Saturday, March 20, 2021

Camillus: Second Founder of Rome

 Marcus Furius Camillus (c. 446 – 365 BCE) was a Roman soldier and statesman of the patrician class. According to Livy and Plutarch, Camillus triumphed four times, was five times dictator, and was honored with the title of Second Founder of Rome.  Camillus belonged to the lineage of the Furii Camilli, whose origin had been in the Latin city of Tusculum. Although this city had been a bitter enemy of the Romans in the 490s BCE, after both the Volsci and Aequi later began to wage war against Rome, Tusculum joined Rome, unlike most Latin cities. Soon, the Furii integrated into Roman society, accumulating a long series of magistrate offices. Thus the Furii had become an important Roman family by the 450s.

In 406 BCE, Rome declared war against the rival Etrurian city of Veii. The city of Veii was powerful and was located on a well-fortified and elevated site. This required the Romans to commence a siege lasting several years. In 401 BCE, as the war started to grow increasingly unpopular in Rome, Camillus was appointed consular tribune. He assumed command of the Roman army, and within a short time he stormed two allies of Veii, Falerii and Capena, which resisted behind their walls. In 398 BC, Camillus received consular tribune powers and then looted Capena.

When Rome suffered severe defeats in 396 BC, the tenth year of this war, the Romans resorted again to Camillus, who was named dictator for the first time. After defeating both Falerii and Capena at Nepete, Camillus commanded the final strike against Veii. He dug the soft ground below the walls and the Romans infiltrated through the city's sewage system effectively, defeating the enemy. Not interested in capitulation terms, but in Veii's complete destruction, the Romans slaughtered the entire adult male population and made slaves of all the women and children. The plunder was large. For the battle, Camillus had invoked the protection of Mater Matuta extensively, and he looted the statue of Juno for Rome. Back in Rome, Camillus paraded on a quadriga, a four-horse chariot, and the popular celebrations lasted four days. 

Years later, when the Gauls attacked and sacked Rome, their leader Brennus, when the Romans were collecting the gold he demanded, threw  his sword and belt on the scales and shouted in Latin, "Vae victis!" ("woe to the conquered"). Subsequently, when Camillus arrived with a Roman army and, after putting his sword on the scale, replied,"Non auro, sed ferro, recuperanda est patria" ("not with gold, but with iron, will the fatherland be regained"), and he attacked the Gauls. A battle ensued in the streets of Rome, but neither army could fight effectively in the narrow streets and alleyways. The Gallic and Roman armies left the city and fought the next day. Camillus's army lived up to his hopes and the Gallic army was routed. The Romans dubbed Camillus a "second Romulus," a second founder of Rome.

Image: Bronze sculpture of Camillus, 1st century CE, at the Capitoline Museum in Rome.  Image courtesy of the museum.

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