This painting, attributed to the Italian artist Domenico Corvi (c. 1721–1803), re-creates an interesting tale from the life of Marcus Furius Camillus, a semi-legendary general and statesman from the Roman Republic. The scene is set during a Roman siege of Falerii that, according to tradition, occurred around the year 394 BCE. By the time the siege began, the rival cities had been at war for years, and Falerii’s defenses and stockpiled supplies allegedly had the potential to drag on the conflict for a long while more. Within the city of Falerii, so the story goes, was a schoolteacher who did not want to live through a drawn-out siege. To escape this fate, the educator allegedly hatched a plan to end the siege as quickly as possible. His plan, according to Roman tradition, was to round up the children of Falerii’s leaders and hand them over to Camillus, so that the Roman general could use them as leverage to force the besieged city to surrender. As told by the Roman sources, Falerii’s treacherous schoolmaster succeeded in his mission. He managed to march the kids right out of the gates of Falerii, through the outposts of the Roman army, and ushered the children straight to the headquarters of Marcus Furius Camillus. Yet, as is displayed in the painting above, the Roman general was said to have surprised the teacher with his response.
Camillus, despite having such great bargaining chips brought into his camp, was said to have refused to use the children as leverage. Instead, he expressed disgust at the schoolmaster’s dishonor and treachery. Livy (c. 59 BCE-17 CE), an ancient Roman historian, narrated the next chapter of the peculiar legend, stating, “Camillus had the traitor stripped and his hands tied behind his back; then, telling the boys to escort him home, gave each of them a stick with which to beat him back into town” (The History of Rome, 5.27). This act by Camillus, depicted in the painting above, was said to have impressed the people of Falerii and they subsequently began peace negotiations and agreed to become a tributary of Rome.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The History of Rome by Livy, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.