Episode 102 – Cincinnatus, Dictator

It’s c. 458 BCE and Rome’s troubles culminate in the appointment of a dictator. In this episode we explore the context which leads to the appointment of this emergency position and trace Rome’s progress as she attempts to face enemies on multiple fronts.

Episode 102 – Cincinnatus, Dictator

Not only are Roman forces squaring off against the Sabines and the Aequians, but there are ongoing issues on the home front. According to the narrative histories of Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, the tribunes of the plebs continue to lobby for transparency regarding the laws. The struggle to pin down a public law code seems elusive. In this year it is also overshadowed by the troubles that Minucius’ consular forces face in the south-east.

The Aequians are currently led by Cloelius Gracchus and the Roman forces led by the consul Minucius have been trapped in a valley, while the other consul Nautius is campaigning against the Sabines.

The Dictator

Our sources are at pains to let us know that Cincinnatus was both unprepared for his appointment as dictator and not particularly pleased to have the role foist upon him. This is part of a larger trope established in Latin literature of the good leader whose fitness for the role is encapsulated by his lack of ambition for it.

In this way, both Livy and Dionysius offer us a chance to see Cincinnatus—and indeed this era of patrician history—as one populated with brave, proud characters who understood the hierarchy and were staunchly traditional in their outlook.

What does a dictator do?

As the most significant magistrate in Roman society, the dictator has a superior legal capacity to make commands and can hold the position for up to six months. Despite his generally dissatisfaction with the situation, Cincinnatus jumps straight in. We’ll be looking at how he goes about:

  • Raising an army
  • Organising troops
  • And getting on the march

We explore what Cincinnatus gets up to in the role and how he contributes to supporting Minucius against the Aequians at Mount Algidus. Tune in to hear all about:

  • The military tactics Cincinnatus deploys
  • How Cincinnatus deals with requests for peace
  • Some rather unusual divisions of booty
  • Just what happens to the Aequian city of Corbio
  • A triumph!
  • The incredible virtus of Cincinnatus!
Cincinnatus, Dictator

Alexander Cabanel 1843. Cincinnatus receives the ambassadors of Rome

Our players

458 BCE


  • L. Quinctius L. f. L. n. Cincinnatus

Master of the Horse

  • L. Tarquitius L. f. Flaccus


  • C. Nautius Sp. f. Sp. n. Rutilus – cos II
  • L. Minucius P. f. M. n Esquilinus Augurinus

Prefect of the City

  • Q. Fabius Vibulanus


  • Aulus Verginius
  • Marcus Volscius Fictor (it’s not certain whether Volscius holds the tribunianship in 459 BCE)

Aequian Leader

  • Cloelius Gracchus

Dictator’s wife

  • Racilia

‘Freedom of the City’

  • L. Mamilius the Tusculan


Dr Rad explores Livy 3.26-29

Dr G is considering Dionysius of Halicarnassus Roman Antiquities 10.23-25

Sound Credits

Sound Effects courtesy of BBC Sound Effects (Beta) and Free SFX
Final credits: Excerpt from ‘Ancient Arcadian Harp’ by Cormi

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Drs R and G laugh and spar their way through the ancient Roman world!

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