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Manius Curius Dentatus

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Sources for the Career  of M’ Curius Dentatus

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 213) described Manius Curius Detatus as:

  1. “... one of the most prominent plebeians and successful soldiers of the early 3rd century BC.”

However, as he pointed out, Curius’ career fell almost entirely within the period covered by Livy’s now-lost Books 11-14.  He was, however, the subject of many later traditions, and these can be pieced together to produce a fairly consistent account.

Tribune of the Plebs

According to Cicero:

  1. “Manius Curius, who as tribune of the people, overcame the opposition of the eloquent Ap. Claudius Caecus as interrex and director of the election: Appius had refused, in defiance of the law, to accept a plebeian candidate for consul and compelled the senators to pledge beforehand ratification of their choice; it was a great thing to have carried through before the passage of the lex Maenia [of 279 BC]”, (‘Brutus’, translated by G. L. Hendrickson, referenced below, at p. 55).

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2007, at p. 160) observed that:

  1. “The ‘elogium’ of Appius (CIL VI 40943) records that he was thrice interrex, but does not state the years in which he performed this office.  According to Cicero [above], Appius ,as interrex [on one of these occasions], attempted to secure the election of an all-patrician college of consuls but was thwarted by M’. Curius Dentatus,, the tribune of the plebs.”

He noted that some scholars have placed this event in 298 BC, which is the only one of Appius’ three terms as interrex that can be dated.  However, he observed (at p. 142, note 2) that:

  1. “It is safer to admit that we do not know the year in which this clash occurred.”

Consul for the First Time (290 BC)

The entries for 290 BC in the fasti Capitolini and in fasti Triumphales no longer survive.  However, the so-called Chronographer of 354 AD names the consuls of this year (= 464 AUC) as ‘Dentato’ and ‘Rufino’.  We can cross-refer to a record of Eutropius, who recorded that, after Gurges’ victory of 291 BC:

  1. “Publius Cornelius Rufinus and Manius Curius Dentatus, the two consuls, being sent against the Samnites, reduced their strength in some considerable battles.  Thus, they brought the war with the Samnites to an end; a war which had lasted for 49 years.  Nor was there any enemy in Italy that put the valour of the Romans more to the test [than the Samnites had done in these 49 years]”, (‘Epitome of Roman History’, 2: 9: 3).

The entry in fasti Triumphales for 290 BC also no longer survives.  However:

  1. an entry in the summary of Livy’s Book 11 recorded that

  2. “When the Samnites sued for peace, the treaty was renewed for the fourth time.  The consul Curius Dentatus celebrated two triumphs in one year, because he had defeated the Samnites and had also subdued the rebellious Sabines and accepted their surrender”, (‘Periochae’, 11: 5-6); and

  3. an author usually identified as Aurelius Victor provided confirmation of these triumphs:

  4. “Marcus [sic] Curius Dentatus first celebrated a triumph over the Samnites, whom he completely pacified as far as the Adriatic.  ... He celebrated a second triumph over the Sabines”, (‘De viris illustribus urbis Romae’, 33: 1-3, my translation).

Conquest of the Sabine Lands (290 BC)

Nothing else is known about Curius’ part in ending the Third Samnite War.  However, a number of aspects of his conquest of the Sabines were recorded by other authors:

  1. According to Florus:

  2. “... [the Romans] attacked the race of the Sabines who, forgetful of the relationship [that they had] formed [with the early Romans] under Titus Tatius, had become ... infected by the [rebellious] spirit of the Latins and had joined in their wars.  During the [first] consulship of Manius Curius Dentatus, the Romans destroyed with fire and sword all the  country that is enclosed by the Nar, the Anio, the sources of the Velinus, and ... the Adriatic Sea.  By this conquest, so large a population and so vast a territory was reduced that even [Curius] could not tell which was of greater importance”, (‘Epitome of Roman History’, 1: 10).

  3. Frontinus, in a list of examples of strategies by which Roman generals had distracted their opponents, recorded that:

  4. “When the Sabines levied a large army, left their own territory and invaded ours, Manius Curius, sent ... a force by secret routes that ravaged their lands and villages and set fire to them in divers places.  In order to prevent further destruction of their country, the Sabines  withdrew [from Roman territory].  But Curius [had already] succeeded in devastating their country while it was unguarded, [and then succeeded ?]  in repelling their army without an engagement and ... slaughtering it piecemeal”, (‘Stratagems’, 1: 8: 4).

  5. Orosius:

  6. “[In 290 BC], the consul Curius waged a war against the Sabines.  In this war, the consul himself tells us how many thousand men were killed and captured.  When in the Senate, he wished to report the amount of the land acquired from the Sabines and the number of their inhabitants captured, he was not able to give exact figures”, (‘History, against the Pagans’, 3: 22: 1).

  7. Cassius Dio:

  8. “Curius, in defending his conduct before the people, declared that: he had acquired so much land that any smaller number of [Roman settlers] could not have tilled it, and he had [settled ?] so many men [there] that any smaller territory would have been insufficient for them”, (‘Roman History’, 8: 37: 1).

Further surviving records relate to the distribution of the land that was confiscated from the Sabines and their neighbours at this time :

  1. Columella:

  2. “... after his conquest of the Sabines, [Cuius was often found] tilling the captured land that [he] had received in the distribution of 7 iugera per man”, (‘De Re Rustica’, 1: 14).

  3. Pliny the Elder:

  4. “The words ... of Manius Curius after his triumphs [over the Samnites and Sabines] and the [resulting] addition of an immense extent of territory to the Roman sway, are well known:

  5. ‘The man for whom 7 iugera of land are not enough must be looked upon ... as a dangerous citizen, since that was the amount of land that was allotted to the people [of Rome] after the expulsion of the kings’”, (‘Natural History’, 18: 4: 18).

  6. Frontinus:

  7. “When, in honour of his defeat of the Sabines, the Senate offered Manius Curius a larger amount of land than they allotted to the discharged troops, he was [instead] content with the allotment of ordinary soldiers, declaring that man who was not satisfied with what others received was a bad citizen”, (‘Stratagems’, 4: 3: 12).

  8. Plutarch:

  9. “When some blamed Curius for distributing only a small part of the land that he had taken from the enemy [presumably in 290 BC] while  preserving the greater part for the commonwealth, he prayed that there might be no Roman who would [regard an] estate as insufficient if it was enough to maintain him”, (‘Sayings of Kings and Commanders’, search on ‘Curius’).

Tim Cornell, (referenced below, at p. 380) summarised as follows:

  1. “In 290 BC, the consul M'. Curius Dentatus conquered the Sabines and Praetuttii, who were incorporated into the Roman state as citizens sine suffragio [see below]; some of their land was seized and distributed to Roman settlers.  As a result of this poorly documented episode, Roman territory was extended right across the peninsula to the Adriatic coast.”

Whatever the circumstances that had prompted Curius’ invasion, the surviving accounts record that large numbers of Sabines were killed or captured in this campaign and that their territory was effectively confiscated in its entirety.  Indeed, these confiscations apparently extended beyond the Sabine lands, reaching the coast of the Adriatic.  There is a persistent tradition that Curius had to defend the fact that he confiscated so much land and distributed so much of it (in allotments of 7 iugera per man) to so many discharged veterans.

Praetor Suffectus (283 BC)

Conquest of the Senones

Livy and Polybius

Polybius recorded that, in 283 BC, the Gauls besieged Arretium (an Etruscan city that had agreed a truce for 40 years with the Romans in 294 BC):

  1. “The Romans went to the assistance of the town and were beaten in an engagement under its walls.  Since the strategos (praetor) Lucius had fallen in this battle, Manius Curius [Dentatus] was appointed in his place.  He sent envoys to treat with the Gauls for the release of prisoners, but the Gauls treacherously murdered them”, (‘Histories’ 2: 19: 7). 

The summary of Livy’s now lost Book 12 recorded these events in a different order:

  1. “When Roman envoys were killed by Gallic Senones, war was declared against the Gauls.  The praetor Lucius Caecilius and his legions were killed by them” (‘Periochae’, 12: ).

Probably drawing on Livy’s now-lost account, Paulus Orosius recorded that:

  1. “... during the consulship of Dolabella and Domitius [283 BC], the Lucanians, Bruttians, and Samnites made an alliance with the Etruscans and Senonian Gauls, who were attempting to renew war against the Romans.  The Romans sent ambassadors to dissuade the Gauls from joining this alliance, but the Gauls killed the envoys.  The praetor Caecilius was sent with an army to avenge their murder and to crush the uprising of the enemy.  However, he was overwhelmed by the Etruscans and Gauls, and perished.  Seven military tribunes were also slain in that battle, many nobles were killed, and 30,000  soldiers likewise met their death”, (‘History against the Pagans’, 3: 22).

Corey Brennan (referenced below, at p. 429) observed that the account by Polybius and those derived from Livy:

  1. “... must refer to the death of the same Roman commander (presumably L. Caecilius Metellus Denter, the consul of 284 BC, the only L. Caecilius known to be active at that time) and the same occasion.”

In other words, the praetor that Polybius identified only as ‘Lucius’ must have been Lucius Caecilius Metellus Denter, [who had been consul in] 284 BC.  Since the fasti Capitolini do not mention his death while consul, the war that either immediately preceded or immediately followed his death (as praetor) must have taken place in 283 BC.

Corey Brennan (referenced below, at p. 438) observed that:

  1. “The Livian epitomes hint at an even more dramatic story [than that of Polybius]: although the massacre of the envoys is a causus belli (as in Polybius), the death of the praetor Lucius Caecilius Metellus Denter follows.  This version is a bit illogical: it may be asked why the praetor was at Arretium [in order to avenge the murder of the legates, as is suggested by the fact that, according to Orosius, he was killed by ‘Etruscans and Gauls’] if the Senones killed the Roman legati in their native land, as all the sources seem to agree.”

Brennan suggested (at p. 438) that:

  1. “The following is probably the most we can make out of our conflicting sources:

  2. Near the end of consular year 284 BC, certain Gauls ... besieged the pro-Roman Arretium. 

  3. The Romans sent the consul Caecilius to relieve the it. 

  4. [Since Caecilius was] unable to achieve this ... [before the end of the consular year], he was elected praetor ... for the following year.

  5. In early 283 BC, Caecilius, while still in charge of what had been his consular army, ... [returned  to] Arretium ..., [where] the Gauls ... were now joined by rebel Etruscans. 

  6. Caecilius met his death at the hands of their combined forces.

  7. As it was still quite early in the year, the Romans elected a praetor suffectus, the experienced consul Manius Curius Dentatus, to replace Caecilius.”

It would have been at this point that Curius sent envoys into the territory of the Senones to negotiate the release of prisoners of war, a decision that led to their murder.

Appian and Polybius

Appian gave two essentially identical accounts of an occasion on which the Senones murdered Roman envoys in 283 BC:

  1. “The Senones, although they had a treaty with the Romans, nevertheless furnished mercenaries against them.  The Senate therefore sent an embassy to them to remonstrate against this infraction of the treaty.  Britomaris, the Gaul, being incensed against the Romans on account of his father (who had been killed by the Romans while fighting on the side of the Etruscans in this very war), murdered the ambassadors while they held the [herald's staff] and wore the garments that symbolised their office.  He then cut their bodies in small pieces and scattered them in the fields. ”, (‘Gallic Wars’, 2.13).

  2. “Once, a great number of the Senones, a Gallic tribe, aided the Etruscans in war against the Romans.  The latter sent ambassadors to the towns of the Senones and complained that, while they were under treaty stipulations, they were furnishing mercenaries to fight against the Romans.  Although they bore the [herald's staff] and wore the garments of their office, Britomaris cut them in pieces and flung the parts away, alleging that his own father had been slain by the Romans while he was waging war in Etruria”, (‘Samnite Wars’, 2.13).

Corey Brennan (referenced below, at p. 426) observed that, despite some differences, these two accounts probably relate to the events described by Polybius (above), and that they:

  1. “... contribute some details ... that are not found in other authors:

  2. the slaughter of the [envoys by the Senones] is put in the context of an Etruscan war;

  3. the Romans sent these [envoys]  to the towns of the Senones  ... because they had furnished mercenaries to the Etruscans  ... ; and

  4. the Gaul Britomaris ... , who had lost his father in this war, killed the legates with his own hand.”

Brennan reconciled the accounts of Polybius and Appian by suggesting (at p. 438) that, soon after the election of the new consuls of 283 BC, the Romans:

  1. “... prepared to advance into Etruria.  In connection with this campaign, [the praetor suffectus] Manius Curius Dentatus sent [envoys] to the Senones [Polybius] in an effort to:

  2. regain Roman prisoners-of-war (Polybius); and

  3. dissuade them from assisting the Etruscans as mercenaries (Appian).

Conquest of the Senones

According to Polybius, when they heard of the murder of the envoys that Curius had sent to ‘the Gauls’:

  1. “... the infuriated Romans sent an expedition against them, which was met by the tribe called the Senones.  This army was cut to pieces  in a pitched battle, [following which,] the rest of the tribe was expelled from [their territory on the Adriatic coast].   The Romans sent the first colony that they ever planted in Gaul [to this territory]: this colony was named Sena [Gallica] for the tribe that had formerly occupied it”, (‘Histories’ 2:19: 7). 

Polybius did not identify the Roman commander who defeated the Senones and confiscated their territory.  However, Appian (again in two essentially identical accounts) identified him as Publius Cornelius Dolabella, one of the new consuls of 283 BC:

  1. The consul [Dolabella], who learned of this abominable deed while he was on the march, moved with great speed against the towns of the Senones by way of the Sabine country and Picenum, and ravaged them all with fire and sword.  He reduced the women and children to slavery, killed all the adult males without exception, devastated the country in every possible way, and made it uninhabitable for anybody else.  He then carried off Britomaris alone as a prisoner for torture”, (‘Gallic Wars’, 2.13).

  2. The consul [Dolabella], who learned of this abominable deed while he was on the march, abandoned his campaign against the Etruscans and dashed with great rapidity by way of the Sabine country and Picenum against the towns of the Senones, which he devastated with fire and sword.  He carried their women and children into slavery, and killed all the adult youth except a son of Britomaris, whom he reserved for awful torture, and led in his triumph”, (‘Samnite Wars’, 2.13).

This is confirmed by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who noted that:

  1. “... Publius Cornelius, who, while consul [in 283 BC], had waged war on the whole tribe of Gauls and had slain all their adult males ...”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 19: 13: 1).

There is nothing to suggest that Curius played any part in the final conquest of the Senones.

Victory over the Lucani (?)

The author usually identified as Aurelius Victor quoted above recorded that, after Curius had triumphed  over the Samnites and the Sabines:

  1. “He entered the City for the third time, receiving an ovation for the defeat of the Lucani”,(‘De viris illustribus urbis Romae’, 33: 1-2, my translation).

This ovation would have been recorded in the fasti Triumphales, so it would have been in the only relevant period for which the entries have been lost, which extended:

  1. from 290 BC, the year of Curius’ first consulship and his triumphs over the Samnitea and Sabines; to

  2. 283 BC, the year in which C. Fabricius Luscinus triumphed over the Samnites, Lucani and Bruttii.

Thus, when the fasti recorded Curius’ triumph over the Samnites and King Ptyrrus in 275 BC (discussed below), he was described as consul for the second time and his triumph was described as his fourth.  Since Curius only held military commands in 290, 283 and 275 BC, and since the fasti Triumphales are complete for the last of these periods, Curius must have won his ovation over the Lucani:

  1. as consul in 290 BC;

  2. as an unattested dictator rei gerundae causa at an unknown date in this period; or

  3. as suffect praetor in 283 BC.

Corey Brennan (referenced below, at p. 434) pointed out that the first of these years is unlikely:

  1. the summary of Livy’s now-lost Book 12, which (as we have seen)  noted that he celebrated two triumphs in 290 BC but made no mention of an ovation; and

  2. there is nothing in the surviving sources to suggest that the Romans campaigned against the Lucani in 290 BC.

Corey Brennan also pointed out (at p. 436) that the office of dictator rei gerundae causa had virtually disappeared after the 4th century BC.

John Rich observed that:

  1. “Earlier writers supposed that [Curius the Lucanian ovation], like his triumphs, as consul in 290 BC or alternatively as proconsul in 289 BC ... However, Brennan, [as above], has made a strong case for:

  2. dating the ovation to 283 BC, when the Romans are attested as coming into conflict with the Lucanians; and

  3. supposing that Curius defeated them and held his ovation as praetor, having been appointed to the office as a suffect following the death of L. Caecilius Metellus Denter in battle with the Gauls, as reported by Polybius (2.19.8). 

  4. Since this appears to be the best reconstruction available, I have adopted it in my [reconstructed triumphal list].”

Thus, in his reconstruction of the fasti Triumphales (at Table 6, at p. 248), Rich proposed the following consecutive entries (100-3):

  1. 290 BC: M’ Curius Dentatus I, consul de Sabnitibus

  2. 290 BC: M’ Curius Dentatus II, consul, de Sabineis

  3. 283 BC: M’ Curius Dentatus III, praetor ? (Ovation) de Lucaneis

  4. 283 BC: P. Cornelius Dolabella, consul, de Gallis Senonibus

If this is correct, then Curius’ engagement with the Lucanians would have been the first in a series of campaigns in and around Tarentum that culminated in the war with King Pyrrhus (see below).

In Construction

Consul II 275 BC

Pyrrhic War


  1. But the power of the Samnites had been shattered, and their spirits were broken, in consequence of many defeats at the hands of the Romans. They also cherished considerable resentment against Pyrrhus because of his expedition to Sicily; hence not many of them came to join him. Pyrrhus, however, divided his army into two parts, sent one of them into Lucania to attack the other consul, that he might not come to the help of his colleague,  and led the other part himself against Manius Curius, who was safely encamped near the city of Beneventum and was awaiting assistance from Lucania; in part also it was because his soothsayers had dissuaded him with unfavourable omens and sacrifices that he kept quiet.  Pyrrhus, accordingly, hastening to attack this consul before the other one came up, took his best men and his most warlike elephants and set out by night against his camp.  But, since he took a long circuit through a densely wooded country, his lights did not hold out, and his soldiers lost their way and straggled.  This caused delay, so that the night passed, and at daybreak he was in full view of the enemy as he advanced upon them from the heights, and caused much tumult and agitation among them.

  2. Manius, however, since the sacrifices were propitious and the crisis forced action upon him, led his forces out and attacked the foremost of the enemy, and after routing these, put their whole army to flight, so that many of them fell and some of their elephants were left behind and captured.  This victory brought Manius down into the plain to give battle; here, after an engagement in the open, he routed the enemy at some points, but at one was overwhelmed by the elephants and driven back upon his camp, where he was obliged to call upon the guards, who were standing on the parapets in great numbers, all in arms, and full of fresh vigour.  Down they came from their strong places, and hurling their javelins at the elephants compelled them to wheel about and run back through the ranks of their own men, thus causing disorder and confusion there.  This gave the victory to the Romans, and at the same time the advantage also in the struggle for supremacy.  For having acquired high courage and power and a reputation for invincibility from their valour in these struggles, they at once got control of Italy, and soon afterwards of Sicily.

  3. Thus Pyrrhus was excluded from his hopes of Italy and Sicily, after squandering six years' time in his wars there, and after being worsted in his undertakings, but he kept his brave spirit unconquered in the midst of his defeats; and men believed that in military experience, personal prowess, and daring, he was by far the first of the kings of his time, but that what he won by his exploits he lost by indulging in vain hopes, since through passionate desire for what he had not he always failed to establish securely what he had.  For this reason Antigonus used to liken him to a player with dice who makes many fine throws but does not understand how to use them when they are made”, (‘Life of Pyrrhus’, 25-6)

Consul III (274 BC)


Censor (272 BC)


Read more:

Rich J., “The Triumph in the Roman Republic: Frequency, Fluctuation and Policy”, in:

  1. Lange C. and Vervaet J. (editors), “The Roman Republican Triumph: Beyond the Spectacle”, (2014) Rome, at pp. 197-258

Oakley S., “A Commentary on Livy, Books VI-X:Volume IV: Book X”, (2007) Oxford

Oakley S., “A Commentary on Livy, Books VI-X:Volume III: Book IX”, (2005) Oxford

Shackleton Bailey D,  (translator), “Valerius Maximus: Memorable Doings and Sayings, Volume I: Books 1-5. and Volume II: Books 6-9”, (2000) Cambridge MA

Brennan T. C., “M. Curius Dentatus and the Praetor's Right to Triumph”, Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 43: 4 (1994),423-39

Cornell T., “The Conquest of Italy”, in:

  1. Walbank F. et al. (editors), “Cambridge Ancient History: Volume 2: The Rise of Rome to 220 BC“, (1989) Cambridge, at pp, 351-419

Hendrickson G.  and Hubbell H. (translators), “Brutus: Orator”, (1939) Cambridge MA

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