Sempronia and the death of Scipio

The relationship with family and politics was not necessarily a clear one in Rome. The story of Sempronia and her most famous husband is a good example of how complex and many-faceted this relationship could become.

In a way the story of Sempronia and Scipio began by their grandparents. L. Aemilius Paullus was consul at 219 and P. Cornelius Scipio next year 218. My guess is that they were political allies. Very often it was the case that consul of this year tried to get his ally to be consul in next year. This guess is of course made all more probable by the fact that son of Scipio married daughter of Paullus.

Scipio AfricanusSon of Paullus was L. Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus (cos 182 and 168) while son of Scipio was P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus (cos 205, 194), the hero of the second Punic war. This Scipio Africanus married Aemilia Paulla, daughter of Paullus.

Cornelia AfricanaScipio Africanus and Aemilia Paulla had a son and a daughter. Daughter Cornelia Africana married another famous Roman, Ti. Sempronius Gracchus. Together they had three children who survived into adulthood: the famous brothers of Gracchi and their sister Sempronia.

Son of Paullus, Paullus Macedonicus, married Papiria Masonia, a daughter of C. Papirius Maso (cos 231). They a boy and this boy was adopted by the son of Scipio Africanus. This adoption is an interesting continuity of the alliance that had binded together their grandfathers. The name of the boy in question after adoption became P. Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus and he was consul at 147 and 134.

Aemilianus Africanus married Sempronia, who was the sister of the Gracchi brothers and daughter of the sister of his adoptive father. Sempronia and ScipioSo far so good. But here is where the relationship between politics and family starts to get complicated. The marriage of Aemilianus Africanus and Sempronia of course had its usual political meaning of maintaining the family alliances. However, the brothers of Sempronia were of radically different political stand than Aemilius Africanus, or indeed any Scipio. They found their way to influence through popularistic politics while Aemilius Africanus was a staunch conservative.

The political situation detoriated and after some tumult the older brother of Sempronia, Tiberius GracchusTi. Gracchus, was killed. Aemilianus Africanus was one of the leaders of the group of senators, who killed him. So he was very much responsible for the death of his wifes brother. Aemilianus Africanus died some time after the murder and it was suspected that the death was not of natural causes – Sempronia and her younger brother Gaius were among the suspects, but there never was conclusive evidence about the cause of death.

While of course singular event, there is here something, I think, about the relatioship of politics and family in Rome. While family obviously is important, as can be seen by the importance of dynastic way the marriages are arranged, the same also applies to the politics. In fact, Aemilianus Africanus put politics above family when he was ready to get his wifes brother murdered. Aemilianus Africanus had had a marvellous career that far and he was old enough to retire, or at least not commit himself into the violent actions of anti-Gracchian movement. Yet he choose to be active. Aemilius Africanus belonged into two very powerful and famous families, Cornelii Scipiones and Aemilii Paulli.

Aemilia PaullaThe story of Sempronia is also very interesting one and her family connections nothing less than her husbands. In the history of Roman women, both her grandmother Aemilia Paulla and mother Cornelia Africana stand tall. They were learned women with strong characters and not without political ambitions. To what extent Sempronia was ideologically inclined remains unknown to us, but it is intriguing to think about alternatives and try to see the events from her point of view. This also brings about questions about to what extent the Roman politics were mans world, and in political marriages is it necessarily so that the woman is passive trading goods or perhaps much more active subject?


O Brother, where art thou?

Only known pair of brothers as consuls happened at 179 when Q. Fulvius (Q.f. this time) Flaccus and L. Manlius Acidinus Fulvianus were consuls. Interestingly at previous year 180 their cousin Q. Fulvius Flaccus had been as consul suffectus, so during these years the Fulvii were at the peak of their influence.

Consulship was not only extraordinary aspect in Q. Fulvius’s career. He also tried while as curule aedile to candidate for praetor suffectus and campaigned without white toga, which created a scandal at its time at 184. He also earned two triumphs, was elected censor and established a temple for Fortuna Equestris.

For the temple he used marble tiles from existing temple of Juno Lacinia, and this caused also a scandal. After his death by suicide, the senate voted the marbles to be returned to the original temple and considered Q. Fulvius to be impius.

Of the other brother and reasons behind his adoption by L. Manlius Acidinus we know much less. He was also a successful military commander recieving an ovation, but his career after consulship we know nothing.

Behind the scenes of ancient Roman history research

Amount of disinformation about ancient Roman history is staggering. I have noticed that one cannot rely on any small or larger detail to be correct. The problem is very pointed in Wikipedia and in online information in general. Don’t use Wikipedia to search for information about Roman history. That’s very sad thing to say, but it’s just so.

Also a very sad thing is that when reading about Roman history, the books are hardly any more reliable. Google books for instance is marvellous thing, but as the books digitized there are not qualified anyhow on their accuracy, you basically end up with the same problem as with Wikipedia: information available is random at quality and never can be trusted without own research.

For example when I read about Fulvii Flacci and came across the story of Quarta Hostilia I became curious and wanted to learn more about her. What is first thing one does then? Googles. And what I got as results?

First a French Wikipedia article, which is far more about females who have poisoned someone at ancient Greece and Rome.

Second, a respectable and reliable looking site ”Facts on file, History database search”.

Third, Google books.

Facts on file site article says it is from a book ”A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman Women” which is in fact the very same book that Google books offers. So with a quick look that’s the most influental source on the web at this moment about Quarta Hostilia.

What does it say then? I’ll quote it here full:

”Quarta Hostilia’s second husband, the consul Gaius Calpurnius Piso, died in 180 BCE and rumors circulated that Hostilia had poisoned him. Her motive was said to have been a desire for the advancement of Quintus Fulvius Flaccus, the son of her first husband, also Quintus Fulvius Flaccus, who had been consul four times. Twice the younger Quintus Fulvius Flaccus had failed to be elected consul. Witnesses came forward to testify that Hostilia had upbraided him for his failure and pressed him to try again. She assured him that the next time he would succeed. Her son became consul in 179, succeeding his deceased stepfather. Hostilia was convicted of poisoning her husband.

Sources: Livy. From the Founding of the City 40.37.1–7.”

It looks accurate and reliable, it even mentions primary source. But actually, the text of Livius does not contain same facts:

”The death of the consul aroused the strongest suspicion. He is said to have been murdered by his wife, Quarta Hostilia. When her son Q. Fulvius Flaccus was declared consul in place of his step-father, the death of Piso aroused much greater misgivings. Witnesses came forward who asserted that after Albinus and Piso had been declared consuls, Flaccus having been defeated in the election was reproached by his mother for having failed three times in his candidature for the consulship, and she went on to say that she was getting ready to canvass and would manage in less than two months to have him made consul. Amongst much other evidence bearing on the case this utterance of hers, which was only too truly confirmed by what followed, did most to secure her condemnation.” (translation Canon Roberts 1905)

Note that Livius does not say that Quarta Hostilia would have been married with Q. Fulvius Flaccus, nor that the Q. Fulvius Flaccus would have been Q. Fulvius M.f. C.n. Flaccus, the consul of 237, 224, 212 and 209. And that is indeed impossible, because the consul of the year 180 is Q. Fulvius Cn.f. M.n. Flaccus and since Quarta Hostilia according to Livius is his mother, Quarta Hostilia cannot have been married to Quintus, but Gnaeus Fulvius Flaccus.

How do we know that? We have on the other hand the story by Livius, which says that Q. Fulvius Flaccus is the son of Quarta Hostilia. Then we need to check the list of Roman consuls. Primary source for this is the Fasti Capitolini Consulares, list of Roman consuls by year. You can find it online and in books in numerous places, here is one. Check the year 180. It says that Q. Fulvius Cn.f. M.n. Flaccus is elected in place of Piso, who died during his office. The handy Roman way to include filiation in the name, in this case Cn.f. M.n. (Gnae fili, Marci nepos – son of Gnaeus, grandson of Marcus), tells us that his mother must have been married to Gnaeus Fulvius Flaccus, and therefore any Quintus Fulvius Flaccus cannot have been the father of consul suffectus of the year 180.

So the name of husband of Quarta Hostilia is clearly wrong at the A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman Women, and what is more worrying, the article does not indicate from where it has got this false information, certainly not from Livius, although it says so in the end of the article!

But it is not the only false information at the article. Article says ”twice the younger Q. Fulvius Flaccus had failed to be elected consul”, but Livius says ”having been failed three times in his candidature for the consulship”.

And finally the article says ”her son became consul in 179 succeeding his deceased stepfather”. This isn’t correct either. Son of Quarta Hostilia and Cn. Fulvius Flaccus became consul suffectus at 180, not following year 179. At 179 consul was Q. Fulvius Q.f. M.n Flaccus, son of Quintus. Again this shows in Fasti Capitolini. And again Livius does not say so as the article claims it to say!

This is very good example of the incorrect information about Roman history. Not only does the article at the A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman Women contain imaginary information, but also it attributes this information for a primary source falsely. I cannot understand why people do this! After all, in the article it would have been very easy to say e.g. ”the son of her first husband, who was perhaps Q. Fulvius Flaccus” and then the reader would immediately know, that here is not information from Livius, but a pure guess (educated or not). Or even better still: to present correct information, that can be found e.g. from Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft (halbband 16) that has been published already a hundred years ago at 1913!

Of course, any serious research wouldn’t use as its source A to Z kind of book, but that is not my concern here. What I am deeply concerned about is that this A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman Woman crap is the leading online authority (by way of visibility at the Google results) on the subject and it has basically all the facts wrong. So anyone who is not making a research is likely to read this purely imaginative account of the A to Z or Facts on File website and believe it to be at least fairly accurate.

And yes, Quarta Hostilia and her husbands and sons are not anyhow important in the grand scope of Roman history, but the problem is that any information you come across online about Roman history or historical persons of Roman era can be as false as the poor article about Quarta Hostilia. Practically every time I check things from Wikipedia about Roman era I come across similar mistakes!

Blood is thicker

Year 180. It’s about 20 years from the end of the Second Punic War. There has also been wars in Macedonia and Syria recently. As consequence of these wars Rome has created its first provinces: Sicilia, Corsica et Sardinia, Gallia Cisalpina, Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior. To govern growing republic number of yearly elected officials is increased. Number of quaestores is raised from 8 to 12 and number of praetores from 4 to 6.

Expanding republic needs and produces more men eglible for consulship, as it is custom that one has to be elected praetor before one can step out as candidate for consulship. Social mobility is higher: new families are in the making. Chaotic years of the Punic Wars are past and one person gaining more than one consulship has become a rare occurrance. All this has boosted the social value of position of consul.

At the beginning of the year the elected consuls of the year assume their office: A. Postumius Albinus Luscus and C. Calpurnius Piso. Unfortunately a some kind of epidemic has been going on in Italy and Rome for some years and several illustrious deaths happen during the first months of the year. Amongst them are praetor Tiberius Minucius and newly elected consul C. Calpurnius.

The deaths awake general feeling of the Gods being dissatisfied to the Rome and its populace. To amend situation the Senate asks pontifex maximus C. Servilius Geminus to look for any solution from the pontifical library and also orders Sibylline books to be consulted. Remaining consul Luscus is ordered to offer for Apollo, Aesculapius and Salus.

However, some deaths caused more or less open public speculation of another kind. The speculation ran high enough eventually to push the Senate into action: investigation was opened for the causes of some of the deaths. The death of the consul Piso was the most high profile of the cases. His wife Quarta Hostilia was suspected of poisoning him.

In the elections for the consul suffectus to replace the Piso a certain Q. Fulvius Flaccus is elected. This arouses further speculations about the death of Piso, because Flaccus is a son of Pisos wife Quarta Hostilia from her first marriage! Flaccus had himself lost previous elections to Piso, and in fact this had been third time he had lost consular elections.

Forth also came witnesses who said, that they had heard the mother Hostilia to reproach her son Flaccus for losing again and that Hostilia has promised his son, that she would start immediately to campaign for him and that he would see how she would make him a consul in a few months time. Also some other condamning evidence was supplied and Hostilia was convicted of the murder of his husband.

Whatever was the motive of Quarta Hostilia this tells how much consulship meant to the families of Roman nobility. And also about the importance of the family!

Fulvii Flacci and Hostilii Mancini added to the chart

Here is an updated version of the chart based on the work of this Summer. Fulvii Flacci and Hostilii Mancini have found their way to the chart now. Also there are many smaller updates and changes. This version will be the most current one for some time onwards, even perhaps until August 2015.

August 3rd 2014 version: Fulvii Flacci and Hostilii Mancini added.

August 3rd 2014 version: Fulvii Flacci and Hostilii Mancini added.

And again, this is work in progress, so there are bound to be mistakes and inaccuracies. Each time I update the chart I try to put some effort into making it more clear and easier to use, but that is of secondary priority untill all families are there, so it will look a bit messy for some time still.

As it is now, the chart contains approximately between 50 – 75 % of the families and individuals of the final chart. During the next year or so I will make preliminary research of the remaining families:
Licinii Crassi
Livii Drusi
Lutatii Catulli
Marcii Philippi
Marcii Reges
Mucii Scaevolae
Papirii Carbones
Pompeii Magni
Popillii Laenates
Porcii Catones
Postumii Albini
Quinctii Flamini
Servilii Caepiones
Servilii Vatiae
Sulpicii Galbae
Valerii Flacci
Valerii Messallae

The chart already contains some of these families or parts of them, so not all of them will be totally new.

Staying power, are we?

One way to compare the success of families of the republican era Roman nobility is to compare how many successive generations there are of consuls, that is father to son. This tells the success of the family, not only about the skills of the individual.

This far in my research I have come into some pretty spectacular achievements, here are some of them.

Domitii Ahenobarbi, 8 generations of consuls
Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus, cos 192
Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus, cos 162
Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus, cos 122
Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus, cos 96
L. Domitius Ahenobarbus, cos 54
Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus, cos 32
L. Domitius Ahenobarbus, cos 16 CE
Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus, cos 32 CE

Cornelii Scipiones, 7 generations
L. Cornelius Scipio, cos 259
Cn. Cornelius Scipio Calvus, cos 222
P. Cornelius Scipio Nasica, cos 191
P. Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum, cos 162
P. Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio, cos 138
P. Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio, cos 111
Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio Nasica, cos 52 (he was biological son of cos 111, but was adopted by Q. Caecilius Metellus)

Claudii Pulchri, 5 Generations
P. Claudius Pulcher, cos 249
Ap. Claudius Pulcher, cos 212
C. Claudius Pulcher, cos 177
Ap. Claudius Pulcher, cos 79
Ap. Claudius Pulcher, cos 54 (his nephew was Ap. Claudius Pulcher, cos 38, but let’s be strict and count only father-son -line)

Caecilii Metelli, 5 generations
Q. Caecilius Metellus Calvus, cos 206
Q. Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus, cos 143
Q. Caecilius Metellus Balearicus, cos 123
Q. Caecilius Metellus Nepos, cos 98
Q. Caecilius Metellus Nepos Junior, cos 57 and Q. Caecilius Metellus Celer, cos 60

Cornelii Lentuli, 5 generations
L. Cornelius Lentulus Caudinus, cos 275
L. Cornelius Lentulus Caudinus, cos 237
L. Cornelius Lentulus, cos 199
P. Cornelius Lentulus, cos 162
L. Cornelius Lentulus, cos 130

Valerii Flaccii, 5 generations
P. Valerius Flaccus, cos 227
L. Valerius Flaccus, cos 195
L. Valerius Flaccus, cos 152
L. Valerius Flaccus, cos 131
L. Valerius Flaccus, cos 100

Cassii Longini, 4 generations
C. Cassius Longinus, cos 171
L. Cassius Longinus Ravilla, cos 127
L. Cassius Longinus, cos 107
C. Cassius Longinus, cos 73

Aemilii Lepidi, 4 generations
M. Aemilius Lepidus, cos 78
L. Aemilius Lepidus Paullus, cos 50
L. Aemilius Lepidus Paullus, cos 34
L. Aemilius Lepidus Paullus, cos 1 CE and M. Aemilius Lepidus, cos 6 CE

Aurelii Orestes, 4 generations
L. Aurelius Orestes, cos 157
L. Aurelius Orestes, cos 128
L. Aurelius Orestes, cos 103
Cn. Aufidius Orestes, cos 71 (yeah, adopted)

Mucii Scaevolae, 4 generations
Q. Mucius Scaevola, cos 220
P. Mucius Scaevola, cos 175
P. Mucius Scaevola Pontifex, cos 133
Q. Mucius Scaevola, cos 95

Having both father and his son as a consul is perhaps quite natural, the son wants to bring the family as much honour as his father did. But to have grandfather-father-son takes a lot more work to happen already. And when the continuity is 4 generations deep we are talking about one family blood line staying powerful for longer than 100 years! Even with society that places great value to tradition and has low social mobility, it is not without effort to keep up the family success at more than 4 consecutive generations.

Then we have Scipiones and Ahenobarbi who managed to do that for more than 200 years, which is a long time even by standards of Roman history!

Claiming more consulships than the familia next door?

At republican era in Rome there was one ultimate prize every active politician was after: to become a consul of the republic. In modern terms being a consul was like being both prime minister and president at the same time and then some more power. Unlike our supreme political leaders however, the Romans voted two consuls for the office for each year. So once you got your consulship, it was only for one year and you had to share the seat with a colleague, who could make your life a misery.

For the Roman nobility the consulship was the peak of the career for the most influental individuals of the family. True enough, there was the position of censor and honorary titles like princeps senatus, but those were available for so few that the consulship really was the crown of the cursus honorum.

One way to compare the success of the Roman families is to compare how many consulships they got. If the family had a consul at each generation, then that family was very influental. If the family had only one consul during many generations, then the family was not at the top of the Roman pecking order of families. This was the culture and values according to which the Roman nobiity lived and valued the success of their family.

When we look at the years 150 – 49, we can see how the number of consulships creates clear three categories of the top families: those families that had only one consulship during this 101 year period, those that had 2 or 3 consulships and those that had 4 or more consulships. The division of the consulships based on these categories seems quite fair:

Number of families for consulships

About half of the families that had at least one consulship during this period had only one. About quarter of the families that had at least one consulship had 2 or 3 them and finally about one fifth of the families had 4 or more. This can be considered pretty democratic and equal, after all it seems that consulships in general did not fall into hands of narrow top class of the families. It also seems by looking at these figures that fairly large group of families got their chance to have at least one consulship in a century.

Numbers can decieve, however. Another way to look at the numbers is to count how many consulships there were and how those available seats were divided amongst the families. During these 101 years there was individual 206 consuls (if a consul died during his term a suffect consul was elected for the remaining of the term, that is why there is 206 instead of 202 consuls). The available consulships divided amongst these three groups of families like this:

Distribution of available consulships

So half of the actual available consulships were in the hands of minority of one fifth of the families. They had very strong influence in the republic. Remaining half is almost equally divided between families with 2-3 or just with one consul. So what in the first set of numbers seemed as fairly fair distribution was in fact quite the opposite of it. Families with just one consulship got only a quarter of the available posts while numbering more than half of the families that had consuls. These one consul families were not nearly as influental than the real top of the ruling elite that grabbed half of the consulships to itself.

So who were the top scorers? Here is the top 11 of late republican families measured with number of consulships:

1. Caecilius Metellus, 15 consulships
2. – 3. Cornelius Lentulus, Marius, 8 consulships
4. Calpurnius Piso, 7 consulships
5. Aemilius Lepidus, 6 consulships
6. – 11. Aurelius Cotta, Cassius Longinus, Claudius Pulcher, Cornelius Scipio, Licinius Crassus, Papirius Carbo, 5 consulships

These 8 families took altogether 74 consulships. That is way more than every second year someone from them as a consul, if divided equally. 74 out of 206 is more than a third, while 11 from total number of consular families is about one tenth. Very narrow top in the reality!