Most contemporary historians dismiss as fable the tale that Romulus founded Rome in 753BCE and built a walled city on the slopes of the Palatine hill where he and his twin brother, Remus, were suckled by a she-wolf in their infancy. 

Andrea Carandini, a professor of archaeology at Rome's La Sapienza university, has spent 20 years trying to prove the sceptics wrong and last month he and his team hit on the final piece of a puzzle he thinks shows the myth has root in fact. 

"Archaeology and legend appear to go better together than contemporary historians thought," Carandini said in advance of a presentation of his findings this weekend. 

"We now have all the elements to show that part of the legend may very well be true." 

House discovery

The source of Carandini's confidence is the discovery of traces of an eighth century BCE house of regal proportions on the edge of the Forum that dates from the period of the Eternal City's legendary foundation. 

"We now have all the elements to show that part of the legend may very well be true"

Andrea Carandini,
La Sapienza university researcher

Lying 10m below pines growing on the surface of the Palatine and under centuries of construction from classical to Renaissance times, the palace has a courtyard and covered inner area spanning a total of 350 square metres. 

Wooden columns marked its entrances, ceramics decorated it and seats sat against the walls of a grand central hall. 

It lies by the Sanctuary of Vesta, the Roman goddess of the hearth, close to the slopes of the Palatine, the site of the earliest traces of Roman civilisation and where legend has it Romulus killed Remus before building Rome. 

Most historians have dismissed Rome's founding myth because they argued the city was just a huddle of wattle huts at the time Roman historian Livy described Romulus fortifying the Palatine and showing "outward symbols of power". 

Change of view

Carandini, who has also found traces of sanctuaries, a defensive wall and a shingle Forum floor dating from the same period, said that view will now have to change. 

"It is exceptional, a find of maximum importance," he said. "It could only be a palace fit for a king." 

Scholars elsewhere, when asked for their reaction to the finds, tended to be more cautious. 

"The palace is completely convincing. In the eighth century BC people tended to live in tiny, sub-oval huts. This structure is much larger and rectangular. But this does not have a direct link to the Romulus myth," said Elizabeth Fentress, an archaeology research fellow at the British School in Rome. 

"The tradition is based on royalty and an orderly community, but that does not mean that Romulus killed Remus."