This article deals with one particular aspect of Livy's narrative of the Gallic Sack of Rome, told in Book 5, and traditionally placed in 390 b.c.—namely the issue over the validity of the ransom agreement struck by the Romans with the Gauls. The broader context is well known—and needs only brief reiteration here. When the Gauls march on Rome, the Romans give battle at the river Allia, leading to a resounding Gallic victory. Most of the Romans flee the battlefield and then the city, except for a small group of both old and young, male and female, who hold out on the Capitoline Hill. That hill is subsequently put under siege by the Gauls. Following several months of beleaguerment, both sides are depicted as severely worn out by hunger and fighting. It is important for present purposes to stress that, when the Gauls stood at the gates and besieged the city, one of Rome's greatest heroes, Marcus Furius Camillus, was noticeably absent. Camillus was in neighbouring Ardea, some fifty miles south of Rome, training an army of Roman soldiers to challenge the Gallic invaders after his recent recall from exile and appointment to the dictatorship. But before Camillus’ return to Rome, the besieged Romans surrendered and agreed a ransom with the Gauls in order to liberate their city. The continuation of the story as given in Livy is equally well known. Camillus arrives in the middle of the ransom exchange, asking for the exchange to be stopped. Unsurprisingly, the Gauls are not keen on following Camillus’ orders, and insist on the ransom. Consequently, Camillus challenges the agreement between Romans and Gauls on a constitutional basis; the agreement was reached with a lesser magistrate after Camillus’ appointment to the dictatorship (5.49.2):
cum illi renitentes pactos dicerent sese, negat eam pactionem ratam esse quae postquam ipse dictator creatus esset iniussu suo ab inferioris iuris magistratu facta esset, denuntiatque Gallis ut se ad proelium expediant.
When they, resisting, said that they had come to an agreement, he [Camillus] denied that an agreement was valid which, after he himself had been made dictator, had been concluded by a magistrate of lower status without his instructions, and he announced to the Gauls that they should prepare themselves for battle.
The constitutional argument has often been repeated by modern scholars. Ogilvie comments that ‘(t)he dictatorship was held to put all other magistracies into suspension.’ Feldherr notes similarly that, ‘(o)nce Camillus has been appointed dictator, his imperium
supersedes that of the lesser magistrates who negotiated the surrender.’ And to explain why the Gauls nevertheless entered into negotiations in Camillus’ absence, Ross observes that ‘the Gauls, of course, could hardly have known either of Camillus’ appointment as dictator or of the fact that the dictatorship superseded all other magistracies.’