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2. M. Valerius Corvus, one of the most illustrious men in the early history of the republic, was born about B. C. 371 in the midst of the struggles attending the Licinian laws. Being a member of the great Valerian house, he had an early opportunity of distinguishing himself, and we accordingly find him serving in B. C. 349 as military tribune in the army of the consul L. Furius Camillus in his campaign against the Gauls. His celebrated exploit in this war, from which he obtained the surname of " Corvus," or " Raven," is, like many other of the achievements of the early Roman heroes, mingled with fable. A Gallic warrior of gigantic size challenged to single combat any one of the Romans. It was accepted by Valerius after obtaining the consent of the consul, and as he was commencing the combat, a raven settled upon his helmet, and, as often as he attacked the Gaul, the raven flew at the face of the foe, till at length the barbarian fell by the sword of Valerius. A general battle then ensued, in which the Gauls were entirely defeated. The consul presented Valerius with ten oxen and a golden crown, and the grateful people elected him, in his absence, consul for the next year, though he was only twenty-three years of age. He was consul in B. C. 348 with L. Popillius Laenas. There was peace in that year both at home and abroad: a treaty was made with Carthage. (Liv. 7.26, 27; Gel. 9.11; V. Max. 8.15.5; Eutrop. 2.6.)

In B. C. 346 Corvus was consul a second time with C. Poetelius Libo. He carried on war against the Volsci, defeated them in battle, and then took Satricum, which he burnt to the ground with the exception of the temple of Mater Matuta. He obtained a triumph on his return to Rome. (Liv. 7.27; Censorin. de Die Nat. 17.)

In B. C. 343 Corvus was consul a third time with A. Cornelius Cossus Arvina. Young as he was, Corvus was already regarded as one of the very first generals of the republic, and the state therefore looked up to him to conduct the war against the Samnites, which had broken out in this year. His popularity with the soldiers was as great as his military talents, and he consequently possessed unbounded influence over his troops. He was distinguished by a kind and amiable disposition, like the other members of his house; and in the camp he was in the habit of competing with the common soldiers in the athletic games which amused their leisure hours. It was fortunate for the Romans that they had such a general in the great struggle they were now entering upon. After a hard-fought and most bloody battle, Corvus entirely defeated the Samnites on mount Gaurus above Cumae: a battle which, as Niebuhr remarks, seldom as it is mentioned, is one of the most memorable in the history of the world, since it was a presage of the result of the great contest which had then begun between Sabellians and Latins for the sovereignty of the world. Meanwhile the colleague of Corvus had been in the greatest danger in the mountain passes near Caudium, where the Romans met with such a disaster twenty-one years afterwards; but the army was saved by the valour of P. Decius. Corvus seems to have joined his colleague shortly afterwards, and with their united forces, or with his own alone, he gained another brilliant victory over the Samnites near Suessula. Forty thousand shields of those who had been slain or had fled, and a hundred and seventy standards are said to have been piled up before the consul. His triumph on his return to Rome was the most brilliant that the Romans had yet seen. Corvus gained these two great victories in his twenty-ninth year, and he is another instance of the fact which we so frequently find in history, that the greatest military talents are mostly developed at an early age. (Liv. 7.28-39; Appian, Samn. 1.)

In the year following, B. C. 342, Corvus was appointed dictator in consequence of the mutiny of the army. The legions stationed at Capua and the surrounding Campanian towns had openly rebelled, marched against Rome, and pitched their camp within eight miles of the city. Here they were met by Corvus at the head of an army; but before proceeding to use force, he offered them peace. This was accepted by the soldiers, who could place implicit confidence in their favourite general and a member likewise of the Valerian house. Through his influence an amnesty was granted to the soldiers; and this was followed by the enactment of several important laws. Another account, however, of this revolt has been preserved, and the whole subject has been investigated by Niebuhr (iii. p. 63, &c.) at great length. (Liv. 7.40-42.)

In B. C. 335 Corvus was elected consul a fourth time with M. Atilius Regulus, since the Sidicinians had joined the Ausonians of Cales, and the senate was anxious that the war should be entrusted to a general on whom they could entirely depend. The consuls accordingly did not draw lots for their provinces, and that of Cales was given to Corvus. He did not disappoint their expectations. Cales was taken by storm, and, in consequence of the importance of its situation, the Romans settled there a colony of 2,500 men. Corvus obtained the honour of a triumph, and also the surname of Calenus from the conquest of the town. (Liv. 8.16.)

With the exception of the years B. C. 332 and 320, in which he acted as interrex (8.17, 9.7), we do not hear of Corvus again for several years. The M. Valerius, who was one of the legates of the dictator L. Papirius Cursor in the great battle fought against the Samnites in B. C. 309, is probably the same as our Corvus, since Livy says, that he was created praetor for the fourth time as a reward for his services in this battle, and we know that Corvus held curule dignities twenty-one times. (9.40, 41.)

In B. C. 301, in consequence of the dangers which threatened Rome, Corvus, who was then in his 70th year, was again summoned to the dictatorship. Etruria was in arms, and the Marsi, one of the most warlike of the neighboring people, had also risen. But the genius of Corvus again triumphed. The Marsi were defeated in battle; several of their fortified towns, Milionia, Plestina, and Fresilia, were taken; and the Marsi were glad to have their ancient alliance renewed on the forfeiture of part of their land. Having thus quickly finished the war against the Marsi, Corvus marched into Etruria; but, before commencing active operations, he had to return to Rome to renew the auspices. In his absence, his master of the horse was attacked by the enemy while on a foraging expedition, and was shut up in his camp with the loss of several of his men and some military standards. This disaster caused the greatest terror at Rome; a "justitium" or universal cessation from business was proclaimed, and the gates and walls were manned and guarded as if the enemy were at hand. But the arrival of Corvus in the camp soon changed the posture of affairs. The Etruscans were defeated in a great battle; and another triumph was added to the laurels of Corvus. (10.3-5.)

In B. C. 300, Corvus was elected consul for the fifth time with Q. Appuleius Pansa. The state of affairs at home rather than those abroad led to his election this year. There must have been severe struggles between the two orders for some time previously, and probably both of them looked to Corvus as the man most likely to bring matters to an amicable settlement. During his fifth consulship the Ogulnian law was passed, by which the colleges of pontiffs and augurs were thrown open to the plebeians. The consul himself renewed the law of his ancestor respecting the right of appeal (provocatio) to the people, and rendered it more certain to be observed by affixing a definite punishment for any magistrate who transgressed it. (10.5, 6-9.)

In B. C. 299 Corvus was elected consul a sixth time in place of T. Manlius Torquatus, who had been killed by a fall from his horse while engaged in the Etruscan war. The death of so great a man, and the superstitious feeling attending it, induced the people unanimously to appoint Corvus to the vacant office. The Etruscans, who had been elated by the death of Torquatus, no sooner heard of the arrival of Corvus, than they kept close within their fortifications, nor could he provoke them to risk a battle, although he set whole villages on fire. (10.11.)

From this time, Corvus retired from public life; but he lived nearly thirty years longer, and reached the age of a hundred. His health was sound and vigorous to the last, and he is frequently referred to by the later Roman writers as a memorable example of the favors of fortune. He was twice dictator, six times consul, and had filled the curule chair twenty-one times. He lived to see Pyrrhus driven out of Italy, and the dominion of Rome firmly established in the peninsula. He died about B. C. 217, seven years before the commencement of the first Punic war. (Cic. (de Senect. 17; V. Max. 8.13.1; Plin. Nat. 7.48. s. 49; Niebuhr, iii. p. 124.)

A statue of Valerius Corvus was erected by Augustus in his own forum along with the statues of the other great Roman heroes. (Gel. 9.11; comp. Suet. Aug. 31.)

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hide References (12 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (12):
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 16
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 31
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 7.48
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 27
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 28
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 39
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 40
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 26
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 42
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 9.11
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 8.13.1
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 8.15.5
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