501px-'Mars and the Vestal Virgin', oil on canvas painting by Jacques Blanchard, ca. 1630, Art Gallery of New South Wales

Rhea Silvia visited by Mars

Rhea Silvia is the mother of Romulus and Remus. Also known as Ilia, she was a priestess of Vesta in Alba Longa, Italy. She was fathered by Numitor, king of Alba Longa, and an undocumented mother. She was a 14th generation descendant of Aeneas in the direct male line.

Numitor's brother, Amulius, stole the throne from Numitor and killed Rhea Silvia's brother. He forced her to become a Vestal Virgin and take a vow of celibacy. Mars, the god of war, was attracted to Rhea Silvia. He swooped down in the night and raped her. She bore him two sons, Romulus and Remus.

Rubens - Mars et Rhea Silvia
When Amulius found out about this, he ordered Rhea Silvia buried alive for breaking her vow of celibacy. He also ordered the twins to be executed by exposure, but the servant ordered to do it took mercy and set the twins adrift in a basket down the Tiber River, however, they were rescued and raised by a she-wolf. They eventually restored their grandfather to the throne of Alba Longa and went on to found Rome.

Rhea Silvia may only have been named because of her deeds. Rea means "guilty," and Silvia means "of the forest," so that her name might mean "guilty woman of the forest," or guilty of breaking her vow of celibacy while in the forest. This connection was made by Niebuhr. In some myths, the river-god Tiber takes pity on her and she becomes a minor river-goddes and his wife.


Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.