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Cincinnatus – role model

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Cincinnatus Receiving Deputies of the Senate, Alexandre Cabanel
Cincinnatus Receiving Deputies of the Senate, Alexandre Cabanel

For hundreds of years in Rome and around the world, a model of civic virtue was one Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (“Curly”), also known as Cincinnatus. He was a patrician and Roman consul in 460 BCE. In 458 BCE he was proclaimed dictator of Rome by the Roman Senate during the war with the Aequi people. According to legend, the senate made the choice while Cincinnatus was ploughing the field.

The envoys, sent by the Senate, first ordered him to put on a toga, and only when Cincinnatus appeared in the appropriate attire, they gave him the news of the election. After his victory and triumph, he immediately relinquished his office and the unlimited powers that came with it, to return to farming. As a result, he became a symbol of the virtues of a Roman citizen.

His achievements were described by the Roman historian Tytus Livius, and it was thanks to him that Cincinnatus turned out to be one of the most popular figures of Roman antiquity known to the literature and historiography of the European modern era. Livy described Cincinnatus in this way and presented the moment of receiving the Senate delegation:

What followed merits the attention of those who despise all human qualities in comparison with riches, and think there is no room for great honours or for worth but amidst a profusion of wealth. The sole hope of the empire of the Roman People, Lucius Quinctius, cultivated a field of some four acres across the Tiber, now known as the Quinctian Meadows, directly opposite the place where the dockyards are at present. There he was found by the representatives of the state. Whether bending over his spade as he dug a ditch, or ploughing, he was, at all events, as everybody agrees, intent upon some rustic task. After they had exchanged greetings with him, they asked him to put on his toga, to hear (and might good come of it to himself and the republic!) the mandates of the senate. In amazement he cried, “Is all well?” and bade his wife Racilia quickly fetch out his toga from the hut. When he had put it on, after wiping off the dust and sweat, and came forth to the envoys, they hailed him Dictator, congratulated him, and summoned him to the City, explaining the alarming situation of the army.

Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita III.26

Cincinnatus’ biography

  • Titus Livius, Ad urbe condita

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