Classics and Religious Studies


Date of this Version

April 1975


Published in 51:6 (April 1975).


Who was Cincinnatus? It bespeaks a great loss of our own traditions that there is a great number of Americans who do not know. Cincinnatus was the favorite model of Roman virtue, frugality, integrity, and above all, of republican citizenship, even for the Romans themselves. He was the farmer who plowed his own land, the man elected consul in 460 B.C., the man called in 458 to the dictaborship - the supreme but temporary military command - to deliver the Roman consular army from the beseiging Aequian forces. Summoned from the plow, he saved the Roman army, defeated the Aequians, and went straight back to his farm after holding his office only sixteen days.

Such is the Cincinnatus of tradition. Scholars have scoffed at the historical accuracy of the tradition, but this is beside the point. At issue here is not what the absolute truth was, but what the tradition was, for it is the tradition, and not what modern scholars have reconstructed, that had effect upon later readers and thus upon later events. This paper will deal with a few effects of this tradition upon American history at the close of the Revolutionary War.

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