Titus Manlius Torquatus: the exemplary Roman hero

Roman Titus Manlius Torquatus lived in the 4th century BC. He was a promising patrician kid but had problems in speaking, so his harsh father kept him away from the world at their family estate. People cried shame over this behaviour, which was even discussed in the Roman Senate.

There, tribune Marcus Pomponius argued that the young man's father should give account of himself for his loveless deeds. When Titus Manlius heard this, he grabbed a dagger and got on his way to Marcus Pomponius' house. He broke into the house and forced the tribune to withdraw his accusations.

The way the young man had defended his father's honour, was highly praised in Rome. Historians Livius and Appianus tell us this was the reason Manlius was elected military tribune, one of the highest political functions in Rome.

His reputation was soon settled forever at the battle near the river Anio in 361 BC. The Romans fought the Gallic army here. The Gauls had a giant among them, who - presenting himself as the champion of his tribe - bragged about his force and invincibility, and challenged the Roman commander Manlius. In single combat, Manlius slaughtered his opponent. He took the dead giant's gold collar and wore it himself, which lead to his second (nick)name Torquatus (torques meaning collar).

This was the last single combat the Romans allowed, as strict battle rules were set up after this. The son of the promoted Manlius (now consul) was the first to break the rule when the Roman army met the Latins near Vesuvius and at Trifanum:

At the same time strict commands were given that no Roman should come out of his rank to fight in single combat with the enemy; a necessary regulation, as the Latins were so like, in every respect, to the Romans, that there would have been fatal confusion had there been any mingling together before the battle. Just as this command had been given out, young Titus Manlius, the son of the consul, met a Latin leader, who called him by name and challenged him to fight hand to hand. The youth was emulous of the honour his father had gained by his own combat at the same age with the Gaul, but forgot both the present edict and that his father had scrupulously asked permission before accepting the challenge. He at once came forward, and after a brave conflict, slew his adversary, and taking his armour, presented himself at his father's tent and laid the spoils at his feet.
Charlotte M. Yonge, A Book of Golden Deeds (1864)

But Manlius Torquatus was a man of principles. He collected his troops and suprised them by not honouring his son for the glorious defeat of an enemy. Instead, he said he would not allow disobedience and lack of discipline, and ordered to strike off his own son's head.

The Roman army won the battle, but when Manlius Torquatus returned to Rome, the Senate refused to give him the usual marks of honour. The severity he had shown, went way too far for the Roman people.

When Manlius Torquatus was offered a promotion to censorship, he refused. He stated that the people couldn't stand his stringency as much as he couldn't stand their defects. It would have been a bad marriage indeed.

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