Text #9639

Livius. "Ab urbe condita"
[Bk. 2 ]


During the consulship of M. Minucius and A. Sempronius, a large quantity of corn was brought from Sicily, and the question was discussed in the senate at what price it should be given to the plebs. Many were of opinion that the moment had come for putting pressure on the plebeians, and recovering the rights which had been wrested from the senate through the secession and the violence which accompanied it. Foremost among these was Marcius Coriolanus, a determined foe to the tribunitian power. “If,” he argued, “they want their corn at the old price, let them restore to the senate its old powers. Why, then, do I, after being sent under the yoke, ransomed as it were from brigands, see plebeian magistrates, why do I see a Sicinius in power? Am I to endure these indignities a moment longer than I can help? Am I, who could not put up with a Tarquin as king, to put up with a Sicinius? Let him secede now! let him call out his plebeians, the way lies open to the Sacred Hill and to other hills. Let them carry off the corn from our fields as they did two years ago; let them enjoy the scarcity which in their madness they have produced! I will venture to say that after they have been tamed by these sufferings, they will rather work as labourers themselves in the fields than prevent their being cultivated by an armed secession.” It is not so easy to say whether they ought to have done this as it is to express one’s belief that it could have been done, and the senators might have made it a condition of lowering the price of the corn that they should abrogate the tribunitian power and all the legal restrictions imposed upon them against their will.


The senate considered these sentiments too bitter, the plebeians in their exasperation almost flew to arms. Famine, they said, was being used as a weapon against them, as though they were enemies; they were being cheated out of food and sustenance; the foreign corn, which fortune had unexpectedly given them as their sole means of support, was to be snatched from their mouths unless their tribunes were given up in chains to Cn. Marcius, unless he could work his will on the backs of the Roman plebeians. In him a new executioner had sprung up, who ordered them either to die or live as slaves.

He would have been attacked on leaving the Senate-house had not the tribunes most opportunely fixed a day for his impeachment. This allayed the excitement, every man saw himself a judge with the power of life and death over his enemy. At first Marcius treated the threats of the tribunes with contempt; they had the right of protecting not of punishing, they were the tribunes of the plebs not of the patricians. But the anger of the plebeians was so thoroughly roused that the patricians could only save themselves by the punishment of one of their order.

They resisted, however, in spite of the odium: they incurred, and exercised all the powers they possessed both collectively and individually. At first they attempted to thwart proceedings by posting pickets of their clients to deter individuals from frequenting meetings and conclaves. Then they proceeded in a body-you might suppose that every patrician was impeached-and implored the plebeians, if they refused to acquit a man who was innocent, at least to give up to them, as guilty, one citizen, one senator. As he did not put in an appearance on the day of trial, their resentment remained unabated, and he was condemned in his absence.

**He went into exile amongst the Volscians, uttering threats against his country, and even then entertaining hostile designs against it. **The Volscians welcomed his arrival, and he became more popular as his resentment against his countrymen became more bitter, and his complaints and threats were more frequently heard. He enjoyed the hospitality of Attius Tullius, who was by far the most important man at that time amongst the Volscians and a life-long enemy of the Romans. Impelled each by similar motives, the one by old-standing hatred, the other by newly-provoked resentment, they formed joint plans for war with Rome. They were under the impression that the people could not easily be induced, after so many defeats, to take up arms again, and that after their losses in their numerous wars and recently through the pestilence, their spirits were broken. The hostility had now had time to die down; it was necessary, therefore, to adopt some artifice by which fresh irritation might be produced.

Text #9621

"Gaius Marcius (Caius Martius) Coriolanus", in Wikipedia.

Gaius Marcius (Caius Martius) Coriolanus was a Roman general who is said to have lived in the 5th century BC. He received his toponymic cognomen “Coriolanus” because of his exceptional valor in a Roman siege of the Volscian city of Corioli. He was subsequently exiled from Rome, and led troops of Rome’s enemy the Volsci to besiege Rome.

In later ancient times, it was generally accepted by historians that Coriolanus was a real historical individual, and a consensus narrative story of his life appeared, retold by leading historians such as Livy, Plutarch, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus. More recent scholarship has cast doubt on the historicity of Coriolanus, portraying him as either a wholly legendary figure or at least disputing the accuracy of the conventional story of his life or the timing of the events.

According to Plutarch, his ancestors included prominent patricians such as Censorinus and even an early King of Rome.

The story is the basis for the tragedy of Coriolanus, written by William Shakespeare, and a number of other works, including Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture (based not on Shakespeare but on the play Coriolan by Heinrich Joseph von Collin).

Coriolanus came to fame as a young man serving in the army of the consul Postumus Cominius Auruncus in 493 BC during the siege of the Volscian town of Corioli. While the Romans were focused on the siege, another Volscian force arrived from Antium (modern Anzio and Nettuno) and attacked the Romans, and at the same time the soldiers of Corioli launched a sally. Marcius held watch at the time of the Volscian attack. He quickly gathered a small force of Roman soldiers to fight against the Volscians who had sallied forth from Corioli. Not only did he repel the enemy, but he also charged through the town gates and then began setting fire to some of the houses bordering the town wall. The citizens of Corioli cried out, and the whole Volscian force was dispirited and was defeated by the Romans. The town was captured, and Marcius gained the cognomen Coriolanus.

In 491 BC, two years after Coriolanus’ victory over the Volscians, Rome was recovering from a grain shortage. A significant quantity of grain was imported from Sicily, and the senate debated the manner in which it should be distributed to the commoners. Coriolanus advocated that the provision of grain should be dependent upon the reversal of the pro-plebeian political reforms arising from the First secessio plebis in 493/4 BC.

The senate thought Coriolanus’ proposal was too harsh. The populace were incensed at Coriolanus’ proposal, and the tribunes put him on trial. The senators argued for the acquittal of Coriolanus, or at the least a merciful sentence. Coriolanus refused to attend on the day of his trial, and he was convicted.

Coriolanus fled to the Volsci in exile. He was received and treated kindly, and resided with the Volscian leader Attius Tullus Aufidius.

Plutarch’s account of his defection tells that Coriolanus donned a disguise and entered the home of Aufidius as a supplicant.

Coriolanus and Aufidius then persuaded the Volscians to break their truce with Rome and raise an army to invade. Livy recounts that Aufidius tricked the Roman senate into expelling the Volsci from Rome during the celebration of the Great Games, thereby stirring up ill-will among the Volsci.

Coriolanus and Aufidius led the Volscian army against Roman towns, colonies and allies. Roman colonists were expelled from Circeii. They then retook the formerly Volscian towns of Satricum, Longula, Pollusca and Corioli. Then the Volscian army took Lavinium, then Corbio, Vitellia, Trebia, Lavici and Pedum.

From there the Volsci marched on Rome and besieged it. The Volscians initially camped at the Cluilian trench, five miles outside Rome, and ravaged the countryside. Coriolanus directed the Volsci to target plebeian properties and to spare the patricians’.

The consuls, now Spurius Nautius Rutilus and Sextus Furius Medullinus Fusus, readied the defences of the city. But the plebeians implored them to sue for peace. The senate was convened, and it was agreed to send supplicants to the enemy. Initially ambassadors were sent, but Coriolanus sent back a negative response. The ambassadors were sent to the Volsci a second time, but were refused entry to the enemy camp. Next priests, in their regalia, were sent by the Romans, but achieved nothing more than had the ambassadors.

Then Coriolanus’ mother Veturia (known as Volumnia in Shakespeare’s play) and his wife Volumnia (known as Virgilia in Shakespeare’s play) and his two sons, together with the matrons of Rome, went out to the Volscian camp and implored Coriolanus to cease his attack on Rome. Coriolanus was overcome by their pleas, and moved the Volscian camp back from the city, ending the siege. Rome honoured the service of these women by the erection of a temple dedicated to Fortuna (a female deity).

Coriolanus’ fate after this point is unclear, but it seems he took no further part in the war.

One version[which?] says that Coriolanus retired to Aufidius’ home city of Antium. Coriolanus had committed acts of disloyalty to both Rome and the Volsci, and Aufidius raised support to have Coriolanus first put on trial by the Volscians, and then assassinated before the trial had ended.

Plutarch’s tale of Coriolanus’ appeal to Aufidius is quite similar to a tale from the life of Themistocles, a leader of the Athenian democracy who was a contemporary of Coriolanus. During Themistocles’ exile from Athens, he travelled to the home of Admetus, King of the Molossians, a man who was his personal enemy. Themistocles came to Admetus in disguise and appealed to him as a fugitive, just as Coriolanus appealed to Aufidius. Themistocles, however, never attempted military retaliation against Athens.

Some modern scholars question parts of the story of Coriolanus. It is notable that accounts of Coriolanus’ life are first found in works from the third century BC, some two hundred years after Coriolanus’ life, and there are few authoritative historical records prior to the Gallic sack of Rome in 390 BC. Whether or not Coriolanus himself is a historical figure, the saga preserves a genuine popular memory of the dark, unhappy decades of the early 5th century BC when the Volscians overran Latium and threatened the very existence of Rome.


Livy, Ab urbe condita, 2

Text #9637

Livius. "Ab urbe condita"
[Bk. 2 ]

During the secession of the plebs Sp. Cassius and Postumius Cominius entered on their consulship. In their year of office a treaty was concluded with the Latin towns, and one of the consuls remained in Rome for the purpose. The other was sent to the Volscian war. He routed a force of Volscians from Antium, and pursued them to Longula, which he gained possession of. Then he advanced to Polusca, also belonging to the Volscians, which he captured, after which he attacked Corioli in great force.

Amongst the most distinguished of the young soldiers in the camp at that time was Cnaeus Marcius, a young man prompt in counsel and action, who afterwards received the epithet of Coriolanus. During the progress of the siege, while the Roman army was devoting its whole attention to the townspeople whom it had shut up within their walls, and not in the least apprehending any danger from hostile movements without, it was suddenly attacked by Volscian legions who had marched from Antium. At the same moment a sortie was made from the town. Marcius happened to be on guard, and with a picked body of men not only repelled the sortie but made a bold dash through the open gate, and after cutting down many in the part of the city nearest to him, seized some fire and hurled it on the buildings which abutted on the walls. The shouts of the townsmen mingled with the shrieks of the terrified women and children encouraged the Romans and dismayed the Volscians, who thought that the city which they had come to assist was already captured. So the troops from Antium were routed and Corioli taken. The renown which Marcius won so completely eclipsed that of the consul, that, had not the treaty with the Latins-which owing to his colleague’s absence had been concluded by Sp. Cassius alone-been inscribed on a brazen column, and so permanently recorded, all memory of Postumius Cominius having carried on a war with the Volscians would have perished.

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