L. Quinctius Cincinnatus I (458 BCE)

The Man Called from the Plow
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Magister equitum: L. Tarquitius Flaccus

Caussa: rei gerundae (FC)

Consuls: C. Nautius Rutilus°,—Carve[tus]†, succeeded by L. Minucius Esquilinus Augurinus§. Since it was L. Minucius that was in distress, the appointer would have been the other, extricable consul, C. Nautius (Dion. Hal. 10.23.5; Livy 3.26.2).

Circumstances: Alarm at Sabines’ trapping consul Minucius and army in camp. Mandate actions: Enemy defeated. Other actions: Presided over trial of perjurer M. Volscius, probably at senate’s request.

Nomination: People reject Nautius as unequal to task; “they” named Cincinnatus unanimously (Livy 3.26.6). Conversely, Dionysius: other consul returning briefly to the city, determining in consultation with the elders that dictator was needed, appointing Cincinnatus, and then returning to his camp (10.23.5). Cincinnatus is famously called from rustic endeavors, hailed “dictator” at his plow once he had fetched and donned his toga (Livy 3.26.9-11); referenced in Cic. Fin. 2.12, Eutr. 1.17, Auct. Vir.Ill. 17, told more fully in Pliny (HN 18,4). Called ille dictator ab aratro in Flor. 1.5. From farmer to warrior is only to change weapons: Veg. Mil. 1.3. Cf. the call to T. Quinctius by mutineers in 342 (#35). Vexed his crops will be ruined because he’s called away (Dion. Hal. 10.24.2; cf. similar story in 10.17.3.). Dio, in addition to call from the plow, explains his cognomen (“curly-haired”), 5.23.2 = Zon. 7.17. Lydus has “T. Quintius” (Mag. 1.38); Dionysius, “L. Quintius”; FC, “L. Quinctius L.f. L.n. Cincinnatus” (AT is missing praenomen).

Powers: Plebs are uneasy at his entry in to the city, deeming office and man dangerous (Livy 3.26.12, not Dionysius). Morning after appointment suspended business and commanded immediate levy of all of military age (3.27.2-3). Rebukes disgraced consul Minucius, depriving of spoils and stripping of command, upon which Minucius abdicates (3.29.2-3) or is forced to resign (Dion. Hal. 10.25.1-2; accused of cowering behind stockades, Val. Max. 2.7.7, briefly Zon. 7.17.). Tribunes’ awe [personally? officially?] prevented further interference with trial of perjurer Volscius (Livy 3.24.7, 3.29.6).

Exit: Triumphed over Aequi (Livy 3.29.4, AT) and would have abdicated, but for the Volscius trial (3.29.6). Resigned after 16 days office received for six months (3.29.7). Ogilvie 445: A trinundium had to elapse between the report of investigating magistrates and the vote of the comitia; 16 days is two thirds of that interval. Dionysius likewise specifies that he commendably forewent the opportunity to stay in office for six months, resigning after 16 days and refusing spoils proffered by senate, glorying more in poverty than others in their riches (10.25.3). Contentment with three acres (Val. Max. 4.4.7). Returned to labors after 15 days (Flor. 1.5; Auct. Vir.Ill. 17); 13 days (Lyd. Mag. 1.38). Resigned directly after forcing Minucius to do so, Zon. 7.17.

Notes: Rescue of trapped army repeated in multiple contexts, likewise the call from the plow (in Dionysius for Cincinnatus’s dictatorship and a consulship).

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Statue of Cincinnatus at his plow. Sculpted by Eleftherios Karkadoulias. Installed in 1988 at Bicentennial Commons at Sawyer Point, Cincinnati, Ohio. More info 


As he was plowing his four-acre property on the Vatican, the land now called the Quintian Meadows, and indeed (so it is said) stripped nude, a summoner brought Cincinnatus his commission as dictator; and after considerable hesitation the messenger said, “Clothe yourself, so that I may deliver the mandates of the senate and people of Rome.”

Plin. HN 18.4.20


I am led to relate these particulars for no other reason than to let all the world see what kind of men the leaders of Rome were at that time, that they capably worked their own lands, led frugal lives, did not chafe under honorable poverty, and, far from aiming at positions of royal power, actually refused them when offered. For it will be seen that the Romans of today do not bear the least resemblance to them, but follow the very opposite practices in everything—with the exception of a very few by whom the dignity of the commonwealth is still maintained and a resemblance to those men preserved. But enough on this subject.

Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 10.17.6


Then, keeping the order of the march, he led out the whole army in a long column and surrounded the enemy’s camp, commanding that at a given signal the troops should all raise a shout, and that after shouting every man should dig a trench in front of his own position and erect a palisade. … Then the troops of Quinctius, who had at once, on completing the works, resumed their weapons, assailed the rampart of the Aequi. Here was a new battle on their hands, and the other [with the trapped consul’s army] not yet in the least abated. At this, hard-driven by a double danger, they turned from fighting to entreaties, and on the one hand implored the dictator, on the other the consul, not to make the victory a massacre, but to take their arms and let them go. The consul referred them to the dictator, who in his anger added ignominy to their surrender. … A yoke was fashioned of three spears, two being fixed in the ground and the third laid across them and made fast. Under this yoke the dictator sent the Aequi.

Livy 3.18.1-2, 9-11


Cincinnatus would at once have resigned his office, had not the trial of Marcus Volscius, the false witness, caused him to delay. The awe in which the tribunes held the dictator prevented them from interfering with the trial [as they had been doing]. Volscius was condemned and went into exile at Lanuvium. On the sixteenth day Quinctius surrendered the dictatorship which he had received for six months.

Livy 3.29.7



† = died in office;  ‡ = resigned;  § = suffect.  ° = appointing consul.