Lupa, She-Wolf and the Discovery of a Roman Grotto


One of the best known legends of antiquity, for anyone familiar with the history of Rome, Italy, is the tale of how it became founded. It begins with a man named Numitor and his brother, Amulius. Amulius eliminated his brother and banned Numitor’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, from having children, thus eliminating any heirs to the throne over Amulius’ children. Rhea was sent to serve in the temple as a Vestal Virgin, where she was tutored to be a priestess and who was to remain a virgin in the temple service.

She became pregnant and gave birth to twins – Romulus and Remus. The legend does not reveal who the father was. Amulius sentenced Rhea Silvia to death, being justified because she didn’t keep her vows of virginity in her service as a Vestal Virgin. It was also ordered that the twins be killed as well, but the servant given the mission to do so could not do it and left them in a basket on the banks of the Tiber river. The legend states that the twins were raised by a she-wolf by the name of Lupa, a Latin name also used for female prostitutes and for priestesses of a fox goddess.

A shepherd discovered the boys and brought them home to be raised with his family. The famous bronze statue of the she-wolf suckling the twins is at the entrance to the City Hall at Rome’s Campidoglio and has become a symbol of ancient Rome and Latin romantic tales in Spain as well as Romania. 
Fox News reports that researchers have discovered that the she-wolf statue was not built sometime during the Etruscan era or during ancient Rome’s days of glory, but in fact, created during the Medieval period. The original story came from Frances D’Emilio, Associated Press

It’s decisively medieval,” said Anna Maria Carruba, a researcher who studied the statue when she worked on its restoration a decade ago. “As I went ahead with my research, I was ever more sure,” Carruba said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. While medieval might sound old to modern ears, if Carruba is correct the statue would be more than 1,000 years younger than had been thought — from the 7th or 8th centuries, or even later, instead of Etruscan times. The Capitoline Museums Web site says the statue, known as Lupa, or she-wolf, is from the 5th century B.C. and was donated to the museum in 1471 by Pope Sixtus IV. Added separately, in the early 1500s, were the bronze figures of Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome who legend says were abandoned on the Tiber River’s banks and survived by being nursed by the she-wolf. The 30-inch-high bronze is the centerpiece of a museum room named after it, and postcards and T-shirts with its image are popular Rome souvenirs. Mussolini used the image in his regime’s propaganda pushing for a return to ancient Roman glories. …
The data “aren’t definitive yet, and we hope we can succeed in giving a definitive date” to the statue through the results later this year of carbon dating, Parisi Presicce was quoted as telling the Italian news agency ANSA. … Carruba said carbon dating of bits of dirt and clay indicates the statue was cast in the 7th or 8th century A.D. She also claimed the techniques of casting such a bronze work were developed in medieval times. Her theory has skeptics. Alessandro Naso, an Etruscan expert at the University of Molise, contended that Carruba’s “concluding that it isn’t ancient is based on indirect proof.” “Leaving aside the point of pride” about Rome‘s symbol, “arguments for the medieval are weak,” Naso said by phone Thursday. Archaeologist Nicoletta Pagliardi was also cautious about Carruba’s theory. Lupa’s origins “are really uncertain,” she said in a phone interview. Pagliardi said the statue would have likely been “manhandled” over many centuries, and so carbon dating might be testing substances that contaminated the bronze long after its creation. Parisi Presicce, the Capitoline Museums director, said that in medieval times Rome‘s symbol was considered to be a lion. He said that weakened arguments that Lupa was made during that period.

The “grotto” refers to a cave that was last year, as Softpedia News reports …

Last year, archaeologists unveiled an underground grotto on the Palatine Hill believed to have been revered by ancient Romans as the place Lupa nursed Romulus and Remus. Now, Italian archaeologists say they have found the cave where the she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus, in the heart of the Italian capital, announced the Italian Culture Minister, Francesco Rutelli. “Italy and Rome never stop amazing the world with continuous archaeological and cultural discoveries, and it is incredible to think that we have finally found a mythological site that has become a real site,” said Rutelli. “The domed underground cavity, elaborately decorated with seashells and mosaics, was discovered near the ruins of Emperor Augustus’s palace on Rome’s Palatine Hill using a camera-equipped laser probe,” Maria Bonmassar of the Italian culture ministry told AFP. The cave was named “The Lupercale” by ancient Romans (“lupus” means “wolf” in Latin, see French “loup”, Spanish “lobo”, Romanian “lup”), where a yearly pagan celebration in the honor of the shepherds’ god Faunus Lupercus (the counterpart of the Greek Pan) took place. “The grotto, which is some 6.5 m (21 ft) high and 7 m (24 ft) in diameter, is on a site dating from the Bronze Age. Digging in the grotto will begin next year”, Bonmassar said.

In respect to the statue, since the statues of the twins were added later, one wonders if the researcher had carbon dated only the statue twins and not the she-wolf, which is older and is said to have been made in Etruscan times.

NOTE: Since the writing of this article, it has been reported that experts have decided that the statue depicted here may be a medieval fake and does not date back to ancient Roman times. 

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