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Rome's Founding, Familial Envy & The Tall Poppy Syndrome

Doug Garland
Doug Garland
4 min read
Rome's Founding, Familial Envy & The Tall Poppy Syndrome
Photograph by Oliver Jaramillo

Table of Contents

This is the first two-part animation series about Rome's founding and the beginning of its Kingdoms. The second part is the demise of the last Kingdom two hundred fifty years later. The final kingdom gives rise to the origin of one of the early descriptions of the tall poppy syndrome (TPS) metaphor and the first to use the poppy as the object that was cut down (see "Last But Not Least! Politics and The Tall Poppy Syndrome").

According to tradition, Rome's founding is dated April 21, 753 B.C., when Romulus and his twin brother, Remus, found Rome on the site where a she-wolf discovered and suckled them as orphaned infants. This myth originated in the fourth century B.C. The precise date of Rome’s founding was set by the Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro in the first century B.C. Most of Rome's libraries were destroyed during the Gallic occupation in 368 B.C. so its early history is mixed with myth and legend.

Rome's founding has similarities to a Near Eastern myth noted in the Grecian legend of Neleus and Pelias, sons of the god Poseidon, who were found on the river Enipeus and suckled by a bitch and mare. The Romulus - Remus feud (familial envy) is similar to the Grecian King Oeneus versus his son Toxeus and Poimander and his accidental killing of his son, Leucippus during a battle.

All this comes after the Biblical familial envy of Cain and Abel which resulted in Cain's killing Abel. The Egyptian pharaoh's daughter found Hebrew Moses floating on the Nile.

Our animation begins with the last Alban Kings and familial envy, a theme that will plague the Kingdoms of Rome as a prominent cutter in TPS. Younger Amulius will usurp the throne away from his older brother Numitor. The female side of the family will give birth to Romulus and Remus wherein familial envy leads to the killing of Remus and Rome's founding and beginning of the Kingdoms. The precedent is established and will vex the kingdoms until their demise.  

For those interested here is the text of the animation:

Rome's origin is not so easy to understand due to incomplete and varying historical accounts. After the mythological Trojan War and the fall of Troy in the 12th or 11th century BC, the Greeks maintained hostilities towards the Trojans. Two Trojan men, Antenor, and Prince Aeneas, were allowed to work for peace but both failed.

Aeneas and his men were eventually forced into exile. They ultimately landed in Latinum, an area southwest of Rome where King Latinus provided refuge. To confirm his acceptance of Aeneas and his men, King Latinus offered his daughter Lavinia in marriage to Aeneas. Unfortunately, Lavinia was already promised to PrinceTurnus from a neighboring territory.

An armed conflict ensued between Turnus and Aeneas. Aeneas won the war although  Latinus was killed. The Trojans won the right to stay and assimilate with the local people. Aeneas’ son, Ascanius, founded Alba Longa and the line of Alban Kings, filling the chronological gap between the Trojan saga and the founding of Rome in the 8th century BC.

One of the last kings was Proscas who fathered Numitor and then Amulius. At Proscas’ death, the protocol was broken and Amulius usurped the throne after driving Numitor away. He killed his brother’s sons and make his niece, Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin. She was raped - she professed by Mars - and gave birth to twins, Romulus and Remus. The King imprisoned her and condemned the twins to death by drowning in the Tiber River.

The twins were placed in a basket at the edge of a flooded Tiber. Fortuitously, the water’s edge receded and stranded the two. A thirsty she-wolf found them and nursed them until they were found by Faustulus, the King’s herdsmen. He took them home to his wife Larentia. (It should be noted that some folks claimed that Larentia was a common whore and was called Wolf by the local shepherds.)

The twins were engaged with other shepherds in farm life and hunting. Others joined and they began to attack robbers and share their spoils. They engaged in an annual festival of frivolity at Palatine hill. Some incensed brigands laid a trap for the twins. Romulus defended himself and escaped, but Remus was captured and turned over to Numitor whose land they often raided.

Faustulus suspected from the beginning that the twins were of royal blood. Their rescue from the Tiber corresponded to the king’s orders to drown them. Faustulus told Romulus, then Numitor, and finally Remus of these circumstances. Romulus knew they had to act. With the help of the herdsmen, the twins surprised and killed King Amulius. Numitor gathered the townspeople and told them about the nefarious tale of Amulius. The twins verified the story and their grandfather Numitor was declared king of Alba.

Alba was packed with Latins, Albins, and herdsmen. The twins decided to start a new settlement on the spot they were ditched to drown. But there was a huge problem - who was to govern? They decided to ask the tutelary gods of the countryside to declare by augury the name of the town and governorship. Romulus took the Palatine Hill and Remus the Aventine to observe the auspices.

Remus was the first to receive a sign - six vultures. Then, Romulus received 12 vultures. Verbal arguments began - priority versus numbers. Blows followed and Remus was killed. The city was called after the founder’s name.

After laying out the city’s boundaries, fortifying the Palatine, and building the city, Romulus sought Numitor’s assistance to become Rome’s king. He chose one hundred men from prominent families and established the Roman senate. Their descendants were known as patricians, one of two social classes. The other class was known as plebs or plebians and consisted of servants, war prisoners, and fugitives who eventually received citizenship.

Romulus was best loved by the army, then the commoners and a few of the senators. After reviewing his troops during a storm, his throne was found empty. The few senators last seen standing at his side surreptitiously claimed he was carried high by a whirlwind after thirty-seven years on the throne.

Rome was founded under the influence of the dark emotions of familial envy, anger, and fratricide - Romulus killed Remus. However, these dark emotions were their heritage. Their grandfather, Numitor was the rightful king and the younger brother Amulius usurped him - familial envy. In an act of revenge, the twins eventually murdered Amulius. These dark emotions inside their internecine politics and bloodshed plagued the Seven Kingdoms until the last king, Tarquin the Proud, was overthrown and the republic formed.

Finally, our last blog, The Streisand Effect and The Tall Poppy Syndrome, did not go to all our signees. If you missed it, check it out.

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Douglas Garland, M.D. practiced orthopedic surgery for 37 years in Southern California. Doug was also a Clinical Professor of Orthopedics at the University of Southern California.


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