Roman Republic

Roman Conquest of Italy (509 - 241 BC)

Wars with the Volsci and the Aequi (509 - 390 BC)

In Construction

Coriolanus  (491 BC)


Cincinnatus (458 BC)

fasti Capitolini

[468/7]   [T. Quinctius L.f. L.n. Capitolinus Barbatus, consul {II},   over the Volsci of Antium ...]

[462/1]   [L. Lucretius T.f. T.n. Tricipitinus, consul,   over the Aequi and Volsci ...]

[462/1]   [T. Veturius T.f. ...] Geminus [Cicurinus, consul,   an ovation over the Aequi] and [Volsci ...]

[459/8]   [Q. Fabius M.f. K.n. Vibulanus, consul {III},   over] the Aequi [and Volsci ...] non.Mai.

459/8   [L.] Cornelius Ser.f. P.n. [Maluginensis Uritinus], consul,   over the Volsci of Antium, 4 id.Mai. {12th May}

458/7   [L.] Quinctius L.f. L.n. Cincinnatus, [dictator],   over the Aequi, id.Sept. {13th September}

L. Valerius Poplicola (449 BC)

Miriam Pelikan Pittenger (referenced below, at pp. 37-8) noted that:

  1. “According to Livy’s by no means entirely trustworthy version of events [‘History of Rome’, 3: 63: 8–11], L. Valerius Poplicola and M. Horatius Barbatus, consuls in 449, ran afoul of the Senate in the troubled aftermath of the [second] Decemvirate.  The patres grudgingly voted a joint public thank-offering (supplicatio) for the consuls in honour of their impressive victories over the Aequi and the Sabines [respectively], only to deny them both the right to triumph, at which point a defiant [plebeian] tribune brought up a motion before the people (rogatio populi).  Despite vigorous opposition from the senators, this measure passed, and both consuls triumphed on the strength of the popular vote.  Livy, for his part, emphatically focuses attention on the prerogatives of the various governing bodies in Rome at the time, through the mouthpiece of the indignant senators: 

  2. “Never before had the issue of a triumph been argued before the people; the evaluation and judgment concerning this honour had always belonged to the Senate ... The state would finally be freed and the laws made just, only if each ordo retained its own rights and privileges” (‘History of Rome’, 3: 63: 9-10).

  3. Enough questions have been raised about Livy’s narrative throughout the period of the decemviri to render this episode decidedly suspect, and strong words like ‘never’ and ‘always’ (from the senators’ complaint, cited just above) give pause in a context where the fledgling Republic hasexisted for barely  50 years.  By the same token, the fact that it apparently took another century or more for history to repeat itself lends a measure of credence to the irregularity supposedly decried by the patres.”

The Augustan fasti Capitolini record that [L. Valerius] Poplicola Potitus triumphed  against the Aequi on 13th August, 449BC (and that his colleague, [M.] Horatius Barbatus did so over the Sabines 11 days later).

Battle of Mount Algidus (431 BC)

Location of Algidus Pass (location of the Roman victory over the Volsci and the Aequi in 431 BC

Adapted from the map at Chapter 2, p. 43 in this excellent but anonymous e-book ‘Early Rome’ (opens a pdf)

Livy recorded that, in 431 BC:

  1. “... the Latins and Hernici  reported a sudden outbreak of hostilities on the part of the Aequi and Volsci Aequi and Volsci.... The fear of war was not long in coming: after a levy held in accordance with a lex sacrata, which was the strongest  compulsion among them for drafting men into military service [see below], each nation sent a powerful army to the Algidus.  They established separate camps there, and their commanders were more careful than ever in making fortifications and drilling their men”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 26: 1-4).

By ‘Algidus’, Livy meant the area around mons Algidus, some 25 km southeast of Rome, on the border of Latin and Aequan territories, which had already been the site of the victory of the Roman dictator L.  Quinctius Cincinnatus over the Aequi in 458 BC.   

Enemy Recruitment According to a Lex Sacrata

This was one of four occasions on which Livy recorded that the Romans had faced an enemy army that had been recruited under a military lex sacrata: the other three dated to:

  1. 310/9 BC, in relation to an Etruscan army (‘History of Rome’, 9: 39:5);

  2. 293 BC, in relation to a Samnite army (Pliny, ‘Natural History’, 34: 18 for the lex sacrata; see Stephen Oakley, referenced below, 2007, at p. 391  for the date); and

  3. 191 BC, in relation to a Ligurain army (‘History of Rome’, 36: 38: 1). 

Gregory Pellam (referenced below, at p. 327 and note 12) observed that, at least in 431, 310/9 and 191 BC, this was simply described as  a law which would compel men to show up for service.  However, he noted that Livy gave a more detailed account of the recruitment procedure used in 293 BC:

  1. “A levy was conducted throughout Samnium under a novel regulation; any man of the military age who had not assembled following the commander’s proclamation, or any one who had left [the region] without permission, would become sacer [i.e. his life would be forfeited] to Jupiter”’ (‘History of Rome’, 10: 38: 3-4).

In other words, Livy probably believed that, in 431 BC, both the Aequi and the Volsci had resorted to an extreme form of compulsory conscription, presumably because they understood that the Romans now represented an existential threat.

Appointment of a Roman Dictator

The Senate apparently used the threat of war to appoint a pair of consuls  T. Quinctius Cincinnatus Poenus and Cn. Julius Mento (rather than a college of consular tribunes) for 431 BC.  However, the news that the enemy armies had arrived on the Algidus created panic at Rome, and:

  1. “The Senate decided that a dictator should be appointed, because:

  2. although [the Romans and their allies had] often defeated these nations, they had renewed war with greater efforts than ever before;

  3. a significant number of young Romans of military age had died of the plague [that still affected the City]; and

  4. above all, they were terrified by the perverseness of the consuls, the lack of harmony between them, and their arguments over every strategy.  (Some sources say that these consuls were defeated on the Algidus, and that this was the reason for appointing a dictator.)  [All the sources record that, although the they disagreed on other matters, they were united in opposing the senators’ wish that they appoint a dictator”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 26: 5-7).

The plebeian tribunes over-ruled the consuls, but, even then:

  1. “... they could not  agree as to which of them should nominate the dictator.  It was [therefore] determined by lot that Quinctius should do so:

  2. [he] named A. Postumius Tubertus, his father-in-law and a man of the sternest authority, as dictator; and

  3. [Tubertus] named L. Julius [Jullus] as his master of horse”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 26: 11-2).

Livy’s Account of the Hostilities

Tubertus then raised a large army of Romans, Latins and Hernicians, and: 

  1. “Since  the war was such a serious one, Tubertus vowed to celebrate ludi magni [occasional games dedicated to Jupiter] if he were victorious, using the form of words prescribed by the pontifex maximus, A. Cornelius [Cossus , consular tribune of 428 BC - see Robert Ogilvie, referenced below, at p. 577]”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 27: 2).

Livy recorded that Tubertus and Quinctius each commanded an army (with camps at Tusculum and  Lanuvium respectively), while:

  1. the other consul, Cn. Julius, remained in Rome; and

  2. the master of horse, L. Julius, managed the armies’ supply lines.

Robert Broughton listed the other individual Romans whom Livy named in his account of the battle: 

  1. M. Fabius, cos. 442 BC, who led the cavalry;

  2. M. Geganius, cos. 447 BC;

  3. Sp. Postumius Albus, cos. trib. 432 BC; and

  4. Q. Sulpicius, cos. or cos. trib. 434 BC.

Vettius Messius’ Exhortation

Livy’s description of the initial engagements is fairly unremarkable, but it comes to life when:

  1. “... the enemy would have paid the penalty for their aggression, ... had not Vettius Messius, a Volscian who was more distinguished for his deeds than his birth, called out with loud reprimands to his men who were already surrounded:

  2. ‘Are you going to offer yourselves up to the enemies’ weapons without defending and avenging yourselves ? Why, then, do you carry arms, and why did you take the initiative in making war ? ... What hope do you have as long as you just stand here ? Do you think that some god is going to protect you and get you out of this ?  No! You must fight your way out with the sword: follow me, if you want to see your homes, your parents, your wives and children again.  It is not a wall or rampart that stands in your way, but the armed men who oppose you.  In courage, you are a match for them; and necessity, the ultimate and greatest weapon, makes you their superior’”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 28: 3 - 29: 1)

Writing in 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli commented on this  passage, noting, in particular, that:

  1. “It is remarkable that [Livy] recognised necessity as the last and most powerful weapon”, (‘Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius’, 3: 12: 6-7).

Final Stages of the Battle

According to Livy, after Messius words:

  1. “His men rallied, although their fortunes ... rested solely on [him].  Many were wounded, many were killed.  By this time, even the Roman generals had not escaped injury, ... but they refused to retire while the battle was undecided.   Messius, with a body of their bravest troops charged through heaps of bodies and was carried on towards the Volscian camp ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 28: 3 - 29: 1).

Messius then led his men against Postumius, and the final, desperate engagement began:

  1. “Postumius, whose skull was fractured by a stone, was the only one who left the field.   However, [three seriously wounded officers] refused to retire while the battle was undecided:

  2. [Tubertus, who] was wounded in the shoulder;

  3. Fabius, [who] had his thigh almost pinned to his horse; and

  4. [Quinctius, who] had his arm cut off”, (History of Rome’, 4: 28: 2).


  1. ‘[Tubertus’] onslaught swept Messius and a band of the bravest youths ... to the Volscian camp, which had not yet been captured.   All the fighting now converged on this area.  The consul [Quinctius] pursued the scattered enemy as far as ... the camp and rampart, [while Tubertus] brought up his troops from another side.  ...

  2. There is a story that Quinctius] even hurled his standard into the stockade to make his soldiers keener in their assault, and that the first breach was made here as they tried to recover it. 

  3. Once the rampart was broken, Tubertus took the battle into the camp.

  4. At this point, the enemy everywhere began to throw down their arms and surrender”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 29: 1-4).

According to Livy, after this victory:

  1. “...  all the [prisoners of war] were sold into slavery except the senators.  Part of the booty was returned to those of the Latins and Hernici who recognised their own property, and part was auctioned off by Tubertus.  Then, after putting Quinctius in charge of the camp, he returned in triumph to the City and abdicated his office”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 29: 1-4).

Ovid, the Anniversary of the Battle, and Tubertus’ Triumph

Ovid recorded in his ‘Fasti’ that June 18th was the anniversary of the battle in which: 

  1. “... the Volsci and the Aequi [were] put to flight upon the plains ... of Algidus, where you, Tubertus, won a famous triumph over them ... [and] later rode victorious in a chariot drawn by snow-white horses”, (‘Fasti’, 6: 721-4, translated by James Frazer, referenced below, at p. 375).

Gary Forsythe (referenced below, at p. 242) observed that: 

  1. “Since this battle is the earliest one for which such an anniversary is recorded [in the surviving sources], ... it must have been of considerable significance ... In addition, it is worth noting that Ovid’s information must derive ultimately from pontifical records.”

In fact, this passage is one of five in Book 6 of the ‘Fasti’ that record the anniversaries of Roman battles:

  1. 6: 461-8 (Vestalia, June 9th): anniversary of:

  2. the victory of D. Junius Brutus Callaicus over the Callici in Spain in 136 BC (after which he triumphed); and

  3. and the defeat and death of M. Licinius Crassus at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC (when the Parthians famously seized the Roman standards;

  4. 6: 563-8 (Matralia, June 11th): anniversary of the deaths of two Roman commanders in consecutive years during the Social War:

  5. P. Rutilius Lupus, who was killed by Vettius Scato on the Tolenus in 90 BC; and

  6. T. Didius, who was apparently killed in 89 BC (although his death in battle is not recorded in our other surviving sources);

  7. 6: 721-4 (June 18th): anniversary of Tubertus’ victory on the Algidus in 431 BC (after which he triumphed);

  8. 6: 765-8 (June 22nd): anniversary of the defeat and death of C. Flaminius at Lake Trasimene in 217 BC, at the start of the Second Punic War; and

  9. 6: 769-70 (June 23rd): anniversary of two Roman victories over the Carthaginians:

  10. the victory of Masinissa, a Roman ally, over the Carthaginian Syphax at Cirta in 203 BC, during the Third Punic War; and

  11. the death of Hasdrubal (Hannibal’s brother), which followed the Roman victory at the river Metaurus in 207 BC, during the Second Punic War.

It is, however unclear, at least to me, why Ovid chose to mention this particular anniversary, although it might be significant that:

  1. his concern here seems to be, not the victory itself, but Tubertus’ ‘famous triumph’; and

  2. he is our only surviving source for the claim that, on this occasion, Tubertus’ triumphal chariot was drawn by four white horses.

Livy first mention of white horses drawing a triumphal chariot in his description the triumph of M. Furius Camillus over the Veientines in 396 BC, when men:

  1. ... thought it tantamount to sacrilege that [he] was making himself the equal of Jupiter and Sol by using [white] horses.  This was the main reason that his triumph was considered to be more impressive than pleasing”, (‘History of Rome’), 5: 23: 5-6).

Livy seems to have believed that Camillus’ use of white horses in 396 BC was unprecedented, and both Plutarch (‘Life of Camillus’, 7: 1) and Cassius Dio (‘Roman History’, 6: 21) stated explicitly that this was the case.  It is possible that Ovid knew of an alternative tradition 

In Ovid’s day, the most recent example of this would have been Caesar’s triumph of 46 BC  when (according to Cassius Dio) the Senate:

  1. “... voted that sacrifices should be offered for Caesar’s victory [at Thapsus] during 40 days and had granted him permission to ride in a chariot drawn by white horses in the triumph already voted him”, (‘Roman History’, 43: 14: 3).

Timothy Cornell (referenced below, at pp. 307-8) argued that Livy’s record:

  1. “... of a major victory over the Aequi and Volsci at the Algidus in 431 BC ... [is] likely to be a genuine event. ... A particular feature of  the story of [this battle] ... is the record of names and exploits of individual combatants on both sides.  This feature ... is not due, in the first instance, to Livy (although he exploits it to the full), but is rather a sign that the [victory] had been celebrated in popular memory ... .”

At least two other anecdotes related to this battle indicate that Livy was quite selective in his reporting:

  1. Livy himself noted the existence of:

  2. “... a tradition that [Tubertus] beheaded his victorious son because he had abandoned his post when he was tempted by the opportunity of a good fight.   However, one is reluctant to believe this, and the diversity of opinion allows for disbelief.  A counter-argument is that we use the term ‘Manlian’ rather than ‘Postumian’ discipline [in cases like this, which suggests that] the man who establish this savage precedent [must have been been T. Manlius Torquatus, in 340 BC”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 29: 1-4). 

  3. (Livy recorded the later incident at ‘History of Rome’, 8: 7).

  4. Plutarch claimed that M. Furius Camillus, the future ‘saviour of Rome:

  5. “ ... was the first of his clan to achieve fame: he did this in the great battle with the Aequi and Volsci, serving under ... Tubertus, the dictator.  Dashing out on his horse in front of the army, ... [and, despite ] a wound in the thigh, ... he engaged the bravest of the enemy and put them to flight.  For this exploit (among other [unspecified] honours bestowed upon him, he was appointed censor [in 403 BC, without having served as either consul or consular tribune] ...”, (‘Life of Camillus’, 2: 1-3).

  6. It seems that both the Fabii (see above) and the Furii claimed as their own the cavalryman who fought on with a thigh wound, although the Fabii had arguably had the better claim, since:

  7. by Plutarch’s own reckoning, Camillus would have been only 16 in 431 BC;  and

  8. Livy would surely have recorded his youthful heroics, had he known about them and believed them.

In an interesting postscript, Livy recorded that the temple of Apollo that had been vowed during the epidemic of 433 BC (‘History of Rome, 4: 25: 3) was:

  1. “... dedicated [in 431 BC] by Cn. Julius Mento in the absence of his colleague [Quinctius] and without drawing lots.  Quinctius ... complained about this to the Senate when he ... returned to the City, but to no effect. (History of Rome’, 4: 29: 7). 

According to Livy, in 430 BC:

  1. Envoys from the Aequi [came to Rome] to ask from the Senate a treaty as between independent States; instead of this they were offered peace on condition they acknowledged the supremacy of Rome and they thereby obtained a truce for eight years.   After the defeat that the Volsci had sustained at Algidus, their State was distracted by persistent and bitter quarrels between the advocates of war and those of  peace”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 30: 2).

Since the Romans had agreed a similar truce with Veientines in 435 BC, Livy was able to proclaim that, for the moment:

  1. “There was quiet for Rome in all quarters”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 30: 3).

Capture of Volscian Anxur/ Tarracina (406 BC)


Read more:

Pelikan Pittenger M., “Contested Triumphs: Politics, Pageantry and Performance in Livy's Republican Rome”, (2008) Berkeley, Los Angeles and London

Pellam G., “Sacer, Sacrosanctus, and Leges Sacratae”, Classical Antiquity, 34:2 (2015) 322-34

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

Cornell T., “The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (ca. 1000-264 BC)”, (1995) London and New York

Ogilvie R. M., “A Commentary on Livy, Books 1-5”, (1965) Oxford

Frazer J. G. (translator), “Ovid: ‘Fasti’”, (1931), Cambridge MA

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