Rhea Silvia (also written as Rea Silvia), and also known as Ilia, was the mythical mother of the twins Romulus and Remus, who founded the city of Rome. Her story is told in the first book of Ab Urbe Condita of Livy and in fragments from Ennius, Annales and Fabius Pictor.
According to Livy's account of the legend she was the daughter of Numitor, king of Alba Longa, and descended from Aeneas. Numitor's younger brother Amulius seized the throne and killed Numitor's son, then forced Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin, a priestess of the goddess Vesta. As Vestal Virgins were sworn to celibacy for a period of thirty years, this would ensure the line of Numitor had no heirs.
However, Rhea Silvia conceived and gave birth to the twins Romulus and Remus, claiming that the god Mars had discovered her in the forest and seduced her.
When Amulius learned of the birth he imprisoned Rhea Silvia and ordered a servant to kill the twins. But the servant showed mercy and set them adrift on the river Tiber, which, overflowing, left the infants in a pool by the bank. There a she-wolf (Lupa), who had just lost her own cubs suckled them. Subsequently Faustulus rescued the boys, to be raised by his wife Larentia.
Romulus and Remus went on to found Rome, overthrow Amulius, and reinstate Numitor as King of Alba Longa.
That Livy's euhemerist and realist deflation of this myth, so central to the origins of Rome, was not general is demonstrated by the recurring theme of Mars discovering Rhea Silvia - the Latinists' "Invention (to come upon) of Rhea Silvia" - in Roman arts: in bas-relief on the Casali Altar (Vatican Museums), in engraved couched glass on the Portland Vase (British Museum), or on a sarcophagus in the Palazzo Mattei.
In a version presented by Ovid, it is the river Anio who takes pity on her and invites her to rule in his realm.
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