Tag Archives: shrine

Archeologists discover 2,600-year-old shrine dedicated to Rome’s mythical founder

 Replica of the Roman she-wolf, Romulus and Remus, Capitole, Rome, Italy. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

As legend has it, Romulus was the founder of Rome and the city’s first king. According to one of the many myths surrounding Romulus’ death, Rome’s first leader was killed and cut into pieces in a ploy orchestrated by the Senate in order to reassume their own power. The story of Romulus is now back in the limelight after archaeologists made the discovery of a lifetime: a 2,600-year-old shrine dedicated to Rome’s founding father buried beneath the Roman Forum.

The shrine was found close to the Curia-Comitium complex, the political center of ancient Roman life where senators met and decided the fate of the republic. Inside the shrine, archaeologists discovered an empty sarcophagus and a circular stone structure believed to have served as an altar.

Many were amazed at news of the discovery, including Rome’s mayor, Virginia Raggi, who tweeted “Rome always marvels with its treasures”.

No bones were found in the sarcophagus and historians are quite certain that the tomb wasn’t Romulus’ final resting place. Instead, the shrine likely served as a memorial and place of worship for the cult of Romulus, who was revered as a demigod.

In fact, the very existence of Romulus is shrouded in mystery.

According to one of the earliest myths recorded by historians, including Virgil, Romulus and his twin brother Remus were the children of Rhea Silvia, a human priestess, and Mars (or in some variations the demigod hero Hercules).

Rhea Silvia was a vestal virgin — a priestess of the goddess of the hearth Vesta. Chosen as young girls, these priestesses were granted special rights and privileges that other women in Rome could only dream of. There was a price to pay, though: a Vestal Virgin had to abstain from sex, an obligation that continued until the cult was ended by Christianity in 394 AD.

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. Upon finding that Rhea Silvia was pregnant, King Amulius, who ruled Alba Longa, an ancient city of Latium in central Italy, had the priestess imprisoned and ordered that her twins be killed.

In all the myths, a servant seems to have taken pity on the two babies, which are placed into a basket onto the River Tiber, which carries the boys to safety. The twins are then saved by a she-wolf, which to this day is the symbol of Rome — a she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus.

Legend has it that the brothers quarreled over the location of the foundation of their new city, with Romulus wishing to start the city on the Palatine Hill, while Remus wished to found it on the Aventine Hill. In response to Remus’ mockery over a wall that Romulus had erected around Palantine Hill, the angered Romulus kills his twin brother. Remus’ death and the founding of Rome are dated by Livy to April 21st, 753 BCE.

Romulus’ life has several endings depending on the myth you choose to ascribe to. According to one popular myth, Romulus disappears into a storm or whirlwind, ascending to the heavens to become a god. Another legend claims that Romulus was killed by resentful senators. Plutarch reports that Romulus disappeared in 717 BC at age 53, while Dionysius of Halicarnassus reports that he died at the age of 55.

Archaeologists are still conducting research at Romulus’ shrine and hope to open it to visitors within two years.

Aerial view of the tetzacualco (shrine) with water drained from the pond. Credit: SAS-INAH.

Stone shrine discovered inside Mexican volcano depicts mythical Aztec universe

Mexican archaeologists have discovered a stone sanctuary at the bottom of a pond below the Iztaccihuatl volcano that seems to depict a mythical model of the universe.

Aerial view of the tetzacualco (shrine) with water drained from the pond. Credit: SAS-INAH.

Aerial view of the tetzacualco (shrine) with water drained from the pond. Credit: SAS-INAH.

The site, known as “Nahualac”, is at least 1,000 years old, judging from ceramic materials. Some of them have been identified as belonging to the Coyotlatelco (750-900 AD), Mazapa (850 to 900 AD) and Tollan Complex (900-1150 AD) cultures.

Archaeologists at the National Institute of Anthropology and History led by Iris del Rocio Hernandez Bautista believe that the site was designed to depict Meso-American myths about the creation of the universe. Namely, it’s believed the earth monster Cipactli floated on primeval waters and then split itself, thus creating the heavens and earth.

The Nahualac site covered in water. Credit: SAS-INAH.

The Nahualac site covered in water. Credit: SAS-INAH.

Archaeologists claim that the stone shrine, called a ‘tetzacualco’, emulates this myth due to its positioning. According to them, the way it was placed made the stone shrine look like it was floating on the water surface, fitting with the myth. The Mesoamericans likely used a ritual control of water from nearby springs to irrigate the pond and create the visual effect.

“These visual effects, in addition to the characteristics of the elements that make up the site and the relationship they have with each other, make us suppose that Nahualac could represent a microcosm that evokes the primitive waters and the beginning of the mythical time-space,” Bautista said in a statement.

“The intention that water surround specific ritual architectural elements seems to have been an important part of Mesoamerican thought.”

Mexican researchers at the site. Credit: SAS-INAH.

Mexican researchers at the site. Credit: SAS-INAH.

Credit: SAS-INAH.

Credit: SAS-INAH.

About 150 meters southeast of the structure, over a wide valley which has a number of natural springs, archaeologists also found decorative pieces associated with the rain god Tlaloc. These, along with pieces from the sanctuary itself, are currently examined for their use and origin. The ritualistic nature of the site is further strengthened by organic remains — charcoal and fragments of pink polished schist material — recovered from tripod bowls arranged as an offering.