Rome celebrates its official “birthday” on April 21, the date on which (according to ancient Roman legend) brothers Romulus and Remus founded the city in 753 B.C. While its official age is pretty advanced—2,767 years, to be exact--Rome may be even older than that, according to new evidence found during excavations inside the Roman Forum. Using advanced technology, a team of archeologists recently discovered the remains of a stone wall they believe to have been built more than a century before Rome’s founding date.
The legend of Rome’s founding in 753 B.C. by Romulus and Remus, twin sons of the war god Mars, probably originated in the 4th century B.C. and was recorded in writing in coherent form near the end of the following century. Archeological evidence indicates that people arrived in the region as early as the 10th century B.C., however, and it has long been accepted wisdom that the settlement of Rome was a gradual process that took places over centuries. These new findings, uncovered by a team of archeologists working inside the Roman Forum since 2009, suggest that construction in stone in the city began even earlier than previously established.
The wall, constructed of porous limestone known as tufa, was found on the site of the Lapis Niger (“Black Stone” in Latin), a shrine inside the Forum that later Romans associates with the city’s earliest years. The team drew from photos, images and other research from past Forum excavations (including those led by Dr. Giacomo Boni from 1899 until his death in 1925) to create 3-D images of the site, then used laser scanners and high-definition photography to narrow down the exact location of the buried wall.
The newly uncovered structure appears to have been built to channel water from an aquifer under the Capitoline, one of the fabled seven hills of Rome, which ran into the Spiro River, a tributary of the Tiber. In addition to the stone wall itself, the team of Forum archaeologists found pieces of ceramic pottery and remains of food (grains) scattered nearby. Through a close examination of the pottery, they were able to date the wall’s construction to “between the 9th century and the beginning of the 8th century” B.C., according to Dr. Patrizia Fortini, an archeologist from Rome’s cultural superintendency who headed the research team. If their conclusions are accurate, its construction would predate the traditional founding of Rome by more than a century.
The Roman Forum, built on low ground between the Palatine and Capitoline hills, was among ancient Rome’s most important public meeting places. Law trials, gladiatorial combats and open-air markets took place in the Forum during the republican era, and during the years of empire, the Forum housed many of the city’s preeminent temples and monuments. One of these is the Arch of Severus Septimius, a marble monument built in A.D. 203 that still stands next to the Lapis Niger site. Celebrated by ancient Romans as the location of Romulus’ tomb, Lapis Niger also includes a stone block that bears the earliest Latin inscription found in Rome, dating to the 5th century B.C. While the exact meaning is unclear, the inscription seems to place a curse on anyone who violates the sacred site.