The symbol of Rome – a bronze she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of the city – may be a medieval replica rather than a 2,500 year-old Etruscan creation, it was claimed on Tuesday.
The bronze statue, which encapsulates the mythical origins of the Eternal City, is one of the star attractions in Rome’s Capitoline Museums and is reproduced on countless T-shirts, key rings and postcards.
It has always been claimed that it was forged in the fifth century BC during the Etruscan era, which predated the Roman republic and empire.
Five years ago it was subjected to carbon dating testing, which suggested that it may have been made during the Middle Ages.
But curators said the tests were inconclusive and the museum continued to insist that the wolf was an Etruscan creation dating back two-and-a-half millennia.
But the controversy was reignited yesterday, with scholars saying that in all probability it dates from the 13th century, amid suspicions that the museum disregarded the original carbon dating tests in order to preserve the potency and romance of Rome’s most abiding symbol.
“It’s a medieval work but that takes nothing away from its importance,” said Adriano La Regina, an expert on Etruscan culture from Rome’s La Sapienza University.
“From the 1700s onwards, it has been considered Etruscan. But with new studies and the carbon tests, the dating has changed.”
Experts said the wolf was made from a single cast, using a technique which was not known to the Etruscans or Romans, who would have had to forge separate pieces and then solder them together.
The museum reluctantly announced that it would amend an information plaque to reflect the renewed doubts over the wolf’s age and provenance.
“Besides the current dating, which claims that the statue was created in the fifth century BC, we’ll include the theory that it may have been made during the medieval era,” said a statement from Rome’s archaeology and heritage department.
Umberto Broccoli, a senior heritage official, said some scholars still believed the wolf was of Etruscan origin.
He said that during the Middle Ages the symbol of Rome was a lion, making it unlikely that there would have been much call for a she-wolf statue. Historians say it may have been based on an original which was cast in bronze in Constantinople in 1204, during the Fourth Crusade, but which was then lost or melted down.
According to legend, Romulus and Remus were the sons of a Vestal Virgin raped by the god Mars. They were then abandoned on the banks of the Tiber.
They were rescued by a shepherd and suckled by a she-wolf. Romulus eventually murdered his brother and went on to found Rome.
The statue includes cherub-like figures of Romulus and Remus suckling from the wolf, but they were added in the late 15th century.