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Marcus Furius Camillus (2)

Marcus Furius Camillus (c.435-365 VC): Roman general and statesman, captured Veii, annexed Tusculum and put an end to the conflict of the orders. He was called the "second founder" of Rome.


Map of Latium in the age of the early republic
Map of Latium in the age of the early republic
In 403 (according to the Varronian chronology), Marcus Furius Camillus was censor, which means that he and his colleague were responsible for public expenditure and morals. (Livy tells that he was one of the tribunes with consular powers, but this can not be correct.)

Camillus is credited with a tax on bachelors, which may have been designed to pay for the war against Veii. If we are to believe Livy, in this year, permanent camps were built in Veientine territory, which must have cost a lot of money because the soldiers did not return home for a long time. Another story seems to confirm that the Romans needed money: Livy says that in this year, there were rich people who volunteered to fight on their own horses. If this is historical, it suggests that the Romans were almost bankrupt. Perhaps we must not believe these stories (which may be late additions to the historical tradition) but it is certain that Rome experienced financial problems. From this time, we hear about the payment of war taxes (tributum).

The struggle against Veii was indeed a difficult one. It was a large city, situated on a rocky plateau about 16 kilometers north of Rome. The town was fortified and could not be taken by storm.
If the size of Veii's territory (about 562 km²) tells something about its manpower, it was capable of withstanding Rome (which had a territory of about 800 km²). Rome was stronger, but when we take into account that most towns in the neighborhood commanded territories of 50-150 km², we understand that the struggle against Veii was a war different to all earlier wars.

Both cities needed to control the lower Tiber, and had already fought serious wars (483-473 and 437-435). This time, Rome took the initiative, something that was only possible because the internal, social struggle had lost its acumen. However, the Romans were still unable to put up a blockade and starve the enemy into surrender; therefore, the war lasted ten years (406-396). This is comparable to the legendary Trojan War and several modern scholars have therefore concluded that the third war against Veii was just as legendary - but this is hyperskepticism. Although Livy's story of the siege is embellished with all kinds of romantic stories, there is no need to disbelieve that it lasted ten years. A long war is exactly what we would expect, given the relative strengths of both cities and the fact that siege warfare was not really known in Italy.

In 401, Marcus Furius Camillus was elected as military tribune with consular powers. Livy mentions campaigns against Veii's allies Capena and Falerii, without specifying which of the six tribunes was in command. Next year, his brother Spurius Furius Medullinus was tribune, and in 398, Camillus and Lucius were reelected. Marcus looted the territory of Capena.

At the same time, the Romans sent envoys to the oracle of Delphi in Greece, to ask what they had to do to win the war against Veii, which was now in its eighth year. Livy tells us that embassadors returned in 397 -Lucius was one of the tribunes- and that the god ordered the Romans to drain the Alban Lake. This is not very credible: how can Delphi have known that this lake existed? The real answer is simply unknown.

Next year, 396 V, the siege was continued, but the Romans seem to have suffered a setback when two tribunes were defeated in the country of Falerii and Capena. In crisis circumstances like these, the Romans often appointed a dictator, a magistrate with special powers. Although there were more experienced commanders (e.g., Lucius Furius Medullinus), Marcus Furius Camillus was chosen. Perhaps he had shown himself to be an excellent commander; perhaps there were religious reasons - we do not know. However this may be, it is a fact that he was made dictator and commanded the decisive attack on Veii.

Livy's story now becomes incredible, and he admits that some of his subject matter is better suited for the theater. However, the bare facts seem clear. Camillus first secured the colaboration of the immortals by promising to rebuild the shrine of Mater Matuta, a fertility goddess; her temple had been ruined almost a century before. Then, he marched to the far north and defeated the allies of Veii near Nepete. Finally, he attacked Veii itself and captured it.

We would like to know why he was successful. After all, the Romans had not been able to take the city for a long time. Livy tells that the attackers dug a tunnel, which is almost impossible. On the other hand, the Etruscans were famous for their engineering skills, especially for the construction of sewers and drains. One of the two rivers that surrounds Veii runs through an artificial tunnel. It is certainly possible that the Romans used one of Veii's sewers. Another reason may be that the Veientes were simply exhausted from the ten-year's siege.

Livy also tells that shortly before the final attack, Camillus invited Uni, the protective deity of Veii, to leave her town and that he promised her to build a new temple. In fact, he tells the story twice, because another name of Uni is Mater Matuta, whose new temple has already been mentioned.

The capture of Veii was celebrated with four days of celebration and the dictator entered Rome in a triumphal procession. One tenth of the loot was given to Apollo: the god of Delphi received a cauldron of gold, which was placed in the treasury of the Massiliots. Finally, the Roman victory impressed everybody in Italy and the Aequi and Volsci sued for peace.

It may be noted that the conquest of Veii is archaeologically attested as well. In the first quarter of the fourth century, a new, Roman type of ceramics becomes popular, whereas the old, Etruscan pottery disappears. Rome had increased its territory by almost 70% and was now in the position to offer land to its poor citizens.

This page was created in 2000; last modified on 23 March 2014.