Text #9532"Marcus Furius Camillus", in .
Marcus Furius Camillus (c. 446 – 365 BC) was a Roman soldier and statesman of patrician descent. According to Livy and Plutarch, Camillus triumphed four times, was five times dictator, and was honoured with the title of Second Founder of Rome.
Camillus belonged to the lineage of the Furii, whose origin had been in the Latin city of Tusculum. Although this city had been a bitter enemy of the Romans in the 490s BC, after both Volsci and Aequi began to wage war against Rome, Tusculum joined Rome, unlike most Latin cities. Soon, the Furii integrated into the Roman society, accumulating a long series of magistrate offices. Thus the Furii had become an important Roman family by the 450s.
The father of Camillus was Lucius Furius Medullinus, a patrician tribune of consular powers. Camillus had more than three brothers: the eldest one was Lucius junior, who was both consul and tribune of consular powers. The Latin noun camillus denoted a child acolyte at religious rituals. During Camillus’s infancy, his relative Quintus Furius Paculus was the Roman Pontifex Maximus.
The ‘military tribunes with consular authority’ or consular tribunes (in Latin tribuni militum consulari potestate), were tribunes elected with consular power during the so-called Conflict of the Orders in the Roman Republic, which started in 444 BC and then continuously from 408 BC to 394 BC and again from 391 BC to 367 BC. The office of military tribune with consular authority (or consular tribune) was created during the Conflict of the Orders, along with the magistracy of the censor, in order to give the plebeian order access to higher levels of government without having to reform the office of consul. At that time in Rome’s history, plebeians could not be elected to the highest magistracy of Consul, whereas they could be elected to the office of consular tribune.
Camillus had been a noteworthy soldier in the wars with the Aequi and Volsci. Subsequently, Camillus was a military tribune. In 403 BC, he was appointed censor with Marcus Postumius Albinus Regillensis and, by means of extensive taxation, took action to solve financial problems resulting from incessant military campaigns.
In 406 BC, 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 BC, 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 once more. 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.
Camillus opposed the plebeian plan to populate Veii with half of the Romans. It would have resolved the poverty issues, but the patricians opposed it. Deliberately, Camillus protracted the project until its abandonment. Camillus rendered himself controversial in not fulfilling his promise to dedicate a tenth of the plunder to Delphi for the god Apollo. The Roman soothsayers announced that the gods were displeased by this, so the Senate charged the citizens and the sought amounts of gold were retrieved.
To finish Falerii, which was the last surviving enemy of this war, Camillus was made consular tribune again in 394 BC. He seized the opportunity to divert the bitter conflict between Roman social classes into a unifying external conflict. He besieged Falerii and, after he rejected as amoral the proposal of a local school teacher who had surrendered most of the local children to the Romans, the people of Falerii moved to gratitude, swore peace with Rome.
The entire Italian Peninsula was impressed by the Roman victories of Camillus. Aequi, Volsci, and Capena proposed peace treaties. Rome increased its territory by seventy percent and some of the land was distributed to needy citizens. Rome had become the most powerful nation of the central peninsula.
The Romans were restive because no plunder had been reaped out of Falerii. Furthermore, Camillus rejected both the land redistribution and the uncontrolled Roman population of Veii. Consequently, he was impeached by his political adversaries, by an accusation of embezzlement of the Etruscan plunder.
To Camillus, his friends explained that, although the condemnation seemed unavoidable, they would help to pay the fine. Camillus spurned this, opting for exile. He abandoned Rome with his wife and Lucius, his surviving son, and went to Ardea. In his absence, Camillus was condemned to pay 1,500 denarii.
The Gauls, who had already invaded most of Etruria, reached Clusium and its people turned to Rome for help. However, the Roman embassy provoked a skirmish and, then, the Gauls marched straight for Rome (July 390 BC). After the entire Roman army was defeated at the Allia brook (Battle of the Allia), the defenceless Rome was seized by the invaders. The entire Roman army retreated into the deserted Veii whereas most civilians ended at the Etruscan Caere. Nonetheless, a surrounded Roman garrison continued to resist on the Capitoline Hill. The Gauls dwelt within the city, getting their supplies by destroying all nearby towns for plunder.
When the Gauls headed for Ardea, the exiled Camillus, who was now living as a private man, organized the local forces for the defence of the city. He told the city’s inhabitants that the Gauls always exterminated their defeated enemies. Camillus found that the Gauls were distracted, celebrating their latest spoils leading to much drunkenness at their camp. So he attacked them during the night and defeated the enemy easily with great bloodshed. Camillus was hailed then by all other Roman exiles throughout the region. After he refused a makeshift generalship, a Roman messenger sneaked into the Capitol and, therein, the Senators appointed Camillus dictator for a year with the task of confronting the Gauls. At the Roman base of Veii, Camillus gathered a 12,000-man army with more men joining from throughout the region.
The Gauls may have been ill-prepared for the siege, as an epidemic broke out among them as a result of not burying the dead. Brennus and the Romans negotiated an end to the siege when the Romans agreed to pay one thousand pounds of gold. According to tradition, to add insult to injury, it was discovered that Brennus was using heavier weights than standard for weighing the gold. When the Romans complained, Brennus is said to have thrown his sword and belt on the scales and shouted in Latin, “Vae victis!” (“woe to the conquered”).
According to some Roman historians, it was at this very moment that Camillus arrived with a Roman army and, after putting his sword on the scale, replied,”Nōn aurō, sed ferrō, recuperanda est patria” (“not with gold, but with iron, will the fatherland be regained”), and 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.
Camillus sacrificed for the successful return and he ordered the construction of the temple of Aius Locutius. When plebeian orators again proposed moving to Veii, Camillus ordered a debate in the Senate and argued for staying. The Senate unanimously approved of Camillus’s view and ordered the reconstruction of Rome. As the Senate feared sedition by plebeians, it refused Camillus’s requests to resign his position as dictator before his term was finished. This made Camillus the longest-reigning of all Roman dictators until Sulla and Caesar.
Rome’s reconstruction took an entire year. During that time, the Volsci and Aequi invaded the Roman territory, some Latin nations revolted, and the Etruscans besieged Satricum, which was a Roman ally. To confront such a crisis, in 389 BC, Camillus, who was military tribune at that time, was appointed Roman dictator yet again.
When the enemy besieged Rome, Camillus slew most invaders on Mount Marcius, setting fire to their palisades during the windy hours of dawn. Subsequently, Camillus’s army moved south-eastward to defeat the Volsci in the Battle of Maecium, not far from Lanuvium (389 BC). Camillus proceeded then to capture Bola (Aequi’s capital) thus subjecting the Aequi. However, the Romans lost Satricum and Camillus failed to capture Antium, the capital of the Volsci.
Finally, Camillus arrived at Satricum where the population had just been expelled by the Etruscans. Camillus estimated that the Etruscans would be given to boisterous celebrations in Satricum, so he rushed to the confrontation; the Etruscans were so intoxicated that Camillus recaptured Satricum with ease.
After this campaign, the Roman dictator Camillus celebrated a Triumph in Rome. Through Camillus, the Romans had proven their military professional strength and offensive readiness.
Consular tribune (384 BC)
In 384 BC, Camillus was consular tribune again. His office was troubled chiefly by the charismatic Marcus Manlius Capitolinus, who became his greatest detractor and around whom all plebeians had aggregated. While Capitolinus was said to have kingly dreams, he attacked Camillus with precisely such a king-like accusation. Nonetheless, Capitolinus was formally judged and executed.
Consular tribune (381 BC)
The southern Latin tribes were contemptuous of the Romans after their latest expedition. Several of the Volsci cities had united, including Antium, Praeneste, and Velitrae. They liberated Satricum, slaying all the Roman inhabitants. Given this crisis, Camillus was appointed consular tribune power for the sixth time.
His health was poor but his desire for retirement was refused. Camillus decided then that he would command through his son Lucius. Thus, Camillus campaigned. At the battlefield, although Camillus tried to help with the military actions while located safely in a distanced camp, Lucius could not cope with his duties so Camillus moved into the battlefield and the Romans were able to defeat their enemy. Camillus headed then to Satricum with his youngest men and the city was relieved.
Because many of the war prisoners were from Tusculum, Camillus led the Romans there and the city was bloodlessly joined with the Romans so that its citizens were endowed with full Roman rights. Such a favourable action was due to the Furiis coming originally from Tusculum.
After these events, Camillus decided that he would definitely retire.
Roman dictator (368 BC)
Nevertheless, in 368 BC, Camillus was appointed Roman dictator once more, nominally to attend the war of Velletri. However, in Rome, the patricians of the Senate were planning to use Camillus as leverage against the agitated plebeians because the crisis of social classes had worsened due to a severe economic downturn.
For the Roman magistracy, the populists were demanding a dyad of Roman consuls, of whom one should always be a plebeian. Through a false military call, Camillus attempted to trick the plebeian council so it might not meet to approve such plans. The enraged assemblymen were about to punish Camillus when he renounced his office of Dictator.
Roman dictator (367 BC)
With the Gauls marching once more toward Latium, all Romans reunited despite their severe differences. Camillus was named Roman dictator for the fifth time in 367 BC. He actively organized the defence of Rome. Through the commands of Camillus, the Roman soldiers were provided with protective armour against the Gallic main attack: the heavy blow of their swords. Both smooth iron helmets and brass-rimmed shields were made. Also, long pikes were distributed to keep the enemy’s swords at a distance.
The Gauls camped at the Anio river, carrying loads of recently captured plunder. Near them, at the Alban Hills, Camillus discovered their disorganization, which was due to unruly celebrations. Therefore, before the dawn, the Roman light infantry disrupted the Gallic defences and, subsequently, the Roman heavy infantry and pikemen finished off their enemy. After the battle, Velitrae surrendered voluntarily to Rome. Back in Rome, Camillus celebrated with another Triumph.
In Rome, the plebeians were insistent about the dyad of consuls. The patricians refused to compromise and again sought protection behind Camillus’s figure. The populists attempted to arrest Camillus but he timely convoked a Senate session and convinced the Senate to yield to the popular demand, enacted by the plebs as the Lex Licinia Sextia (367 BC). A new magistracy open to patricians and plebeians, the praetorship, was also created.
The creation of the new magistracy was followed by general celebration. Camillus ordered the construction of the Temple of Concord, which would be built beside the Roman Forum.
A deadly pestilence struck Rome and it affected most Roman public figures. Camillus was amongst them, passing away in 365 BC. His death was deeply mourned as he was named “the second founder of Rome.
Livy v.10, vi.4
Polybius ii. 18
Georges Dumézil, Camillus: A Study of Indo-European Religion as Roman History, ed. Udo Strutynski, University of California Press, 1980 (reprinted from 1973, 1975)