Gnaeus Marcius Coriolanus was a Roman general from the 5th c. BC.

Veturia at the Feet of Coriolanus by Gaspare Landi.

Siege of Corioli

Gnaeus Marcius came to fame as a young man serving in the army of the consul Postumus Cominius Auruncus in 493 BC during the siege of the Volscian town of Corioli.

While the Romans were focused on the siege, another Volscian force arrived from Antium and attacked the Romans and at the same time the soldiers of Corioli launched a sally. Gnaeus Marcius held watch at the time of the Volscian attack. He quickly gathered a small force of Roman soldiers to fight against the Volscians, who had sallied forth from Corioli. Not only did he repel the enemy, but he also charged through the town gates and then began setting fire to some of the houses bordering the town wall. The citizens of Corioli cried out and the whole Volscian force was dispirited and was defeated by the Romans. The town was captured, and Gnaeus Marcius gained the cognomen Coriolanus.

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Veturia and Volumnia begging Coriolanus, painting by Nicolas Poussin.

Conflict and Exile

In 491 BC, two years after Coriolanus’ victory over the Volscians, Rome was recovering from a grain shortage. A significant quantity of grain was imported from Sicily and the senate debated the manner in which it should be distributed to the common people. Coriolanus advocated that the provision of grain should be dependent upon the reversal of the pro-plebeian political reforms arising from the First Secession of the Plebs in 494 BC.

The senate thought Coriolanus’ proposal was too harsh. The populace were incensed at Coriolanus’ proposal and the tribunes put him on trial. The senators argued for the acquittal of Coriolanus or at the least a merciful sentence. Coriolanus refused to attend on the day of his trial, and he was convicted.

Defection to the Volsci

Coriolanus fled into exile with the Volsci. He was received and treated kindly, and resided with the Volscian leader Attius Tullus Aufidius. Coriolanus and Aufidius then persuaded the Volscians to break their truce with Rome and raise an army to invade Roman territory.

Coriolanus and Aufidius led the Volscian army against Roman towns, colonies and allies. Roman colonists were expelled from Circeii. They then retook the former Volscian towns of Satricum, Longula, Pollusca and Corioli. Then the Volscian army took Lavinium, then Corbio, Vitellia, Trebia, Lavici and Pedum.

From there the Volscian army marched on Rome and besieged it.

The consuls, Sp. Nautius Rutilus and S. Furius Medullinus Fusus, readied the defences of the city. But the plebeians implored them to sue for peace. The senate was convened and it was agreed to send supplicants to the enemy. Initially ambassadors were sent but Coriolanus sent back a negative response. The ambassadors were sent to the Volsci a second time but were refused entry to the enemy camp. Next priests, in their regalia, were sent by the Romans, but achieved nothing more than the ambassadors had.

Then Coriolanus’ mother, Veturia, his wife, Volumnia, and his two sons, together with the matrons of Rome, went out to the Volscian camp and implored Coriolanus to cease his attack on Rome. Coriolanus was overcome by their pleas and moved the Volscian camp back from the city, ending the siege. Rome honoured the service of these women by the erection of a temple dedicated to Fortuna.

The Mother of Coriolanus pleads for her son.

Coriolanus was then driven into exile by the Volsci.

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