In the aftermath of the Gallic sack of Rome, dated between 390-386 BCE, the Romans had to reassert their power in Italy. Enemies needed threatening, friendly allies needed reassuring, and rebellious vassal-states needed intimidating. All the while, outside powers worked with dissident colonies and disgruntled allies of Rome, fomenting rebellion against the Romans. Satricum, a city strategically important to Rome, fell around 382 BCE to a coalition of these rebels and foes of Rome. When the Romans subsequently seized the city back by force, they reportedly found surprising and unexpected evidence that a trusted ally had somehow been involved in the rebel conquest of Satricum. This accused ally was Tusculum, and Rome vowed revenge.
Roman troops were dispatched to attack Tusculum, and the legendary Marcus Furius Camillus was set at the head of the force. As the peculiar story goes, Tusculum decided to thwart the advance of the legendary Roman leader with a bizarre, legendary strategy of its own. Rather than defend itself in battle, the city of Tusculum chose to instead leave open their gates and gamble their future on an overwhelming display of peace. This peculiar tale was narrated by the Roman historian, Livy (59 BCE-17 CE), who described the picturesque scene of life that Marcus Furius Camillus allegedly encountered when he reached Tusculum:
“In fact there was no war against the Tusculans; by maintaining a continuously peaceful attitude they gained a freedom from violation by the Romans such as they could not have won by taking up arms. When the Romans entered their territory, they did not move away from the places near the route of march, nor break off their work in the fields; the gates of the city stood open, and the citizens came flocking out to meet the generals, wearing togas. Provisions for the army were obligingly brought to the camp from the city and fields. Camillus set up camp opposite the gates…He entered the city and saw house doors open, shops unshuttered with goods openly displayed, craftsmen all busy at their respective trades, schools humming with voices of pupils, streets busy with women and children going their ways freely among the crowds, wherever the calls of their occupations took them, with no sign of fear or even surprise. He looked everywhere, trying to see some indication that there had been a war on, but there was no trace anywhere of anything having been removed or brought out for the occasion” (Livy, History of Rome, 6.25).
Livy did not elaborate on how the leaders of Tusculum convinced their people to follow this unlikely strategy. Whatever the case, through practice, lack of transparency, or pure luck, the Tusculans—according to legend—were able to perfectly pull off the peaceful display mentioned in the passage above. As the peculiar story goes, the overwhelming innocence put on display by the Tusculans won over Marcus Furius Camillus, and he decided to make peace instead of war. Leaders from Tusculum were reportedly brought to Rome, where they spoke before the Senate. According to Livy, Tusculum was forgiven and the army that Camillus had left parked outside the city was withdrawn.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus, Painted by Carle (Antoine Charles Horace) Vernet c. 1758–1836, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).
- The History of Rome by Livy, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1982.