One of the best known legends of Ancient Rome, perhaps of more importance to subsequent centuries and millennia than even to Rome itself, was the legendary Cincinnatus. An opponent of allowing plebeians to vote in the early republic, he nevertheless returned–twice–to serve as dictator, first when the republic was threatened by a neighboring tribe, and then again to deal with the plot of a Roman. Yet in both cases he held the dictatorship, which made him in effect a king, for not one day longer than required. This selfless service to the republic became especially important in the 18th century, as republics were created and then threatened to potentially become dictatorships.
But was this true? And, if not, why did Romans choose to believe it? Indeed, what does it say about Romans that someone like Cincinnatus, rather than someone like Alexander the Great, became their hero? In part this is a story of the Roman army under the republic. But it’s also a story of Roman civic order, or what that order valued. That’s the story that Steele Brand tells in Killing for the Republic: Citizen-Soldiers and the Roman Way of War. As you’ll hear, Brand believes the lesson of what a citizen-soldier is, and should be, are as applicable to modern republics as they are to ancient one.
Previous conversations about the Roman Republic