245 000 visitors annually makes it 22nd most visited tourist site in Italy. It’s the tomb of Caecilia Metella, who was, as the inscription says, the daughter of the consul of 69 Q. Caecilius Metellus Creticus and the wife of M. Licinius Crassus. This popular tourist site is also a bit of a mystery. In its days it was a lavish mausoleum communicating the importance of Caecilia Metella or her memory, but why it was built and the role of her husband form the core of the mystery.
The inscription on the wall is the reason why we know who rested in the rotunda shaped tomb before it was converted as part of medieval fortress. Inscription in itself is also an interesting evidence of the role of women in the late Roman republic.
First of all a lot has been written about the role and place of women in the ancient Rome. While participating into politics as elected magistrates was forbidden to them, they still had an important role to play in public life. Building a lavish mausoleum was also a public statement. What is interesting, is that we do not know why this particular mausoleum was built – what was the reason why someone wanted to carry on the memory of Caecilia Metella.
Secondly it is interesting that inscription pays a lot of attention to the history of Caecilia Metella, that she is a daughter of Metellus Creticus. Actually the name formulation in the inscription resembles a lot the way the male names were officially recorded: praenomen – nomen – filiation – cognomen, e.g. M. Licinius M.f. Crassus. In the inscription there is no praenomen, as the women did probably not have a personal praenomen, but rest goes as the male name pattern: Caecilia (nomen) – Q. Cretici filia (filiation) – Metella (cognomen) of Crassus (signifying marriage). There is no obvious reason why there was a need to mention whose daughter Caecilia was.
We know very little about Caecilia. She certainly had a very illustrious background: her father was the consul of 69, grandfather consul of 113, great grandfather consul of 143 and great-great grandfather consul of 206. She was married to M. Licinius Crassus, who also had an illustrious background: his father was the consul of 70 and 55, the famous triumvir Crassus, and his grandfather was the consul of 97. Caecilii Metelli were one of the richest families in Rome and the father of Caecilias husband was widely recognized as the richest man ever in Rome.
A lot of has been written about triumvir Crassus. To sum it up he probably was unscrupulous businessman, a very ambitious and successful politician, able military commander and strong willed hard individual. He built his wealth in crude manner and rose to be the third most powerful man in Rome, competing against Caesar and Pompeius. Whereas both Caesar and Pompeius built their careers in extraordinary ways, Crassus was more traditional, which makes his rise ever more impressive. It is very probable that without Caesar’s success in the wars in Gallia, triumvir Crassus would have been the most powerful man in Rome.
Partly because of this triumvir Crassus needed to get massive military success and he chose rich kingdom of Parthia as his target. As known, the war did not went well and Crassus and his younger son Publius died on the field.
The elder son of triumvir Crassus, the husband of Caecilia, is also a curious character. We know little of him. He is one of the two quaestores (legion commanders) that is mentioned by name in the self-laudatory memories of Caesar from the Gallian wars. This is remarkable, but the mentions are more passing than really descriptive or laudatory to younger Crassus. Undoubtedly references to him are not coincidental, but we don’t know why Caesar put them there. In any case Crassus seems to have been loyal to Caesar.
Younger brother of Crassus, Publius, seems to have been more active one of the brothers. He is generally described to be more like their father than Marcus by being more ambitious. Our Crassus seems to have been lacking political ambition: he rose only to the quaestor, while a man of his heritage certainly should have risen at least into rank of praetor, if not consul. He was not known either as a public speaker or philosopher, not as a business man, not as a military commander nor from anything else. Usually he is described as nonentity.
Let’s assume this is so. Why he then was mentioned in the Caesars Gallic Wars memories? If he was contended to live quietly and out of public attention, then why build such a grand mausoleum to his wife? It is also interesting to note that the son of him and Caecilia rose as a consul and was a renown military commander. I think that there is some important piece of information missing about Caecilias husband, as the sum of the person we seem to gather doesn’t seem to add up. I think M. Crassus has been a careful, but not passive character, who has played far-sighted game of survival and built way to success for his son. I also think he has been known for his contemporaries as such as there hasn’t been any gossips about the grand mausoleum for his wife. With his fabulous wealth he has had a chance to stay away from the most heated competition for glory during and after Caesar. This interpretation of his character and motivations makes much more sense to me. It still doesn’t fully answer a question about the importance of Caecilia for him. Caecilia Metella remains a mystery with too few bits of information to make even a guess.