Ficus Ruminalis

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Romulus and Remus, the Lupercal, Father Tiber, and the Palatine on a relief from a pedestal dating to the reign of Trajan (AD 98-117)
A scene of combat, perhaps between Romulus and Remus, described by some ancient authors as having taken place near the Ficus Ruminalis. Pentelic marble, fragment from the frieze of the Basilica Aemilia, 1st century BC–1st century AD.

The Ficus Ruminalis is thought to be a wild fig tree that had religious and mythological significance in ancient Rome. Roman tradition has the Ficus Ruminalis located near the small cave, known as the Lupercal at the foot of the Palatine Hill.


The name Ruminalis was connected by some Romans to rumis or ruma, "teat, breast". The goddess Rumina was associated with breastfeeding, and her name clearly relates to Ruminalis (Rumina-lis), with both Rumina and Ruminalis being associated with the same fig tree. [1]


The tree is associated with the legend of Romulus and Remus. According to the legend, the tree stood at the spot where the floating makeshift cradle of the two babies landed on the banks of the Tiber. There, the twins were suckled by the she-wolf and, soon after, discovered by Faustulus a local shepherd. Faustulus then took the twins to his humble hut, and presented them to his wife Acca Laurentia. The couple raised the boys righteously and made of them two worthy individuals, who eventually took command of the region and founded Rome.[2][3]

The legend of Romulus and Remus, associated with the Capitoline She-wolf and the Ficus Ruminalis, constituted a very important element of the Roman culture and daily life. The legend was depicted in murals, mosaics and coins everywhere in the empire. One example of coins representing the legend of Romulus and Remus, is the silver denarius minted around 137 b.C.E. The coin show the Ficus Ruminalis tree in the background, and the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus in the foreground, with Faustulus observing the scene from one side of the tree.[citation needed]


A statue of the she-wolf was supposed to have stood next to the Ficus Ruminalis. In 296 BC, the curule aediles Gnaeus and Quintus Ogulnius placed images of Romulus and Remus as babies suckling under her teats.[4] It may be this sculpture group that is represented on coins.[5]

The Augustan historian Livy says that the tree still stood in his day,[6] but his younger contemporary Ovid observes only vestigia, "traces,"[7] perhaps the stump.[8] A textually problematic passage in Pliny[9] seems to suggest that the tree was miraculously transplanted by the augur Attus Navius to the Comitium. This fig tree, however, was the Ficus Navia, so called for the augur. Tacitus refers to the Ficus Navia as the Arbor Ruminalis, an identification that suggests it had replaced the original Ficus Ruminalis, either symbolically after the older tree's demise, or literally, having been cultivated as an offshoot. The Ficus Navia grew from a spot that had been struck by lightning and was thus regarded as sacred.[10] Pliny's obscure reference may be to the statue of Attus Navius in front of the Curia Hostilia:[11] he stood with his lituus raised in an attitude that connected the Ficus Navia and the accompanying representation of the she-wolf to the Ficus Ruminalis, "as if" the tree had crossed from one space to the other.[12] When the Ficus Navia drooped, it was taken as a bad omen for Rome. When it died, it was replaced.[13] In 58 AD, it withered, but then revived and put forth new shoots.[14]


In the archaeology of the Comitium, several irregular stone-lined shafts in rows, dating from Republican phases of pavement, may have been apertures to preserve venerable trees during rebuilding programs. Pliny mentions other sacred trees in the Roman Forum, with two additional figs. One fig was removed with a great deal of ritual fuss because it had interfered with a statue of Silvanus. A relief on the Plutei of Trajan depicts Marsyas the satyr, whose statue stood in the Comitium, next to a fig tree that is placed on a plinth, as if it too were a sculpture. It is unclear whether this representation means that sacred trees might be replaced with artificial or pictorial ones. The apertures were paved over in the time of Augustus, an event that may explain Ovid's vestigia.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ William Balfour Winning, 'A Manual of Comparative Philology: In which the Affinity of the Indo-European Languages is Illustrat', p. 256.
  2. ^ Livy, I.4
  3. ^ Varro, De lingua latina 5.54; Pliny, Natural History 15.77; Plutarch, Life of Romulus 4.1; Servius, note to Aeneid 8.90; Festus 332–333 (edition of Lindsay).
  4. ^ Livy 10.23.12; Dionysius of Halicarnassus 1.79.8.
  5. ^ Richardson, Topographical Dictionary, p. 151.
  6. ^ Livy 1.4: ubi nunc ficus Ruminalis est.
  7. ^ Ovid, Fasti 2.411.
  8. ^ Richardson, Topographical Dictionary, p. 151.
  9. ^ Pliny, Natural History 15.77.
  10. ^ Richardson, Topographical Dictionary, p. 150.
  11. ^ Festus 168–170 (Lindsay); Dionysius of Halicarnassus 3.71.5.
  12. ^ Richardson, Topographical Dictionary, pp. 150–151.
  13. ^ Pliny, Natural History 15.77.
  14. ^ Tacitus, Annales 13.58.
  15. ^ Rabun Taylor, "Roman Oscilla: An Assessment," in RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 48 (2005), pp. 91–92. Taylor conjectures that oscilla were hung from such trees.

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