The birthday of Rome: all you need to know about the 21st of April in Rome and its celebrations

by marta

All you need to know about the birthday of Rome: when it is, how we know about it, its celebrations and how they may impact your visit to Rome, if you are in the Eternal City on its birthday.

The city of Rome was born on the 21st April 753 BC and, every year on this date, Rome celebrates its birthday.

The birthday of Rome is called Natale di Roma, in Italian, and sees the city filled with a parade, shows and games that mark the occasion.

On the 21st April 2022, Rome will turn 2775 years old.

The recurrence is a fun occasion and a good opportunity to recall the story of the foundation of Rome, one of the most important legends in Roman mythology, with fun events celebrating the city.

This is all you need to know about Rome’s birthday!

statue of Roman wolf nursing twin boys, symbol of Rome city

When is Rome’s birthday and why it is called ‘Natale di Roma’

The birthday of the city of Rome is on the 21st of April and Rome’s exact date of birth is 21st April 753BC.

The day is called in Italian Natale di Roma and the expression comes from the Latin Dies Natalis, ‘day of birth’.

Natale is the same word used in Italian for ‘Christmas’, the birthday of Jesus: if people talk about Natale they refer to Christmas while if they talk about the birthday of Rome, the full expression is ‘Natale di Roma’.

How we know about Rome’s foundation date

The story of the city’s foundation is narrated by author Titus Livius (Livy), who narrates it in his book Ab Urbe Condita, a monumental history book in 142 volumes that tells the story of Rome from its foundation to the I century BC, when Titus Livius wrote.

In his book, Titus Livius tells the story of the foundation of Rome as follows.

The story of the foundation of Rome

According to Titus Livius (Livy), Rome’s ancestors came to Italy from Troy.

In Mythological times, the Greeks conquered Troy with the stratagem of the Trojan horse and forced the city inhabitants to escape to faraway lands.

One of the Aeneas, son of the Goddess Venus and a mortal, Anchises, came to the Italian coast and settled in the area of Lazio south of Rome.

Here, Aeneas is said to have married Lavinia, the daughter of the local king and then he founded the city of Lavinio, while his son Ascanio, once older, founded also the city of Alba Longa.

It was the King of Alba Longa who triggered the events that led to the foundation of Rome.

In the IX century BC, a power struggle brought the fall of Numitor, the legitimate king of Alba Longa, and resulted in his brother Amulius to gain power as an usurper.

Amulius worried his positions could be challenged and forced his nice Rhea Silvia to become a virgin vestal, to prevent her from having children who may reclaim the throne frem him.

But history had different plans.

The God Mars fell in love with Rhea Silvia, and made her pregnant with two semi-divine twins, who would be named Romulus and Remus.

When the twins were born, Amulius ordered them killed but Rhea Silvia put them in a basket instead and let them go on the waters of the Tiber river, hoping they would be found and rescued.

A she-wolf found them and nursed them to health treating them as her own cubs.

rome she wolf statue with twins
Statue of the Capitoline Wolf showing Remus and Romulus as suckling infants.

The twins were then found by a human, a shepherd called Faustolus, and grew up locally with his family.

When they were adults, they took revenge on Amulius and proceeded to found their own city, however, they were in disagreement about its location.

According to the legend, Romulus wanted to found the city on the Palatine Hill while Remus wanted to found it on the hill nearby (probably the Aventine hill) and they could not come to an agreement.

They, therefore, decided to both pick their hill and wait for an auspicious sign, in the form of the passage of a flock of birds, a use that was typical of Etruscan times.

Romulus saw 12 birds and Remus 6 so Romulus considered to have won: he marked the area where his city would be and said he would kill anyone who’d trespass.

Remus however claimed that he had seen the birds first, albeit in a smaller number, and so he passed Romulus’ city boundaries, not recognizing his victory.

Despite them being brothers, Romulus killed Remus and became the first king of Rome.

It was the 21st of April 753 AD.

The symbols in the history of the foundation of Rome

The legend of the foundation of Rome is full of symbols, some in common with other legendary births.

The Divine parent, the basket in the river, the adoptive family with connections to the local land and the killing of your own brother.

An important aspect of this legend, however, and one that Romans were very aware of, is that this legend means the city of Rome is connected to two of the most powerful forces in the universe: war and love.

War, because the father of Romulus and Remus was Mars, the God of war or, with wider symbolism, the God of destruction and therefore rebirth, as well as strength and power

Love because Aeneas was the son of Venus, Goddess of love and therefore life, fertility and new life

The she-wolf nursing the twins is still nowadays the symbol of the city of Rome: you can learn all about her and where to see her most famous representations, in this article about the she-wolf of Rome.

Fun fact! This legend connects the birth of Rome with two of the most important Roman Gods: Venus and Mars. Because of this, it was particularly dear to Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome, who claimed to be a new Romulus. The legend is celebrating in the Aeneid, written by Virgil and devout to August.

How does Rome celebrate its birthday: 21st April Rome celebrations

Rome celebrates the day of its birth with several events happening in different parts of the city.

Traditionally, there is a parade in Piazza Venezia and Via dei Fori Imperiali and games in the Circus Maximus as well as a full calendar of shows in the city center and on the Capitoline Hill.

In 2021 these events atool place online and will included live streaming of events from the Etruscan Museum of Valle Giulia, where the games, rituals, traditions and talks will mark the day in full compliance with current restrictions.

The theme of the celebration was Emperor Nero and the people closest to him, which promises to be very interesting considering the role Nero had in the development of Rome and the controversial nature of the character.

Events for 21 April 2022 haven’t been announced yet.

At normal times, if you are in Rome on the 21st of Aril you can enjoy these events but also visit the Rome Municipal Museums, free on this day.

Useful resources for visiting Rome in April: Things to do in Rome in April and Rome in April: packing list

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