CORIOLANUS, GAIUS or GNAEUS, MARCIUS, early Roman hero of patrician descent. According to tradition, his surname was due to his bravery at the siege of Corioli (493 B.c.) in the war against the Volscians (but see below). In 492, when there was a famine in Rome, he advised that the people should not share the corn obtained from Sicily unless they would con sent to the abolition of their tribunes. For this he was accused by the tribunes, and, being condemned to exile, took refuge with the king of the Volscians and led the Volscian army against Rome. In vain the Romans prayed for moderate terms. He would agree to nothing less than the restoration to the Volscians of all their land and their admission among the Roman citizens. A mission of the chief priests also failed. At last, persuaded by his mother and his wife, he led back the Volscian army and restored the conquered towns. He died at an advanced age in exile amongst the Volscians; according to others, he was put to death by them as a traitor ; a third tradition (mentioned, but ridiculed, by Cicero) represents him as having taken his own life.
The legend is open to serious criticism. At the traditional date (493 B.c.) Corioli was not a Volscian possession, but a Latin city in alliance with Rome; further, Livy himself states that the chroniclers knew nothing of a campaign against the Volscians in which Coriolanus is said to have served. The conquest of Corioli by Coriolanus seems to have been invented to explain the sur name. The details of the famine are borrowed from those of later years, especially 433 and 411, while the flight of Coriolanus to the Volscian king bears a suspicious likeness to the story of Themistocles. It is suggested that the historical nucleus of the tradition is an attack on Rome by Herdonius c. 443, when the city was in distress, perhaps as a result of pestilence.
See Plutarch's Life; Livy ii. ; Dion. Halic. vi. 92-4, vii. 21-7, 41-7, viii. 1-6o; Cicero, Brutus, x. 42. The story is the subject of Shakespeare's Coriolanus. For a critical examination of the story see Schwegler, Romische Geschichte, bk. xxiv. ; Sir G. Cornewall Lewis, Credibility of Early Roman History, ch. xii. 19-23 ; W. Ihne, History of Rome, i. ; T. Mommsen. "Die Erzahlung von Cn. Marcius Corio lanus," in Hermes, iv. (1869) ; E. Pais, Storia di Roma, i. ch. 4 (1898).