Denta'tus, M.' Cu'rius
(some writers call him M. Curius Dentatus), the most celebrated among the Curii, is said to have derived his cognomen Dentatus from the circumstance of having been born with teeth in his mouth. (Plin. Nat. 7.15
.) Cicero (pro Muren.
8) calls him a homo novus,
and it appears that he was of Sabine descent. (Cic. pro Sulla,
7; Schol. Bob. p. 364 ed. Orelli.)
The first office which Curius Dentatus is known to have held was that of tribune of the people, in which he distinguished himself by his opposition to Appius Claudius the Blind, who while presiding as interrex at the election of the consuls, refused, in defiance of the law, to accept any votes for plebeian candidates. Curius Dentatus then compelled the senate to make a decree by which any legal election was sanctioned beforehand. (Cic. Brut. 14
; Aurel Vict. de Vir. Illust.
The year of his tribuneship is uncertain.
According to an inscription (Orelli, Inscript. Lat.
No. 539) Appius the Blind was appointed interrex three times, and from Livy (10.11
) we know, that one of his inter-reigns belongs to B. C. 299, but in that year Appius did not hold the elections, so that this cannot be the year of the tribuneship of Dentatus. In B. C. 290 he was consul with P. Cornelius Rufinus, and both fought against the Samnites and gained such decisive victories over them, that the war which had lasted for 49 years, was brought to a close, and the Samnites sued for peace which was granted to them.
The consuls then triumphed over the Samnites.
After the end of this campaign Curius Dentatus marched against the Sabines, who had revolted from Rome and had probably supported the Samnites.
In this undertaking he was again so successful, that in one campaign the whole country of the Sabines was reduced, and he celebrated his second triumph in his first consulship. The Sabines then received the Roman civitas without the suffrage. (Vell. 1.14
), but a portion of their territory was distributed among the plebeians. (Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome,
iii. p. 420.)
In B. C. 283, Dentatus was appointed praetor in the place of L. Caecilius, who was slain in an engagement against the Senones, and he forthwith sent ambassadors to the enemy to negotiate the ransom of the Roman prisoners; but his ambassadors were murdered by the Senones. Aurelius Victor mentions an ovatio
of Curius over the Lucanians, which according to Niebuhr (iii. p. 437) belonged either to B. C. 285 or the year previous. In B. C. 275 Curius Dentatus was consul a second time. Pyrrhus was then returning from Sicily, and in the levy which Dentatus made to complete the army, he set an example of the strictest severity, for the property of the first person that refused to serve was confiscated and sold, and when the man remonstrated he himself too is said to have been sold. When the army was ready, Dentatus marched into Samnium and defeated Pyrrhus near Beneventum and in the Arusinian plain so completely, that the king was obliged to quit Italy.
The triumph which Dentatus celebrated in that year over the Samnites and Pyrrhus was one of the most magnificent that had ever been witnessed : it was adorned by four elephants, the first that were ever seen at Rome. His disinterestedness and frugality on that occasion were truly worthy of a great Roman. All the booty that had been taken in the campaign against Pyrrhus was given up to the republic, but when he was nevertheless charged with having appropriated to himself a portion of it, he asserted on his oath that he had taken nothing except a wooden vessel which he used in sacrificing to the gods.
In the year following, B. C. 274, he was elected consul a third time, and carried on the war against the Lucanians, Samnites, and Bruttians, who still continued in arms after the defeat of Pyrrhus. When this war was brought to a close Curius Dentatus retired to his farm in the country of the Sabines, where he spent the remainder of his life and devoted himself to agricultural pursuits, though still ready to serve his country when needed, for in B. C. 272 he was invested with the censorship. Once the Samnites sent an embassy to him with costly presents.
The ambassadors found him on his farm, sitting at the hearth and roasting turnips.
He rejected their presents with the words, that he prferred ruling over those who possessed gold, to possessing it himself.
He was celebrated down to the latest times as one of the noblest specimens of ancient Roman simplicity and frugality. When after the conquest of the Sabines lands were distributed among the people, he refused to take more than any other soldier, and it was probably on that occasion that the republic rewarded him with a house and 500 jugers of land.
He is sail never to have been accompanied by more than two grooms, when he went out as the commander of Roman armies, and to have died so poor, that the republic found it necessary to provide a dowry for his daughter.
But such reports, especially the latter, are exaggerations or misrepresentations, for the property which enabled a man to live comfortably in the time of Curius, appeared to the Romans of a later age hardly sufficient to live at all; and if the state gave a dowry to his daughter, it does not follow that he was too poor to provide her with it, for the republic may have given it to her as an acknowledgment of her father's merits. Dentatus lived in intimate friendship with the greatest men of his time, and he has acquired no less fame from the useful works he constructed than from his victories over Pyrrhus and the Samnites, and from his habits of the good old times of Rome. In B. C. 272, during his censorship, he built an aquaeduct (Aniensis Vetus), which carried the water from the river Anio into the city.
The expenses were covered by the booty which he had made in the war with Pyrrhus. Two years later he was appointed duumvir to superintend the building of the aquaeduct, but five days after the appointment he died, and was thus prevented from completing his work. (Frontin. de Aquaeduct.
1.6; Aur. Vict. de Vir. Ill.
He was further the benefactor of the town of Reate in the country of the Sabines, for he dug a canal (or canals) from lake Velinus through the rocks, and thus carried its water to a spot where it falls from a height of 140 feet into the river Nar (Nera).
This fall is the still celebrated fall of Terni, or the cascade delle Marmore. The Reatians by that means gained a considerable district of excellent arable land, which was called Rosea. (Cic. Att. 4.15
, pro Scaur.
2; Serv. ad Aen. 7.712
A controversy has recently been raised by Zumpt (Abhandl. der Berlin. Ak ademie
for 1836, p. 155, &c.) respecting the M'. Curius, who led the water of lake Velinus into the Nar.
In the time of Cicero we find the town of Reate engaged in a law-suit with Interamna, whose territory was suffering on account of that canal, while the territory of Reate was benefited by it. Zumpt naturally asks "how did it happen that Interamna did not bring forward its complaints till two centuries and a half after the construction of the canal ?" and from the apparent impossibilty of finding a proper answer, he ventures upon the supposition, that the canal from lake Velinus was a private undertaking of the age of Cicero, and that M'. Curius who was quaestor in B. C. 60, was the author of the undertaking.
But our ignorance of any quarrels between Interamna and Reate before the time of Cicero, does not prove that there were no such quarrels previously, though a long period might elapse before, perhaps owing to some unfavourable season, the grievance was felt by Interamna. Thus we find that throughout the middle ages and even down to the middle of last century, the inhabitants of Reate (Rieti) and Interamna (Terni) had from time to time very serious disputes about the canal. (J. H. Westphal, Die Röm. Campagne,
p. 130. Comp. Liv. Epit. 11
; Plb. 2.19
; Oros. 3.23
; Eutrop. 2.5
; Florus, 1.18
; V. Max. 4.3.5
; Varro, L. L.
p. 280 ed. Bip.; Plut. Pyrrh. 20
, Apophth. Imper. 1, Cat. mai.
2; Plin. Nat. 16.73
; Zonaras, 8.6
; Cic. Brut. 14
, de Senect. 13, 16, de Re Publ.
3.28, de Amicit.
5, 11 ; Hor. Carm. 1.12
. 37, &c.; Juv. 11.78
, &c.; Appul. Apolog.
p. 431, ed. Bosscha.)