This illustration, by the Italian artist Giovanni Battista Fontana (c. 1524-1587), was inspired by the death (or immortalization) of Rome’s mythological or legendary founder, Romulus. As he was a man of myth and legend, Romulus’ death scene, too, was naturally filled with otherworldly elements. The tale was recorded by the Roman historian, Livy (59 BCE-17 CE), who wrote, “One day while he [Romulus] was reviewing his troops on the Campus Martius near the marsh of Capra, a storm burst, with violent thunder. A cloud enveloped him, so thick that it hid him from the eyes of everyone present; and from that moment he was never seen again upon earth” (Livy, History of Rome, 1.16). Romulus gave no last words, and neither did any heavenly voice from the cloud announce what was happening to the legendary figure. Instead, Romulus just disappeared without an explanation, vanishing into the lightning-charged clouds. As the illustration above depicts, the event was reportedly quite the traumatic experience for onlookers, and it took some time for the Romans to calm down. Once they had gained their composure, the Romans began formulating theories as to what had happened. Livy continued the scene, writing, “Then a few voices began to proclaim Romulus’ divinity; the cry was taken up, and every last man present hailed him as a god and son of a god, and prayed him to be forever gracious and to protect his children” (Livy, History of Rome, 1.16). Such is the tale that inspired this illustration by Giovanni Battista Fontana. For more information on Romulus and this particular tale, read our article, HERE.
- The History of Rome by Livy, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.
- The Beginnings of Rome by T. J. Cornell. New York: Routledge, 1995.