The Partial Recap – 420s BCE

The Partial Historians


The Partial Recap – 420s BCE

Another decade is gone and it’s time for a Partial Recap! We run through what the ancient sources tell us about this decade. There are some real highs and lows!

If you are keen to for some more detail, you can jump into our narrative episodes at 134 – A Dry Period.

A view to the East over the Roman Forum with the Temple of Saturn on the left and the Palatine Hill on the right, showing the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Arch of Titus, Santa Francesca Romana, and the Colosseum. Detail from the photograph by Nicholas Hartmann, June 1976. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons. Used under license.

Sound Credits

Our music was composed by the fabulous Bettina Joy de Guzman.

Automated Transcript

Dr Rad:

Welcome to the Partial Recap for the 420s BCE!

Dr G: I’m Dr G 

Dr Rad: and I’m Dr Rad

Dr G: and this is our highlights edition of the 420s in Rome. We’ll take you through from 429 to 420 in an epitome of our normal episodes. 

Dr Rad: Perfect for those mornings when you don’t want some lengthy rhetoric with your coffee – but please be warned – the Roman world is a violent one.  

Dr G: Get ready for a recappuccino. 

429 BCE

  • In 429 BCE, the consuls were Hostius Lucretius Tricipitinus and Lucius Sergius Fidenas 
  • Who could forget this year? Well, apparently a lot of people could – nothing was recorded in some of our sources
  • For others, it might be an issue of confused dates  and actually LOTS of things happened that sound very similar to the events of 428

428 BCE

  • In 428 BCE, the consuls were Aulus Cornelius Cossus and Titus Quinctius Poenus Cincinnatus 
  • Or maybe Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus and Aulus Sempronius Atratinus 
  • Come on Romans, get your consuls straight!
  • Veii started muscling in on Roman turf, perhaps with some help from the Fidenates 
  • The Romans assembled an elite task force to look into their involvement and some men from FIdenae found themselves banished to Ostia for being decidedly shifty
  • For a bit of extra security, more settlers were sent to the colony of Fidenae 
  • Rome was then hit by a severe drought, which led to the spread of disease amongst cattle and the citizens 
  • In desperation, some superstitions started to spread amongst the populace and had to be reined in 

427 BCE

  • In 427 BCE, the consuls were Caius Servilius Structus Ahala and Lucius Papirius Mugillanus 
  • Putting the tough times behind them, the ROmans felt well enough to seek revenge against Veii 
  • But there’s a procedure to this people! Someone call the fetiales so they can call on Jupiter and get this ball rolling 

426 BCE

  • In 426 BCE, the military tribunes with consular power were Titus Quinctius Poenus Cincinnatus, Caius Furius Pacilus Fusus, Marcus Postumius Albinus, and Aulus Cornelius Cossus – whew!
  • The military tribunes with consular power set about this war with Veii – but they didn’t play well together, leading to some humiliating results on the battlefield 
  • Crushed and angry, the Romans turned to their favourite solution – a dictator!
  • Mamercus Aemilius was chosen by Cossus, and he chose Cossus to be his Master of the Horse – making them the cutest couple in Rome 
  • Meanwhile, Veii was bragging about their recent success to anyone who would listen, and Fidenae agreed to join forces with them once again.  
  • Lucky the Romans had Mamercus to whip them all into shape. He and his band of trusty helpers worked together like a well-oiled machine to grind their enemies into the dust!
  • Once more, Cossus was a standout in the battle and Mamercus received a triumph
  • If this all seems very familiar, it is. Suspiciously so! 
  • Compare the events yourself by revisiting our episode on 437 BCE

425 BCE

  • In 425 BCE, the military tribunes with consular power were Aulus Sempronius Atratinus, L. Quinctius Cincinnatus, Lucius Furius Medullinus and Lucius Horatius Barbatus. 
  • Nothing much happened!
  • The Veientes and the Aequians were each granted truces 

424 BCE

  • In 424 BCE, the military tribunes with consular power were Appius Claudius Crassus, Spurius Nautius Rutilus, Lucius Sergius Fidenas, and Sextus Iulius Iullus. 
  • Games were held and the Romans were exceedingly polite hosts. 
  • The tribunes of the plebs found the whole scene in the city far too peaceful and started haranguing the populace
  • Why weren’t there any military tribunes with consular power who were plebeians? WHY? They were really sick of patrician domination, especially because it didn’t have to be that way.
  • Their words finally had some effect, with some brave plebeians stepping forward to run for office. Will we finally get a plebeian magistrate? 

423 BCE

  • In 423 BCE, the consuls were Gaius Sempronius Atratinus and Quintus Fabius Vibulanus.
  • The year began with the unfortunate capture of the Etruscan city of Volturnum by the Samnites
  • The Etruscans, seemingly exhausted by the endless conflict of this time, allowed the Samnites to enter their city and settle there
  • Tragically, the Samnites had no intention of sharing Volturnum, and they massacred the Etruscans in the night. 
  • The Romans and their allies had their own conflict to deal with
  • The Volscians were running up and down museum stairs, punching slabs of meat and generally getting ready to invade 
  • Gaius Sempronius was placed in charge of the Roman forces and felt very confident that Fortune would ensure victory
  • Unfortunately, Fortune did not organise the Roman army effectively and it looked as though they were going to loose – badly.
  • At this moment, a plucky plebeian decurion named Sextus Tempanius stepped forward. His incredible efforts and clever strategies with the cavalry helped to turn the tide of this almost impossibly lengthy battle  
  • When he manages to return safely to Rome, Tempanius was celebrated but also put on the stand by one of the tribunes of the plebs, Caius Iunius. 
  • Iunius grills Tempanius about Sempronius’ leadership – or lack thereof – but Tempanius refused to turn on his commander. This guy could do no wrong
  • Iunius was not restricting his attention to Sempronius 
  • The failure of Sempronius opened the door for the tribune to put some other patricians on trial. 
  • Marcus Postumius and Titus Quinctius, the brother of the great Cincinnatus, were tried for their underwhelming efforts at Veii a few years earlier  
  • In a surprise twist, Quinctius totally stabbed Postumius in the back and blamed him for everything. Postumius received a hefty fine, whilst Quinctius walked away unscathed – although this may have had something to do with the fact that Cincinnatus was dying and no one could bear to disgrace his family in his final days!

422 BCE

  • After all the patrician scandal of the previous year, the Senate wisely decided upon military tribunes with consular power in 422. 
  • The magistrates were Lucius Manlius Capitolinus, Q. Antonius Merenda and Lucius Papirius Mugillanus 
  • There were also some new tribunes of the plebs, elected due to their heroics during the battle against the Volscians in 423 BCE – Sextus Tempanius, Marcus Asellius, Tiberius Antistius and Tiberius Spurillius. 
  • One of the other tribunes, Lucius Hortensius, decided to prosecute Sempronius for his PATHETIC leadership against the Volscians – I think we all saw that one coming.
  • And so began a highly contentious debate – Sempronius: Cool Dude or Total Douchebag? 
  • The other tribunes were not keen on this idea at all and tried to talk Hortensius out of the prosecution – Sempronius wasn’t bad, he’s just drawn that way!
  • After some serious arguments and slappy fighting, Hortensius finally conceded that Sempronius must be a pretty cool dude for people to care about him so passionately. Congrats Sempronius, on not being a total douchebag – at least officially.
  • The tribunes also score a win due to this whole affair – for once, everyone is very impressed with the way that they have conducted themselves. Hmm… is it weird that everyone loves the tribune of the plebs the most when they are letting a patrician off the hook?
  • And right at the end of the year, we abruptly switch from civil affairs to a military threat – this time coming from the Aequians….

421 BCE

  • In 421, the consuls were Numerius Fabius Vibulabus and Titus Quinctius Capitolinus 
  • Fabius was sent off to war with the Aequians, but it seems like the Aequians weren’t really committed to this conflict and the whole battle was a bit of a cake-walk for the Romans and brought Fabius no glory whatsoever.
  • Just when it seemed like everything was settling down – the consuls had the GALL to ask for more administrative help – specifically, they wanted two more city quaestors.
  • Never ones to miss an opportunity, the tribune of the plebs pushed for half of the quaestors to be plebs – can we please stop giving the patricians everything???
  • The consuls and senate absolutely refused to give an inch – they’d rather DROWN in paperwork than let the plebs get a look in!
  • The tribune of the plebs therefore turned their attention to an agrarian law, which did not put the Senate at ease. 
  • Thus, the Senate wanted to have consuls in charge, whilst the tribunes wanted military tribunes with consular power 
  • The tribunes used their veto power to block consular elections, leading to an interreges 
  • The chronology gets a little confusing here and it’s not clear where 421 ends and 420 begins, but it seems the the Roman state was in danger of falling apart. 
  • Finally, Lucius Papirius Mugillanus was elected as interrex. Papirius tells off the senators AND the tribunes for being so stubborn and making Rome vulnerable to external attack. 
  • He ends up getting everyone to agree to a compromise – the number of quaestors would be increased and they could be elected from either the patrician or plebeian class. 

420 BCE

  • In 420 BCE, the military tribunes with consular power were Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, Titus Quinctius Poenus Cincinnatus, Lucius Furius Medullinus, Marcus Manlius, Aulus Sempronius Atratinus – all patricians, AGAIN  
  • Atratinus was put in charge of elections for the quaestorship 
  • Some of the plebeian candidates were well-connected, with relationships to previous tribunes. 
  • When their family connections did not trump the consular connections of the patrician candidates, they called FRAUD- seeing Atratinus as the architect of the situation
  • However, Atratinus was a military tribunes and therefore untouchable.
  • His relative, Gaius Sempronius, was not. The tribunes of the plebs decided to go after him for the shocking Volscian campaign of 423 BCE. 
  • The tribunes then tried to stitch Sempronius up by pushing again for an agrarian law – something he was known to oppose. If he continued to oppose the law, the plebs would hate him. If he didn’t, the patricians might not support his case as much. 
  • Sempronius put the state before himself, of course, which meant that he was pretty much dead to the plebs. Even with the senate’s support, he ended up with a fine for 15 000 asses. 
  • 420 BCE was also the year of a Vestal trial. Postumia was accused of unchastity because she dressed a little to alluring and joked around far too much. Lucky for her, she was found innocent but the pontifex maximus still laid down the law – higher necklines and no more jokes for you!
  • To cap off the year, the Greek-controlled city of Cumae was captured by the Campanians – suggesting that there was some interesting movement of peoples taking place in this period.  

Dr Rad: And that was the 420s in Ancient Rome… or was it? 

Dr G: Remember, this has just been the highlights from the ancient sources, so if you want to delve into the complexities of the different evidence from this period, check out our narrative episodes. Jump in at Episode 134: A Dry Period  to join us for a deep dive into the 420s BCE. 

Dr Rad: Thanks for turning in to this Partial Recap!

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