Marcus Furius Camillus

Marcus Furius Camillus
Francesco Salviati, Triumph of Furius Camillus, Fresco in the Salone dei Cinquecento, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy. Plutarch, Camillus: "Camillus ... assumed more to himself than became a civil and legal magistrate; among other things, in the pride and haughtiness of his triumph, driving through Rome in a chariot drawn with four white horses, which no general either before or since ever did; for the Romans consider such a mode of conveyance to be sacred, and especially set apart to the king and father of the gods. This alienated the hearts of his fellow-citizens, who were not accustomed to such pomp and display."

Marcus Furius Camillus (ca. 446 – 365 BC) was a Roman soldier and statesman of patrician descent. According to Livy and Plutarch, Camillus triumphed four times, was five times dictator, and was honoured with the title of Second Founder of Rome.


Early life

Marcus Furius Camillus from Guillaume Rouillé's Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum

Camillus belonged to the lineage of the Furii, whose origin had been in the Latin city of Tusculum. Although this city had been a bitter enemy of the Romans in the 490s BC, after both Volsci and Aequi began to wage war against Rome, Tusculum joined Rome, unlike most Latin cities. Soon, the Furii integrated into the Roman society, accumulating a long series of magistrate offices. Thus the Furii had become an important Roman family by the 450s.[1]

The father of Camillus was Lucius Furius Medullinus, a patrician tribune of consular powers. Camillus had more than three brothers: the eldest one was Lucius junior, who was both Roman Consul and tribune of consular powers. A younger brother was Spurius. The cognomen of Camillus was the denomination of the Roman acolytes of religious rituals. Coincidently, during Camillus' infancy, his relative Quintus Furius Paculus was the Roman Pontifex Maximus.[1]

Early career

Camillus had been a noteworthy soldier in the wars with the Aequi and Volsci. Subsequently, Camillus was a Military Tribune. In 403 BC, he was appointed Roman censor with Marcus Postumius Albinus Regillensis, and, by means of extensive taxation, took action to solve Roman financial problems, which were the outcome of uninterrupted military campaigns.[1]

Against Veii

In 406, Rome declared war against the rival Etrurian city of Veii. Powerful Veii was a fortified city on an elevated site, which required several years of Roman siege. In 401, as the war started to grow increasingly unpopular in Rome, Camillus was appointed military tribune of consular power. He assumed command of the Roman Army, and within a short time he stormed two allies of Veii, Falerii and Capena, which resisted behind their walls. In 398, Camillus received consular powers and then looted Capena.

When Rome suffered severe defeats in 396, the tenth year of this war, the Romans resorted again to Camillus, who was named dictator once more. After defeating both Falerii and Capena at Nepete, Camillus commanded the final strike against Veii. He dug the soft ground below the walls and the Romans infiltrated through the city's sewage system effectively, defeating the enemy. Not interested in capitulation terms, but in Veii's complete destruction, the Romans slaughtered the entire adult male population and made slaves of all the women and children. The plunder was large. For the battle, Camillus had invoked the protection of Mater Matuta extensively, and he looted the statue of Juno for Rome. Back in Rome, Camillus paraded on a quadriga, a four-horse chariot, and the popular celebrations lasted four days.[1]

Camillus opposed the plebeian plan to populate Veii with half of the Romans. It would have resolved the poverty issues, but the patricians opposed it. Deliberately, Camillus protracted the project until its abandonment. Camillus rendered himself controversial in not fulfilling his promise to dedicate a tenth of the loot to Delphi for the god Apollo. The Roman soothsayers announced that the gods were displeased by this, so the Senate charged the citizens and the sought amounts of gold were retrieved.[1]


To finish Falerii, which was the last surviving enemy of this war, Camillus was made military tribune again, in 395. He seized the opportunity to divert the bitter conflict between Roman social classes into a unifying external conflict. He besieged Falerii and, after he rejected as amoral the proposal of a local school teacher who had surrendered most of the local children to the Romans, the people of Falerii moved to gratitude, swore peace with Rome.[1]

The entire Italian Peninsula was impressed by the Roman victories of Camillus. Aequi, Volsci, and Capena proposed peace treaties. Rome increased its territory by seventy percent and some of the land was distributed to needy citizens. Rome had become the most powerful nation of the central peninsula.[1]


The Romans were restive because no plunder had been reaped out of Falerii. Furthermore, Camillus rejected both the land redistribution and the uncontrolled Roman population of Veii. Consequently, he was impeached by his political adversaries, by an accusation of embezzlement of the Etrurian loot.[1]

To Camillus, his friends explained that, although the condemnation seemed unavoidable, they would help to pay the fine. Camillus spurned this, opting for the exile. He abandoned Rome with his wife and Lucius, his surviving son, toward Ardea. In his absence, Camillus was condemned to pay 1,500 denarii.[1]

The Gauls

Clusium was reached by the Gauls, who had invaded most of Etruria already, and its people turned to Rome for help. However, the Roman embassy provoked a skirmish and, then, the Gauls marched straight for Rome (July, 387 BC). After the entire Roman army was defeated at the Allia brook (Battle of the Allia), the defenseless Rome was seized by the invaders. The entire Roman army retreated into the deserted Veii whereas most civilians ended at the Etruscan Caere. Nonetheless, a surrounded Roman garrison continued to resist on the Capitoline Hill. The Gauls dwelt within the city, getting their supplies by destroying all nearby towns for plunder.[1]

When the Gauls went for Ardea, the exiled Camillus, who was now a private man, organized the local forces for a defense. Particularly, he harangued that, always, the Gauls exterminated their defeated enemies. Camillus found that the Gauls were too distracted, celebrating their latest spoils with much crapulence at their camp. Then, he attacked during a night, defeating the enemy easily with great bloodshed.[1]

Second foundation of Rome

Camillus was hailed then by all other Roman exiles throughout the region. After he refused a makeshift generalship, a Roman messenger sneaked into the Capitol and, therein, Camillus was officially appointed dictator by the Roman Senators, to confront the Gauls.[1]

At the Roman base of Veii, Camillus gathered a 12,000-man army whereas more men joined out of the region. The occupying Gauls were in serious need, under quite poor health conditions. As the Roman Dictator, Camillus negotiated with the Gallic leader Brennus, and the Gauls left Rome, camping nearby at the Gabinian road. A day after this, Camillus confronted them with his refreshed army and the Gauls were forced to withdraw, after seven months of occupation (386 BC).[1]

Camillus sacrificed for the successful return and he ordered the construction of the temple of Aius Locutius. Then, he subdued another claim of the plebeian orators, who importuned further about moving to Veii. After ordering a Senate debate, Camillus argued for staying and the Roman house approved this unanimously. The reconstruction extended for an entire year.[1]

By this one-year office, Camillus was the longest of all Roman dictators. Basically, the Senators had been persuaded by the disturbing social clashes, which could be better managed by Camillus. Instead, Camillus disliked this and, vainly, he requested the dismissal.[1]

Second regional war

During the reconstruction, Volsci and Aequi invaded the Roman territory, some Latin nations revolted, and the Etruscans besieged Sutrium, which was a Roman ally. To confront such a crisis, Camillus, who was military tribune then, was appointed Roman dictator yet again, in 385 BC.[1]

When the enemy besieged Rome, Camillus slew most invaders at the Marcian heights, setting fire to their palisades during the windy hours of dawn. Subsequently, Camillus defeated Volsci southeastward, in the Battle of Maecium, not far from Lanuvium (389 BC). Camillus proceeded then, capturing Bola (Aequi's capital) and subjecting Volsci. However, the Romans lost Satricum and Camillus failed to capture Antium, the capital of the Volsci.[1]

Finally, Camillus arrived at Sutrium where the population had just been expelled by the Etruscans. Camillus estimated that they would be given to boisterous celebrations in Sutrium, so he rushed to the confrontation; the Etruscans were so intoxicated that Camillus recaptured Sutrium with ease.[1]

After this campaign, the Roman dictator Camillus celebrated a Triumph in Rome. Through Camillus, the Romans had proven their military professional strength and offensive readiness.

Further profile

Military tribune (381 BC)

In 381 BC, Camillus was military tribune of consular power again. His office was troubled chiefly by the charismatic Marcus Manlius Capitolinus, who became his greatest detractor and around whom all plebeians had agglutinated. While Capitolinus had kingly dreams even, he attacked Camillus actually with precisely such kinglike accusation. Nonetheless, Capitolinus was formally judged and executed.[1]

Military tribune (378 BC)

The southern nations were contemptuous against the Romans after their latest expedition. Several cities of Volsci united, such as Antium, Praeneste, and Velitrae. They liberated Satricum, slaying all Roman inhabitants. Before such crisis, Camillus was appointed military Tribune of consular power, for the sixth time.[1]

His health was poor but his retirement was refused. Camillus decided then that he would command through his son Lucius. Thus, Camillus campaigned. At the battlefield, although Camillus helped the military actions safely, from a distanced camp, Lucius couldn't cope with his duties so Camillus jumped into the battlefield. It was so that the Romans defeated their enemy. Camillus headed then to Satricus with his youngest men and it was retrieved.[1]

Because many war prisoners were of Tusculum, Camillus headed the romans thither and the city was bloodlessly adjoined with the Romans whereas its citizens were endowed with fully Roman rights. Such favorable development was due to the local relatedness of the Furiis.[1]

After these events, Camillus decided that he would retire definitively.[1]

Roman dictator (368 BC)

Camillus was appointed Roman dictator (368 BC), nominally to attend the war of Velletri. However, at Rome, the patricians of the Senate were expecting, actually, that Camillus would be their leverage against the agitated plebeians because the crisis of social classes had worsened by a quite severe economical pass.[1]

For the Roman magistracy, the populists were demanding a dyad of Roman consuls, of whom one should be a plebeian always. Through a bogus military call, Camillus attempted to trick the plebeian concil so it might not meet to approve such plans. The enraged assemblymen were about punishing Camillus when he renounced his office of Dictator.[1]

Roman dictator (367 BC)

As the Gauls were, again, marching toward Latium, all Romans reunited despite their severe differences. Camillus was named Roman dictator for the fifth time then (367 BC). He organized the defense of Rome actively. By the commands of Camillus, the Roman soldiers were protected particularly against the Gallic main attack, the heavy blow of their swords. Both smooth iron helmets and brass rimed shields were built. Also, long pikes were used, to keep the enemy's swords far.[1]

The Gauls camped at the Anio river, carrying loads of recently gotten plunder. Near them, at the Alban Hills, Camillus discovered their disorganization, which was due to unruly celebrations. Before the dawn, then, the light infantry disarrayed the Gallic defenses and, subsequently, the heavy infantry and the pikemen of the Romans finished their enemy. After the battle, Velitrae surrendered voluntarily to Rome. Back in Rome, Camillus celebrated with another Triumph.[1]

Issue of the social classes

At Rome, the plebeians were insisting about the dyad of Consuls. The patricians kept refusing uncompromisingly and, again, they sought protection behind Camillus' figure. The populists attempted to arrest Camillus but, timely, he convoked a Senate session, during which he convinced the assembly effectively for the satisfaction of the popular demand, through the Lex Licinia Sextia (367 BC).[1]

The creation of the new plebeian magistracy ensued in general celebrations. Camillus ordered the construction of the Temple of Concord, which would be emplaced beside the Roman Forum.[1]


A deadly pestilence struck Rome and it affected most Roman public figures. Camillus was amongst them, passing away in 365 BC. His death was deeply mourned as he was named "the second founder of Rome."[1]

In popular culture

Marcus Furius Camillus was played by Massimo Serato in the 1963 film Brennus, Enemy of Rome.


Primary sources


Secondary material

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