Romulus and Cyrus: A tale of two bitches.

You have probably heard the story of Romulus and Remus.

Romulus and Remus were the twin sons of Rhea Silvia, daughter to Numitor king of Alba Longa. Before their conception, Numitor’s brother Amulius seizes power, kills Numitor’s male heirs and forces Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin, sworn to chastity. Rhea Silvia conceives the twins by the god Mars (Although other versions suggest it was by the demi-god Hercules). Once the twins were born, Amulius has them abandoned to die in the river Tiber. They are saved by a series of miraculous interventions: the river carries them to safety, a she-wolf finds and sucklest hem. A shepherd and his wife find them and foster them to manhood, as simple shepherds. The twins, still ignorant of their true origins, prove to be natural leaders. Each acquires many followers. When they discover the truth of their birth, they kill Amulius and restore Numitor to his throne. Rather than wait to inherit Alba Longa, they choose to found a new city.

Interestingly the word Lupa, meaning she-wolf, is also a Roman slang for a prostitute.  Livy mentions this, saying that some believe they were raised by a prostitute, possibly the shepherd’s wife.  It is a well known myth and one that is inherently Roman

Yet Herodotus, in book one, tells a similar story of Cyrus.  His grandfather had a dream foretelling that he was going to take over his kingdom and decided to have the baby Cyrus killed.  A herdsman was ordered to take the baby out and expose it on a remote hilltop to die.  His wife Spaco (which means bitch in Medean) had just lost her baby and so they decided to raise the child Cyrus as their own son and leave their stillborn baby on the hilltop, so that they could pretend that it’s corpse was Cyrus’

When Cyrus was 10 he came to the attention of his grandfather, who decided that the boy was no longer a threat to his kingdom and allowed him to be reunited with his parents.  They decided to spread the story that he was found on the mountain by a bitch, which has suckled him and raised him in the wild (which was sort of true).

This seems to be borrowing directly from the myth of Romulus and Remus, and it appears that several heroic myths were being adopted by Cyrus, to add mystique to his reign.  However, the myth of Romulus and Remus is not that old.  Herodotus was writing in the mid 5th century BC about events in the 6th century BC.  The character of Remus did not exist in the Roman origin myths until some time in the 4th century BC.

Since Remus was not part of the initial myth, let us look at them again.  Both children were of royal birth, exposed to die, suckled by a human “bitch” and raised by shepherds.

It was in the early 4th century that the Romans first started recording their historical myths and legends.  The character of Romulus was mentioned in earlier art and inscriptions, but Remus was invented around this time to help endorse the idea that Rome should have two leaders, the two consuls.  If the myth was being extensively rewritten around this time, how much of it existed before Cyrus’ reign?  Was Cyrus borrowing the myths of Romulus, the founder of a pretty insignificant tribe that had achieved nothing of any significance, or were the Romans borrowing the myths surrounding the ruler of one of the greatest empires to have ever existed?

It think it seems more likely that Romulus’ origin was copied from Cyrus.  The Roman she wolf was really a Persian bitch.