Ancient Rome was a kingdom, then a republic, and finally an empire that lasted from 753 BCE to about 476 CE, over a thousand years! Although their ideas and innovations in art, architecture, engineering, and politics were two thousand years ago, their legacy is seen all around and still influences us today.
Around 460 BCE, Rome was immersed in conflict. Patricians were at odds with Plebeians who were struggling for representation in government. The high Roman consul Publius Poplicola was killed by rebel Plebeians. Cincinnatus was elected consul to take his place. He had been living a simple life on his farm but took the position and quelled the rebellion. Afterwards, Cincinnatus was urged to serve another term but he stepped down and returned to his farm.
Cincinnatus quickly organized the army and commanded them against the Aequi. It is said that under Cincinnatus' command, the Romans were able to defeat the Aequi in two weeks.
THE LEGEND OF CINCINNATUS
In 458 BCE, Rome was again in trouble. Cincinnatus was working on his farm when he was asked to help defend the Romans against a rival neighbor, the Aequi. The Senators told Cincinnatus that he was appointed dictator, a position Romans had created for emergencies. The dictator would have absolute power but would only be allowed to serve for 6 months.
Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was born around 519 BCE in Rome. At that time, Rome was still a small kingdom. Cincinnatus was born into a wealthy patrician family that served as state officials.
The moral of the story has served as inspiration even a millennia later. George Washington was described as an American Cincinnatus. He left retirement to lead the Continental Army. When the war was won, rather than seizing power, Washington relinquished his commission and returned to his plantation. After he was elected president, he stepped down after two terms so that the precedent could be set for democracy. Both stories serve as reminders of the importance of politicians putting the country and the interests of the people before themselves.
After his victory, Cincinnatus gave up his commission as dictator and returned to his farm. He was lauded for putting the needs of the state before his own, for his humble lack of ambition, and for relinquishing power when he could have tried to hold onto it. Cincinnatus was a symbol of civic virtue.