Cn. Pompeius Cn.f. Sex.n. Magnus or Pompey?

When I was in the university studying history, we were told to a point of boredom how flawed the Great Men History was. While methodological discussion is always very important, I couldn’t help asking myself then, what the heck lecturers meant by this attack. I didn’t recognise the phenomenon and I felt they were stucked into past decades discourses, into something that was way before my time. History professors stuck in the past, some irony there.

Now that I’m not attached into the academic world anymore I have come to appreciate their point of view more, and I’m taking a liberty of interpreting their meaning to be against history culture, not history students nor academic circles. History culture, or popular history, or representations of history in popular culture, whichever term is now in vogue, is still full of great men history. It’s not that it’s intentional violence against methodology, but popular productions need simple stories that focus into individual, and that’s all you need to lower yourself into the level of great men history.

The great men history means the quite flawed view of history, where historical events and developments are presented to be a consequence of will and actions of one individual, typically a well-born man. Usual hallmarks of this genre are idealizations of individuals, building saints over mortal men, forgetting their flaws or portraying their adversaries as thoroughly evil. Everyone surely agrees that this is wrong.

However, the question is more complicated than just evil Hollywood history vs. academic purity. History is not only facts, it’s interpretation. History is not a science where only facts exist or where the truth can be verified by numbers. History is part of our identity, so it’s also a psychological and cultural phenomenon – a past event can have very different interpretations depending on individual. Take any war for example: when you move on to make a historical interpretation on it, you’ll take a walk in a minefield.

Also it’s a question of the mission, role and meaning of history. Why do we create interpretations on past? What do we want to achieve by it? The ancient historians had a clear answer for this: to teach. There’s also the root of great men history, it originally meant to teach a moral lesson how to live your life and what to learn from the great leaders of past.

Now, for me as a history buff since something like 5 years old, the pedagogic value of history and great men history especially, has been there always. Like the characters of fictional literature, also the individuals of the past have been a source of contemplation, emulation and inspiration to me. A question that has been there ever since my pre-school years has been: why people do the things they do? As a school age kid I enjoyed immensely to read different presentations of great historical leaders. And I especially enjoyed the moments when I found something so compelling from a source I otherwise despised, that I had to update my own opinions. Without those moments I doubt very much I would have taken a life-long interest in history.

So when I went to the university, the over repeated condamnation of the great men history for me felt like the professors were stuck into the contemplations I had solved already in my pre-teen years: surely we were all adults (or thereabouts) as university students and didn’t need to dwell in the obvious: all men are mortal and have their traits seen as strengths or weaknesses depending on the interpreter. In fact, I felt that condamnation of the great men history was counter-productive. I felt strongly, and still do to a limit, that there is pedagogical value, or moral value, in the great men history. If we remove the moral lesson from history altogether, I think we remove a great deal of its value for humanity too. As humans, we have a great ability for abstract thinking and learning lessons from the past, without the need to necessarily make same mistakes again, and we should not waste that talent.

However, and now I’m finally coming to the point I try to make, the history is not just for moral upbringing, it needs its own ethical code as well. For me the prime ethical rule for making interpretations and representations of past is to make justice for the people of the past. The question I ask myself every time I write or speak about the past is that am I making the justice for the past people. Do I understood their view of the world, do I understand their culture, surroundings, their experience of events, their values? And if I do I think I do, then do I manage to translate this understanding in my own representations for my audience in my time and in my culture? Do I do justice to the past individuals as humans?

As a student of Roman noble families, the bulk of people I write about are very little known generally, and for these individuals fulfilling the ethical requirements of this work is quite easy, I don’t need to care about popular images of these people, as there are no such existing. However, the task is considerably more challenging with well-known figures of Roman history, who also tend to be controversial and loaded with meanings, motivations and interpretations of different kinds, piled up during the 2000+ years on these personae. How to approach individuals like Caesar or Pompeius, when whatever I say about them can be seen as taking a stand of some kind, a leaning into one camp of interpretators or another? With these over-used great men of history, the problem is how loaded their images are in the minds of my temporaries.

One problem I face with writing about Pompeius is then that am I writing about Cn. Pompeius Cn.f. Sex.n. Magnus or Pompey the Great? If I’m writing about the Pompey, then I’m writing about an individual, almost like a biographist, trying to find individuality and characterisations of an individual there, or perhaps I’m not writing just life, but life and times, in any case, the focus is on individual and more or less great men history. If I write about Cn. Pompeius Cn.f. Sex.n. Magnus, then I’m writing about an individual member of moderately influental late-republican Roman plebeian family.

With Pompeius this problem of great men history vs. making justice to the individual is markedly present: all seems to hint to that Pompeius didn’t want to conform to be just a typical member of gens Pompeia, or a typical member of Roman upper class. So, while typically one would make most justice (considering the historical individual) to a member of Roman upper class by emphasising the meaning of family networks, as the historical individual would have himself been very aware of the limitations of this cultural setting and conforming to it, one struggles to do this with Pompeius. Pompeius did practically almost everything he could to break free from these limitations and cultural traditions, he was a rebel, and did everything he could to build an exceptional image for himself. To make justice for such a person, wouldn’t great men history approach be ideal? It would represent him in a way he would himself like. However, doing so would also mean to make counter-justice to his family, and to other Roman families as well. This problem is very manifest in countless Pompey-biographies one finds everywhere.

The core of the problem is that Pompeius wished to be, and to be seen, as exception, but in reality he was as deeply tied into the surrounding time and culture as every other Roman was. His own family was as little exceptional as every other family. I’m not saying we should see gens Pompeia as without individual characteristics, but what I’m saying is that we should see Pompey in the setting where Cn. Pompeius Cn.f. Sex.n. Magnus was, as a member of Roman family and its networks, and that we should understand Pompey in the setting of gens Pompeia provided him, not as an idealised or exceptional individual. In this way, we will have both much more deeper understanding of the individual as well as do most justice to the people of the past.


Looking at the family tree of Pompeii during the republican period, one notices two things immediately: there are two main branches of the family, whose common ancestor, should one exist, cannot be traced and that the family on the whole has been active in forming alliances through marriages. The latter note shouldn’t come as surprise as it seems to be tendency of the lesser families to align themselves with more established families through marriages.

The strong alignment to the party of Sulla is also very evident through the marriage connections. Mucii, Licinii Crassi and Caecilii Metelli are abundantly also present. Also one notices some cumbersome (for us, but probably pretty straightforward for Romans themselves) multi-generational family relationship arrangements.

For example: Pompeius Magnus (cos 70, 55, 52) had a daughter with his wife Mucia tertia. This daughter Pompeia married first Faustus Cornelius Sulla and then L. Cornelius Cinna (cos 32). Cornelia and Cinna had a daughter Cornelia Pompeia Magna, who married L. Scribonius Libo (pr 80), and they had a son L. Scribonius Libo (cos 34). This younger Libo had a daughter Scribonia, who became the wife of Sex. Pompeius Magnus Pius (cos 33). This Pompeius Magnus Pius was of course brother of Pompeia Magna, who married cos 32 Cinna – so we jump some three generations and come back again almost to the starting point.

When we add here the fact that sister of cos 32 Cinna married C. Julius Caesar (the Caesar), who also married a Pompeia from the other branch of the Pompeii, we also get a sense of broader Pompeian family coordination. That makes one presume common ancestor for all Pompeii.

The image of the gens Pompeia starts to emerge where we can find very strong marriage connections to many of the leading families of their era: Cornelii Sullae, Marii, Julii Caesari, Licinii Crassi, Caecilii Metelli, Aemilii Scauri and Claudii Pulchri, within a relative short span of time few decades. While this speaks obviously about the importance of marriage connections, it also raises an observation about the importance of the Pompeii family. If they would have been an irrelevant family, they wouldn’t have managed to build such connections. Shear number of consulships before the Caesar’s civil war is not exceptional, but of course the achievement of three consulships for Pompeius Magnus is exceptional, while added to them there’s only his father consulship and consulships of father-son pair from the other branch of the Pompeii. The Pompeii must have had something valuable to offer for other more established families.

One hint can be found from the life of Pompeius Magnus’ father, consul of 89, Pompeius Strabo. He had won important victories during the civil war and after his consulship (cos 89) ended, he was ordered to disband his armies. However, he was reluctant to do so, and Pompeius Rufus (cos 88) was given order to get the troops of Pompeius Strabo under his command. Strabo refused and eventually was murdered. His son, the future triumvir Pompeius Magnus was also given order of give up his wife and marry according to the command of Sulla. Pompeius Magnus did so as he wad told. The fact was that the Pompeii were useful henchmen of much more important families and got their payment in the form of marital connections and thus growing influence of the family. However, this meant also great sacrifices and loss of freedom of action. I think this is the background one needs to understand about the character of Pompeius Magnus and why he wanted to break free from traditional limits of Roman statesman. One can only guess the pressure he must have felt in conforming the role the family had.

In fact, one perhaps finds same kind of pressure of family position in Pompeius Magnus as one finds in the younger Scipio. Both were obviously very talented, but also very troubled individuals, who were rebels, if not reformers in their setting. Against this background of very strong, if still quite different kind of, family pressure on them, one can find ideas and insights for their exceptional careers and exceptional deeds.


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


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.

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.

A coin with an aqueduct

A denarius issued at year 56 depicts a head of a man on one side and an equesterian statue over aqueduct on other side.

A bust of Ancus Marcius, behind Lituus augurum with text ANCVS.

On the other side text PHILIPPVS, an equesterian statue and aqueduct with text AQUAMR.

This is an extremely interesting piece of evidence from the last decades of the Roman republic. First of all this little coin can tell us a lot about how Romans constructed the history of their republic and more importantly their family. It also is about constructing an image for political purposes. And still it reveals us an interesting fact about one group of families.

Let’s start with the coin itself. The head belongs to ancient Roman king Ancus Marcius, as the text ANCVS tells us, there is practically no other alternative.

The text on the other side says PHILIPPVS, and with great certainity means that moneyer was L. Marcius Philippus, as even though we do not know exactly who this moneyer Philippus was and to whom he was related, the links to the family of Marcii on the coin are so evident, that moneyer had to be a Marcius Philippus, and with Lucius being first choice of praenomen in amongst the Marcii Philippi of the era, it’s safe to assume it as a praenomen here too.

What is interesting is the equesterian statue and aqueduct. The text on the aqueduct says AQUAMR (or AQUA MAR with ligatur), that is Aqua Marcia, a aqueduct of Rome built by Q. Marcius Rex (praetor of 144) about a century before the issuing this coin. It is also very probable that the equesterian on top of the aqueduct is the same Q. Marcius Rex as he had a statue at the end of Aqua Marcia.

So we have a coin depicting Rome’s fourth king and honouring Q. Marcius Rex issued century later by a L. Marcius Philippus.

Choosing a legandary king as motive for coin is not that peculiar, the obvious message being that the Marcii are ancient family with roots as long as the Rome itself. Certainly we don’t have any evidence for this claim, and most propably not everyone believed it even when the coin was issued, but we do not have any evidence actually against it either. In any case it was a claim that believable enough to be used in this very public way back in its time.

What is peculiar here is that Marcius Philippus has chosen to honour a Marcius Rex, a very distant relative as the Marcii Philippi and Marcii Regi had not had blood relations for at least four generations! It is not even certain that a blood relation actually existed, but perhaps we could assume there had been one.

The branches of the Marcii: Censorini, Figuli, Philippi and Regi.

The branches of the Marcii: Censorini, Figuli, Philippi and Regi.

Here is a diagram of the branches of the Marcii families: Philippi, Figuli, Regi and Censorini. Philippi and Figuli are somewhat close branches at 50’s with common ancestor within 4-5 generations back in the family. But there isn’t such connection between these two branches and the other branches of Marcii.

Is this coin a cheap trick to use the fame of the Regi branch by a Philippus? I think this is unlikely explanation as the Romans were very much family orientated and all the networks they belonged underlined the importance of family connections so it doesn’t seem probable that people wouldn’t recognise the difference between a Marcius Philippus and a Marcius Rex.

Perhaps a more probable explanation runs along the lines that the coin is a conscious effort to play down the differences between the two branches and tell the general public that they stand united. This is not common in the republican era Rome. Much more often the branches are quite clearly separated and have not that much to do with each other. Perhaps we should see the Marcii as an exception of this rule?

One way to approach this question is to look the list of consulships of the members of the different branches of the Marcii at this era:

Q. Marcius Rex was consul at 118
L. Marcius Philippus was consul at 91
Q. Marcius Rex was consul at 68
C. Marcius Figulus was consul at 64
L. Marcius Philippus was consul at 56

At the 60’s and 50’s there is a decade with three Marcii as consuls, so certainly this group of families was a formidable group at the era. Still the years in office do not follow each other so closely that any far-reaching support for any exceptional unity of the Marcii can be found.

However, when we look at the marriages between Marcii and other families, we note an interesting connection: marriages with Claudii Pulchri. The father of consul of 91 Philippus was married with Claudia, who was a daughter of Ap. Claudius Pucher, consul of 143. Q. Marcius Rex, consul of 68, was also married with Claudia, daughter of Ap. Claudius Pulcher, consul of 79, and his mother was Caecilia Metella, who was a daughter of Q. Caecilius Metellus Balearicus, consul of 123.

Now, if we examine the links between Marcii branches with Claudii Pulchri and Caecilii Metelli, there is a pattern to be seen in the list of consulships:

119: L. Caecilius Metellus Dalmaticus
118: Q. Marcius Rex
117: L. Caecilius Metellus DIadematus
92: C. Claudius Pulcher
91: L. Marcius Philippus
80: Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius
79: Ap. Claudius Pulcher
69: Q. Caecilius Metellus Creticus
68: L. Caecilius Metellus and Q. Marcius Rex
64: C. Marcius Figulus
57: Q. Caecilius Metellus Nepos
56: L. Marcius Philippus
38: Ap. Claudius Pulcher and L. Marcius Philippus

There is a clearly many generations long cooperation between these families, with key being the relationship between Metelli and Regi with common connection to Claudii Pulchri. In the family relationships diagram it looks like this:

Family links between Caecilii Metelli, Claudi Pulchri and different branches of Marcii.

Family links between Caecilii Metelli, Claudi Pulchri and different branches of Marcii.

So what this amounts to is that to understand, why a Marcius Philippus at the 50’s wanted to endorse Marcius Rex, is that they are part of the same network of connections, that formed an important power block in the Roman politics at the 60’s and 50’s, when political turmoil was increasing in Rome. Still this makes the connection between the distantly related families an exceptionally close one and the denarius in question here is an important and interesting piece of concrete evidence we have for this relationship.