This week’s Women’s Wednesday stars Rhea Silvia, the woman who gave birth to arguably the most famous siblings in Roman history: Romulus and Remus.
Also known as Ilia, our Mulier Clara lived in fame long before giving birth to the twins. In fact, her name was testimony to the noble lineage she came from: the Silvii family, rulers of Alba Longa for generations. Not only could Rhea trace her ancestry through generations of Kings of Albans: it was also believed that her father, King Numitor, claimed descent from Aeneas himself.
One day her power-hungry uncle, Amulius, overthrew Numitor and banished him from the kingdom. Amulius then went on to murder all his male nephews to ensure his rule was secured. As for Rhea, her uncle sent her to the temple of Vesta, where she would become a Vestal Virgin and worship the goddess of the earth, thus preventing her from ever having children who could challenge his claim to the throne.
Ilia eventually broke her vow, falling pregnant with Romulus and Remus. As punishment for her sins, she was buried alive, but the achievements of her sons went on to ensure her name would live on forever.
“Rhea Silvia”, illumination from the manuscript “Cas des nobles hommes et femmes”, ms. Français 12420, f. 69v, 15h century, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Paris.
Historically and mythologically speaking, being in a powerful position (and perhaps also a…