On the Etymologies of Romulus, Remus, and Rome

For as long as I can remember, I have heard that Rome was named after Romulus and that the naming was done by Romulus himself after he killed his brother Remus. This made sense to me as even in today’s English you can see the connection between the words Romulus and Rome. While I thought the story to be mostly myth, I did think that Rome was named after Romulus. That was, until recently.

It turns out that the leading theory on the etymology of Romulus is that his name means “of Rome”. This etymology strikes me as odd given that for Romulus to acquire his name, this city of which he is named after would already have to have a name. Given this etymology, the ideas that Romulus named the city or that the city was named after Romulus cannot be true, as he is named after the city.

Enrique Cabrejas is of the opinion that Rome (Roma/RO-ma) can be translated as “by Force” or “God’s Hand”. He says that Romulus and Remus are nicknames given to the characters due to their stories and personalities. Romulus can be translated as “Lionforce” or “The strong lion” and Remus can be translated as “Backsliding” on “guilt”, “blame”, or “misfortune”.

The idea of Roma meaning “of Force” or “God’s Hand” is backed up by the writings of Plutarch. “This great name of Rome, with much glory has spread among all men, (…) and -the force- the weapons given this name to the city, that means Rome.” Parallel Lives: Romulus. Plutarch. The story of the “Rape of the Sabines” also may add to the idea that Rome means “by Force”, as the women were abducted and taken to Rome. I think the translation of Cabrejas is accurate and appropriate, but I wanted to dig deeper into the theories about from which words Rome might descend (and so I did).

Roma, Romulus, and Remus are Latin names. The Latin words in this case are based upon Greek words. While there are not any Latin verbs which can be closely related to the Greek, H. G. Liddell and R. Scot argue that the Latin Roma stems from a Greek verb, roomai, which among other things means “to rush/rush on”. In English, the words look and sound similar to the word Rasna, which is what the Etruscans called themselves. It is also close to the words Rus or Russia. The similarity in sound and spelling is not highly significant in and of itself, but given more variables, the idea of a deeper connectedness appears to me to gain more gravity. Keep in mind that Romulus and Remus were thrown into the River Tiber.

Ievlev Boris Alexandrovich. ‘View on the Volga River’

F. Knauer (Moscow, 1901) traces the etymology of Rus to the Persian name for the Volga river (the longest river in Europe), which is ولگا. Prof. George Vernadsky suggested that it stems from the Aryan word for water/moisture. Both etymologies are associated with water. Another idea is that it can be traced to Rosh from the Biblical book of Ezekial. Additionally, there are claims that the word Rus stems from an Old Norse term for “men who row”. Altogether, these ideas lead me to conclude that the original word that inspired Rus was used to refer to people who navigated the rivers. I also now think that Rus and Rome may share a similar root word. Another possibility might be that this is explained by both of their origin stories involving the existence of mighty rivers.

Reportedly, the name Remus descends from a word meaning “twin”. The Latin Remus could also descend from the Ancient Greek words eretmós (oar) or erétēs, (rower). I think these are both reasonable ancestor words for Remus, as Romulus and him were twins and both survived the river. The other “founder” of Rome, Aeneas, may also play a role here, given his voyages prior to founding the city. The word rower (which Remus is based on) can be defined as a man who rows. This is the singular version of the definition for the word from which Rus stems. I think the idea of seafaring or traveling on rivers is inseparable from the creation of the Latin word Roma, and that this also provides insight into the history of the word Rus.

The Voyage of Aeneas

It seems to me that a more exhaustive study on the origins of the words Rome, Romulus, and Remus will need to be conducted before generating any serious convictions on the topic. Right now, I think the best explanation as to how the characters obtained their names is that the name were assigned to them later on as nicknames to be remembered by. The words from which these nicknames descend is still debatable. This article sums up my preliminary observations.

Romulus and Remus as babies

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References;

1 – http://ispcjournal.org/journals/2016-16/Cabrejas_16.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1-u55Xx56g3sCuSORChhXvCAKArSIGE6ygjAH94jcXMnT_JBRtj_DVUDg

2 – https://ewonago.blogspot.com/2009/04/etymology-of-rome.html

3 – https://theculturetrip.com/europe/russia/articles/heres-why-russia-is-called-russia/

4 – https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Remus

5 – https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/remus

6 – https://www.etymonline.com/word/roam

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3 Comments
  1. Can you imagine that Rome had a previous name that was changed via Romulus being it’s hero? Perhaps it wasn’t a city before just a smaller location. Anyway the legend says the two brothers were discovered by a female wolf that fed them and after they founded the city. Of course two persons alone do not found a full city. It’s a mythological legend. Nice endeavour on the blog though. Keep it up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love etymology. And I’ve only recently been enriching my studies with Roman history and legend. So I thoroughly liked reading this. I’m simultaneously surprised and unsurprised. At any rate, thanks for posting this. The Greek angle makes sense, given Roman obsession with Greek culture. But the Etruscan angle is logical too. In the event other folks have come about this fine page searching for stories about Romulus, there is this prose based on several accounts.

    https://spergbox.wordpress.com/2019/06/15/romulus/

    Like

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