Could a newly discovered sarcophagus really be that of Romulus?

TP Wiseman at the Times Literary Supplement:

On February 18, when life in Italy was still normal, the Rome papers carried an announcement by Dr Alfonsina Russo, Director of the Colosseum Archaeological Park which also looks after the Roman Forum. Re-excavating a site in the Forum first found in 1899 and then forgotten, archaeologists had made “an exceptional discovery”, an underground chamber containing a stone sarcophagus, datable to the sixth century BC, and what looks like the base of a round altar. The site, just under the slopes of the Capitoline hill, corresponds to the place where the great Roman scholar Marcus Varro claimed that Romulus, the founder and first king of Rome, was buried. Naturally, journalists consulted the doyen of Roman archaeology, Andrea Carandini, now retired and in his eighties, but still actively engaged and the go-to person on Romulus in particular. (In 1988 his team found an eighth-century BC wall on the Palatine which they identified as that of Romulus’ original city.) He was sceptical: “after Romulus was killed, his body was scattered in pieces throughout the city”, so a conventional tomb seemed unlikely. At the press conference on February 21, Dr Russo was careful to explain that it may have been a sort of cenotaph memorial, a hero-shrine for the city’s founder. But isn’t the Romulus story just a legend? “All myths and legends have a basis of fact”, she replied. “I’m convinced there really was a founder-hero. Yes, I think there’s some truth in it.”

I assume that Romulus did not exist – that he was a legendary figure. But apparently Roman archaeologists believe he is a legend based on fact.

It would not surprise me if priests stuffed the bones of some random guy into a box 2,000-plus years ago and claimed it was Romulus.

Mitch Wagner @MitchWagner