much room left for the success of mere fictions.  Antiquity indeed has received fables that have at times been sufficiently improbable: but this epoch, which was already so cultivated, disdaining every fiction that was impossible, rejected [seven lines missing].  We may therefore, perhaps, attach some credit to this story of Romulus’s immortality, since human life was at that time experienced, cultivated, and instructed.  And doubtless there was in him such energy of genius and virtue that it is not altogether impossible to believe the report of Proculus Julius, the husbandman, of that glorification having befallen Romulus which for many ages we have denied to less illustrious men.  At all events, Proculus is reported to have stated in the council, at the instigation of the senators (who wished to free themselves from all suspicion of having been accessaries to the death of Romulus) that he had seen him [in a vision] on that hill that is now called the Quirinal, and that he [Romulus/ Quirinus] had commanded him to inform the people that they should build him a temple on that same hill, and offer him sacrifices under the name of Quirinus”, (‘de Re Publica’, 2: 18-20).

According to Livy, 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 hour, 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).

However, he 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 dowan 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). 

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).

According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Romulus’ third triumph (following his defeat of the Etruscan city state of Veii) was his last:

“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.

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.

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 also because of his great cruelty in the punishment of delinquents (for instance, he had ordered a group of Romans who were accused of brigandage against the neighbouring peoples to be hurled down the precipice after he had sat alone in judgment upon them, although they were neither of mean birth nor few in number), but 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, that it might not be seen, and then came out, each one hiding his part of the body under his robes, and afterwards burying it in secret.

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 down to our times.

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).

In his version of these events, 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).

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 of coming to land at Dyrrachium [on the coast of modern Albania]. he learned that he should 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 Quirinau 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 thisbecause 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. 

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

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

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