The Roman legends are characterized by combining human beings with mythical animals and fantastic elements of nature. Many of them aim to tell the foundation of Rome, others allow us to understand the history and worldview of one of the greatest civilizations of Western culture. We will see below 10 of the most popular Roman legends.
10 popular Roman legends
Among other things, the Roman legends relate imaginary events, with immortal idols that accomplish great hazallas. Many of these narrations have to do with the main points of the city and with fantastic elements that surround them; while others are more related to Greco-Roman myths. These last understood as fabulous narratives that explain reality in a non-rational way, but with great symbolic and cultural content.
1. Hercules and caco
“Hercules y Caco” is the name of a sculpture found in Piazza della Signoria, in Florence. It represents one of the episodes narrated by Virgilio, where Hercules overcomes the evil of the giant half man half satyr, Caco. They say that Caco had stolen red oxen that were grazing in the Tiber Valley.
Soon, Hercules discovered the theft, but could not find the oxen or the responsible. It was not until he entered Caco’s cave that he finally found them, and as a punishment he dismembered him. Historical and anthropological explanations of this legend say that it is key to understand the commercial evolution of the area as well as the beginnings of the Hercules cult.
2. The wolf
This legend is part of the many explanations about the founding of Rome, since it represents the union of people from different civilizations, in constant connection with mythical animals. It comes from the mother of the twins Romulus and Remus, saved from murder by a servant who gave them a chance to escape through the waters of the Tiber River. On the side of the river there was a she-wolf, who heard the crying of the little ones and dragged them to a cave where she nursed them for a while.
It was until Pastor Faustulo approached, when the children were taken to Acca Larentia (pastor’s wife). Thus, Romulus and Remus would grow between humans and their children. Since then, the symbol of the She-wolf has represented the sacred animal of different ethnic groups: the sacred God of the Manners, the God of the Sabines, the animal defender of the Latin people and the God who purifies and fecundates the Etruscans. In addition, he is the founder of the cult to the Mother Goddess, representative of the genesis of life and the quality of protection.
3. Circe and the king peak
Pico is remembered as a prophet son of saturn and father of Fauno, as well as husband of Canente the nymph. Having been Fauno the father of the Latin King, Pico is considered by some to be the first Lazio king. It is said that he was a diviner, of primitive aspect, always accompanied by a woodpecker (hence the name “Pico”). From Pico the diviner, the woodpecker is recognized as a prophetic bird.
They also say that since the love of Circe, the sorceress of the island of Eea, does not correspond, the latter finally turned Pico into a carpenter bird, retaining the same divinatory and prophetic powers that he had always had.
4. The Passetto di Borgo
Also known as “El passetto”, this walled road that connects the Vatican with the castle of Sant’angelo, has been the seat of even science fiction films. Originally, this 800-meter-long road, erected in 1277, served many popes as an escape route. That is, it was essential for the escape of clerics who were in danger due to wars, looting and invasions.
In fact, in some movies, novels and videogames this is represented, by its direct access to the Vatican. Legend has it that whoever crosses this path around 70 times will have good luck and will be able to escape from their problems.
5. The alley of the Mazzamurelli
Legend has it that there are capricious spirits, similar to elves, who live in a narrow street in Trastevere. They are known as the “Mazzamurelli” and there are different versions about the powers of these spirits.
Some say that they have the function of protecting the individual and the people. They say that they could give the Romans qualities of archangel, and at other times turn their soul into a little devil. It is also said that they live in the alley because there is a haunted house from the 19th century, where there lived a man who pretended to be a magician who saw demons.
6. The Castle of Sant Angelo (Castel Sant’Angelo)
On one side of the river Tiber, the third longest in Italy, there is a large monument that began being the mausoleum of Hadrian, Roman emperor from the years 117 to 138. the castle is named after a legend of salvation from the plague epidemic in the 590s
They say that in the same year, during a procession commanded by Pope Gregory the Great, an archangel appeared on the castle holding a sword in his hands. A short time later, the plague disappeared completely; miracle that was attributed to the archangel. Since then a statue was placed on the mausoleum, in commemoration of said event. Today the same statue has received different restorations.
7. The tomb of Nero and the Basilica of Santa Maria
After being declared a “public enemy” of Rome, for the period of tyranny and mass executions that he had made, the Emperor Nero was forced to leave the city. They say that when he arrived at Piazza di Poppolo (People’s Square) he was ready to commit suicide with the help of Epaphrodito, his secretary. The latter stabbed him just before a Roman soldier arrived at his location. In the same square was buried, and soon after, the Roman dynasty was responsible for disappearing their works, writings, and other objects to remember their existence.
They say that since then the ghost of Nero appeared in the place where he was buried. They also say that some people, practitioners of black magic, performed numerous rituals around his grave. They say that in the same place grew a walnut that marked the exact place where the remains of the emperor lie. For this reason the walnut was considered cursed, and in the year of 1099 an exorcism was practiced at the tomb of Nero.
The latter after Pope Paschal II claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary indicating cut the walnut tree, dig up the remains of Nero, burn them and finally thrown into the river Tiber. This was the case and immediately afterwards a chapel dedicated to the virgin was built to thank the exorcism. In the year of 1472 a basilica was built (the Basilica of Santa Maria), in the place where the tomb of Nero was previously.
8. Silent cup
They say that there was a water nymph named Lara. After having offended Jupiter, the main god of Roman mythology, the latter took Lara’s tongue. On his return to earth, Jupiter commissioned Mercury to accompany and protect her. However, Mercurio took advantage of the fact that Lara no longer had a language, and raped her.
As a result of this, Lara gave birth to a pair of twins (the Lares gods), who were responsible for protecting and monitoring the borders of the city later. Since then Lara was known as Tacita Muda, the goddess of silence. Currently celebrates and rituals in honor of Lara, who not only remember the value of silence and prudence, but denounce the association of these values with women and question the culture of rape.
9. The Dioscuri
The Dioscuri (a term meaning “sons of zeus” in Greek), are two mythical twin heroes, named Castor and Pollux, with great skills for fighting and riding. They are remembered for having rescued maidens, as well as for having avenged offenses and numerous deaths. These heroes are found in the Gemini constellation and have also been entrusted with the care of sailors, as they are believed to appear as a kind of fireball produced during thunderstorms.
The Roman legend about the Dioscuri tells that the latter fought in the Battle of Lago Regilo, in which the Romans were the Latinos. They say they appeared over the spring of the forum in Rome, where a temple was built in his honor. Since then, the fountain next door was considered sacred and, this spring, was the main site of many festivities celebrating the Dioscuri.
10. The Tiber Island
Located on the side of the Tiber River, the Tiber Island is famous for housing the temple to Asclepius, the Roman god of medicine. Legend has it that this island was formed after the last king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius the Proud, had fallen. As punishment to his despotic and tyrant government, the Roman settlers threw his body to the Tiber river.
Soon Tiberina Island was formed and the explanation was that, on the body of the king, sediments had accumulated and even grains of wheat that Tarquino had accumulated.
Due to its dark origin, this island caused fear to the Romans, who saw it as a sign of bad omen. Soon after, an epidemic of plague stopped just after a snake (symbol of the god of medicine) will be sheltered on an island. It was then that the monument to Aesculapius was built and when the settlers began to visit without fear the Tiberian island.