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The Fanes' saga - Short essays


A comparison with Romulus and Remus


The presence of a “myth of the twins” in the Fanes’ saga triggers the question whether may it show affinities with another, much better known myth, which also is connected with the origins of a nation: that of Romulus and Remus.

If one remains on the formal plane, no evident similarity can be found; however they appear as soon as the deepest structures are investigated, and they would even be closer had the Roman society not turned towards an oppressively patriarchal culture.
We must remark that, if the Roman mythology had lately influenced the Fanes saga when, in the Imperial period, it was imported into the Dolomites, we should expect to observe, on the contrary, similarities much more evident on the formal than on the substantial plane. We must therefore conclude that the Fanes myth pre-existed the Romans and was not significantly influenced by the Romulus-and-Remus’s one.

Before examining these similarities, we also must stress a difference: while the Roman myth appears to be concluded in the act of the town foundation, the Fanes myth is perpetuated at every royal generation, which takes its force just from the continued reiteration of its myth of the origin. With this in mind, we can observe that:



Is a priestess’s son (of Vesta)


  Is an anguana’s daughter, who ministers the cult of the Sun
Is raised by his totemic animal (=she-wolf), i.e. as if he was a wolf cub himself

Is raised together with her totemic animals (= the marmots), if she were a marmot cub herself

His elder brother (no twin! remark that Romulus can be read in Latin as Remus/Romus the younger) must die so that he may be able to reign


Her elder sister (no twin!) must disappear underground so that she may be able to reign

While the Fanes’ myth shows us a still matriarchal social structure and an animistic religion, Romulus is depicted as the founder of a patriarchal society practicing a polytheistic religion; as a consequence, he cannot remain the child of an unknown father like Moltina, but must become a god’s son (and a god himself, by the way, after his death). The attribution to Moltina of a name reminding that of a god (an attribution that we already (>Essays > Personal names) recognized as not belonging to the original saga) might be the only visible result of a possible late contamination with the Roman myth.
As far as Remus is concerned, his role is parallel to the Lujanta’s one: he disappears in the rite of the totemic twinning. A mystic role largely misunderstood (or forcibly transformed into a well different political role) by the later extenders of his myth. We can also remark again, by the way, that, had the exchange vultures–for–marmots obtained time enough to stabilize in the Fanes’ society, the similarities between both myths would have been further increased.

Romulus’s myth is dated to the mid-eighth century B.C.; the end of the Iron Age in the Dolomites to the end of the ninth-early eighth century B.C.. Since Romulus' myth seems not to have influenced Moltina's one, and of course more so vice-versa, I think that we can advance the proposal that both myths take their origin from an archetypal “myth of foundation”, framed within an animistic-matriarchal background, that in the late Bronze – early Iron Age still must have been rather widespread.

However, we can notice two further interesting details in the myth of the origin of Rome:

- Romulus was a foreigner (he came from Albalonga);
- His home, according to prof. Carandini’s recent excavations on the Palatine hill, was within Vesta’s temple, where the Vestales lived.

These occurrences immediately remind matrilocality, and show Romulus as a parallel also to the “Landrines’ prince”, who marries Moltina, the real source of the royal power, moves his home to his wife’s, and founds a new stronghold at the Cunturines, the Fanes’ “town”.

I draw the feeling that Romulus may have founded the town after having married a priestess of Vesta (his wife, then, not his mother? notice the assonance between Hersilia’s name, Romulus’s wife, and Rhea Silvia, his mother: just a coincidence?) and that, as a consequence, he compulsorily had to be mythicized according to the Italic traditional scheme for town founders: originally his name ought not to have been Romulus, nor he necessarily had any brother, more so no twin. All these attributes have been assigned to him when he was archetypically mythicized (what must have happened quite soon): born elsewhere, son of a god and of a priestess, raised by his totemic animal, provided with an elder brother who had to be sacrificed in a “twinning” with the totemic animal, in order that the spirit of the totem could embody in the younger, so that the latter could legitimately ascend his throne. As a corollary, the names “Romulus” and “Remus” should have been built around “Rome”, and not vice-versa.

The above sketch - if confirmed - would bring to an absolutely unexpected conclusion: it would tell us that, at Romulus’s time, the Roman society was still governed by a theocratic matriarchate! Of course, this is antithetic to all that we have been told about Rome. Nevertheless, we have a few other clues aiming at this direction:

- We have archaeological evidence (see Carandini, 2002) that, at Romulus's times, there were women who in Central Italy detained a social status that can be defined as that of a queen (matriarchate?) ;
-The “Rape of the Sabines”: this act of forcible patrilocality, rather difficult to believe the way it is usually narrated, might just be a cover, shrouding the fact that Romulus did get into some big trouble with Roman women;
- No dinasty: no king of Rome was his predecessor’s son; ancient historians say that they were elected by the Senate, but this assertion might also cover that, at least the first four of them, were actually nominated by a priestesses’ circle, according to more ancient rituals;
- Numa Pompilius: Romulus’s successor, the mildest and piousest of men, explicitly took orders from his presumable wife, the water-connected “nymph Egeria” (a sort of Roman “anguana”?) – and he quietly died at an old age.

I’m not a tenth as profound in this subject as it would be necessary to transform these clues into a real theory, but I would like to suggest a plausible work hypothesis:

1. A town must have existed on the seven hills much earlier than Romulus; this is more or less explicitly stated by myth and is substantiated by modern archaeology;
2. This town must have been ruled as a theocracy, where the supreme power was detained by priestesses (as suggested by the clues above). We know nothing about the form that this power may have assumed;
3. According to other classic (mostly greek) instances, the “king” might have been the chief priestess’s husband; the details of his nomination are to be clarified, but chances are that he must have been a foreigner, and his prerogatives must have been just military;
4. It is probable that in a remote past the whole society had been ordered as a matriarchate (clan ruled by the family mother, property heritage along feminine lineage, husband moving from his mother’s to his wife’s home). But, at Romulus’s time, the society should already have gradually shifted towards a patriarchate (clans ruled by family fathers - the patres, - property heritage along masculine lineage, wife moving from her father’s to her husband’s home). However, the town government must have still been administered by the priestesses, according to a typical example of institutional lag with respect to the social evolution;
5. It is very probable that in the pre-romulean Rome several ethnical groups were co-existing (Latins? Sabines? Etruscans? others else?) These multi-ethnical contributions must have played their role in the definition of institutions and in the evolution of the social structure as discussed at the previous point;
6. Romulus may (but not necessarily must) actually have been a man who came from abroad; he was nominated king in the above defined sense, presumably by marrying the chief priestess, and lived in her temple (of Vesta?) according to tradition;
7. He must have founded a stronghold on the Palatine hill - a walled town, if you like, anyway a structure that allowed Rome to be called a town, and the first base for its future power and greatness;
8. He also officially institutionalized the new social order, the way it must already have been organized in practice since long, i.e. by patriarchal clans (=curiae, from co-viri [men-together]; hence his other name, Quirinus [=co-virinus]). Probably on the wave of this success, he tried to claim full regal power for himself, overthrowing the priestesses; a civil war ensued, ending up in an uneasy truce (apparently, for a short time there were two kings simultaneously, Romulus and Titus Tatius). Both involved parties have been described as different ethnical entities (Romans and Sabines), and this might well be true; but it also might just be the posthumous, politically-correct “explanation” of a civil war between two political-religious factions, transversal to the ethnical groups ("marmots" against "vultures"?;
9. Titus Tatius was assassinated first; eventually, Romulus also was killed. Myth says that he “disappeared” during a tempest and became a god, but even the great Roman historians didn’t believe that. Others say he was dismembered by Senators. He certainly was killed, we don’t know if for vengeance, for political reasons, at instigation of the priestesses, or whatever;
10. What appears clear, however, is that his successor, Numa Pompilius, who belonged to the anti-Romulean faction (Sabines), devoutly followed matriarchal rules. His official status already was however that of an alright king; he reigned alone and reached an old age;
11. The moment when the priestesses actually lost their political power is hard to be defined. Probably it happened not later than Tarquinius Priscus’s nomination. But the important point is that the priestesses didn’t relinquish their power to the king: according to all appearances, they gave it up to the Senators (the patres), who at first appear to have exerted it as a continuation of what the priestesses had done since ever. The king still had to be nominated: but by men, no longer by women;
12. Therefore, the Senate came out as the real winner of the centuries-long confrontation. Immediately, intentionally or not, a cover-up must have followed, to erase even the memory of women’s rule in early Rome and to exhalt the political role of the Senate instead. The first annalists who wrote of the Roman kingdom (in the early Republican period) must have retrieved from oral tradition only vague hints, if any, at the past existence of a matriarchate, and they just had no stimulus at digging further;
13. Romulus’s myth should have been first established much earlier. The priestesses had no reason to hide his real achievement, the foundation of the walled town: they just mythicized it so that it conformed to its ancestral archetype. So Romulus was given a god as father, a priestess as mother, a king as grandfather and a twin brother doomed to die; he was linked to a long list of sacred patrons, only the better known of which is the she-wolf, and was re-named as convenient for a man, whose destiny was to found a town called Rome.
14. Later on, the Senators must in their turn have modified at least several aspects of his myth, to increase its political correctness: Romulus’s wife’s role, the reasons why his brother had to die, the ambiguous story of the late years of his kingdom and of his death, and what else.

I don’t feel prepared to proceed any further. In the tentative reconstruction I proposed, - only as a work hypothesis, I repeat, - there are broad dark or twilight areas that it will be very difficult to clarify. However, much of my guesswork is based on the comparison between the Fanes’ myth and Romulus and Remus’s one. The analysis of their similarities brings to suppose the existence of a common archetypical “myth of foundation”. Finding evidence of this myth elesewhere might greatly increase the chance that the above exposed ideas may have a fundament of truth.
Also independently from that, I just hope that some historian may feel stimulated to analyze this unconventional perspective somewhat further.