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?

Advertisements