ROME ITALY —
An ancient tomb believed to belong to Rome's founder, Romulus, will be presented to the world on Friday, bringing to the fore months of investigation by history researchers.
The stone sarcophagus of the 6th century BC, with an accompanying circular altar, was discovered under the Forum in the heart of Italy's capital decades ago, but experts could not agree whether or not it belonged to the legendary figure.
According to legend, Romulus founded the city after killing his twin brother Remus.
The brothers were raised by a wolf – the symbol of Rome shows them sucking on their tits – but then they fell on where to build the new metropolis.
Historians have long been divided not only about whether the pair really existed, but if so, where Romulus' body – which would have been dismembered after his death by angry senators – may have been buried.
The Colosseum Archaeological Park, which runs the Forum where the sarcophagus is located, said that all recent clues point to the tomb of the founder, in what he called an "extraordinary discovery".
The Forum was the beating heart of the Roman Empire and historical sources refer to Romulus' possible burial in that area.
No bones were found inside the sarcophagus.
The political birth of Rome
"These two archaeological objects (sarcophagus and altar) have given rise to a hypothesis that we can now discuss," Italian archaeologist Paolo Carafa told AFP.
Romulus, popularized by writers like Livy, Ovídio and Plutarco, is said to have cut a square groove around Monte Palatino to demarcate the walls of the future city.
When a mocking Remus jumped over the "wall" to prove how ineffective it would be against invaders, his brother killed him.
A team of scientists who carried out an excavation in the late 1980s discovered a long, deep cut marked by large stones, which they claimed was the "sacred groove" carved by Romulus.
Legend has it that he established the Roman Senate and ruled the city's first king for almost 40 years, before disappearing into the air one day while inspecting his troops.
Some versions of the story took him to heaven by the god of war, while others brutally murdered him by jealous senators who tore him limb by limb and scattered parts of his body throughout the city.
Consequently, there may not be a body to bury. In any case, Romulus acquired cult followers, making it more than plausible that the ancient city built a sanctuary for his legendary – and possibly mythical – beloved founder.
"Whether Romulus existed or not is not important," said Carafa.
"What matters is that this number is considered by the ancients to mark the political birth of the city".