Marcus Valerius Corvus
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Marcus Valerius Corvus Calenus (c. 370 – c. 270 BC) was an important military commander and politician from the early-to-middle period of the Roman Republic. In a distinguished career, he was elected Roman consul six times, his first at the unusual age of 23. He was also appointed Dictator two times, and led the armies of the Republic in the First Samnite War. He occupied the curule chair a total of twenty-one times throughout his career, and according to tradition he lived to be one hundred.
A member of the patrician gens Valeria, Valerius first came to prominence in 349 BC when he served as a military tribune under the consul Lucius Furius Camillus who was on campaign against the Gauls of northern Italy. According to legend, prior to one battle a gigantic Gallic warrior challenged any Roman to single combat, and Valerius, who asked for and gained the consul’s permission, accepted. As they approached each other, a raven settled on Valerius’ helmet and it distracted the enemy's attention by flying at his face, allowing Valerius to kill the enemy Gaul. The two armies then fought, resulting in the Gallic forces being comprehensively routed, and ending in a decisive Roman victory. As a reward for his courage, Valerius was apparently given a gift of ten oxen and a golden crown, and he was eventually given the agnomen Corvus, which is the Latin term for a raven.
Regardless of the legend’s veracity, after this victory Corvus’ popularity soared. He was elected Roman consul in absentia in 348 BC, at the unusually young age of 22. During his first consulship, a treaty was made between Rome and Carthage. In the following year (347 BC) Corvus was probably elected to the office of Praetor. This was followed by his second consulship in 346 BC, where he took to the field against the Antiates and the Volsci, defeating them and sacking the town of Satricum, destroying it completely apart from the temple of Mater Matuta. For these victories, the Senate awarded Corvus his first triumph.
First and Second Samnite Wars
In 345 BC, it is believed that Corvus served as Curule aedile, before his outstanding military abilities again saw him being elected to the consulship for the third time in 343 BC. This year saw the outbreak of the First Samnite War, and Corvus was dispatched to the warfront, where he won a bruising and bloody victory over the Samnites at the Battle of Mount Gaurus. He followed this up with another victory at the Battle of Suessula, where he crushed the remnants of the Samnite army after their defeat at Mount Gaurus. After the second victory, he had some 40,000 shields of the abandoned and killed and 170 enemy standards piled up before him on the battlefield. After these victories Corvus returned to Rome to celebrate his second triumph, reportedly the most impressive that the Romans had yet witnessed up to that time. After this he returned to the southern warfront in the winter to protect Campania from Samnite incursions.
The year 342 BC was one of crisis for the Roman state, with the Roman legions stationed around Capua, as well as the surrounding Campanian towns, rebelling and marching on Rome. In this crisis, Corvus was appointed Dictator to deal with the mutineers. He met them at the head of an army some eight miles outside of Rome, but decided to negotiate with the rebels instead of fighting a battle. Using his past association with the army to gain their trust, he was able to reach an agreement with the rebels. He agreed and pushed through laws (the ne cui militum fraudi secessio fuit) which granted the mutinous soldiers immunity from prosecution, prevented the removal of a soldier’s name from the roll of service without his consent, and prohibited any Military Tribune being demoted down to the rank of centurion. He however refused to agree to the lowering of the rate of pay for the cavalrymen, and to the immediate execution of the Decemviri. It was also alleged that, during the troubles that brought about the passage of the Leges Genuciae, Corvus suggested that the Senate agree to the plebeian demands for the abolition of all debts, but this was rejected out of hand. Some historians, such as Gary Forsythe and S. P. Oakley consider the alleged events of the mutiny to be later literary inventions, although the laws passed in this year are accurate.
In 335 BC, Corvus was elected consul for a fourth time, once again in response to an escalation in the military situation in Italy. The Sidicini had formed an alliance with the Ausones of Cales, and the Senate was keen to send out someone with a proven military record. In a break with tradition, the consuls did not cast lots for their provinces, but the Senate instead assigned the area around Cales directly to Corvus. He besieged and successfully stormed the town; after its capture, the Romans established a colony there of 2,500 men. For this victory, Corvus was granted a third triumph, and the honor of carrying the agnomen Calenus.
In 332 BC, Corvus was appointed as Interrex, a function he again fulfilled in 320 BC. He was also possibly a legate under the Dictator Lucius Papirius Cursor in 325 BC during the Second Samnite War. In 313 BC he was appointed as one of the Triumviri coloniae deducendae, who were given the authority to establish a Latin colony at Saticula. Then in 310 BC he was again appointed as a legate under Lucius Papirius Cursor, and fought in a major battle at Longulae against the Samnites. Then in 308 BC he was elected Praetor for the fourth time, as a reward for his services at Longulae.[note 1]
In 302 BC, Corvus was appointed Dictator for the second time. This appointment was brought about by the revolt of the Marsi at Arretium and Carseoli, and Corvus was able not only to defeat them in battle, but to take the fortified towns of Milionia, Plestina and Fresilia. The Marsi sued for peace, and for his victories over them he was awarded his fourth Triumph. For the following year (301 BC), he was again appointed Dictator, this time to engage in operations against the Etruscans. While Corvus was in Rome taking the auspices, his Magister equitum (probably Marcus Aemilius Paullus) was ambushed by the enemy, and forced to retreat to his camp, in the process of which Paullus lost a portion of his army. Corvus, coming quickly to his rescue, engaged and defeated the Etruscans in battle, earning Corvus an additional Triumph.[note 2]
300 BC saw Corvus elected consul for the fifth time. During his year in office he defeated some rebel Aequians. He also was involved in the passage of two laws; the first was his support for the Lex Ogulnia, which resulted in the opening up of the College of Pontifices and the College of Augurs to the Plebeians. The second, which he legislated himself, was the expansion of the provocatio, or right of appeal to the people, which now made illegal the use of severe force, specifically killing or lashing by the higher magistrates, within the city of Rome. Then in the following year (299 BC), after the Senate considered appointing him dictator for the fourth time, he was elected suffect consul after the death of Titus Manlius Torquatus, who was in command of the Etruscan war. Corvus replaced him, and with his arrival the Etruscans refused to give battle, but remained closed up within their fortified towns. Although Corvus set entire villages on fire to draw them out, the Etruscans refused to engage the Romans under Corvus.
After his sixth consulship Corvus retired from public life, and he died at the age of 100, around the year 270 BC.
Character and reputation
A man with considerable military talents, apparently Corvus also possessed a very kind and amicable nature. Very popular with the soldiers he led into battle, and in the camps he shared with his soldiers, he reportedly competed with them in the athletic games which they played during their leisure time. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of reform, siding with the Plebeians during the ongoing Conflict of the Orders. His position was that the changing needs of an expanding Roman state required a necessary readjustment of the opportunities provided to Plebeians to serve the state, for the good of Rome.
To later Roman writers, he was a memorable example of the favours bestowed by Fortuna, and Augustus erected a statue of Corvus in the Forum of Augustus, alongside the statues of other Roman heroes. Nevertheless, his list of accomplishments is suspiciously long; Valerius Antias is considered to have been responsible for some of the exaggeration.
- The dates for Corvus’ second and third praetorships remain unknown. Most likely his second praetorship occurred after 345 BC, while his third occurred before 308 BC.
- The accounts of the events of the years 302-301 are contradictory and many of the details are considered very dubious. It is possible that Corvus was only Dictator for one year, and that his battles against the Etruscans a later literary invention. See Oakley, pgs. 43-47
- Oakley, S. P., A Commentary on Livy, Books 6-10 Vol. IV (2007)
- Forsythe, Gary, A Critical History of Early Rome from Prehistory to the First Punic War (2005)
- Broughton, T. Robert S., The Magistrates of the Roman Republic, Vol I (1951)
- Smith, William, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, Vol I (1867).
- Arnold, Thomas, History of Rome, Vol. II (1840)
- Broughton, pg. 129
- Smith, pg. 861; Forsythe, pg. 306; Arnold, pg. 88
- Titus Livius. Periochae. Book 7:10.
- Smith, pg. 861; Broughton, pgs. 129-130
- Broughton, pg. 130
- Smith, pg. 861; Broughton, pg. 131
- Broughton, pg. 131
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- Smith, pg. 861; Arnold, pg. 115
- Broughton, pg. 133
- Broughton, pg. 133
- Oakley, pg. 98; Smith, pg. 862; Arnold, pgs. 120-2
- Oakley, pg. 471
- Broughton, pg. 134; Arnold, pg. 123
- Arnold, pg. 124
- Arnold, pgs. 126-7
- Forsythe, pgs. 272-3; Oakley, pgs. 361-5
- Broughton, pgs. 139-140; Smith, pg. 862
- Livy, Book IX:40-41
- Broughton, pg. 142
- Broughton, pg. 153
- Broughton, pg. 148
- Broughton, pg. 159
- Smith, pg. 862; Broughton, pgs. 162-3
- Broughton, pg. 164; Smith, pg. 862
- Broughton, pgs. 169-170
- Forsythe, pg. 295; Smith, pg. 862
- Broughton, pg. 170
- Oakley, pgs. 44-45
- Broughton, pg. 171; Smith, pg. 862
- Oakley, pg. 70
- Smith, pg. 862, Broughton, pgs. 170-1
- Broughton, pg. 172; Oakley III, pg. 346
- Smith, pg, 862; Broughton, pg. 172
- Bringmann, pg. 45
- Oakley, pg. 521
- Broughton, pg. 173; Smith, pg. 862
- Smith, pg. 861
- Bringmann, pg, 54
- Smith, pg. 862; Oakley, pg. 46