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.

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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.

How to survive in Rome

Let’s examine the family connections of the consuls of the year 177: C. Claudius Pulcher & Ti. Sempronius Gracchus.

Gracchus (consul of 177 and 163) was married to Cornelia Africana, a daughter of P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus (consul of 205 and 194) and Aemilia Paulla. This Cornelia Africana was politically probably the most interesting daughter of Roman nobility of her era. Her parents were both from the most influental consular families. Furthermore, Cornelia’s uncle was L. Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus (consul of 182 and 168).

This uncle Paullus Macedonicus had two sons. First one was adopted into family of Fabii Maximi: Q. Fabius Maximus Aemilianus (consul of 145). The second one was adopted by P. Cornelius Scipio (praetor of 174): P. Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus (consul of 147 and 134). This P. Cornelius Scipio, who adopted him, was Cornelia Africana’s brother, i.e. son of Scipio Africanus. Evidently the family ties between Cornelii Scipiones and Aemilii Paulli were very tight.

However, the ties were to become even more tighter. Adopted Scipio Aemilianus Africanus was to marry Sempronia, who was a daughter of Cornelia Africana with Ti. Sempronius Gracchus.

The other children of the consul 177 Gracchus, named as Gaius and Tiberius, were also to marry into important ruling families.

Younger Gaius married with Licinia Crassa, who as a daughter of P. Licinius Crassus Dives Mucianus (consul of 131) and Claudia (the daughter of C. Claudius Pulcher, consul of 177). The grandparents of this Licinia Crassa from paternal side were P. Mucius Scaevola (consul of 175) and Licinia. We know very little of this elder Licinia, but we know that her grandfather was C. Licinius Varus (consul of 236) and that her brothers were C. Licinius Crassus (consul of 168) and P. Licinius Crassus (consul of 171). This Publius was to become also adoptive father of her son, above mentioned Crassus Dives Mucianus. Note that these were far from being only familiy ties between Mucii Scaevolae and Licinii Crassi: I have written before about the consuls of 95.

But added to the alliance of the Scaevolae and Crassi, there is very interesting similarity between the sons of Cornelia Africana and Gracchus (consul of 177). As said above, younger Gaius married Licinia, who was a grand daughter of Claudius Pulcher (consul of 177), i.e. his father’s consular colleague. Elder Tiberius in his turn married Claudia, who was daughter of Ap. Claudius Pulcher (consul of 143). This Appius was the son of the above mentioned C. Claudius Pulcher (consul of 177). So both Gracchus’ sons were to marry grand childrens of his consular colleague!

Here is a simplified diagram of the above mentioned family ties between Sempronii Gracchi, Claudii Pulchri, Cornelii Scipiones, Aemilii Paulli, Mucii Scaevolae and Licinii Crassi.

Family ties between Sempronii Gracchi, Claudii Pulchri, Cornelii Scipiones, Aemilii Paulli, Mucii Scaevolae and Licinii Crassi.

Family ties between Sempronii Gracchi, Claudii Pulchri, Cornelii Scipiones, Aemilii Paulli, Mucii Scaevolae and Licinii Crassi. Click for larger image.

From these ties we can see how tight group the highest Roman nobility was. We have here the consuls of following years: 194, 182, 177, 175, 171, 168, 163, 147, 145, 143, 134 and 131. That is over 10 % of the Roman consuls between years 194 and 131, all in this closely tied selection. When counting all the consulships from these families from this period of 63 years, we see that over 19 % of all consulships are taken by the members of these families, that is about one fifth. Longest period when no one from these families was a consul is 7 years from 154 to 148.

Considering all other elected offices of the Roman state, which one had to be elected into before being elected into consul, it is safe to assume that that every year during this period some members of these families were serving as elected officials. Favours and returned favours must have been everyday occurrances. When we consider that also the offices of the Roman religion were part of the political system, and that the members of these families were also active in being selected into religious offices, the amount and importance of these contacts between these families grows evermore higher.

It is long known that marriages and adoptions were integral part of the Roman politics, but one really grasps the importance of them when one considers the system from the perspective of the survival of the family in the political system. There were no lone wolves in the Roman republic, one belonged into family. I have illustrated this by selecting the consuls of one year, and kept the listing of family ties in the minimum here for clarity. Still what we have discovered here, by mere scratching of surface, is complicated system of family alliances and contacts.

New Power Generation

During the years from 50 to 50 CE the composition of the highest Roman nobility saw great changes. Familiar names disappear from the scene and new ones arise. There is a great temptation to see this as an unique disruptive change. I would argue against attaching too much a label of uniqueness into this change. Families had risen and fallen also on the earlier centuries. I would prefer to see the change as quite normal state of affairs in the Roman society. I think it is an emotional labeling to talk about faster pace of change or anything like. The days and years passed on like before and even in cultural sense the change is not that great.

When one for example takes a look into the family of Junii Silani, one notices that first known Junius Silanus was the praetor of 212 M. Junius Silanus. During the era we can see that Junii Silani do themselves well. They have consulships e.g:

M. Junius Silanus, cos 25
C. Junius Silanus, cos 17
C. Junius Silanus, cos 10 CE
M. Junius Silanus, cos 15 CE
M. Junius Silanus, cos 19 CE
C. Appius Junius Silanus, cos 26 CE
M. Junius Silanus, cos 46 CE
D. Junius Silanus (torquatus), cos 53 CE

I would argue this is a good example that despite changes, the system remained pretty much the same, with some families rising, some falling from power.

I have gathered a diagram about one part of the new generation of Roman ruling nobility. I took three Junii Silani branches as a basis of it. Unfortunately we do not know how these branches are related to each other. One can guess that they are, but exact relations are unkown.

new power generation

At the diagram one can observe how the Junii Silani are allied strongly with Aemilii Lepidi and Servilii Caepiones. Also Junii Bruti have a role to play in the system.

M. Aemilius Lepidus

Let’s take further look into how the newly emerged families like Junii Silani integrate with the existing power structures. Take for example the M. Aemilius Lepidus triumvir (cos 46 and 42). His mother was Appuleia Saturnia, a daughter of tribune Saturninus, who fought against established upper class of Roman society. Later historians, especially leftist historians who believe progress in history, have painted Saturninus, Clodius, Marius, Julius Caesar and brothers Gracchi and their like to be romantic figures: protectors of the people, democrats etc. I do not favour these interpretations. When we look at the actions of the so called populares faction and compare them to the so called optimati faction, we see that both use the same kind of tactics to build a power base for themselves and equally cynical actions to further ones own and ones family fortunes.

Triumvir Lepidus is a good example of this. He marries two daughters of Servilia Caepionis. First he is married with Junia, whos father is M. Junius Brutus, Servilias first husband. Lepidus’ second Junia is Junia Secunda, daughter of Servilia with his second husband D. Junius Silanus (cos 62). In this way Lepidus allies himself with the Junii Silani and Junii Bruti. This is not the only connection between Lepidi and Junii Silani, however. Triumvir Lepidus’ brothers descendant, a certain Aemilia Lepida, is married with the consul of 19 CE M. Junius Silanus. Daughter of triumvir Lepidus marries another of triumvirs, M. Antonius. The Junii Silani also ally themselves with Cassii Longini and Domitii Ahenobarbi.

And this tactic we know very well: marry daughters into powerful families who are on the top or moving there, this is how the Roman nobility had functioned for centuries, nevermind ideology. I would say that in the grand picture, ideology is a luxury of an individual, political alliances on the other hand were a question of life and death – of survival – of entire families or family lines. Survival had the priority over ideology. That doesn’t mean that ideology wouldn’t have any value or meaning, but certainly it was not as central as sometimes argued.

During the civil war some families leave the stage and some new ones emerge. The Junii Silani are certainly one of the winners in the long run. And despite the fate of the triumvir Lepidus, the Aemilii Lepidi do not do that bad either. They both use same kind of tactics with marriages as any other Roman family of their era. So the new power generation is not that different from its ancestors.

Sempronia and the death of Scipio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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