, my friends.
Today we will be introduced to Camillus, a famous Roman general. His story is one that would have been told to a young Julius Caesar. It was an important story to the Romans; they would tell it often to new generals and to leaders of state who had just been elected. Though the history of Camillus is just as much myth as it is reality, there is still much to be learned from it.
The year is 406 BCE. The young city of Rome has just declared war on the significantly more powerful city of Etruria. The siege was not nearly as successful as the Romans had hoped, and it lasted for 5 years without any favourable outcome.
Frustrated and concerned, the Senators of Rome looked to each other with unease.
“This war is pointless!” cried one.
“It’ll be the end of our army if we keep going like this!” exclaimed another
“Shall we order a full retreat? Is it time to abandon the campaign?” such nervous questioning began spread throughout the Senate until one man said forebodingly, “No
. There is one man who could turn the tide of this war. We need only ask.”
“But he’s insatiable! A wild animal!”
“It is the only way.”
The Romans called in Camillus.
He was given a significant amount of military and governmental power and sent off to conquer Etruria.
He knew that he could not defeat Etruria immediately in open battle; he had to weaken their allies first in order to stop the flow of troops to Etruria. Within “a very short time’’ he stormed two powerful allied cities of Etruria, conquering Capena and routing Falerii.
That was good enough for the Senate, as surely the rest of the military commanders could take it from there. Camillus was stripped of his powers and was told to return to Rome.
Two years after Camillus had been stripped of his power, Rome suffered several severe defeats. This was now the tenth year of the war, and the people had grown weary of it.
Once again, the Senate trepidatiously brought Camillus back into the fray, granting him nigh-unchecked power.
Not only did Camillus immediately crush all of Etruria’s allies, but he also conducted one of the most Alexander-esque sieges the Romans would ever endeavour.
(recall the blog about the Gordian Knot)
Camillus had his men dig up the ground around the capitol of Etruria, Veii. They continued digging until they arrived at a man-made underground river–the sewer. The soldiers looked to each other in disgust; “there’s no way we’re going in there,” they said.
Then Camillus jumped into the sewer and called his army to follow him!
He led his army through the sewers of Veii until they reached the center of the city, and then launched a surprise attack on the capitol.
Can you imagine what that would have looked like to the average Etrurian? A bunch of bloodthirsty Roman soldiers, being led by the infamous mad-dog Camillus, rushing out of a sewer– covered in everything that would have been in a sewer– all rushing towards you?
Needless to say, Camillus took the city almost effortlessly.
After the battle however, the story turns tragic. Camillus organized his own celebration in Rome, carousing for days on end. Plutarch writes: