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.


Scipiones et Laelii

One of the most proverbial multi-generation alliances is between Scipiones and Laelii. The elder Scipio and elder Laelius were very close allies both in war and politics. Scipio was naturally the leading party with the history, resources and connections of the Cornelii Scipiones. However, Scipio’s career could hardly have been possible without the support of men like C. Laelius, whom Scipio raised into consulship at 190. This was a standard procedure: more weighty statesman raises his friend into consulship and thus gurantees his own power too.

However, what makes this pair a lot more interesting are their off-spring. Scipio’s son adopted the son of extremely influental Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus, and this adopted son we know as Scipio the younger. C. Laelius had a son, C. Laelius the younger, who became as close ally of Scipio the younger as his father had been for elder Scipio. And again, younger Scipio raised the younger Laelius into consulship for 140.

And to add further interest, the alliance between Scipiones and Laelii was not sealed by marriages. This is interesting. Usually such strong ties would also include a marriage or two. There certainly would have been candidates of right age at both side, so we must look for another explanations, of which there actually are a number of:

1) There simply wasn’t need for Scipiones to the Laelii more closely with them – the success of Laelii was hugely dependent on the support of Scipiones. The Laelii would probably welcomed a marriage, but on the other hand the alliance with Scipiones being strong, that left the Laelii free to make arrangements with other families.

2) The arrogance of Scipiones: Scipiones of any generation were not actually known for their modesty and restrain in showing their importance. Marriage with low-born Laelii would have gone against Scipiones pride, they after all married with families like Aemilii Paulli.

3) Peculiar Scipionic trait of keeping it together in the family. The daughter of elder Scipio married a Scipio Nasica, a relative of her father rather than left family line and fortune to scatter about. This wasn’t only intra-family marriage within Scipiones. Probably the main idea was to protect and collect the considerable family fortune into one hands.

4) There was more to be gain by keeping potential enemies closer than current friends.

Whatever the reason was, the family-ties of Laelii seem to omit the connection with the Scipiones totally: a healthy reminder of the multitude of tactics the Roman families used to survive.

Scipiones et Laelii

2 x Laelia + 2 x Mucia + 2 x Licinia

This is very interesting 3-generation long pair of daughters. The younger Laelius had two daughters. Laelia minor married consul C. Fannius and elder Laelia married Q. Mucius Scaevola augur, consul of 117. So the daughters of younger Laelius both were married into consular level families, which if of course straight from the Roman nobility playbook. Scaevola was also a close ally of younger Scipio as was Fannius too. Scipionic circle in this case obviously meant wedding ring!

The elder Laelia and Scaevola had again two daughters, elder of which married a son of consular Acilius Glabrio (and their son became consul too at 67). The younger Mucia married L. Licinius Crassus orator, consul of 95, who also allied with Scaevolae and what was left of the Scipionic circle. This younger Mucia finally too had two daughters with Licinius Crassus, the younger of which married the son of Marius, who became consul at 82. The elder Licinia Crassa married with no other than Scipio Nasica Serapio, whose grandmother was the daughter of the elder Scipio. So now finally after 4 generations the Scipio and Laelius -lines were united by matrilinear side!

These generations of Laelia major, Mucia minor and Licinia Crassae were also close to Cicero, as Cicero studied as young boy/man in the Scaevola and Crassus households. Cicero also included C. Laelius Sapiens in numerous of his writings. Cicero also mentions that the Laeliae and Muciae were particularly well known for the purity of their Latin.

All in all these three generations of sister-pairs gives a very interesting glimpse into the life of the Roman nobility and to the tactics and importance of the marriages. One is tempted to see here greater family community and transformation of political ties into network of extended family.

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.

”Postquam Crassus carbo factus, Carbo crassus factus est”

(When Crassus went to ashes, Carbo became dull. Crassus = fat, dull, carbo = ash)

Grammarian Sacerdos contributes this witticism for Terentius. It even might have been a popular saying in the learned circles. It refers into rivalry between two powerful orators of their time, C. Papirius Carbo Arvina (praetor at 85) and L. Licinius Crassus (consul at 95).

C. Carbo Arvina was a son of consul of 120 C. Carbo. His father during his career switched sides from Gracchian to optimate faction. He went even as far as being involved somehow (we lack details) of the murder of the younger Gracchus. This however, was not enough for the optimate side to trust him fully and it seems he was chosen to be a public scape goat for the murder of popular Gracchus.

From the optimate side the leading speaker was no other than L. Crassus, who was perhaps the most celebrated public speaker of his time. Cicero, who was a student of Crassus as youngster, described Crassus to be the best public speaker of all time in Rome until Cicero himself surpassed him. Even giving a benefit of a doubt, I think we can safely say that Crassus was one of the best speakers in Rome at his time. But also Carbo was a celebrated speaker and is counted also among the best ones ever in Rome.

The clash of the giants never saw outcome as Carbo the elder made suicide before the court process was over. His son, Carbo Arvina, took Crassus as his main enemy and was also a noted public speaker in his attacks against Crassus.

Crassus became censor at year 92, and died next year. This is the turning point the saying refers to. When Crassus died, Carbo Arvina lost his enemy and in years to come was left without burning desire to avange his fathers death. This took away the sharpest edge of his oratory and he became dull instead.

I have also previously written more about Papirii Carbones and Crassus.

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.


Inscription on the wall of the tomb of Caecilia Metella: CAECILIAE Q. CRETICI F. METELLAE CRASSI

245 000 visitors annually makes it 22nd most visited tourist site in Italy. It’s the tomb of Caecilia Metella, who was, as the inscription says, the daughter of the consul of 69 Q. Caecilius Metellus Creticus and the wife of M. Licinius Crassus. This popular tourist site is also a bit of a mystery. In its days it was a lavish mausoleum communicating the importance of Caecilia Metella or her memory, but why it was built and the role of her husband form the core of the mystery.

The inscription on the wall is the reason why we know who rested in the rotunda shaped tomb before it was converted as part of medieval fortress. Inscription in itself is also an interesting evidence of the role of women in the late Roman republic.

First of all a lot has been written about the role and place of women in the ancient Rome. While participating into politics as elected magistrates was forbidden to them, they still had an important role to play in public life. Building a lavish mausoleum was also a public statement. What is interesting, is that we do not know why this particular mausoleum was built – what was the reason why someone wanted to carry on the memory of Caecilia Metella.

Secondly it is interesting that inscription pays a lot of attention to the history of Caecilia Metella, that she is a daughter of Metellus Creticus. Actually the name formulation in the inscription resembles a lot the way the male names were officially recorded: praenomen – nomen – filiation – cognomen, e.g. M. Licinius M.f. Crassus. In the inscription there is no praenomen, as the women did probably not have a personal praenomen, but rest goes as the male name pattern: Caecilia (nomen) – Q. Cretici filia (filiation) – Metella (cognomen) of Crassus (signifying marriage). There is no obvious reason why there was a need to mention whose daughter Caecilia was.

We know very little about Caecilia. She certainly had a very illustrious background: her father was the consul of 69, grandfather consul of 113, great grandfather consul of 143 and great-great grandfather consul of 206. She was married to M. Licinius Crassus, who also had an illustrious background: his father was the consul of 70 and 55, the famous triumvir Crassus, and his grandfather was the consul of 97. Caecilii Metelli were one of the richest families in Rome and the father of Caecilias husband was widely recognized as the richest man ever in Rome.

Simplified tree of the Caecilii Metelli and Licinii Crassi.

Simplified tree of the Caecilii Metelli and Licinii Crassi.

A lot of has been written about triumvir Crassus. To sum it up he probably was unscrupulous businessman, a very ambitious and successful politician, able military commander and strong willed hard individual. He built his wealth in crude manner and rose to be the third most powerful man in Rome, competing against Caesar and Pompeius. Whereas both Caesar and Pompeius built their careers in extraordinary ways, Crassus was more traditional, which makes his rise ever more impressive. It is very probable that without Caesar’s success in the wars in Gallia, triumvir Crassus would have been the most powerful man in Rome.

M. Licinius Crassus triumvir, the father of Caecilias husband.

Partly because of this triumvir Crassus needed to get massive military success and he chose rich kingdom of Parthia as his target. As known, the war did not went well and Crassus and his younger son Publius died on the field.

The elder son of triumvir Crassus, the husband of Caecilia, is also a curious character. We know little of him. He is one of the two quaestores (legion commanders) that is mentioned by name in the self-laudatory memories of Caesar from the Gallian wars. This is remarkable, but the mentions are more passing than really descriptive or laudatory to younger Crassus. Undoubtedly references to him are not coincidental, but we don’t know why Caesar put them there. In any case Crassus seems to have been loyal to Caesar.

Younger brother of Crassus, Publius, seems to have been more active one of the brothers. He is generally described to be more like their father than Marcus by being more ambitious. Our Crassus seems to have been lacking political ambition: he rose only to the quaestor, while a man of his heritage certainly should have risen at least into rank of praetor, if not consul. He was not known either as a public speaker or philosopher, not as a business man, not as a military commander nor from anything else. Usually he is described as nonentity.

Let’s assume this is so. Why he then was mentioned in the Caesars Gallic Wars memories? If he was contended to live quietly and out of public attention, then why build such a grand mausoleum to his wife? It is also interesting to note that the son of him and Caecilia rose as a consul and was a renown military commander. I think that there is some important piece of information missing about Caecilias husband, as the sum of the person we seem to gather doesn’t seem to add up. I think M. Crassus has been a careful, but not passive character, who has played far-sighted game of survival and built way to success for his son. I also think he has been known for his contemporaries as such as there hasn’t been any gossips about the grand mausoleum for his wife. With his fabulous wealth he has had a chance to stay away from the most heated competition for glory during and after Caesar. This interpretation of his character and motivations makes much more sense to me. It still doesn’t fully answer a question about the importance of Caecilia for him. Caecilia Metella remains a mystery with too few bits of information to make even a guess.