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Site tied to Rome’s legendary founding revealed

Nov. 22, 2007
World Science staff
and wire reports

Ar­chae­o­lo­gists this week re­vealed a site that they said an­cient Ro­mans ven­er­ated as the Lu­per­cale, a leg­end­ary cave where a she-wolf raised the twin founders of Rome. The cave is sump­tu­ously dec­o­rat­ed in shells and mo­saics, with the fig­ure of an ea­gle grac­ing the cen­ter of the ceil­ing.

The ceiling of the site that archaeologists believe is the legendary Lupercale. (Courtesy Italian Ministry of Culture)


The find on Rome’s Pal­a­tine hill was an­nounced at a press con­fer­ence in Rome by Fran­ces­co Rutelli, Italy’s cul­ture min­is­ter. 

Specialists have been prob­ing the space with en­do­scopes and la­ser scan­ners for two years, ac­cord­ing to Gior­gio Croci, an en­gi­neer who worked at the site.

An­cient Ro­mans be­lieved a she-wolf suck­led the twin broth­ers Rom­u­lus and Re­mus, sons of the war god Mars, who were left adrift in a bas­ket. The twins sur­vived thanks to the wolf, and later to a shep­herd who found them. Rom­u­lus went on to found the city af­ter kill­ing Re­mus in a pow­er strug­gle.

The sanc­tu­ary was found be­neath the ru­ins of the pal­ace of Rome’s first em­per­or, Au­gus­tus, who was said to have re­stored the ca­ve. The site’s an­cient name comes from the word “lu­pa,” La­tin and Ita­lian for she-wolf.

Au­gus­tus, who ruled from the late 1st cen­tu­ry B.C. to his death in the year 14, was in­tent on be­ing close to the places of Rome’s myth­i­cal founda­t­ion, and used the ­city’s re­li­gious tra­di­tions to so­lid­i­fy his pow­er, said Ire­ne Ia­copi, the ar­chae­o­lo­gist in charge of the Pal­a­tine and the near­by Ro­man Fo­rum.

Although most of the sanc­tu­ary is filled with dirt, la­ser scans let ex­perts es­ti­mate that the cir­cu­lar cham­ber is 26 feet tall and 24 feet wide, Croci said.


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Archaeologists this week revealed a site that they said ancient Romans venerated as the Lupercale, a legendary cave where a she-wolf raised the twin founders of Rome. The cave is sumptuously decorated in shells and mosaics, with the figure of an eagle gracing the center of the ceiling. The find on Rome’s Palatine hill was announced at a press conference in Rome by Francesco Rutelli, Italy’s culture minister. Experts have been probing the space with endoscopes and laser scanners for two years, according to Giorgio Croci, an engineer who worked on the site. Ancient Romans believed a she-wolf suckled the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, sons of the war god Mars, who were left adrift in a basket. The twins survived thanks to the wolf; Romulus went on to found the city after killing Remus in a power struggle. The sanctuary was found beneath the ruins of the palace of Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, who was said to have restored the cave. Augustus, who ruled from the late 1st century B.C. to his death in the year 14, was intent on being close to the places of Rome’s mythical foundation, and used the city’s religious traditions to solidify his power, said Irene Iacopi, the archaeologist in charge of the Palatine and the nearby Roman Forum. Most of the sanctuary is filled with earth, but laser scans allowed experts to estimate that the circular structure has a height of 26 feet and a diameter of 24 feet, Croci said.