Text #9619

"Titus Lartius", in Wikipedia.

Titus Lartius, surnamed either Flavus or Rufus, was one of the leading men of the early Roman Republic, twice consul and the first Roman dictator.

The Lartii, whose nomen is also spelled Larcius and Largius, were an Etruscan family at Rome during the early years of the Republic. Their nomen is derived from the Etruscan praenomen Lars. Titus’ brother, Spurius Lartius, was one of the heroes of the Republic, who defended the wooden bridge over the Tiber at the side of Horatius Cocles and Titus Herminius. He was also twice consul, in 501 and 498 B.C.

Lartius’ first consulship was in 501 B.C., the ninth year of the Republic. His colleague was Postumus Cominius Auruncus. During their year of office, there was a disturbance at Rome, which was attributed to the actions of a group of young Sabines. Only the previous year, the consul Spurius Cassius Viscellinus had defeated the Sabines near Cures, and for a while it appeared that the war might be rekindled. Tensions were also high because it was anticipated that war with the Latins was imminent. Octavius Mamilius, the prince of Tusculum, and son-in-law of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the seventh and last King of Rome, was forming an alliance amongst the thirty towns of Latium, with the aim of restoring Tarquin to the throne.

In these circumstances it was decided to appoint a single magistrate, originally called the praetor maximus or magister populi, “master of the infantry”, but afterwards known simply as the dictator, to oversee the defense of the city. The dictator held supreme authority in the exercise of his duties, and the people had no right to appeal from his decisions, as they could under the consuls. However, the command of the dictator was limited to a period of six months. The senate directed the consuls to nominate a dictator, and Cominius chose his colleague, Lartius. The dictator then proceeded to nominate Spurius Cassius, who had triumphed over the Sabines the previous year, as his magister equitum, or “master of the horse”.

The creation of this magistracy is said to have alarmed the Sabines, who sent envoys to Rome in order to avert war. The negotiations were unsuccessful, and war was declared, but both sides were reluctant to take the field, and no battle occurred. During the remainder of his office, Lartius held the census, negotiated with the various Latin towns in hopes of retaining some old allies and gaining new ones, and presided over the consular elections for the following year. He then laid down his office before the expiration of his term, setting a precedent for future dictators.

He held the consulship a second time in 498 B.C., with Quintus Cloelius Siculus. During this year, the long anticipated war with the Latins began. The dictator Aulus Postumius Albus led the Roman forces to victory at the Battle of Lake Regillus, while the consul Lartius captured the town of Fidenae. After leaving his magistracy, Lartius is said by Dionysius to have dedicated the temple of Saturn at the foot of the Capitoline Hill.

In 494, Lartius unsuccessfully advocated measures to relieve the plebs from the burdens of debt; and in the following year, when the plebeians seceded from the city and encamped on Mons Sacer, Lartius was one of the envoys sent by the senate to treat with them. The embassy was successful, and resulted in the institution of the tribunes of the people.

Also in 493, Lartius served as legate to the consul Cominius, his colleague in 501, at the siege of Corioli, where Gaius Marcius Coriolanus gained fame through his valor.

An alternative tradition states that the first dictator was Manius Valerius, the son of Marcus Valerius Volusus, consul in 505 B.C. However, the historian Titus Livius felt it unlikely that a man who had not yet been consul would be appointed the first dictator, or that Manius Valerius would have been nominated in place of his father. Another tradition places the institution of the dictatorship three years later, in 498 B.C., during Lartius’ second consulship. In that year, Livius states that Aulus Postumius Albus was appointed dictator, and led the Roman army to victory over the Latins at the Battle of Lake Regillus. However, this battle is also placed by some authorities in 496, when Postumius was consul.


Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith, Editor.

George Davis Chase, “The Origin of Roman Praenomina”, in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, vol. VIII (1897).

Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita, ii. 10.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Romaike Archaiologia, v. 24, 25, 36, vii. 68.

Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita, ii. 18.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Romaike Archaiologia, v. 71.

Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd Ed. (1970).

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Romaike Archaiologia, v. 76, 77.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Romaike Archaiologia, v. 50, 59, 60, vi. 1.

Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita, ii. 21.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Romaike Archaiologia, vi. 81, 92.

Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita, ii. 29.

Plutarchus, Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, Coriolanus, 8.

Text #9626

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

Then A. Verginius and T. Vetusius took office. As the plebeians were doubtful as to what sort of consuls they would have, and were anxious to avoid any precipitate and ill-considered action which might result from hastily adopted resolutions in the Forum, they began to hold meetings at night, some on the Esquiline and others on the Aventine. The consuls considered this state of things to be fraught with danger, as it really was, and made a formal report to the senate. But any orderly discussion of their report was out of the question, owing to the excitement and clamour with which the senators received it, and the indignation they felt at the consuls throwing upon them the odium of measures which they ought to have carried on their own authority as consuls. “Surely,” it was said, “if there were really magistrates in the State, there would have been no meetings in Rome beyond the public Assembly; now the State was broken up into a thousand senates and assemblies, since some councils were being held on the Esquiline and others on the Aventine. Why, one man like Appius Claudius, who was worth more than a consul, would have dispersed these gatherings in a moment.”

When the consuls, after being thus censured, asked what they wished them to do, as they were prepared to act with all the energy and determination that the senate desired, a decree was passed that the levy should be raised as speedily as possible, for the plebs was waxing wanton through idleness. After dismissing the senate, the consuls ascended the tribunal and called out the names of those liable to active service. Not a single man answered to his name. The people, standing round as though in formal assembly, declared that the plebs could no longer be imposed upon, the consuls should not get a single soldier until the promise made in the name of the State was fulfilled. Before arms were put into their hands, every man’s liberty must be restored to him, that they might fight for their country and their fellow-citizens and not for tyrannical masters.

The consuls were quite aware of the instructions they had received from the senate, but they were also aware that none of those who had spoken so bravely within the walls of the Senate-house were now present to share the odium which they were incurring. **A desperate conflict with the plebs seemed inevitable. **Before proceeding to extremities they decided to consult the senate again. Thereupon all the younger senators rushed from their seats, and crowding round the chairs of the consuls, ordered them to resign their office and lay down an authority which they had not the courage to maintain.

2.29 Having had quite enough of trying to coerce the plebs on the one hand and persuading the senate to adopt a milder course on the other, the consuls at last said:** “Senators, that you may not say you have not been forewarned, we tell you that a very serious disturbance is at hand. We demand that those who are the loudest in charging us with cowardice shall support us whilst we conduct the levy. We will act as the most resolute may wish, since such is your pleasure.” **

They returned to the tribunal and purposely ordered one of those who were in view to be called up by name. As he stood silent, and a number of men had closed round him to prevent his being seized, the consuls sent a lictor to him. The lictor was pushed away, and those senators who were with the consuls exclaimed that it was an outrageous insult and rushed down from the tribunal to assist the lictor. The hostility of the crowd was diverted from the lictor, who had simply been prevented from making the arrest, to the senators. The interposition of the consuls finally allayed the conflict. There had, however, been no stones thrown or weapons used, it had resulted in more noise and angry words than personal injury.

The senate was summoned and assembled in disorder; its proceedings were still more disorderly. Those who had been roughly handled demanded an inquiry, and all the more violent members supported the demand by shouting and uproar quite as much as by their votes. When at last the excitement had subsided, the consuls censured them for showing as little calm judgment in the senate as there was in the Forum. Then the debate proceeded in order.

Three different policies were advocated. P. Valerius did not think the general question ought to be raised; he thought they ought only to consider the case of those who, in reliance on the promise of the consul P. Servilius, had served in the Volscian, Auruncan, and Sabine wars.

Titus Larcius considered that the time had passed for rewarding only men who had served, the whole plebs was overwhelmed with debt, the evil could not be arrested unless there was a measure for universal relief. Any attempt to differentiate between the various classes would only kindle fresh discord instead of allaying it.

Appius Claudius, harsh by nature, and now maddened by the hatred of the plebs on the one hand and the praises of the senate on the other, asserted that these riotous gatherings were not the result of misery but of licence, the plebeians were actuated by wantonness more than by anger. This was the mischief which had sprung from the right of appeal, for the consuls could only threaten without the power to execute their threats as long as a criminal was allowed to appeal to his fellow-criminals . “Come,” said he, “let us create a Dictator from whom there is no appeal, then this madness which is setting everything on fire will soon die down. Let me see any one strike a lictor then, when he knows that his back and even his life are in the sole power of the man whose authority he attacks.”

2.30 To many the sentiments which Appius uttered seemed cruel and monstrous, as they really were. On the other hand, the proposals of Verginius and Larcius would set a dangerous precedent, that of Larcius at all events, as it would destroy all credit. The advice given by Verginius was regarded as the most moderate, being a middle course between the other two. But through the strength of his party, and the consideration of personal interests which always have injured and always will injure public policy, Appius won the day. He was very nearly being himself appointed Dictator, an appointment which would more than anything have alienated the plebs, and that too at a most critical time when the Volscians, the Aequi, and the Sabines were all in arms together. The consuls and the older patricians, however, took care that a magistracy clothed with such tremendous powers should be entrusted to a man of moderate temper. They created M. Valerius, the son of Volesus, Dictator. Though the plebeians recognised that it was against them that a Dictator had been created, still, as they held their right of appeal under a law which his brother had passed , they did not fear any harsh or tyrannical treatment from that family. Their hopes were confirmed by an edict issued by the Dictator, very similar to the one made by Servilius. That edict had been ineffective, but they thought that more confidence could be placed in the person and power of the Dictator, so, dropping all opposition, they gave in their names for enrolment. Ten legions, were formed, a larger army than had ever before been assembled. Three of them were assigned to each of the consuls, the Dictator took command of four.

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