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29 June 2004

The mythical foundation of the city

 Published in the exhibition catalogue The Foundation of the City, Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona 2000


One of the symbolic features that exemplify many cities of classical antiquity is the existence of stories, historically-based or invented, about their origins and foundation. Mythological characters like Theseus, Aeneas, Romulus, Cadmus … are mixed up with more factual ones such as Bathus, founder of Cyrene, or Taras, the eponymous hero of Tarentum (Taras, in Greek). All of them have come down to us within a framework of legends and stories in which it is frequently difficult to distinguish literary narration from the echoes of ancient historical events. The historical background to this narrative is the emergence of the city as a community of "citizens" firmly settled within a particular territory with the rights and obligations that this involved.


The polis in Greece and the civitas in Italy emerged as the result of a long political, economic and social process, with a critical point in the 8th century BC. Old agrarian communities in small settlements organised around local clans and bearing the locality's name started combining to form entities on a larger scale. In some case, this change occurred around a former Greek acropolis, while elsewhere the setting was a group of small hills situated in some or other strategic part of Central Italy. This brought about far-reaching changes in social, political and family relations. As always happens in such gradual processes, some of the old beliefs and structures endured in the new order that was being established. An attentive examination of the events reveals that in no case did there occur a leap into the void. The nascent urban community was able to find the essential ideological elements to underpin the cohesion that would guarantee its continuity. The basic, unchanging substratum was religion: gods, priests and beliefs. Nonetheless, this was not sufficient for it was necessary to create the collective memory that would explain and historically endorse the emergence of the new order. As an expression of the self-awareness of the new citizens, mythical stories about the origins of cities began to appear. At times they stressed the autochthonous nature of the population, as with Athens, while at others they recalled emigration to faraway places, as in the case of Rome or, frequently, the return of distant settlers, as happened with Sparta. However, beyond such manipulations, the founding myth was born as an expression of the desire for self-affirmation of a community that had finally acquired the rank of a well-developed city.


Our aim with this text is to offer a general reflection on the development of the myth of origin in the cities of Greece and Rome, while also pondering the continued existence of these ideas in the history of European cities. The sons of Noah were seen as the mythical founders of our cities for a long time. This is a historical reflection that links up with the classical past of Mediterranean civilisations.


The founding myths in greek culture

The city appears relatively early in the mythological context. In the legend of Gilgamesh, the king constructs the walls of Uruk and this is celebrated as a great feat for it means, in fact, the construction of the city. The legend certainly goes back to the third millennium, although the oldest version that we know of dates from the 8th century BC and comes from documents housed in the royal Assyrian libraries. In the context of a Neolithic Uruk, the city is the work of a monarch and not of a community of citizens. We are, therefore, looking at a concept of community that is a long way from the idea of citizenship that we find with the Greek polis or the Roman civitas. Indeed, the Gilgamesh legend does not contribute any specific myth about the founding of Uruk, of the city, but merely evokes its emergence in a mythological context. Strictly speaking, we cannot talk, therefore, of the foundation myth of a city in this case. We shall have to wait for the appearance of civic communities at different points of the Mediterranean of antiquity.


The first founding of a city proper that appears in the mythological context is that of Scheria (Corfu), as cited in the Odyssey. Homer says that Nausithous, who was like unto the gods, led the Phaeacians to the island of Scheria, far away from the Cyclops, and there they settled. He constructed a wall around the city, built houses, had temples constructed in honour of the gods, and parcelled out the land (Odyssey 6.7). Unlike the mythical mention of the city of Uruk, the city in this case seems to be characterised by the main defining elements: the wall, houses, temples and the plots of land allocated to the citizens. In fact, we might also think that we have here a description of the procedure or ritual for founding a city. When the civic atmosphere is subsequently described, we see an organisation based on the pre-eminence of Nausithous' dynasty, surrounded by a council of princes so that the king features as the first among his peers. There is reference to the community of the Phaeacians by name, which implies a civic community, and an agora is also mentioned. As for the details that are mythical in character, it should be noted that the founder was a hero, a son of Poseidon and that the moving of the population and the founding of the city were justified by border conflicts with the dangerous Cyclops. Hero and crisis: two essential ingredients in what were to become the founding stories.


For some writers, the city of Scheria constitutes a true polis while, for others, it is still at a stage immediately prior to the fully-fledged city-state. There is no agreement as to what point in history the city of citizens appeared, but neither is the range of possibilities very ample. The phenomenon must have occurred between the 10th and 8th centuries BC. The process and its causes are also complex because they mean going from a very hierarchical organisation to a more egalitarian community. It requires ceding power, or sharing it, although with the earliest stirrings of the polis we may still find a system of royalty as in the case of Nausithous, who wields the highest-level authority over a group of ruling princes. The origin of this new system based on citizen participation in decision-making may have something to do with population movements and the existence of displaced people who can no longer be ruled because of both family reasons and notions of the neighbourhood community in their new social relations.


As a result of migrations, the groups of displaced people would have had to justify their rights over new lands by way of stories or myths that would relate their community with the territory. This is why it was so important for the Greeks of obscure and archaic times to discover the tombs of the Mycenaean period, which somehow enabled them to construct their belonging to the place. Starting from such phenomena, a kind of avant la lettre archaeology would come to suggest the heroic cults that, through myths, would create relationships between the communities that enjoyed a territorial and ethnic base. Within this territory that was defined by a bond that was religious by nature, economic prosperity would have favoured the concentration of settlement patterns while stimulating the maturing process of institutions.


At the same time that this new form of life was taking shape, another fundamental process was occurring: the creation of the Greek alphabet, on the basis of the Phoenician or Semitic alphabet, including all the vowels. This permitted a more flexible language and one more adapted to spoken form, while also enabling the writing of the stories that placed the heroic aureole over the ancient tombs. This is the beginning of narrative writing. It is Homer and Hesiod. It is the 8th century BC.


However, archaeology also shows that it was at this point that the Greek colonisation of the Mediterranean began. It is true that the Hellenic diaspora had started a couple of centuries earlier, towards the coasts of Asia Minor, but this was not organised migration. The colonisation of ancient times is a phenomenon that originates in the bosom of the nascent poleis. When settlers go to sea, they frequently do so in the name of communities that are still in the process of crystallising their political form. However, colonisation requires consensus and organisation. It has nothing to do with emigration that occurs without consultation or any kind of backing. Thus, as Irad Malkin has suggested on several occasions, we have the paradox that the colonial movement must have been partly responsible for the idea of city-state in forcing a definition of the norms of coexistence, the rights and duties of the segregated groups, which is to say the settlers of the new city, and in sketching out the relations that were to be established between the metropolis and the colony.


In short, in a relatively brief period, the process of the formation of the Greek poleis is now underway but the written references are to be delayed by at least two centuries because society, in spite of the appearance of the new alphabet, is still mainly illiterate and is based on oral communication. It is only later, around the 6th century BC, that writing and political reflection are consolidated with the consequent improvement in civic institutions: laws will be codified, new calendars established and historiographic, ethnographic and geographic chronicles will begin to appear.


It is in this context of the legislative consolidation of the polis that we find the formal appearance of poetic compositions about the founding of cities. This is the emergence of a true genre, doubtless inspired in legends and myths that go back to obscure times, to the centuries of the ferment of city-states. And if we can speak of genre, it is because the origin of the city is the main feature of a long series of writings and because a kind of valid plot is established in most cases. It is a myth where the founding is practically a heroic deed and one of expiation for the sins or shortcomings of the founder.


The leading authors of the founding myths of the early period are Herodotus and Thucydides in the 5th century BC, quite a long way on from the date of the founding of the earliest cities, but still much closer to it than other writers on whom we might rely. In strictly methodological terms, we might say that they transcribe some of the oral stories they are told without judging the veracity of this information but rather accepting it as it is. It is not that they have not raised the problem of the credibility of the myth, but they do not consider dissecting it, which is an invention of structural anthropology. They accept them as unverifiable sayings: the logoi are "sayings" and, as Arnaldo Momigliano observes, Herodotus is an inveterate narrator who records everything.


The narrative scheme common to all Greek tales, the foundation story, would, for some writers, respond to a colonial-type genre and would be comparable to that of other colonisations because it contains a series of metaphors for the process of appropriation of the new territory. To colonise is understood as an act of purification, of civilisation and of the fusion of different communities. It is thus suggested that, through the act of founding, the hero-criminal and the community in crisis may once again enjoy being in favour with the gods, and that founding, which requires solving a puzzle, becomes a victory of civilisation over barbarism. In the Greek myth, the oracle manifests itself through enigmatic language. In fact, as the stories relate, this represents an attempt to discover the unknown. For example, the Spartan Phalanthus, founder of Tarentum was told by the oracle that he must found the city at the place where he saw a he-goat drinking salt water (Diod. Sc. VIII, 21,3). But, among other things, the word for sips, in Greek means wild fig so that the founding father must understand that what the oracle is describing is not the literal image but something different, a marshland zone. Finally, in the foundation myth there appears the marriage of a local nymph and a Greek divinity, which peacefully defuses any confrontation with the indigenous people. On the coast of Libya, Apollo is joined with the nymph Cyrene, from whom the city takes its name. This is the expression of total adaptation to the new surroundings and its appropriation after the difference has been recognised.


However the poleis differ greatly among themselves and in their origins too, so that there are at least two main groups of founding events that we must distinguish. In fact, Greek has two different words for referring to these phenomena: oikizo, the colonial founding, which is carried out by the oikist or leader of the expedition, and ktizo, which refers to the founding or symbolic "re-founding" of historic cities, the great poleis of Hellas that have not undergone displacement from the places of their secular occupation.


The great cities rising over settlements that go back to the Bronze Age, like Athens itself, tend to put a great deal of emphasis on this point. Their citizens are claimed to be the original settlers of the territory and this increases their rights and their dominance over it and, naturally, its inhabitants. This is why Athenians call upon myths of origin that show they are autochthonous and that they were always there, because the fact is that men were not born from woman but from the earth and by divine decree. The first man of Athens, Erechtheus or Erichthonius, is born by chance in a struggle between Hephaestus and Athene. As a result, Athene, the virgin goddess comes to be the mother of a son born of the Earth, recipient of the seed of Hephaestus and protector of the land's descendents.


Some heroes of these stories, as also happens in Thebes with the myth of Cadmus and the birth of the Spartans (which means the Sown Ones) from the teeth of a dragon, are civilising heroes. Erichthonius gives his name to Athens, while Cadmus, the Phoenician, is the one who brings the alphabet… In fact, according to the myths, they are not founders in the strict sense of the word, but intermediaries who make possible the city's appearance. Indeed, the continent's cities have narratives that interpret not only city but civilisation in general, and their ethnic origins. This does not just mean the myths that deal with autochthony but also with something as dissimilar as, for example, the myth of the "return of the Heraclides" to Sparta, this being a story that highlights ruptures: the Dorians, perceived as being a long way from the old settlement of the Peloponnesus, conquer the place under the guidance of Hercules' descendents, the legitimate holders of the land. This myth bestows a genealogy based on King Tindareus and other Homeric heroes who will be revered from the very origins of Sparta, while also justifying its territorial ambitions. Hercules' descendents appear in many founding myths of the Dorians, whether in the Peloponnesus, or in the south of the Aegean, or along the coasts of Asia Minor. This is a type of myth that legitimates territorial conquest and it is based on criteria that are different from those of autochthony but nonetheless effective in the claiming of rights.


However, for all the power of the genealogical myths and those of belonging to a territory, some of these same cities also endow themselves with other heroic cults that have a particular function within the set of founding myths: providing the framework for a civic cult and favouring the security of the city. Thus, in Sparta, we have the introduction of the heroic cult of Orestes, son of Agamemnon, and grandson of Tindareus, and he incarnates the union of the Homeric kingdoms of Agamemnon and Menelaus and, on the date of his adoption as hero, the inclusion of a great part of the Peloponnesus under the aegis of Sparta. Meanwhile Athens, at the beginning of the 5th century BC, sends an expedition to the island of Skyros in search of the bones of Theseus, the celebrated Attic prince who, with his feats as a civilising hero, added to his virtues the fact of having brought about the unification of Attica. Theseus, in the new myth, is responsible for the synoikosmos of the agglomerations that precede Athens-city and is the inventor of the political institutions and new pan-Hellenic games and competition. He is the prince of democracy. This initiative from Athens would have a great deal to do with the real reforms that Cleisthenes brought about in the organisation of the demoi of Athens. From the religious point of view, this statesman consolidated his system by allocating a myth to each of the ten tribes so that each one could nourish the cult of its own eponymous hero. This is also closely related with the confrontation with the Persians in Marathon, where it is said that Theseus appeared to help the combatants. Theseus, the saviour hero. Without displacing the myths of autochthony, it was also deemed necessary to detail the particularities of the cities and to highlight with new rituals the social and political changes that were occurring. Besides, taking advantage of a heroic burial somewhere else, and thereby establishing a new cult, neutralises the symbols and propitiatory relics of troublesome neighbours. The myth is used to construct new historical discourses.


It took three centuries of oral tradition about the origins of cities to reach this point. It is a tradition that, before extolling political values, has exalted other values of a civic type. Along with the myths of autochthony, like that of Erichthonius, born of the earth, and those of re-founding, like that of Theseus, myths pertaining to the founding of colonies were also developing. These myths respond in structure and content to a different need while still preserving the figure of the hero, this time as the explicit founder of the city and leader of the new community.


Thanks to Herodotus and other chroniclers, we have, for example, a first glimpse of the foundation of Cyrene in Libya, by Bathus, a descendent of the Argonauts, a stammerer and a foreigner who finds that he is designated by the oracle at Delphi as the founder of the city. In this myth we find all the significant ingredients of the foundational narrative. First, the founder is someone who is different, strange, which is no coincidence given that, in Greece, metis, or technical intelligence is frequently associated with physical defects or genealogical aberration. Crisis in the place or community of origin is another element: Menecles of Barca, a historian of the 2nd century BC, finds two kinds of reasons for Bathus' expedition: the instructions of the oracle of Apollo, as in Herodotus' version, and stagnation or political crisis in the city of Thera (Santorini), which is resolved with this colonising segregation of part of the community. As some authors, assert, in the colonial myth, the oracle provides a motive for the action. The omnipresence of the oracle at Delphi in the Dorian founding stories may be a narrative device of Herodotus. Apart from embellishing the story, this visit to a pan-Hellenic sanctuary has an additional merit in contributing to the shaping of a notion of Greek identity in a situation of dispersion that favours political disintegration. The Greeks recognise themselves as Greeks through their shared gods and myths above all.


If in the East the descendents of the Argonauts (the Mynians) have a leading role to play in the spread of the city, the main myth that serves in the West as a geographical and chronological framework for other myths is that of Hercules and, in particular, his expedition in search of the bulls of Geryon. As in other cases, this mythical plot makes it possible to describe distant lands while bestowing the civilising capacity on what is Hellenic. However, it is not long before, in the western stories, the myth of Hercules will appear in association with the fall of Troy and, in particular, with its aftermath of the ill-starred "return" of the combatants to their place of origin. Here the theme of the erratic journey is used to construct the character of the founding hero and to equip him with a biography. Besides Ulysses, there were other heroes, even youths that appear more or less insistently. Such is the case of Philoctetes, guardian of Hercules' arrows and founder of Petelia and Makala in the region of Croton, or of Diomedes, companion of Ulysses, or Epeius who constructed the Trojan horse and founded Metapontium. Nowadays, one tends to consider that the allusion to the Achaeans demonstrates that the ancient Greeks, colonisers of the West, must have recognised the imprints of a Mycenaean presence and also felt the ethnic and geographic relationship that united them.


If we are to judge from the chronicles of the founding of cities, the signs of identity do not therefore spring from History with a capital letter. A highly revealing and frequently cited case with regard to how we are to understand a founding myth is that of the city of Amphipolis. This city was founded by the Athenian Hagnon after many other cities had tried to colonise the territory. However, a few years later, the Lacedaemonian Brasidas took the city and fought the settlers who had come from Athens. The two main adversaries, Cleon and Brasidas die in combat but the city of Amphipolis decides to ally itself with Sparta and honour the new hero, Brasidas, which means that the memory and places celebrating the memory of Hagnon, the Athenian and true founder, will be erased along with those of the hero Rhesus whose relics they had once raised to the distinction of being those of the founding hero. In this process of distancing from the founding myth, one can see the unimportance of veracity while also noting the beginning of the process of a change from the cult of relics to the cult of the hero who dies for his country, which will characterise the turbulent years of the classical period.


If history does not provide defining characteristics, where do they come from? In the case of Amphipolis and other cities where the tombs and cenotaphs of the founders have been discovered, we can see that the ritual of the cult of the founding hero is what cements civic awareness and the identity of the new community. The religion of the polis is what cements the life of the community in festivals, rhythms and so on, while also having a civic and political side that will come to characterise the religions of the whole of classical antiquity through to the construction of a church. This feature is totally visible after the 6th century BC, the century that marks the beginning of politics. Thus, for example, Pisistratus, tyrant of Athens, establishes a new religious calendar, with new religious activities such as the Panathenaea, which will eventually become the patriotic festival of Athens.


The polis as such does not last long, however, since it is faced with hegemonic temptations and the expansion of Alexander's empire at the end of the 4th century BC. Some cities will remain independent, while others will be proclaimed free but only to a certain extent, within the limits of their being part of a king's realm. Throughout all this period, the discourse of freedom remains and is perceived as even more necessary with all these threats. The same applies to the sense of Greek identity, which continues to be conveyed through the myth of the fall of Troy and the confrontation with the barbarians. Yet new forms are appearing of fitting into tradition, and they are increasingly explicit about their literary origins. One legend about the founding of Alexandria introduces a divinity who appears as a venerable old man and announces to Alexander where the city is to be founded: the land the looks out to the island of Pharo. Alexander interprets this as the fulfilment of an omen that has been revealed by Homer in the Odyssey, and this will enable him to conceive the city as a universal metropolis.


The founding myth now flourishes in the transcriptions of the sages and embarks upon a life that is different from that which was imposed by the oral culture. It will thereby acquire another meaning for collective memory. It will not lead directly to civic ritual but will be erudite "mythography" for individual consumption, or to be used by a state religion. Some cities will bestow upon themselves eponymous heroes, almost completely lacking any biography and merely instrumental. Such is the case of Taras (who appears on coins after the 6th century BC), another of the founders of Tarentum apart from Phalanthus (Strabo, Diodorus) and Hercules (Virgil). Taras is the son of Poseidon and a local nymph named Satyraea (who would appear to be a daughter of Minos). The question is whether Taras, the eponymous hero and symbol of the city on the coins, is really considered and revered at this time as the city founder or whether he is simply a symbol.


In the end, the hero-founder will disappear before the concept of Tyché, the personification of the city, or of the of guardian spirits who replace the oikist as symbol and protector. In ancient times, each polis had its saviour figure. In the Hellenist period we see specialisation happening around such a divinity. At the end of the 4th century BC, Tyché comes to personify a number of abstract concepts such as human fate, according to Thucydides, or the motor of history, in the words of Polybius. The founding father is now bereft of his mission of filling the origins of the city with historical content.


With the conquests of Rome and its territorial expansion, citizenship will become a right that is unrelated with the origins of a person. The fatherland is no longer the city but the empire, while the ideology of citizenship becomes a sense of belonging to an expanded fatherland. The new cities will be integrated into a differential and hierarchical system of justice that weighs dependence and privileges, favouring local patriotic forms but fostering the one hope of personal social advancement. The way will be paved for the creation of a municipal system. The Capitol, temple of the ancient polyadic divinity becomes the centre of a state-run cult. The city no longer honours its particular hero but the emperor who declares himself a descendent of the founder of Rome.


The origins of Rome and its founding myths

In comparison with the richness and complexity of the Greek myths we have just been considering, the religion of Rome appears to be a much poorer and more schematic tradition. The ethnic and cultural substratum of the Roman world is a frequent resort in attempts to explain this situation. The Indo-European people would not have had cosmogonic and theogonic myths, or they were very rudimentary. In contrast, the Greeks would have developed their cosmogony on the basis of the considerable richness of the cultures of the East. In this framework, the development by Rome of its own mythology would have depended on contacts with Greek culture after the 7th century BC (or maybe the 8th century BC) in connection with the historical process that turned Rome into a city-state.


From a cultural point of view, it is difficult to accept that the Latin-speaking people should lack their own mythical world. S. Accame, writing in 1959 about the kings of Rome, stresses that "there is no people in the world that, in its primitive state, has not been capable of creating a legend from the historical content of its existence … each people has created its own divine and heroic saga". Sifting through the signs and bit of news that have come down to us from the earliest Latin mythological tradition, and paying close attention to the archaic traditions of Rome, Angelo Brelich was proposing, as early as 1955, a scheme of stages that might follow the consolidation of a mythological universe with its own coherence. First, he distinguished a substratum of original entities whose characteristics were related with the chaos that preceded the creation of the cosmos. Some of these divine figures are relatively well-known, or example, Janus, Saturn and Vulcan. Others, like Siculus, Cacus and Ceculus are much more obscure. This mythical universe also had successive strata formed by myths associated with the civilising deeds of heroes. Figures such as Fortuna, Pheronia (Ops in Latin), Picus and Faunus, in particular, would partly reflect the vital principles of nature. This world of primordial beings would eventually be succeeded by a true cosmogony of divinities that were now distinguished by their functional personality: Jupiter and Juno, born of the virgin goddess Fortuna Primigenia (in Praeneste) or of Pheronia (in Anxur). To this final original stratum of Latin mythology belong the figures of Latinum, who is assimilable to the god Jupiter Lacial and, naturally, to the archetypes of Romulus and Remus, successors of the very ancient Picus and Faunus. The two latter figures acquire, in this interpretation, the personality of an ambivalent king-demon, who brings together the wild features of untamed nature and also the figure of the civilising ancestor associated with the establishment of sovereignty. In this primordial Latin world, the she-wolf and the woodpecker (picus) are the two sacred creatures of Mars, a divinity who originally had a more agrarian than bellicose character and who protected the twins. The shepherd Faustulus, associated at times with Faunus or Pan, constitutes the principle of this untamed nature. His relationship in legend with the female character of Acca Laurentia or Larunda symbolises his union with the principle of fertility. The very ancient Roman festival of the Laurentalia would express the coming together of untamed nature and fertility in the primordial founding myth. The intervention of these figures in the birth of Romulus and Remus would confirm the Italic origins and the antiquity of the myth of the founder-twins.


Unfortunately, the limited nature of archaic sources that have come down to us makes it difficult to demonstrate what elements of the old legends from the end of the Bronze Age were able to survive the process of Rome's assimilation to the typical profile of a Greek polis. Nonetheless, the evidence we can derive from ancient Roman religion enables us to guess that the first settlers brought with them an already-formed spiritual world when they came to occupy the hills of Rome. This is the mythical tradition that would serve as the seed for what ended up as the narrative of the origins of the city par excellence: the Urbs. The great historic success of Rome was that it constructed an empire that embraced the whole known world. In order to justify this, the city needed to imagine a mythical past that would explain its universal destiny. Throughout history, therefore, Rome never stopped reworking the myth of its origins. Even after the fall of its empire, it continued to be the model of the "Eternal City", whose roots are confused with the mythical origins of civilisation and whose destiny seems everlasting.


The modern discovery of the myths of origin of Rome begins with the appearance of the old classical texts and their publication at the beginning of the Renaissance. The subsequent spread of the old Roman stories served to stimulate recall a nebulous golden age and this coincided with such vivid material findings as the Lacoonte statues or the "grotto-esques" of Domus Aurea. The origins of the civilised world could only be understood in Rome, and in the myths the Romans themselves have left about their origins. Once the classical sources were recovered for study, controversy inevitably arose as to which aspects were to be regarded as historical and which were simply legendary. By the 16th century two opposing views had appeared, a "conservative" tendency that claimed to recognise in the Roman legends traces of historical truth, and a sceptical school that did not concede any kind of truth to the stories. This debate coincided, in the 17th century, with the controversy among the scholars over the historic validity of the Bible. Denying the historic character of Romulus and making of Tito Livio a mere teller of fables, cast implicit doubt on "stories" such as that of Noah, Abraham or Moses himself.


It is curious that this discussion persists even today. The validity of the traditions about the founding of Rome continues to be the subject of debate among scholars of history. However, archaeology is offering new data that make it possible to rethink the matter. With regard to the hyper-critical position that has denied the historic value of Tito Livio's narrative, which is seen as little more than a legend invented for purposes of propaganda, recent excavations in the centre of Rome and other areas of Lacium would seem to confirm some aspects of the legend that have hitherto been rejected almost unanimously. In fact, the historical scheme that archaeology is slowly constructing for the first phases of urban culture in Central Italy makes it possible to reconsider the views offered by early historians such as Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Varron and Tito Livio himself.


In the present research situation, the history of Lacium begins with the final phases of the Bronze Age (13th — 12th centuries BC). During this period, a culture of Apennine highlanders spread southwards in the Italian peninsula. This is the so-called "sub-Apennine" culture that has been identified in the archaeological sites of ancient Lacium, thanks to its characteristic hand-made ceramics. The beginnings of a first distinctive culture of Lacium is dated in the Iron Age (start of the 1st millennium BC) and is exemplified by the famous hut urns that appear in the incineration tombs of the necropolis. From the urban planning point of view, this corresponds to the appearance of groupings of huts that provide shelter for a newly-settled population that had previously moved with its flocks every season.


The earliest data to have appeared in Rome also fit neatly with this framework. At the bottom of the stratigraphs we see the aforementioned sub-Appenine ceramic fragments that are not yet associated with constructions of habitat, and these can easily be dated back to the 12th — 11th centuries BC. The first areas of habitat are somewhat more modern and correspond to scattered settlements of huts which are associated with small areas of the necropolis. In this initial phase, the Roman population was distributed into at last three separate hamlets. The biggest that we know of was located at the top of Palatine Hill, in the part leading towards the Circus Maximus.


It now remains to ask at what point this primitive stage was surpassed. The archaeological findings seem to give a certain pre-eminence to the Palatine Hill hamlet. In the 8th century BC, a major defence system was constructed at the foot of this hill, consisting of a palisaded wall with a moat before it. This fortification was demolished at the end of the 7th century BC in order to construct the first aristocratic houses that are documented for the city. The destruction of the Palatine wall coincides with the creation of the first civic square. The first paving for the forum was also done and the first civil public buildings (the comitium and the curia) were constructed. Again, the first civic cults appear at this time: in the forum is the temple of Vesta and in the acropolis of the Capitol are also early signs of a cult. These indicate the development of a civic community that has exceeded the limits of the small village, with the introduction of a civic-commercial centre, collective religious edifices and the growth of an aristocratic elite. To these features we must also add the delimitation of the sacred perimeter (pomerium) of the new city with a great defensive enclosure that brought together within it the initial hamlets. This process that the Greek tradition defines with the term "synoikismos" marks the definitive acquisition of the features that are proper to an urban entity.


Interpreting this archaeological panorama means opening up the debate as to the origins of Rome. We know, from the Roman literary tradition, the date established by Varron for Romulus' founding: 753 BC (while according to Timeus it was 814 BC). However, as we have noted, the first settlements established on the site of what was to be Rome go back to a much earlier period (12th — 11th century BC), while the birth of the city-state is dated later (7th century BC). The archaeologists believe that nothing more than a slow development of an ever-more numerous and better-organised population occurred between these two dates. It is possible that the 8th century BC saw some historical event that is unknown to us, but as long as there is no new archaeological or literary evidence to reveal what it was, we shall have to continue believing that the date of Rome's founding was an invention deduced from the ancient Roman tradition on the basis of the theoretical calculation of the generations gone by.


The first sure data on the existence of a body of legends about the founding of Rome cannot go back beyond the end of the 5th century BC, while the first texts of which we have reliable accounts date from the 4th century BC. This obliges us to consider how the Romans in the historic period could conserve the memory of a tradition that went back about three or four centuries. We can only suppose that the old legends endured thanks to the fact that they were handed down from generation to generation in the form of folk-tales. We have data that make explicit mention of the existence of a tradition of poems that were recited on great occasions of festivities or banquets. Thanks to this, the oldest legends that had been handed down from the late Bronze Age clusters of huts were conserved. We also know that these sagas, apart from being recited at banquets were also staged as theatre. In the 5th century BC, historic events were already being performed at the annual games (ludi romani and ludi plebeii). The poetry recited on public stages at festivities or on other social occasions was doubtless the formal mechanism that permitted the continuity of the old stories.


Greek and Roman literary sources both ended up with a substantially consistent story about the origins of Rome. On some occasions we find different bits of information appearing in more general works and, on others, whole narratives dealing with the city's first centuries of existence. The texts that have been conserved are indirect sources, written in the last centuries of the republic and throughout the whole imperial period with news, data, and accounts of earlier writers who were much closer in time to the events in question. The definitive version was produced by superimposing different traditions over the original legend, a process that took place at the same time as Rome was asserting itself in the Mediterranean. The Hellenic influence and the desire to be on an equal footing with the Greek city played a significant part in the development of the Roman version of the myth of origin.


The point of departure for the production of the myth was necessarily the legends and myths that had been conserved since the end of the Bronze Age in the communities of Central Italy. Romulus and Remus were part of this early tradition. As we have seen, their origin is associated with personalities belonging to the earliest Latin tradition, for example Mars, Faunus and Picus. The dual character of the founders corresponds to other Indo-European creation myths. The poet Naevius (2nd century BC) presented Romulus as the grandson of Aeneas, while his contemporary Fabius Pictor, who wrote in Greek, most likely tells a different story. The king of Alba Longa, descendent of Aeneas, divided his possessions between his sons. Numitor received the throne and Amulius his wealth. Thanks to this, Amulius supplanted his brother. Fearing the revenge of a possible descendent of the daughter of the overthrown king, he obliged her (Rhea Silvia, but also called Ilia in other sources) to become a vestal virgin. After being raped by Mars, she gave birth to the twins, Romulus and Remus. Amulius ordered that they should be killed but instead they were abandoned in a basket set adrift on the Tiber. They were suckled by a she-wolf and ended up killing the usurper Amulius and founding the city of Rome. This is the Hellenised version of the myth, enriched for its adaptation to the Greek narrative style that conformed to the established requisites for the life of a founding hero. The exposure of the newly-born babes is an attribute they have in common with other ancient sovereigns born out of nothing, for example Sargon and Cirus. The mother's tragedy and the miraculous birth of twins are episodes that have abundant parallels in the Greek world and they are a frequent theme in the founding myths of cities. One example is the myth of the birth of Perseus: an oracle warned King Acrisius that he would be killed by a grandson so he imprisoned his daughter Danaë until Zeus managed to gain access to her in the form of a shower of gold, leaving her pregnant. On discovering this, Acrisius had Danaë cast into the sea in a wooden ark and she was miraculously saved. Her son Perseus grew into adulthood and involuntarily killed his grandfather, after which he acceded to the throne. His case is similar to that of the hero-founder Telephus: Aleus, king of Tegea, was warned that one of his grandsons would put an end to his life. Alarmed by this, the king obliged his daughter Auge to cloister herself as a handmaiden of Athene. For some time she remained chaste as was required by her condition of priestess until a drunken Hercules abducted her and raped her next to a fountain. When Aleus learned that his daughter was pregnant, he ordered that she was to be cast into the sea, but she was miraculously saved and gave birth to her only child Telephus. Eventually Auge married the king of Mysia, while Telephus married his daughter. This whole set of stories presents a common structure, which has been interpreted for some time now as part of an initiatory ritual. The suffering of the mother, her being cast out of her home and the punishment she undergoes for a crime of which she is not guilty are the tests that the son-hero will make amends for in his exploits. The imprisonment of the mother in a dungeon, a cave or even an ark cast into the sea fits in with the mythical transposition of initiation rites (puberty, deflowering, spring …) and the passage of adolescents to adulthood, which we are familiar with in other primitive tribal traditions (where the young man abandons his paternal home).


A second account comes from Trojan legend. The myth of Aeneas is set in the Etruscan world and yet this hero appears in Lacium in the 4th century BC. The myth of Aeneas seems to be an intrusion from the Greek world into the mythical imaginary of the peoples of Central Italy. The fundamental problem is to define the times and the ways in which this tradition was introduced into Roman thought so that it eventually linked up with the legend of Romulus and Remus. Aeneas, a member of a lesser branch of the Trojan royal household, appears in the Iliad fighting the dominant branch of Priam. In a celebrated changeover, the descendents of Aeneas come to be the rulers of Troy. The definitive destruction of Troy made it necessary to imagine his flight to the coasts of Asia Minor, along with the Trojan survivors, to settle elsewhere. Thus was born, in the Greek tradition, the image of an errant Aeneas searching for a place in which he might settle. Apart from the well-known representations in Attic ceramic ware of the hero fleeing with his blind father, there are frequent mentions of a Macedonian city called Aenea that, as early as the 6th century BC, was minting coins showing the same scene. However, some Greek authors associate Aeneas' voyages in search of a new homeland with the voyages in the West by some Achaean warriors like Ulysses or Diomedes on their return home after the war. Hellanicus of Lesbos (end of the 5th century BC) considered that Aeneas, accompanied by Ulysses went to Italy and founded Rome, giving it the name of a Trojan woman called Rhome. It is probable that, for this Greek author, Rome was just a name without much meaning. Its association with Aeneas was part of the Helleno-centric tradition of Greek scholars who used such devices to set their own roots in the founding of the main cities of the known world.


We have very early representations of Aeneas in Etruscan culture. It has thus been argued that the legend of Aeneas in Lacium reached Rome through the Etruscan influence. However, recent excavations at Lavinium, the site supposedly founded by Aeneas on the Lacium coast, have supplied new archaeological evidence that suggests the existence of a heroic cult of the Trojan hero. This is the well-known Heroon of Lavinium, the celebrated memorial stone of Tor Tignosa and the sanctuary of Athene in Lavinium. The main archaeological element is an orientalising tomb from the 8th century BC that became a monument in the 4th century BC, and this coincides in a surprising way with the description of Dionysius of Halicarnassus of the cenotaph of Aeneas (I, 64, 4-5). At present the tendency is to think that the myth of Aeneas circulated among the Italian peoples from a very early period and that there is no need to imagine the existence of a privileged intermediary to introduce it into Rome.


Finally, we should stress that the Greeks themselves created a mythological cycle linking up with Hercules as a civilising hero and this would end up being integrated into the corpus of legends pertaining to the founding of Rome. The tradition of Hercules, Cacus and Evander was a fragment of the hero's Greek legend and this came to be added to the system of superimposed records that constitutes the narrative of the origins of Rome.


From mythical foundation to archaeology

"If for any people it is justifiable to deify its origins and make the gods responsible, then the people of Rome have gained so much glory with their arms that, when they say that Mars is their founding father, the other peoples of the earth must accept it with the same equanimity with which they bear its domination", said the historian Titus Livi with caustic irony (Ab urbe condita, Prologue) giving priority to the effective exercise of domination over the legendary explanation. But not even his sceptical remarks about the divine origins of Rome, nor those of other comparable writers of antiquity, constituted the spore of any critical and thorough-going criticism of the founding myths. In fact, many centuries later, the Huron Indian hero of Voltaire's story L'Ingénu, written in 1767, remarked of his readings during his sojourn in the Bastille that in "an ancient story of China", what had shocked him most was that "almost everything is true-to-life and natural. I admire it because there are no prodigies. Why have all the other nations given themselves fabulous origins? The early chroniclers of France, who are not so early, had the French coming from Francus, son of Hector, while the Romans say they sprang from a Phrygian". The Indian's very Voltaire-like comments are not at all out of place but, on the contrary, even then in European cities, monarchies, and nations were full of fanciful founding myths that, however, severely damaged by historical criticism, would eventually be swept way after the beginning of the 18th century.


In fact, throughout the feudal period, and also in humanism and the baroque culture, explanations about the origins of societies, lineages or cities continued to use the ancient Greco-Roman mythical material, which, with the spread of Christianity, was not excluded or repudiated in any case, but was added and mixed in with the biblical tradition in a process of non-conflictive syncretism. The Judeo-Christian mythical tradition, along with the pagan one, constituted the fundamental and essential backdrop for all historical explanation, including that pertaining to urban settlement, right through to the advent of great changes in scientific and also historiographic knowledge that gave rise to the European transition to capitalism and that were imposed with the bourgeois revolutions. From then onwards most of the mythical founding explanations collapsed and were replaced by new historiographic theses based, not yet on archaeology, but on a refinement and rereading of the literary sources. All the post-classical mythical creations were excluded while the pagan legends started to be the object of different historical, ethnographical or anthropological contextual interpretations.


The material of the pagan and Judeo-Christian myths was almost the only possible basis for discourse about the origins of Mediterranean cities, along with those of the rest of Europe that had come under Roman hegemony, and the peripheral areas. In the cultural and historical context of antiquity and feudalism, cities were timeless and had been present since the beginning of time, while their formation was only conceived of as the result of a foundation that had come about through the execution of some superior design. The origin had to be, therefore, a precise act while also the result of a decision frequently of divine inspiration, of a very specific authority, a king, a leader, a military commander, or the head of a group of settlers who could also have a semi-divine nature.


In this type of discourse, cities always had a founder and the founding act, whether it was known or otherwise. Thus, for many centuries, one of the tasks of historians was precisely to search for the person or, otherwise, the invention of the founder and the time of the founding deed in order to ascertain a city's antiquity and give prestige to its origins. Giving history to a city and understanding urban development as a process and product of particular social forms and not as an event out of time, out of context and the exclusive result of the will of an individual agent, who with certain deeds established new cities, is the result of the great changes in historiographic culture that have taken place since the end of the ancien régime.


As noted above, the mythical explanation of urban origins is not in any way exclusive to the Greco-Roman tradition but, in feudal Europe, it was conserved for many centuries and was applied both to new urban settlements and to those of remote origins that, in antiquity, had not been endowed with founding legends, or had forgotten them, if they had ever had them. The new formulations, however much they were framed within the Christian culture, continued to use, from a point going back to well before the humanist revision, pagan mythical material, its characters, heroes, demigods and gods, more or less in tandem with the Judeo-Christian legendary tradition, which was based primarily on descent from Noah's children to explain the populating of different parts of the world, above all, the descendents of Japheth in the case of the Mediterranean islands and coasts, where they were said to have founded kingdoms and realms. However, through cultural apriorism, it frequently happens that only the founding legends added during antiquity are seen as historically relevant and genuine while the later ones are looked down upon as anachronistic sub-products, shameless falsifications or reprehensible fantasising without, in fact, any attempt to establish substantive historiographic continuity between them and the earlier versions.


It is not that the final centuries of the Roman-Christian empire and the times of the barbarian realms that followed them in Western Europe were at all prone to urban development but, on the contrary, in these territories, the most general process was the de-urbanising of the old cities and the conversion of the few that survived into simple enclaves of feudal, lay and ecclesiastic power, frequently enclosed within the great walled precincts of former times, virtually devoid of urban dynamics and almost completely transformed into rural enclosures, as was the case with such diverse cities as Barcelona, London and Rome. In this period, then, just as in that before the empire, there was no historical genre that took as its subject the city and its citizens as a social entity and, more specifically, its organs of government. This would appear centuries later. In fact, the city did not emerge as an autonomous historical subject until the urban dynamics of the Italian republics and the civic humanism that they engendered made it historically possible. After that, a genre of urban historiography gradually spread through Western Europe, mixing the legendary founding story with topographic description and some account of the forms of government, among the many features they dealt with.


Nonetheless, before the spread of the genre, which was formulated in the 15th century and disseminated in the 16th century, the origins of some major cities had been the focus of attention, especially those that became important ecclesiastical centres inasmuch as they often availed themselves of the prestige of old Roman cities, for which they wished to appear as perpetuators. This is the case of Rheims, the former Roman Durocortorum of Gallic Belgium, which was implanted in the territory of the Remi and that had changed its name for that of Rheims between the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of the Carolingian dynasty, in keeping with the name of the early settlers of the regions. Canon Flodoard, historian of this Episcopal city, author in the middle of the 10th century of Historia Remensis Ecclesiae, explained the etymology of the city's name and its founding to fit in with pagan mythical material, without being bothered by factual niceties. According to him, the city founders and also ascendants of the lineage of the Remi had been soldiers that were faithful to Remus, Romulus' twin, who once he had been slain by the latter in a quarrel over the founding of Rome, had fled from the newly-finished city to settle in the remote Gallic lands. Arguments he offered in support of his explanation were the presence of a relief in one of the gates of the old wall of Rheims and the old friendship between the Romans and the Remi. Flodoard thereby achieved for his ecclesiastical history a founding precedent that linked his episcopal see with the capital city of the Christian Church. It should be noted, though tentatively, that he did not deny that there might have been other versions of the origin of the city but, even then, he considered that Rheims had affinities with Rome because the origins of the two cities were controversial.


Flodoard had made the founding of this remote city of Gaul almost coeval with that of Rome, and this was not surprising within the cultural context in which his version was concocted, which was a long way from chronological and evolutionary concerns that would have mean situating urban developments in the country of the Remi within a specific historical framework. History had always been a series of events, without discontinuities and with no evolution, progression, changes or ruptures. Not even the original times, populated with imaginary beings, demigods and heroes according to the pagan tradition, or agents of the divinity and prophets in the Judeo-Christian tradition, were regarded as precedents that were intrinsically different from the present or the rest of time. In fact, right from the beginning, the world was static and neither the world nor, needless to say, the universe had undergone any kind of evolution, but both the natural realm and humanity itself had been forever immutable. This static view of society, this historical immobility, did not succumb until the contributions of political economy appeared in the 18th century and, after that, 19th century evolutionism. In this sense, an author like Ildefons Cerdà in his Teoría general de urbanización (General Theory of urban Planning) of 1867 offered an evolutionary history of urban settlement, a mixture of historical speculation and archaeological knowledge that is a good exponent of the radical transformation in knowledge that occurred between the end of the ancien régime and the emergence of the bourgeois city. The experience of the accelerated mutation of cities was an essential stimulus for reflection on the processes of urban formation and transformation, which only a century earlier would have been impossible not only to carry out but even to formulate.


History, before the coming together of archaeology and the natural sciences in the 19th century discovered the long prehistory that had gone before and the proto-historical cultures, was characterised by an absence of any evolutionary sense and by a very brief chronology. Within this temporal brevity, there were no historically differentiated forms of social organisation, for they had all always been seen as equal both in their ways of guaranteeing subsistence and in their political forms of regulation and, therefore, cities, realms and empires had been happening since the beginning of time. Neither was any process of development seen to have occurred in the arts. Only occasionally, in the most long-ago periods, someone imbued by the gods, would by chance bring in some kind of innovation, like music, poetry or laws. Cities, in this kind of discourse, just appeared at any time, never as a result of a particular social form but as the arbitrary and exclusive fruit of the designs of some authority, whoever it was. Throughout time, since the creation of the world, cities had been founded and the first of them went back to the very genesis of the Judeo-Christian tradition when Cain "built a city, and called the city after the name of his son, Enoch" (Genesis, 4, 17).


From the origin of the world through to contemporary times after which the past was treated as history, the time gap was always seen as very brief ―only a few thousand years. The Trojan War and the Flood were the primordial chronological landmarks on the basis of which it might be said that everything began. The Trojan War, it should be noted, was consolidated in the feudal period as a great cultural, chronological and genealogical reference point, so much so that the English and French monarchies linked themselves with the mythical cycle of Troy, the former through Prince Brutus, settler of Brittany and antecedent of King Arthur, and the latter through King Priam. In the feudal realms of the Iberian Peninsula, neither the Catalan-Aragonese crown nor the Castilian and Portuguese monarchies claimed connections with the Trojan cycle, and nor did they derive from them, in principle, the feudal or late feudal urban founding myths. These mainly come from the work of the Archbishop of Toledo, Rodrigo Xienéz de Rada (1170 — 1247) who in De rebus Hispaniae invented a series of realms established by Tubal, son of Japheth and grandson of Noah, the peninsula's first settler, and these realms were succeeded by monarchs until the Romans came.


The union of the Catalan-Aragonese and Castilian crowns led to the fabrication of a remote unitary Hispanic history by Giovanni Nanni or Annius, a Dominican friar of Viterbo (1432 - ?) who in 1498 presented as authentic a false text by a Babylonian priest, supposedly found by himself, and this told the whole post-diluvial history of the population of the world by Noah's descendents and, in particular, of the Iberian Peninsula where Tubal had installed a Hispanic realm for which Annius enumerated all the sovereigns until the arrival of the Greeks. The success of this invention, even though it was more or less retouched by subsequent authors, was tremendous in the sense that it prevailed for a long time in the Kingdom of Spain because of its political efficacy. This outline of mythical history included, or enabled the derivation of the founding myths of the main peninsular cities, even though some details were changed or disputed according to urban interests and the erudite preferences of their constructors or re-elaborators. It should be borne in mind that the urban founding legend, from its most remote antecedents through to its extinction, was never a closed or fixed construction but, on the contrary, like the other mythical productions of this kind, it had as one of its most outstanding features a permanent capacity for reformulation in accordance with the changing interests of the times.


Barcelona, then, has had a number of founding legends. The oldest goes back to the 13th century and is found with Roderic Ximenez de Rada who claims that Hercules came to the Peninsula at the time of Tubal's successors and vanquished Gerió, lord of great flocks, who ruled Galicia, Lusitania and Bética (Andalusia). After founding Hispalis (Sevilla) he left for Celtiberia, now transformed into the precursor of the Catalan-Aragonese crown and, once he arrived at the Pyrenees, he established the Seu d'Urgell (Urgell See) and the city of Vic on the plain of Osona. Of the vessels that had accompanied him on his voyage, eight were in Galicia, while the ninth was off the coasts of Celtiberia and, in the place that Hercules had come to, a city was built and given the name of barca nona (ninth boat) or Barcelona, from whence he set sail on the return voyage to his homeland of Greece. Towards the end of the 15th century, Joan Margarit, humanist and Bishop of Girona, made use of the story to make the connection between the city and the Trojan cycle and, for him, the new boat would have been the only one to arrive home out of a squadron that had been organised to go and help Hercules in the Trojan War.


At the same time, two other authors, also humanists, Jeroni Pau and Pere Miquel Carbonell, questioned the Hercules hypothesis. Some Pauline Christian verses from the late 14th century that described Barcino (Barcelona) as Punic enabled the formulation of a new myth that attributed the foundation of Barcelona to chief Hamilcar of the Carthaginian family named Barca. The two theses, the Herculean and the Barca, continued to undergo rewrites according to the interests and tastes of the writers. Even though they were refuted throughout the 19th century, they continued to appear well into the 20th century at the hand of some backwards-looking writers. In Barcelona, both mythical founders inspired the urban imaginary after the 16th century and there are various references from the minting of coins through to the decoration of the headquarters of the municipal government, the renaissance-style Casa de la Ciutat (City Council building) and also in the palaces of the urban aristocracy. Not only that, but in the 19th century, when the neo-classicist newly bourgeois city began to construct its first lay monuments, the figure of Hercules became a formal resort that personalised and gave prestige to the city's urban origins.


Nonetheless, in the 18th century, enlightened historical criticism progressively dismantled the fabled monarchies of European realms and, as a result, the mythical founders of cities also went into decline. All of a sudden, the history of Western Europe was bereft because, once the greater part of legendary history was taken apart, it happened that, from the origins of man, who was increasingly perceiving himself as increasingly distant from this history and more associated with animal evolution, through to history as told by the authors of antiquity, there was a great vacuum. According to the dictates of classical sources, it was the most supposedly primitive peoples, for example the Aborigines, Celts, Pelagians, Cyclops, Tyrrhenians, and Etruscans, who in had principle populated the most remote antiquity, and the cities that were considered to be the most ancient, or their archaeological remains, started to be attributed to them. Then too, the history of the process of urban settlement started to be written, and it was situated in a well-advanced phase of human history, a long way on from its remote beginnings. Immediately afterwards, the development of Archaeology and Philology was complemented with the findings of excavations and analysis of literary sources in the study of ancient cities and their origins. And this is how contemporary discourse on the origins of urban settlement and the origins of cities has been constructed.




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