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Roman Forum discovery could be shrine to Rome’s founder Romulus

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Romulus, with his twin Remus, established the city near the Tiber River in around 753 BC and founded the kingdom of Rome.

The ancient Roman Forum where archaeologists found an underground chamber containing a sarcophagus and what appears to be an altar dating back to the 6th century BC in Rome

Italian archaeologists have unveiled an exciting new find from the Roman Forum which they say could be the lost shrine dedicated 2,600 years ago to Romulus, Rome’s legendary founder and first king.

In an excavated space beneath the Curia Julia, or ancient senate house, is something resembling a stone bath that archaeologists say is a sarcophagus, or stone coffin.

There is also a cylindrical stone block, possibly an altar.

Both items are made of tuff, carved from the Capitoline Hill that overlooks the Forum, and which is home to today’s City Hall.

A 1.4-metre (55in) wide sarcophagus and what appears to be an altar, dating back to the 6th century BC, are seen in an underground chamber at the ancient Roman Forum in Rome
A 1.4-metre wide sarcophagus and what appears to be an altar in an underground chamber at the Roman Forum in Rome (Andrew Medichini/AP)

The recently excavated area “represents a place, which in history and in the Roman imagination, speaks about the cult of Romulus”, said archaeologist Patrizia Fortini.

Ms Fortini said no-one is hypothesising that the sarcophagus ever actually contained the bones of Romulus who, with his twin Remus, established the city near the Tiber River in around 753 BC and founded the kingdom of Rome.

It is likely to date to the 6th century BC, some 200 years after Romulus’s time.

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“We don’t know whether Romulus physically existed” the way he was described in legends, Ms Fortini said.

Reporters wait to visit the underground chamber where a 1.4-metre (55in) wide sarcophagus and what appears to be an altar, dating back to the 6th century BC, were found during an unveiling to media at the ancient Roman Forum in Rome
Reporters wait to visit the underground chamber at the Roman Forum (Andrew Medichini/AP)

But some ancient sources claimed that Romulus was buried in the area of the find, and the sarcophagus could have served as a memorial.

Alfonsina Russo, the archaeologist in charge of the site, noted that according to some ancient traditions, Romulus was killed and chopped to pieces, or ascended into heaven.

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“Therefore this cannot be his tomb, but it is very likely, we believe, that this is a memorial site, a cenotaph,” Ms Russo added.

A 1.4-metre (55in) wide sarcophagus and what appears to be an altar, dating back to the 6th century BC, are seen in an underground chamber at the ancient Roman Forum in Rome
The sarcophagus and what appears to be an altar (Andrew Medichini/AP)

While excavations continue, authorities hope the public will be able to stroll underground to view the find in about two years.

Legend holds that Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf as babies, but later Romulus killed his twin brother in a dispute over the founding of Rome.

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