Cincinnatus was born Lucius Quinctius and had the nickname, "Cincinnatus," was bestowed upon him due to his curly hair. He was considered an early hero of the Roman Republic and highly regarded for his willingness to give up power and live in virtuous simplicity. Though he opposed the plebeians, his approach to personal power can only be described as democratic. Cincinnatus was happy living and working on his farm with his family. However, when he served as consul in 460 B.C.E. he made such an impression on other political and military leaders that he became well regarded for his skill and virtue. When his term ended he happily returned to his farm home.
A few years later he was called upon again to take leadership against a tribe known as the Aequians. The situation was dire and the senate begged him to return and help achieve a victory. According to legend, Cincinnatus was plowing a field when senate representatives arrived to beg his assistance and announce that the current counsul, Horatius Pulvillus, had nominated Cincinnatus to serve as dictator for six months. Cincinnatus donned his toga once more and returned to Rome, despite leaving his family and his crops at peril. Upon arrival at the popular assembly, Cincinnatus ordered all men of military age to join him at the Field of Mars (Campus Martius) before the close of day. His army gathered and the following day Cincinnatus led the foot soldiers himself and surprised the enemy. The leader of the Aequians begged mercy, and Cincinnatus replied that he wanted no unnecessary bloodshed. He vowed a cease of hostilities if the Aequians confessed that they had been conquered by Rome. After a ceremony took place that established the victory of Rome and submission of the enemy, Cincinnatus disbanded the army, resigned, and returned to his farm. He had served as dictator for a total of sixteen days. Cincinnatus is remembered for his exemplary leadership and interest in serving the public rather than himself. He was called to action once more, in 439 B.C.E. and upon that victory he once again returned to his farm.
Many centuries later, the fledgling United States were reminded of the integrity of Cincinnatus when they witnessed General George Washington retire to his farm after the American Revolution. Like Cincinnatus, he was called upon once again to serve his country, which he did. At that time Washington could have demanded a kingship or to serve as president for life, both of which he refused, citing his interest in the public good when he retired from the presidency after just two terms. In recognition of the Roman and American "Cincinnatus," the Society of the Cincinnati was formed. The town of Cincinnatus, New York and the city of Cincinnati, Ohio were also named in honor of Cincinnatus and Washington.
Image: A statue of Cincinnatus in Cincinnati, Ohio.