CLS 204 When in Rome… Identity and Empire in Ancient Rome

The Course

CLS 204 When in Rome…Identity and Empire in Ancient Rome

An introduction to the history, literature, and culture of ancient Rome focusing on issues of changing identity from the foundation of the Roman state (8th century BC) to the conversion of the Empire to Christianity (4th century AD).

About Robert Vander Poppen

Robert Vander Poppen is an Assistant Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology (Archaeology Program Coordinator).  He has been at Rollins since 2008. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his B.A. summa cum laude from the University of Michigan. Dr. Vander Poppen’s teaching and research interests are Greek, Roman, and Etruscan Archaeology, with a special emphasis on rural communities, urbanism, social history and archaeological field methodology.

Horatius Cocles: Bravery and Self-Sacrifice

Author: Ariana Louder

Many great men throughout Roman history exhibit Roman morals and ideals through political leadership, imperial expansion, and militaristic conquests.  While competitiveness and ruthlessness on the battlefield and in the Senate were emphasized in Roman society, neither was as important nor as honorable as the virtues of loyalty and bravery to protect the liberty of the Roman Republic and the welfare of its citizens. During the Battle at the Pons Sublicus, one man single-handedly defended the Roman state and ideology against Etruscan invaders.  Whether the bravery of Horatius Cocles was legend or truth, his story exhibited the values of militaristic courage, heroism, and loyalty to the republican ideals and the protection of Rome from the tyranny of the invading Etruscan monarchs.  This paper will examine how Horatius Cocles modeled these virtues through the historical accounts of his life in Livy’s The Early History of Rome, Dionysius of Halicarnassus’ Roman Antiquities, and Polybius’ The Histories.

Two years after Rome expelled Tarquinius Superbus and established their Republic, powerful Etruscan neighbors from Clusium raised an army intending to invade Rome.  Lars Porsenna, the Clusine king, promised the Tarquins that he would return the power over Rome.  According to Livy, Lars Porsenna may have feared the spread of republicanism and equality among the common people in Clusium and thought that these ideals would destroy the social structure and power of the monarchs across the Italian Peninsula (Livy, The Early History of Rome 2:9).

When Lars Porsenna captured the Janiculum, only a small Roman army and the Tiber River impeded the Etruscans from invading the city itself.  The Pons Sublicus was the weakest area of defense because it was the only bridge that crossed the Tiber and it led straight into the city.  According to Livy, after suffering the loss of the Janiculum, the Roman soldiers became cowardly and retreated across the bridge to the walls of the city (Livy, The Early History of Rome 2:10).

Publius Horatius Cocles, a young military officer called Cocles because he lost an eye in a previous battle, and two other veteran soldiers, Spurius Larcius and Titus Herminius, repelled the Etruscans from the bridge while their troops crossed to safety (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 5.23). Cocles then ordered his veteran comrades and the Roman soldiers to tear up the wooden bridge to prevent the Etruscans from crossing and invading Rome.  After the soldiers destroyed the bridge, Cocles, suffering many wounds including a spear in the hip, jumped into the Tiber and swam across to safety while wearing his full armor.  Because of Cocles’ bravery and military strength, the Lars Porsenna and the Etruscans did not breech the walls of Rome.

The Roman people celebrated Cocles’ bravery and his protection of Rome’s citizens at all costs.  The Senate displayed their gratitude by rewarding him vast amounts of land and a days’ worth of food from every citizen, a hefty prize from citizens having endured a lengthy siege.  The Senate later erected a bronze statue of him in the Forum for all Romans to view.  The monument immortalized and commemorated his image and his heroism for all future generations to recall.  Cocles’ wounds rendered him lame and he could no longer pursue his military or his political career.  Although Horatius Cocles never held a consulship, nor conquered vast amounts of land, Romans still admired and imitated him though the existence of the empire.

Romans valued the traits of bravery and endurance in battle, Horatius Cocles became a role model for young soldiers because he maintained persistence and courage while combating the Etruscans, even though he fought alone and against all odds.  The enemy who perceived him as crazy even acknowledges his excellence in warfare.  Dionysius described the Etruscans “looking upon him as a madman who was courting death, dared no longer come to grips with him” (Dionysius, Roman Antiquities 5.24).  Livy also had a similar account of the Etruscans who “paused in sheer astonishment at such reckless courage” (Livy, The Early History of Rome 2.10).   This showed the importance of being so brave in battle that even the enemy was impressed at the undeniable courage and strength.  Dionysius also attested to his bravery in battle saying “for the wonderful deed he performed for the Romans in that engagement deserves as great praise as any of those who have ever won renown for valor” (Dionysius, Roman Antiquities 5.25).  Dionysius’ account showed that this was a grand accomplishment of a great soldier and that brave actions are praised in Roman society.

The different writings about Horatius Cocles from antiquity highlighted how the Roman public praised his heroism and how he served as an example for young Romans to follow in order to gain similar glory.  Polybius described how funeral orations recalled events of brave men from the past, and were a way to immortalize their noble deeds.  “But the most important result is that young men are thus inspired to endure every suffering for public welfare in the hope of winning the glory that attends on brave men” (Polybius, The Histories 6:54).  Polybius’ writings about funeral orations showed the Roman cultural ideology of passing down stories of noble men to extend their personal glory and to inspire other men to follow the acts of these great men.  Polybius used Horatius Cocles as an example of a brave man whose legend was passed down through history.  Horatius Cocles “deliberately sacrificed his life, regarding the safety of his country and the glory which in future would attach to his name as of more importance than his present existence and the years of life which remained to him”  (Polybius, The Histories 6:55).  In Polybius’ account, Horatius Cocles lost his life, unlike the accounts of Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, regardless of his survival or death, his deeds were glorified among all Roman citizens and his traits were meant to be mimicked.

Not only did Horatius Cocles protect the Roman people and glory, he preserved the Republic from the tyranny of the Tarquin monarchs.  In Livy’s account of Horatius Cocles, Livy explained the political situation of the new born republic in Rome and the neighboring monarchs in Etruria who feared that Rome’s influence would destroy their power.  Lars Porsenna decided that his power would be secure if he restored the Tarquin monarchy in Rome (Livy, The Early History of Rome 2:9).  While Cocles engaged the Etruscans in single combat, he “mocked them all as tyrants’ slaves who, careless of their own liberty, were coming to destroy the liberty of others” (Livy, The Early History of Rome 2.10).  Not only was Cocles fighting for his own glory, but for the glory of the republicanism over tyranny.  Livy may have used the themes of liberty and loyalty to the republican model to express their importance in Roman society.

The story of Horatius Cocles defending the Pons Sublicius may only be a propagandistic legend for the government and military to dismiss monarchy and promote republicanism and to inspire young soldiers to fight bravely for the highest glory and for duty of Rome.  It may even only stand as a cover up story of an embarrassing invasion that undermined Roman power and tradition.  Even if this was the case, the historical accounts of Cocles’ story present the values and virtues that were most important to all Romans.

Works Cited


Primary Sources:


Dionysius of Halicarnassus.  Roman Antiquities.  Translated by Ernest Cary. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1962.


Florus.  Epitome of Roman History.  Translated by Ernest Cary.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1984.


Livy.  The Early History of Rome.  Translated by Aubrey De Selincourt.  New York, New York: Penguin Books, 2002.


Polybius.  The Histories.  Translated by W. R. Paton.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1980.


Secondary Sources:


Cornell, T. J.  1995.  The Beginnings of Rome.  New York: Routledge.


Forsyth, G.  2005.  A Critical History of Early Rome.  Berkeley: University of California Press.


Ogilvie, R. M.  1965.  Commentary on Livy, Books 1-5.


Scullard, H. H.  1980.  A History of the Roman World (753-146 BC).  Fourth Edition.  New York:  Routledge.


Roller, Matthew Benedict.  “Exemplarity in Roman Culture: the cases of Horatius Cocles and Cloelia.”  Classical Philology 2044, no. 99(1) (2004): 1-56.


Walbank, F. W.  1957-79.  A History Commentary on Polybius, 3 vols.

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus: State before Self

Author: Miles Kauffmann

During the Republican period of Rome (509-27 BC), many ambitious patricians would change or seek out loopholes in Roman law that would allow them to be as close to an absolute ruler as possible.  While in power they would accumulate massive amounts of wealth and construct monuments to themselves portraying, and often exaggerating, the legacy they hoped to leave behind.  Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was not one of these men.  Instead, he was a man that respected the checks and balances put in place to prevent a return to the monarchy that existed in Rome between (753-509 BC).  In fact, he so greatly respected laws such as the power to veto, given to the tribunes, and the proper elections required after magistrate terms concluded, that twice he refused to remain in office, even though it was the will of his fellow patricians.  The first time came when he laid down his consulship upon its completion when they wanted him to remain Consul for a second term.  The second came when he forfeited the over 5 months remaining of his term as Dictator when after only 16 days he resolved the conflict.  His choice to maintain a humble lifestyle commanded him great respect from his fellow patricians and established him as one of the leading examples of Roman humbleness and civic virtue.  The following paper will discuss the circumstances that placed Cincinnatus in power as well as analyzing how his time in office set him apart as an unselfish man who always had the state’s best interest in mind.


The Quincti family was well known for their opposition of the plebs.  Lucius’ son Caeso took the opposition to the extreme, and often drove the Tribunal leaders out of the Forum (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 3.11).  This type of action was only tolerated for so long and he was eventually brought to trial on false charges.  Although no concrete evidence was brought against him, the court would likely find his reputation sufficient enough to sentence him to death.  Through the pleading of Cincinnatus, who was already a man held in high esteem, Caeso was granted bail.  In order to reach the substantial sum that was set, Cincinnatus was forced to sell the vast majority of his estate.  Caeso then went into voluntary exile to Etruria, and Cincinnatus forfeited the sum posted with the tribunal as bond. (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 3.13) The selling of his estate left Cincinnatus to live a very humble life, even when compared to the current standard of the plebs.

With the main leader and instigator of their opposition now in Etruria, the Tribunes pressed harder for the legislation to be passed involving the advancement of the lower class Romans they represented (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 3.19). With a vacancy in the consulship, the senate saw a much-needed opportunity to elect someone known for his success in dealing with the plebs.  The man they chose, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, was at the time plowing his own fields in order to provide for his family.  A crowd arrived and hailed him as consul dressing him in the purple-bordered tunic and presented him with the axes and other symbols that were custom with this magistracy (Dionysius, Roman Antiquities 10.17).  At first, he was rather reluctant to leave his wife and fields, but seeing that he was needed, Cincinnatus accepted the consulship and followed the crowd to Rome.

Soon after taking office, Cincinnatus gathered the masses for a series of powerful speeches intending to publicly denounce the Tribunes, as well as rebuke the Senate for its lack of defiance and severity against them.  One of the main points he discussed was the assembly of the army for a conquest against the Volscians and the Aequians.  He explained his reasoning for war by stating that “God seems to smile more kindly upon this country of ours when we are at war” (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 3.19).  The proposal was a tactic meant to discontinue the uprising of the Tribunes, who hoped to prolong the current state of peace.  The Tribunes were at the time unfazed by the threat, knowing that the raising of the army must be approved, and that they had the power to veto.  Cincinnatus was prepared for this response from the Tribunes.  He stated that an army was already bound to him by the vow they made when a slave uprising occupied the Roman capital.  In the vow, the soldiers pledged themselves to the previous consul Valarius (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 3.20). The Tribunes, knowing they had been outwitted, replaced their focus on legislation to concentrate on delaying the troops from leaving Rome.  Eventually, both sides were able to reach an agreement in which the Tribunes would submit to the authority of the Senate, and not push to pass their law for the remainder of the year.  In return, the consuls would not take the troops to war during their terms (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 3.20).

By the time elections came around, legislation had been passed giving the Senate the power to veto or approve consecutive terms in office.  However, despite the requiring of the Senate’s approval, the Tribunes had somehow managed to retain their offices for a third term.  Their reelection ensured that that following year would bring along the same problems.  Hoping to counteract the Tribunes, the Senate proposed that Cincinnatus remain in office, and force the Tribunes to lay down their positions (Dionysius, Roman Antiquities 10.19).  Cincinnatus refused to be reinstated for a second term, proclaiming that he would not stoop to the levels of the tribunes, and would set a date for the proper elections to occur.  He took his refusal one step further by issuing an edict between the two counsels that any vote cast for him would be discarded (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 3.22).  On the designated day after the votes were cast, Cincinnatus named the newly elected consuls and returned to work himself on his far (Dionysius, Roman Antiquities 10.19).

The next time Cincinnatus was recruited it was for the position of Dictator under the consuls Lucius Minucius and Gauis Nautius.  Both consuls were overseeing different wars, Nautius sending out raiding parties against the Sabines in Eretum, and Minucius engaging in battles with the Aequians (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 3.26). Minucius was led by the leader of the Aequians, Gracchus into land that was very unfavorable for the fighting style of the Romans.  After having his camp attacked then surrounded on all sides by earth and enemies, he was in desperate need of help (Dionysius, Roman Antiquities 10.23).  In Rome, it was decided thatNautius was not the man capable of delivering Minucius, and that Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus would be named dictator (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 3.26)

Again, an unsuspecting Cincinnatus was approached on his modest three-acre farm and presented with the purple toga, rods, and axes signifying his magistracy.  And again, though willing to serve, he was hesitant to leave the land that he himself worked hard on (Dionysius, Roman Antiquities 10.24).  Once in Rome, Cincinnatus wasted no time appointing a poor, but brilliant warrior, Lucius Tarquitius, Master of Horse and prepared all capable men in Rome to aid Minucius (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 3.27).  After observing the enemy forces, Cincinnatus mounted an attack that would force Gracchus and his army to retreat into their camp.  Once inside the camp, Minucius and his forces joined Cincinnatus and they attached the Aequians from both sides.  Seeing the inevitability of defeat the Aequians resorted to negotiating with Cincinnatus.  Within the terms of the treaty was the handing over of Gracchus in chains and the peaceful surrender of their city Corbio (Dionysius, Roman Antiquities 10.24).  The city of Corbio was plundered and the best treasures were sent home to Rome.  Cincinnatus chose not to divide any of the remaining spoils with Minucius and his unit and maintained that they should be satisfied with their rescue from certain death (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 3.29). Cincinnatus returned to Rome as a conquering general and was celebrated for the rapid resolution to the conflict that he was selected for.  For the second time the senate tried to prolong the reign of Cincinnatus, enticing him with the prosecution of the men who falsely accused Caeso years before.  Although remaining in office had this element of self-interest, the Senate’s efforts fell on deaf ears and for the second time, he refused.  A dictator that was not only allowed, but begged to serve the entire six months, resolved the conflict and laid down his powers in only sixteen days (Dionysius Roman Antiquities 10.25). The senate wished to repay him for his honor and achievements by offering him any amount of the conquered land, spoils, or slaves that by defeating the Aequians he was entitled to.  Cincinnatus was grateful, but refused.  His friends presented him with gifts and promises of favors for which Cincinnatus thanked them, but in the end refused their gifts.  He would rather return and live the humble life of a farmer than to live like a king with vast amounts of wealth (Dionysius, Roman Antiquities 10.26).

The way that Roman historians choose to portray Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus makes him a prime example of Roman virtue and provides him as an example for future leaders to follow.  The beginning of Cincinnatus’ account shows him bailing his son out of trouble by selling off most of his estate.  In Roman culture wealth is the great divider and determines both your social status and military rank.  Cincinnatus shows his dedication to his family by sacrificing his wealth for a son who was falsely accused so that the Tribunes could conduct themselves unopposed.  Livy and Dionysius choose to show how hardworking and humble he is by including in their accounts that both times he was approached for office he was himself working in his fields to provide for his family.  They further promote his character by showing his remorse for having to leave his fields even though he had just been given a great honor.  How Cincinnatus really sets himself apart as a leading example of virtue is by laying down his office extremely early once, and by refusing to improperly remain in office.  He could have stayed in office to exact revenge on the men who falsely accused his son, but again put the interest and integrity of the state ahead of his personal interests.  Often magistrates would find any reason to remain in power or while in power accumulate as much wealth through whatever means they could.  Examples of these men include Pompey, who was improperly made consul, or Gauis Marius who brought the state into a civil war while competing with Sulla for the Consulship.  Cincinnatus breaks the mold, and goes as far as refusing the wealth that he deserved by rescuing Minucius and defeating the Aequians.  Another detail of his career that sets him apart is the appointing of Lucius Tarquitius Master of Horse.  This aspect of his career can be overlooked as a minor detail, but it is included in both texts for a reason.  Like Cincinnatus, Tarquitius is great at what he does despite not having mass amounts of wealth.  Other dictators may have ignored him due to his poverty, but Cincinnatus saw the value that the highly skilled soldier would bring to his rescue of Minucius.

Through the retelling of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus’ career, a new way to be remembered is shown.  The civic virtue he displays more than once is reason enough to admire him.  Instead of monuments and statues, Cincinnatus chooses what is best for Rome and humbles himself even in times of great triumph.


Works Cited

            Livy. Ab Urbe Condita (The Early History of Rome) 3. Translated by Aubrey De Selincourt 1960. New York: Penguin, 2002.

Dionysius. Roman Antiquities X. Translated by Earnest Cary 1937. Harvard University Press: 1937.

Lucius Cornelius Cinna: War against the State to Save the State

Author: Raquel Ells

Lucius Cornelius Cinna (130-84 BC) was not a very prominent figure in Rome until he ended up in the middle of the political conflict between Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla. His political and martial accomplishments are notable in Roman history and demonstrate true Roman identity. Although Roman identity can be interpreted in many ways, here it will mean the character that valued loyalty, warfare, and political advancement for the good of the Roman state. From this perspective, Lucius Cornelius Cinna certainly embodied what it meant to be Roman.


With the Social War coming to an end, Lucius Cornelius Sulla came into power with his first election to the consulship in 88 B.C.[1]  After much political conflict with Gaius Marius, Sulla marched on Rome.  This was the first time in Roman history that a Roman general had sacked the city.  Upon returning as consul and strengthening the Senate’s power, Sulla exiled Marius and his supporters and declared them enemies of the Roman state.[2] Determined to obtain another consulship, Marius planned his return and succeeded, principally because of Lucius Cornelius Cinna.[3]

Cinna as Consul

Cinna came into consulship in 87 B.C. Sulla illustrated his distrust for Cinna by making him take an oath with a stone at the Capitol while “praying that if he failed to preserve his goodwill for Sulla, he might be thrown out of Rome as the stone was thrown out of his hand.”[4] Because Cinna was coerced into taking this oath, he felt that he had a duty to support the people, and not let his oath influence his political decisions in any way. He then sought to remove Sulla from Rome.

However, Sulla ignored these accusations and set out to fight against Mithridates.[5] Gn. Octavius, a fellow consul, was not supportive of this endeavor and persuaded the senate to declare Cinna a public enemy. Octavius gained support from the Romans, also known as “old citizens”. The people from the Italian tribes that were promised citizenship, but that never actually gained any significant power were known as the “new citizens” and were in support of Cinna. This led to one of the biggest fights to ever occur in the Forum. Octavius used this to justify Cinna’s banishment from the city. Concurrently, the senate illegally removed him from consulship and elected Lucius Merula, the Flamen Dialis, to take his place. ⁶ Cinna was determined.  He gathered troops from resentful ex-allies, shared support from the Italians with Marius, and prepared to march on Rome.  Marius and Cinna strategically cut off Rome’s food supply, and used the opportunity to advance on the city.[6]  The Senate, in an act of fear sent someone to negotiate peace with Cinna: a failed venture. [7]  Upon enraging Cinna, out of fear the Senate sent another negotiator to plead with him to abstain from any more bloodshed.  He did not agree to this, but did say he wouldn’t be directly responsible for anyone’s death.  The Senate agreed to this and repealed Sulla’s acts of banishment on everyone previously exiled.[8]

According to Plutarch, Marius reentered the city before his exile was repealed and sought to slaughter anyone in support of Sulla.[9]  Cinna somewhat distanced himself from this by only ordering the deaths of Octavius and others directly associated with him. [10] After about five days of massacre and mayhem, Cinna became disgusted and ended the bloodbath through force.[11] Cinna and Marius were subsequently declared consuls in 86 B.C.  Ironically, after all that, Marius died within the first month of his consulship.[12] With the death of Marius, Rome entered into what historians call the “Domination CInnae” or the Domination of Cinna.

For the next three years, Rome was essentially in Cinna’s control.  He chose Valerius Flaccus to replace Marius and together they attempted to improve Rome’s economic situation.  During this time, Cinna’s great accomplishment was that of the citizenship issue.  Some progress was made and “new citizens” were distributed among the thirty-five tries and officially recorded in the census.

Roman Identity

These noteworthy events in Cinna’s life offer a portrait of what can be seen as a man who embodies Roman identity.  Defined early as an individual that valued loyalty, warfare and political advancement for the good of the Roman state, Lucius Cornelius Cinna can be seen as that as that identity.  Roman society valued loyalty something Cinna possessed and displayed.  He showed his loyalty to the “new citizens” and plebs early in his career by demonstrating that he would not let his oath to Sulla get in the way of doing what he thought was best for the people.  He proved his loyalty again when he passed the citizenship law regarding the rights of the “new citizens”.  His tendency for warfare is certainly well documented.  Most of his political career was spent preparing for warfare or engaged in it.  Although there were self-preservation motives, he was also motivated for the people and his political party.  Roman culture valued war and was almost comforted by it, meaning that it was felt weird for Rome not be to be engaged in warfare.  Cinna’s propensity for battle and his victories within it, show that he valued it just as much as the Roman state.  Lastly, political advancement was obviously important to him as seen throughout his career. He served four consecutive consulships from 87-84 while defending the rights of the people against Sulla’s laws of support to the aristocracy.  He probably would have made more advancements and laws if he hadn’t been in constant conflict with Sulla.  Nonetheless, Cinna’s commitment to the consulship and the equalization of all Italian groups is clear.  Although he can be seen as just a pawn in the epic rivalry between Marius and Sulla, he was more than that; he embodied Roman identity.



Appain, “The Civil Wars” in Appian’s Roman History, Translated by Horace White.

Great Brittan: Harvard University Press, 1979


Plutarch, “Gaius Marius,” in The Fall of the Roman Republic, trans. by Rex Warner.

London: Penguin Books, 2005.


Plutarch, “Sulla,” in The all of the Roman Republic, trans. by Rex Warner.

London: Penguin Books, 2005.


H. H. Scullard, From the Gracchi to Nero: A history of Rome from 133 B.C. A.D. 68,

New York: Routledge, 2011.


[1] Plutarch, “Sulla,” in The Fall of the Roman Republic, trans. by Rex Warner. (London: Penguin Books, 2005.), sect. 6:10

[2] Appain, “The Civil Wars” in Appian’s Roman History, trans. by Horace White. (Great Brittan: Harvard University Press, 1979), 1:58

[3] Appain, “The Civil Wars”, 1:64

[4] Plutarch, “Sulla”, sect. 10:4

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 1:67

[7] Ibid., 1:69

[8] Ibid., 1:70

[9] Plutarch, “Gaius Marius,” in the The Fall of the Roman Republic, trans. by Rex Warner.  (London: Penguin Books, 2005.)

[10] Appain, “The Civil Wars”, 1:75

[11] H. H. Scullard, From the Gracchi to Nero: A history of Rome from 133 B.C. to A.D. 68, (New York: Routledge, 2011), 60

[12] Appain, “The Civil Wars”, 1:75

Lucius Junius Brutus: A Purposeful Life

Author: Kip Zimmerman

Responsible for one of Rome’s largest changes in identity is a man who embodied the very nature of the Roman Republic itself: Lucius Junius Brutus. Beyond being just a simple character told about in history, Brutus created history by risking everything to bring the Rome he believed in into existence. By overthrowing the tyrannical monarchy in Rome and establishing a republic, Brutus created a new identity for the country of Rome and attained a new heritage for his kin. His life led to the establishment of a system responsible for anti-monarchial checks and balances. The new form of government Brutus created was so successful it would remain a part of Rome for the rest of its history and monarchy would never again be accepted in Rome, at least not knowingly, and especially not by a member of Brutus’ family. Brutus not only put a new hierarchal system in place, but in so doing he also put an entirely new bearing on what it meant to be Roman.

Lucius Junius Brutus, son of the King Tarquinius Superbus’ sister Tarquinia, had developed a dislike for the king because of his poor ability to rule Rome, and because of a number of people he had put to death including Lucius’ own brother. To keep the royal family from raising any suspicion against himself, Brutus pretended to be a half-wit, and earned himself the nickname ‘Dullard’ (Livy, 1.55). Ironically, “under cover of this opprobrious title the great spirit which gave Rome her freedom might be able to bide its time” (Livy, 1.55). Quite contrary to his name at the time, Brutus began the revolution for the Republic in Rome.

The death of the monarchy began with the death of a young woman. For it was on her death Brutus swore an oath against the Roman monarchy. Full of lust, Sextus Tarquinius, the son of the king, defiled Collatinus’ wife Lucretia (Livy, 1.57). Dishonored and shamed, Lucretia took her own life before her father, her husband and Brutus, after she had challenged them to avenge her honor – “if [they were] men” (Livy, 1.58). Amidst the grief and chaos of dead Lucretia, Brutus cried out “that it was time for deeds not tears, and urged [the people], like true Romans, to take up arms against the tyrants who had dared treat them as a vanquished enemy” (Livy, 1.58). “Not a man amongst them could resist the call. The boldest spirits offered themselves for service at once; the rest soon followed their lead…and with Brutus in command the armed populace began their march on Rome” (Livy, 1.58-9). With the forum packed with onlookers, Brutus threw off “the mask under which he had hitherto concealed his real character and feelings” and spoke out against the king and his son, telling the people of the brutality of Lucretia’s death and pointing out the king’s arrogant and tyrannical behavior (Livy 1.59). “The effect of [Brutus’] words was immediate: the populace took fire, and were brought to demand the abrogation of the king’s authority and the exile of himself and his family” (Livy 1.59). The rebellion grew beyond the king’s control when the Roman army “enthusiastically welcomed” “Brutus the Liberator” (Livy 1.60). The royal family was exiled and after two-hundred and forty-four years of a monarchial government in Rome, it was liberated by the election of two new consuls: Brutus and Collatinus (Livy 1.60).

Brutus’ new government was fashioned to keep the power that had long been held by a single monarch in Rome from ever returning to an individual person. The kingship was replaced with the “curious institution of a collegiate magistracy, in which two men shared supreme power” (Forsyth 2005, 226). These individuals inherited many of the powers associated with the kings, but their power was limited in other ways such as providing citizens with a right of appeal, and “in order to avoid having merely substituted two kings for one, the Republic’s founders arranged that the consuls should take turns to hold the fasces” (Forsyth 2005, 226). The division of power between the two consuls entailed that Brutus “served as a watchdog over his colleague and vice versa” (Cornell 1995, 155). The consul’s freedom of action was restricted by the annual and collegiate nature of their office. The system was very effective and would prove to remain a part of the rest of Roman history. Even after it was gone, monarchy continued to be ostracized in Rome by this system and by the Roman people. For the Romans, the concept of kingship was now considered barbaric. Even when the republic began to decline, the emperors found themselves unable to completely disperse the idea of a republic, forcing them to hide their imperial status behind republican titles and ideas. Brutus’ oath against monarchy echoed through the rest of Roman history, but it also served to inspire one of his descendants to take the lead role in the assassination of the growing tyrant Julius Caesar. When the system Brutus had set in place to prevent monarchy in Rome had begun to fail, his own kin remembered the oath against tyranny that was taken.   Brutus had created a new identity in Rome, and even though it was not honestly maintained for the rest of Rome’s history, the notion of Brutus’ republic, free of tyranny, still reigned in Rome.

Brutus exemplified and even created a new identity for Rome; one free of tyranny and one empowering the people of Rome. His sacrifice for what he saw as a just cause, was what made him the father of the Roman Republic. He was willing to be known by an entire city as ‘Dullard’ and was willing to risk going down in history as a traitor for his cause. He lived for a purpose, and although it would eventually cost him his life, no man can say his life was without cause. The republic Brutus created would remain a part of Rome for the rest of its time. For this reason, Brutus will be always remembered as one of the Roman greats and as reader’s and people with respect for history, we should not examine Brutus’ life without soon after examining our own life for purpose and cause.


Cornell, T.J. 1995. The Beginnings of Rome. New York: Routledge.

Forsyth, G. 2005. A Critical History of Early Rome. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Livius, Titus. The Early History of Rome.  Translated by Aubrey de Selincourt.  London: Penguin Books, 2002.


Gaius Marius in the Historical Perspective

Author: William Reich

Gaius Marius was an influential Roman statesman and general born in Arpinum, a town on the outskirts of Rome.[1] He worked with the Metellian family who helped him become Tribune and start his political career in 119 BCE.[2] Once in politics, he married a woman of the Julian family, who would later become the aunt of Julius Caesar.[3] This link would prove to be beneficial to both his career and legacy. Gaius Marius was renowned for his military reforms, which had far reaching political implications and “paved the way for later military dictatorships.”[4] Through his trials in Numidia, appointment as consul, and the implications of his military reforms, Gaius Marius expanded the military and paved the way to the eventual corruption and fall of the Republic.

When King Micipsa of Numidia died, he bequeathed his land unto his three sons.[5] Jugurtha, Micipsa’s adopted son, seized control of Numidia for himself after he defeated his brothers in battle. Jugurtha besieged his brother Adherbal in the city of Cirta to try to kill him.[6] It was here that Jugurtha made an enemy of the Roman Republic. In the siege, his troops murdered citizens of Cirta, as well as many visiting Italian merchants. Almost immediately, war was declared on Jugurtha, and Q. Caecilius Metellus and Gaius Marius were sent to lead the troops in Numidia.[7]

After countless conflicts, Metellus and Marius had restored discipline in the army and pushed back Jugurtha’s troops. He brought fame to his name in both Africa and Rome, as he reveled in battle with his troops, instead of watching them from the sidelines.[8] Men in his camps “wrote to those at home that there would be no end or cessation of the war against the Barbarian (Jugurtha) unless they chose Marius as consul.”[9] Marius, who was developing a real following, wished to be elected consul. However, he and Metellus held a disagreement over the fate of Turpillius, chief of engineers in the Roman Military, who Marius believed to be a traitor for admitting Jugurtha into the city of Vaga.[10] As the two quarreled, Marius asked for Metellus to dismiss him and allow his return to Rome so that he could run for consul. Metellus blatantly refused and, as an insult, told Marius that he could not compare to Metellus’ own son who, although an amateur, was running for consul.[11] With eleven days left before the 107 BCE consul elections, Marius was finally dismissed, and, with haste, journeyed back to Rome.[12] At this point, Marius began to spread rumors that Metellus was prolonging the war purposefully. As the rumor spread and discontent arose, Marius demanded the consulship, which with he was triumphantly awarded.[13] Although demanding, his election was possible due to his virility, fierce temper, and new connection with the Julian family.[14]

As the newly elected consul, Marius replaced Metellus in Numidia. This decision was followed by Marius’ multiple 107 BCE military reforms: first, he “disregarded the rule that the army should be recruited only from men enrolled in the five classes, and appealed for volunteers from the capite censi or proletarii, men who lacked the necessary property qualification.”[15] This inclusion by Marius of the landless mass and growing urban proletariat bolstered the ranks of the Roman legion. Secondly, Marius implemented a professional standing army for Rome, outfitted soldiers with uniforms and equipment, and reorganized the legions.[16] This allowed troops to train effectively year round and become more effective warriors. Third, he introduced legislation to pay spoils and land to retiring troops, which inevitably led to military dependence on a general over loyalty to the state.[17] Finally, Marius allowed for citizens of Rome’s allies to serve in the military and gain Roman citizenship as a reward.[18] These reforms provided Marius with a new, larger, more willing army. With his new army, and the much needed help of Sulla’s cavalry, Marius swiftly defeated Jugurtha and his ally Bocchus near Cirta, ending the war in Numidia.[19]

Gaius Marius’ legacy was one of military strength. His reforms of the Roman military impacted the entire trajectory of Rome’s future. Marius created a semi-professional army out of Rome’s previous militia. The obvious result of this was that Roman generals would have the well-trained troops they needed, as opposed to hastily recruiting amateurs into a militia and risking their lives against professional forces. This greatly contributed to the ongoing success of future Roman military exploits. In addition, the land plots offered to senior officers served in expanding the empire itself and bolstered morale in both the military and in the landless poor who now had the opportunity to gain longer lasting spoils of war. These landless volunteers of Rome’s new army would “look to their commanders to provide spoils and to help them after demobilization.”[20] The professional soldiers began to depend on their commanders out of self-interest, which eventually led them to back military dictators, as would be seen by Marius, Sulla, Caesar, and others after them. Due to Marius’ reforms, these aggrandizers were able to seize more power with the military backing them, superseding the loyalty of the Roman state. This led to the eventual fall of the Roman Republic.

In the broad scheme of Roman identity, Gaius Marius and his reforms not only paved the path of the Republic’s destruction, but changed what it meant to be Roman and a solider. Being a warrior, which was always prestigious, suddenly became a viable full time job. A long term commitment in the Roman military would bring an individual wealth, fame, and now, citizenship for those where it was difficult to acquire. Marius and the Marian forms are the building blocks of Rome’s destruction, but at the same time, they are part of what made Rome so strong for so long. Without Marius, the Roman military would have never became a professional, standing army, and the height of Rome’s Empire under Emperors such as Trajan would have never occurred. Gaius Marius was influential to defining Roman identity because he himself defined Rome as a militaristic superpower.


[1] Scullard, H.H. 1982. From the Gracchi to Nero, 5th Edition. New York: Routledge, 46.

[2] Ibid

[3] Scullard, H.H. 1982. From the Gracchi to Nero, 5th Edition. New York: Routledge, 47.

[4] Scullard, H.H. 1982. From the Gracchi to Nero, 5th Edition. New York: Routledge, 53.

[5] Plutarch. Plutarch’s Lives: Gaius Marius, 475

[6] Sallust, The War With Jugurtha, 155

[7] Scullard, H.H. 1982. From the Gracchi to Nero, 5th Edition. New York: Routledge, 51.

[8] Plutarch. Plutarch’s Lives: Gaius Marius, 479

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Scullard, H.H. 1982. From the Gracchi to Nero, 5th Edition. New York: Routledge, 51.

[12] Plutarch. Plutarch’s Lives: Gaius Marius, 481

[13] Scullard, H.H. 1982. From the Gracchi to Nero, 5th Edition. New York: Routledge, 51.

[14] Plutarch. Plutarch’s Lives: Gaius Marius, 467

[15] Scullard, H.H. 1982. From the Gracchi to Nero, 5th Edition. New York: Routledge, 53.

[16] Vander Poppen, The Roman Military, PowerPoint.

[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid

[19] Sallust, The War With Jugurtha, 373

[20] Scullard, H.H. 1982. From the Gracchi to Nero, 5th Edition. New York: Routledge, 46.

Gnaeus Mucius Scaevola

Author:  Trevor Conley

A member of the Patrician order, Gnaeus Mucius Scaevola was a polarizing example of Roman heroism and determination in the early Roman Republic.  Gnaeus Mucius Scaevola’s heroic acts, during the Etruscan siege of Rome in 508 BC under Lars Porsenna, contributed to the notion of what it meant to be a Roman.  The acts of Gn. Mucius Scaevola were pivotal for the survival of Rome in its early years through his determined qualities to defend Rome single-handedly with his life and inspire soldiers to follow suit, if he were to fail.  This biography seeks to identify the series of events that Gn. Mucius Scaevola was involved in and analyze how those events contributed to the concept of Roman identity.

            The heroic acts of Gn. Mucius Scaevola would not be as popular had the Etruscan king Lars Porsenna not seen the courage and bravery in Scaevola’s acts.  Porsenna, in 509 BC, was besieging Rome in order to restore the overthrown Roman king Tarquinius Superbus, who was of Etruscan lineage.[1]  As the siege unfolded, Porsenna’s desire to take control of Rome in order to restore Tarquinius Superbus was altered by the heroic acts of Scaevola and Horatius Cocles, as well as a female emulator of Scaevola named Cloelia.[2]  These circumstances compelled Gn. Mucius Scaevola into heroic action.  Gn. Mucius attempted to covertly leave Rome and assassinate Lars Porsenna.  Gn. Mucius, not wanting to look like a deserter of Rome then consulted the Senate for approval, which was granted to him.  This act of Gn. Mucius fully embodied Roman characteristics that were noble and contributed to Roman identity.  Gn. Mucius worked his way to the Etruscan camp and the platform where Porsenna stood with his secretary working by his side.  A large crowd was on hand, and Gn. Mucius could not be sure who the secretary was, and who was Porsenna, and a random stabbing ensued.  Wrongfully, Gn. Mucius stabbed Porsenna’s secretary and was immediately apprehended by Porsenna’s forces after trying to escape through the crowd. What Gn. Mucius then said was intensely Roman: [speaking to Porsenna] “I am a Roman, my name is Gnaeus Mucius.  I came here to kill you – my enemy. I have so much courage to die as to kill.  It is our Roman way to do and suffer bravely.”[3]  Gn. Mucius offered that he was only one of many Roman soldiers who would defend Rome with bravery if he were to fail in his task of assassinating Porsenna.  Porsenna ordered Mucius to be burnt alive, but before that could take place Gn. Mucius cried: “See how cheap men hold their bodies when they care only for honour!”[4]  He then thrust his right hand into a fire showing his indifference to the pain and was left with only his left hand.  This is where Mucius was attributed the name Scaevola, which meant left-handed.[5]  The name Scaevola was immediately flagged as a heroic Roman name exuding characteristics of noble Roman traits and all descendants of Gn. Mucius Scaevola were associated with Gnaeus’s heroic acts. Intriguingly, Scaevola’s story was designed to explain the origin of his family’s surname.[6]  Porsenna, astonished by Scaevola’s act, set Scaevola free based on a piteous notion that Scaevola was more of a threat to himself than to the Etruscans and Porsenna.  Furthermore, Porsenna was so impressed by Scaevola’s actions that he blessed his courage and as an honorable enemy, granted Scaevola pardon, life, and liberty.[7]  Scaevola and Porsenna had a mutual respect for one another to the extent that Scaevola informed Porsenna that three hundred fellow Roman soldiers swore to assassinate Porsenna should he fail.  After this, Porsenna feared the possibility of further assassination attempts by other Roman soldiers.  Thus, he introduced peace talks with Rome.  Porsenna and Rome made peace through negotiations, where both sides were forced to make agreements.  Porsenna received Veii and Roman hostages and was forced to remove his garrison from the Janiculum.  The Roman senate rewarded Gn. Mucius Scaevola with a grant of land west of the Tiber River that would come to be known as the Mucian Meadows for his valorous acts.[8]

            An immediate result of Scaevola’s heroism was that many females were inspired by his story and sought to emulate him.  In the most famous incidence of this, an unmarried women named Cloelia, who was held hostage behind Etruscan lines, escorted a group of consenting women across the Tiber back into Roman safety.  Porsenna was enraged and threatened to terminate the treaty of armistice if Cloelia was not returned to the Etruscans. Soon after, Porsenna’s outrage turned into admiration of her masculine courage inspired by Scaevola.  Cloelia was to be returned to the Etruscans so that Porsenna could defuse the ability for Cloelia’s courage to be compared to Scaevola’s.  Porsenna then allowed Cloelia to select hostages to be released back to Roman custody. [9]  Scaevola set the standard of Roman courage and valor in defending the state for future Roman soldiers.  The Roman soldiers that succeeded Scaevola were given an example of how to be a noble Roman soldier through Scaevola’s acts.

            Gnaeus Mucius Scaevola was an important figure in defining what it meant to be Roman.  Scaevola defined what it meant to be Roman because he committed selfless deeds in an attempt to save Rome from a siege of the Etruscans.  Scaevola was able to be such an important figure in defining what it meant to be Roman because he attempted a heroic deed for the state of Rome.  Scaevola sought to risk his life for the honor of Rome, so that Rome would not be embarrassed by the besiegement of the Etruscans under Porsenna.  Also, Scaevola risked his life so that he would be seen as someone who was courageous in defending Rome.  Furthermore, Scaevola’s attempted assassination Porsenna was also honorable in its origin because Scaevola sought the approval of the Roman senate before he attempted to infiltrate the Etruscans instead of acting hastily and without honor by trying to sneak out of Rome, where Scaevola could be perceived to be attempting to desert Rome.  This implied that the Roman higher authority sought to control many aspects of the actions of their citizens.  The approval of acts by higher authority is something good plebian citizens could take away from Scaevola’s precedent.  Scaevola also defined what it meant to be Roman by showing courage and respect for Porsenna after he had been captured for slaying Porsenna’s secretary.  Although Scaevola had been captured and was about to be executed, he showed courage by placing his right hand in the fire tended for his execution to show he was not afraid of the consequences of his actions.  This pivotal moment generated a mutual respect between Porsenna and Scaevola and ultimately between Porsenna and Rome.  Scaevola generated respect by informing Porsenna that Rome would mercilessly attempt to assassinate him until he was dead. 

Consequently, this was a key moment for the survival of Rome and the labeling of Scaevola as a hero and defining figure in what it meant to be Roman because Scaevola’s courageous acts were able to deflate the necessity of Porsenna to sack Rome and Porsenna ended up forging peace talks with Rome.  Scaevola’s acts portrayed to Porsenna and Roman generations that Rome will never stand down to any enemy.  A testament to the fact that Scaevola emulated what it meant to be Roman was that a women in Cloelia, was inspired by Scaevola’s actions and was inspired to perform suicidal tasks for Rome. 

            Gnaeus Mucius Scaevola was a crucial figure in forming the Roman identity in the early Roman Republic through his acts of heroism, courage, determinism, and respect.  Scaevola exemplified to the Roman people what a valiant Roman soldier or citizen should emulate at all times: to protect and defend Rome.  Through Scaevola’s memorable acts, Romans and historians alike were able to understand the importance that a relatively small, single moment could affect the outcome of Roman history, which, in turn, would affect what it meant to be Roman.

Primary Source:

121-124. Livy, The Early History of Rome, ed. and trans. Aubrey De Selincourt. New York, 1960.

Secondary Sources:

Cornell, T.J. 1995.  The Beginnings of Rome. New York: Routledge.

Scullard, H.H. 1980. “A History of the Roman World (753-146 BC).  Fourth Edition. New York: Routledge.

Forsyth, G. 2005. A Critical History of Early Rome. Berkeley: University of California Press.

[1] Forsyth 2005, 149.

[2] Forsyth 2005, 149.

[3] Livy 2.12.

[4] Livy 2.12.

[5] Livy 2.12.

[6] Forsyth 2005, 241.

[7] Livy 2.12.

[8] Livy 2.13.

[9] Livy 2.13.

Fabricating Identity with History

Control of the historical narrative of a culture’s past is a key feature in solidifying a cohesive internal group identity.  Roman historians and politicians achieved this historiographic hegemony over the constructed memory of historical personages by using cultural heroes as didactic examples for the inculcation of ideal civic virtues.  A group of students in CLS 204: When in Rome…Identity and Empire in the Roman World constructed a series of biographies that traced the ancient historiographic tradition surrounding a number of key figures in the formation of the Roman state.  These figures come from a diverse set of backgrounds (from citizen farmers, to female war captives, to revolutionary political firebrands), but all of them were presented by the later historical sources as paragons of roman virtue.  The class concentrated on historical figures whose active careers dated from the 7th-2nd centuries BC, many of whom were first eulogized in texts of the Late Republic and Early Empire when they were actively promoted as instructive examples of both lost ancient virtue and guides to contemporary morality.  What follows is a selection of the best of these biographical sketches.

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