The Cornelii Dolabellae

The Cornelian families very many and even though we don’t always information on their relationships with each other, the number of Cornelians active at any given moment during the republican era is quite staggering.

Of some Cornelian families we know quite a lot, both e.g. Cornelii Scipiones and Cornelii Sullae, had such illustrious representatives that they shaped the whole Roman history, if not even world history. However we know quite little on obviously very influential Cornelii Lentuli.

To this less well known group of Cornelian families belongs also the Cornelii Dolabellae. They were a long running line of Cornelii, and we do not know when they separated from the hypothetical common ancestor of all Cornelii. Quite an influental family line they were still: they held consulships at least 283, 159, 81 and 44. So not every generation had consul, but the long family history of consular level extending for over 300 years is no little achievement. The line also survived long into imperial era helding consulships and important military posts under first emperors.

Cornelii Dolabellae

Drawing a familytree of Cornelii Dolabellae is not an easy task however: we know of very few father-son pairs and even less on marriages. In the following I have drawn known filiations and placed hypothetical generations into same levels chronologically. A picture emerges of vast multi-line family (e.g. cos 81 and pr 81 having both same first name). There are possibilities that e.g. RE 132 could have been the grandfather of RE 134 or father of RE 133 or son of RE 131… but we do not have any evidence to support these hypothetical connections. I have therefore opted to leave them out from the chart.

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Years 150 – 130 distribution of consulships for families and factions

There are some individuals towering above others in Roman politics from the last Punic War to the time of Ti. Gracchus. The most famous of them is without a doubt P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus Aemilianus (Scipio the Younger), but also Ap. Claudius Pulcher, Q. Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus and Ti. Gracchus are certainly amongst the central political players of the era. But added to those remarkable individuals the Roman politics worked through families and political factions.

While our sources are far from complete when it comes to period between 150 and 130, we can still form a picture of power balance in the leading class of Romans. Simply observing the distribution of consulships we can see which of the families were strong during this period and we also can see at least four factions of politicians.

Distribution of the consulships to families

During the 150 – 130 there were 43 consuls (at 130 a suffectus was needed). 20 of them were from single consul families during the selected years. 8 families held two consulships, one family 3 and one family 4. When we compare these figures to the distribution of consulships over period of 150 – 50 we notice that the number of consulships for single consul families is pretty much the same, about half of the consulships.

During the period of 150 – 130 families with 2-3 consuls held altogether 19 consulships which is a markedly larger portion than during 150 – 50 period, but with natural reason: father-son transition is much less probable during shorter interval. In any case at both shorter and longer period, the Roman system tends to favour family groupings and leave about half of the consulships for lesser families: 10 leading families had as many years in power as 20 lesser families. Divided equally, every second year there was a consul from one the leading families.

Calpurnius Piso 4
Cornelius Scipio 3
Cornelius Lentulus 2
Fulvius Flaccus 2
Claudius Pulcher 2
Caecilius Metellus 2
Servilius Caepio 2
Fabius Maximus 2
Hostilius Mancinus 2
Popillius Laenas 2
Quinctius Flamininus 1
Acilius Balbus 1
Marcius Censorinus 1
Manilius 1
Postumius Albinus 1
Livius Drusus 1
Mummius 1
Sulpicius Galba 1
Aurelius Cotta 1
Pompeius 1
Laelius 1
Junius Brutus 1
Aemilius Lepidus 1
Furius 1
Atilius Serranus 1
Mucius Scaevola 1
Rupilius 1
Licinius Crassus 1
Valerius Flaccus 1
Perperna 1

Political factions

The distribution of consulships to different families is one perspective to power distribution in Roman system, but equally important and interesting is distribution of them to political blocks. The Roman political system was not centered upon political parties, so while tempting, it is really misleading to talk about political parties in Roman context. Roman political blocks were mostly ad hoc -arrangements, coalitions of individuals whose interests happened to coincide or were made to coincide, temporarily. Some were just alliances united for one cause and quickly dissolved, some were more permanent, e.g. generations long alliances between families. Indeed, many belonged to number of alliances at any given moment and had to negotiate between crossing interests constantly. This was especially with older and more established families, while rising families and homini novi usually had allegiance to one patronus. However they too could switch sides when necessary or beneficial.

As the nature of political factions was so fluid and ad hoc, not too much emphasis should be given to their ideological coherence or try to seek too narrowly defined platform or program. Instead the focus should be more in the individuals and their relationships. For us there hasn’t survived a trace that these factions would even have recognised names for themselves, nevertheless the cooperation between individuals was there, so the factions did exist, but not in the same way as political parties do.

There were four distinctive long time factions recognisable for us: faction around Scipio Aemilianus, faction around Ap. Claudius Pulcher, factions of the Postumii Albini and faction of Aemilii Lepidi. We cannot place every consul into one of these groups. Of 8 consul we do not have enough information even to guess where their allegiance would lie and of 4 consul we know that they were either friends of Scipio or enemies, or in two cases both at different periods. This leaves us 31 consuls out of 43 which we can place with certain amount of trust into the four senatorial factions.

Faction of Scipio Aemilianus: 15 consulships
Faction of Ap. Claudius Pulcher: 7 consulships
Faction of Postumii Albini: 7 consulships
Faction of Aemilii Lepidi: 2 consulships
Friends of Scipio, who turned into opponents: 2 (Metellus Macedonicus was in Scipio’s faction during his consulship, Q. Pompeius wasn’t)
Enemies of Scipio, but political grouping unknown: 2

political-factions

Roman political factions and their consulships 150 – 130 BCE.

The faction of Scipio Aemilianus

With 15 + 1 consulships during 20 years time this was most definitely the leading faction. However, Scipio was far from dominating the politics. He was himself consul twice and at both occasions by special exemption being made. He was allied with Metellus Macedonicus during Metellus’ consulship, but their alliance didn’t last long. In fact, Scipio was much more successful in sponsoring rising talents outside the nobilitas than keeping or building traditional alliances into other leading families. The consuls of Scipio’s faction were:

150 M´Acilius Balbus
149 M’ Manilius
147 Scipio Aemilianus himself and C. Livius Drusus
145 Q. Fabius Maximus Aemilianus
143 Q. Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus
142 L. Caecilius Metellus Calvus and Q. Fabius Maximus Servilianus
141 Cn. Servilius Caepio
140 C. Laelius and Q. Servilius Caepio
138 P. Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio
136 L. Furius Philus and Sex. Atilius Serranus
134 Scipio Aemilianus himself
132 P. Rupilius

The high years of Scipio’s faction were 143 – 140, during which it had 6 out of 8 consulships, which is a remarkable achievement in Roman politics at any republican period. Scipio’s faction also held both consulships on four years: 147, 142, 140 and 136, which also is a noteworthy accomplishment.

The faction of Ap. Claudius Pulcher

Highly ambitious Ap. Claudius Pulcher was the center of another faction and an arch-enemy of Scipio. Pulcher managed to unite a large front against Scipio and he did it with very different methods than Scipio used to built his faction. Pulcher didn’t sponsor rising talents like Scipio, but rather used traditional marriage arrangements and building of common interests. The consuls of Pulcher’s faction were:

144 Ser. Sulpicius Galba
143 Ap. Claudius Pulcher himself
135 Ser. Fulvius Flaccus
134 C. Fulvius Flaccus
133 P. Mucius Scaevola
131 P. Licinius Crassus Dives Mucianus
130 C. Claudius Pulcher (suffectus, unknown relative of cos 143)

Even while the faction of Pulcher didn’t have both consuls at any year, it had a very strong position during 135 – 130, when it held 5 out of 13 available consulships.

The faction of Postumii Albini

The Postumii Albini were an old and influental family with strong ties to Calpurnii Pisones and Hostilii Mancini families. While during the years 150 – 130 there was only one Postumius Albinus as consul, the years were the high point of Calpurnii Pisones, who held 4 consulships and Hostilii Mancini having two consulships. If Pulcher’s coalition can be seen as a typical Roman network of ambitious individuals, then the faction of Postumii Albini can be seen as traditional Roman coalition of few of the leading families supporting each other in politics. The consuls of the Postumii Albini faction were:

148 Sp. Postumius Albinus Magnus and L. Calpurnius Piso Caesonius
145 L. Hostilius Mancinus
139 Cn. Calpurnius Piso
137 C. Hostilius Mancinus
135 Q. Calpurnius Piso
133 L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi

The Postumii Albini faction had both consuls for 148 and otherwise it had consuls with quite even interval of few years between.

The faction of the Aemilii Lepidi

The last of the factions is the faction of the Aemilii Lepidi. It was the smallest and least influental of the factions during the 150 – 130. It’s consuls were 138 D. Junius Brutus Callaicus and 137 M. Aemilius Lepidus Porcina, who both were also opponents of Scipio.

The importance of factions in Roman politics

While factions certainly weren’t like idological parties of modern politics, they still were very important in Roman politics because they gave continuity of influence over longer period of time, than what could be accomplished purely within immediate family relations. It also can be argued that factions were the factor protecting the republic from monarchic aspirations of individuals, because they created diversity and ensured power balance against any single influental individual, even as influental as Scipio Aemilianus was. Ap. Claudius Pulcher, while being ambitious, charismatic and unscrupulous still was far behind Scipio in general popularity and influence, but through his faction managed to keep Scipio in bay, as did the other factions. Indeed, uniting behind Scipio as well as uniting against him was one of the major factors in Roman politics of the era. It is noteworthy that those uniting with Scipio were mostly of individuals of low influence whereas the opponents of Scipio were mainly from old aristocratic families and thus the republican machinery kept on going despite the great concentration of influence into hands of Scipio.

Princeps Senatus – it’s lonely at the top?

Princeps senatus is a good example of the inventiveness and evolution of Roman political system. The office was outside cursus honorum, didn’t have any imperium and was only open to patricians. The appointment was for 5 years and so each new pair of censores appointed their choice to be princeps.

The real power of the position and source for its immense prestige was that the princeps senatus held the right to speak first in given subject in the Senate. According to the Roman system and how the Senate session worked, the first speaker managed usually control the ensuing debate by his speech – all the more if he was an accomplished orator. Gradually also other privileges were added for the position e.g. summoning and adjourning the senate meeting. Something of the prestige and meaning of the title for the Romans is that princeps is the title Augustus and his successors choose for themselves.

Here is the list of known principes senatus from 150 – 50, or actually until 89, because after that we do not have reliable records. As it is, even while the office was the peak of career and only accessible for a patrician, we have very incomplete information of the principes.

153/152 – 147 nemo
147 – ? P. Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum
? – ? ?
136 – 130Ap. Claudius Pulcher
130 – ? L. Cornelius Lentulus Lupus
125? – ?P. Cornelius Lentulus
115 – 89 M. Aemilius Scaurus

After 179 – 153/152 M. Aemilius Lepidus (cos 187) the office was vacant until 147, when Scipio Nasica Corculum, a son of cousin of Scipio Africanus (Scipio the Elder) and also a husband of his daughter, was appointed into it. Scipio Africanus had held the position at 199 – 184/183. Scipio Nasica Corculum began his term at 147, so his term should have ended at 142/141. We know he died 141, so probably there was someone appointed after him and before Ap. Claudius Pulcher (cos 143).

The appointment of Ap. Claudius Pulcher is in many ways a prime example of the position and eligability for it. Pulcher was not the most senior statesman when he was appointed. At first this seems to contradict the very idea of the position. Consul of 156 L. Cornelius Lentulus Lupus was the most senior patrician ex-censor living and as such a natural choice for the position. Also Scipio Africanus Aemilianus (Scipio the Younger) was alive and active, and as the destroyer of Carthage and otherwise highly accomplished citizen, he would have made a very natural choice for the most prestigious position of the republic. Ap. Claudius Pulcher on the other hand was not a military genious (you can read more about his triumph here) and certainly not senior in years compared to Lupus and Scipio. What then he did possess to justify the appointment?

Ap. Claudius Pulcher was a very ambitious politician. He evidently worked hard to form political alliances in old Roman way and to gather support in appearing at the Forum. There is even an anecdote of his verbal jousting during his first campaign for censor against Scipio Aemilianus, no other. Pulcher said to Scipio, that Scipio hardly knew anyone at the Forum (stinging against Scipio’s way of not frequenting at Forum), to which Scipio replied that Pulcher had got it right, because Scipio didn’t live his life to know many people, but to be unknown to no-one (which of course was sting against Pulcher, who could not match anywhere near the military glory and fame of Scipio). Scipio carried the election and was elected as censor in 142 and Pulcher had to wait until next time to be elected at 136.

Pulcher built his support base for a long time in many methods and his appointment as princeps can be seen as a culmination of his efforts. Pulcher’s daughter was married to Ti. Gracchus. C. Grcchus, Tiberius’ brother, was married to daughter of P. Licinius Crassus Mucianus, who with his biological brother P. Mucius Scaevola, supported Gracchus and Claudius at 133. The other daughter of Mucianus was married to the Ser. Sulpicius Galba, the most famous orator of his time. It was Galba who in 149 had defended Q. Fulvius Nobilior, who was the censor to appoint his colleague Pulcher as princeps senatus. All these persons were in opposition to Scipio.

So what Pulcher had, was the traditional extended and many layered network of contacts, friends, allies and services and counter services that made the Roman political life so complicated and dynamic environment. Scipio lacked this broad political support throughout the Senate. In this sense the system worked perfectly: only a candidate with wide support at each corner of the Senate could be appointed as princeps senatus – to reflect the broad consensus of the senate as the first speaker. No outsider or upstart could convince the system otherwise – not even the celebrated second Africanus.

It’s interesting to note that Cornelius Lentulus Lupus got his turn as princeps senatus after Ap. Claudius Pulcher, but Scipio never did. This underlines the fact that no loner could reach the peak position of the republic, there was everything else than lonely at the top: to get into office of princeps senatus and to get to set the tone in each senate discussion, you had to be a master networker. This I think tells the essence of what being princeps senatus was about.

I want my triumph, no matter what the Senate says

Other consul for 143 was Ap. Claudius Pulcher. Other describes it well, because the consul who really mattered was Q. Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus: he got the Hispanic provinces and the chance to finish the war against Viriatus for himself – a pretty sure spectacular victory after Macedonicus’ predecessor in Hispania Q. Fabius Maximus Aemilianus had taken care of changing the tide of war there. Noteworthy is that Fabius Aemilianus was biological brother of P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus Aemilianus (Scipio the Younger) and Metellus Macedonicus was at this moment Scipio’s political ally. So Scipionic clicque had the political scene set very well.

Ap. Claudius Pulcher on the other hand was a very opposite side of politics. He was the main rival of Scipio for the spotlight of Roman politics of the era. He was born into high nobility: his grand-grandfather was consul of 249, grandfather consul of 212, father consul of 177 and his uncles were consuls of 185 and 184. He was also a traditional Roman politician with actively forming ties and making alliances. He was known to be very ambitious and unscrupulous in ways to fulfill his high ambitions. A very different character from Scipio, who built himself an extraordinary career upon virtues of military skills and bravery and chivalrious deference for material things.

For such an ambitious politican with such burden of glorious ancestors, being the other consul did not suit at all. The opportunity came in the form of minor Alpine tribe of Salassi, who had some unsettled dispute with their neighbours. Pulcher went to the Gaul and instead of negotiations attacked against the Salassi. Unfortunately for Pulcher, the first invasion ended in Roman defeat with heavy losses. Pulcher had to device a scheme to change the direction of events.

Pulcher orchestrated a Decemviri investigation of Sibylline books, and from there was found out two things. First was an obscure rule that if Rome declares war against Gauls, the sacrifice for it has to be done in Gallic territory. As this wasn’t done, it was an obvious reason that the God’s did not favour the war. And as no-one knew of such rule, Pulcher obviously had made an innocent error, which would be corrected easily and Rome would ensure the favour of the Gods in Pulcher’s second attempt on Salassi tribe. The other thing found was that on-going big public work in third aquaeduct for the city of Rome should have been done differently and that public debate further steered the interest away from Pulcher’s embarrassing defeat.

So Pulcher got his war and for the second time was victorious. He let his troops plunder the tribal area thoroughly and also gathered a good loot for himself too. In fact his actions were considered even by Roman standard brutal and did not bring too much popularity for him. However, the popularity was not his major goal. Pulcher was after a triumph, which would have placed himself somewhat on par with his illustrious ancestors. His opponents in the Senate paid attention to this and consequently the Senate declined to give funds for arranging a triumph. While there was no formal law that Senate permission was needed, it was customary to follow its rulings on triumphs.

Pulcher was not satisfied with this. He wanted to have his triumph and was not wait for it. So he started preparations. We know one occasion before him that triumph was celebrated without Senate approval, so while not exactly new idea, his was at least highly uncustomary one. Pulcher’s enemies had still one card left: the plebeian tribunes. And it turned out that the tribunes were also against Pulcher.

In triumph, the triumphator (general celebrating it) was to move in chariot in parade procession on the streets of Rome. A tribune could prevent this by dragging the general out from the chariot, and general could not answer this with violence because the tribunes were untouchable by law of Gods. This presented a dilemma for Pulcher. However he found a truly ingenious and original way to handle the situation. One of his daughters was a Vestal virgin. Vestal virgins also enjoyed sacred protection and even a tribune of plebs could not violate a Vestal. Pulcher had his daughter then to accompany him in the triumphal chariot placed in a way to protect Pulcher from the tribunes! This is an unique event in Roman history, no other time a Vestal was needed to secure a triumph.

Perhaps the Pulcher’s triumph was a sign of times to come, where ambition and rivalry of the nobles of Rome would produce horrible civil wars and rule of law lost its meaning. Be it so or not, the Pulcher’s determination to celebrate a triumph was something of unique and exceptional. It also certainly tells a lot about the politics in Rome at the time of third Punic war.

Antonii – it’s complicated

The Antonii were, at least for what has survived to us, a rather small family. The family name is dominated by the memory of the triumvir M. Antonius, but for Romans before his time the most notable representative of the family was his grandfather, who was one of the most skilled speakers of his era. Grandfather Antonius (M. Antonius orator to differentiate him from M. Antonius triumvir) was also respected for his wisdom. Generations of Antonii before him we know very little. We have just few names, but no information about individuals or their relations. In the family tree below I have placed M. Antonius (trib.pl. 167) as his father, but he could also his grandfather. In any case we know that M. Antonius orator was M.f. M.n., and that tribunus plebis of 167 was his relative. Until the generation of M. Antonius orator the situation therefore is clear: we know little about Antonii.

The children of orator however are the generation where something peculiar happen to Antonii. The marriage arrangements of orator’s children and their children can be described only as being complicated. The centre-figure is the triumvir and his numerous marriages.

antonii

First M. Antonius triumvir was married to Fadia, a daughter of freedman, of which we don’t know more than that Antonius’ and Fadias children were all dead before year 44. The second wife of triumvir Antonius was his cousin Antonia, whom he divorced in order to marry Fulvia Flacca. This Fulvia was a daughter of Fulvius Flaccus, who was brother of another Fulvia who was married to L. Julius Caesar (cos 90) and their daughter Julia was triumvir’s mother! In other words triumvir Antonius married the cousin of his mother, Fulvia.

Triumvir Antonius had a daughter and two sons with Fulvia, and other of those sons, Jullus Antonius, married Claudia Marcella. This Claudia was a daughter of C. Claudius Marcellus and Octavia. This same Octavia also become triumvir Antonius’ fourth wife, so Octavia´s stepson Jullus married her daughter Claudia as the result of triumvir Antonius’ maritial arrangements!

To these quite remarkable achievements of M. Antonius in the sphere of marriage arrangements we can also add his contribution with no less than queen Kleopatra of Egypt herself: three children Alexander Helios, Ptolemaios Philadelphos and Kleopatra Selene II. We also might notice that triumvir’s blood ran through veins of some of the first Roman emperors as well as his and Octavia’s daughters married L. Domitius Ahenobarbus and Nero Claudius Drusus.

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.

porcii

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.

caecili-censori

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.