Titus and Lucius Quinctius Flamininus: how to build an exceptional career in Roman politics

The Quinctii were one of the most ancient and influental families in the republic. The different branches of them were active in the highest circles of Roman politics ever since the establishing of the republic. The first Quinctius to hold consulship was T. Quinctius Capitolinus Barbatus at 471 and the last one T. Quinctius Crispinus Sulpicianus at 9. Even with Roman measure, it was rare that a family stayed consular for over 450 years!

During the mid/late republic one of the most active branches were Flaminini. The branch had its cognomen from an otherwise unkown ancestor who was a flamen dialis, so his sons became known for some reason as flamininus, son of flamen dialis. It is very rare cognomen.

Family tree Quinctius Flamininus

The family tree of Quinctii Flaminini.

Two most well-known Flaminini were brothers Titus and Lucius. They both held high public profile as well as for their military achievements and philhellenic policies. Younger Titus was also a skilled diplomat whereas few years elder Lucius was known also for his scandals. Titus was consul at 198 and Lucius at 192. Both of them earned their highest merits at war against Macedonia, which they won. Titus was consul during the war at 198 and conquered almost all the Macedonia. He was in fact negotiating for peace when the Senate decided to prolong his command (and thus continue the war to the end) as proconsul. During the war his brother Lucius was the commander of navy and was one of the few successful Roman naval commanders of all times.

T. Quinctius Flamininus’ exceptional achievements and career

After the war Titus stayed in Greece and re-organised the whole area and its states in satisfactory way during the years of 197-194. He was a skilled diplomat and his work in Greece ensured the support of Greek states for Rome. He for exampled made a public declaration of freedom of Greece during the Isthmian Games of 196. The Greek states minted coins honouring him and he was even deified in some places! This is exceptional as the Greek states traditionally did not welcome foreign conquerors. Titus understood this and therefore presented the Roman rule as liberation from Macedonian hegemony rather than instituting Roman one. His fluency in Greek and admiration for its culture certainly helped him. After leaving Greece he also had several other diplomatic duties.

Gold coin of T. Quinctius Flamininus.

Titus’ career also was exceptional in many ways and probably owes to his political connections and skills. In the beginning of his official career he served as military tribune in the second Punic war at 208. After this he served as propraetor in Tarentum during 205-204. Then he was selected to be one of the ten commission to settle the veterans of Scipio at 201-200 and was elected as questor at 199.

This far his career had been a fast one, but not that exceptional. However his next career step was very exceptional. He was elected as consul at 198, that is next year form his questorship. The usual cursus honorum was quaestor – aedile – praetor – consul, and with couple of year intervals between offices. So normally one could become a consul at the age of 43, but Titus was under 30 when he was elected as consul! Further he got under his command two legions and allied forces, altogether over 20 000 men, for the important second Macedonian war. This was one of the incidents that lead at 180 to creation of Lex Villia annalis, which regulated the cursus and minimum ages by law. It’s also interesting to note that Titus’ consular colleague Sex. Aelius Paetus Catus attained his consulship directly after aedileship, thus skipping over praetorship.

After his consulship his career was more regular one and he was elected as censor at 189 defeating many illustrious candidates, including future censor Cato. Titus was married with unknown Fabia.

The career of the elder brother Lucius was a more conservative one. He was selected as an augur at 213 and was a curule aedile at 201. At 199, when his brother was a quaestor, he was elected as praetor. His colleague both as aedile and praetor was L. Valerius Flaccus, with whom he seems to be allied with. During his brothers consul and proconsulships 198-194 Lucius served as the commander of the fleet and became as one of the few successful Roman naval commanders. His consulship was at 192 and his colleague was Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus. It was agreed that he would not candidate as consul earlier and instead left the post open for the second consulship of P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus – the famous military commanders didn’t want to compete against each other in popularity. These were also the years when Scipio Africanus’ brother and cousin also were elected as consuls: brother L. Cornelius Scipio Asiagenes at 190 and cousin P. Cornelius Scipio Nasica at year earlier 191.

After Titus’ time as censor came to an end and new censor was elected, it was finally time for Cato the elder to become a censor at 185. As one of his first official acts he dispelled Lucius from the senate for improper behaviour for a man of consular rank! Was this because of Cato’s opposition to Scipionic hellenistic policies or for good reasons is up to debate.

The big picture that emerges from the brothers connections and career is that the Quinctii were closely aligned into policies of Scipiones, Fabii, Valerii Flacci and perhaps Ahenobarbi. All old and powerful families. At this moment Flaminini were on top of their fame in Rome, and son and grandson of Titus also reached consulships at 150 and at 123.

Five misconceptions about Romans and a bloody story

Roman culture has been and is a popular background for projecting different kind of human concepts. It’s conveniently far away in time to contain so much alien and unknown elements, yet close enough to encourage us to think we understand it because our own culture is so much alike. This has brought about interpretations of Roman culture that are very dependent on the time and culture they are made in. Most of these are pretty harmless as long as they remain isolated, opinionated, sometimes even insightful and inspiring speculations, but sometimes some of them surface as popular beliefs and can have a bad effect on the overall understanding of Roman culture.

A story of L. Postumius Albinus (cos 234) illustrates some very deep rooted popular misconceptions about republican era Roman culture. Albinus belonged into the very powerful family of Postumii Albini. Something about the status of their family can be observed from that the Albinus became a consul at the same year as his father (cos 242) became a censor. His election as consul is actually the first popular misconception that I want to address. The thing is that Albinus hadn’t been a praetor before he became a consul, so he advanced his career outside cursus honorum. The cursus was not always followed.

Roman culture and Roman state did contain some exceptionally long-lived and rigid structures, but we also must be careful in not to overestimate their importance. Cursus honorum is one of the traits of Roman system that is very consistently followed through the centuries of republic and by thousands of individuals and it is indeed one of the defining characteristics in life for countless of Romans for centuries. Still there are exceptions to the rule, as Albinus being elected as consul before being elected as praetor.

However, they are more than exceptions, they also tell that Romans were not as systematic and incapable of straining the rules as sometimes is thought. To illustrate this, we need to take a look at when Albinus became a praetor: it was at 233. That is the next year from his consulship. Usually you had to take three year interval before being elected into next post. Albinus did not even one year off, and advanced into wrong direction in cursus. In fact, in Albinus’ case we can disregard the ideal of cursus honorum. This doesn’t mean that we would have to dump the cursus honorum -concept altogether, nor does it take any importance of it away, but it shows that we need to be careful when projecting interpretations back to the past – we must not become obsessed with imposing generalisations into historical indviduals and their lives.

Albinus was a military commander throughout his career. During his consulship of 234 he fought against Ligurians. During his second consulship at 229 he commanded the land army in the first Illyrian war while his consular colleague commanded the navy. This brings us to the second popular misconception. It is the provinces. Instead of calling them provinces, we should call them commands. For the Romans the provinces were not coloured areas of map (map is by the way is the third popular misconception), but instead military commands that were given by the Senate. The commander held imperium (right of command), limits of which were described when making the appointment. It might be geographical limits, but it might be anything else too.

During the second consulship of Albinus Romans had only one geographical province, Sicilia, and the second one Corsica et Sardinia was established at 227. Instead of thinking provinces as geographical administrative units or sub-divisions of civil administration, we should think them as temporary or occupied areas administration units, that are military administration by nature. This should break the illusion of Rome as 19th or 20th century nation state obsessed by areas drawn into geographically correct maps. Romans did not have any equivalent of the geographically correct maps we have. Their maps were itinary descriptions or symbolic representations of geographical shapes.

Roman provincial administration was also much more independent from the cursus honorum than it is very often thought. The fourth popular misconception (this time not illustrated by the career of Albinus) are the titles of Roman governors of provinces. As we like to view provinces as part of permanent civil administration instead of temporary military administration, we also like to think the titles of Roman governors as tied into cursus tightly. The popular view is that after being a praetor one would become a propraetor of a province and after being a consul one becomes a proconsul of a province. This is completely wrong. One could be a proconsul before elected as a consul. The title is not tied into individual cursus honorum, but as a level of imperium needed at each command. Most important provinces (e.g. close to enemy or rich in annual taxes) were commands where a consular level imperium was needed – this was mainly decided by the size of the army the commander had in his command. In short, governor titles were military commander ranks, not continuity of individuals advancement in civil offices.

But back to Albinus, he was given after his second consulship an extension to his command in Illyria as proconsul because he commanded a 20 000 strong army. His task was to end the war and make peace after his successful campaign. Illyrian queen Teuta agreed to peace which made Illyria as a puppet state of Rome. For an unknown reason Albinus did not recieve a triumph for his victories even while his consular colleague did. After this we don’t know anything about Albinus’ life until 216.

The second Punic war started at 218 and Romans suffered huge losses at the first two years of war. One of the largest defeats was at Cannae, where Hannibal destroyed a Roman army of strength about 60 000 men. This Roman defeat was seen as an opportunity by different Roman allies to switch sides and perhaps gain something from Roman weakness. One of the tribes that declared for Hannibal was the tribe of Boii, which resided in North Italy.

The Boii were a strong tribe, though no danger to Rome alone, but in the circumstances a threat that had to be dealt with. Rome however was weakend for the defeats and had a lack of experienced military commanders. So Albinus was elected as preator, while being absent from Rome, and given a command against Boii for 216. Again it is unsual to be elected into lower magistracy after being a consul. Nevertheless, Albinus fought victoriously and was elected, again in absentia, as consul for 215.

Albinus was returning into Rome in order to assume his third consulship, when he was ambushed in a forest by the Boii. Albinus tried to escape, but was surrounded and killed. The Boii cut his head off and covered the scalp with gold. The skull was used as a drinking cup in the main temple of the Boii during sacrifices by the Boii priest and ministers of the temple.

Albinus’ death and the usage of his skull as sacrificial bowl illustrates the fifth misconception I want to address, and let me return to the thoughts of the beginning of this text while doing so. What were Albinus’ last thoughts? Did he think about his wife and children? Did he curse for the gods? Did his life and career fly past his eyes? Was he disappointed, angry? We do not know. Our sources are silent. Also how he died? In heroic battle? On his knees begging for mercy? Did he suffer long, did he have time to reflect? Again we do not know. This is why it is so easy for us to plant our own conceptions into events and individuals of the Roman history. We are tempted to depict individuals as heros or villains because with so much we don’t know it is easy to give the imagination the control. Also it is so easy to ignore the richness and variety of past cultures. Making a drinking cup out of enemy leaders skull sound definitely alien to us. If such a different culture existed in the Roman era, is not then also possible that the Roman culture itself was also in many profound ways alien and different from our own? We must be extra careful regarding the Roman culture and history because we do not know enough and parts we think we can safely guess or fill in with generalisations might not be safe at all – we must take our guard against self-evident.

Overflow of Postumii

Postumii Albini were of old patrician origin and active at Roman politics ever since the beginning of republic. As such they also were frequently at the highest positions of Roman republic.

There were couple of periods, first at around 180 and later around 150 when there was a real abundancy of Postumii Albini at the highest magistracies of the republic:

pr Sp. Postumius Albinus (44)

cos Sp. Postumius Albinus (44)

pr A. Postumius Albinus Luscus (46)

pr Sp. Postumius Albinus Paullulus (49)

cos A. Postumius Albinus Luscus (46)
pr L. Postumius Albinus (41)

cens A. Postumius Albinus Luscus (46)
cos Sp. Postumius Albinus Paullulus (49)

cos L. Postumius Albinus (41)

pr L. Postumius Albinus (42)

pr A. Postumius Albinus (31)

cos L. Postumius Albinus (42)

cos A. Postumius Albinus (31)
pr Sp. Postumius Albinus Magnus (47)

cos Sp. Postumius Albinus Magnus (47)

The situation which L. Postumius Albinus faced is a telling one. Albinus was elected as praetor for 180. His brother Albinus Luscus was consul that year. Albinus was appointed as praetor of Hispania to continue war there. His imperium at the area was reinforced in the form of proconsulship for 179 and 178 during which he scored impressive victories with Ti. Sempronius Gracchus. At 178 they both celebrated a triumph, Gracchus one day before Albinus. Gracchus was elected as consul for 177, that is at minimum 3 years interval after his praetorship. Albinus however had to wait until his brother Albinus Paullulus was elected as consul for 174 because Paullulus too had had to wait at 180, when his three year interval after praetorship ended, but the third brother Luscus was consul. Now it was Luscus’ turn to be elected as censor and Paullulus as consul for 174. This meant that Albinus’ turn to be a consul was next year 173.

The family tree of mid/late republican era Postumii Albini.

The family tree of mid/late republican era Postumii Albini.

These were the critical years when plebeian families took ever more stronger position in the highest politics in Rome. The brother of plebeian consul of 173, a Popillius Laenas, was to become consul next year making the 172 as first year with two plebeian consuls. Patricians, like Postumii, saw their numbers dwindle and their influence with it in the highest positions of the state.

The remarkable achievement of having three brothers as consuls was only matched by Claudii Pulchri (185, 184, 177) and topped by Caecili Metelli (123, 117, 115, 113) during the last 150 years of the Republic and combined with other important positions (military commanders, ambassadors, imperium holders) it tells that Postumii Albini were one of the few leading families in Rome.

The next generation continued proudly the achievements of 180’s and 170’s consul-generation. Son of Albinus Luscus became consul at 151 and a few years before and after him his relatives Albinus Magnus (cos 148) and Albinus (cos 154).

However, the time of Postumii Albini was coming to the end. Albinus Luscus’ grandsons became consuls at 110 and 99 being the last Postumii Albini to achieve consulship.

Family tree of Popillii Laenates added

Popillii Laenates were a strong family for about 6 generations. Their most illustrious member was 4 or 5 times consul M. Popillius Laenas, who also probably was the first Laenas.

The family tree of Popillii Laenates.

The family tree of Popillii Laenates.

The family was probably at peak of its fame during 170’s when brothers M. and C. Popillius Laenas were consuls in consequtive years 173 and 172. Year 172 was also one of the turning points of the Roman political history, as for the first time both consuls were plebeians.

These brothers seemed to keep close to each other also during the rest of their career. They both were at 169 in Syria fighting against Perseus and when M. Laenas was censor at 159, his brother was elected as consul for next year 158. Both their sons became consuls as well: M. Laenas (M.f.) at 139 and P. Laenas (C.f.) at 132 (also the builder of Via Popillia). M. Laenas (cos 173) was also close with his other brother P. Laenas: they both were IIIviri in establishing a colony at 180.

We know very little about the marriages of the Laenates. What we know is that M. Laenas’ (cos 139) grand daughter Paulla Popillia was married with Cn. Calpurnius Piso and that the other consul of year 139 was also a Piso, so there seems to be a few generations lasting alliance between this branch of Laenates and some Pisones.

We also know that a Popillia was married first with the father of cos 102 Q. Lutatius Catulus. For second time she was married with L. Julius Caesar, with whom she had two sons: L. Julius Caesar (cos 90) and C. Julius Caesar Strabo Vopiscus and a daughter, Julia (whom married dictator Sulla). We don’t know whose daughter this Popillia was, but we know that she was first Roman woman to have a funeral speech delivered at her funeral, by her son Catulus at his consular year 102.

The consulship of 132 was the last one for the family and so by the end of republic, we do not hear anything about Popillii Laenates anymore.

Oh, how did it go so very wrong?

The story of the family Perperna is a good example about in how unpredictable and ultimately uncontrollable environment Roman upper class lived at.

First Perpernae, whom we know of, lived around 200 – 150. First one to have a career in politics was M. Perperna, who was a legate in envoy to Illyria at 168. His son and grandson however rose into consulship and another grandson achieved preatorship. This looks a very promising start for Perpernae in the highest elite of Roman society.

The next generation however ended it all. After M. Perperna Vento, praetor of 82, we do not know anything about the Perpernae. They vanished at least from Roman politics, perhaps also ceased to exist at all. What happened? How did it go so very wrong?

The family tree of Perpernae.

The family tree of Perpernae.

The first consul of the family M. Perperna is famously described to have been consul before having been a citizen. His father had obtained Roman citizenship and taken it away thus making the son also a non-citizen. In any case his career was otherwise pretty ordinary. It ended when he died into disease at Pergamum while waiting for a triumph for victory in Asia. With him also we see the beginning of alliance between Perpernae and Claudii Pulchri: when his co-consul died, a Claudius Pulcher became as consul suffectus.

The son of first M. Perperna became consul at 92 with C. Claudius Pulcher. In many ways he is the central figure of all Perpernae. His son, M. Perperna Vento, was first Perperna, who could claim that he belonged into real Roman nobility, which meant that both his father and grand father had been consuls. Besides rising his family amongst to the few and privileged families M. Perperna also livel extraordinary long life: he was born at 147 and died at the age of 98 at year 49. He lived so long that he not only outlasted everyone else who were in the Senate during his consulship, but also apparently outlived all his children. He also saw all major changes before the rise of Augustus in the late Roman republican era. Besides allying with Claudii Pulchri, he was allied with Marcii Philippi: his successor as consul was L. Marcius Philippus and they also were together as censors at 86.

After a successful military commander as grand father and very influental politician as father, the expectations must have been high for M. Perperna Vento. He aligned himself with Marian faction and became praetor at 82 during the third consulship of Carbo. This was however the year Sulla took great victories against Marian commanders and Perperna, who was serving his praetorship in Sicilia, had to flee too into Hispania. With him he took sizeable army and good amount of money. Perperna decided not to ally with Sertorius too closely even while his soldiers switched into Sertorius’ side on the face of threat by Pompeius, who was advancing into Hispania. Perperna eventually murdered Sertorius during a festive dinner. Perperna took battle against Pompeius and lost. To made a bargain for his life, he offered Pompeius the archives of Sertorius, which would reveal the allies of Sertorius in Rome. Pompeius took the archives, burned them and executed Perperna at year 72.

After this, his fater continued to live on more than 20 years, but never again there were Perperna active in Roman politics. We can only guess what he must have felt seeing the fall of his son and his line. What went wrong? Perhaps the Perpernae should have not aligned themselves with Marius, but would that really been an option for them? Were they strong and independent enough to avoid doing so? In Roman politics things were not as simple as that one could do whatever one wants, strong alliances and dependencies had an effect on everything.