The Republic of Rome had a governmental system that allowed them to install dictators whenever a problem proved to be unsolvable through normal procedures and processes. Difficult situations such as deep internal corruption or conquering armies that posed a threat to Rome were times that dictators were enacted. Normally, Rome was ruled by two consuls during the era of the republic. Once the dictator was in charge, he had absolute authority over all of Rome and its resources.
Around 400 B.C., there was a Roman dictator named Marcus Fuurius Camillus. (See the Biblical Timeline Chart with World History for additional events during this time frame. ) He was called upon by Rome to defeat two warring tribes that refused to stay beneath Roman power. The Falerii and the Capna were minor tribes in the southern Italian peninsula, and they created a situation that left the southern part of Rome’s territories in an uneasy position. The consuls who were ruling at the time could not stop the uprisings that had their roots with these two Roman tribes. So, they had no choice but to call upon Camillus to save Rome from losing the southern lands and to stop the rebels.
Camillus was a retired leader and distinguished soldier. He was a patrician who was born to the Furii, which was one of the most important families in the land of Rome. Once he took control of Rome as a dictator, he quickly went to work quelling the rebellion that was threatening Rome’s stability. The Gauls were another tribe that wanted to break free from Rome, and they even managed to gain control of some strategic positions that would give them direct access to the city of Rome. Many of the Roman leaders knew that if these two tribes made it into the city they could overrun Rome and destroy its power.
Camillus was called upon one more time in 387 B.C., and when he came to power, he didn’t allow the Gauls to gain control. He fought against the Gauls and forced them to stop their advances. He made them sign a peace treaty and accept Roman rule. After he had saved Rome from the Gauls, the people referred to him as the second founder of Rome.
After Camillus had gained this victory, he didn’t stop being a dictator. As a rule of thumb, a dictator would typically step down from their position of power once a crisis had been resolved. Camillus didn’t follow through with this expectation, and he tried to continue to rule Rome on his own. The Roman consuls and senate could not touch Camillus because he had the power and the army behind him, so they had to wait to remove him from office. Their chance came when he was found guilty of embezzling state funds. Camillus chose to be exiled from Rome as opposed to paying a fine and after his departure the consuls regained their position. Even though Camillus was a shady dictator, the people did call upon him many times between 385 B.C. and 367 B.C. to save them from various crises.
Even though that was the case, Camillus never again tried to stay in office longer than his expected time. He finally died in 365 B.C. when a disease broke out in the region killing many people.
When a dictator was chosen, they usually were picked from the patrician (wealthy) class of Rome. The plebeians (poor) and slaves were not eligible for high-level leadership positions. To remedy this problem, the plebeians elected their own dictators to resolve matters that could otherwise be managed. Plebeian dictators usually dealt with domestic problems but not problems that arose from foreign sources.
Plebeian dictators just didn’t have the resources or authority as the regular dictators. Gaius Marcius Rutilus was the first Plebeian dictator. Quintus Hortenius was a plebeian dictator who managed to pass some laws that affected the whole entire community of Rome including the rich patricians. Even though there were some exceptions to the standard rule, Rome’s dictators were usually rich and powerful men chosen from the patrician class.