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Sunday, June 3, 2012

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a4/Cincinnatus_statue.jpg

Within his lifetime Cincinnatus became a legend to the Romans. Twice granted supreme power, he held onto it for not a day longer than absolutely necessary.

In 458 BC, the Romans were fighting the Aequi and the Sabines. The consul Minucius Esquilinus had led an army against them, but 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 and authorized the other consul for the year, Horatius Pulvillus, to nominate a dictator. Horatius nominated Cincinnatus for a dictatorial term (also known as Magister Populi or "Master of the People") for 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, Racilia, 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. 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 Roman forum and nominated as his Master of the Horse (his second in command) Lucius Tarquitius, who was considered one of the finest soldiers in Rome. Cincinnatus then went to the Roman popular assembly and issued an order to the effect that every man of military age should report to the Campus Martius—the Field of Mars, god of war—by the end of the day.

Once the army assembled, Cincinnatus took them to fight the Aequi at the Battle of Mons Algidus. 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.

Later events

He came out of retirement again for a second term as dictator (439 BC) to put down a conspiracy of Spurius Maelius, who supposedly was planning to become king. He was nominated by his old friend and relative, Titus Quinctius Capitolinus Barbatus, consul of the year. Maelius was killed immediately when the Master of the Horse was sent to bring him to trial and the incipient coup perished with him. Once more he resigned his commission.

Within his lifetime Cincinnatus became a legend to the Romans. Twice granted supreme power, he held onto it for not a day longer than absolutely necessary. The high esteem in which Cincinnatus was held by his compatriots is best illustrated with an anecdote toward the very end of his life. One of his sons was tried for military incompetence. He was defended by none other than the great Capitolinus, who simply asked the jury, if the accused was convicted, who would go to tell the aged Cincinnatus the news. The son was acquitted. The jury couldn’t bring itself to break the old man’s heart.

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