Cin-cin-na'tus, (Lucius Quintus,) a celebrated
Roman patriot, patrician, and dictator, born about 520
B.C. Having reduced himself to poverty by paying a
fine for his son, he was cultivating with his own hands a
small farm, when he was chosen consul in 457 B.C. He
was a strenuous opponent of the plebeian party. At
the end of his official term he returned to his former
employment. The Romans, having been unfortunate
in war with the /Equi, chose Cincinnatus dictator about
the year 456 B.C. He gained a decisive victory, and
then abdicated the dictatorship, which he had held only
fifteen days. About the age of eighty he again reluctantly
acted as dictator, on the occasion of the treason
of Spurius Melius, who was promptly defeated and slain.
Niebuhr is skeptical as to the cause of his poverty above
History of Rome;" Niebuhr, "History of Rome."
Cincinnātus, L. Quinctius -
A Roman patrician, whose name belongs to the earlier history of the Republic, and has a well-
known and spiritstirring legend connected with it. His son, Caeso Quinctius, had been banished
on account of his violent language towards the tribunes, and the father had retired to his own
patrimony, aloof from popular tumults. The successes of the Aequi and Volsci in B.C. 458
rendered the appointment of a dictator necessary, and Cincinnatus was chosen to that high
office. The delegates who were sent to announce this to him found the Roman noble ploughing his
own fields, and from the plough he was transferred to the highest magistracy of his native
State. The dictator laid aside his rural habiliments, assumed the ensigns of absolute power,
levied a new army, marched all night to bring the necessary succour to the consul Minucius, who
was surrounded by the enemy and blockaded in his camp, and before morning surrounded the
enemy's army, and reduced it to a condition exactly similar to that in which the Romans had
been placed. The baffled Aequi were glad to submit to the victor's terms; and Cincinnatus,
thereupon returning in triumph to Rome, laid down his dictatorial power, after having held it
only fourteen days, and returned to his farm. At an advanced age he was again appointed
dictator, to restrain the power of Spurius Maelius (q.v.), and again proved himself the
deliverer of his country (Val. Max. iv. 4, 7; Liv.iii. 26).
Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (519 BC – 438 BC) was an aristocrat and political figure of the Roman Republic, serving as consul in
460 BC and Roman dictator in 458 BC and 439 BC.
Cincinnatus was regarded by the Romans, especially the aristocratic patrician class, as one of the heroes of early Rome and as a
model of Roman virtue and simplicity. A persistent opponent of the plebeians, when his son was convicted in absentia and condemned
to death, Cincinnatus was forced to live in humble circumstances, working on his own small farm, until an invasion caused him to be
called to serve Rome as dictator, an office which he immediately resigned after completing his task of defeating the rivaling
tribes of the Aequians, Sabinians and Volscians.
His abandoning of his work to serve Rome, and especially his immediate resignation of his absolute authority with the end of the
crisis, has often been cited as an example of outstanding leadership, service to the greater good, civic virtue, and modesty. As a
result, he has inspired a number of organizations and other entities, a number of which are named for him.
Early career -
Racilia, a wife of Cincinnatus
Politically, Cincinnatus was a persistent opponent of attempts to improve the legal situation of the plebeians. His son Caeso
Quinctius often drove the tribunes of the plebeians from the forum, preventing them from reaching a formal decision. In 461 BC,
these actions finally resulted in a capital charge against Caeso. After Caeso was released on bail and escaped to the Etrurians, he
was condemned to death in absentia and his father had to pay an immense fine, forcing him to sell most of his lands and retire to a
small farm, where he and his family were able to subsist on the work of his hands.
The following year, Cincinnatus was elected suffect consul. During his consulship, Cincinnatus' main adversary was the Plebeian
Tribune Gaius Terentilius Harsa. During this time period, the Roman senate was preoccupied with a war against the Volsci, a
neighbouring Italic people. Though Cincinnatus was initially able to prevent their enactment, Terentilius attempted to use the
upheaval associated with the war effort to push through a series of reforms which were specifically to benefit the proletarii and
peasantry, including a proposal to draw up a code of written laws applicable equally to patricians and plebeians. an early push for
what would eventually become the Ten or Twelve Tables, which would not become readily accessible in public display for several
Cincinnatus leaves the plow for the Roman dictatorship, Juan Antonio Ribera, c. 1806.
In 458 BC, the Romans were fighting the Aequians and the Sabines. The consul Minucius Esquilinus had led an army to fight the
Sabines and Aequians. However, Minucius's army had been trapped by the Aequians in the Alban Hills, and was attempting to fight off
a siege. A few Roman horsemen escaped, and returned to Rome to tell the senate what had happened. The senate fell into a panic and
authorized the other consul for the year, Horatius Pulvillus, to nominate a dictator. Horatius nominated Cincinnatus for a
dictatorial term (also known as Magister Populi or "Master of the People") of six months.
A group of senators was sent to tell Cincinnatus that he had been nominated dictator. According to Livy, the senators found
Cincinnatus while he was plowing on his farm. Cincinnatus cried out "Is everything all right?" They said to Cincinnatus that they
hoped "it might turn out well for both him and his country," and then they asked him to put on his senatorial toga and hear the
mandate of the senate. He called to his wife, telling her to bring out his toga from their cottage.
When he put on his toga, the senatorial delegation hailed him as dictator, and told him to come to the city. He then crossed the
Tiber river in a boat provided by the senate, as his farm was on the far side of the river. When he reached the other side of the
Tiber, he was greeted by his three sons and most of the senators. Several lictors were given to him for protection.
The next morning, Cincinnatus went to the Roman forum, and nominated as his Master of the Horse (his chief deputy) Lucius
Tarquitius, who was considered one of the finest soldiers in Rome. Cincinnatus then went to the Roman popular assembly and issued
an order to the effect that every man of military age should report to the Campus Martius-the Field of Mars, god of war-by the end
of the day.
Once the army assembled, Cincinnatus took them to fight the Aequi at the Battle of Mons Algidus. Cincinnatus led the infantry in
person, while Tarquitius led the cavalry. The Aequi were surprised by the double attack and were soon cut to pieces. The commanders
of the Aequi begged Cincinnatus not to slaughter them all.
Cincinnatus did not want to cause any unnecessary bloodshed, and told the Aequi that he would let them live if they submitted to
him and brought their leader, Gracchus Cloelius, and his officers to him in chains. A yoke was set up, made up of three spears, and
the Aequi had to pass under it, bowing down while confessing that they had been conquered. After this, the war ended and
Cincinnatus disbanded his army. He then resigned his dictatorship and returned to his farm, a mere sixteen days after he had been
Later events -
He came out of retirement again during his second term as dictator (439 BC) to put down a conspiracy of Spurius Maelius. He was
nominated by his old friend and relative, Titus Quinctius Capitolinus Barbatus, consul of the year. Maelius was killed immediately
and the incipient coup perished with him.
Named in his honor are the town of Cincinnato, in Lazio, Italy; the United States town of Cincinnatus, New York; and the Society of
the Cincinnati which, in turn, lent its name to the city of Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.. George Washington was often compared to
Cincinnatus for his willingness to give up near-absolute power once the crisis of the American Revolution had passed and victory
had been won, and the Society of the Cincinnati is a historical association founded in the aftermath of the American Revolutionary
War to preserve the ideals of the military officer's role in the new American Republic.