Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus And Civic Duty

“It is worth while for those who disdain all human things for money, and who suppose that there is no room either for great honor or virtue, except where wealth is found, to listen to his story.” – Livy on Cincinnatus

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was born in 519 BC, in what was at the time known as the Roman Kingdom. Cincinnatus was a family man who lived on a small farm located outside of Rome with his wife. He was a conservative, who in contemporary terminology, would be labeled as politically incorrect. In other words, he was a  proponent of upholding tradition and freedom.

In 458 BCE, Rome was facing a severe crisis. Rome was being placed under heavy pressure by attacks from several enemies on various strategic fronts, and the venerable Roman army was having a difficult time repelling the invading forces of both the Sabines and the Aequi. cincinnatus1

Due to the imminent danger this threat placed on Rome, the Senate had to act fast, and decisively. They dispatched a group of Senators to contact Cincinnatus, and inform him of his appointment as dictator for a period of six-months. Cincinnatus, known for his tactical skills, humbly accepted, informed his wife, and took off to Rome.

Within hours of his arrival in Rome, Cincinnatus raised a considerable force, relieved the consul’s forces on the front, and scored a triumphant victory at the Battle of Mons Algidus. Cincinnatus returned to Rome, and ceded power despite having a six-month appointment as dictator – an unprecedented move in Roman high society. Cincinnatus spent just sixteen days as dictator of Rome.


A few years later, at the age of 80, Cincinnatus was once again called upon to save Rome – and he did, before (once again) ceding power back to the Senate and returning to his home. This reluctance to accept power, and live a life of relative anonymity is today seen as undesirable – but to Cincinnatus, he never saw civic duty as a way to achieve power. To him, it was his ‘duty’, and nothing more.

Whether or not all of what has been documented is truth, or mythos, the fact is that Cincinnatus was a real historical figure, who saved Rome in a time of need before ceding absolute power over the greatest empire at the time, in order to return to ploughing the fields at his modest farm. Cincinnatus became a hero in Rome. He exemplified what it meant to be Roman – selfless devotion to the Republic, and civic duty.

Cincinnatus saw what others didn’t. He personified the Roman ideal of duty to your country and your people above all else. He abandoned his farm, his wife, and his own needs in order to serve his country, single handedly saving Rome. jacques-louis_david_-_oath_of_the_horatii_-_google_art_project

Civic duty, in today’s society, comes in several forms, but it is no less important now than it was during the Roman epoch. Civic duty, or civic responsibility is what holds a country together, and saves it during times of peril.

While you may not be able to persuade a government to allow you to become a dictator, you can fulfill your civic duty in various other ways – joining the military, becoming a civil servant, or not sitting passively by as the country you live in deteriorates. You must engage in conversation, and action. Educate yourself about the problems of the world, then fight for the changes you feel are necessary in order to protect liberty, freedom, traditions and your rights.

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