The Capitoline Wolf and the Twins: A look at the mythological roots of Roma

The Lupa Capitolina, otherwise known as the Capitoline Wolf, is one of the ancient symbols of Rome associated with its mythology and founding. It is a symbol which can still be seen all throughout Italy and the city of Rome, and continues to be associated with the Italian people (similar to the acronym S.P.Q.R- Senatus Populusque Romanus).

When one visits Rome today, they can expect to see this famous image on storm drains, paintings, sculptures, signs, emblems, and flags. It is interwoven into the Roman psyche so much that it has maintained a fusion with the people who still look back on it as the legendary foundation of their roots. But, what exactly is the legend, who told it and where did it come from?

The origins of the Capitoline Wolf are wrapped up in the tale of the two young twins, Romulus and Remus and their foster-mother, the Wolf. The legend also descends into shame and treachery when Remus is murdered by his brother followed later by the rape of the Sabine women which are the two most discreditable features of the ancient lore. In T.J. Cornell’s exhaustive history on the early and ancient roots of Rome, entitled “The Beginnings of Rome“, he thoroughly outlines the depth of this legend by adding that, “all of them (aspects of the legend) were at various times exploited by Rome’s enemies and by Christian critics of her pagan traditions.” (Cornell, pg. 60) The early tales of Rome surely did speak of pagan mythology, as well as the violence that was credited to its beginning, but the fable nonetheless has persevered over two millenniums and continues to be the favoured interpretation of Rome’s foundation due to its drama to explain its existence and founding.

The story of Romulus and Remus is short but dramatic to appease the appetite of the scholar or individual interested in mythologies of the ancient world. It has the similar colour to the story that other tales, legends and myths have from the ancient world, and also ties in the world of the gods to that of what occurs on earth as a connection to the supernatural. It would always give an individual or people more clout if one could associate their existence as being deemed and blessed by the gods. The legend echoes the common tales circulating the ancient world. It is about persons who grow up to become kings, founders, conquerors, explorers, heroes and religious leaders. “Well known examples include Cyrus of Persia, Semiramis the founder of Babylon, Sargon the founder of the Akkadian dynasty, Ion the ancestor of the Ionians, the Trojan princes Paris and Aeneas, the Greek heroes Perseus and Oedipus, the usurper Aegisthus (the murderer of Agamemnon), Cypselus the tyrant of Corinth, the Sassanian king Shapur, and Pope Gregory the Great.” (Cornell, pg. 61-62)

As the legend goes, the maternal grandfather of the twins was a man named Numitor, who was the rightful king and leader of the kingdom of Alba Longa. It was Numitor, who the Romans believed to be the descendent of the Trojan prince Aeneas who had escaped the destruction of the city, Troy. Numitor was also known as the father to Rhea Silvia who was also widely known by the name of Illia. As the legend went, Numitor’s brother, Amulius deposed him and killed his sons forcing Rhea to flee and become one of the sacred Vestal Virgins. It was the purpose of Amulius to seize power and thus deprive his brother of a rightful heir so he could reign supreme. However, Rhea gave birth to twins, Romulus and Remus through the supernatural procreation with either Mars (later Roman god of war and blood) or Hercules (Greek association with Heracles). Amulius, who knew about the pregnancy, took the twins once they were born and abandoned them to die. This, by all means should have been the end of the twins through the old practice of infanticide, but they were discovered by a she-wolf (lupa) who then suckled them recognizing them to be half-immortal and from the bloodline of gods. Later, a shepherd and his wife found the twins and raised them until they were men who became shepherds themselves. When the twins discovered the treachery of their past, they killed Amulius, restored Numitor to the throne and decided to found a city of their own.

The two twins ventured until they came to the River Tiber where they decided that this should be the location of their new city. The legend is really divided into two possible tales, with one of them simply resulting in the death of Remus without murder being implied. However, the more dramatic one of course, as told by the Roman historian Livy, who tells of the twins competing for a location and name, chasing each other around, attempting to build the foundational walls and then fighting bitterly until Romulus kills his brother. It is said that Remus had leapt over Romulus’ wall to discredit him and thus was killed in turn with his brother Romulus stating, “So perish everyone that shall hereafter leap over my wall.” Thus, the city is founded and named Roma in what Roman historians dated it at 758 B.C.

One of the best, and most current evidence to suggest that the legend of the She-Wolf and the Twins was part of Rome’s archaic age exists in the famous bronze statue which now stands in the Palazzo dei Conservatori (Capitoline Museum). This has been dated to the 6th century B.C. and originates from the Etruscan people of northern Italy who were later conquered by the Roman kings, later to be absorbed into the Roman Empire with unified Italy as the source of political and judicial power. Historians and archaeologists alike have ample evidence to believe that the story of the Twins was added to the existence of the She-Wolf by around 300 B.C.  which had become the standard story in Rome. “It was officially proclaimed to the world in 269 B.C. when a representation of the she-wolf and twins appeared on one of the first issues of Roman silver coins.” (Cornell, pg. 61)

“The story was accepted in Rome precisely because it was an old and indigenous legend, and because its main features, uncongenial though they may have appeared to later apologists, were too well established in the tradition to be ignored or suppressed.” (Cornell, pg. 61) The people and society had accepted the story of Romulus and Remus to be a truthful account of the founding of their city and an explanation of its existence. It did not matter if the common belief was that the gods had dabbled and had a part in the founding, for it was customary, at the time in pagan society, to believe that the gods interacted with mankind, could procreate with them, and sometimes appeared to them. Like the Greeks who used the myths of the gods and goddesses to explain their existence and purpose in the world, so would the Romans adopt such beliefs to shape and understand their life and later manifest destiny to control the known world.

Whatever elements of truth may or may not lay in the ancient legend, it is sure that the tale of Romulus and Remus would in ways foreshadow the centuries of Roman influence and dictatorship upon the world to come. These similarities from the history of Rome compared with the founding mythology would follow an evolution of: survival, intervention, humbleness, glory, greed, power, self-deification and treachery. Rome would struggle in countless wars, oppress nations of people, take slaves from every country under the sun, fight civil war after civil war, and hunger for wealth, power and glory. Nearly a quarter of the world would live under the rule of the Caesars and the dreams and nightmares that would follow would all point back to the two helpless twins being suckled by the she-wolf.

By Peter J. Fast

Photos taken by author

 

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Moloch: An Appetite For Children

Introduction:

Among all the paganism of the ancient world, and the gods and goddesses people worshiped, there may be none more complex in nature, terrible in homage and mysterious in identity then the name, Moloch. When examining and reviewing idolatry of the ancient world, it is like peering through a spyglass at an entangled labyrinth of twisting paths and blocked roads. What we must rely on to clear those roads and gain access to understanding are written records, reliefs and frescoes, archeological remains, and geographical land marks. It is always important to know that paganism in the ancient world was physically seen everywhere and entwined into society, just like name brands or slogans are today in the 21st century. Images of idols could be found on hairpieces, combs, perfume bottles, oil lamps, door frames, jugs and vessels, armour and weaponry, equipment for horses, records of history, clothing, jewellery, etc. The deities were talked about, revered in nature, forged into standing idols and altars, and explained through myths. Often when drastic patterns of nature would effect the land (i.e. crops and drought), the awareness of the gods would increase as would desperation to appease the power. This awareness would take the forefront with the hope to appease the deity to such an extent that he/she would relent from their intended wrath or displeasure. It would be at this center stage, concerning such fear of the unknown, that Moloch would find himself with throngs of worshipers prepared to do anything.

Historians, anthropologists, theologians and archaeologists alike that commit vast amounts of time to the study of mythological beliefs of the ancient world, all wrestle with the memory of Moloch. Little information exists about who or what exactly Moloch actually was and what kind of god he represented and was believed to be. One of the best texts of understanding Moloch is the Hebrew text of the Bible, and a number of other Jewish sources which we will explore further on. Yet, the problem remains that as far as information and cataloged evidence goes, there is not much that has survived to give us a full dimensional and accurate picture of Moloch. So, a level of speculation must enter into the picture, but speculation based on what we know about ancient pagan societies, what their gods/goddesses demanded from their loyal patrons, and how these false deities influenced peoples lives. We will examine the Bible and other sources, and try and formulate an image of Moloch and what we know about him. Thus, for now, I will attempt to place Moloch in his historical setting so that we may be able to grasp an essence of who worshiped this god, why he is considered to be one of the most sadistic of gods, and why some of the most harshest warnings and judgements found in the Bible were directed at him and those who would succumb to his worship.

Origins and Biblical Evidence:

The worship of Moloch (with early roots tied to the Ammonites) was common during the 13th-5th century B.C.. It was practiced in large part by the Canaanites, Phoenicians (which most likely had Judaic roots as a people from the tribe of Asher) and other related cultures in North Africa and the lands of the Levant as far as the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. The name, Moloch, is a Semitic term that derives its root meaning from the word, ‘king.’ As a god, Moloch was part of cult worship which revolved around a kind of propitiatory child sacrifice system where the children were offered by the parents themselves in a honour ceremony to the god. This kind of sacrifice was void of any edged knives or weapons, but instead gave homage to fire which was connected with Moloch. Thus, for what we know about this cult, the children (male and female- 2nd Kings 23:10) were offered to Moloch by being consumed by fire. “And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Moloch.” Leviticus 18:21-23.

In Biblical text, we see the cult religion of Moloch infiltrate elements of the Kingdom of Judah as we see King Manassah, overseeing and allowing sacrifices to take place in the Hinnom Valley, which is outside Jerusalem. The terms, Gehenna (Greek) and Gihinnom (Hebrew) both describe this valley which the Bible also calls it, Valley of the Son of Hinnom. In 2nd Chronicles 28:3, 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31, 19:2-6 we see the apostate Israelites and followers of various forms of Ba’al and other Canaanite gods, including Moloch, offer their children to the fires. Later, the term Gehenna would be used to demonstrate a picture of hell where the wicked will perish.

We see clearly in the Bible (Leviticus 20:2-5) warnings from God through Moses to His people, Israel, against the practice, veneration and worship of Moloch. “Again you shall say to the children of Israel, or of any of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who gives any of his descendents to Moloch, he shall surely be put to death.” (Lev. 20:2) This will also result in God turning His face from the accused and having the perpetrator cut off from Israel for it is viewed as a defilement against God and directly profaning His holy name. Then the passage is opened up from the individual to the community, should many people take part in the worship of Moloch. “And if the people of the land should in any way hide their eyes from the man, when he gives some of his descendents to Moloch, and they do not kill him, then I will set My face against that man and against his family; and I will cut him off from the people, and all who prostitute themselves with him to commit harlotry with Moloch.” (Lev. 20:4-5). The warning is clear and judgment declared, thus by the time King Manassah reigns over Judah, and allows the worship of Moloch to occur, we see swift judgment following in the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. by the Babylonian Empire.

Text

In the Hebrew text we see the letters מלך (mlk) used which stand for “melek” or “king”. However, when examined and vocalized in the Masoretic text we hear the name, moloch which has been the traditional pronunciation for the god. Yet, the name in its form regularly appears as (lmlk) when translated letter for letter from the text. The Hebrew equivalent for the “l” means simply, “to”, but it can also take on further meanings such as, “for” or “as/an”. Thus, one could translate the text and read the name as, “to Moloch” or “for Moloch” or “as Moloch”, or “to the Moloch” or “for the Moloch” or “as the Moloch”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moloch) If we translate this this as, “king” then it gives us either two options, either this is a title and we do not know the true name for Moloch apart from the people of that day who referred to him with honour as, “king,” or that simply was his name, such as Ba’al meaning, “master”.

In reference to the mention of children being sacrificed to Moloch as seen in the Bible, this term “children” is translated as “offspring” or “seed” and demonstrates a literal action displaying the seed, as the continuation of a family, being willingly offered to Moloch into the flames. As it is also seen, offspring could have meant a single family also offering all of their children to Moloch, both male and female. As far as the age of the children, that is not known, although it is a common assumption that they were babies.

Jewish Classical Sources:

In the 12th century A.D. the Jewish rabbinic commentator and revered teacher, Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki (1040-1105 A.D.) known by the acronym name as Rashi, dealt with the question of Moloch in his examination of Jeremiah 7:31. He stated, ” Tophet is Moloch, which was made of brass; and they heated him from his lower parts; and his hands being stretched out, and made hot, they put the child between his hands, and it was burnt; when it vehemently cried out; but the priests beat a drum, that the father might not hear the voice of his son, and his heart might not be moved.”

Rashi dealt with the fact that the entire ceremony was designed to put people in a trance as they worshiped Moloch and to quench any emotion or reluctance on behalf of the parents offering the children. He gives a description of Moloch and how traditionally he was viewed throughout the Oral History of the Jewish people and the common understanding in rabbinic Judaism. Nevertheless, it is clear that Moloch was wicked and that the institution of such a deity was blasphemous and therefore was worthy to incur the wrath of God upon the people who committed the apostasy. Other forms of rabbinic tradition to support Rashi is attributed to the Yalkout of Rabbi Simeon who said, “that the idol was hollow and was divided into seven compartments, in one of which they put flour, in the second turtle-doves, in the third a ewe, in the fourth a ram, in the fifth a calf, in the sixth an ox, and in the seventh a child, which were all burned together by heating the statue inside.” This is simply impossible to know for sure, but still may have an ounce of truth in it as it was common for these types of animals to be used in sacrifices to gods and goddesses and if we know one thing about the sacrifices in the Hinnom Valley during the days of Manassah, Moloch was only one of many other gods present.

End Notes:

In closing, despite not having all of the details concerning Moloch, it is true that he was a cruel and terrible god. He demanded victims for the obedience of wicked and deceived people to offer, many of whom chose to deliberately turn their backs on the true God to serve a false one. Not only would their own flesh and blood pay for their transgressions and deliberate rebellion, but entire kingdoms and peoples would be vanquished, crushed, exiled, and wrenched from their lands in judgment. The line of kings both in Israel and Judah would be cut off, the Canaanites and Ammonites would vanish from history, and things would never again be the same. Although, in the time of Ezra, Nehemiah and Zerubbabel the Jewish people would once again return and cleanse the land, they would again feel the weight of judgment and oppression through the occupations of the Hellenist Greek world and the Romans. From there, Jerusalem would be destroyed in 70 A.D. and again in 135 A.D. and the people would be scattered again. However, nearly two thousand years later the entire world would behold an amazing event as a nation would be born in a single day (Isaiah 66:8-11) and God would be shown to remember His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as He restored Israel on May 14th 1948.

By, Peter J. Fast