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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 April 2015

Jaclyn Neel*
York University


In the beginning, Rome was ruled by kings. Their expulsion heralded the foundation of the Republic, a political system strong enough to withstand both internal and external threats to the state. Among these internal threats was the possibility of an elite man trying to set himself up as a king. Modern scholarship agrees that there were three such attempts to recreate a monarchy in the early Republic: Spurius Cassius in 485, Spurius Maelius in 439 and Marcus Manlius Capitolinus in 385/4. The affectatores regni purposefully courted the plebs in order to gain supreme power. But Roman virtue was too strong; all three men were caught, tried (either publicly or privately) and executed. Their possessions were seized and consecrated to the gods; their families shunned their memory. These attempts to establish tyranny revealed both the fragility and the power of the Republic.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 2015 

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I would like to thank Andreas Bendlin, Matt Roller, Jarrett Welsh and Paul Burton for their suggestions and advice; they are of course excused from errors and omissions. This paper was presented in various forms in Toronto, London (Ontario) and Seattle; I thank those audiences and the anonymous reviewer of this journal for their comments, which have provoked much thought. All errors that remain are, of course, my own.


1 The following works will be referred to by abbreviation: Coudry, and Coudry, Späth = M. and Späth, T. (edd.), L'invention des grandes hommes de la Rome antique / Die Konstruktion der großen Männer Altroms (Paris, 2001)Google Scholar; Beck, B–W = H. and Walter, U., Die frühen römischen Historiker (Darmstadt, 2001)Google Scholar; Chassignet, Ch. = M. (ed.), L'annalistique romaine (Paris, 1996–2004)Google Scholar; RRC = Crawford, M., Roman Republican Coinage (Cambridge, 1974)Google Scholar; P = Peter, H., Historicorum romanorum fragmenta (Leipzig, 1883)Google Scholar; FGrHist = Jacoby, F., Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker (Leiden, 1957–)Google Scholar; FRHist = Cornell, T.J. et al. , The Fragments of the Roman Historians, vol. 2 (Oxford, 2013)Google Scholar.

2 See Mommsen, Th., ‘Sp. Cassius, M. Manlius, Sp. Maelius, die drei Demagogen des 3. und 4. Jahrhunderts der römischen Republik’, Hermes 5 (1871), 228–80Google Scholar.

3 Mommsen (n. 2), esp. 269.

4 Mommsen (n. 2), 219.

5 It is worth noting that regnum affectare is not used for Cassius, Maelius and Manlius in the first century. Livy uses this phrase three times (1.35.3, 1.46.2 and 2.7.6); these passages concern the two Tarquin kings and Publicola. He most frequently uses regnum cupire, (re)petere or sperare. Cicero prefers regnum appetere in general, and consistently uses this phrase when he cites Cassius', Maelius' and Manlius' attempts at regnum (Dom. 101; Phil. 2.114). R. Seager, ‘Populares in Livy and the Livian tradition’, CQ 27 (1977), 377–90, at 378, notes that both Maelius and Manlius are more commonly accused of seditio than regnum.

6 Lintott, A., Violence in Republican Rome (Oxford, 1968)Google Scholar, 177 suggests that the main threat of such men lay in ‘acquiring a vast clientela’; see e.g. id., The tradition of violence in the annals of the Roman Republic’, Historia 19 (1970), 1229Google Scholar, at 16–18, for the idea that certain variants came into being after the advent of the Gracchi (here dealing with Maelius). Panitschek, P., ‘Sp. Cassius, Sp. Maelius, M. Manlius als exempla maiorum’, Philologus 133 (1989), 231–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar draws first-century rather than Gracchan parallels; Valvo, A., ‘Le vicende del 44–43 a.C. nella tradizione di Livio e di Dionigi su Spurio Melio’, CISA 3 (1975), 157–83Google Scholar argues for an accumulation of contemporary elements in the narratives that culminate in the complex narratives of Dionysius and Mustakallio, Livy. K., Death and Disgrace: Capital Penalties with Post Mortem Sanctions in Early Roman Historiography (Helsinki, 1994)Google Scholar, 32 traces the connection with the Gracchi back to Niebuhr, B.G., Römische Geschichte, vol. 2 (Berlin, 1836), 190–4Google Scholar. Contra: Forsythe, G., The Historian L. Capurnius Piso Frugi and the Roman Annalistic Tradition (Lanham, 1994)Google Scholar, 296; the tradition predates the Gracchi because both Cassius and Maelius appeared in Piso. But Forsythe allows for later changes to these stories.

7 See Polo, F. Pina, ‘The tyrant must die: preventative tyrannicide in Roman political thought’, in Símon, F.M., Polo, F. Pina and Rodríguez, J. Remesal (edd.), Républicas y ciudadanos: modelos de participación cívica en el mundo antiguo (Barcelona, 2006), 71101Google Scholar; cf. Sordi, M., ‘Cultura e politica nella storiografia romana’, CRDAC 10 (1978/9), 155–66Google Scholar, at 158, and Forsythe (n. 6), 302 for similar statements. Contra: Liou-Gille, B., ‘Les leges sacratae: esquisse historique’, Euphrosyne 25 (1997), 6184Google Scholar and Linderski, J., ‘The pontiff and the tribune: the death of Tiberius Gracchus’, Athenaeum 90 (2002), 339–66Google Scholar.

8 Gabba, E., ‘Studi su Dionigi di Alicarnasso III: la proposta di legge agraria di Sp. Cassio’, Athenaeum 42 (1964), 29–4Google Scholar; Seager (n. 5).

9 Martin, P.M., ‘Distorsions dues à la ideologie tripartite dans le récit des trois “adfectationes regni” de la tradition romaine’, ÉIE 7 (1988), 1530Google Scholar, at 21, for the term; he applies it to their appearance in Livy. See also e.g. M. Chassignet, ‘La “construction” des aspirants à la tyrannie: Spurius Cassius, Spurius Maelius et Manlius Capitolinus’, in Coudry and Späth (n. 1), 83–96, at 87, suggesting that Cicero is the first to arrange the ‘triptyque’; Flower, H., The Art of Forgetting: Disgrace and Oblivion in Roman Political Culture (Chapel Hill, 2006), 45–6Google Scholar argues that this is not consistent with the historical characters of Cassius and Maelius. The notion of a trio is disputed by Roller, M.B., ‘Demolished houses, monumentality, and memory in Roman culture’, ClAnt 29 (2010), 117–80Google Scholar, at 119 n. 5, rightly. Martin, P.M., ‘Des tentatives de tyrannies à Rome aux Vè–IVè siècles?’, in Eder, W. (ed.), Staat und Staatlichkeit in der frühen römischen Republik (Stuttgart, 1990), 4972Google Scholar, at 51, illustrates a number of similarities between the three tales and argues for a series of progressions. These latter categories (social rank, decrease in viability of accusation, increase in plebeian opposition and Dumézilian trifunctionality) cannot be sustained, all but the last for narrative reasons.

10 Lintott (n. 6 [1970]), 14.

11 Smith, C., ‘Adfectatio regni in the Roman Republic’, in Lewis, S. (ed.), Ancient Tyranny (Edinburgh, 2006), 4964CrossRefGoogle Scholar in some ways seems to recognize this (for example, at p. 55, ‘there were in fact a number of individuals who from different directions threatened to exceed the limits of constitutional power’; a list is provided at p. 63 n. 21), but none the less consistently attributes the formation of the triad to Cicero or a predecessor (e.g. at p. 55, ‘by the time of Cicero, the three individuals we have considered could be regarded as a trio’; at p. 60, ‘we owe in part to Cicero the isolation of three figures, Cassius, Maelius and Manlius, as adfectores [sic] regni’). Similarly, Marino, R., ‘Sulla percezione del regnum a Roma in età repubblicana’, in Caltabiano, M. Caccamo, Raccuia, C. and Santagati, E. (edd.), Tyrannis, Basileia, Imperium: forme, prassi e simboli del potere politico nel mondo greco e romano (Messina, 2010), 375–84Google Scholar, at 377, includes Publicola among the affectatores, but does not argue the point.

12 Given the extremely limited nature of the Ciceronian material about these stories, I use the word ‘refer’ very loosely: any instance when Cicero mentions one of the two main characters (the affectator or his eventual vanquisher) is a ‘reference’. Cases in which all three appear are marked in bold type: Amic. 28 (Tarquin, Cassius and Maelius) and 36 (Cassius, Maelius and Coriolanus); Sen. 56 (Maelius); Att. 2.24.3 and 13.40.1 (Ahala, and by implication Maelius); Dom. 86 (Kaeso Quinctius, Camillus and Ahala) and 101 (together with M. Vaccus); Mil. 8 (Ahala, Nasica, Opimius, Marius, Orestes and Cicero), 72 (Maelius) and 83 (Ahala, Nasica, Opimius, Marius and Cicero); Phil. 2.26 (the Bruti and Ahala), 2.27 (Ahala), 2.87 and 2.114 (both together with Tarquin); Cat. 1.3 (Ahala, Nasica and Cicero; however, he illa nimis antiqua praeter[it], which may hide a reference to Cassius); Rep. 1.6 (Ahala, Camillus, Nasica, Opimius, Metellus, Marius and, strongly implied, Cicero), 2.49 (together with someone, usually considered Tiberius Gracchus); Sest. 143 (Ahala, Camillus and a host of others). I have not counted the reference to Cassius in Rep. 2.60, as the dialogue quite possibly included the stories of Maelius and Manlius individually as well (even if not necessarily in the historical portion). If not, however, this only makes Cassius as common as Maelius; my larger point remains unchanged. Likewise, the mentions of Camillus and others in Cael. 39 and Pis. 24, although related to the defeat of the Gauls, should not constitute a reference to the story of Manlius; Balb. 53 mentions Cassius only in relation to the foedus Cassianum.

13 Piso fr. 37 P = 40 B–W = 40 Ch. = FRHist 9F39 = 47 Forsythe (n. 6) = Plin. HN 34.30, Cassius; Quadrigarius fr. 7 P = 7 B–W = 7 Ch. = FRHist 24F3 = Gell. NA 17.2.13, Manlius. They also appear once in the fragments of the pontifical annals, but as this reference comes from Cicero (Dom. 86), I do not count it twice.

14 See Smith (n. 11), 61 n. 21, although his collection seems to me too broad: Coriolanus, Volero Publilius, Gaius Lentorius, Licinius and Sextius (of the Licinian-Sextian rogations), Lars Porsenna, Appius Herdonius, Vitruvius Vaccus and Kaeso Quinctius; at p. 56, he includes the Fabii and Appius Claudius the decemvir. This collection omits one group that I would emphasize: the sons of Brutus.

15 Cf. Oakley, S., A Commentary on Livy, Books VI–X, vol. 1 (Oxford, 1997)Google Scholar, 566; Roller (n. 9); A. Vigourt, ‘L'intention criminelle et son châtiment: les condamnations des aspirats à la tyrannie’, in Coudry and Späth (n. 1), 271–87, at 278–81; Flower (n. 9) considers the destruction of tyrants' houses a Greek idea that was inserted into Roman tradition fairly late, but allows (e.g. at pp. 50 and 77) that such demolitions were aimed at establishing a pattern for Roman tyrants.

16 Cic. Dom. 101; Livy 8.19.4; other historical examples include Saturninus and Cicero himself.

17 Val. Max. 6.3.1; Cassius is referred to by himself in 6.3.2. Quint. Inst. 3.7.20, 5.9.13 (both mention only Maelius and Manlius) and 5.13.24 (Ahala and Nasica); Gell. NA 17.2.14 and 17.21.24 (Manlius); Serv. Aen. 8.652 (Manlius).

18 Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 8.68.1–80.3 (Cassius); 12.1.1–4.6 (Maelius); 13.8.1–4; and 14.4.1 (Manlius).

19 Diod. Sic. 11.37.7 (Cassius); 12.37.1 (Maelius); 14.116.6; and 15.35.3 (Manlius).

20 I would like to thank the reviewer for drawing these to my attention.

21 For the rape of Lucretia, see Diod. Sic. 10.22.1; Coriolanus is discussed further below.

22 Diod. Sic. 12.24.1.

23 E.g. 11.37.6, immediately preceding Cassius, marks the end of the Persian wars and the defeat of tyranny in Greece.

24 Diod. Sic. 34/35.33.7.

25 Livy 6.17.2.

26 Livy 6.18.9, ‘death of Cassius and Maelius’.

27 Livy 6.18.4 and 6.19.2.

28 Livy 2.41.6–7.

29 Livy 4.21.3–4.

30 Richardson, J.H., The Fabii and the Gauls: Studies in Historical Thought and Historiography in Republican Rome (Stuttgart, 2012)Google Scholar.

31 See Mommsen (n. 2), and pp. 225–6 above.

32 See e.g. Bücher, F., Verargumentierte Geschichte: Exempla Romana im politischen Diskurs der späten römischen Republik (Stuttgart, 2006), 174–80Google Scholar; Maelius is called ‘too old’ to be very relevant at pp. 239–40.

33 For this, I refer readers to the relevant chapters of Mustakallio (n. 6), who provides a very thorough summary of the ancient sources. Because her main interest is in executions, she does not include all of the characters who are linked to Cassius, Maelius and Manlius by Cicero, Livy and Dionysius, nor all of the characters identified as tyrannical by Smith (n. 11), nor those whom I would consider transgressive. But the majority of all three categories overlap; most of the stories referenced here appear in both Smith and Mustakallio.

34 The historicity of this conflict, which has been questioned, is not relevant to the discussion at hand; the key point is that the authors writing about these events believed that they were historical, or historical enough to merit inclusion in a work of history.

35 Still fundamental is Dunkle, J.R., ‘The Greek tyrant and Roman political invective of the late Republic’, TAPhA 98 (1967), 151–71Google Scholar. See also Gildenhard, I., Creative Eloquence: The Construction of Reality in Cicero's Speeches (Oxford, 2011), 86–9Google Scholar, with further bibliography.

36 Such descriptions are used in the early books of Livy, although not for the affectatores; compare e.g. Kaeso Quinctius (atrox, 3.11.9; having superbia, 3.11.12); and the tyrannical Appius Claudius (superbus, 3.36.2; rex, 3.36.5; having libidines, 3.48.1; explicit comparisons with Tarquin, 3.44.1 and 4).

37 These two are in fact rarely described as characters in Livy; the closest is Cassius, who is described as vilior civibus than his fellow consul (3.41.7). This is not a tyrannical characteristic. Manlius, who is described more fully, is called vehemens et impotens at 6.11.6, and is primarily marked by his invidia (e.g. 6.11.3).

38 This point was in part anticipated by Mustakallio (n. 6), 73, who points out that superbia is a characteristic of tyrants such as the decemviri or Kaeso Quinctius, rather than the affectatores; her argument, however, is that this is a distinction between ‘aspiring tyrants’ and ‘aspiring monarchs’ in the Roman tradition.

39 See Lintott (n. 6 [1968]), 74: ‘in general great men must have surrounded themselves with clients ... not merely to enhance their reputation, but to ensure their physical protection’.

40 See Mur. 67–9.

41 Cf. Lintott (n. 6 [1968]), 177.

42 See e.g. the sources provided in Roller (n. 9), 149 n. 76; also fundamental is Gabba (n. 8).

43 See Livy 3.1.1–8 for a similar but unobjectionable piece of agrarian legislation.

44 Livy 2.41.2–5. Compare Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 8.68.1–80.1, where the tension was increased by the fact that not only the Latins, but also the Hernici were being included in the distribution. The similarities to the popular legislation of the late second and early first centuries b.c.e. are obvious and much discussed; see e.g. Gabba (n. 8), Valvo (n. 6) and Panitschek (n. 6). Chassignet (n. 9), 85–6 provides a clear exposition of the differences between Livy's and Dionysius' accounts.

45 E.g. Forsythe (n. 6), 304; Lintott (n. 6 [1968]), 54; implied by Chassignet (n. 9) and Martin (n. 9), who stress the importance of the plebeian cause in these stories. Ogilvie, R.M., A Commentary on Livy, Books 1–5 (Oxford, 1965)Google Scholar, 338 in contrast suggests that it is the dedication of his statue to Ceres.

46 Livy 2.41.7.

47 Livy 2.41.9. Possibly some sense of Cassius' urgent need to win goodwill is to be read in praesentem.

48 Rep. 2.60.

49 Gabba (n. 8), 40 warns that Dionysius' account ‘ha soltanto accumulato una maggior messe di falsificazioni’ than Livy's. Tyrannical colouring is the most obvious of these.

50 Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 8.69.1.

51 Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 8.78.4.

52 Ogilvie (n. 45), 338; this is explored further by A. Vigourt, ‘Les adfectores regni et les normes sociales’, in Coudry and Späth (n. 1), 333–40.

53 Ogilvie (n. 45), 343; the coins minted by the Cassii refer to Ceres. See RRC 321 (L. Cassius Caecianus, 102 b.c.e.) and 386 (L. Cassius Q. f., c. 78, with the cautions in Crawford's commentary [1.403]).

54 Vigourt (n. 52), 335. Vasaly, A., ‘The Quinctii in Livy's first pentad: the rhetoric of anti-rhetoric’, CW 92 (1999), 513–30Google Scholar, at 523, suggests that Livy sees the patricians' failure to achieve moderatio in Book 3 as a catalyst for necessary (but destabilizing) reforms.

55 Compare Oakley (n. 15), 477 on Manlius: ‘a great man, but in his greatness lay the seeds of his own destruction’.

56 See RRC 433/2, 54 b.c.e.

57 Both Brutus and Cassius had connections to the Servilii; Brutus cited Ahala in his coinage (see reference in previous note). Crawford (RRC 1.455) notes that these issues were ‘part of a pattern of consistent opposition to Pompey's real or supposed intentions of achieving sole rule’, which underlines the degree to which these legends were used for political ends in the late Republic.

58 Livy 4.12.9–13.2.

59 Livy 4.15.1.

60 Roller (n. 9), 128 n. 23 suggests that Maelius' primary crime was ‘usurping magisterial functions’.

61 Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 12.2.7–8.

62 Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 12.4.2.

63 The possible differences between Cincius Alimentus' version and Piso's version are discussed by Forsythe (n. 6), 302–4, stressing the relevance of the story to Piso's time. Forsythe's discussion is purely speculative, and his conclusions do not affect my argument. A useful précis is offered by E. Bispham and T.J. Cornell in their commentary on Alimentus (FRHist 2F4; III.51–3).

64 Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 12.4.2–4; Piso fr. 24 P = 26 B–W = 26 Ch. = FRHist 9F26 = 31 Forsythe (n. 6); Alimentus fr. 6 P = FGrHist 810F4 = 8 B–W = 8 Ch. = FRHist 2F4, noting problems of source attribution.

65 Implied in Cic. Mil. 8, 72 and 83.

66 E.g. Sest. 143; Cat. 1.3. Cicero's account of Maelius provides the closest parallel among the historical tyrants and would-be tyrants to the demagogic behaviour of Cicero's enemies.

67 For Cicero's use of Opimius as a ‘personal exemplum’ after exile, see van der Blom, H., Cicero's Role Models: The Political Strategy of a Newcomer (Oxford, 2010), 208–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar; she does not discuss the legendary exempla. Bücher (n. 32), 315–16 argues that legendary figures, including Ahala, made up the exempla of established gentes (in this case the Servilii); this does not mean that they could not also be used by novi (see e.g. van der Blom [above], 153–7).

68 Livy 4.15.1.

69 Mil. 8.6; De or. 2.106; see also Off. 2.43 (where it is used of both Gracchi).

70 Phil. 13.2.2; Att. 15.13.2.

71 See e.g. Vasaly (n. 54), 525–6.

72 For this distinction, see Mustakallio (n. 6), 73.

73 Mustakallio (n. 6), 72–80.

74 Appius Claudius has been extensively discussed, as has his tyrannical depiction in Livy (3.33.1–54.5 in general; 36.1–38.4 and 44.1–50.14 in particular). Mustakallio (n. 6), 67–9 offers a good summary, with citations; her conclusions should be read with caution.

75 Livy 3.11–13 describes Kaeso as a youthful tyrant, although Kaeso makes reappearances elsewhere; see the analysis of Vasaly (n. 54), 517–18.

76 Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 8.2.1–59.1; Liv. 2.35–40. Plut. Cor. is again very similar.

77 Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 8.59.1.

78 Livy 2.40.10.

79 Cic. Brut. 42–4; cf. Amic. 42.

80 M.-L. Freyberger, ‘Coriolan, ou la construction littéraire d'un grand homme chez les historiens grecs de Rome’, in Coudry and Späth (n. 1), 27–46, at 28; she analyses the Dionysian account only.

81 Freyberger (n. 80), 35; Cornell, T.J., ‘Coriolanus: myth, history and performance’, in Braund, D. and Gill, C. (edd.), Myth, History and Culture in Republican Rome (Exeter, 2003), 7397Google Scholar, at 73, considers him an ‘archetype who embodies many of the virtues and faults inherent in the Roman character’ (a statement which, while very general, again highlights that Coriolanus has both positive and negative sides).

82 Cornell (n. 81), 77.

83 See also Noè, E., ‘Ricerche su Dionigi d'Alicarnasso: la prima stasis a Roma e l'episodio di Coriolano’, in Gabba, E. (ed.), Ricerche di storiografia greca di età romana (Pisa, 1979), 21116Google Scholar, at 114, who sees in Dionysius' Coriolanus an aspiring tyrant.

84 Cornell (n. 81), 78.

85 E.g. Cic. Amic. 28: Maelius is a hated man whom friends should refuse to help; Val. Max. 6.3.2 on severity.

86 Gildenhard (n. 35), 223–5.

87 Cic. De or. 1.38.