Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Romulus and Remus are Twin Sons of Rama and Sita (Lava & Kush)

Romulus and Remus, much like Lava and Kush in the Ramayana, are twin brothers. These two central characters in Rome's foundation myth have a mother named Rhea Silvia, daughter of Numitor, king of Alba Longa, who corresponds to Sita (pronounced Seetha), daughter of Janaka, king of the Videha kingdom situated east of Ayodhya (Lord Rama's birthplace) in India.

Romulus and Remus suckling the she-wolf
National Gallery, Washington D.C.

Rhea is known as mother of the Olympian gods in Greek mythology and Magna Mater (Great Mother) by Romans. This name may be derived from the Sanskrit word “raya” (pronounced ruhya) meaning river stream or swift current - analogous to Greek rheo, meaning flow or discharge. Many female deities are worshiped as personifications of nature, including plants (Tulsi), rivers (Ganga), and earth (Bhumi). Wikipedia states, "Most ancient etymologists derived Rhea ('Ρέα) by metathesis from έρα 'ground'." That Greek word is ‘Era’ in Roman transliteration, which is possibly related to the English word earth, itself likely derived originally from Sanskrit ‘dharitree.’ Every Hindu knows that according to legend, Mother Sita was literally born in the earth and found by her foster father Janaka after digging in the ground. The Sanskrit meaning of "Seetha" is a furrow in a ploughed field, because that is where Janaka discovered her. Dharitree also means female bearer or supporter, and thus its divine personification (Bhumi Devi) is regarded as Sita's true mother. Sita herself is an incarnation of Lakshmi, who along with Bhumi Devi, are both consorts of Vishnu. Rama, the earthly husband of Sita, is Lord Vishnu's human incarnation for the purpose of slaying the demon Ravana.

Certainly this explains why the mother of Remus and Romulus has such a cryptic and mysterious name that has never been properly deciphered. If we examine the second part of the name “Silvia”, in essence another variation of the name Sita, we come to the same conclusion. Silvia derives from the Latin word Silva (forest) and Silvia is a Roman goddess of the forest. In English, "sylvan" refers to woodlands abounding in trees and forests. Because Sita is banished by Rama to the forest in the epic Ramayana, and gives birth to her twins Lava and Kush there, this memory is retained in the second part of Rhea Silvia's name. Both parts connote a down-to-earth female deity because Mother Sita is closely associated with the earth. Let us read and parse through the rest of the Roman version:

Before Romulus and Remus are conceived, "Numitor's brother Amulius seizes power, kills Numitor's male heirs and forces Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin, sworn to chastity." (Wikipedia)

This Amulius is probably a corrupted and distorted version of King Rama of Ayodhya himself. According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, "There is much debate and variation as to whom was the father of Romulus and Remus. Some myths claim that Mars appeared and lay with Rhea Silvia; other myths attest that the demi-god hero Hercules was her partner. However, the author Livy claims that Rhea Silvia was in fact raped by an unknown man, but blamed her pregnancy on divine conception." All of this speculation would end if it is realized that Sita, renowned for her steadfast devotion to Rama, would never willingly allow another man to touch her. Because Ravana, Rama's fierce enemy, abducted Sita through cunning trickery, her honor was forever sullied in the eyes of the unknowing populace in Ayodhya, the city where Rama reigned. Ravana plays the role of Mars, Hercules, or simply the "unknown man" who rapes and impregnates Rhea Silvia. The difference between Rome's confused account and the Ramayana is that Lava and Kush, the twin sons of Sita, are still indeed Rama's sons and not illegitimate like Romulus and Remus. The union of Rama and Sita to conceive the twin heroes Lava and Kush is what Livy encodes as "divine conception". By concocting this story about Amulius requiring his niece to remain a maiden, the authors could omit any mention about her husband, or any of her potential suitors. They transform Lord Rama into a villainous uncle (Amulius) because he abandoned Sita (Rhea Silvia) in the forest when whispers emerged among the citizens questioning Sita's chastity and virtue. It is alone in the wilderness where Sita ultimately found refuge at Sage Valmiki's hermitage and peacefully raised her two children.

Continuing with the Roman version, "It was custom that any Vestal Virgin betraying her vows of celibacy was condemned to death; the most common death sentence was to be buried alive." This is a thinly veiled reference to Sita's decision to merge back again with Mother Earth, which split open to create a fissure in the ground for her to enter, thus releasing Sita from the miseries of this world. Since Vestal Virgins are connected to the hearth and the sacred fire, Sita came to be known as a Vestal Virgin in Roman mythology because she underwent the ordeal of walking through flames to prove her purity and faithfulness to Rama. Now in the Roman legend, King Amulius decides to imprison Rhea Silvia instead of murdering her, but he tries to drown her two sons, Romulus and Remus, in the Tiber River. The twins miraculously escape harm as they are carried in a basket across the river. Then they are found by a she-wolf near Palatine Hill who suckles them, and later a shepherd named Faustulus raises both twins after discovering them. This shepherd can be equated with Sage Valmiki, who must have tended many cows and trained many children (including Lava & Kush) in Vedic culture, literature, and military arts at his hermitage.

Etruscan Funerary Relief, 5th century B.C.
Lioness or she-wolf suckling an unknown hero

As for the Roman she-wolf and its origins, Nigel Spivey writes, "Certain archaic images suggest an Etruscan element to stories such as the wolf-raised boys" (pg. 152, Etruscan Art). The relief above is the main piece of evidence that Spivey is referring to, but he stops short of proposing a direct relationship with the Roman myth: "The absence of a second figure makes it unlikely that this is a representation of Romulus and Remus, but we do not possess the Etruscan version of that story." We do, however, possess the Indian version of that story, which was clearly garbled up and mixed with tales and iconography from Etruria and Greece, as we shall see in even further detail. The Capitoline She-Wolf, as shown in the National Gallery at Washington D.C., itself  "is a 5th century BCE Etruscan bronze wolf to which two small figures of Romulus and Remus were added in 15th century CE," according to the Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE)

After Romulus and Remus were raised as shepherds by their foster parents, for unexplained reasons (perhaps a dispute over herding or ownership of sheep) they were met with violent resistance from shepherds of King Amulius. This contrived story is yet another transparent act of plagiarizing Lava and Kush's exploits in the Ramayana. Lava and Kush engage in battle with Lord Rama's army (analogous to King Amulius' shepherds) and defeat his younger brothers, including Lakshman, before confronting their own father himself on the battlefield. They do not recognize each other until Sita reveals their identity to Rama, and afterwards Lava and Kush return to Ayodhya with their father. Hence, "King Amulius believed that Rhea Silvia's children were dead; he did not recognize Remus or Romulus" (AHE). The main divergence between the two narratives arises when Romulus kills his grandfather's brother Amulius, but this is a superficial difference caused by the perversion of Rama's character. 

Another strange anecdote, riddled with contradictions, is the quarrel between Romulus and Remus which results in the death of Remus and the founding of Rome by Romulus. Livy's account claims that Remus died after jumping recklessly over Romulus' constructed wall around the Palatine Hill. Another version (St. Jerome) asserts that Remus was killed for mocking Romulus by one of his supporters. Finally, the most popular and accepted belief is that Romulus simply killed his own brother Remus out of puerile anger and resentment in their sibling rivalry. When teasing and belittling Romulus, Remus apparently forgot that Romulus had freed him after Remus had been captured by King Amulius in an earlier episode. 

All of these bizarre concoctions are patently absurd. Nonetheless, "While it may never be certain if these twin brothers were real, what is certain is that their story was treated with respect and discussed at length even by the ancients" (AHE). This inexplicable respect and obsession over what seems like a silly children's novel, is only understandable when we connect it to the revered legends of Rama and Sita, and their twin sons, Lava and Kush. As another example, "Romulus is claimed to have ascended to the heavens to become a god by several eye-witnesses," which is an obvious salute to Rama's exalted position as an incarnation of the Supreme God Vishnu in Vaishnava tradition. This last admission by the Ancient History Encyclopedia should clinch the issue and convince the reader of the direct relationship between Romulus (literally meaning "little boy Rome" or Rama's son, because the suffix -ulus forms the dimunitive of a noun in Latin) and Rama, along with his sons Lava and Kush.
Castor and Pollux, Spartan Twins: another precursor of Romulus and Remus
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA

Romans were already fond of divine twins well before they invented Romulus and Remus, as Castor and Pollux formed a part of their early religious pantheon (See Marble Statuettes Above). Greek and Etruscan mythology had a strong psychological impact on Roman civilization, and both Greeks and Etruscans were heavily influenced by Indian fables and legends. Thus, these "heavenly twins (Castor & Pollux) appear also in the Indo-European tradition as the effulgent Vedic brother-horsemen the Ashvins," where Wikipedia cites the Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World. In its description of these two marble statues of Castor and Pollux, each standing next to a horse, the Metropolitan Museum of Art acknowledges: "One of the first monumental structures in the Roman Forum was a temple dedicated to the twins in the early fifth century B.C." This time period coincides pretty nicely with that of the aforementioned Etruscan funerary relief depicting a boy suckling a she-wolf or lioness. 

Therefore, I am led to conclude that these various artistic depictions of legendary stories from Greece, Etruria, and India were combined to generate the mythical founding history of Rome. Ultimately we cannot hesitate to do what Nigel Spivey in Etruscan Art suggests, with a slight (or not so slight) amendment:

"If we follow the practice, popular among the Romans themselves, of 'twinning' mythical and historical figures across the Mediterranean, then we should follow Plutarch and pair Romulus of Rome with Theseus of Athens, therefore treating him as a poetic-religious symbol" (pg. 151)

After reviewing the evidence I have presented, would you pair Romulus of Rome with Rama (as well as Lava-Kush) of Ayodhya? I think I have made a compelling case, and your answer should be independent of whether or not you believe Rama was a historical person (Theseus is also regarded as a mythical king).


  1. Another reason Sita is associated with the forest (Silvia) is simply because she spent King Rama's exile period (fourteen years) living in simple cottages made from bamboo, wood, palm leaves etc. in the wilderness, even though she could have foregone all of this hardship by staying in the royal palace.

  2. "Carsten Niebuhr proposed that the name Rhea Silvia came from Rea, meaning guilty, and Silvia meaning 'of the forest' and so assumed that Rhea Silvia was a generic name for the guilty woman of the forest, i.e. the woman who had been seduced there." Notice how Mother Sita fits this description almost perfectly.