It’s one of the most famous symbols of ancient Rome–the legendary Romulus and Remus suckling from a she-wolf. Legend has it the brothers were born to a Vestal Virgin who had been abducted by the war god Mars. Abandoned, they were raised by a she-wolf. As adults they fought each other. Romulus killed Remus and went on to build Rome. The statue graces Rome’s Capitoline Museum and is photographed by tens of thousands of visitors every year.
But it may date from centuries after Rome fell.
In fact, it may date from the Middle Ages. The bronze wolf has long thought to be Etruscan, an ancient Italian culture that predated the Romans. Modern carbon dating shows it wasn’t made in the 5th century BC but rather the 13th century AD. The babies are known to have been added in the 15th century. The tests on the wolf were conducted five years ago and were shrugged off by the Capitoline Museum as inconclusive.
Now scholars are saying the museum was wrong to dismiss the results and have pointed out that the statue was cast as a single piece, something the Etruscans and Romans couldn’t do with a statue so large. Medieval artisans could. It’s possible the present statue was a copy produced from an earlier statue that was, indeed Etruscan. It’s impossible to say.
The museum is adding this “alternate theory” to its literature, although that doesn’t mean they’re giving up on the Etruscan theory just yet.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.