Spurius Cassius Viscellinus

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Spurius Cassius Viscellinus
Consul of the Roman Republic 502 BC
Magister equitum of the Roman Republic 501 BC
Consul of the Roman Republic 493 BC
Consul of the Roman Republic 486 BC
The execution of Spurius Vecellinus by Domenico Beccafumi as depicted in a fresco in the Palazzo Pubblico.

Spurius Cassius Viscellinus or Vecellinus (d. 485 BC) was one of the most distinguished men of the early Roman Republic. He was three times consul, and celebrated two triumphs. He was the first magister equitum, and the author of the first agrarian law. The year following his last consulship, he was accused of aiming at regal power, and was put to death by the patricians.


From his filiation, Spurius Cassius S. f. S. n. Viscellinus, we know that Cassius' father and grandfather were both named Spurius. According to one tradition, his father was still living and hale at the time of his death. If this were the case, it would be difficult to place Cassius' birth much earlier than 540 or 535 BC. Cassius also left behind him three sons, whose names have not been preserved. It is believed that the Cassii Viscellini were patricians, although the later members of the gens occurring in history were all plebeian. The historian Niebuhr suggests that Cassius' sons may have been expelled by the patricians from their order, or that they or their descendants may have voluntarily passed over to the plebeians, because the patricians had shed the blood of their father.[1][2][3]


Cassius' first consulship was in 502 BC, the eighth year of the Republic. His colleague was Opiter Verginius Tricostus. Dionysius reports that Cassius carried on war against the Sabines, whom he defeated with great loss near Cures. The Sabines sued for peace, and surrendered a large portion of their land. On his return to Rome, Cassius celebrated his first triumph, which is confirmed by the Fasti Triumphales. Livius, however, states that the two consuls carried on war against the Aurunci, and took the town of Suessa Pometia. The same events he reports under BC 495, which is in agreement with Dionysius. Thus, Dionysius probably preserves the correct account.[4][5][6]

In the following year, Titus Lartius Flavus was appointed the first dictator, and as his magister equitum he nominated Cassius. The reason for the institution of these offices was the fear of impending war with both the Sabines and the Latins. After a failed round of negotiations, war was declared against the Sabines, but as both sides were reluctant to come to blows, no hostilities ensued. War with the Latins came in 498 BC, with the Battle of Lake Regillus. Following the Roman victory, Cassius is said to have urged the senate to destroy the Latin towns.[7][8]

Cassius was consul for the second time in 493 BC, with Postumus Cominius Auruncus. The consuls entered upon their office during the secession of the plebs to the Mons Sacer. The strife between the patricians and plebeians was a recurring theme throughout the early history of the Republic, and in time cost Cassius his life. In contrast with his former position, Cassius ratified a treatry with the Latins on Rome's behalf, thereby removing one source of danger to the fledgeling Republic.[9] The treaty became known as the Foedus Cassianum, bearing the consul's name. Cicero related that a copy of the treaty was still extant in his day, and its terms are summarized by Dionysius. Later the same year, Cassius consecrated the temple of Ceres, Bacchus, and Proserpina.[10][11][12][13]

In 486 BC, Cassius was consul for the third time, with Proculus Verginius Tricostus Rutilus. Cassius marched against the Volsci and Hernici, but they sued for peace, and once again showing his talent for diplomacy, Cassius formed a league with the Hernici. The alliances secured by Cassius with both the Latins and Hernici placed the Republic in the same position it had enjoyed under the kings. Livius states that the Hernici agreed to surrender two thirds of their land, but a more likely explanation is that the Romans, Latins, and Hernici agreed to share their acquired land evenly, with each receiving one third of the lands conquered by their mutual arms. This treaty held for over a hundred years. On his return, Cassius celebrated his second triumph.[14][15]

After concluding the treaty with the Hernici, Cassius proposed the first agrarian law at Rome. Dionysius' account of the law contains anachronisms and indicates his unfamiliarity with the customs of the early Republic. Niebuhr suggests that it in fact restored the law of Servius Tullius, the sixth King of Rome, strictly defining the portion of the patricians in the public land, dividing the remainder amongst the plebeians, and requiring that the tithe be levied from the lands possessed by the patricians. Cassius' colleague, Verginius, and the patricians strongly opposed the law, which was probably passed.[16]

Trial and execution[edit]

The following year, after laying down his consulship, Cassius was accused of aiming at royal power, probably by the quaestors Caeso Fabius Vibulanus and Lucius Valerius Potitus. He was tried and sentenced to death by his fellow patricians, who regarded him a traitor for siding with the plebeians. Cassius was scourged and beheaded; his house razed to the ground, and the spot where it stood, in front of the temple of Tellus, was left waste. Both Livius and Dionysius erroneously report that Cassius was condemned by the tribes, and for this reason, Dionysius states that he was hurled from the Tarpeian Rock. A further tradition stated that Cassius was condemned and his sentence carried out by his own father, although Niebuhr argues that it was impossible that a man who had been thrice consul and twice triumphed should still be in his father's power.[17][18][19][20][21]

Although the injustice of Cassius' condemnation today appears obvious, his guilt was accepted by most ancient historians. The chief exception is Cassius Dio, who expressed his belief in the consul's innocence. So universal was the belief in his guilt, that a statue of him erected on the spot of his house by one of his descendants was melted down by the censors in 159 BC. In the temple of Ceres stood a brazen statue of the goddess, with the inscription, ex Cassiana familia datum, believed to have been donated by Cassius' family. Some seem to have called for the execution of Cassius' sons also, but according to Dionysius, they were spared by the senate.[22][23][24]

Chronological uncertainty[edit]

The chronographer E.J. Bickerman has suggested that Cassius' third consulship occurred in 480 BC, the same year as the Battle of Salamis. However, this assertion rests on the accuracy of Diodorus Siculus, who stated that his consulship coincided with the archonship of Calliades in Athens. Calliades was archon in 480 BC. Herodotus confirms the possibility that the battles of Thermopylae and Salamis were fought shortly after the Olympic Games of that year, and only a few months after these events: "On approach of spring, the sun suddenly quit his seat in the heavens, and disappeared" when Xerxes left Sardis, a few weeks or months before crossing over to Greece. This eclipse occurred on February 17, 478 BC, providing a valuable chronological reference.[25][26][27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft.
  2. ^ Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith, Editor.
  3. ^ Barthold Georg Niebuhr, History of Rome, vol. ii, p. 166 ff, Lectures on the History of Rome, p. 89 ff, ed. Schmitz (1848).
  4. ^ Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Romaike Archaiologia, v. 49, vi. 29.
  5. ^ Fasti Capitolini.
  6. ^ Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita, ii. 17, 22, 25, 26.
  7. ^ Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita, ii. 18.
  8. ^ Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Romaike Archaiologia, v. 75, vi. 20.
  9. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 2.33
  10. ^ Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita, ii. 33.
  11. ^ Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Republica, ii. 33, Pro Balbo, 23.
  12. ^ Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Romaike Archaiologia, vi. 49, 94, 95.
  13. ^ Barthold Georg Niebuhr, History of Rome, vol. ii, p. 38, ff.
  14. ^ Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita, ii. 41.
  15. ^ Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd Ed. (1970).
  16. ^ Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita, ii. 41.
  17. ^ Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita, ii. 43.
  18. ^ Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Romaike Archaiologia, viii. 68-80.
  19. ^ Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Republica, ii. 27, 35, Philippicae, ii. 44, Laelius de Amicitia, 8, 11, Pro Domo Sua, 38.
  20. ^ Valerius Maximus, Factorum ac Dictorum Memorabilium libri IX, vi. 3. § 1.
  21. ^ Gaius Plinius Secundus, Historia Naturalis, xxxiv. 6. s. 14.
  22. ^ Lucius Cassius Dio Cocceianus, Exc. de. Sentent., 19, p. 150.
  23. ^ Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Romaike Archaiologia, viii. 80.
  24. ^ Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith, Editor.
  25. ^ Bickerman, E. J. Chronology of the ancient world. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York (1980), 138.
  26. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, xi. 1. § 2.
  27. ^ Herodotus, vii. 37, 166, 206, viii. 51.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSmith, William, ed. (1870). "article name needed". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. 

Preceded by
Agrippa Menenius Lanatus and Publius Postumius Tubertus
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Opiter Verginius Tricostus
502 BC
Succeeded by
Postumius Cominius Auruncus and Titus Lartius Flavus
Preceded by
Aulus Verginius Tricostus Caeliomontanus and Titus Veturius Geminus Cicurinus
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Postumius Cominius Auruncus
493 BC
Succeeded by
Titus Geganius Macerinus and Publius Minucius Augurinus
Preceded by
Titus Sicinius Sabinus and Gaius Aquillius Tuscus
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Proculus Verginius Tricostus Rutilus
486 BC
Succeeded by
Servius Cornelius Maluginensis Cossus and Quintus Fabius Vibulanus