Manius Curius Dentatus

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Curius Dentatus refusing wealth in favour of a turnip, as depicted by Jacopo Amigoni

Manius Curius Dentatus (died 270 BC) was a Roman general and statesman noted for ending the Samnite War and for his military exploits during the Pyrrhic War. According to Pliny, he was born with teeth, thus earning the surname Dentatus, "toothed."[1]

Dentatus was a tribune of the plebs sometime between 298 and 291 BC. As tribune, he foiled efforts by the interrex Appius Claudius Caecus to keep plebeian candidates out of the consular elections. If his tribunate is dated to 291, his actions advanced his own candidacy, but since Appius served three times as interrex, the earliest date accords better with the timeline of Dentatus's own career.[2]

Dentatus served his first term as consul in 290 BC, with a colleague by the name of P. Cornelius Rufinus (cos. 290 and 277 BC, dict. 276 BC and ancestor of Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix the dictator) during which time he defeated both the Samnites and Sabines and celebrated two triumphs.[3] Returning home he took on a massive public works project, partly draining Lake Velinus.

In 283, Dentatus filled the praetorship (or possibly the consulship) of L. Caecilius Metellus Denter after the latter was killed in the Battle of Arretium. Polybius says Dentatus drove the Gauls from their territory, clearing the way for the establishment of a colony at Sena.

As consul again in 275 BC, Dentatus fought Pyrrhus in the inconclusive Battle of Beneventum which nevertheless forced Pyrrhus out of Italy. As a result, he held a consecutive consulship, defeating the Lucani in the following year and earning an ovation. He was censor in 272, and in 270 he was elected as one of two commissioners[4] to oversee construction of the Anio Vetus, Rome's second aqueduct, for which he used his personal share of the booty from his recent victories.[5] He died during the project, which was completed under his fellow commissioner M. Fulvius Flaccus.[6]

Dentatus is described as having been incorruptible and frugal; the story was that when the Samnites sent ambassadors with expensive gifts in an attempt to influence him in their favor, they found him sitting by the hearth roasting turnips. He refused the gifts, saying that he preferred ruling the possessors of gold over possessing it himself.[7] Although the truth of this story is unclear — it may have been an invention of Cato — it was the inspiration for a number of paintings by Jacopo Amigoni, Govert Flinck, and others.

His praenomen is sometimes given erroneously as Marcus because the standard abbreviation of Manius (M'.) is confused with the M. that abbreviates Marcus.

The Dutch Study Association 'S.V.T.B. Curius' at Delft University of Technology is named after him.[8]



  1. ^ Pliny, Natural History 7.68, LacusCurtius edition.
  2. ^ Cicero, Brutus 55; T.R.S. Broughton, The Magistrates of the Roman Republic (American Philological Association, 1951, reprinted 1986), vol. 1, pp. 174–175; other dates and offices for Dentatus pp. 183–184, 188, 195, 196, 198; vol. 2, p. 558.
  3. ^ Cicero, De senectute 55; Livy, Periocha 11; Columella, book 1, preface 14; Valerius Maximus 4.3.5; Frontinus, Stratagems 1.8.4; Florus 1.10.2–3; Apuleius, Apologia 17; Cassius Dio frg. 36.33; Eutropius 2.9.3; Orosius 3.22.1.
  4. ^ Duumviri aquae perducendae.
  5. ^ Pliny, Natural History 16.185.
  6. ^ Frontinus, Aq. 1.6.
  7. ^ Valerius Maximus 4.3.5 has Dentatus telling the Samnites to "report and remember that I can neither be defeated in battle nor be corrupted with money" (refertote et memento me nec acie vinci nec pecunia corrumpi posse).
  8. ^ S.V.T.B. Curius
Political offices
Preceded by Roman consul
290 BC
with Publius Cornelius Rufinus
Succeeded by
Preceded by Roman consul II
275 BC
with Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Caudinus
Succeeded by
Preceded by Roman consul III
274 BC
with Servius Cornelius Merenda
Succeeded by