Famine in Rome is causing unrest between the common people and the patricians (the aristocrats of Rome). The people particularly resent the arrogant Caius Martius, son of Volumnia, who makes no secret of the fact that he despises them. The citizens rise up against the patricians, whom they suspect of hoarding corn for themselves. They are rewarded with the creation of two people's representatives, or tribunes, who are given new powers to sit in the Senate. War with the neighbouring Volscians halts the rioting, however, and, in the battle for the town of Corioli, Caius Martius leads the Roman army with such spectacular bravery that he is honoured with the title 'Coriolanus'.
Back in Rome, the patricians urge Coriolanus to seek the consulship (the highest elected office). Reluctantly, he agrees to make the necessary public display of humility in order to win the favour of the citizens, but once again his inability to mask his contempt turns them against him. Not only do they refuse their approval but, incited by their tribunes, they banish Coriolanus from Rome. In revenge, he joins the Volscians and his former enemy Tullus Aufidius. Together they march on Rome.
Sparing of the city
Coriolanus refuses all attempts at conciliation by his former comrades and only through the intervention of his mother, wife and son is he finally persuaded to spare the city. He establishes peace, but is killed by the resentful Volscians.