Archaeologists have discovered a 2600-year-old stone sarcophagus in an underground chamber beneath the Roman Forum in Rome. They believe that the shrine is dedicated to Romulus who, according to Roman mythology, was founder of the ancient city of Rome and the Roman kingdom along with his twin brother Remus.

The Roman Forum in ancient Rome
The Roman Forum in ancient Rome © Mustang_79/Getty Images

The Colosseum Archaeological Park began overseeing the ongoing excavations of the Forum a year ago, during which archaeologists dug beneath a staircase that leads to the Comitium, a building that was a precursor to the Roman Senate. The 1.4m sarcophagus they discovered dates from the 6th century BC and is made from a single block of tufa stone, and a circular stone structure also found in the chamber is believed to be an altar. They were placed where the ancient Romans believed that Romulus was buried under the Forum, which was the centre of public life in ancient Rome.

A view of the Roman Forum from Capitoline
A view of the Roman Forum from Capitoline © Will Salter/Lonely Planet

According to legend, Romulus and Remus's grand-uncle Amulius displaced their grandfather, King Numitor of Alba Longa. He ordered the infants to be thrown into the Tiber in a basket as he saw them as a possible threat to his rule. His servants left them instead on the riverbank where they were found and suckled by a she-wolf, and this image has long been a symbol of Rome. They were adopted by a shepherd, and when they grew up, they joined forces with their grandfather to overthrow Amulius and restore him to the throne. Romulus is said to have founded Rome in 735BC after murdering Remus in a fight over where the new city they wanted to build should be located.

A statue of Romulus and Remus being nursed by a wolf at the Piazza di Campidoglio
A statue of Romulus and Remus with a wolf at the Piazza di Campidoglio © Angelika Stern/Getty Images

The Colosseum Archaeological Park's architects made a connection between the sarcophagus and Romulus from reading classical texts and records left by a 19th-century archaeologist, Giacomo Boni. Its director, Alfonsina Russo, believes the legend of Romulus and Remus was based on the real founders of Rome. "The Forum never ceases to yield wonderful treasures," she told The Times.

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