Domitius at Corfinium: A Failure of Emotional Intelligence


In 49 BCE, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army, an act that was tantamount to a declaration of civil war. He led his army on a quick and successful march through Italy on a path strategically chosen to separate his opponents from potential recruits. In his account of this march and subsequent events, the Bellum Civile, Caesar depicts his opponents as failing basic tests of leadership. The Roman senator Domitius Ahenobarbus is portrayed as especially inept, both for his failure to assess the emotional state of his soldiers, and his inability to convince them that they would receive needed support from Rome. The soldiers mutinied and allied with Caesar.

Caesar drew on a common set of expectations for Roman military commanders to portray Domitius. A commander’s gestures, words, in general his self-presentation, were used to establish and monitor many aspects of his relationship with his army, notably his credibility and authority, while also providing a means of communication with soldiers. Integral to a commander’s effectiveness was his emotional intelligence, particularly how to attune his own emotional state to what was best for the situation.

Students are asked to consider whether Domitius’s failure of leadership could have been avoided through better application of emotional intelligence, as well as whether his failure could be applicable to modern demonstrations of leadership.

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