How did we lose the Lupercal? And did anyone look behind the couch?
One of the most fascinating things to me about any ancient city like Rome is that things are lost over time, and then sometimes even found again, even though people have been living there uninterrupted this whole time. We forget certain things, which then fade into rumour, and then to legend, and then to myth. Right up until someone comes along and shows us it was all still there this whole time, only now it's underneath a McDonalds.
Okay, so I mentioned McDonalds just to give myself an excuse to show you this picture of McDonalds in Marino, where you can eat your fries while standing above the ruins of an ancient Roman road. And McDonalds isn't even a villain in this story; they sponsored the dig. You want a skeleton with your burger?
Likewise, at this supermarket in Split, Croatia, you'll be choosing apples beside columns from the Palace of Diocletian:
But back to the city of Rome itself. To me, the most incredible archaeological discovery so far this century is the Lupercal, or the Cave of the She-Wolf made famous by the legend of Romulus and Remus.
Romulus and Remus were the twin sons of Rhea Silvia, a vestal virgin and a princess. Their father was the god Mars. When Rhea Silvia's uncle, who had displaced her father as king, found out about the twins, he saw them as a threat to his reign, and ordered them abandoned on the banks of the Tiber to die. They were rescued and suckled by a she-wolf, who took them back to her cave. Later, they were discovered by the shepherd Faustulus, and raised by him and his wife. After a bunch of other adventures, including killing his brother Remus, Romulus went on to found the city of Rome.
The Roman festival the Lupercalia was celebrated every year on February 15, where two male goats and a dog were were slaughtered in the Lupercal. Priests called the Luperci then made straps out of the animals' skin, and two patrician youths ran though the street striking people with them, in what is believed to have been a fertility ritual. The Lupercalia was celebrated from the earliest days of Rome right up until at least 494 AD.
And some time after that, the Lupercal was just... lost.
Until 2007, when archaeologists discovered a vaulted chamber 16 metres underground, near the ruins of the House of Augustus. It is 7.5 metres in diameter, and 8 metres high, with a vaulted ceiling. It is decorated with marble, mosaics, and shells, among other things.
And just like that the Lupercal, a place that was lost for almost 1500 years, is back.
Of course nobody can say for sure that this is the Lupercal in the sense that it's a place where a she-wolf rescued and suckled twin infant boys instead of going "Hey, free snacks!" but it's a pretty clear bet that it was a significant site to the Ancient Romans and that they certainly believed this was the Lupercal.
Isn't archeology amazing?