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Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889)  Cincinnatus Receiving Deputies of the Senate  Oil on canvas  Private collection
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Title: Cincinnatus
Description:
Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889)
Cincinnatus Receiving Deputies of the Senate
Oil on canvas
Private collection

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (519 BC – 430 BC?) was an ancient Roman political figure, serving as consul in 460 BC and Roman dictator in 458 BC and 439 BC.

Cincinnatus was regarded by the Romans as one of the heroes of early Rome and as a model of Roman virtue and simplicity. A persistent opponent of the plebeians, he was forced to live in humble circumstances, working on his own small farm, until he was called to serve Rome as dictator, an office which he immediately resigned after completing his task of defeating the Aequians.

His immediate resignation of his absolute authority with the end of the crisis has often been cited as an example of good leadership, service to the public good, civic virtue, and modesty.

Life


Early career

Lucius Quinctius received the name "Cincinnatus" for his curly hair.

Politicially, Cincinnatus was a persistent opponent of attempts to improve the legal situation of the plebeians. His son Caeso Quinctius often drove the tribunes of the plebeians from the forum, preventing them from reaching a formal decision. In 461 BC, these actions finally resulted in a capital charge against Caeso. After Caeso was released on bail and escaped to the Etrurians, he was condemned to death in absentia and his father had to pay an immense fine, forcing him to sell most of his lands and retire to a small farm, he and his family were able to subsist on the work of his hands.


Consul

The following year, Cincinnatus was elected suffect consul. During his consulship, Cincinnatus fought the Plebeian Tribune Gaius Terentilius Harsa. During this time period, the Roman senate was preoccupied with a war against the Volsci, a neighbouring Italic people. Terentilius attempted to use this distraction to push for a series of laws in favour of the plebeians, especially the proposal to draw up a code of written laws applicable equally to patricians and plebeians. Cincinnatus was able to stop Terentilius from enacting his laws.


Dictator

In 458 B.C., the Romans were fighting the Aequians and the Sabines. The consul Minucius Esquilinus had led an army to fight the Sabines and Aequians. However, Minucius's army had been trapped by the Aequians in the Alban Hills, and was attempting to fight off a siege. A few Roman horsemen escaped, and returned to Rome to tell the senate what had happened. The senate fell into a panic. As such, they authorized the other consul for the year, Horatius Pulvillus, to nominate a dictator. Horatius nominated Cincinnatus for a dictatorial term of six months.

A group of senators was sent to tell Cincinnatus that he had been nominated dictator. According to Livy, the senators found Cincinnatus while he was plowing on his farm. Cincinnatus cried out "Is everything all right?" They said to Cincinnatus that they hoped "it might turn out well for both him and his country," and then they asked him to put on his senatorial toga and hear the mandate of the senate. He called to his wife, telling her to bring out his toga from their cottage.

When he put on his toga, the senatorial delegation hailed him as dictator, and told him to come to the city. The delegation told him of the situation. Cincinnatus knew that his departure might mean starvation for his family if the crops went unsown in his absence. But he assented to the request anyway. He then crossed the Tiber river in a boat provided by the senate, as his farm was on the far side of the river. When he reached the other side of the Tiber, he was greeted by his three sons and most of the senators. Several lictors were given to him for protection.

The next morning, Cincinnatus went to the forum, and nominated Lucius Tarquitius Master of the Horse (his chief deputy). Tarquitius was considered to be one of the finest soldiers in Rome. Cincinnatus then went to the popular assembly, and issued an order. He ordered everyone of military age to report to the Campus Martius by the end of the day.

Once the army assembled, Cincinnatus took them to fight the Aequi. Cincinnatus led the infantry in person, while Tarquitius led the cavalry. The Aequi were surprised by the double attack, and were soon cut to pieces. The commanders of the Aequi begged Cincinnatus not to slaughter them all.

Cincinnatus did not want to cause any unnecessary bloodshed, and told the Aequi that he would let them live if they submitted to him and brought their leader, Gracchus Cloelius, and his officers to him in chains. A yoke was set up, made up of three spears, and the Aequi had to pass under it, bowing down while confessing that they had been conquered. After this, the war ended and Cincinnatus disbanded his army. He then resigned his dictatorship and returned to his farm, a mere sixteen days after he had been nominated dictator.

He came out of retirement again during his second term as dictator (439 BC) to put down a revolt by the plebeians. After the war Cincinnatus left the job and picked back up he left off, working at a farm.

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