The Porcii Catones, case for marriage

The posterity remembers very well two of the Porcii Catones: the elder Cato and the younger Cato. However these were just two of the whole family of Porcii Catones. To understand their life one also has to understand their family and its connections to the other families.

The Porcii Catones, from which both of the great men grew, came from Sabine area of Tusculum. Indeed the city of Tusculum itself is a special one. It was the home of many very successfull republican era Roman noble families. It was near Rome and victory over it meant domination of the most of the Sabine area for Rome. From early on citizens of Tusculum were enrolled into Roman citizens as well, but still Tusculum rebelled often against Rome, even with arms. Ancient Romans themselves thought Sabinians though and difficult people, which might have reputation earned very well.

Porcii Catones lived up to this reputation. Especially Cato the elder (Censorius) was known for his harshness and anti-luxury stance. Many other Porcii Catones subscribed into these values and in many ways it was the hallmark of the whole family from generation to generation. This trait so much advertised already during the antiquity has also carried on to our times and very often one sees the name of Cato being used in the sense of traditional values and pureness.

However this image however well earned was just an image and if one really wants to understand and evaluate the Porcii Catones in their historical setting such romantised images should be set aside. The fact was that the Porcii Catones were a moderately successfull Roman noble family, not exactly small in numbers, but not large either. The three consulships they achieved during the last century of the republic places them not very high and not very low on the ranking of the families. And as typical for smallish families, the consulships were all within a couple of generations by close relatives, meaning that the source of their success was one successful individual, i.e. Cato the elder.

Catones were quite successful in forming marriage alliances. Most skillful of all was, perhaps as a surprise Cato the younger, whose own marriage arrangements came second only to the marriage arrangements for his children.


When examining the maritial connections of the Catones, one notes especially connections to the Junii Bruti and the Servilii Caepiones, which also had complicated relationships between themselves. Especially famous marriage is the marriage of younger Cato’s daughter Porcia to Brutus, which also probably was a love marriage at least from the part of Porcia. However the marriage had strong political implications as well, Brutus for example divorced his first wife Claudia Pulchra, daughter of his long time political ally, and this angered Brutus’ mother Servilia. Servilii had also numerous other indirect links to Porcii Catones.

The extraordinary personality of Cato the elder also brought him influence beyond to that of his family. For example famous speaker Q. Hortensius Hortalus admired Cato so much that wanted to marry Cato’s daughter. However at that time Porcia was married to M. Calpurnius Bibulus, who did not want to give up his wife and Cato himself too was not very enthusiastic about the idea. However Hortensius was very rich and politically very well connected with the aristocratic party and Pompeius. Thus Cato arranged his own wife Marcia, daughter of L. Marcius Philippus cos 56, to marry Hortensius making Hortensius happy. Hortensius and Marcia were married for 5 years until Hortensius died and left all his fortunes to Marcia. Marcia immediately re-married Cato, bringing the wealth of Hortensius to Cato and causing a major scandal in Rome. An arrangement perhaps quite far removed from the image of virtuous philosopher-statesman.

The skills of younger Cato were not a lone spark in the Porcii Catones family. The father of his had married with Livia Drusa, a former wife of Q. Servilius Caepio (a brother of Brutus’ mother, Servilia). Livia was daughter of cos 112 M. Livius Drusus and a Cornelia Scipiones. These connections ensured good fortunes for younger Cato in birth.

Also skillful was the elder Cato. He married twice and second time with Licinia Crassa, a member of the most influental plebeian family of Licinii Crassi. Also his son, Cato Licinianus, married well: his wife was Aemilia Paulla major, the elder daughter of L. Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus (cos 182 and 168). With Aemilia Paulla, Cato Licinianus ensured for his two sons the support of Aemilii Paulli and Cornelii Scipiones. This proved to be successful: both his sons reached consulship.

Survival of the Porcii Catones thus did not rely on philosophical skills or old Roman thoughness, but to the skills of political marriages, that raised the family from Sabine countryside into the center of Roman nobility. In this the Porcii Catones were much alike other aspiring new families, which wanted to have their place in the sunshine of Roman politics and society. It doesn’t take away anything from genuine uniqueness of both elder and younger Cato, but it puts their lives into a perspective.

My family has more censorships than yours

The republican Rome was a society of many layers, many networks, many degrees and many signs of the importance and influence of the family, as well as of the individual. At the political field there was a system of cursus honorum, a chain of ever more prestigious public offices, which one was supposed to climb in certain order. Typically one couldn’t skip offices and there was always one more step to take to satisfy the ambition of individual and the craving of the family to rise to the top of the society, even for a short moment.

The obvious high point of the career was consulship, the top executive of Roman Republic. The importance of the consulship for the Romans is difficult to fully grasp in our modern minds: one year of being one of the two top magistrates of the republic was undoutably important office, but the importance attached into consulship was felt in other areas too. Being consul meant that forever on, the year of your consulship was named according to you: in the year of consulship of Domitius Ahenobarbus and Fannius. That was one way to reach immortality in the Roman sense: as long as you were remembered, you were dead, but not gone. Also the number of consecutive consulships in generations (father-son) was basis for recognising the nobilitas, the cream of the cream of the Roman society. So the consulship was very important for both the individual and for the family.

I have previously written about the number of consulships (here and here), so I will not deal with that subject now in any length. However, I want to move one step higher. After consulship one was expected to serve as military commander, provincial magistrate or in the senate assignments in the field of foreign policy. After an interval of few years one could try the final elected step in the public career, the censorship.

The office of censor was not part of the official cursus honorum and it was a special kind of office in other ways too. The term in office for a Roman magistrate was one year, but the censores served five year term. The highest offices of praetor and consul carried imperium, the military command power within it, which effectively meant that consules and praetores could enforce their decisions with violence, if necessary. Censor didn’t have an imperium. Instead censores were responsible for census, which also meant they were in charge of arranging the dignities of the Roman society into proper order: everyone into their place. They also maintained the list of senators. Their power was very real, even without imperium. The office of censor thus carried great amount of prestige, the currency of influence in the Roman republic.

The number of censors between the years of my focus, 150-50 was naturally much smaller than that of annually elected consuls. The number of censores was also low during these years also because during the 70’s only one pair was elected at year 70 because of the civil war and Sulla’s dictatorship. This means that any family with more than one censor during this period is really of very high prestige.

Here is a list of censorial families and their number of censorships between 154 and 50:

number of censorships – family – years of censorships

5 Caecilius Metellus (131, 120, 115, 102, 102)
3 Licinius Crassus (92, 89, 65)
2 Calpurnius Piso (120, 50)
2 Cassius Longinus (154, 125)
2 Claudius Pulcher (136, 50)
2 Cornelius Lentulus (147, 70)
2 Domitius Ahenobarbus (115, 92)
2 Valerius Messalla (154, 55)
1 Fulvius Nobilior (136)
1 Valerius Flaccus (97)
1 Scribonius Curio (61)
1 Servilius Caepio (125)
1 Servilius Vatia (55)
1 Marcius Censorinus (147)
1 Marcius Philippus (86)
1 Mummius (142)
1 Perperna (86)
1 Pompeius (131)
1 Licinius Geta (108)
1 Livius Drusus (109)
1 Lutatius Catulus (65)
1 Fabius Maximus (108)
1 Gellius Publicola (70)
1 Julius Caesar (89)
1 Cornelius Scipio (142)
1 Antonius (97)
1 Aurelius Cotta (64)
1 Aemilius Scaurus (109)

So 27 families reached the censorial status during the final century of the republic. 8 families reached more than one censorship. This means that those leading 8 families took 20 censorships from altogether 42 available offices, almost half. This is close to the percentage of the consulships grasped by the most influental families. The similarity is perhaps not great surprise, but offers a convincing evidence on the tendency of Roman society to form concentrations of power.

One also finds familiar names at the top listing when comparing the 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

At the censorship listing the dominance of the Caecili Metelli in the Roman politics during the 130’s, 120’s and 110’s is very evident, there is only period of 125-119 without a Caecilius Metellus as censor. Also one notices a very exceptional thing: both of the censores of 102 were of same family! This is unique occurance in the Roman history. They were cousins with common grandfater, consul of 206 Q. Caecilius Metellus Calvus. His sons were consuls in consequtive years 143 and 142 and they themselves were consuls at 113 and 109, at the golden period of the Caecilii Metelli.


The censorships of the family of the Caecilii Metelli between 154-50 BCE.

The concentration of both consulships and censorships to these couple of generations of the Caecilii Metelli family is extraoridinary to say the least. Macedonicus has four of his sons as consul and three of them reached censorship with his nephew Numidicus rounding the number into record 5 censorships into one family. And all this within 131-102, i.e. only 30 years time. As with the number of consulships, in the number of censorships the plebeian family of Caecilii Metelli stands alone.

The chart of the Roman noble families of late republican period, version 1.0

Big news! I have reached version 1.0 of the main family chart.

There has been multitude of updates and changes since the last big version was published here in May 2015:

-I have converted nearly all families present in the May 2015 version into new format which is both more pleasing to the eye as well as easier to read with much more information about each individual.

-There has been really many updates, edits and correction of errors in many families that were on the earlier versions of the chart.

-I have added information from MRR into all individuals of the chart, so now everything except those individuals which are still in old chart visuals are based on data of both RE and MRR, making it easy to identify individuals.

-I have also added some last families into the chart.

The road ahead from now on will concentrate into three areas:

1) Bringing last old visual format families into new format. This will include some additional research.

2) Researching some additional families. During the course of producing the version 1.0 I have become convinced that I need to add still some families into the chart to make it a coherent view into the late republican Roman nobility. Not all additional families will have many, or even one consul during the 150-50 period, but they still are important enough for the big picture.

3) Developing visual upgrade for version 2.0. The version 2.0 will include clearer visuals for inter-family relations. It will be a major piece of work and I’d except to start it at earliest next Summer, but it might take even longer than that just to reach into version that will serve as basis for version 2.0.

After the chart reaches version 2.0 I except it to remain as such only with some upgrades into data (filiation etc.) as my research continues deeper into each family. That is why this version 1.0 is so significant: in many ways it marks the half-way mile post in my project.

You can access the full-resolution version of the chart by clicking the here.


The main family chart version 1.0: Late republican era Roman noble families with filiation and inter-family relationships illustrated as well as information about individuals themselves. Click here for full resolution image.

Valerii Messallae and a paradigm change of Roman social survival game rules

The family tree of the Valerii Messallae

As with the Valerii Flacci, we dont’t know too much about the Valerii Messallae during the republican period. Their rise to consular status was at 263, but of those early consuls of the family we know relatively little. And again we see ”only one consular son” phenomenon with them.

Valerii Messallae

The family suffered eclipse after consul of 161 and reached consular level after interval of 100 years again at 61. Interesting to note is that Valerii Flacci flourished exactly at this period having consulships at 152, 131, 100, 93 and 86. And vice versa, the Flacci didn’t have any consuls after 86, in fact they were extinct within a couple of generations.

Valerii Messallae on their part had their prime years of influence and status only in coming. During the Augustan period the family was one of the most inflental ones and in fact one of the few strong republican era families that managed to hold on their influence under empire. Of the family also rose notorious Messalina, wife of emperor Claudius.

Paradigm change of the Roman social survival game rules

One can speculate if the reason behind the success of the Messalla branch and also the fall of Flaccus branch was changing of the sources of social prestige. As noted with Flacci, the family didn’t care for marital arrangements (at least to our knowledge) whereas Messallae seem to have shifted their focus already at the generation preceding consuls of 61 and 53.

The mother of consul of 53 (M. Valerius Messalla Rufus) was Hortensia, sister of the famous court speaker. Sister of Rufus, Valeria, also became the fifth (and last) wife of Sulla. The generation after this also had several marriage arrangements and flourished in the inner circle of Roman nobility during the Augustan period.

While we must avoid making too far reaching interpretations beased on the Valerii Flacci and Valerii Messallae, it certainly is intriguing to think that there might have been a change in the rules of the Roman social survival game and that this change has been so drastic as to act as watershed for very survival of the family lines. The popular phrases of paradigm change and disruptive change come to ones mind.

The rise and fall of the Valerii Flacci

The life and careers of two identically named, but about 130 years apart lived Valerii Flacci are very good examples of what the careers and lives could be in the Roman nobility at the late republic. The consul of 195 L. Valerius was great-great grand father of praetor of 63, so they were from the same direct family line.

A coin by a L. Valerius Flaccus from 108.

L. Valerius Flaccus (cos 195)

The consul of 195 already belonged into nobility: his father and grand father had been consuls at 261 and 227. Despite this illustrious lineage he was also an open-minded for plebeian contacts, something of which Valerii in general have always been known. His most famous protege, even friend, was M. Porcius Cato (the elder Cato).

The career of L. Valerius expanded for over 30 years:

-Tribunus militum 212, Second Punic War
-Aedilis curulis 201
-Legatus 200, in Gallia under the command of praetor L. Furius Purpurio
-Praetor 199, commanding Sicily
-Consul 195, command area: Italy against invading Gauls
-Proconsul 194, continued consular year command against Gauls in Italy
-Legatus 191, in Greece against Aetolians under the command of consul M´Acilius Glabrio
-Triumvir coloniae deducendae 190 and 189, founded Bologna and supplied Cremona and Placentia
-Censor 184
-Princeps senatus 184
-Pontifex 196-180

Map of the First Punic War.

Valerius met Cato during the Second Punic War and it was a start for lifetime friendship and political alliance, of which more later. In the war itself Valerius took part into important Roman victory at Beneventum, where Romans captured Carthaginian commander Hanno’s camp thus preventing Hanno aiding other Carthaginian troops. However the war that had last up to this point 6 years already would still continue for another 11 years and end only at 201, the year of Valerius’ curule aedileship.

We don’t have a record of Valerius’ offices during the rest of the war, but considering his office as legate of L. Furius Purpurio in Gallia, we might guess that he was not idle. Purpurio had a mission to defend the Roman Gallia against Gallic tribes, but he had only 5000 troops against 40 000 Gauls, who were lead by Carthaginian Hamilcar against the peace treaty with Rome.

M. Porcius Cato the elder.

Next year, 199, Valerius was praetor in Sicilia and his ally Cato was an aedile. The men shared liking for traditional Roman values against new breed of hellenised Romans like Scipio and Flamininus. Valerius and Cato both supported frugality even to a point of ascetism. Thus 198 Cato as praetor in the province Sardinia followed his ideals and was remarkably frugal in all expenses.

At 195 Valerius and Cato held consulship together and enacted laws against luxury as to be expected. Valerius was sent as commander to protect Italy against invading Gallic tribes and Cato was sent to wage war against Hispanic tribes. Valerius continued war against Gauls also as proconsul after his consular year.

The next command for Valerius was under consul M’ Acilius Glabrio and this time too, Cato was there. Both men were present at the battle of Thermopylae, where Roman forces achieved a devastating victory over Antiochus III of Seleucids and the Roman commander Glabrio gave Cato the credit of the decisive maneuver as of result of which the Greeks decided to flee from the battleground.

Antiochus III of Seleucids.

After these military missions Valerius served as member of three men commissions of first strengthening the Roman colonies of Placentia and Cremona and then to establish Roman colony of Bononia (Bologna).

After couple of years during which we have no record of either Valerius or Cato holding a public office we see them winning the elections for censor for term starting at 184. This most dignified of Roman public offices was a Roman peculiarity. They were in some matters below of even praetores in rank, but still fully independent within their own office and the office was regarded as sacred. Added to census the public moral was their regimen.

One could say that Valerius and Cato were obvious choices from their generation for this special office: both being stern moralists and very conservative in their views. Their censorship indeed is still famous (or notorious, from another perspective) of the severity. It can be said that their censorship was a conservative reaction against the deep changes happening in Roman society after frist Punic Wars. Valerius and Cato expelled many notable men of their time from the Senate and imposed tight restrictions against luxury.

Censorship was the last office Valerius and Cato shared. Cato was younger than Valerius and continued being active in the society without ever having any public office anymore. He continued to have great influence due his remarkable career and personal qualities. Valerius still had one public office to climb. He was appointed as princeps senatus at 184.

Princeps senatus was the first speaker in Senate and while having no imperium (command authority), the post was regarded as ultimate honour that a Roman statesman could achieve. Usually one had to have been both consul and censor, have a long career in politics and to be generally respected amongst senators. The power the office holder had was very political in nature: he was to have first speech in all matters and this way princeps could have great influence in tone and contents over all ensuing discussion of the matter in the Senate.

Valerius was first of his family line to achive this dignified position and indeed there was only one other, L. Valerius Flaccus (cos 100), his great grandson, who achieved this position from their family. Valerius died at 180 as one of the leading statesman of his era.

In the life and career of Valerius we can see many many typical Roman attributes of the era.

His career was like a model of ideal Roman career of military commander statesman, who took succesfully part into the great wars of his times.

Valerius was also an ideal conservative Roman, frugal, stern but just, respected also by his opponents.

We can also see typical Roman way of strong personal alliances in his career. Sharing of several magistracies is far from atypical in Roman system, where one needs strong allies to win elections. Valerius choose Cato as his ally and this obviously was a very successful choice, Cato being able to gather great support from different groups and individuals.

Also e.g. Valerius’ legateship under L. Furius Purpurio in Gallia in year 200 bore fruit five years later as Purpurio was consul in 196 and thus responsible for the elections of consuls of 195, where Valerius and Cato were victorious. This too is typical pattern in Roman politics: the current consuls had great influence in the outcome of the elections for next year and we see many alliances between families working this way.

Valerius was also the leading member of his family and raised it even higher into nobility than his consular ancestors had done. He is third generation consul and there was to be three more generations of Valerian consuls after him, which is a rare achievement for Roman family.

Valerius was born in the decades after the First Punic War and lived his early adulthood during Second Punic War and this era with its very cruel wars probably had a great influence on how Valerius saw life in general and shaped his conservative views further. He belonged into generation of Roman military commander statesmen and while we know little of his private life, he was probably idolised also inside his family, if for nothing else, then being first princeps senatus of his family.

The life and times of his great-great grandchild L. Valerius Flaccus, praetor of 63, were very different.

Rome and Carthage at the beginning of the Second Punic War.

L. Valerius Flaccus (pr 63)

The father of this younger Flaccus was the consul of 86 and belonged to last golden generation of Valerii Flacci. Valerius Flaccus, consul of 195 above, had one son, consul of 152, who in turn had two sons, consul of 131 and another rather unknown son. Son of consul 131 was to become consul at 100 while his cousins, the two sons of otherwise unknown C. Valerius Flaccus mentioned before, were to become consuls at 93 and 86. Younger, consul of 86, was father of our younger Flaccus. So with 7 generations of consuls, with three consuls in his fathers generation, there must have been an enormous pressure for young Flaccus to match the success of previous generations.

C. Marius.

To understand his life we need to first take a look into his father’s career. His advance in the cursus honorum was typical of Roman of his status. He was a military tribune at year 100, when his uncle was consul with C. Marius (his sixth consulship). He then proceeded to be elected as aedile and praetor. He was designated with one of the most richest provinces, Asia, and this can be taken as a sign that Valerii Flacci were strongly allied with Marius and his followers. He also continued his term as propraetor of Asia after praetorship.

It is possible that father Flaccus was also the commander of a cavalry unit near Rome in Ostia, which switched sides to Marius at 87 during the civil war between Marius and Sulla. In any case father Flaccus was elected as suffect consul next year when Marius died shortly after beginning his seventh consulship. Father Flaccus was faced with debt crises right away, with Rome’s economy in danger to collapse. He ordered immediate 75% write off of the debt (both private and government) and the financial situation eased considerably.

L. Cornelius Sulla Felix.

During his consulship Sulla was gathering strength in the east. Father Flaccus and his consular colleague Cinna decided to respond into Sulla’s diplomatic and military build up and Flaccus was sent to the province of Asia with two legions. His son (our praetor of 63) was with him. The campaign was ill-fated. Not only heavily outnumbered by Sulla, but also suffering from storms, and not nearly all of the troops even reached the area.

Father Flaccus’ elder cousin (consul of 100) was declared as princeps senatus and his policy was to try to find a solution to start negotiations with Sulla, if possible. One of the great mysteries we have about the Valerii Flacci family is that shared father Flaccus his cousins’ point of view in this. It might be, as otherwise it is difficult to find a motivation for events of winter 86-85. Then father Flaccus’ sub commander C. Flavius Fimbria mutinied and killed father Flaccus. Fimbria was a devout Marian, so his motivation could be to prevent Flaccus from negotiating with Sulla. A slight support for this theory also comes from the fact that while Flaccus was in command, Sulla did not commit into decisive battles against his troops.

In any case the death of his father in Asia was one of the defining moments of young Flaccus’ life. He was under 20 years old, on his first military campaign, and when his father was killed in mutiny, he had to flee for his life. Flaccus fled into his uncles (cos 93) camp in Gallia. His uncle was one of the strongest men at this time controlling both Gallic and Hispanic provinces.

The start of the official career of younger Flaccus then was under exceptional circumstances of Sullan-Marian civil war. It was also to be continued in similar vein with both of his powerful relatives, princeps senatus (cos 100) and uncle (cos 93) switching sides to Sulla. The murder of his father may have accelerated the run of events, but there are indications that both elder Flacci were already turning their allegiance into Sulla. Younger Flaccus in any case served in his uncle’s force in Gallia as military tribune still in 82.

With Sullan reforms of the state and Roman society returning into normal state of affairs, also the career of younger Flaccus was steered into more traditional direction. He served as military tribune also in Cilicia under Servilius Isauricus. At 76 he was a member of special commission of three to aquire surviving Sibylline books. He was elected as questor for 70. During his quaestorship he was sent into Hispania to serve with M. Pupius Piso and also got prolonged proquaestorship for 69 there. After this is immediately served as legatus during 68-66 in Crete in the forces of Caecilius Metellus (future Creticus).

As consul for 69 and proconsul 68 Metellus took up command against the Crete. Crete had been supporting king of Pontus Mithridates against Rome and also sponsoring several pirates of the area, which were great nuisance and even a danger for Rome. Metellus started a succesfull offensive and captured several Cretan cities. At the same time Pompeius had been given an extra ordinary mission against the pirates at whole mediterranean and was also making progress. The Cretans saw an opportunity themselves and declared surrender for Pompeius, not Metellus. Probably they believed to achieve more lenient terms of peace from Pompeius, for whom Crete was just one pirate base, whereas for Metellus Crete was the whole of his command. The plot was at first successfull and Pompeius accepted Cretan surrender and even ordered Metellus to leave the island with his troops. Metellus however declined and continued the war and swiftly subdued the whole island and declared it as province of Rome.

Cn. Pompeius Magnus.

Traditionally Metellus should have recieved a triumph for his victory, but Pompeius managed to prevent it until 62, when Metellus was finally a triumphator and recieved also cognomen Creticus. Metellus got his revenge by delaying the Senate approval for Pompeius’ reorganisation of Asia after pirate war until year 60.

We can only guess what Flaccus thought about these internal strifes between Metellus and Pompeius, but perhaps a hint can be taken from the fact that after two years with Metellus in Crete at 68-67, he took a post as legatus in Pompeius’ troops in Asia for 66-65 in war against Mithridates. His colleague there was Caecilius Metellus Celer who was distant relative (Creticus’ grandfather was great-grandfather of Celer). This Celer, btw, is famous of being Clodia’s husband and was probably eventually poisoned by Clodia at 59).

In any case after his legateship in the Pompeius’ troops Flaccus campaigned succesfully for praetor and was elected as such for the year of 63. We can safely assume that this was because of the support from Pompeius. It was Pompeius’ method to raise his supporters into power and advance his own career in this indirect way. At 63 we also see Cicero as consul, and he was also sponsored by Pompeius. During his praetorship Flaccus naturally was involved as chairman of the court in the Catilinian conspiracy and probably as payment for his services recieved rich province of Asia as his propraetorian appointment after consulship.

Flaccus was accused of embezzlement of funds after his term of propraetor and was defended in the court by Cicero and Q. Hortensius, the two most prominent public speakers of their era (Ciceros’ speech is known as pro Flacco). The charges were dropped, but there is no doubt of Flaccus’ guilt. In fact, Flaccus is usually held as most obviously guilty of all Cicero’s defence cases, Asia was in poor shape after Flaccus. Cicero knew this fully well, as his own brother followed Flaccus as propraetor of Asia. For Cicero a complication in the trial was that his brother would be facing same sort of trial (for good reasons too) when he would return from the province into Rome. Perhaps one should however give credit to Cicero in geniousness in the way he managed to successfully to defend Flaccus but also leave some ammunition of eloquence for the coming defence of his borther!

M. Tullius Cicero

For some reason Flaccus did not manage to gather enough support to be elected as consul in the coming years. Certainly he didn’t lack illustrious name nor probably money to run a successfull campaign, so probably the reason was that he didn’t have the final support from Pompeius, whose attention was directed into forming of the first triumvirate. Pompeius married Caesar’s daughter Julia in 59. Julia died in childbirth at 54 and the two men were drifted into civil war at 51.

Flaccus was sidetracked from the top political posts during this time and served as legatus of L. Piso in Macedonia in 57-56. Piso was consul of 58 and Cicero’s enemy: he allied with Clodius to have Cicero exiled, which was successul. Piso was rewarded with province of Macedonia for 57-55. Piso was also the father of Calpurnia, wife of Caesar. We know him also as probable owner of Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum. In any case Flaccus served with him in Macedonia until the recall of Piso because of the influence of then returned Cicero. Perhaps we can see Flaccus selecting Piso as a sign of leaving the Pompeian camp.

Flaccus accepted a command in Crete for 54, but died shortly after. His son was about 25 years old at this time and served as legate in the troops of Ap. Claudius Pulcher in Cilicia at 53-51, but died at the battle of Dyrracheum in 48 at the side of Pompeius. This son of Flaccus was the last Valerius Flaccus.

Republican era provinces of Rome at 78.

The life and career of L. Valerius Flaccus (pr 63) was then much different than his great-great grand father, consul of 195. Even though there was only 130 years between them, the Rome could hardly have been more different. The Rome of elder Valerius was Rome that was struggling with Carthage for the mastery of middle Mediterranean area, relatively small and poor power. Rome of younger Flaccus was rich beyond imagination and having more dangerous internal enemies than any real external enemies.

Elder Valerius knew all his life who the enemy is, and sought to restore traditional values. Younger Flaccus switched sides, witnessed the struggle between Marius and Sulla as well as the rise of Pompeius. Elder Valerius was known for his frugality and stern justice, the younger Flaccus for his embezzlement of provincial funds.

Both elder Valerius and younger Flaccus still belonged into highest circles of Rome. Both knew personally the great men of their time and were friends and enemies with them. Both also had their not small role in shaping the history of Rome, even history of world. Elder Valerius saw his house to rise into highest prominence in Roman politics, whereas younger Flaccus never reached consulship and all but saw the end of his line and house of Valerii Flacci.

The patricians are just different?

Valerii Flacci family

Gens Valeria is one of the old aristocratic families of Rome. Their name lasts from the end of monarchy to the first consuls of the republic, through republican centuries, to beginning of the empire and to the last period of empire – about 1000 years! The gens Valeria also enjoyed some rare privileges in the city of Rome, e.g. a special seat within Circus Maximus. Different lines of gens have been emerged during the centuries. The most active lines during the late republic politically were Valerii Flacci and Valerii Messallae with numerous consecutive consulships. One hardly could be born into more conspicuous family in the late republic!

The first Valerius Flaccus we know of is consul of 261 and from then on, 5 generations of his children reached consulship leaving only two last generations of Valerii Flacci without consuls. Six consecutive generations of consuls is a remarkable achievement, only two families had more: Domitii Ahenobarbi 8 generations and Cornelii Scipiones 7 generations.

The Valerius Flaccus family.

The family tree of the Valerii Flacci.

Considering the influence of the family one notices couple of things. First, there are relatively few members in the family we know of. Secondly there seems to be no daughters (but one) and thirdly we have very little knowledge of the marriages of the Valerii Flacci. These same observations can be drawn also from other patrician families. Plebeian families are very different in this respect: they are usually crowded with descendants, have lot’s of daughters and consequently we also know relatively many marriage arrangements between the families.

From Valerii Flacci we know of just one daughter, and nothing about her marriage, and two marriages. Both of the marriage contracts, we know of, come from single inscription source, which is not very clear. And if you expected such and old and illustrious gens to marry with equally famous gentes, you are going to disappoint. C. Valerius Flaccus (of whom we know just name and filiation), son of consul of 152, was married to Baebia. Their son, consul of 86, was in his turn married to Saufeia. Both gentes are small and compared to Valeria, of not 2nd, but 3rd grade gentes. This is quite remarkable.

I think the answer lies in that patrician nobility was such a closed circle, that they simply did not give away information about their families and were so distant to some of most valuable sources, like Cicero, that simply even their contemporaries did not know much of them. That is why to our knowledge the Valerii Flacci seem to have almost always only consuls in each generation and no daughters at all. Also if the marriages have been with e.g. ancient Sabine families, who were not active in Roman politics, or at least not spectacularly successful in it, we know nothing of the wives of the Valerii Flacci.

What this really means is that the survival strategies of ancient patrician families were different than younger plebeian families at the end of republic. If not fewer, then at least different choices seem to have been open to them. Only hint of political marriage can be seen at C. Valerius Flaccus marrying Baebia, but it is a long shot too: the great grandfather of C. Valerius, P. Valerius Flaccus (cos 227) had fought against Hannibal with praetor Q. Baebius Tamphilius during the Punic wars about 100 years earlier.

Of course there might be many marriages we simply are not aware of, but I think we can safely assume that the pattern is there: Valerii Flacci and other patrician families did not (necessarily) use political marriages as means for survival – the patricians were just different.

Servilii – just another patrician family (so not)

There are Roman noble families that have high profile and which are very visible through one or couple of extremely famous members. Licinii Luculli might be an example, or Domitii Ahenobarbi. Theirs are relatively small families of few representatives, but who seem to dominate the Roman history as we know it. Then there are families that one bumps into seemingly every turn: Caecilii Metelli or perhaps Cornelii Lentuli might be such. Of those one is hard pressed to mention any particular member, even while the families had great many consulships and complex marital ties to everywhere. Then there are cryptical families, which sound important ones and had fair number of consulships, but of which we know next to nothing, Calpurnii Pisones or Aurelii Cottae, for example.

And finally there are Servilii, a family like no other. They had few family lines and some consulships, but that is about everything normal in them. First of all, they are probably the only noble Roman family of late republic of which most well-known member is a woman: Servilia. Of her I have already written earlier here.

When one lists the consulships of Servilii, one also immediately notices a queer fact:

253, Cn. Servilius Caepio
252, P. Servilius Geminus (I)
248, P. Servilius Geminus (II)
217, Cn. Servilius Geminus
203, Cn. Servilius Caepio
203, C. Servilius Geminus
202, M. Servilius Pulex Geminus
169, Cn. Servilius Caepio
142, Q. Fabius Maximus Servilianus
141, Cn. Servilius Caepio
140, Q. Servilius Caepio
106, Q. Servilius Caepio
79, P. Servilius Vatia Isauricus
48, P. Servilius Vatia Isauricus (I)
41, P. Servilius Vatia Isauricus (II)

Of 15 consulships of the family, 8 were on consecutive years, and in fact we have three Servilii as consules at 203-202 and at 142-140! It’s not unique to have brother fixing consulships to each other, e.g. Caecilii Metelli had one pair of brothers following each other at 143-142, but it is very exceptional to have this continuum of office holding as a clear family strategy. I think we must assume that Servilii for some reason preferred this arrangement. It doesn’t seem to bring them any particular benefit, however. Much more common thing to do was to get an ally from other family to run with you for consulship, e.g. Mucius Scaevola and Licinius Crassus at 95. So one very much open question is, why Servilii wanted to have consuls from the family on consecutive years?

Were Servilii isolated and shy away from forming alliances? No, that could not be farther from the truth. Servilii had very complex and varied ties to other leading families through marriages: Caecilii Metelli, Claudii Pulchri, Junii Silani, Junii Bruti, Aemilii Lepidi, Julii Caesari, Livii Drusi, Licinii Luculli and Lutatii Catulli were all connected through marriages. Along with Claudii Pulchri and Caecilii Metelli the Servilii were the most ambitious family in forming marital ties.

Family Servilius

The family tree of Servilii with connections to the most important noble families of late Roman republican era.

There seems to have been two different kind of political marriages in Rome: those that were one-directional and those that were bi-directional. One-directional marriage arrangement is unbalanced in way that either husband or wife is clearly of weaker position in the society. For example M. Tullius Cicero was below his wife Terentia both in liniage as well as in money. This kind of one-directional marriage arrangement between the families is usally unique, e.g. the sister of the husband did not marry the brother of the wife. Bi-directional marriage arrangements were much more balanced, and cemented family ties to close alliances. If Servilii would have been isolated, their marriage ties to other families would have been pretty much one-off arrangements with different families, and probably include a fair number of marriages with families of remarkably lower social status. Servilii were a patrician family (though it also contained a plebeian branch) and their marriages with other patrician families were notably close. They also had bi-directional arrangements with some of the leading plebeian families. So the marriage arrangements were serious political alliances for the Servilii.

Also a notable characteristic of the Servilii was that while the family had some successful generals and some influental politicians, there seems to be no single or defining trait in the family. With Scipiones one expects culture and military glory, with Scaevolae juristical expertise etc. but with Servilii there seems to be none. In this they represent the Cornelii Lentuli: a highly important, but mostly unnotable family. There is nothing to suggest below than average talents, but certainly there seems to be lacking also the brilliance. While popular enough to attain several consulships, the family also seems to have been lacking a genuine support from the people of Rome. Perhaps the only really popular was the reasonably late consul of 79, P. Servilius Vatia Isauricus, who also lived to remarkable 90 years of age.

Old Isauricus was still in one way a typical Servilius. During his old age he turned against Clodius, son of his consular colleague Claudius Pulcher. While that was not unheard of, it was usually a custom that consular colleagues kept their pact during the coming years also. What is interesting, is that we don’t know any compelling reason for Isauricus to turn against his former ally’s son like this. All we know he could have kept silent and probably would not be condamned for doing so by his peers. Perhaps this gives some clue about the Servilii way? Consul of 106 Caepio and his son, praetor of 91, both were not shy of doing unpopular things. It also seems that the Servilii in general didn’t have any clear goals how to shape the Roman state to suit their vision. Indeed it seems pretty much to be the case that didn’t have any big vision.

Perhaps the secret of the Servilii is that they were so influental, that their status was pretty much guranteed, and all they cared about was to maintain that status. They did not concern themselves on anything else. They ensured their influence, but did not use it actively on anything but to keep things as they are for their family status, and did not seek any lasting position in the history books. Strangely enough this has made them to stand out as many ways exceptional family.

I have already written about Servilii and families and individuals connected to them at here, here and here.

Licinia who was banned to mourn for her husband

When a certain Quintus Antyllius was beaten to death by angry crowd in 121, a chain of events, that left its mark to the Roman history forever, was set loose. This Antyllius was an attendant of L. Opimius, consul of the year, and his killers were supporters of C. Gracchus and M. Fulvius Flaccus. This murder, that Gracchus actually did not approve, was a needed pretext for Opimius to get a senatus consultum ultimum, an emergency degree of the Senate to defend the republic – also establishing this very dangerous political tool for future years to be used as ultimate measure in internal power struggles.

L. Opimius got the Senate to arm itself and to command all members of the equesterians to arm themselves along with two slaves each and to assemble next morning. At this point there was no turning back from the road of violence. Fulvius and his supporters armed themselves for the morning meeting from the spoils of Fulvius’ Gallic battles, but C. Gracchus refused both to wear armour and to arm himself with anything else than a dagger.

When Gracchus was leaving his home, his wife Licinia begged him not to go as she knew as well as he, that Gracchus would be killed if he went to the public meeting. When Gracchus went and left Licinia crying, the slaves carried devastated Licinia into her brother’s house.

After half-hearted attempt for negotiations L. Opimius ordered the violence to start and following tumult saw Fulvius to be put into death along with his oldest son and many supporters. Gracchus fled having taken no part into fighting and after a prayer in the temple of Diana at Mons Aventinus continued his escape into a grove across the river Tiber sacred to Furrina, where he committed a suicide.

Opimius had announced, that whomever brings the head of Gracchus to him will recieve its weight of gold. A certain Septimuleius did this and the head was weighted to be exceptionally heavy – Septimuleius had removed the brain and poured melted lead into the skull! The bodies of Gracchus, Fulvius and 3000 of their supporters were thrown into Tiber. The property of dead was confiscated and their wives were forbidden to mourn their husbands. Licinia was also stripped of her dowry. Opimius on the other hand built the temple of Concordia to the Forum Romanum – a distasteful act to many.

Later on Licinia’s cause was successfully defended by a half-brother of his father and she got the confiscated dowry back. Who was this Licinia?

The family tree of the Sempronii Gracchi and Licinia Crassa, the wife of tribune C. Sempronius Gracchus.

The family tree of the Sempronii Gracchi and Licinia Crassa, the wife of tribune C. Sempronius Gracchus.

She was daughter of P. Licinius Crassus Dives Mucianus, consul of the year 131. Father Mucianus was originally known as P. Mucius Scaevola and was a son of P. Mucius Scaevola (consul of 175) and Licinia (a sister of consul 171 P. Licinius Crassus and consul of 168 C. Licinius Crassus). Mucianus was adopted by consul of 171 Licinius Crassus, that is a brother of his mother. Mucianus married with Claudia, daughter of consul 177 C. Claudius Pulcher and unknown mother. Claudia’s brother was consul of 143 and her ancestors from father side were consuls in three generation. Also Mucianus was both biologically as well as through adoption of consular rank. So Licinia’s both parents were from the very top of Roman nobility of the 170’s.

Licinia’s husband C. Gracchus was also of very strong consular line. His father was consul of 177 and 163, the famous Ti. Sempronius Gracchus, who was one of the leading public figures of his era. Father Sempronius was allied with his consular colleague of 177, C. Claudius Pulcher and probably from this alliance also came wish to strengthen the alliance further by marriage of the offspring. Father Sempronius had son and Claudius had a grand daughter Licinia from his daughter Claudia. Licinia also brought family connections with Licinii Crassi and Mucii Scaevolae, both of which were leading families during the period. Interesting enough, C. Gracchus’ brother Tiberius was married with, you guessed it, Claudia, who was a daughter of consul 143 Ap. Claudius Pulcher, himself son of consul 177 Claudius! So the two families were very tightly allied.

C. Gracchus had very high profile family also from his mother’s side. His mother Cornelia Africana was a daughter of the Scipio the elder, P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus, consul of 205 and 194 and the hero of the Punic Wars. Cornelia’s mother was Aemilia Paulla, a daughter of L. Aemilius Paullus, consul of 219 and sister of L. Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus, consul of 182 and 168. Both Scipones and Aemilii Paulli were leading families of the previous era and Cornelia Africana surely the most high born lady of her time according to the Roman way of looking things.

One way to look at the life of Licinia is to view it as pre-arranged in many ways. With such high born parents she would be marrying some other equally high born man. The same goes with C. Gracchus. We do not know about their relationship anything else than the dramatic parting of Gracchus to meet his destiny, but perhaps we can read between the lines that the marriage was a happy one. Why Opimius also wanted to confiscate the dowry of Licinia? Perhaps there we can see also a hint of Licinia being politically active figure in some way too? The successful court case some years later, advocated by the consul of 133 P. Mucius Scaevola, a biological brother of Licinia’s father as well as a son of Licinia the elder (wife of consul 175 Scaevola), also tells us about changing political situation in Rome and perhaps a little something about Licinia and her position in the Roman society.

Still, the central influence of the family connections in the Roman politics is very clear. In fact, drawing the distinction between politics, family, life and death is difficult. C. Gracchus’ elder brother was murdered because of his politics. C. Gracchus continued and was in fact even more radical than his brother and was driven into suicide.

This can be seen also from the lives of two other of the closest women in C. Gracchus’ life: his mother and sister. The conservative opposition to the agenda of brothers Gracchi was lead by the Scipiones before L. Opimius. When the elder Scipio died in unclear circumstances, both Cornelia Africana, his own daughter and mother of Gracchi, as well as Sempronia, the sister of Gracchi were suspected of murdering him in their turn! Sempronia was also the wife of Scipio the younger (who was a biological child of L. Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus the consul of 182 and 168, i.e. brother of Cornelias mother Aemilia), and we know that their marriage was not a happy one.

The family connections designed to unite, did not necessarily work that way. At least when Licinia and C. Gracchus had such deep and diverse family connections on top of, or actually behind the more faster changing daily political struggles and alliances. For Licinia and Gracchus they were questions of life and death. They even controlled how Licinia was allowed to express her feelings for the death of his husband. What Licinia thought of all this, what she felt? We never know.

And what happened to L. Opimius? He was appointed as a commander to the Jugurthine War, was bribed by king Jugurtha to delay the war and spent rest of his days in exile.

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.