ROME – She suckled Rome's legendary twin founders and fed Benito Mussolini's ambitious dreams of renewed imperial glories.
For centuries, the she-wolf has been one of Rome's most powerful symbols. But now some experts are contending that the bronze statue in a city museum atop Capitoline Hill might not be so old after all.
New theories suggest that the statue dates from the Middle Ages, and not from Etruscan times, as has long been held.
"It's decisively medieval," said Anna Maria Carruba, a researcher who studied the statue when she worked on its restoration a decade ago. "As I went ahead with my research, I was ever more sure," Carruba said in a telephone interview last Wednesday.
While medieval might sound old to modern ears, if Carruba is correct the statue would be more than 1,000 years younger than had been thought — from the 7th or 8th centuries, or even later, instead of Etruscan times.
The Capitoline Museums Web site says the statue, known as Lupa, or she-wolf, is from the 5th century B.C. and was donated to the museum in 1471 by Pope Sixtus IV.
Added separately, in the early 1500s, were the bronze figures of Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome who legend says were abandoned on the Tiber river's banks and survived by being nursed by the she-wolf.
The 30-inch-high bronze is the centerpiece of a museum room named after it, and postcards and T-shirts with its image are popular Rome souvenirs. Mussolini used the image in his regime's propaganda pushing for a return to ancient Roman glories.
In a front-page article this week in Rome daily La Repubblica, Adriano La Regina, who for decades headed the national archaeological office for Rome, suggested that the Capitoline Museums was reluctant to release test results indicating the bronze was medieval.
"The new information about the epoch of the Capitoline bronze have been held back for about a year now from the public and experts," La Regina wrote.
With the future — or rather, the past — of one of the city-run Capitoline Museums star pieces at stake, museums director Claudio Parisi Presicce insisted that his institution wasn't trying to hide data that could subtract centuries from the she-wolf's existence.
The data "aren't definitive yet, and we hope we can succeed in giving a definitive date" to the statue through the results later this year of carbon dating, Parisi Presicce was quoted as telling the Italian news agency ANSA.
Parisi Presicce's office confirmed the quotes, but said he was traveling in Italy Thursday and could not be reached for further comment.
Carruba said carbon dating of bits of dirt and clay indicate the statue was cast in the 7th or 8th century A.D. She also claimed the techniques of casting such a bronze work were developed in medieval times.
Her theory has skeptics.
Alessandro Naso, an Etruscan expert at the University of Molise, contended that Carruba's "concluding that it isn't ancient is based on indirect proof."
"Leaving aside the point of pride" about Rome's symbol, "arguments for the medieval are weak," Naso said by phone Thursday.
Archaeologist Nicoletta Pagliardi was also cautious about Carruba's theory.
Lupa's origins "are really uncertain," she said in a phone interview.
Pagliardi said the statue would have likely been "manhandled" over many centuries, and so carbon dating might be testing substances that contaminated the bronze long after its creation.
Parisi Presicce, the Capitoline Museums director, said that in medieval times Rome's symbol was considered to be a lion. He said that weakened arguments that Lupa was made during that period.
Last year, archaeologists unveiled an underground grotto on the Palatine Hill believed to have been revered by ancient Romans as the place Lupa nursed Romulus and Remus.
Carruba said her contention that the statue isn't Etruscan takes nothing away from its mystique.
"It's an amazing, fascinating, majestic sculpture," she said.