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Rome's remote history is largely influenced by oral tradition, legends and mythology as no written account existed before the late third century. The written testimonies by the Etruscans, the direct neighbors of the Romans, have all been destroyed by the Romans or disappeared without trace and much of the later literary tradition is largely Romanocentric.

According to the legend, thus, Rome was founded by Romulus on the Palatine Hill (Collis Palatinus) in 753 BC on April 21. Romulus was one of two twin brothers - the other one being Remus - who were nursed by a female wolf (known as the lupa capitolina or She-wolf) after they had been abandoned by their mother, a Vestal Virgin. Both brothers wanted to found a city between the hills of the Tiber river, but could not agree on the name to be given to the new city. As they were twins, order of precedence did not apply. So, they decided to consult the oracles and agreed that the twin who would see the largest number of birds - considered a sign of good augur - would choose the name of the city. Remus climbed the Aventine Hill and saw six birds.  Romulus, standing on the Palatine Hill, saw twelve birds. Unfortunately, this did not resolve the conflict between the brothers. Even though Romulus saw more signs, Remus claimed he saw them first, so the question remained: would precedence gain over quantity ? The brothers engaged in a fight and Remus was killed by Romulus who consequently baptized the city Rome. In reality the name Romulus derived from the name of the city (and not vice versa), which was probably of Etruscan origin.

Later authors have questioned the meaning of the wolf symbol and some, like Titius Livius (Livy), believed it was a woman called Larenzia, wife of the shepherd Faustulus, who rescued Romulus and Remus and was nicknamed "lupa" (female wolf), presumably as a euphemism for "prostitute" .

In fact, Rome was inhabited well before the founding date of 753 BC. Excavations have shown that proto-urban settlements existed on the Foro Boario, on the Palatine Hill and on the Campidoglio well before 1000 BC. Tribal clans occupied the hills of Rome known as the Septimontium: the two tops of the Palatine Hill - namely Cermalus and Palatium-  Fagutal, Oppius, Celius, Suburra and Velia and later Cispius. Around the 8th century BC, these pastoral settlements merged to form the city of Rome. Rome, like other places in Lazio and Etruria was also in close contact with the Greeks as early as the 8th century BC.  Note that the Septimontium should not be confused with the "Seven hills of Rome" as the most famous hills of Rome, the Aventine Hill (Collis Aventinus), the Capitoline (Capitolinus), the Quirinal (Quirinalis), the Viminal (Viminalis), the Esquiline (Esquilinus) and the Caelian Hill (Caelius) are excluded from the Septimontium. Later a holiday of the Septimontium (dies Septimontialis) was instituted to commemorate (at the end of December) the enclosure of the ancient seven hills of Rome within the walls of the city.

Before becoming the capital of the Roman Empire and headquarters to the Catholic Church, Rome fought many battles to establish its supremacy. Rome's early enemies were the neighboring hill tribes of the Volscians (Volscii), Hernicians (Hernici) and the Aequians (Aequi), and of course, its sophisticated neighbors, the Etruscans. In 311 BC the Etruscans joined the Samnites against Rome, but to no avail and Rome annexed Etruria around 500 BC. The Sabines are also mentioned in many writings, but no archeoligical findings have ever confirmed their existence. In the 3rd century BC, Rome conquers Greece as well.

The Latins were an Indo-European tribe of the Italic branch who had settled south of the banks of the Tiber in a region that was called Latium (modern Lazio) at the beginning of the 1st millenium BC.  Their name presumably originated from the legendary king Latinus who ruled the city of Alba Longa in the 9th c. BC. Politically the ancient Latium was a loose federation of city-states, including Alba Longa, Tusculum, Lavinium, Ardea, Tibur (now Tivoli) and Praeneste (Palestrina). With the expansion of Rome, the Latins gained the status of Socii Nomen Latinum, a title distinct from that given to the other allies (socii), which could be nations previously conquered by the Romans.

In 509 BC Rome abandoned monarchy in favor of a republican system and the king's powers were transferred to two consuls, elected for one year. Read more about the Roman Republic. By the time Rome became a republic the Roman population had already been divided into plebeians (common folk) and  patricians (the upper classs or aristocrats). It is still a matter of conjectures whether patricians were the descendants of foreign people who had conquered the Romans before the Etruscans or were original Roman landowners' families who had become an elite.

Plebeians were not necessarily poor: all citizens who did not belong to the elite of the patricians were plebeians, whether rich or poor. Traders, artisans, farmers and merchants were all considered plebeians. Reversely, patrician families continued to enjoy a superior position thanks to their family name, even if the family's success and wealth had declined. Patricians usually had three name elements, non-aristocratic people only two.
More about the Roman nomenclature
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