Cautionary Chronicle#2: What you can learn from Camillus’ example

This is a cautionary tale, my friends, about how a man, who was villified at the height of his fame – by a small section of the people, it must be said in justice – and forced into ignominy, was instrumental in….. well I firmly believe if I tell you right away, you will skip the rest of my account. It is my submission that you should read the full post to find the message I am trying to convey as I will not lead you but let an ancient authority let you know of the facts and let you yourself draw the necessary conclusions.

Marcus Furius Camillus (ca. 446 – 365 BC) was a Roman soldier and statesman of patrician descent. According to Livy and Plutarch, Camillus, who triumphed four times, was five times dictator (the Roman variant, not the 20th century examples), and was honoured with the title of “Second Founder of Rome” – despite the way a section of his own countrymen had treated him. This is all I will say about him and the case…

Though I recalled the incident when I finished reading Livy‘s magisterial history of Rome this morning, I will cite Plutarch on the issue. As the norm, I shall cite the relevant passages only.

Turning now to Furius Camillus, among the many notable things that are told of him, this seems the most singular and strange, namely, that although in other offices of command he won many and great successes, and although he was five times chosen dictator, four times celebrated a triumph, and was styled a Second Founder of Rome, not even once was he consul.
The reason for this lay in the political conditions of his time. The common people, being at variance with the Senate, strove against the appointment of consuls, and elected military tribunes to the command instead. These, although they had always acted with consular authority and power, were less obnoxious in their sway because of their number. For the fact that six men instead two stood at the head of affairs, was some comfort to those who were bitterly set against the rule of the few.
Now it was at this period that Camillus came to the height of his achievements and fame, and he would not consent to become consul over a reluctant people, although during his career the city tolerated consular elections many times. But in the many other and varied offices which he held, he so conducted himself that even when the authority rightly belonged to him alone, it was exercised in common with others; while the glory that followed such exercise was his alone, even when he shared the command. In the first case, it was his moderation that kept his rule from exciting envy; in the second, it was his ability that gave him the first place with none to dispute it.
At a time when the house of the Furii was not yet very conspicuous, he, by his own efforts, was the first of his clan to achieve fame. This he did in the great battle with the Aequians and Volscians, serving under Postumius Tubertus the dictator. Dashing out on his horse in front of the army, he did not abate his speed when he got a wound in the thigh, but dragging the missile along with him in its wound, he engaged the bravest of the enemy and put them to flight. For this exploit, among other honours bestowed upon him, he was appointed censor, in those days an office of great dignity. There is on record a noble achievement of his censorship, that of bringing the unmarried men, partly by persuasion and partly by threatening them with fines, to join in wedlock with the women who were living in widowhood, and these were many because of the wars; likewise a necessary achievement, that of making the orphans, who before this had contributed nothing to the support of the state, subject to taxation. The continuous campaigns, demanding great outlays of money, really required this. Especially burdensome was the siege of Veii (some call the people Veientani).

To be continued…


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