In the first half of the 5th century BCE, the fledgling Roman Republic was constantly harassed by Volscian and Aequian raids. From around 494 to 455 BCE, Roman forces clashed with these marauding raiders on a near-annual basis. Nearby rival city-states of Rome would sometimes join in the Volscian and Aequian raids, making the attacks all the more dangerous and costly, as the Romans were often required to put multiple armies in the field to address threats on different fronts. By 455 BCE, the Roman Republic had apparently depleted its treasury after the decades of constant warfare. Despite Rome’s financial struggles, it was not spared that year in 455 BCE from an all-too-familiar raid—this time the Aequians attacked, threatening Rome and its ally, Tusculum.
Titus Romilius and Gaius Veturius, the Roman consuls of 455 BCE, rallied an army and set off to intercept the Aequians before the invaders did too much damage to Tusculum or to Roman lands. The Roman army found the Aequians at a place called Algidus, located not far from Tusculum, and a great battle reportedly ensued. Livy (c. 59 BCE-17CE), a Roman historian, made an account of the battle in his History of Rome, and from whatever sources he had at his disposal, Livy presented supposed statistics from that engagement.
During the battle at Algidus in 455 BCE, the Romans inflicted a massive defeat upon the Aequians, killing thousands of the invaders. As the defeated Aequians fled the battlefield, they abandoned their camp, leaving behind gear and piles of ill-gained loot. When the Roman consuls, Romilius and Veturius, saw all of this plunder which had been left behind by the defeated foe, the consuls decided to sacrifice personal gain for the good of the bankrupt republic. Livy, describing the battle and its aftermath, wrote, “in the engagement which followed the Aequians were heavily defeated, losing more than 7,000 men and a great deal of material and equipment, all of which the consuls sold, to replenish the depleted treasury” (History of Rome, 3.31). Although the Roman government was happy about the financial relief, the army serving under the consuls were irate that they were not given a cut of the plunder that they had risked their lives to obtain. A grudge developed between consuls and the military over the issue of the plunder, which lasted for the remainder of Romilius’ and Veturius’ terms of office. Unfortunately for the consuls, Rome’s disgruntled warriors were determined to have their revenge, and they would get it after the consuls relinquished their power.
As the story goes, the Roman warriors, and their representatives in government, brought Titus Romilius and Gaius Veturius to court. Livy, the aforementioned Roman historian, did not mention which exact charges were lodged against the former consuls, but he did write that the warriors ultimately won their case, and hefty fines were imposed on Romilius and Veturius. Livy reported the imposed fines based on the value of the Roman ‘as,’ which, in its earliest days was the equivalent of one Roman pound of bronze. The unit was, however, revised in 211 BCE to the sextantal as, which was equated to 1/6 of a Roman pound. Without specifying whether the value was sextantal or whole, Livy reported that Romilius paid 10,000 of the unit, while Veturius paid 15,000. It is unclear if the disgruntled warriors ever received any of the fined wealth, or if the fines simply further lined the state’s treasury.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Gaius Marius sitting in exile, presumably by Walter Crane (1845–1915), for Mary Macgregor’s Story of Rome, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of Rome by Livy, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.