Gaius Marcius Coriolanus was possibly a legendary Roman general who lived in the 5th century BC. He received his toponymic title "Coriolanus" because of his exceptional valor in a Roman siege of the Volscian city of Corioli. He was then promoted to a general. In later ancient times, it was generally accepted by historians that Coriolanus had lived, and a consensus narrative story of his life appeared, retold by leading historians such as Livy and Plutarch.
Plutarch's account of his defection tells that Coriolanus donned a disguise and entered the home of a wealthy Volscian noble, Tullus Aufidius. The unmasked Coriolanus appealed to Aufidius as a supplicant. Coriolanus and Aufidius then persuaded the Volscians to break their truce with Rome and raise an army to invade. When Coriolanus's Volscian troops threatened the city, Roman matrons, including his wife and mother, were sent to persuade him to call off the attack.
At the sight of his mother Veturia, wife Volumnia and children throwing themselves at his feet in supplication, Coriolanus relented, withdrew his troops from the border of Rome, and retired to Aufidius's home city of Antium. Coriolanus had thus committed acts of disloyalty to both Rome and the Volscians. Aufidius then raised support to have Coriolanus first put on trial by the Volscians, and then assassinated before the trial had ended.
The tale of Coriolanus's appeal to Aufidius is quite similar to a tale from the life of Themistocles, a leader of the Athenian democracy who was a contemporary of Coriolanus. During Themistocles' exile from Athens, he traveled to the home of Admetus, King of the Molossians, a man who was his personal enemy. Themistocles came to Admetus in disguise and appealed to him as a fugitive, just as Coriolanus appealed to Aufidius. Themistocles, however, never attempted military retaliation against Athens.