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From Readings in Ancient History, Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, Volume II. Rome and the West, by William Stearns Davis; Allyn and Bacon; Boston; 1913; pp. 27-29; 399, 400..


458 B. C.


Livy,* “History,” book III, chap. 26-29

The following story ascribed to 458 B.C. was one that later ages of Romans delighted to recall as a typical anecdote of the “good old times”; and the lapse of centuries does not make the “Republican simplicity” of Cincinnatus any less delightful. Note that the wars of Rome were still almost neighborhood affairs. The enemies of the Roman Republic, in its first century, were planted a very few miles away; and very gradually did the city by the Tiber cease to have only a mere Ager — some farm lands outside the walls and a few villages; and come to possess an Imperium, — a wide-stretching domain, with the frontier far distant.

[The Roman army was led out against the Æquians by the consul Minucius, and being unskillfully generalled was presently inclosed by the enemy, who soon held the camp closely besieged. Just before their lines were inclosed, five Roman horsemen escaped through to the city with tidings of the peril. The alarm in Rome was great, and it was resolved to call in Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus to act as dictator in the emergency.]

He [Cincinnatus] the sole hope of the Romans, cultivated a little far of four jugera1 across the Tiber. There he was either pushing upon a stake in a ditch, or busy plowing [when the envoys of the Senate came]. After saluting him they bade him put on his toga and listen to the commands of the Senate. He was greatly astonished and — asking repeatedly “if everything was safe?” — called to his wife Racilia, “to bring his toga from the hut.”

When he had put it on, and wiped off some of his sweat and dust, he presented himself; and the envoys at once congratulated him and saluted him s dictator; next they 28 summoned him into the city and explained the sore plight of the army.

[He entered the city with due state, and spent the night posting guards and making preparations. The next morning he was in the Forum ere daylight, and named Lucius Tarquitius his master of the horse. Then he ordered] a suspension of all civil business, ordered all the shops in the city closed, and forbade any one to attend to any private affairs. His next command was for every man of military age to be with his weapons at the Campus Martius ere sundown, with five days’ provisions and twelve stout stakes, [while the older men were to be preparing victuals for the soldiers. Throughout Rome there prevailed the greatest zeal and bustle.]

When the troops were formed, the dictator marched at the head of he infantry, and the master of the horse at the head of he cavalry. In both divisions the orders ran “to go on the double-quick. The consul and his Romans were besieged. They had now been shut in three whole days, and everything might be decided in a moment!” And the troops, to please their chiefs, were always shouting, “Hurry, standard-bearer! Follow on, comrade!” At midnight they were at Algidum, and halted near the enemy.

[The dictator then reconnoitered and presently] drew the whole host in a long column around the enemy’s camp, and ordered that on the signal they should all raise the war shout and thereupon every man throw up a trench before his position and fix the stakes he had in it. [This was successfully done, and the besieged Romans took heart at the shout, saying “Aid was at hand”; whereupon the consul promptly ordered a sortie. The night passed amid fighting and with terror and confusion for the Æquians.]

At dawn the Æquians were encompassed by the dictator’s barriers, and scarce able to maintain the fight against a single army; but their lines were now attacked by Cincinnatus’s 29 men also. So they were attacked furiously and continuously from both sides. Then, in their distress, they appealed to the dictator and the consul not to turn the victory into a massacre, but to suffer them to depart without their arms. The consul, however, ordered them “to go to the dictator”; and the latter in his wrath against them, added ignominy to mere defeat. He ordered Gracchus Clœlius, their general, and their other leaders, to be haled before him in fetters, and enjoined that they should evacuate the town of Corbio [but asserted]: “He did not want their blood. They could depart, but at last they must be brought to confess that their nation had been vanquished and crushed; and so they must ‘pass under the yoke.’

The “yoke” is formed of three spears, two whereof are fixed in the ground, and one is tied across between the upper ends. Under this “yoke” the dictator sent the Æquians. Their camp was taken, full of every kind of booty, — for they were sent away naked; — and the dictator distributed the spoil to his own men [telling the consul’s army it was reward enough that they were rescued. But this army, grateful to Cincinnatus for his services, voted him] a golden crown of a pound’s weight, and saluted him as their “patron,” when they marched forth [from their camp].

[He reëntered Rome in triumph, the spoils and captive chiefs accompanying his procession, amid general rejoicing; and] he laid down his dictatorship on the sixteenth day, although he had received it for six months.


1  About two and a half acres.


Biographical Note

*  Livy (59 B.C. to 17 A.D.). Titus Livius a native of Patavium (Padua) is by all odds the leading historian for the Roman Republican period. His entire history in 142 books extended from the foundation of Rome down to 9 B.C. Most unfortunately we possess only 35 of these intact, although Epitomes have been preserved of most of the others. A critical and scrupulously impartial historian Livy was not. He often gives us myths that have obviously no factual value, and again he suppresses or colors such evidence as reflects upon the glory of Rome. On the other hand, his style is “clear, animated, and eloquent,” and often under the legends a little sifting will bring out valuable data; while no Roman who had read through his long narrative could fail to gain a clear 400 grasp upon the long slow process of war and patriotic sacrifice by which the little city by the Tiber rose to world-wide dominion.


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