Winds of Time
'Winds of Time' is a History Blog by @SaranWolf7 and will post regular updates at AHF.
BRONZE AGE COLLAPSE
The late Bronze Age saw a flowering of civilisation. It had complex and successful trade routes, with polities trading on goods that came from one place to another market, and so on. Local merchants, or merchants acting for the state, would cover their patch, so that tin from Afghanistan could get from there to Greece, not via one caravan, but by successive merchants trading it on. This was of course a pre-currency period, so the trades are in what we might call "barter" but with a set of measures, of a basic metallurgic standard, and it was the only leap to coinage that was missing.
And in the early 12th century BC it collapsed: a civilised sphere that spread from the Greeks of the Mycenaeans and Minoans, across the Asia Minor of the Hittites, Azawa, and Luwians, to Cyprus, Syria, Mesopotamia, and into Iran and beyond, and across the Levant from Syria, Palestine and into Egypt. Numerous states, vassals, clients, governed provinces and so on.
Ahhiyawa, the international name for the Achaevoi of Homer, and probably a Great King in the form of a Mycenaean over-king of other polities, formed the Westernmost boundary of the named civilised states. It clearly clashed at times with the West Asian states, or federacies, of Assuwa (on the Marmara), Wilusa (and the Troad), and Azawa as well as Hatti who we know as the Hittites. The city of Miletus was clearly an Ahhiyawan possession, or colony, in Asia Minor, as Muwattalli II of Hatti implies in the "Tawagalawa Letter".
We can look at Alashiya, either a united Cypriot state, or a state dominating most of Cyprus. And at Mitanni, and Ugarit in what is now Northern Syria. You have the rising state of Assyria, and the ancient state of Babylon, at this time under the Indo-European invaders, the Kassites. Beyond Babylon lies Elam, an important factor in its history, and one indeed which would eventually clash with the Kassites on their decline.
And to the South, of course, Egypt. After kicking out the Hyskos rule, we enter a period of stability, leading into strength, and we have a plethora of evidence of the international trade of the period, from the Minoan frescoes in palaces, to letters about tribute, which are probably about trade but termed in a language the Pharoah would not find demeaning, and the Mernoptah statues which include the story of a voyage up to the Aegean, which when you trace the cities mentioned, such as Knossos and Kydona, and Mycenae, you can see it is a geographical record of places visited in sequence.
It is important to note that Knossos appears as a name on the Mernoptah statue as well as in Homer's Iliad. The Minoan polity was either called this, or went by the name of Keftiu or other Cretan cognate - Caphtor etc. Today we say Minoan because of Sir Arthur Evans, but this comes from the legendary King Minos in Greek mythology, and our current use is a sort of hangover from this, just like we use Byzantine for the Eastern Roman Empire of the medieval period, when they never called themselves that.
This mis-naming is nowhere more egregious than it is with the Hittites. They never called themselves that, nobody else at the time called themselves that. We use it because we have taken a Biblical reference, that must refer to the later Neo-Hittite successor states, and applied it to a state generally known as Hatti, or Hattusa.
Hattusa, as they seem to have called themselves after their capital, seems to have been a state ruled by an invading Indo-European elite, which took over an existing mid-Anatolian state, Hatti (as everyone else continued to call it) and made of it an empire. Traditionally, maps would show Hattusa as ruling over all of Anatolia, but this is clearly an exaggeration - there are obviously many lesser kingdoms which kept their own rulers, that at best Hattusa had as vassals.
In other areas, Hattusa clearly conquered existing kingdoms and imposed its own governor, or sub-king in its place - Mitanni is the best example of a state which vanished off the roll of civilised states. Carchemish is the best example of a governor or under-king which was firmly under the control of Hattusa.
The Kashka were a long-term rival of Hattusa, located to the North-East of the centre of their realm. The Luwian states, which would include Azawa, occupied the Western and Southern coastlands. To what extent these were firm vassals of Hattusa is unclear. There are frequent mentions of war to bring them back under control, especially in the West, which implies both that it frequently exerted its independence, and that Hattusa viewed it as belonging within its realm and acted to bring it back.
As mentioned above, Hattusa clashed with Ahhiyawa over Miletus, and over Wilusa, and prior to that over Assuwa. Quite how the dynamics of this worked, is obviously unclear, but whether it was by wartime coalitions on the Greek side, or a High King situation which lasted longer, it is clear that while there was of course trade and peaceful relations between Ahhiyawa and Hattusa, there was also a lot of tension and not infrequent warlike clashes.
But none of this was too disruptive to trade, or too dangerous to the continuation of the civilisation of the Late Bronze Age.
But something brought it all down.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE DONE?
The answer is usually the Sea Peoples, as per Ramses III's inscription, describing the attack upon Egypt by these people, his victory, and the names of some of them: Peleset, Tjekker, Shekelesh, Shardana, Danuna, Weshesh. These names are not a unique mention - a previous conflict, some decades before, saw the Pharoah defeat a Libyan king aided by some of these, plus some of the urgent letters sent between the Northern Levant states at the later stage names some of them, especially the Shekelesh, albeit in a slightly different word form, as is usual when the difference is the Egyptians on the one hand, and other states on the other, referring to people.
As can be understood by looking at this, the Sea Peoples have a longer term lineage, and were defeated in previous encounters. Whether they did originate in Sicily and Sardinia, perhaps Etruria, or these are just later stories or linguistic tricks, does not necessarily matter. At times they seem to be raiders, at other times a migration. And in the case of the Libyan war they are mercenaries or associates with the Libyan king. It seems scarcely feasible that he could have any political dominance over Sicily or Sardinia, but feasible that their leaders, or perhaps quasi-independent warbands from there, could associate with a North African king on attack on Egypt.
And the names of some of these people lasting over decades implies a group longevity, even when the centre of operation moves from Libya to the Northern Levant. Whether this means an ethnic origin, or a group identifier, it implies basically the same thing - they moved but kept their identity. Or, they were operating in Libya from a distant origin, and if we decide to ignore the phonetic similarities to Sardinia and Sicily and look at the evidence, it is possible that the warbands associated with the Libyan king maybe even originally came from Southern Anatolia? An idea, but one which might tie into many people's view that Southern Anatolia was actually the home or the main centre of operations of the later Sea Peoples.
But whether the Sea Peoples could be responsible for the collapse has always been a difficult question. They clearly were involved in international relations, and hardly in a constructive fashion, and they clearly existed, fought, and probably at the end. But that would be on a par with saying that Piedmont-Sardinia was responsible for the Crimean War because they were involved, and did well from their involvement.
The late Bronze Age withstood attacks and wars and rebellions and regime changes. States can fight back and repulse assaults from marauders, as Ramses III's Egypt did against the Sea Peoples. If states cannot do this, then it is the reason as to why these states cannot do so that is to blame, not the attacks themselves.
So what did?
To understand collapse, I would say you have to look at what underlies the success of the system? And that is simply one thing - stability.
And to me the one great problem in this system is the one great threat to this stability - Hattusa, or the Hittites.
I would say this has two features - on the one hand Hattusa is always unstable, and on the other its quest for dominance destabilises.
The first can be seen in how close the Kashka were, who would sack Hattusa twice, and in the famines and plague that would sweep the realm - Hattusa would essentially beg Egypt for grain due to either crop failure or climate change, and a huge plague would later ravage the whole country. And even where a vassalage has probably been imposed, such as in Assuwa , Wilusa, or Azawa, Hattusa had to keep going back to reimpose control.
But it is the latter feature, the destabilisation, that I think places the blame at the feet of Hattusa. Strong states with a control of markets equal stability in this period. Hattusa takes over Mitanni and effectively replaces a strong stable anchor with itself - fine, while Hattusa remains stable itself, but removing an independent actor which was more stable and replacing it with an empire whose stability waxed and waned was a risk to the system.
We can see this most clearly in the final decades before the collapse when Hattusa is invading Alashiya (Cyprus). We have monuments from Hattusan kings who said they conquered it, but if the second had to go and conquer it AGAIN then either the first conquest was a hit and run, or whatever they put in place was rejected. The second invasion and conquest perhaps explains a lot of the damage that we see in Cypriot remains of this period, but we know from letters between Ugarit and Alashiya that the latter had its own king at the final period of collapse, maybe a Hattusan governor cum king, or maybe a local restored, or maybe Hattusa was only able to apply pressure then leave and the old system always came back.
But this attack on Alashiya is to me an example of why Hattusa bears the blame. It clearly weakened the state, and it clearly disrupted things, and it clearly did not succeed long term. By attacking Alashiya, Hattusa weakened another prop of the stability of the system.
And we have letters from Hattusa to Ugarit demanding that Ahhiyawan merchants not be allowed access to Assyria, some sort of embargo or blockade. But this sort of thing indicates to me two things - Hattusa is seriously worried about the Greeks in the West, and that it is acting to try to disrupt an element of the trading routine which undermines this period.
Adding to this, the theory that the Sea Peoples had bases, or even homelands among the Luwian states of Southern Anatolia, implies that Hattusa did not have dominion here, either because these were vassals which were not under control by this time, or because they were pirate clans or rebels operating from these places, again with Hattusa unable to act properly against them.
Hattusa's strength was also its weakness. It was always juggling basic defence, Western influence, Eastern domination, Southern trade, and being an upstart among the great states with a huge pride and a smarting hurt when people disrespect it, or other states claim a rank that it does not think they should have.
Stability was key to the international trade of the late Bronze Age. And it had nodes which might lose their indpedendence but if those who took over them were stable it did not matter. But if they were not, or became not, then it undermined the system.
Hattusa both undermined nearby states and over-stretched itself. In so doing it reduced and eventually removed the stability factor of all of them. It also engaged in some sort of trade war against Ahhiyawa, and it suffered famine and plague. It was an empire which was rarely stable, it moved its capital once after being sacked, and this capital once back in its original place was later sacked a second time.
Hattusa's collapse was also the collapse of the entire North Levantine trade - from Ahhiyawa to Alashiya to Ugarit. Hattusa's letting go of the reins collapsed everything that it was trying to hold together by surviving.
Hattusa's reality was never a stable strength. It was always being pulled from every side, and from its own inherent weaknesses, but success in war, and continual reimposition of control made it look like it had a stable dominion.
But its weakness probably allowed the Sea Peoples to grow, or to establish bases, or to make alliances in the Luwian states. Either way, when Hattusa finally could not hold on, these entities were unleashed.
Hattusa destroyed stability in others for its own power, while at the same time being fragile in its own power.
My conjecture is that when Hattusa fell it took all of what it controlled and all of what it had destabilised with it. And because it had inserted itself into the entirety of the North Levantine trade and controlled access to the Aegean trade, its collapse took all of that with it.
A lot of this essay owes detail to Eric Cline's 1177: The Year Civilisation Collapsed, as well as to lectures by the Oriental Institute and other universities and museums available on Youtube, and to Michael Woods' series "In Search of the Trojan War".
HISTORY - FACT OR STORY?
Creation of a narrative is important to any coherent account of history, but what narrative, and who creates it?
Before you have a historical narrative, you have a variety of sources - diaries, newspapers and other media (depending on the period), letters, speeches, promulgations, minutes of meetings, government documents, and so on.
At a base level all of this is evidence, some primary and some secondary, but much of it probably contradicts each other. If you have the recorded speeches of opposing politicians, saying opposite things, and of newspapers partisan to different causes, then you already have more than one History before you have even begun the task of putting together a coherent narrative.
So, you could ask, but what about an absolute event? Surely, everyone can agree on that? An aeroplane crashes, or an earthquake causes damage, or a leading politician is shot dead. But that bare statement is the only fact that exists without interpretation. The black box might say why the plane crashed, but how did it get to that state of affairs, why was it there, was it in the wrong place, did people make erroneous decisions, and so on? Did buildings collapse in the earthquake because they were badly designed, or because there was nothing that could be done? Who shot the leading politician - is this known for certain? Why, how, was the politician where he was supposed to be, how much fell to chance? Take Archduke Franz Ferdinand as an example.
The event itself is a base story - an aeroplane crashes, and these people are killed, or an earthquake happens, these buildings collapse, and these people are killed, these made homeless etc, or person Y shot politican X at place Z. But this is just a report not history . History is the story behind and the consequences after.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
There are numerous interpretations as to why and how the First World War broke out. These are rival interpretations. We know the bare facts, but the interpretation of them is what makes History. But how come people decide on different interpretations?
This is essentially the Human Factor (not quite as in Evil of the Daleks). People from many different nations tried to stop the acceleration to war, or acted to enhance it. One simply weaves together discrete elements to create a thread, but everyone's threads are different, because the number of elements are so huge that everyone chooses different elements to weave with.
And distance adds distortion. Was Henry VII revolutionary in overhauling the government of England, or did he build on reforms of Edward IV? Both, probably, but many historians have argued for one or the other.
And people lie. Did Cassius really advise C~ to take the route by the river, not strike out across the desert, or did he state that after BATTLE because he survived and it set him in a good light? I make no judgments, but just accepting his word on this seems illogical.
So, we take what we are given and string these together to make what is then called History.
WHAT IS THIS "HISTORY"?
Who writes history? Sometimes they are people like the monk-historian Gerald of Wales or Livy who want to try to make sense of masses of competing data and try to tell a narrative. They discard some, they ignore some, they choose the ones that match the story they have decided to tell.
It is the same with modern historians. They decide to tell a story. Some of these I find to be wholly wrong - ones that cast Stalin as a strategic genius who was planning to attack Nazi Germany, for example. He was an opportunist, in Poland, Romania, in the Baltics, but he had no great masterplan against Hitler. Yes some historians want to say that he did, because it suits their worldview and the story they want to tell.
Or look back on the First World War, read Churchill's "The World Crisis" and see one view of history. But read Lloyd George's memoirs or Bertie, Lord Thame's and you will find different elements to the same story. These people were major actors, not only historians after the event, but their stories differ. Partly this is from reasons of self-interest and self-protection, spinning things to their own interest. But it is also down to what they themselves experienced, the powerful emotions and forces that played upon them. What seemed vitally important at the time, what did they see that nobody else see, what did they believe happened based on evidence they had, that others did not, whether that did or did not really happen?
WHEN IS HISTORY?
I could write a historical report on Brexit, use statements from Daniel Hannan ("Absolutely nobody is talking about leaving the Single Market"), the promises of one side and the fearmongering of the other. I could decide to add in what people such as Corbyn or Lidington were saying and doing. But is this history?
It only happened recently, and it is massively in dispute. At the same time, it is clearly a major event. Some people's stories about this are extremely partisan. It is a current and highly emotive affair. Trying to deconstruct things and create a real history is a hard task, but ironically it will be no easier in ten, or fifty, years. Passions may have cooled by then but memories will have faded.
The historian takes the stories and elements that work for what he feels is the history. In many ways this is not an external affair but one that comes from inside. Especially if you were there, you have a personal insight that may or may not be valid. You have a stake in how something is remembered. You have an interest in presenting history your way.
People write their memoirs as soon as possible after a major event. These enter the historical record. Some may be valuable for the information in them. Others might be only for the excuses that the author is making. But they begin history.
History is always and ever. It begins the moment that something happens. It accelerates when that is reported upon. It becomes noticeable when someone writes about it.
HISTORY - FACT OR STORY?
Amidst a debate about people making up history for films vis-a-vis doing "real history" it seemed a good idea to look at what "real history" was, might be, and probably was not.
So what is a primary source? An ancient king writes a letter to his vassals saying that seaborne raiders are attacking his shores and he needs help. This letter is found in the archive of his scriptorium, where copies of all of his letters were archived. What are the facts?
1. This letter was written
2. The author alleged these things were happening
3. The author asked for what was a traditional response from vassals
We do not know whether the letter was written by the king's will - i.e. at his command, or dictation, rather than at his hand, which it would not have been. It says that it was, but it could have been written at the command of a son or brother who had taken over some of his powers, or by a governor of the capital acting in his name, or by some other member of government acting in the king's name.
We do not know if the letter was sent - we can assume it was, as it was saved in the "Sent Items", so to speak, but unless we have a copy at the place it was sent to or a mention of it there, we cannot prove it got there.
We do not know if seaborne raiders were raiding his coasts - we can assume something like that was going on, but we cannot say for sure whether the author panicked and wrote a letter in the fear that they were, or whether he saw the threat of raiders as a good way to reinforce his will on recalcitrant vassals, or to prove a point.
We do not actually know if these vassals viewed themselves as being in this position to him. He is saying that they are, but even if he is not deliberately over-stating matters in the hope they will aid him and ex post facto prove it true, maybe they see their relationship in a different light and would not have welcomed the letter and its tone.
So, a historican constructs a history relying on this letter - coasts were being raided, the over-king called for his vassals to help. We do not, as noted above, know this is true, but perhaps it is. But what then? Do we then say that his vassals did or did not send help? This is building another layer of assumption on top of what we already have.
Letters, Diaries, and Memoirs
These were written by the people involved, so these people had knowledge of what they spoke about, and the first 2 were written during the events they describe. But...
Letters are written for a purpose - sometimes that purpose is to persuade, and thus the author marshals the facts, or interpretations, or potential facts that support his argument, whilst ignoring those which do not. Some of the facts may in fact be lies that the author hopes the recipient does not know are lies, some might be deliberate exaggerations.
As far as facts are concerned, we might be down to "This person wrote this letter to this other person on or about such and such a date" - on or about? Have you never ante-dated a letter to make it seem you remembered to send it when it was relevant and not a few days later when you remembered that you'd forgotten to send it?
Diaries - by their nature they combine the skim-read version of your life with the detailed quasi-analytical one, depending on how much detail you go into. A basic diary could be "Got the bus 8am, breakfast at Joe's, work 10 to 4, lift home with Emma, played D&D til late" which might tell the author a lot but would lead to many unanswered questions, even if we know who the other people are, and where Joe's is.
An in-depth journal style diary entry on the other hand tends to focus in on one event of a day, perhaps blow it massively out of all proportion to what it meant in the passing of time, and obsess over detail.
And that is just diaries which are not consciously written for any other purpose than to record events for their author. If the author already holds office, they may well be writing it with an eye on publication, so would be presenting a deliberate facade that will hang together well when eventually published. Goebbels certainly falls into this category with his diaries. Of course, his version of "hang together well" is not ours, but in the world of a Nazi victory his diaries would show him as a paramount figure of virtue, in their terms.
Memoirs are even more complicated - as an addition to historical sources we have to include warnings about
1) lack of access to some sources or information that the author did not have
2) sources and information not allowed to be released for national security reasons
3) failure of memory
4) deliberate obfuscation or downright lying to show them in a better light
If you look at the memoirs of leading figures in the First World War, even just those of Churchill, Lloyd George, and Lord Bertie of Thame, they contradict each other, and they tell different versions, all by people who were there at the time.
Of course there is truth in it, but there is also what people thought was truth, what they told themselves was truth but deep down knew it wasn't. and what they would say was the truth for argument's sake in a book, regardless of what they really thought.
In February 2019 a not quite row erupted over what a right wing UK politician said about the concentration camps in the Boer War. It would have been a larger row if a left wing politician had said it, but as most of the media was supporting the right wing at the time, it was not a row that really impinged on the popular consciousness - except in South Africa, where the Times newspaper there wrote a resounding rebuttal of his views.
This right wing politician stated that the concentration camps were not a crime of the British Empire but had been set up to keep the Boers safe during the war.
He relied upon three things for this statement - 1) that people knew nothing about this so would listen to him, 2) that his audience, mostly right-wing empire lovers would like and believe this sort of story, and 3) that it fitted into the narrative story of Britain as a good empire.
Almost 30,000 Boers, mainly women and children, died in these camps, but this fact did not seem to matter to him.
What cannot be refuted though is the reasons for creating the concentration camps according to the people who did - army commanders Roberts and Kitchener. These were practical people who set up the concentration camps for a military aim. That aim they clearly stated - to deny Boer commandoes (guerillas) a population base to support them. Because the British army had finally brought in enough troops to win pitched battles, the Boers had taken to guerilla warfare and the British were finding it incredibly difficult to contain them, so their solution was to remove the populations of the towns and villages, lock them up in camps, and then hunt down the menfolk who were now devoid of a support base.
The camps were not intended to kill the women and children, but starvation and disease ran riot, since the population of the camps were now, themselves, cut off from their means of sustenance, and people were contained in close proximity with little care for their needs.
The right wing politician was completely wrong, but in 2019 he was able to use the rise of neo fascism and ultra nationalism to make a case that harked back to a false glory, and in doing so he was able to pick up lots of support from people ignorant of history who simply liked the demagoguery.
He could tell a story that was blatantly false, and expect to get away with it, as far as anyone whose opinions he cared about was concerned, because his fake story was running in a populist and quasi-racist stream.
WHO WERE THE LUWIANS?
I would not say that the Luwians have been absent from history, or even deleted from history, but that they have been subordinated to it. They have been seen as vassals of the Hittites, or as city states of the ilk of Troy, but in modern times have been seen through the lens of either a Hittite chronology or a Mycenaean one.
A second millennium BC people, the Luwians are not a united or a single people - they may be ethnographically so, but they never had a single unified state. When they appear in history it is as a mass of different political entities, or sometimes as a federation.
Vassal states and federations were pretty much the norm in the Bronze Age - our maps may show great empires, but if you dig down then the empire consists of a core polity which dominates many smaller ones who are seen as vassals or allies. Maps like to show the whole as an empire, but in most respects it is a confederation, with a dominant centre and the other parts subordinated to it.
Incomers will build upon existing polities, using those which they can dominate as a basis for manpower and economic strength. The Hittites would not only do this to the Luwians, but adopt their heiroglyphic writing system, so much so indeed that it was originally known as Hittite Hieroglyphics.
The Aegean Sea in the Bronze Age was not a barrier but a highway, so the idea that you can separate the history of the Greeks on one side, and the Luwian states on the other is ridiculous - even if you did not consider the Trojan War, and the Greek colonies on the Western Asia Minor shore, even perhaps as long ago as 1200 BC.
The Luwians have not been deleted from this history, but have been fragmented by it, given the names of their individual smaller polities, and made to seem bit-players for most of it. One does not say that the Greeks are not Greeks simply because Mycenae, Pylos, Tiryns, and Orchomenos are separate states. We call them all part of the Mycenaean culture, a unifier in its name for the Greek polities.
When we look at unifiers, for the Mycenaeans we can look at Linear B, and at the Trojan War, and at pottery and so on. The Luwians similarly had their hieroglyphic text, some 3 centuries before Linear B, and if you read The Iliad you can see that Troy did not stand alone but was part of a federation of Luwian states fighting back against the Greeks. This latter point is almost entirely overlooked, but it is there in the sources, and it is entirely logical in that Troy was not a stand-alone state but an integral part of its geopolitical situation.
Wilusa and Arzawa are names that you may have heard before - they are Luwian polities, and Wilusa is probably synonymous with Troy. They are not stand-alone entities, they are not weird stand-outs, they are an intregral part of the overall Luwian culture.
It is therefore not that the Luwians did not exist in historical retellings, or that they were being ignored, but that they were not being seen as a unified culture akin to the Mycenaean Greeks.
Nobody would say in the Middle Ages that the different German states were not German and that they did not have interests in common, or an identity in common, despite being fragmented into masses of individual polities. Similarly, one can say that the Luwians had a common identity, and common interests, despite being fragmented into many individual states and being rivals between each other.
But at the same time it is incorrect to talk about any idea of Luwian empire, or even Luwian territory - it is territory inhabited by Luwians, formed of many many states, some of which are direct vassals of other powers, and some of which are completely conquered and incorporated into the central polity of other powers, e.g. the Hittites. It is where they live, where their culture dominated, and where many individual polities were Luwian, but not all.
Real history does not do labels well - race, kingdom, culture, and so on are both fluid on the one hand, and subordinated on the other, as a race can be under a king of a different race, or a ruler of one race can absorb the culture from their subject people, and so on.
And what did they call themselves? We know the Hittites called them Luwians, but did they do so? We have decided to do so now, in recognising their collective identity. Just as the Greeks did not call themselves Greek, or Mycenaean, but instead Achaevoi (Achaeawa in Hittite, and Achaeans in Latin), we should look back towards what the Luwians called their common identity when they were not men of Troy, or Wilusa, or Arzawa.
But in the end, a name is a label, so we label them Luwians and this allows us to create unified study of their culture, not as adjuncts to the Hittites or the Greeks, but as a major culture in their own right.
The Origins of Rome - Guest Blog by Saran Wolf
My understanding of the archaeology of early Rome is that there were two early villages, one on the Quirinal and one on the Capitoline (I think) and that they merged and created a ditch/pallisade around both of them, thus creating a unified settlement.
The story of Romulus and Remus could thus be seen as an analogy, or as a garbled history, of this event. No doubt the two villages intended to lead jointly, but at some event the 'Roma' village would have come to dominate, perhaps bloodily, its federated neighbour. Maybe there even was a Remus jumping over the Roma side's ditch and saying it was not as good as their ditch, or maybe it is an anology for an attempt by the Remus side to take control of the joint project that went wrong. But there can be no doubt that the Roma village won, and gave its name to the whole site.
Personal names in ancient times were more fluid than they were today - in later Roman times agnomens were popular, an additional name tagged onto the end of your formal name to celebrate an achievement: Africanus onto the end of the member of the Scipio dynasty who defeated Carthage is one of the best known examples. Thus, Romulus whilst literally meaning "Man of Rome" might not just be an apocryphal figure of myth, but a named individual who took Romulus as his agnomen after creating the unified township.
Early Roman history is sometimes sighted through Etruscan lenses, or glimpsed at by Roman historians such as Livy, or the Emperor Claudius himself, who was a renowned scholar of the Etruscans. Much of the histories that were written from original sources have been lost, and these include whatever Claudius himself penned, and only fragments survive. Livy's great work best resembles that of the Medieval British monk Gerald of Wales who tried to create a cohesive history of Britain from decaying old manuscripts, and in the process whilst preserving lots of information, created a somewhat garbled and confused origin tale, because he himself did not know the facts. Later historians would have much preferred the exact replication of all of the original documents, just as later historians of Ancient Rome would have preferred Livy to have transcribed exactly everything that he was reading from. But that was not their purpose - both men intended to tell a cohesive story of their land, weaving into it a narrative tale that would be read for generations. And both men succeeded, but at what cost to history?
In the names of early kings of Rome, and in the identification Claudius would later make between some of them and other information he had, we can glimpse a history of internal power struggles, mixed with incomers, Etruscan exiles, and war with local Latin and Etruscan townships. Some of the names are no doubt true, and some of the tales put to these names, but until someone either digs up inscriptions which state unequivocally what happened (such as one might find on stone in Ancient Egypt) or someone strikes lucky, perhaps in Herculaneum, and comes across an original papyrus of one of the lost histories, any reconstruction of events into a coherent history must be fractional. We can go with Livy, or other ancient Romans, most of whose writings are in the main lost, or we can create our own from what we can see. But either way we are peering through shadows at something we can just make out the form of.
Whilst Rome's origins in pre-existing villages is proven by the archaeology, there is no reason to rule out that Rome became a magnet for dispossessed men who wanted a chance to make a new life for themselves. Indeed, if local Latin or Etruscan towns resented the newly combined villages-as-town, the leaders of Rome may well have encouraged as many of these exiles, wanderers and chancers as possible so as to provide for themselves a warband sufficient to see off any local threat. Thus, the idea that Rome was both a haven to criminals, exiles and so on and that these men came to greatly outnumber any available women can be seen to have a possible logical origin.
And so would the Rape of the Sabine women. If we assume that in fighting to secure Rome's continued existence as a unified town of pre-existing villages, Rome had alienated its neighbours, and that its neighbours forbade their women to marry into the greatly-enhanced male population of Rome, then a ruse like that with the Sabines would make sense from a practical perspective. And to kidnap enemy womenfolk it would be more logical to have them come to you, than to raid and try to steal them from a fortified enemy settlement, which action may also draw in other towns in the area.
It would certainly provide wives for the mass of menfolk who had come to fight for and live in the newly unified township, and thus provide a momentum for the growth and consolidation of the town of Rome. Later, very early, history of Rome would thus have it as one of a number of sustainable towns vying in the region for local political hegemony.
And all of this has been written without reference to Aeneas. What are we to make of Roman attempts to shoehorn the Trojan War into their origin myths? Even Roman scholars were perplexed by the issue, as they actually had a pretty good understanding of the relative chronology of the Trojan War in relation to the Foundation of Rome, and could see that there were several hundred years in between.
The complication in simply saying it was a myth created by educated Romans once they were educated in ancient Greek history, is that some sense of the myth of Aeneas and Rome also appears in Greek writings of the 4th century BC, and is certainly well established in Roman mythology by the 1st century BC, well before Virgil put together his great work, the Aeneid. Later Romans squared the circle by having Aeneas not founding Rome, as such, but nearby settlements, including the one that Romulus and Remus, in the long story, are supposed to have been scions of, left to drown by the Tiber by servants of their uncle, the king of this Alba Longa.
This squaring of the circle might have a certain potential, albeit one would currently be impossible to trace. The question that arises are: who were the Etruscans, and when did they settle in Tuscany?