The foundation horoscope of Rome


In these days we are celebrating the birthday of Rome, which according the tradition was founded by Romulus on the 21st April  753 bC. This tradition is very old and  derives from the city’s birthchart. Still everything is not so easy as it seems.

After the government of Alba was thus transferred to Numitor, Romulus and Remus were seized with the desire of building a city in the locality where they had been exposed. There was the superfluous population of the Alban and Latin towns, to these were added the shepherds: it was natural to hope that with all these Alba would be small and Lavinium small in comparison with the city which was to be founded. These pleasant anticipations were disturbed by the ancestral curse -ambition-which led to a deplorable quarrel over what was at first a trivial matter. As they were twins and no claim to precedence could be based on seniority, they decided to consult the tutelary deities of the place by means of augury as to who was to give his name to the new city, and who was to rule it after it had been founded. Romulus accordingly selected the Palatine as his station for observation, Remus the Aventine. Remus is said to have been the first to receive an omen: six vultures appeared to him. The augury had just been announced to Romulus when double the number appeared to him. Each was saluted as king by his own party. The one side based their claim on the priority of the appearance, the other on the number of the birds. Then followed an angry altercation; heated passions led to bloodshed; in the tumult Remus was killed. The more common report is that Remus contemptuously jumped over the newly raised walls and was forthwith killed by the enraged Romulus, who exclaimed, “So shall it be henceforth with every one who leaps over my walls.” ((Titus Livius, ab Urbe condita, I,6-7))

The story of the foundation of Rome, as stated before the Empire is this. In the same period Titius Livius was writing, the official birthday of the city was settled for the date of the 21st April 753 b.C.  together with its birth chart. But things are not easy as they should be and it’s necessary  a deeper investigation.

For some coincidence this was the moment  Latins entered in touch with astrology: the dux Julius Caesar, winner in Egypt, came back in Rome with the beautiful and seductive queen Cleopatra and with Sosigenes of Alexandria, who was in charge to reform the old calendar and move to the new, the Julian one .

Julius Caesar believed to be a direct offspring of the goddess Venus, because his family, the gens Julia were told to be born from Julio, Aeneas’ son, who in turn was Venus’ son: Rhea Silvia, Romulus and Remus’ mother was in fact the daughter of Numitor, one of Julio’s direct descendants.

The Etruscan statue, icon of Rome
The Etruscan statue of the She-wolf with the twins, icon of Rome (V century b.C.)

The end of the Republic and the first years of the Empire were characterized for a great interest for the Venusian sign of Libra.

A Venusian comet shone  at the death of Caesar in the constellation of Libra  and it was the same Caesar,  introducing the new calendar,  who added Libra to the zodiacal belt – previously in fact this portion was known as Scorpio’s claws. ((Actually the sign of Libra was known to Sumers who called it ZIB-BA AN-NA)).

Manilius, who wrote at the court of Augustus put the Empire under the protection of this sign:

” Italy belongs to the Balance, her rightful sign. Beneath it Rome and her sovereignty of the world were founded’” ((Astronomica, IV, 773-775)).

This is the background of the people who wrote about the origins of Rome and its chart. Cicero tells us a  story:

“Again: if it matters under what aspect of the sky or combination of the stars every animate being is born, then necessarily the same conditions must affect inanimate beings also: can any statement be more ridiculous than that? Be that as it may, our good friend Lucius Tarutius of Firmum, who was steeped in Chaldaic lore, made a calculation, based on the assumption that our city’s birthday was on the Feast of Pales (at which time tradition says it was founded by Romulus), and from that calculation Tarutius even went so far as to assert that Rome was born when the moon was in the sign of Libra and from that fact unhesitatingly prophesied her destiny” ((De Divinatione, II.47, 98))

so it’s evident that around 45 b.C. while Cicero was writing these words an horoscope – with the Moon in Libra was already known. Another friend of Cicero, Varro, had settled the foundation of Rome in the year 753 b.C., a date which became official during the Empire of Claudius, who was the first to celebrate the feast in 47 A.D, after 800 years from foundation.

Traditionally. Rome was founded on the 21st April, during Parilia, the feast of Pales. a mysterious god or goddess, who gave the name to the brilliant star of Taurus, Aldebaran, and the Hyades, which were called Parilicium  or Palilicium, because they set in the evening sky of Rome during the month of April.

The tradition – as we will see- wanted that the foundation occurred during an eclipse, which is a special moment for an astrologer.

Let’s try to cast the chart: ((Time was confirmed by Carolyn Egan in Astroweather list.))

21st April 753 b.C. h.7.30
Foundation of Rome: 21st April 753 b.C. h.7.30 AM

But with great surprise, we should note that there was no eclipse (it is well known that Moon and Sun should be together) and the Moon was in Aquarius, not in Libra.

If we try for 754 b.C., after 8:00 am Moon is really in Libra but unfortunately the Sun is at 22 Aries, and again no eclipse at all.

Another author can be useful here, adding some details. Plutarch writes:

(1) Now it is agreed that the city was founded on the twenty-first of April, and this day the Romans celebrate with a festival, calling it the birthday of their country. And at first, as it is said, they sacrificed no living creature at that festival, but thought they ought to keep it pure and without stain of blood, since it commemorated the birth of their country. However, even before the founding of the city, they had a pastoral festival on that day, and called it Parilia.  (2) At the present time, indeed, there is no agreement between the Roman and Greek months,  (3) but they say that the day on which Romulus founded his city was precisely the thirtieth of the month, and that on that day there was a conjunction of the sun and moon, with an eclipse, which they think was the one seen by Antimachus, the epic poet of Teos,  in the third year of the sixth Olympiad. (4) And in the times of Varro the philosopher, a Roman who was most deeply versed in history, there lived Tarutius, a companion of his, who, besides being a philosopher and a mathematician, had applied himself to the art of casting nativities, in order to indulge a speculative turn of mind, and was thought to excel in it.  (5) To this man Varro gave  (6) the problem of fixing the day and hour of the birth of Romulus, making his deductions from the conjunctions of events reported in the man’s life, just as the solutions of geometrical problems are derived; for the same science, he said, must be capable not only of foretelling a man’s life when the time of his birth is known, but also, from the given facts of his life, of hunting out the time of his birth.  This task, then, Tarutius performed, and when he had taken a survey of the man’s experiences and achievements, and had brought together the time of his life, the manner of his death, and all such details, he very courageously and bravely declared that Romulus was conceived in his mother’s womb  in the first year of the second Olympiad,18  in the month Choeac of the Egyptian calendar, on the twenty-third day, and in the third hour, when the sun was totally eclipsed; and that he was born in the month Thoth, on the twenty-first day, at sun-rise;  (7) and that Rome was founded by him on the ninth day of the month Pharmuthi, between the second and third hour:  (8) for it is thought that a city’s fortune, as well as that of a man, has a decisive time, which may be known by the position of the stars at its very origin. These and similar speculations will perhaps attract readers by their novelty and extravagance, rather than offend them by their fabulous character. ((Life of Romulus, XII, 1-18))

This is an interesting text, so let’s examine point by point.


When Plutarch wrote, in the first century AD, the tradition of the foundation during the feast of Parilia  is given for sure.


Plutarch was an hellenized Greek born near Delphi, so he used the Egyptian calendar, not the Julian one. Firstly of all because the Julian calendar was introduced not many years before, so people still were not accustomed with it, but we should not forget that the Egyptian calendar was the astronomical calendar, and in fact was used by Ptolemy in Almagest  and until Renaissance and more, Copernicus used this system too.

Unfortunately, to add confusion to confusion,  the Egyptian calendar too was reformed in those Augustean years.  In fact the old calendar was based on Nile inundation at the heliacal rising of Sirius; since the Egyptian year had 365 days  (12 months of 30 days + 5 days)  and we know that the year is actually 365 days and 1/4,  every 4 years the new year started a day in advance:  so it took 1460 years (365*4=1460) to have the new year day falling again for the inundation  of Nile.

A mobile calendar can have very confusing effects so a reform  was made around the second century b.C. (and Caesar’s advisor Sosigenes should know it very well  and used the new Egyptian calendar as prototype for the Julian one) but it was used just around Augustean age. At the moment Plutarch was writing his Parallel Lives he should know both 😦


The Egyptian month was a lunar month so the 30th and last day was a New Moon day. But the day of the foundation was not just the New Moon, it was an eclipse, and this can be useful to find a date.

As we have seen the 21st April 753 AD was not a New Moon and obviously it was not an eclipse.


It’s evident that all this story comes from Cicero’s entourage. Varro desired to investigate about the foundation date of Rome and so asked to Tarutius, who surely met very often in Cicero’s house for dining or for going to thermal baths. They were friends and talking together  with a cup of wine  in their hand they elaborated this idea.

Cicero is known to be very skeptical about  astrology, so I want lingering a little about his description of Tarutius an astrologer practising a discipline Cicero is told despising.
Cicero calls him L. quidem Tarutius Firmanus, familiaris noster, in primis Chaldaeicis rationibus eruditus, – i.e. Lucianus Tarutius from Fermo, our  dear friend, especially learned in the things  (or calculations) of Chaldeans.

And what does Plutarch say about Tarutio? Being a former philosopher and a mathematician, had applied himself to the art of casting nativities, in order to indulge a speculative turn of mind, and was thought to excel in it.

Solinus, a grammarian of the fourth century we will meet later, describes Tarutius as  mathematicorum nobilissimus, the noblest of astrologers.

So whatever these authors think of astrology there is no doubt which reputation Tarutius had.


It’s evident that Varro’s computation of the true date of Rome’s foundation was based on Tarutio’s astrological methods.


Tarutius’s method is nothing else than what is called a “rectification”: he collected several events of Romulus’s life and found a proper date. From the mention to the Romulus’s conception, we understand that Tarutius should know what is called Hermes’Trutine. The technique is mentioned in the aphorism n. 51 of Centiloquium.

In what sign the Moon is at the time of birth, make that sign the ascendant in conception; and in what sign she is found at the conception, make that or its opposite the sign ascending at the birth.

The method was well known to hellenistic astrologers, and we have at least an evidence of it in the work of Petosiris:

“Petosiris says that the place of the Moon at the conception, at the birth will be at the Ascendant or in the opposite place. Where the Moon is at the birth will be the Ascendant at the moment of conception. “ ((Riess, Philologus Suppl.VI, 1892))

So Romulus, according Tarutius, was conceived on the 23rd Choiac and was born on the 21st Thot, i.e. he was conceived on the 24th June 772 bC and he was born on the 24th March 771 BC, ie after 273 days, which is the duration of gestation in traditional sources: 273 days is the time that Moon needs to  make 10 sidereal revolutions, and the whole method is based  in fact on the Moon position.

He was conceived in the dark of an eclipse – and Plutarch is right because we have an eclipse for that date in the first hours of the morning, the third hour of the day,  as stated in the text ((the website follows another way of calculating time before Christian era, so it writes -771))

The eclipse at Romulus conception
The eclipse at Romulus conception

and he was born while the Sun was rising, opening a new age for humanity, at least in the intention of the author.


Tradition said that Rome was founded in April, but Plutarch was using the mobile calendar so the 9 Pharmuti corresponds to the 4th October 753 bC.

Let’s check in the net.

convertion between Egyptian and Julian calendar
conversion between Egyptian and Julian calendar

Unfortunately we have not Tarutius text to check planetary positions, but Varro’ s quote of it is repeated in Solinus, mentioned above. ((De Mirabilibus Mundi, I.18))

Romulus under good auspices traced the foundations of the walls when he was 18, 11 days to May kalendas, between the second and the third hour, as Lucius Tarutius, the noblest of astrologers, stated putting Jupiter in Pisces, Saturn, Venus, Mars, Mercury in Scorpio Sol in Taurus, Luna in Libra.

We can compare these positions with the ones we can get according Almagest’s computation:

planetary positions for the 4th october 753 bC
planetary positions for the 4th october 753 bC

As we can see these positions are very near to Solinus’ list: Moon is in Libra, Venus and Saturn in Scorpio, Jupiter in Pisces; Mars is at the end of Libra so we can think in a mistake of the astrologer while Mercury is in Virgo instead of Scorpio. The only problem is with the Sun – its position  in Taurus matches with the Spring feast of Parilia. But how we can have Mercury and Venus in Scorpio for a spring birth chart? Obviously Tarutius could not be wrong like that, so it is likely that Solinus moved the Sun in Taurus to put together two different traditions.

Tarutius’chart was very famous so we have another version given in Johannes Lydus in De Mensibus and  quoted in L’astrologie grecque: ((Auguste Bouché-Leclercq, L’astrologie grecque, (Paris: E. Leroux, 1899). )) this version gives the following positions: Sun in Taurus, Moon in Libra, Mercury in Aries, Venus in Taurus, Mars in Libra, Jupiter in Leo, Saturn in Libra. According Bouchè-Leclerq this is more another version of thema mundi than a true horoscope, because it’s impossible to find a period of time with these coordinates.

Mercury the mind  was in Aries, the head of the world; Venus in Taurus, her domicile; Mars in Libra which rules Roma, Jupiter in Leo, Sun’ domicile, Saturn in Libra, its exaltation, Moon in Libra and Sun in Taurus according the tradition.

The riddle of Roma’s horoscope was known to the natural philosophers in the XVI and XVII century, but for them was just the evidence of astrologers’ lacking of knowledge and inanity of their ideas. But astrologers knew very well about discrepancies of this horoscope. This is for example the version given by Luca Gaurico.

Being a  very skilled and cunning man, as it is showed by the fact that with his own resources from a poor family arrived to the Papal court, he just gave to his chart a Libra Ascendant and the Aries Sun, trying to put together different traditions without repeating Solinus’ mistake.

To find a solution to this riddle is not possible -many scholars tried- because truth is very composite and difficult to discern. But there are some points that were clear to Romans and which lead them to conquering the greatest part of the known world: vis et honor, i.e. moral strength and honour, and in these times unfortunately they are not virtues practised  by everybody.



  1. Josephe Henriette Abry, “L’horoscope de Rome (Cicéron, Div., II,98-99) in Les astres. Les astres et les mythes. La description du ciel. Actes du colloque international de Montpellier, 23-25 mars 1995 ,” in (presentato al Les astres. Les astres et les mythes. La description du ciel. Actes du colloque international de Montpellier, 23-25 mars 1995, Montpellier, 1996), 121-140.
  2. A. T. Grafton e N. M. Swerdlow, “Technical Chronology and Astrological History in Varro, Censorinus and Others,” The Classical Quarterly 35, no. 2, New Series (1985): 454-465.
  3. Eduardo Vila Echagüe, “Lucius Taurutius and the foundation of Rome ” at
  4. Stephan Heilen, “Ancient Astrologers on the Horoscope of Rome” , in The winding courses of the stars : essays in ancient astrology (Bristol: Culture and cosmos, 2008).  (I have not read it so if someone has and wants to scan for me…..)
  5. Written by Margherita Fiorello @ year 2009


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