Marcus Furius Camillus

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Francesco Salviati, Triumph of Furius Camillus, Fresco in the Salone dei Cinquecento, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy. Plutarch, Camillus: "Camillus... assumed more to himself than became a civil and legal magistrate; among other things, in the pride and haughtiness of his triumph, driving through Rome in a chariot drawn with four white horses, which no general either before or since ever did; for the Romans consider such a mode of conveyance to be sacred, and especially set apart to the king and father of the gods. This alienated the hearts of his fellow-citizens, who were not accustomed to such pomp and display."

Marcus Furius Camillus (/kəˈmɪləs/; 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.

Early life[edit]

Marcus Furius Camillus from Guillaume Rouillé's Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum

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.[1]

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. As an aside, the 'military tribunes with consular authority', in Latin termed, tribuni militum consulari potestate and in English commonly consular tribunes, were tribunes elected with consular power during the so-called Conflict of the Orders in the Roman Republic, starting 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. The Latin noun camillus denoted a child acolytes at religious rituals. During Camillus's infancy, his relative Quintus Furius Paculus was the Roman Pontifex Maximus.[1]

Early career[edit]

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.[1]

Against Veii[edit]

The School-Teacher Punished by the order of Camillus

In 406, Rome declared war against the rival Etrurian city of Veii. Powerful Veii was a fortified city on an elevated site, which required several years of Roman siege. In 401, 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, Camillus received consular tribune powers and then looted Capena.

When Rome suffered severe defeats in 396, 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.[1]

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 loot 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.[1]


To finish Falerii, which was the last surviving enemy of this war, Camillus was made consular tribune again in 394. 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.[1]

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.[1]


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 loot.[1]

To Camillus, his friends explained that, although the condemnation seemed unavoidable, they would help to pay the fine. Camillus spurned this, opting for the exile. He abandoned Rome with his wife and Lucius, his surviving son, toward Ardea. In his absence, Camillus was condemned to pay 1,500 denarii.[1]

The Gauls and the Second Foundation of Rome[edit]

Clusium was reached by the Gauls, who had invaded most of Etruria already, and its people turned to Rome for help. However, the Roman embassy provoked a skirmish and, then, the Gauls marched straight for Rome (July, 387 BC). After the entire Roman army was defeated at the Allia brook (Battle of the Allia), the defenseless 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.[1]

When the Gauls went for Ardea, the exiled Camillus, who was now a private man, organized the local forces for a defense. Particularly, he harangued that, always, the Gauls exterminated their defeated enemies. Camillus found that the Gauls were too distracted, celebrating their latest spoils with much crapulence at their camp. Then, he attacked during a night, defeating 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 whereas more men joined out of the region.[2]

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.[3]

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.[1] This made Camillus the longest-reigning of all Roman dictators until Sulla and Caesar.

Second regional war[edit]

The city's reconstruction extended for an entire year.[1] During that time, Volsci and Aequi invaded the Roman territory, some Latin nations revolted, and the Etruscans besieged Sutrium, which was a Roman ally. To confront such a crisis, Camillus, who was military tribune then, was appointed Roman dictator yet again, in 385 BC.[1]

When the enemy besieged Rome, Camillus slew most invaders at the Marcian heights, setting fire to their palisades during the windy hours of dawn. Subsequently, Camillus defeated Volsci southeastward, in the Battle of Maecium, not far from Lanuvium (389 BC). Camillus proceeded then, capturing Bola (Aequi's capital) and subjecting Volsci. However, the Romans lost Satricum and Camillus failed to capture Antium, the capital of the Volsci.[1]

Finally, Camillus arrived at Sutrium where the population had just been expelled by the Etruscans. Camillus estimated that they would be given to boisterous celebrations in Sutrium, so he rushed to the confrontation; the Etruscans were so intoxicated that Camillus recaptured Sutrium with ease.[1]

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.

Further life[edit]

Consular tribune (381 BC)[edit]

In 381 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 had kingly dreams even, he attacked Camillus actually with precisely such kinglike accusation. Nonetheless, Capitolinus was formally judged and executed.[1]

Consular tribune (378 BC)[edit]

The southern nations were contemptuous against the Romans after their latest expedition. Several cities of Volsci united, such as Antium, Praeneste, and Velitrae. They liberated Satricum, slaying all Roman inhabitants. Before such crisis Camillus was appointed consular tribune power for the sixth time.[1]

His health was poor but his retirement was refused. Camillus decided then that he would command through his son Lucius. Thus, Camillus campaigned. At the battlefield, although Camillus helped the military actions safely, from a distanced camp, Lucius couldn't cope with his duties so Camillus jumped into the battlefield. It was so that the Romans defeated their enemy. Camillus headed then to Satricus with his youngest men and it was retrieved.[1]

Because many war prisoners were of Tusculum, Camillus headed the Romans thither and the city was bloodlessly adjoined with the Romans whereas its citizens were endowed with fully Roman rights. Such favorable development was due to the local relatedness of the Furiis.[1]

After these events, Camillus decided that he would retire definitively.[1]

Roman dictator (368 BC)[edit]

Camillus was appointed Roman dictator (368 BC), nominally to attend the war of Velletri. However, at Rome, the patricians of the Senate were expecting, actually, that Camillus would be their leverage against the agitated plebeians because the crisis of social classes had worsened by a quite severe economical pass.[1]

For the Roman magistracy, the populists were demanding a dyad of Roman consuls, of whom one should be a plebeian always. Through a bogus military call, Camillus attempted to trick the plebeian concil so it might not meet to approve such plans. The enraged assemblymen were about punishing Camillus when he renounced his office of Dictator.[1]

Roman dictator (367 BC)[edit]

As the Gauls were, again, marching toward Latium, all Romans reunited despite their severe differences. Camillus was named Roman dictator for the fifth time then (367 BC). He organized the defense of Rome actively. By the commands of Camillus, the Roman soldiers were protected particularly against the Gallic main attack, the heavy blow of their swords. Both smooth iron helmets and brass-rimmed shields were built. Also, long pikes were used, to keep the enemy's swords far.[1]

The Gauls camped at the Anio river, carrying loads of recently gotten plunder. Near them, at the Alban Hills, Camillus discovered their disorganization, which was due to unruly celebrations. Before the dawn, then, the light infantry disarrayed the Gallic defenses and, subsequently, the heavy infantry and the pikemen of the Romans finished their enemy. After the battle, Velitrae surrendered voluntarily to Rome. Back in Rome, Camillus celebrated with another Triumph.[1]

Issue of the social classes[edit]

At 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).[1] 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.[1]


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."[1]

In popular culture[edit]

Marcus Furius Camillus was played by Massimo Serato in the 1963 film Brennus, Enemy of Rome.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Plutarch, Lives: Wikisource Life of Camillus.
  2. ^ Livy v.10, vi.4
  3. ^ Livy, History of Rome, Book 5, Chapter 49.
Primary sources
Secondary sources