Help support TMP

"Marcus Furius Camillus" Topic

12 Posts

All members in good standing are free to post here. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the posters, and have not been cleared with nor are they endorsed by The Miniatures Page.

For more information, see the TMP FAQ.

Back to the Ancients Discussion Message Board

855 hits since 13 Dec 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP13 Dec 2017 2:54 p.m. PST

"M. Furius Camillus was the most illustrious member of the family of Furia and is known as one of the most outstanding personalities of the early Republic, perhaps even more important than Brutus the Elder or than Publius Valerius Publicola, who put the final touches on the new Republican government (successor of Brutus and consul for three times).
Camillus lived in a very shadowy time and therefore all his great deeds that were so highly praised by Roman historians cannot be considered more than semi-mythical. The ancients left a Camillus-themed literature that presents the dictator who defeated the famous Gaulic invasion as a true hero. His name has also survived on the ancient so-called "consular fasces", a list of consuls from the earliest times till the abolishion of the institution during Justinian's reign (Eastern emperors had still continued to call themselves consuls at their coronations, and they used the office only as a way to hold festivities for the populace).
Camillus seems to have been a very powerful politician in his time. He received the right to march in triumphal processions for three times, was awarded the office of dictator for five times and received the nickname "second founder of Rome". As a censor, he had already become celebrated for his law which forced (young) bachelors to marry the wives of soldiers killed on the battlefield, and enacted a penalty for those who refused to obey this law. However, Camillus was not an important public figure before the siege of Veii, nor did he possess any great power, although he held the military tribunate several times. It was only during the assault on Veii that Camillus was offered a real military command…."
Main page


Mars Ultor13 Dec 2017 6:23 p.m. PST

So much imagination added over the centuries that one has to wonder if he was indeed real at all. Probably. But probably didn't do himself half of what Livy and Dion. of Halic. attribute to him. Sad that we cannot know.

My kids and I sat on the Capitoline Hill and I told them the story of the Gallic sack and how (acc to Livy) Camillus arrives "just in time" to defeat the Gauls and make things right for the Romans. Complete rubbish for history, but makes an entertaining story and good Roman moralizing.

Marcus Brutus13 Dec 2017 7:00 p.m. PST

My kids and I sat on the Capitoline Hill and I told them the story of the Gallic sack and how (acc to Livy) Camillus arrives "just in time" to defeat the Gauls and make things right for the Romans. Complete rubbish for history, but makes an entertaining story and good Roman moralizing.

Why do you think you are smarter than the Romans historians who passed on the stories about Camillus? On what basis do you question or deny the existence of Camillus? Just curious. Your snobbishness reminds me of the problems of modern historiography and the scholars who think they are smarter than their sources.

Mars Ultor15 Dec 2017 1:13 p.m. PST

Well, my answer for what you term as snobbishness is based on the some of the best historians alive who have studied the subject: TJ Cornell and Gary Forsythe and even summaries and agreements with them by Mary Beard. I'm afraid that if you consider them problematic then you won't accept what I say anyway, but I'll give you my answer.

First of all, I'm not calling all of Roman historians "rubbish" like you imply, only the version of this story by Livy. Many times they have gotten things right. I am referring specifically to the Camillus saving Rome from an embarrassing loss story.

When you say "Romans historias", keep in mind that you're talking about a handful of historians from no earlier than late 3rd century (starting with Fabius Pictor during the 2nd PUnic War), most of them by second or first century BC, who did not witness the events. In fact it had been hundreds of years before their time. This does not necessarily invalidate that they have to say, but as Livy is the main source for this version, I'll take him as an example.

Livy was not a Roman historian in much of an objective sense when it comes to Roman reputation. He often is found excusing Roman mistakes, defeats, and occasions when the Romans broke treaties in bad faith. All the above historians (among others) have noted that many (though I'll be careful not to say ALL) of his heroic stories follow a similar pattern: Romans encounter a tough situation, sometimes because one particular ROman was impious in behavior; because of this Romans suffer a bad calamity; a Roman hero steps forward to solve the situation; after heroic action Romans come out of the whole situation better and stronger than they started.

The sack of Rome in 390/387 is the perfect example. While supposedly serving as impartial negotiators, Romans insult the Gauls and then actually fight on the opposite side. [Dishonest and impious action]. Gauls go on to defeat Roman army at Alia and then sack Rome and receive tons of gold in order to make them leave [punishment for impious actions]. Brave Camillus steps in with Roman army, stops payment of ransoms, and not only gets Roman gold back, but also the Gauls' gold after defeating and slaughtering them all [Roman heroism pays off and now they're even stronger than before].

Livy excuses Roman perfidious behavior. Take the start of the First Punic War. Roman aggression into Sicily began hostilities with Carthage after centuries of treaties. It was well known that Sicily was off limits by treaty and was Carthage's territory. But the Romans step in. Livy tries to excuse their treaty-breaking behavior by bringing up that the Carthaginians had previously stepped onto Italian soil when helping against Pyrrhus (IIRC, or some previous threat in southern Italy)some years earlier.

Livy is anachronistic: his view of Roman history cannot envision a time when there was not a full-blown Senate with rights (as opposed to just being the king's/consul's ad hoc council), an established city, or a time when there was not a "Conflict of the Orders" type of struggle between the poorer Plebs and the richer Plebs/Patricians.

Livy excuses Roman defeats: there are instances of the Romans sending an army (e.g. against Mithridates) and because of some impious action there is a defeat. Livy quickly changes the subject to another Roman expedition which avenges the defeat and then goes into full detail about how the Romans got it right.

Okay, now I've really ragged on Livy a lot here, so it might come to you as a surprise that I actually like him and his works. I read many of his stories, my children have read them, my students have read them. I mean, they're ALL WE HAVE GOT sometimes, and we'd be a whole lot more blind without T. Livius et al. It's just that, I believe, that you have to look very critically at what he states, and that the objective of many historians of the time was to write a best seller, realign the morailty of the Romans (which Livy states as one of his objectives in his preface), and not necessarily to write objective truth. I believe that this is case of his story with the Gauls; yes, they sacked Rome, but the part about the cavalry riding in at the end (i.e. Camillus)is face-saving for the Romans.

JARROVIAN Supporting Member of TMP16 Dec 2017 4:34 a.m. PST

+ many Mars Ultor

Mars Ultor16 Dec 2017 9:24 a.m. PST

Multas gratias, Jarrovian

Diocletian28416 Dec 2017 11:22 a.m. PST

I do not agree with Mars Ultor. I do not see how any of the modern historians you mention can speak to any degree of certainty on the subject nor can you. Livy lived much closer to the period and had access to sources and information now lost to us. How can you say with objective certainty that Livy was wrong and modern assessments are correct? So I do consider your points and those of the modern historians you reference as problematic and a bit snobbish. I have read and studied Livy and other Roman extensively as you have and I am one who accepts Livy's account of Camillus. I have nothing to dispute him. So I can either accept Livy's account or the opinions of modern historians. I choose to accept Livy.

Marcus Brutus16 Dec 2017 11:36 a.m. PST

Yes, you are correct Mars Ultor. I think a lot of current scholarship is surprisingly prejudiced against the very sources that it uses. We see this among classical scholars, biblical scholars, etc.. My only real objection in your original posting was the use of "rubbish" and the manner in which it was used (in what I think was in a snobbish manner.) Considering how indebted we are to Livy for much of Roman 4th century history I think we need to be careful in describing any account by Livy with such categorical force. There may be reasons to be suspicious about what Livy relates about this or that event. I don't have a problem with much of your commentary above. But even here one needs to tread carefully. Otherwise, we can create a hermeneutical circle that takes us no where. I am agnostic to the particular events narrated by Livy with respect to Camillus arriving to redress matters with the Gauls. It could be complete rubbish but it might also contain substantial elements of fact mixed with apologetic need. Who knows?

Mars Ultor17 Dec 2017 11:21 a.m. PST

Diocletian,I respect your difference of opinion. There are many who say that we have nothing to counter Livy and others' accounts and therefore must accept them at face value. Personally, I am not one of those. I think that we can use, if not our reason and hard look at evidence, at least collaborate accounts with other evidence. And then there are those objections to Livy as an objective historian that I stated in last paragraph of my last post; objections which, in my mind, should be addressed.

Just to be clear, the objections that I raise about Livy are not mine originally, so I am not so arrogant as to think that I can singly overturn Livy; they are the objections and critiques of many historians who have spent their careers poring over the material and mulling it over and comparing with other sources, both written and sometimes archaeological. As for Livy, I'll say it again: he lived at least 300 years after the events of Camillus. He had access to many records but also records and accounts that he follows that have been shown to be fabrications (which he even admits to on occasion). He did his best, and we can thank him for that.

But if you need further evidence, then consider what the Romans themselves say about their own history: Marcus Tullius Cicero (ipse) lamented that Roman history was so corrupted by family traditions and "histories" were purposefully fabricated to glorify the families who produced them that no one could be sure of the truth. This is Cicero, not just some modern historian saying this. Sure there were records and accounts, but the earliest reliable evidence of Roman history that leading historians regard as reliable usually begins around 300 BC. Even the Fasti of consuls was tampered with by families who wanted to get their own name in as first consul of the Republic (at last count, Forsythe lists at least 5 names for founding consul of the Republic), and at any rate the current Fasti was compiled later.

So you can accept Livy at face value if you like. I mean, it's nice to have a nice, clean narrative that requires no questions. But I think there are many reasons not to accpet Livy as objective truth that you might want to look into. Cornell and Forsythe are very interesting reads, even if you don't want to accept their conclusions.

Mars Ultor17 Dec 2017 11:28 a.m. PST

Marcus Brutus, you have convinced me that "rubbish" was too strong a word, just a convenient word at the moment, and I didn't mean to rub anyone wrong. I still stand by my partial objections of Livy as accepted history, but perhaps I should have mentioned his penchant for Roman face-saving and said about the intervention of Camillus "very unreliable."

Marcus Brutus17 Dec 2017 6:56 p.m. PST

Thanks Mars Ultor. You obviously have a real penchant for Roman history and a working knowledge of primary sources so good for you.

Mars Ultor17 Dec 2017 7:42 p.m. PST

I only stand on the shoulders of giants

Sorry - only verified members can post on the forums.