Appius Claudius Caecus

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Possible bust of Caecus, now in the Chiaramonti Museum in the Vatican.[1][2]
Appius Claudius Caecus is led into the Curia Hostilia by his sons. 19th century painting by Cesare Maccari.
Memorial inscription of Appius Claudius C. F. Caecus, "Appius Claudius Caecus, son of Gaius."

Appius Claudius Crassus Caecus ("the blind"; c. 340 BC – after 280 BC) was an important statesman of the Roman Republic, active between 315 and 278. He was censor between 312 and 308, and then consul twice, once in 307 and once in 296, dictator c. 285, and interrex three times. He is the first Roman whose life can be traced with historical certainty.

Caecus' political highlight is his time as censor for five years, while the magistracy was supposed to last only 18 months, during which he built the first Roman road (the Via Appia) and the first aqueduct (the Aqua Appia). He also made several obscure constitutional reforms, by changing the organisation of the Roman tribes and admitting descendants of freedmen in the electoral rolls. In addition, he was the first censor to draw the list of senators. These reforms massively increased the prestige of the censorship, which had hitherto been a minor magistracy.

However, his reforms triggered outrage as he broke a number of established conventions. Caecus seems to have been embroiled in several bitter political feuds, especially with the Fabii. As the first Roman historian was a Fabius, the Roman historical tradition contains a significant amount of smear against Caecus, accusing him of being a corrupted, immoral demagogue, and an inept general. This image is notably found in the works of Livy, Suetonius and Tacitus, who repeated these accusations on the other Claudii. Concurrently, a different picture of him has also survived, that of an enlightened philhellene, the first Roman author of poetic and prose works, also credited with a reform of the Latin alphabet. His speech advocating against the odds the continuation of the war against Pyrrhus was furthermore the first recorded speech in Roman history and inspired orators for centuries.

Due to the wide divergence in the sources, modern scholars have had very different interpretations of Caecus' deeds: he has indeed been variously described as a revolutionary, a reactionary, a would-be tyrant, or a great reformer, comparable to the Athenian Cleisthenes.

Family background[edit]

Caecus belonged to the patrician gens Claudia, one of the most important families of the Republic, which counted prominent men from its beginning to the Roman Empire. His exact relationship with the Claudii of the fifth century is uncertain as there is some doubt on their career, but Caecus was certainly a descendant of Appius Claudius Crassus Inregillensis Sabinus, consul in 495 and semi-legendary founder of the gens.[3] This man's son was perhaps consul in 471 and the leading member of the Decemvirate in 451;[4] his brother was consul in 460,[5] and his son and grandson were respectively consular tribunes in 424 and 403.[6] Livy describes them in a stereotypical fashion as haughty aristocrats with arch-conservative views.[7]

The Claudii were however in decline in the fourth century, and only two of them are recorded before Caecus. Appius Claudius Crassus Inregillensis—Caecus' grandfather—was dictator in 362 and consul in 349; he died during his last office.[8][9] Caecus' father, Gaius Claudius Crassus Inregillensis was dictator in 337, but had to resign immediately because the augurs had found a fault in his appointment.[10][11][12]

His mother is not known, but he had a much younger brother, Appius Claudius Caudex, who became consul in 264, four years after Caecus' elder son. Since Caecus' sons became consuls over a period of 28 years and long after his own time, he probably married at least twice, even though none of his wives is known.[13]

Early career[edit]

Caecus' early career before his censorship is only known from his eulogy, formerly displayed on the Forum. This summary of his career lists all the responsibilities he held, including some junior offices, while literary sources only record upper magistracies (censor, consul, and praetor); however it does not provide any date and the offices are not ordered chronologically.[14] The eulogy tells that he was military tribune three times, one time quaestor, and curule aedile two times. These junior magistracies were standard in the career of every Roman politician, but the iterations are—at first sight—much more unusual. Endre Ferenczy thought Caecus held them all before his censorship because of his family's decline, which forced him to repeat them to build his popularity (especially as aedile, because this magistrate organised games), therefore explaining his early censorship.[14] However, his thesis has been criticised, notably by Stephen Oakley, who notes that there is not enough evidence to know whether iterations of the military tribuneship and aedileship were really exceptional for this period, during which most careers are unknown.[15]

It is nonetheless certain that Caecus was military tribune before his censorship, because it was a requirement for being elected consul, which he became immediately after his censorship. As military tribune, he certainly served during the Second Samnite War (326–304 BC), the main conflict in Italy at the time.[15]

Censorship (312–308 BC)[edit]

Appius Claudius Caecus was a censor in 312 BC, although he had not previously been consul which later was effectively a prerequisite for the office.[16][further explanation needed] He sought support from the lower classes, allowing sons of freedmen to serve in the Senate, and extending voting privileges to men in the rural tribes who did not own land. During the Second Samnite War, he advocated the founding of Roman colonies (colonia) throughout Latium and Campania to serve as fortifications against the Samnites and Etruscans.

Appius is best known for two undertakings he began as censor: the Appian Way (Latin: Via Appia), the first major Roman road, running between Rome and Beneventum to the south; and the first aqueduct in Rome, the Aqua Appia.[17] He also supported Gnaeus Flavius, who published for the first time a list of legal procedures and the legal calendar, knowledge of which, until that time, had been reserved for the pontifices, a college of priests.

Later career (307–280 BC)[edit]

He later served as consul twice, in 307 BC and 296 BC, and in 292 BC and 285 BC he was appointed Dictator. According to Livy, he had gone blind because of a curse. In 279,[18] he gave a famous speech against Cineas, an envoy of Pyrrhus of Epirus, declaring that Rome would never surrender.[19] This is the earliest known political speech in Latin, and is the source of the saying "every man is the architect of his own fortune" (Latin: quisque faber suae fortunae).[20]

Literary output[edit]

Appius wrote a book called Sententiae, based upon a verse of Greek model. It was "the first Roman book of literary character".[18] He was also concerned with literature and rhetoric, and instituted reforms in Latin orthography, allegedly ending the use of the letter Z.[20]


His four sons were Appius Claudius Russus (consul in 268), Publius Claudius Pulcher (consul in 249), Gaius Claudius Centho (consul in 240), and Tiberius Claudius Nero (grandfather of the consul of 202).

Appius Claudius Caecus is used in Cicero's Pro Caelio as a stern and disapproving ancestor to Clodia. Cicero assumes the voice of Caecus in a scathing prosopopoeia, where Caecus is incensed at Clodia for associating with Caelius, a member of the middle equestrian class instead of the upper patrician class. Caecus's achievements, such as the building of the Appian Way and the Aqua Appia, are mentioned as being defiled by Clodia's actions.

Family tree of Appius Caecus[edit]

Ap. Crassus

dict. 362, cos. 349
C. Crassus
dict. 337
Ap. Crassus Caecus
cens. 312
cos. 307, 296
dict. c.285
Ap. Caudex
cos. 264
Ap. Russus
cos. 268
Ti. NeroP. Pulcher
cos 249
C. Centho
cos 240, cens. 225
dict. 213
Ti. NeroP. NeroAp. Pulcher
cos. 212
C. Centho
leg. 200
C. Nero
cos. 207
cens. 204
Ti. Nero
cos. 202
Ap. Nero
pr. 195
Ap. Pulcher
cos. 185
P. Pulcher
cos. 184
C. Pulcher
cos. 177
cens. 169
Ap. Centho
pr. 175
C. Centho
leg. 155


  1. ^ Hafner, "Römische und italische Porträts", pp. 59–66.
  2. ^ Humm, Appius Claudius Caecus, pp. 36, 37.
  3. ^ Broughton, vol. I, p. 13.
  4. ^ Broughton, vol. I, pp. 30, 45, 46 (notes 1, 2).
  5. ^ Broughton, vol. I, pp. 37, 38 (note 1).
  6. ^ Broughton, vol. I, pp. 68, 81, 82 (note 1).
  7. ^ Vasaly, "Personality and Power", pp. 203–205.
  8. ^ Livy, vii. 24, 25.
  9. ^ Broughton, vol. I, pp. 81, 82 (note 1), 117, 118 (note 2), 128, 129 (note 1), who notes the unlikely possibility that he was also the consular tribune of 403 (and therefore the grandson of the decemvir).
  10. ^ Livy, viii. 15.
  11. ^ Broughton, vol. I, p. 139.
  12. ^ Oakley, Commentary, Book 9, p. 357.
  13. ^ Oakley, Commentary, Book 9, p. 357 (note 2).
  14. ^ a b Ferenczy, "La carrière d'Appius jusqu'à la censure", p. 381.
  15. ^ a b Oakley, Commentary, Book IX, pp. 352, 353 (note 2).
  16. ^ Livy, ix.29.
  17. ^ "The Romans: From Village to Empire: A History of Rome from Earliest Times to the End of the Western Empire" by M. Boatwright, et al. 2nd edition. 2011.
  18. ^ a b Boak, Arthur E. R. & Sinnigen, William G. History of Rome to A.D. 565. 5th Edition. The Macmillan Company, 1965. Print. pg. 95
  19. ^ "Appius Claudius Caecus | Roman statesman".
  20. ^ a b James Grout: Appius Claudius Caecus and the Letter Z, part of the Encyclopædia Romana


Ancient sources[edit]

Modern sources[edit]

  • John Briscoe, Valerius Maximus, Facta et dicta memorabilia, Book 8 Text, Introduction, and Commentary, Berlin/Boston, De Gruyter, 2019.
  • T. Robert S. Broughton, The Magistrates of the Roman Republic, American Philological Association, 1951–1952.
  • Endre Ferenczy, “La carrière d’Appius Claudius Caecus jusqu’à la censure”, Acta Antiqua Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 13, 1965, p. 379–404.
  • German Hafner, "Römische und italische Porträts des 4. Jahrhunderts v. Chr.", Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Römische Abteilung, n°77, 1970, p. 59–66.
  • Michel Humm, Appius Claudius Caecus, La République accomplie, Rome, Publications de l'École française de Rome, 2005.
  • Friedrich Münzer, Roman Aristocratic Parties and Families, translated by Thérèse Ridley, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999 (originally published in 1920).
  • Stephen Oakley, Commentary on Livy, Books VI–X, Volume III, Book IX, Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • ——, Commentary on Livy, Books VI–X, Volume III, Book X, Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • August Pauly, Georg Wissowa, Friedrich Münzer, et alii, Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft (abbreviated PW), J. B. Metzler, Stuttgart, 1894–1980.
  • Lily Ross Taylor and T. Robert S. Broughton, "The Order of the Two Consuls' Names in the Yearly Lists", Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, 19 (1949), pp. 3–14.
  • Ann Vasaly, "Personality and Power: Livy's Depiction of the Appii Claudii in the First Pentad", Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol. 117 (1987), pp. 203–226.
Political offices
Preceded by
Publius Decius Mus II
and Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus III
Consul of the Roman Republic
307 BC
with Lucius Volumnius Flamma Violens
Succeeded by
Quintus Marcius Tremulus
and Publius Cornelius Arvina
Preceded by
Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus IV
and Publius Decius Mus III
Consul of the Roman Republic
296 BC
with Lucius Volumnius Flamma Violens II
Succeeded by
Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus V
and Publius Decius Mus IV

External links[edit]