Why this date? Some ancient literary sources report that the city was founded the 21st of April, but few people know that on this same day was already present another holiday, with very ancient origins: the Palilia (or Palilia), celebrations in honour of Pales, a god (or goddess) still largely unknown. This festivity was instituted to purify the shepherds, the flocks and the sheepfolds, like it was a rite of passage to a new starting, a Pastoral New Year’s Eve. Probably it was exactly for this reason that it was decided the date of the 21st of April: linking the Birthday of Rome with a so-ancient and important holiday, in fact, meant to legitimise the power of the city.
Then we wonder: why the year 753 BC? Even if the legend tells that Rome came out of nowhere, the site where it was founded was frequented since the II millenium BC and we have evidences of this thanks to the pottery found by archaeologists. This territory was strategically important because it offered hills, lowlands and a close proximity with the river; furthermore, it was crossed by the “road of the salt”, fundamental to guarantee the right conservation of the food.
A first urban and social change occurred in the IX century BC: in this period, in fact, existed in Rome different villages, mentioned by Varro as Septimontium (literally “on seven hills”). Today we can define this space as a proto-urban space (not yet a real city), without any hierarchical organism; each village, in fact, had its necropolis and was separated from others by areas used for grazing and cultivation. Something, however, changes also at half of the VIII century BC, when there are significant signs of the appearance of a strong central power, which builds structures for the common cult and for the civic life: we have archaeological evidences of this, sign of the foundation of Rome, occurred maybe not exactly in 753 BC but certainly in this period.
The conventional date of the foundation, as said before, is set on 21st April 753 BC. From this comes the roman chronology: in every latin source, in fact, we find the phrase “Ab Urbe Condita”, that means “From the foundation of Rome”.
The rites to inaugurate the city, made by Romulus, were very complicated. As Plutarch reports, the king asked to the Etruscan priests how to do the rituals in the best way; he waited for the flight of the birds and understood he had the blessing to proceed. He dug a pit and then gathered the members of the nearby communities: everyone threw a plot of their ground, to indicate the social union, without distinction, that Romulus wanted for his new city. After this first ritual, the king came down on the slope of the Palatine and here he traced with the plow, counterclockwise, a groove all around the hill, to pointed out the route that should have the walls. The sulcus primigenius, also known as pomerium (post= behind; moerium= the walls), interrupted in the points where the doors would have arisen, and was surrounded by a wall, defined as “sanctus”, which means inviolable.
Some other rituals were necessary to complete the inauguration of the city, and for some of them the archaeologists found evidences in the excavations, which are still ongoing on the Palatine hill.
The first who celebrated the Birthday of Rome was Claudius in AD 47, while for the millennium from the foundation, were minted some coins with the legend “1001” and Philip the Arab organized some celebrations, contemporary to the LudiSaeculares, which limited the end of a century and the beginning of the new one.
The legend about the birth of Rome seems, therefore, to have a fundament. Still today the 21st of April is holiday: there are lot of events in all the city, followed by citizens and tourists. This is the testimony of the importance for all of us of the origins of the city considered the most beautiful in the world.