Roman Republic

Rome in the Early Republic (509 - 241 BC)

Sedition of M. Manlius Capitolinus (385-4 BC)

and its Aftermath (380 - 377 BC)

M. Manlius Capitolinus

Manlius first served as consul in 392 BC, in the aftermath of the fall of Veii, but he owed his later fame to the part that he had played in saving the Capitol from the Gauls in 390 BC: the story goes that, when he was asleep in his house on the Capitol, he had been awakened by Juno’s geese and driven off the approaching Gallic raiders, who had already taken the city below.   Only five years later (as we shall see), he was accused of political crimes.  Livy attributed this turn of events to the jealousy that Manlius felt towards M. Furius Camillus, who had been hailed as the saviour of Rome:

  1. “The domestic trouble [of 385 BC] arose from a source from which it was least expected: from M. Manlius Capitolinus, a man of patrician birth and brilliant reputation.  Full of pride and presumption, he looked down upon the foremost men with scorn; one in particular he regarded with envious eyes, a man conspicuous for his distinctions and his merits: he bitterly resented Camillus’ unique position amongst the magistrates and in the affections of the army ...  [Yet], if any one would form a just judgment he would see that [Camillus] could not possibly have rescued his countr: when it was beleaguered by the enemy had not he, Manlius, saved the Capitol and the Citadel?

  2. Camillus attacked the Gauls while they were off their guard, their minds pre-occupied with obtaining the gold and securing peace;

  3. he, Manlius, on the other hand, had driven them off when they were armed for battle and actually capturing the Citadel. 

  4. Camillus' glory was shared by every man who conquered with him, whereas no mortal man could obviously claim any part in Manlius’ victory”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 11: 4-6).

Manlius and the Plebeians (385-4 BC)

Livy’s Account

According to Livy, in 385 BC, because Manlius:

  1. “... found that his influence with [his fellow] patricians was not as powerful as he thought it should be, ... he [adopted] the cause of the plebeians  ... Not content with the agrarian laws that had hitherto always provided the plebeian tribunes with material for their agitation, he began to undermine the whole system of credit, since he saw that the laws on the repayment of debt caused [even] more irritation ... .  Furthermore, a vast amount of debt had been contracted [at this time], owing to the cost of building, which was potentially ruinous, even to the rich”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 11: 6-9).

Having set out Manlius’ political agenda, Livy recorded that Aulus Cornelius Cossus was appointed as dictator, ostensibly to fight the Volsci, albeit that:

  1. “... the revolutionary designs of Manlius [had] mainly decided the Senate to nominate [him] ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 11: 9).

While Cossus was conducting this war, Manlius demonstrated his intention to defend the plebs from the greed of the patricians by (inter alia):

  1. paying the debts of a serving centurion whose patrician creditors threatened his liberty (6: 14: 3-8); and

  2. auctioning the large estate that he had acquired on land that had been confiscated from Veii, implying that he would use the money to rescue other poor plebeians from a similar fate (6: 14: 3-8).

By this time, Cossus, who  had defeated the Volsci and was intent upon pursuing their Latin and Hernician allies, was called back to Rome.

Cossus had Manlius arrested and imprisoned, and then celebrated his triumph over the Volsci.  According to Livy, this only made matters worse. 

  1. “... to appease [the radical plebeians], the Senate ... decreed the foundation of a colony of 2,000 Roman citizens at Satricum [on the northern edge of the Pomptine plain].  Two and a half iugera of land were allotted to each of [the  potential colonists]; but since the plebs regarded this as

  2. too little land given to to few men; and

  3. representing the price being demanded for [their acceptance of]  Manlius’s condemnation;

  4. it  only aggravated the sedition”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 16: 6 ; note that this website gives 6: 15: 12).

In fact, it seems that a colony was established at Satricum at about this time, since the Volscians attacked it in 392 BC.  By linking this foundation to the plebeian sedition, Livy flags an alternative strategy for alleviating the woes of the plebeian poor, which involved the confiscation and distribution land in the Pomptine plain.  At this point:

  1. “... the dictator laid down his office after his triumph, removing the terror that he inspired, so that the tongues and spirits of men were once more free.”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 16: 8 ; note that this website gives 6: 15: 13).

Shortly thereafter:

  1. “... when the crowd was threatening to break open the prison, the Senate conceded   ... and passed a resolution that Manlius should be released.  This did not put an end to the seditious agitation, it simply provided it with a leader”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 17: 6).

Livy then recorded that:

  1. “The sedition of Manlius was breaking out again towards the end of 385 BC, when an election was held that resulted in the choice of [six patrician] military tribunes with consular power... ”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 18: 1).

Since Manlius continued to cause problems:

  1. “... the military tribunes with consular power and the plebeian tribunes of the plebs (who also recognised that the end of liberty would also be the end of their power, and had, therefore, placed themselves under the authority of the Senate) consulted together as to what were the necessary steps to take”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 19: 3-4).

As a result of these deliberation, Manlius was again arrested and tried on a charge of attempting to overthrow the Republic.  Found guilty:

  1. “The tribunes hurled him from the Tarpeian rock, and the place that was the monument of his exceptional glory [during the sack of Rome] became also the scene of his final punishment. After his death, two stigmas were attached to his memory:

  2. one was inflicted by the State: since his house stood where the temple and mint of Juno Moneta now stand, a measure was  brought before the people that no patrician should occupy a dwelling within the Citadel or on the Capitoline; and

  3. the other was inflicted by his own family, who ruled that, henceforth, no one might assume the names of Marcus Manlius”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 20: 12-14).

Parallel Sources

Livy’s list of the consular tribunes of 384 BC include two who appear in parallel accounts: M. Furius Camillus (for the fifth time) and T. Quinctius Cincinnatus (for the second time)

  1. According to Cassius Dio/ Zonaras:

  2. “The populace ... led [Manlius] up to the Capitol and they took possession of it.  As a result [of this revolt], Camillus was chosen as dictator for the 4th time”, (‘Roman History’, 7: 23: 10).

  3. This is probably a mistake: the other surviving sources date Camillus’ 4th dictatorship to 368 BC.

  4. According to Plutarch:

  5. “... the bold and riotous conduct [of Manlius and his followers at this time] in the forum gave the best citizens much cause for fear.  To quell the disorder, Quinctius Capitolinus was made dictator, and he cast Manlius into prison.  Thereupon the [revolt gained ground] ... and the Senate, cowed by the tumult, ordered that Manlius be released [from prison].  However, he did not mend his ways after his release, but rather grew more defiantly seditious and filled the whole city with faction.  Accordingly, Camillus was again made [consular] tribune.  The view from the place where Manlius was brought to trial was a great obstacle in the way of his accusers ... [because it was was within sight of the place from which he had defended the Capitol from the Gauls].  So Camillus ... transferred the court outside the city to the Peteline Grove, from where there is no view of the Capitol”, (‘Life of Camillus’, 36: 3-6).

Since, in their shorter lists of consular tribunes for this year:

  1. the ‘Chronography of 354 AD’ (for 370 AUC) names Camillus; and

  2. Diodorus Siculus (‘Library of History’, 15: 36: 1) names Quinctius;

we can reasonably assume that neither of them actually served as dictator.  Stephen Oakley (referenced below, at p. 485) observed that the fact that Plutarch gave Camilllus an active role in the trial of Manlius, while Livy did not:

  1. “... has been [plausibly attributed to] ... Livy having [‘edited’] the narrative that he shared with Plutarch [in order to] remove from Camillus any opprobrium attaching to the killing of Manlius.”

As Stephen Oakley (referenced below, at p.492) observed, although the sources available to Livy (and to Plutarch and Cassius Dio) were clearly unreliable and contradictory, it is certain that:

  1. “... a Marcus Manlius was put to death, and that many in later generations believed that he [had] aimed at tyranny.  [Such an attempt is, indeed], plausible, and it is also possible that he was supported by impoverished plebeians. ... Whether Livy is correct to make Manlius a champion of the plebs like [C. Licinius and L. Sextius, the tribunes of the plebs who enacted the Licinio-Sextian Rogations of 367 BC] is uncertain, but changes in the constitution [did not come until] the plebeians were led by men who, [unlike Manlius], were from their own order.”


Christopher Krebs (referenced below, at p. 140 and notes) observed that:

  1. “Scholarship on Livy’s narrative of M. Manlius Capitolinus’ fall has addressed:

  2. the genesis of the tale;

  3. its inconsistencies and the elusiveness of the location of the trial;

  4. the language and themes befitting a popularis;

  5. the parallels between [Manlius] and :

  6. Spurius Maelius and Spurius Cassius; and

  7. and the literary allusions to Sallust’s Catiline; and finally t

  8. the resonances with Livy’s idea of history and more generally with his contemporary political events. 

  9. As appears from this list, the Manlian episode contains many layers of historical meaning ...”

Whatever the authenticity of the records of our surviving sources, Stephen Oakley (referenced below, at p. 492) reasonably argued that, given the deep-rooted tradition that Manlis had aimed at tyranny in 385-4 BC, he:

  1. “ ... must, in some way, have tried to subvert the constitution ... and. [as we shall see],  it is possible that he was supported by impoverished plebeians.”

Aftermath of Manlius’ Sedition (380 - 377 BC)

The rest of this page addresses Roman internal affairs after the execution of Manlius but before the election of the two plebeian tribunes who were subsequently responsible for the so-called  Licinio-Sextian Rogations (367 BC):

  1. C. Licinius Stolo; and

  2. L. Sextius Sextinus Lateranus. 

Events of 380 BC

According to Livy, in this year:

  1. “... it was found necessary to appoint censors, mainly because of the vague rumours that were circulating about the burden of debt:

  2. the plebeian tribunes exaggerated the extent of the burden in order to stir up ill-feeling; while

  3. [the creditors], in whose interest it was downplay [the problem, claimed that it arose because] the debtors were unwilling rather than unable to pay.

  4. The censors appointed were C. Sulpicius Camerinius and Sp. Postumius Regillensis:

  5. They began  a fresh assessment [of the size of the problem], but the work was interrupted by the death of Postumius and the consequent resignation of Sulpicius (because, in the case of the censors, it was doubtful whether the co-optation of a colleague, [in these circumstances] was permissible). 

  6. Fresh magistrates were appointed but did not enter office because of some flaw in their election.

  7. Religious fears deterred the authorities from holding a third election, since it seemed as though the gods would not allow a censorship for that year”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 27: 3-6).

The plebeain tribunes alleged that the Senate had contrived these difficulties because they

  1. “... dreaded the publication of the assessment lists (which supplied information as to each individual’s property) because they do not wish the amount of the [outstanding] debt  to be brought to light, since it would show how one half of the community was being ruined by the other half”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 27: 6).

As we shall see new censors were appointed in 378 BC.

Livy imagined that:

  1. the plebeian tribunes grievances went beyond the rising level of debt:

  2. “Excuses for war were being sought in every direction; the legions were marched from Antium to Satricum, from Satricum to Velitrae, from there to Tusculum.  And now the Latins, the Hernici, and the Praenestines were being threatened with hostilities in order that the patricians might wreak their vengeance on their fellow-citizens more even than upon the enemy”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 27: 6-7); and

  3. the patricians feared that, if the plebs were allowed:

  4. “... any breathing time in Rome, any leisure for thoughts of liberty, or any possibility of taking their place in the Assembly, where they might listen to the voice of a tribune urging ... the redress of [their many] grievances, ... they would:

  5. refuse to allow any Roman citizen to be handed over to his creditors; and

  6. obstruct the raising of an army  until the level of the existing debt was assessed and some method of reducing it was found;

  7. so that everyone would  know what he owed, what he owned, and whether his person was free  ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 27: 7-9).

He then described what sounds like a plebeian revolt:

  1. “The tribunes refused to allow the arrest of debtors [who had been judged to be in default], and the men whose names were called up for enrolment [in the army] refused to answer.  The Senate was more concerned to carry out the levy than to protect the rights of creditors, because information had been received that the Praenestini [against whom, war had been declared in the previous year]  had advanced from as far as the territory of Gabii. This intelligence however, instead of deterring the plebeian tribunes, made them more determined, and only the approach of war to the very walls of Rome was enough to quell [the unrest that had broken out inside them]”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 27: 9-11).

T. Quinctius Cincinnatus was consequently appointed as dictator (‘History of Rome’, 6: 28: 1-3), but there is nothing to suggest that his task involved anything other than the defeat of the Praenestini (which he duly accomplished).

Events of 379 BC

According to Livy, in 379 BC (unusually):

  1. “... an equal number [of consular tribunes] were elected from each order:

  2. the patricians were:

  3. P. Manlius [DS: P. Manlius; Chron 354 AD: Capitolino = P. Manlius Capitolinus];

  4. C. Manlius [DS: C. Manlius = (?) Cn. Manlius Vulso]; and

  5. L. Julius [DS: Tiberius (sic) Julius = L. Julius Julus]; and

  6. the plebeians were:

  7. C. Sextilius [DS: C. Sextus (sic)];

  8. M. Albinius [DS: (?) L. Lavinius (sic); Chron 354 AD: Albino = M. Albino]; and

  9. L. Anstitius [DS: L. Anthestius (sic) = L. Anstitius]”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 30: 1-2).

The record in the fasti Capitolini for this year no longer survives: in the square brackets above: Chron 354 AD = Chronography of 354 AD (for 375 AUC); and DS = Diodorus Siculus (‘Library of History’, 15: 51: 1).  In fact, Diodorus claimed that, in this year:

  1. “... the Romans elected eight military tribunes with consular power, [the six listed above, together with two other men who seem to have plebeian names]: C. Erenucius [Genucius ?/ Minucius ?] and P. Tribonius [Trebonius ?]”, ‘Library of History’, 15: 51: 1).

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, at p. 373) pointed out that some scholars have argued that the plebeians who were named in this and in another seven years in the period 444 - 367 BC were later additions to the record, but he contended that the case for this:

  1. “... rests almost entirely on arbitrary dogmatism.”

I wonder whether Livy’s account of the plebeian unrest in the previous year and been prompted by the records of this unusual college (although I acknowledge that Livy himself did not make this connection).

The presence of plebeian consular tribunes in this year was not unprecedented: Stephen Oakley (referenced below, at pp. 372-3) pointed out that plebeian names are occasionally found among the consular tribunes from the start of this tribunate (444 BC).  The surviving records are not entirely reliable and, in any case, it is not always clear whether a particular name is patrician or plebeian.  However, as far as we can tell, there were probably:

  1. 1/6 plebeian consular tribunes in 444 BC and in 422 BC;

  2. 4/6 in 400 BC; and 5/6 in 399 BC and in 396 BC;

  3. possibly 1/6 in 388 BC, and certainly at least 1/6 in 383 BC; and

  4. as set out above, either 3/6 (Livy) or 5/8 (Diodorus) in 379 BC.

Since there was apparently nothing to stop plebeians standing for election as consular tribune (as there had been for the consulship of the earlier period), and since most of the electorate would have been plebeian, it seems that plebeians voted for patrician consular tribunes except in unusual circumstances.  However, there is no certain answer to the question of why large numbers of plebeians were elected in three of the four years 400-396 BC and again in 379 BC.

Livy then recorded that, when the elections were completed:

  1. “The Volscians were assigned to P. and C. Manlius by a special resolution of the Senate , since the Manlii:

  2. took precedence over the plebeian consular tribunes; and

  3. were more popular than [their fellow patrician], Julius.

  4. This was done without casting lots and without any understanding with the other consular tribunes, a step that [the Manlii] themselves and the Senate ... [subsequently] had cause to regret”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 30: 3).

Once again, Livy is surprisingly reticent, in this case about:

  1. the reason for the unusual way in which the Volscian command was allocated to P. and C. Manlius; and

  2. the circumstances in which the need for this command had arisen (since Livy had not referred to any hostility on the part of the Volscians since 382 BC).

Livy began his subsequent account abruptly by describing how the Manlii:

  1. “... fell straight into an ambush.  It was only the sheer courage of the men that enabled them to make a stand on unfavourable ground and to offer a desperate resistance.  At the same time, their camp, which lay on the plain in another direction, was attacked.  In both incidents, the generals had imperilled everything by their rashness and ignorance; if  ... anything was saved, it was due to the steadiness and courage of the soldiers  ... [Thereafter], all was quiet amongst the Volscians, who evidently did not know how to make use of their victory, and the Roman armies were recalled from that quarter.  On the side of the Volscians, peace prevailed ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 30: 4-8).

He gave no indication as to the locations in which these two incidents took place, and it is clear from his account that (if they happened at all) they had no strategic significance.  The whole point of this narrative seems to have been to demonstrate that the Senate had been derelict in giving the Volscian command to the incompetent (patrician) Manlii.  

Livy concluded by noting that:

  1. ... the only trouble that marked the close of the year was the renewal of hostilities by the Praenestines, who had stirred up the Latin peoples”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 30: 8); and

  2. “... the colonists of Setia, [which had been founded in 382 BC on the border with the Volsci], complained of a shortage of manpower, so a fresh body of colonists was sent to join them”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 30: 9).

He ended with a summary of the events of the year:

  1. “The misfortunes of the war [owing to the incompetence of two of the patrician consular tribunes] were compensated for by the peace that prevailed in Rome, owing to the influence and authority that the plebeian consular tribunes possessed with their party”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 30: 9).

This reinforces the impression made in the body of the narrative that Livy’s primary purpose was to demonstrate what Stephen Oakley (referenced below, at p. 625) described as:

  1. “... the stupidity of the [Senate] in giving the [putative] Volscian War to the Manlii.” 

It is hard to escape the conclusion that this chapter was derived from a pro-plebeian source and intended primarily  to set the scene for the political turmoil that was to come.

Events of 378 BC

According to Livy:

  1. “No sooner had the year begun than the distress caused by [mounting] debt supplied both the cause and the motive for [a plebeian revolt. The otherwise unknown] Sp. Servilius Priscus and Q. Cloelius Siculus were as appointed censors to investigate the matter, but they were prevented from doing so  ... [when] the Volscian legions invaded the Roman territory ...  Fear of this [putative invasion] did nothing to repress the domestic dissension.  Indeed, the tribunes [of the plebs] became even more determined [than previously] to obstruct the enrolment of troops.  They succeeded at last in imposing two conditions on the patricians:

  2. that no one should pay the war-tax until the war was over; and

  3. that no legal cases for [the recovery of] debt should be brought before the courts.

  4. When the plebs had obtained this relief, there was no longer any delay in the enrolment”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 31: 2-5).

It is not clear whether Livy meant that all of the tribunes of the plebs encouraged plebeian resistance to the levy: he might have used ‘the tribunes’ as shorthand for Licinius and Sextius, in which case, they would have been seeking to establish their credentials as champions of the poor.

In the rest of this chapter, it becomes clear that the Volscians had restricted themselves to short and opportunistic raids near the border, and that they hastily retreated behind their fortifications rather than engage with a Roman army.  If Livy is to be believed, then the Romans retaliated by sending two armies into Volscian territory, and they effected a pincer movement in which they destroyed everything outside the walls of the various Volscian settlements.  Stephen Oakley (referenced below, at p. 352) argued persuasively that, at this point:

  1. “... Rome was not on the defensive, but rather trying to subdue the area [around the Pomptine marshes].  ... Rome’s internal affairs ... were dominated by the problem of debt [among the plebs at this time], and land settlement was a much favoured way of giving the impoverished a new start in life.”

It seems, therefore, that, once again, Livy used what was ostensibly an account of a Volscian war (which, in fact, might well have not amounted to much) in order to illuminate the political situation in Rome: in this case:

  1. the plebs were only prepared to enlist for military service, if they received some easing of the problems associated with a growing burden of debt at the expense of their largely patrician creditors; while

  2. the patricians would probably have preferred to solve the mounting internal crisis by securing the Pomptine marshes, in order to confiscate land that could be distributed to the poor and thus enable them to repay their debts.

Events of 377 BC

Economic Problems of the Poor Plebeians

According to Livy:

  1. “Debtors had been allowed a short breathing space [during the engagement with the Volsci in the previous year. ... However, when these hostilities ended], large numbers of them were again being [successfully prosecuted by their creditors]: any hope of reducing the burden of accumulated debt vanished, and new debts were being contracted to meet a tax imposed for the construction of a stone [city] wall for which the censors had made a contract.  The plebs were compelled to submit to this burden because there was no need for military enrolment [which removed their power to extract concessions]”, (History of Rome’, 6: 32: 1-2).  

As we have seen, Sp. Servilius Priscus and Q. Cloelius Siculus had been appointed as censors in the previous year.  Stephen Oakley (referenced below, at p. 636) observed that the walls for which they had apparently contracted would have been new city walls, although scholars are divided on whether or not these would have been related to what we now call the ‘Servian’ walls, stretches of which can still be seen.

Election of Consular Tribunes

Livy then observed that, in the light of the weakened position of the plebeians:

  1. “The nobility were even able to force them to elect only patricians as consular tribunes; their names were:

  2. L. Aemilius [Chron 354 AD: Mamertino: DS: L. Aemilius = L. Aemilius Mamercinus

  3. P. Valerius (for the fourth time) [DS: C. (sic) Valerius = P. Valerius PoT. Poplicola IV];

  4. C. Veturius [DS: C. Verginius (sic) = C. Veturius Crassus Cicurinus];

  5. Ser. Sulpicius [DS: Servius Sulpicius = Ser. Sulpicius (Rufus IV or Praetextatus)];

  6. L. Quinctius Cincinnatus [DS: L. Quintius (sic) = L. Quinctius Cincinnatus III];

  7. C. Quinctius Cincinnatus [DS: C. Cornelius (sic) = C. Quinctius Cincinnatus]”, (History of Rome’, 6: 32: 3).  

The record in the fasti Capitolini for this year no longer survives: in the square brackets above: Chron 354 AD = Chronography of 354 AD (377 AUC); DS = Diodorus Siculus, ‘Library of History’, 15: 61: 1).  The Chronography of 354 AD also names ‘Cincinnato’, who would be either L. or C. Quinctius Cincinnatus.  Livy’s explanation of the reason for the election of this all-patrician college is obviously fanciful: as we have seen, the plebeians almost always returned all-patrician colleges of consular tribunes at this time. ‘

This is one of only two years in our period in which Diodorus referred to internal problems in Rome: he recorded that, in this year:

  1. “... civil strife arose among the Romans, one party thinking there should be consuls, others that military tribunes should be chosen.  For a time then, anarchy [reigned, but] later they decided to choose [essentially the same college of consular tribunes as recorded by Livy (see above)]”, ‘Library of History’, 15: 61: 1).

Diodorus seems to have been quite careless (even by his own standards) in relation to the names of the elected consular tribunes and he certainly gave only a very compressed indication of the reasons for what was obviously a period of increasing internal tension at Rome.  Nevertheless, his account of the effects of this tension seem to me to be more  comprehensible: it is perfectly possible that a plebeian faction led by Licinius and Sextius managed to delay the election of consular tribunes for a period at the start of 377 BC.

Read more: 

Krebs C. B., “M. Manlius Capitolinus: the Metaphorical Plupast and Metahistorical Reflections,” in:

  1. Grethlein  J. and Kreb C., “Time and Narrative in Ancient Historiography: The ‘Plupast' from Herodotus to Appian”, (2012) Cambridge, at pp. 139-55

Oakley S., “A Commentary on Livy, Books VI-X:Volume I: Book VI”, (1997) Oxford

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