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The Hero of Ancient Rome Posted by on Feb 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was a man who was venerated as a hero in Ancient Roman times. In 458 B.C., Rome faced a military crisis fighting the Aequians and the Sabines. Cincinnatus was temporarily named dictator of Rome. As dictator, he defeated the Aequians and returned to Rome. As soon as he returned, he voluntarily chose to give up his power and return to his farm. In 439 B.C. he was temporarily granted a dictatorship to squash a potential coup d’etat. Once again, when he finished what he was asked to do, he gave up his position and returned to his farm.

Cincinnatus is considered a hero because he was granted two opportunities to seize absolute power, but he turned down the offer each time. The story of Cincinnatus was taught to young Roman boys to teach them about civic duties. When Cincinnatus was a dictator, he served the republic in good faith, and when he was a regular citizen, he dutifully served his country as a farmer.

Of course, there’s another side to the Cincinnatus story. Cincinnatus was a patrician who was a strong advocate against expanding plebian rights. On the one hand he was the hero of Rome, but on the other hand, he was not an equalitarian leader. However, the Ancient Romans had different ideas about what qualities a good leader had. For instance, the Ancient Romans accepted class and socioeconomic inequalities as the norm. Therefore, someone who was not a champion of the lower classes (like Cincinnatus) wasn’t necessarily considered an unjust leader.

What was important to the Ancient Romans was how the individual resisted the temptation of absolute power. The Ancient Romans were afraid and were obsessed with safeguarding the control of power. We see this especially in the demise of Julius Caesar, when the Senate decided to kill him rather than allow him to continue his dictatorship.

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