Spotlight: Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus

Highly regarded by Romans as a real life legend, Cincinnatus’ (520BC – 430BC) actions inspired numerous organisations/other groups that are named in his honour. Cincinnatus was a political figure of the Roman Republic.

Cincinnatus, following the condemnation of his son, was forced to live a humble life on a small farm. For two points in his life after living on this farm, Cincinnatus was given absolute power over the people of Rome in separate times of crisis. However, on both instances the power was not wrested from him by other politicians following the crisis as often happens in such occasions but given up willingly at the very day he saw his usefulness as a dictator had come to an end.

In 458BC, Rome was in trouble – existential trouble. The Sabines were advancing to Rome, plundering and decimating on the way, and on the other side the Aequi were attacking in much the same manner. Two armies were raised in retaliation, and whilst the commander Nauticus fought well and hard against the Sabines, Minucius was indecisive and ended up trapped in a settlement by the Aequi and being fast starved out.

The provision of a Dictator – a position of absolute and unquestioned power to be filled in times of crisis was awarded to none other than Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus. The man who albeit reluctant, was the only one with the experience and expertise necessary for such a job.

Despite being stripped down from an important politician to a humble farm, Cincinnatus knew his duty and left his family and their farm with a heavy heart.

Cincinnatus shut down all private business in Rome and put everyone to work on the war effort. All military-capable men were raised into a militia and marched to the Aequi at dawn and personally led the charge against them. Having saved Rome from enslavement or death, Cincinnatus was given a hero’s welcome in Rome upon his return. Having completed the task bestowed upon him by the Republic, Cincinnatus resigned from his position and returned to his humble farm. He would be called upon as dictator once more in his life, and act much the same way.

For this he is compared to some of the great American Revolutionaries such as Washington who gave up absolute power in a similar circumstance. In fact, Jefferson (who I posted about here) wrote on his gravestone the achievements of his life and left out his role as President. Like Cincinnatus, American based Republicanism around virtue. The Republic was in a way sacred, and serving it meant giving up self-interest and individualism for the common good. It was ideally seen as not an honour, but a reluctant duty to lead the nation.

He was a man, who through Republican virtues showed the true values of civic responsibility.

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