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Marcus Furius Camillus

(c. 446 – 364 BCE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Marcus Furius Camillus

Marcus Furius Camillus was born around 446 BCE. He was a Roman general, a six-time military tribune. His successes on the battlefield saw him nicknamed “the second founder of Rome” – after Romulus. Marcus Camillus also went down in history as an outstanding commander.


Camillus belonged to the gens Furia family, whose roots traced back to the Latin city of Tusculum. Originally in the 90s of the 5th century BCE, this city was an enemy of Rome, but with time it entered into an alliance with it. The Tusculum society integrated with the Romans and some inhabitants began to take Roman offices. By 450 BCE gens Furia already had a good position in the social structures of Rome.

Camillus’ father was Lucius Furius Medullinus, a patrician who was a tribune with the power of a consul. Camillus had more than three brothers: the eldest, Lucius, was a consul and, like his father, a consular tribune. This special office, called tribuni militum consulari potestate, existed in the period 494-287 BCE when the rivalry between plebeians and patricians took place. By creating a new office, the reform of the existing one was avoided. magistracies and plebeians were allowed to rise to higher positions.

The noun camillus itself meant a child participating in religious rituals. When Camillus was a child his close family member Quintus Furius Paculus held the office of pontifex maximus.

Political career and the war with the Veii

Initially, Marcus Camillus was an outstanding soldier. He distinguished himself in the battle against Volscii and Ecu, in the army of the dictator Aulus Postumius Tubertus. Then he was appointed a military tribune. In 403 BCE he became a censor with Marcus Postumius Albinus Regillensis. While in office, he introduced high taxes to strengthen the heavily burdened state finances in times of war.

In 406 BCE Rome declared war on the Etruscan city – Veii. Due to the fact that the centre was in an inaccessible place and was well fortified, the siege of the Romans lasted years. In 401 BCE the long war was widely criticized, which elevated Camillus to the post of consular tribune. Under his command, the army quickly attacked the allies of the Veins: Faleria and Capen, but to no avail.

Teacher punished on Camillus’ order.

In 396 BCE Camillus was appointed dictator. It was decided to appoint a temporary sole leader due to the bad turn of the war with the Etruscan city of Veye. The fighting had been going on for 10 years, and the siege was to no avail. In addition, the Romans have recently defeated the inhabitants of Faleria (Capena was conquered in 398 BCE). When he arrived at Veye, it turned out that the water in the nearby Albanian Lake began to rise unnaturally. Both the local fortune-tellers and the Pythia of Delphi gave one answer to the dictator’s question of what this means – the Romans will not conquer the Veins until they make the water in the lake subsided. The chief ordered to build canals, which drained the water and poured it over the fields. The next storm on the city brought victory – Camillus’ men got behind the walls by a clandestine trench. The excavation was calculated in such a way that its exit fell to the town square itself. The Roman commander, thanks to the gods, organized the Great Games (Ludi Magni) and built the temple of Mater Matuta (the ancient Vital goddess of fertility). The statue of Juno the Queen (Iuno Regina) was also taken from the Veins and a temple was erected for him in Rome. Juno was the patroness of the Veins and before the attack, Camillus, as was his custom, said a special prayer – evocatio, i.e. summoning the patron deity of the city to leave it in exchange for a new seat. The most important aspect of conquering the Veins was the division of the conquered land into plots (about 1.75 ha) and granting them, along with full citizenship, to poor peasants, who had been working on the land so far from wealthy owners. The increase in the number of citizens resulted in an increase in the size of the army. Camillus had a triumph, but his popularity was somewhat hurt by donating much of the loot to the oracle at Delphi. The soothsayers decided that the gods were angry for the lack of sacrifices in their honour. During the triumph, Camillus was the first in history to ride a chariot drawn by four white horses. It was also the last time the winner had a red face. The victory over Veii was celebrated for four days.

When he was a consular tribune in 394 BCE Camillus led an army against the city of Faleria. He beat his enemies in the field and captured their camp, taking valuable loot, and then proceeded to siege the city itself. One day a teacher came to him who, under the guise of training, led the sons of the ruling aristocrats out of Faleria and wanted to subject them to Roman authority. For his betrayal, however, he did not receive the expected reward. Camillus declared that the Romans do not fight with children and win with valour, not betrayal. Then he ordered the boys to be released, and the deceitful teacher to be flogged and chased back to the city. The inhabitants of Faleria, admiring the honour and justice of the Roman commander, offered to make an alliance and pay the Romans a tribute. In this way, Rome gained an ally, and Camillus’ fame as an invincible leader increased even more. Aequi, Volsci, Capena inhabitants proposed peace treaties. Due to the recent wars, Rome increased its territory by 70% and became the most powerful nation in the central part of the peninsula.

Soon after this success, Camillus was accused by the tribune of the people of Lucius Apuleius of misappropriating the spoils. The allegations were false, but they very much affected the chief, who was famous for his honesty. Camillus’ friends wanted to support him in paying the fine, but the latter, unable to bear the offence, went into voluntary exile to Ardea. Apparently, leaving Rome with his wife and son Lucius, Camillus asked the gods to let the ungrateful people feel the lack of their protector. The family went to Ardea, and Camillus was obliged to pay 1,500 denarii of an acre.

Marcus Furius Camillus appearing in Rome

The invasion of the Gauls and the conquest of Rome

Unexpectedly, in 390 BCE Rome has suffered its greatest defeat since the founding of the city. Italy was invaded by Gauls from across the Alps, led by Brennus. The city of Clusium asked the republic for help. Negotiations were attempted, but to no avail when an impetuous Roman envoy killed one of the Celtic chiefs. The barbarians moved to Rome, where, despite the danger, no dictator was appointed. The ineffectively commanded Roman and allied troops suffered a defeat on the Alia River. The invaders plundered Rome without its defenders. Only the Capitol managed to defend itself. The attempt to get it at night failed because the Romans were alerted by the gagging of geese dedicated to Juno. The barbarians began the siege, sending some of their troops for provisions. One of their troops came to Ardea. Camillus, who was there, led the inhabitants of the city and defeated the Gauls by attacking their camp at night. Soon he was joined by the remnants of the Roman army defeated over Alia. Word of this reached the Capitol, from where a messenger soon broke through, announcing to Camillus that he had been made dictator. The commander went to the rescue of Rome. It turned out, however, that the tribune Quintus Sulpicius had already agreed to pay Gauls 1,000 pounds of gold to leave Rome. When the whites on the scales turned out to be suspicious, they complained to the Gallic commander; The latter, laughing, took off his long sword and threw it on the scales with the heavy belt, saying – Vae victis (“Woe to the vanquished”). The accounts do not agree on what happened next. According to some, Camillus attacked Brennus’ army in Rome and defeated it. Camillus was to say to the envoys, “Rome buys freedom, not with gold, but with the sword.” According to other accounts, he harassed the barbarians returning to their homeland with numerous skirmishes, regaining some of the lost riches. The second version is definitely more likely because the Roman commander did not have enough army to fight a major battle. Camillus was called “the second Romulus”, the saviour of Rome. Apparently, he triumphed over the Gauls.

In 389 BCE Volsci attacked Rome, counting on its weakening after the invasion of the Gauls. Camillus, elected dictator, defeated them at Avalanche, and then at Bolae the Aequas, who also joined the war, defeated them. The Etruscans at that time invaded the Sutrium, allied with Rome, but also suffered a defeat at the hands of the dictator. For this streak of victories, he was awarded a triumph over these three people. In 384 BCE Camillus became a consular tribune. During this time, he was often criticized by the charismatic plebeian leader Marcus Manlius Capitolinus, who was eventually executed for aspiring to power as king.

The year 381 BCE, in which Camillus was a tribune, brought him further successes in battles with the Volsci and Etruscans. In 368 BCE Camillus became dictator to fight the city of Velletri; Ultimately, however, the patricians wanted to use him to fight the commoners. In 367 BCE Italy was to be invaded again by the Gauls, which blocked the rivalry between the layers. The aged leader, once again serving as a tribune, took the dictatorship. The Gauls camped on the River Anio (now Aniene). Camillus defeated them and triumphed. He also started reforming the army replacing the phalanx with a manipulative formation.


As a result of the raging epidemy in 364 BCE in Rome, the 80-year-old Marcus Furius Camillus, “father of the motherland”, died. The memory of the great hero referred to as dux fatalis, “a leader sent by the gods” has survived in Rome for centuries. In the meantime, a lot of legends and heroic deeds grew up around him.

  • Axelrod Alex, Phillips Charles, Władcy, tyrani, dyktatorzy. Leksykon, Warszawa 2000
  • Ciechanowicz Jerzy, Rzym, ludzie i budowle, Warszawa 1987
  • Plutarch, Camillus

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