Cato the elder Younger

Why is Cato the younger always portrayed in popular culture as a really old man he was younger than Caesar and much younger than Cicero and Pompey yet is frequently portrayed as older than all the above yet he may not have reached 50. In the HBO series Rome the actor playing him is clearly much older than either Pompey, Caesar or Cicero or indeed any other important Roman political figure shown. In the Conn Igguldon young adult novels following Caesar and Brutus he’s one of Sulla’s senior supporters and again older than Pompey much less Caesar (mind as previusly mentioned in these books that play particularly…..loose…with the facts he is also a machiavellian hedonist killed by Pompey in revenge for the murder of his daughter before Caesar’s praetorship……I still don’t know where to start with all that) and in a tv miniseries about Caesar that came out in the very early 2000’s he is a senatorial leader played by Christopher Walken at the time of Sulla’s march on Rome. In reality at this time Cato was STILL A CHILD not a man in his 40’s/50’s! Cato the younger indeed……

Cato the Younger elder

I think in part it’s because we associate Cato with oligarchy, austerity, stubborness and conservatisim, he is the cantakerous stubborn old man bordering on senility who just can’t stomach no more change god’s dang it! These young fashionable playboys like Catilina and Caesar (both of whom were older than Cato, especially Catilina) are scandalous, well in my day etc. And of course when we think of arch conservative’s especially oligarchs we think of old established politicians. But Cato wasn’t an old rich Republican senior statesman, no Romney or Bush but a tea-party demagogue his stubboreness and uncompromising conservativisim driven by youthful fanaticisim rather than senility or simply the hardening that often comes with age. Of course this is reading into things but considering how destructive an influence Cato turned out to be perhaps a reminder of the dangers of youthful fanaticisim wouldn’t be out of place here. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to write letters to the editor about the moral decline of our time. Now in my day!……….

Cato the Younger Younger

That other Tribunician assasination:The death of Livius Drusus and the fall of the Republic.

The blogging at long last tentatively resumes………..long thought Livius Drusus (ancestor of THAT Livia) got unfairly overshadowed by the perhaps overhyped Grachii in the assasinated tribune sweepstakes and it’s not like the masters of Rome series could bias me here, that’d be ridiculous……….

I would hereby like to float the idea that the most important assasination for the downfall of the Roman Republic and just in general the one that caused the most insanity, chaos and devastation was perhaps not that of Caesar (though he certainly comes close on the insanity, chaos and devastation bit)nor not the Grachii. But a lesser known tribune by the name of Livius Drusus who is best known for attempting to extend citizenship to the Soccii: Rome’s Italian allies (minus those with the latin status) and was mysteriusly knifed for his efforts. an assasination that (to draw terrible modern comparisons) is one part Martin Luther king Jr, one part JFK conspracy stuff (in that unlike Caesar and the Grachii we don’t actually know who killed him) and one part Franz Ferdinand in that it sent the world straight to hell.

Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus were killed with hundreds (in Gaius case more than a thousand I think) of their supporters with something of a purge following afterwards but no war. Drusus died the lone victim to an unknown assailent/s in a matter far more clandestine but less dramatic. His death however triggered the social war: that being the revolt of the Socii, Rome’s aforementioned Italian allies en masse. The social war led pretty directly to Sulla and Marius’s civil wars and itself only truly came to an end with the battle of the Colline gate near the end of the civil wars in Italy.

The Sertorian war in Spain was itself merely a last front in these first civil wars that itself helped to encourage Mithridates to start the third Mithridatic war, just as the social and civil wars had perhaps prevented total victory in the first one. Simultaneously the Spartacus rebbellion broke out and if you don’t believe the near constant war and/or political strife in Italy since the assasination of Drusus had a major hand to play in its outbreak and success then I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

Fun fact: in 72BC (or so wiki assures me) the Roman Republic was at war with pirates and cretans on Crete (and obviusly elsewhere) in the Balkans against the Bessi, in Turkey against Mithridates of Pontus, in Spain against Sertorius and his supporters and in Italy against Spartacus. That, particularly considering it hadn’t been long since Sulla’s invasian of Italy is freaking nuts. That the government in Rome won all these wars and returned however breifly to relative stability is perhaps more nuts.

Yet they would never recover from the damage to their political equilibrium. Cicero, Caesar, Pompey and the other members of the “last generation of the Roman Republic” (copyright Erich Gruen) came to maturity and/or entered public life in this period must have affected them profoundly. A full appreciation of how screwed things had been for so long helps explain the senate’s willingness to give extroardinary commands to Gnaeus “the teenage butcher” Pompeius because he could provide his own private army much better than looking at the Sertorian war in a bubble. A private army he and his father were able to build and maintain due to the chaos of the social and civil wars in Italy.

The extra constitutional political domination of this baby faced warlord, the precedents of Sulla & Marius and the scars and demographic upheavel caused or exacerbated by this extended and eventually mediterranean wide political crisis would all of course factor into the following and final rounds of civil war and political upheavel that would give birth to the Roman principate (empire). The role the social war played is all the more damning because begining in earnest in the midst of that very conflict the Romans rapidly granted the citizenship to all freeborn men in the penninsula (excluding what was then Cisalpine Gaul) making the conflict from a Roman perspective largely pointless: All triggered by the murder of one tribune. Gracchi eat your heart out.

Note: Of course the Social war may very well have broken out anyway especially as it seemed that Drusus had thus far failed to secure their enfranchisement and resistance which was always significant was strengthening. The importance of Drusus assasination may very well be principally in determining when it broke out but even if so when most definitly matters.

Triumvirate versus dictatorship: Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Assasination and the outlet factor

Sup peeps, How’s it hanging? Today I’m here to talk to you about why Julius Caesar was assasinated and Augustus Caesar was not, well we all know that the straw men audience in my head scoff in their hypothetical hubris: it’s because Augustus Caesar cloaked his power like a sneaky fox but Julius paraded it like a pompous fool, no wonder they knifed him!

Well while I have no doubts whatsoever that Augustan massaging of political realities for the benefit of the senatorial class helped his regime to endure what I wish to discuss is an aspect of the often overlooked factor of their particular circumstances. Simply put Julius is often criticised for not being his nephew with scant thought given to what at least should be a blindingly obvious fact: He couldn’t be, among other things he likely didn’t have the time. Nor was Augustus always the respectful soft touch from the shadows sought of guy: Before Princeps Augustus there was Triumvir Octavianus a man who ruled through naked imperium and military might only limited by his absentee colleagues. This Octavian dealt with opposition summarily and brutally and did not cloak his power. If Caesar doing the same inevitably lead to his violent death, why not the future Augustus? Especially when the triumviral part of his career lasted for about a decade?

Before the Rubicon Caesar was essentially just another late Roman Republican strongman, albeit one of the most powerful their had been. He ruled over multiple provinces with a formiddable army but had not been in Rome for more than a decade and held no authority there or in most of Italy. It is only after the onset of civil war, by which time Julius Caesar was middle aged that that changed and Caesar’s tenure as a Roman ruler with the powers of Dictator was not long, but it was by the time of his death near absolute. To put it plainly Caesar’s office held no time limit nor did he have any colleagues either de jure or de facto and protracted military opposition to him had repeatedly failed. His Imperium was absolute, he had no rivals nor did significant alterior powerbases remain within the Roman world. Simply put if by 44BC you as a Roman senator found being under the rule of Caesar intolerable (even more so if you weren’t SUPER keen on Pompey’s sons, eh Cassius?) it would seem that only two options presented themselves to you: suicide or assasination. Cato had already chosen the former and we know that Brutus and Cassius et al would choose the latter despite the extreme risk and drastic nature of such an action.

But what if Sextus Pompey were much more powerful, or Caesar had a colleague more to your liking with whom his relationship was one of mutual rivalry and mistrust who ruled the East independently of Caesar and was keen to host like minded members of Rome’s elite. Perhaps joining either man would be preferable to the risk of an assasination plot? perhaps your preffered candidate if you were but patient would ultimately triumph and Caesar would topple from power, afterall this uneasy peace cannot last forever.

Or perhaps you realise with despair that thier all insufferable tyrants and killing Caesar would just mean exchanging one for another and you further realise Caesar’s colleague to the East may not care for the man personally but they are officially at least allies and at times useful to each other, whatever his actual feelings he’s unlikely to reward his assasin, indeed you may end up like the Egyptian’s who presented Caesar with Pompey’s head: sacrificed for the reputation of the victor…..

No assasination does not seem like such a smart move anymore, not unless we can get all of them, and their almost never in the same place. best (and safer) to back the lesser of the evils available to us or wait it out, aftertall even should this despicable tyrant somehow prevail over better men, even should we have to wait for more than 10 years for the right time Rome will never get used to Autocracy, never forget the crimes of earlier years, the origins of this so-called Caesar. Welcome to Triumviral period Rome.

Undergraduate Capstone Thesis: Roman politics, literary archetypes and perceptions of Publius Licinius Crassus son of Marcus Crassus the triumvir

Capstone thesis (very slightly revised….I added some full stops, I’m sure any of you who’ve read much of this blog will appreciate the importance of that….): Roman politics, literary archetypes and perceptions of Publius Licinius Crassus son of Marcus Crassus the triumvir

So Yeah, this was an essay I submitted for a compulsary unit of my major for my Bachelors degree where we had to pick a research topic and write a roughly 5,000 word essay on it. While the subject I picked was of interest to me (it having to do with late Republican politics of course) I admittedly largely picked it over a few other ideas that intrigued me more because it was safer and less ambitious and I was by that time kinda lazy and very much anxious and lacking in confidance. Still I think it turned out pretty well. Behold my academic writing! Quake in fear before it’s majesty!…….and footnotes…..MOSTLY THE FOOTNOTES!!!! *spooky ghost sounds*

Publius Licinius Crassus was the son of Marcus Licinius Crassus famous for his membership in the so-called First Triumvirate, there is some debate as to whether he was Crassus’s first or second son, his brother also being called Marcus Licinius Crassus[1], while most scholars consider him the younger pointing out Marcus’s significantly earlier marriage[2] and the fact that as was traditional for the eldest son he was named after his father[3] others consider him the elder arguing that due to the childless and premature death of Marcus  Crassus ‘the Triumvir’s older brother Publius Crassus, Crassus the Triumvir named his eldest son Publius as the eldest male Crassus of any generation was traditionally so named (this fits with our picture  of Crassus attempts to take over the family responsibilities of his older brother by his marriage to his widow[4]) and so both sides use naming conventions to make their case. The waters are further murkied on this issue by Publius serving as one of Caesar’s lieutenants 4 years before his brother[5]. In any event either through birth, charm or ability Publius was clearly the favoured son.

By the time Publius joined his father for his ill-fated invasion of Parthia perhaps no aristocrat of his generation in Rome looked likely to have a more promising political future, the favoured son of Marcus Crassus one of Rome’s richest and most powerful men (and from an aristocratic family of long standing). Whose position within the so-called first triumvirate (I use the term to refer to the informal, though still quite real alliance between Pompey, Crassus and Caesar, though certainly, especially in Crassus’s case such an alliance did not preclude other valuable political connections) had perhaps never been stronger[6]. He (Publius) had recently married Cornelia Metella[7], connecting him directly to the extremely important Metelli clan and in particular to Metellus Scipio her father, who was at the time the family’s senior member. Despite the deep seated personal dislike and frequent political antagonism between his father and Cicero Publius Crassus had succeeded in obtaining Cicero’s good feeling and friendship[8] and due to his service under him in Gaul he also quite clearly attained the favours of Caesar. Few could boast such a breadth of positive connections, perhaps none so young. However The almost uniformly positive portrayal of this promising young man is briefly broken during the Carrhae campaign before the veil of impetuous hubris is itself replaced at death by the veil of the Tragic hero. How the biases of our sources as well as literary archetype’s and conventions affect the portrayal of Publius Crassus constitutes the core theme of this paper which in doing so also seeks to (some extent to) explore Publius’s role in his father’s political career and his own capabilities. We begin our exploration into Publius’s life and its sources with Caesar’s commentaries on the Gallic War.


Caesar’s Gallic war is composed of seven books, the final conflicts of Caesar against Gallic tribe’s being recorded by Aulus Hirtius in a final book[9], there is some dispute over whether these books were published all at once as used to be the popular opinion or individually or at least In batches in between campaigning seasons[10]. For a variety of reasons this paper holds to the latter view for instance it seems unlikely that the legate Sabinus so defamed in book 5 would be portrayed relatively favourably in prior books if they were written after the events of book 5[11] nor is Caesar likely to have boasted of the virtual annihilation of the adult male Nervii population only for a supposed army of tens of thousands of them to appear a few years later[12] nor claim that all Gaul was pacified with such regularity were he aware of at the time of writing of all or most subsequent  conflict.

Publius Crassus served with Caesar during his first three years in Gaul and accordingly makes his appearances in the first three books, Caesar while seldom negative in his portrayal of his lieutenants (indeed portrayals were usually at least implicitly positive[13]) was clearly writing to enhance his own prestige and as such keeps the focus primarily on himself[14]. While keeping the interest of his audience by significant coverage of the nature of his adversary’s (both as individuals such as Vercingetorix and as tribe’s such as the Aedui[15]) and on the quality and accomplishments of his army, the legate’s take a distinct backseat[16]. Despite their largely positive portrayal it is unlikely that Caesar’s legates were all men of exceptional military ability- choosing one’s legate’s was at the time as much motivated by political networking and patronage as military-administrative competence. It would seldom have been in Caesar’s interest barring a true disaster to offend a political contact, and the one time that happened a scapegoat (Sabinus, previously portrayed competently) was found[17]. Besides as members of Rome’s upper class many senior officers serving with Caesar are likely to have recorded their own version of events (Cicero certainly kept in contact with his brother Quintus[18]) and particularly if said officer had important Roman contacts political pragmatism cautioned against contradicting them or reporting something which they felt compelled to contradict without strong motive[19]. However usually this favourable treatment was implicit through a description of the actions of said lieutenants not explicit by attaching positive appellations directly to them as was often done with the army as a whole, legions, lower ranking officers and valiant foes[20] there are however a number of at least partial exceptions to this low key  positive portrayal.

Of all Caesar’s legate’s (and officers of equivalent rank, Decimus Brutus and Publius Crassus due to their youth were not technically legates but were functionally so[21], in this paper for convenience unless otherwise specified all military officers given command of a force larger than a cohort will be referred to as such) the aforementioned Quintus Titurius Sabinus was the only one to receive truly extensive negative treatment in the commentaries in which he is blamed for the annihilation in ambush of the legion over which he held joint command[22]. Other exceptions to the rule are due more too unusually positive rather than negative portrayals. Titus Labienus for instance who served with Caesar for the entirety of the Gallic wars is mentioned more times than any Roman in the commentaries other than Caesar himself and holds that distinction by a wide margin, and was both formally and by dint of the responsibility entrusted to him the senior legate[23] and is given credit in part for Caesar’s first victory over the Nervii[24] and for multiple independent victories in the field[25]. However in two of Labienus said victories Caesar records him giving a speech before the battle encouraging the soldiers to fight as if Caesar himself were with them and to do him proud as it were. By this device Caesar draws some of the reader’s attention back to himself and makes his legend part of the reason for victory even in his absence[26], though without directly detracting from Labienus’s contribution.

Labienus is not however the only Caesarean legate who merits an unusual degree of attention, Publius Crassus receives fairly extensive coverage in the Gallic wars for a legate, especially in book 3[27]. As Labienus is given much tactical credit for the defeat of the Nervii, Publius initiative in the decisive battle against the Germanic king Ariovistus is deemed pivotal[28]. However in his independent victories commanding a force for Caesar in Aquitaine, in which he won a battle, successfully besieged a well-defended town, stormed a well-fortified and defended camp and pacified the region[29] , the psychological role of the absent Caesar is reversed. The high moral of Crassus men in the face of the enemy is attributed in a positive light to their eagerness to prove what they could accomplish in the absence of their general and under such a young commander[30]. In essence Caesar deliberately divorced himself in particular from these victories and (as was admittedly his wont) emphasized the difficulty of the opposition Crassus faced, aside from the usual high estimates of enemy numbers Caesar records that the Gallic tribe’s recruited significant numbers of veterans of the Sertorian war who had expertise at constructing fortified camps and were otherwise formidable[31] and perhaps most ominously lists two Roman commanders that met defeat and death in the region in question[32]. Crassus first victory over the Aquitanians according to the Gallic war consisted of repulsing an attack on the march by the Sotiates tribe’s cavalry and pursuing them into an ambush by their infantry. Despite the ambush Crassus’s forces prevailed and Caesar does not indicate that the retreat of the enemy cavalry was feigned, nor censure Crassus for falling into an ambush[33] even though the following ambush by the infantry would strongly imply that it was (why else would you place your infantry in ambush and attack separately with your cavalry if not to lure the enemy to that location unprepared). Nevertheless it was the army more than its commander that distinguished itself here. Crassus army’s subsequent siege of the Sotiate capital was also successful, despite several sally’s including one rather hard-fought one that took place during a parley which may be what Dio is referring too when he says “He lost a few men, to be sure, by treachery in the course of a parley, but punished the enemy severely for this”[34]. His most notable accomplishment during this campaign however was perhaps his storming of an enemy camp highly fortified in a Roman manner: in the engagement that followed Crassus’s cavalry noticed that part of the enemy camp was not as well defended as the rest and Crassus promptly and boldly ordered the cavalry and the cohorts tasked with guarding the camp to take a circuitous route to the position so as not to be seen and attack the enemy at this vulnerable location while the mainstay of his forces continued their frontal assault, outflanked the enemy was comprehensively defeated[35]. The plan was excellent and as it involved removing the very camps defenders very bold. In future this young officer’s boldness would be seen in quite a different light.

Crassus’s achievements during his Aquitanian campaign were impressive but it’s clear Caesar was giving him favourable press, Decimus Brutus, the only other legate of Caesars referred to as young, during the same year defeated the Veneti but as with Labienus’s independent victories he shared the credit with Caesar and his failures (like Crassus getting caught in an ambush) do not appear to have been brushed over. Caesar claims that Decimus and his tribune’s did not know how to defeat the larger Veneti vessels, the crucial innovation it is implied was generated by men further down the hierarchy, while this is probably all true and Decimus is by no means portrayed as inept or as a failure there is a key difference in portrayal here[36]. Publius’s uniquely favourable treatment is unlikely to come down purely to ability, Labienus if not quite yet would in time prove himself by far the most distinguished of Caesar’s Gallic legate’s nor were others such as Decimus and Gaius Trebonius clearly without martial ability. Personal affection is likely to have played a role in a letter to Caesar Cicero bemoans the fate of young Publius who he describes as a man dear to them both. however Decimus Brutus was also in all probability close to Caesar, he was approached by Caesar’s assassins specifically because Caesar was known to trust him and was supposedly the man who convinced him to attend the senate on the Ides of March despite his wife’s misgivings (Though such stories involving ill-omens are highly suspect the story is still illuminating for what it tells us of Roman perceptions of the relationship between Caesar and Decimus Brutus)  and unlike many of Caesar’s other lieutenants and partisans, including Marcus Antonius he was named in Caesar’s will[37]. Though these events took place many years later and due to his earlier death we cannot know whether Caesar would have named Publius in his will) it is likely considering Decimus’s youth at the time of this command and Caesar’s possible relationship with his mother Sempronia[38] that he already favoured this young man as well.

During his later career Caesar showed a marked penchant for patronising talented, ambitious and perhaps impetuous young aristocrats, such as Publius Crassus, Decimus Brutus, Marcus Antonius, Caelius Rufus, Curio and Dolabella[39] aside from other motivations Caesar had no son and thus no known heir and a hunt for a suitable candidate was quite possibly a motivating factor behind this penchant or a successor to lead his faction (contrary to Augustan propaganda these need not have been the same thing). However if either of these were the case (a big If among many if’s so far explored)  it is particularly unlikely to have been Publius. The favoured son of Crassus is unlikely to have required such patronage and Caesar’s legacy would be suitably diluted in this regard by being shared with Marcus Crassus a man of comparable standing.

Which brings us to one final consideration, the importance of the father to the portrayal of the son; Marcus Crassus and Caesar at the time of the opening of the Gallic wars had a long history of close political collaboration[40]. While it is true that Crassus the triumvir’s other son, Marcus Crassus would serve with Caesar as Quaestor in Caesar’s fifth year in Gaul and likely from then onwards to the end of the Gallic wars and is barely mentioned and certainly not singled out for praise, though Marcus Crassus seems to have been an innocuous figure who barely appears in the sources dealing with his time despite his august parentage[41] this is more evidence of the importance of the father than it is the opposite. When Publius was serving with Caesar Crassus was a living and powerful ally who became particularly important towards the end of Publius’s time with Caesar when the alliance between Pompey, Crassus and Caesar threatened to break down. Crassus clearly benefited the least from the initial alliance with Caesar and Pompey around the time of Caesar’s first consulship. Caesar got an agrarian bill (which would have granted him much patronage) and a five year command over three provinces, Pompey got his Eastern settlement ratified and land for his soldiers, Crassus merely managed to get a difficult contract for Publicani clients rescinded (and a place on Caesar’s land commission)[42]. Furthermore the two consuls chosen for the next year had closer ties with Caesar (his new father-in-law) and Pompeius respectively and the two strengthened their alliance by marriage, with Pompey marrying Caesar’s daughter[43].

Crassus responded to his marginalization by allying himself with the Claudii in particular the radical tribune Clodius and other elements of Rome’s aristocracy and used them to politically weaken Pompey[44]. Under pressure Pompey drew closer to more conservative, anti-Crassan and anti-Caesarean politicians, eventually using his influence to recall Cicero whom had a history of hostility towards Clodius, Crassus and to a lesser extent Caesar[45]. As the political competition between Crassus’s and Pompey intensified, Pompey came more and more to rely on politicians opposed to Caesar to support himself against Crassus’s own emerging faction and the triumvirate itself came under threat[46].  At the time Caesar would have wrote the third book of the Gallic war (going with the above assumption that they were generally published at the end of the campaigning season under discussion) This conflict was coming to a head and it was likely becoming increasingly clear that the five year command previously granted Caesar (already over half over) would prove insufficient for the pacification of Gaul and the senator Domitius Ahenobarbus (who had strong associations with Caesar’s enemies) was energetically campaigning to replace Caesar in his command[47].Soon afterwards Crassus and Caesar would meet in Ravenna before going on to meet with Pompey as well at Luca[48], though we don’t know the details of the negotiations the results are clear: Cicero was pressured by Caesar and Pompey to reconcile with and support Crassus and Clodius likewise reconciled with Pompey, Pompey and Crassus ran together for the consulship with the support of Caesar and benefitted from the intimidation of Caesar’s veterans (led by Publius Crassus himself) at the election[49]. Both men were granted provincial commands with large armies and Caesar’s command in Gaul was extended by five years[50].

Simply put at the time Caesar wrote the third Gallic war he needed Crassus support a great deal as Crassus enhanced standing in the coalition after Luca indicates and so it is not surprising that his son is portrayed so favourably in that book in particular, by contrast Marcus Crassus came to Gaul as Caesar’s quaestor two years later, the year after Crassus consulship. Due to the five year extension Caesar’s position was now more secure and soon afterwards, well before Caesar’s political position once again became perilous Crassus had died at Carrhae with Marcus’s promising brother removing the key political impetus to praise his son. This makes all the more sense considering Quintus Cicero, the famous Marcus Cicero’s brother also receives perhaps unduly good treatment in the sources[51]

Our sources of Publius Crassus’s life outside of the role of military officer are scanty we know that he was a monetalis and became an augur when a position in that religious college opened up upon the death of Lucius Licinius Luccullus[52]. Publius also cultivated Cicero who deemed him a promising young orator, helped him develop said ability and prevailed upon him to pursue a conventional political career and focus on his civic talents. However as the source of this information is a work on oratory called the Brutus written by Cicero after Publius death in which Cicero uses the example of Publius to make a point about the sageness of such advice by bemoaning how Publius’s youthful ambition and military glory seeking lead to his death[53] he may have chosen to exaggerate the degree to which he advocated said course to Publius at the time. As mentioned above Dio records Publius being sent to Rome by Caesar with many of his veterans to lead them in violent and successful intimidations of rival electoral candidates and Cicero further mentions his attachment to the young man in letters both to Caesar and to Crassus, in the latter the connection is highlighted clearly in part to aggrandize himself with the newly re-empowered Crassus with whom Caesar and Pompey had forced him to reconcile[54] but it is noteworthy that he claims to be like a second father to the young man[55]. The former written after Publius’s death bemoans the loss of a well-liked mutual protégé but perhaps contains some of Cicero the new man’s resentment of consul’s in their cradles[56]. What may have proved decisive for Publius’s future had he lived longer was his marriage to Cornelia Metella which occurred shortly before the Parthian expedition[57]. Many years previously Publius’s brother had himself married into another branch of the powerful Metelli family, a branch seemingly hostile to Pompey who at the time still had good relations with other members of the family[58], in both marriages the hand of Crassus the triumvir can be felt and represent a key tactic utilized in Pompey and Crassus’s rival attempts to ally the Metelli with themselves. The marriage of Publius to Cornelia Metella shows that following the reestablishment of his alliance with Pompey and Caesar Crassus successfully reached out to the Metelli and perhaps even the Boni in general, this may have resulted from his having to abandon his anti-Pompeian alliance with the Claudii and Pompey his increasing Boni ties[59].



Finally we come to the Carrhae campaign, though many other sources refer if briefly to Rome’s defeat at Carrhae and In particular the death of both Marcus and Publius Crassus[60] only two descriptions of the battle and prior campaign survive from antiquity: Cassius Dio’s Roman history and Plutarch’s life of Crassus[61]. Of these Plutarch’s account is far more detailed and on the whole likely to be more accurate[62] however it is important to note that unlike Caesar or Cicero neither of these are primary sources, being born much later neither man was there during the campaign or spoke to anyone that was. Both men wrote well over a century later and so represent interestingly the only sources on the life of Publius Crassus who would not have been influenced by their relationship either with him or perhaps more crucially his father. Clearly however they must have got there information somewhere. The most important Roman involved to survive the Carrhae campaign was Lucius Cassius Longinus the future assassin of Julius Caesar, he served as Marcus Crassus’s quaestor during the ill-fated campaign (well from the Roman perspective…..) and commanded one of the army’s wings during the battle[63]. After the battle he succeeded in escaping back to Syria with the men then under his command, with no more senior Roman present at this tumultuous time Cassius took command of the approximately 10,000 legionaries who made it back from the Parthian campaign and defended the province successfully against first Parthian raids and a Jewish revolt then a larger Parthian force[64] earning acclaim at Rome. In the sources for the Carrhae campaign Cassius plays the role of a Roman military Cassandra, always giving the right advice, always being ignored, in favour frequently of the advice of treacherous foreign allies (such as the chieftain and guide Ariammes)[65], what’s more he is frequently portrayed as obviously right, however both Marcus and Publius Crassus had distinguished military careers, Marcus having played a pivotal role in the battle of the Colline gate and suppressed the Spartacus revolt mistakes were clearly made but they are unlikely to have been as obvious at the time as the sources suggest.

As the leading Roman survivor of Carrhae who however his service in the East started ended it (before the coming civil wars at least) with glory Cassius was in an excellent position to spread his version of events. We do not know the details of how though we do know that Quintus Dellius who served under Cassius in the civil war of Phillipi wrote a history of Parthia that Plutarch made use of in his life of Antony, it is likely all things considered that it served as a source for Crassus’s Parthian campaign as well[66]. Even so Cassius self-interest is unlikely to serve as a complete explanation for his portrayal and that of Publius Crassus and others during this campaign. If Cassius was a martial Roman Cassandra he did not lack for company, the prudent (or in some cases like Cassius downright prescient) but ignored Roman officer or ally at some point seems to have become a literary staple in accounts of Roman defeats. At Cannae the consul Aemilius Paulus reputedly cautioned against engaging Hannibal, was overruled by his co-consul Varro and died heroically in the battle[67], the allied Germanic chieftain (again reputedly) Segestes futily warned Varus of Arminius’s treacherous intentions[68]. Finally in the aforementioned ambush and alliance of Titurius Sabinus’s legion in the Gallic wars by Ambiorix’s forces Sabinus’s co-commander Marcus Cotta see’s Ambiorix’s protestations of friendship and warnings for what they are. His failure to convince Sabinus leads to their deaths, unlike Sabinus however who through his desperation to live falls for treachery a second time by agreeing to Parley with his attackers Cotta dies heroically leading his men in a last stand[69]. Due to his positive press Cassius is assigned the nobler literary trope and Marcus Crassus that of the man who consistently listens to bad council, indeed in Dio’s more hostile account Crassus’s portrayal is extremely similar to that of Sabinus, first being misled by supposed foreign allies and then at his most desperate moment having his judgement impaired by his desperation to live to fall for the enemy’s offer to negotiate where he died in a fight that broke out, probably due to treachery[70].

There is however one key difference between Carrhae and the ambush of Sabinus and indeed between Carrhae and Cannae, our Cassandra is not also our tragic hero. As he lived Cassius would have to wait many years to play second fiddle to Brutus in this role at Phillipi. In Dio clearly the more pro-Cassian and anti-Crassan of our sources no-one fills this role satisfactorily, despite Dio’s claim that Crassus acquiesced to the desire of the army following Carrhae for Cassius to take command (a claim not repeated in the more detailed Plutarch). In Plutarch’s account the death of the elder Crassus is nobler and the role of Publius in the battle and the nature of his death emphasized and romanticized, Plutarch’s Carrhae has its tragic heroes, oddly the same commanders he blames for the defeat, the Crassi.

When the Roman scouts first came into contact with the Surena’s Parthian army Publius reputedly reinforced his father’s inclination to seek battle that same day in opposition to Cassius (implied) and most of the officers who suggested making camp reconnoitring the enemy’s position and seeking battle in the morning[71]. The decision to seek battle immediately is naturally regarded as a mistake by our sources and Publius next action in our sources relating to the battle did not end well either, in command of one of the flanks and a portion of the cavalry Publius is ordered by his father to lead a combined force of cavalry, archers and legionaries to chase off the Parthian horse archers on one of the army’s flanks, ending the encirclement, relieving pressure and allowing his father’s army to reform. Publius’s counterattack is initially successful, chasing off the horse archers and allowing such a reform, however supposedly sensing victory Publius pursued the fleeing horse archers further away from the army and was then attacked by a division of cataphracts (a form of heavy cavalry) at the same time the fleeing horse archers counterattacked, using the cataphracts as protection while they continued to harass Publius’s forces. Furthermore it seems in the pursuit that Publius infantry fell behind his cavalry. It seems that like in his first battle in Aquitaine Publius had once again fallen for a feigned retreat[72], despite this paper’s attempt to expose stereotype’s that of the gifted but hot-headed aristocratic young cavalry officer does look like it might fit. Forced to engage the Cataphracts unsupported with his lighter cavalry Publius lead the Romans in probably the fiercest fighting of the battle, defeated and wounded he and his remaining men retreated to the shelter of their infantry. The situation being untenable Publius and some of his officers and friends reputedly killed themselves rather than flee before their force was overwhelmed and annihilated[73]. The death of Publius and his men was probably the decisive moment of the battle, his defeat demoralized Crassus’s remaining forces and the loss of most of the army’s cavalry prevented the romans from striking back against Surena’s horse archers nevertheless Plutarch does not drag Publius over the coals and he is given the most heroic (to the Romans) death of the campaign. In his combat with the Cataphracts and subsequent death Plutarch emphasis his courage in the fight and in his refusal to abandon his men taking his own life (with assistance)[74].

Considering the virtual annihilation of Publius’s detachment and the Roman penchant for heroic dramatization of their dead the details here are highly suspect and there may have been no witnesses of the final moments. This account may also be influenced by Publius’s freedman Appollonius who may have written an account of Publius’s life and was later praised by Cicero for his loyalty to the memory of the Crassi[75], regardless clearly Cassius did not represent (either directly or through his partisans) the only sources available to our own sources on the campaign.

So ends our recount of the life and sources of Publius Licinius Crassus: Military prodigy, glory hound and hot-head, ambitious, modest, eloquent, charming and well-liked high aristocrat, networker, marriage pawn, thuggish election fixer and tragic hero.



The Sons of Crassus

Ronald Syme

Latomus , T. 39, Fasc. 2 (AVRIL-JUIN 1980), pp. 403-408

Published by: Societe d’Etudes Latines de Bruxelles

Article Stable URL:


Goldsworthy, A. “CAESAR”, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006.

Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri.

Gruen E. (1974). The Last Generation of the Roman Republic. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California.

Syme R. (1952). The Roman Revolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Crassorum Funera

Elizabeth Rawson

Latomus , T. 41, Fasc. 3 (JUILLET-SEPTEMBRE 1982), pp. 540-549

Published by: Societe d’Etudes Latines de Bruxelles

Article Stable URL:


The Departure of Crassus for Parthia

Adelaide D. Simpson

Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association , Vol. 69, (1938), pp. 532-541

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Article Stable URL:


Crassus’ New Friends and Pompey’s Return

Eve J. Parrish

Phoenix , Vol. 27, No. 4 (Winter, 1973), pp. 357-380

Published by: Classical Association of Canada

Article Stable URL:


Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire.

Marshall B. A. (1976). Crassus A Political Biography. Adolf M. Hakkert, Amsterdam.

Cassius Dio, Roman history, trans. Cary E (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1914).

Julius Caesar, The Gallic War, trans. Edwards H. J (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1917.

Plutarch, Life of Crassus, trans. Warner R & Seager R (Penguin Books, 80 Strand, London, England, 2005).

Cicero, The Letters To His Friends, trans. Williams W. G (Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1927).

Welch K, Powell A (Ed). (1998). Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments. The Classical Press Wales, 15 Rosehill Terrace, Swansea.

Cicero, Brutus, trans. Jones E.

Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, trans. C. Edwards (Oxford University Press, New York, 2000).

No Son for Caesar?

Ronald Syme

Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte , Bd. 29, H. 4 (4th Qtr., 1980), pp. 422-437

Published by: Franz Steiner Verlag

Article Stable URL:


Goldsworthy A. (2000). The Fall Of Carthage The Punic Wars 265-146BC. Orion books, Orion house Upper St Martin’s Lane, London.


Tacitus, The complete works of Tacitus, tans. A. J. Church, W. J. Brodribb (Random house, New York, 1942).


[1] Syme, R. The Sons of Crassus, Latomus , T. 39, Fasc. 2 (AVRIL-JUIN 1980), pp. 403.

[2] Syme, R. The Sons of Crassus, Latomus , T. 39, Fasc. 2 (AVRIL-JUIN 1980), pp. 403-408.

[3] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg. 55.

[4] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri., pg 48.

[5] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg. 55-56.

[6] Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire, pg. 78-80.

[7] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 284-285.

[8] Cic. Fam. VIII.

[9] Julius Caesar, The Gallic War, trans. Edwards H. J (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1917.

[10] Goldsworthy, A. “CAESAR”, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006, pg. 187-188.

[11] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg. 93-94.

[12] Caes. Gal. 2, 28, Caes. Gal.5, 49.

[13] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg. 89.

[14] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg. 86-87.

[15] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg. 89-90.

[16] Goldsworthy, A. “CAESAR”, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006, pg.188.

[17] Caes. Gal. 5, 26-37.

[18] Goldsworthy, A. “CAESAR”, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006, pg. 190.

[19]Goldsworthy, A. “CAESAR”, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006, pg. 189-190.

[20] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg 89-90.

[21] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg 92.

[22] Caes. Gal. 5, 26-37.

[23] Goldsworthy, A. “CAESAR”, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006, pg. 191.

[24] Caes. Gal. 2, 26-28.

[25] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg 98-100.

[26] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg 99.

[27] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg 91-92.

[28] Caes. Gal. 1, 52-53.

[29] Caes. Gal. 3, 20-27.

[30] Caes. Gal. 3, 21.

[31] . Caes. Gal. 3, 23.

[32] Caes. Gal. 3, 20.

[33] Caes. Gal. 3, 20-21.

[34] Dio Cassius, Roman history, 39, 46.

[35] Caes. Gal. 3, 24-26.

[36] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg. 92.

[37] Suetonius, the deified Julius Caesar, 81-83, Plutarch, Caesar, 63-64, Plutarch, Brutus, 12.

[38] Syme R, No Son for Caesar? Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte , Bd. 29, H. 4 (4th Qtr., 1980), pg. 429.

[39] Goldsworthy, A. “CAESAR”, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006, pg. 365-366.

[40] Goldsworthy, A. “CAESAR”, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006, pg. 165.

[41] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg 93.

[42] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 218-219.

[43] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 222.

[44] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 231-233.

[45]Marshall B. A. (1976). Crassus A Political Biography. Adolf M. Hakkert, Amsterdam, pg. 118-121.

[46] Marshall B. A. (1976). Crassus A Political Biography. Adolf M. Hakkert, Amsterdam, pg. 124-127.

[47] Marshall B. A. (1976). Crassus A Political Biography. Adolf M. Hakkert, Amsterdam, pg. 124.

[48] Marshall B. A. (1976). Crassus A Political Biography. Adolf M. Hakkert, Amsterdam, pg. 127-128.

[49] Dio Cassius, Roman history, 39, 31.

[50] Marshall B. A. (1976). Crassus A Political Biography. Adolf M. Hakkert, Amsterdam, pg. 128-129.

[51] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg 97-98.

[52] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 284-285.

[53] Cicero, Brutus, 281-282.

[54] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 279, Cic. Fam. VIII.

[55] Cic. Fam. VIII.

[57] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 284-285.

[58] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 203-204.

[59] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 280.

[60] Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire, pg. 186-193.

[61] Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire, pg. 186-187.

[62] Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire, pg. 186-187.

[63] Plutarch, Crassus, 23.

[64] Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire, pg. 152-160.

[65] Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire, pg. 109.

[66] Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire, pg. 188-189.

[67] Goldsworthy A. (2000). The Fall Of Carthage The Punic Wars 265-146BC. Orion books, Orion house Upper St Martin’s Lane, London, pg. 199-213.

[68] Tacitus, Annals, 1, 55.

[69] Caes. Gal. 5, 26-37.

[70] Caes. Gal. 5, 26-37, Dio Cassius, 40, 20-27.

[71] Plutrach, Crassus, 23.

[72] Dio Cassius, Roman history,40, 21-22.

[73] Plutarch, Crassus, 25.

[74] Plutarch, Crassus, 25.

[75] Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire, pg. 189.

Marius vs Sulla- The many layers of historical bias

Hello all, I hope my last first post wasn’t too long, confusing, repetitive or just plain bad for you, I should probably clarify what I’m aiming to do with this post, I’m not planning to compare the two men to decide who was better in anyway (at least not directly) or who would have defeated the other in battle, be it hypothetically with both at their prime or if Marius had lived longer and faced Sulla on his return from the first Mithridatic war. No, nothing nearly as fun as any of that!

My aim is to explore the question: “who is history more biased towards Marius or Sulla?” to many who did the course Rome: from Republic to Empire as I did at Macquarie University the answer must seem obvious, “Sulla! He wrote his own memoirs praising himself and damning Marius and the naive and uncritical ancient “historians” like Plutarch lapped it up like calcium deficient kittens! Not to mention his filling the senate with his Cronies- the winners write the history books!” Others  I’ve met would say with equal fervour “Marius! the overrated hack gets all the glory and credit and none of the bad press, if you look at the actual details Sulla was clearly the better general and the greater man, besides it was Marius who pushed- indeed forced Sulla to march on Rome because of his use of illegal public violence just to gain himself one more burst of Glory!, so you see the cycle of violence started with him!”

However in my opinion, the answer depends so much on how you look at it, indeed perceptions of Marius and Sulla both independently and in comparison differ so widely depending on both the class, political views and period of time in which a historian dealing with either is writing as well as both the specific action or phase of either’s life being discussed and finally the type of source used by the historian. Indeed If one were to read all the information and opinions on Sulla and Marius available without constantly considering the nature of bias we would end up with an extremely schizophrenic view of either figure. lets start with Ancient sources and perspectives.

Now as most Romanophiles would know in Roman society it was typically the senatorial class (of Rome itself) that wrote the history’s (at least until well into the period of the emperors), more often then not when it wasn’t it was written by Greeks who however for the period in question were largely dependent on said sources for their information, this in my opinion goes some way to explaining for instance what I deem Plutarch’s seemingly incompatible strong sympathy for the Grachii with the way events in his lives of them are actually portrayed.

Thus directly or indirectly virtually every text from the Ancient world on these two men (and indeed on almost any topic) is strongly affected by the biases and vested interests of Rome’s landed aristocracy, in particular those of senatorial rank. This accounts for much of the bias against Marius, though likely a significant land owner around his hometown of Arpinum, he was a novous homo and though a member of Italy as a whole’s broader aristocracy, moderately wealthy and landed he may have been but he was far from a member of Rome’s true elite as Cicero another upstart from Arpinum was to discover to his chagrin some decades later. This in itself would be unlikely to arouse any hostility (if perhaps disdain) from Rome’s aristocracy. If Marius  hadn’t risen above his station (as many senators may have seen it) and made a point of doing so at their expense, attaining his first consulship by fanning and utilizing a wave of popular resentment against said elite as well as his populist actions both as a tribune himself and in his support for the radical populist tribune’s Saturninus (who he was eventually prevailed upon to suppress) and Sulpicius, I imagine his military innovations were not uncontroversial either.To Rome’s elite Marius wasn’t just an upstart he was an upstart that built himself up by knocking them down and threatening their interests.

That said Sulla’s own origins would not wholly recommend him to Rome’s establishment, he was a Patrician that was true and doubtless counted for much but his family had long been obscure and he was born into little money, indeed seemingly far less than Marius, if Plutarch is to be believed (he likely exaggerates somewhat) Sulla for a time in his life owned no land and lived in an insula, making him a member of Rome’s lowest economic class of citizens the Proletarrii, Only coming into sufficient money to pursue a political career after inheritances from two wealthy women. His poverty and obscurity and all that entailed are likely why according to Plutarch he wasn’t deemed good enough by many of Rome’s aristocrats to marry (as he did) Metella Dalmatica, from the extremely prominent Metelli clan. Plutarch also records that many disapproved of his shirking off of his inherited poverty (as it is was also considered shameful to squander one’s inherited wealth- thats a very convenient set of attitudes for Rome’s establishment), though no doubt part of thats a roundabout attack on the man’s purported avarice.

Next we come to partisan bias for or against either one. Naturally such political giants as Sulla or Marius played a large role in making or breaking the careers of many other men and also became symbols of certain viewpoints, ideas and values with which people could and did identify (then and now). For instance, though too young to have been involved in politics whilist Marius lived a young Julius Caesar would later use the memory of his famous uncle by marriage to jump start his career, the historian Sallust however was one of Caesar’s supporters (and dare I use the loaded term…a Popularis) and like Marius himself a novous homo (according to some site, so if some good reader of mine could check that with something more reliable it’d be appreciated) wrote a work entitled ‘the Jugurthine war’ which needless to say deals with Marius a lot and Sulla too not insignificantly. This doubtless goes some way to explaining some of his favourable treatment of Marius- though far from all treatment of Marius in said work is positive.

partisan support for Sulla ties in to the vested interests of the senatorial class, but they are far from one and the same. Yes Sulla enlarged and further empowered the senate through his

Lucius Cornelius Sulla- caption courtesy of Nicholas Schwapol

reforms while also purging it of his enemies (and the enemies of his friends) and filling it and the magistracies with his friends, not to mention rewarding his partisans with the property of his victims and avenged many of those slain in Marius’s own reign of terror, Indeed he is said to have chosen as his own epitaph “no man did more harm to his enemies or more good for his friends” those are unlikely to be the exact words (for one thing the exact words were likely Latin) but I’m very confidant that thats an accurate gist of it, one doesn’t forget such a fitting summation so easily. No doubt many of these actions brought him the goodwill or at least the approval of much of the aristocracy, his removal of most powers of the Tribune’s of the Plebs and his granting control of the law courts to the senate (juries would now until the law was again altered be composed entirely of senators) seem to have been particularly popular with a significant group of senators (and increasingly unpopular with many other people), not to mention the fact that building Sulla up could be and was used to take credit from and attack the reputation of Marius.

However It was never a matter of hate the one and love the other and neither class or background count for everything. Cicero Arpinum’s second famed upstart, despite his very similar background (or perhaps to an extent because of it) had little liking for Marius or his populist policies but yet one definitely would not call him an admirer of Sulla. Indeed he had strong sympathies for Sulpicius and found the proscriptions abhorrent, as did many others amongst Rome’s elite, even amongst it’s conservative and pro-senate membership. Sulla by being the first to march on Rome and the first to introduce proscriptions as well as bringing civil war to Italy and establishing himself as dictator (in our sense of the word as well as the theirs, dictator being an emergency Roman magistracy) indefinitely by force had ensured that his name would live on in infamy. So much so that in many ways during his own civil war Caesar used the example of Sulla as a guide of what not to do if you want your legacy to endure and (very importantly for Caesar) your reputation to remain intact (unfortunately for Caesar and Rome as a whole Sulla’s methods were sometimes more effective then he seems to have estimated).

statue of Cicero in modern day Arpino (ancient Arpinum) his hometown- the warlike stance seems more akin to his fellow Arpinite Marius whose statue stands across the square......

Though many benefited financially and in the longer term politically from Sulla’s dictatorship, he had done so through actions abhorrent to the values of most of Rome’s aristocracy, pro-senatorial or otherwise, his defenders could and did claim that the actions of Marius, Sulpicius, Cinna, Carbo and their ilk forced him to take these measures to protect his life, defend his dignitas or for the greater good of the Republic, but the very fact that these actions seemed to call for defending, as well as the reasons given should tell you that the actions in and of themselves were widely regarded as shocking and horrendous even by some of  their defenders. Yes Sulla packed the senate with many of his supporters but that does not mean they were all terribly enthusiastic (doubtless some were), some may have become enemies of the Marius-Cinna-Carbo faction and thus had little alternative (see Crassus) or others may have judged him the lesser of two evils, others still amongst Rome’s elite remained largely neutral throughout the conflict or only joined Sulla after being rebuffed by the other side out of opportunism (see Pompey) or joined at the last minute out of opportunism (again) or fear and finally not all those with significant ties, sympathy for or similar ideas to Sulla’s principal enemies was killed (see Caesar and Lepidus). Furthermore Roman society was not so rigidly divided as to suggest that those of the elite left unproscribed would not have lost friends or relatives to the proscriptions.

Sulla by marching on Rome, securing ultimate power by force and initiating the proscriptions set a series of dangerous precedents as far as that same elite he built up in his reforms were concerned, he had shown that a general with the support of his troops could seize power by force, robbing them of their political powers, rights and freedoms and that he could use that power to kill any of their number he chose, despite all the good he had done them there was no greater threat to the senatorial elite then a military dictator, as would be proven time and time again, Sulla may have promoted and enriched many senators but as long as he was dictator they were robbed of the preciously held view that they had no master, that they were a member of an exclusive club whose members were all the equal of kings, in doing so Sulla threatened the ego and self worth of Rome’s elite (an ego tied to ideology) which was something they found particularly hard to forgive or forget (as Caesar would find out).

Marius it is true also marched on Rome with an army, attaining his seventh consulship by force and initiating his own reign of terror, however its not at all clear that his power was as great as Sulla’s (Cinna for instance- his co-consul, had raised an army independent of Marius) nor did it last nearly as long, according to Plutarch Marius died seventeen days after attaining his seventh consulship, cutting short his campaigns of perceived retribution and any tyranny he may have established. Sulla on the other hand reigned for a few years, not a

Marius- With eyebrows to put John Howards to shame no wonder he won re-election so many times;)

number of days. Furthermore unlike Sulla most of Marius’s accomplishments are not tainted by association with civil war, he attained six of his seven consulships, he reformed the army, defeated the Numidians and the Germans and for the last of these was hailed as the third founder of Rome (as its saviour) all well before Sulla’s first march on Rome. Indeed his defeat of the Germans(and In the case of the Modern world his military reforms) certainly rival his deadly rivalry with Sulla as a candidate for what the Romans (and us) chiefly remember him for.

Sulla doesn’t seem so fortunate, he too proved himself against Rome’s enemies, serving as a capable subordinate in the Jugurthine wars and the invasions of the Cimbri and Teutones etc. as well as as a general in the social and 1st Mithridatic wars, however he suffers from marching on Rome during his first consulship, not after his sixth, everything afterwards, the height of his career and fame has the spectre of civil war and/or dictatorship blemishing and obscuring it. Sulla for instance performed brilliantly in the first Mithridatic war (even if he says so himself…) but as Mithridates was not as obvious a threat to Rome’s existence as the Germans of Marius he had already marched on Rome once, would do so again immediately following said war, it is for marching on Rome, dictatorship and proscriptions that he is chiefly remembered, perhaps it is Marius who should be dubbed Felix;)

“So advantage to Marius then?” At this point I would tentatively say yes but Sulla has one more trick up his sleeve (one mentioned earlier), that being that unlike Marius (so far as we know) he wrote his own memoirs, unfortunately they have not survived down to the present day (Octavius wrote memoirs too early in his rise to power….the gems we have lost!:(…) so its difficult to tell precisely how much surviving sources relied upon them and how critically they were used, but we know they did. Plutarch makes many references to them in his life of Sulla and seems to rely heavily on them and a squizz through the last 10 or so pages of Sallust’s the Jugurthine war has me thinking he made use of them too. Unfortunately even the finest Ancient historians tend to fall well short of modern standards when it comes to critical source analysis (they were not necessarily less intelligent, They often wrote their works for a different purpose to many modern academics and besides we stand on their shoulders) and seem to take Sulla’s memoirs with a pinch of salt rather than the recommended spoonful (we historians love our salt nowadays). So maybe Sulla was lucky after all?

-for a look of what I believe to be an interesting, if slightly less obvious example of insufficiently critical use of Sulla’s memoirs creeping into the surviving historical tradition of the ancient world see my next post, coming soon….ish.

“Well then then the answer is Sulla then, hooray! were done then!? because I’m pretty sure Archduke Franz Ferdinand had just been assassinated when I started reading this, do you think I missed much?” Well yes and no, yes you missed a lot, though you really should thank me that you missed some of it (the Somme, Spanish flu, Hitler, Pol Pot and Pauline Hanson), no I’m not quite done yet, what remains is to discuss more modern perspectives of these two figures.

In the Britain of the late 1920’s a biography of Sulla was written by a G.P. Baker entitled ‘Sulla the Fortunate: Roman General and Dictator’ , I have not read the book in full, or even most of it but I got it out from Macquarie university’s library for help with a tute paper, I did however read the author’s foreword (I think its called that) in full, a lot of which was about how in the author’s opinion the present age Europe was entering (in the late 1920’s) was much like the era dawning on Rome at the time of Sulla an era in which dictatorship was both on the rise and beneficial, Sulla indeed seems to have been likened with the fascist dictator Mussolini but in a complimentary way (remember the British government was not hostile to Mussolini from the outset of his dictatorship, indeed they initially seemed to have high hopes for him) and I read enough of the biography to deduce that it has a very positive view of Sulla. I do not know whether this work represented the views on Sulla in anyway of the majority (or largest minority) of British, much less European scholars at the time (though Scullard who wrote much later I admit seems to have had a good deal of Sympathy for him), not that the book is very scholarly, but it is certainly an example of a very different perspective on Sulla than that held by most Ancient history undergrads today (if they have an opinion) nor I suspect does a generally pro-Sullan view prevail in academic circles today.

Oh and a note on the book in question, while interesting in some ways and some what quaint, I am in no way recommending it, aside from the fascist association the book when it gets to Pompey and describes his character at some length, amongst many other (in my opinion) seriously misguided and very positive views of the man, he is described as………..wait for it…….humble!!! That’s like saying George Bush Jr is well spoken, Hilary Clinton is unambitious, John I of england was competent or that Katy Perry can sing! If one had to list all the things Pompeius ‘Magnus’ wasn’t, it’d be vying for top of the list with an albino black sheep, I lost all remaining faith in the book at that moment. Now to wrap this epic post up:

Fast forward to the present day and I believe attitudes have shifted decisively in Marius’s favour- at least in comparison to Sulla. In a lecture for Macquarie universities brilliant course: Ciceronian Rome Sulla was like in G.P. Baker’s book likened to a fascist leader but the implication of that comparison for Sulla is very different, Fascism isn’t quite as popular these days (for good reason). Furthermore Sulla has long been associated with oligarchy, aristocracy and the interests of the rich as well as with dictatorship, Sulla’s association with the entrenched elite which once led to much bias in his favour has ironically been a principal cause for the largely negative light he seems to be held in these days. Much of the Western world is now democratic and has developed a cultural aversion to dictatorship and a egalitarian ethos has to varying extents been adopted that sometimes, as in Australia develops into an ingrained dislike and distrust of the society’s elite, known colloquially as tall poppy syndrome in one way or another, be it the highly educated, the rich, the “cultured”, politicians, the “aristocrats”- not that we really have any, etc. etc. (In Australia tall poppy syndrome does not seem to apply to actors, musicians or sports stars….bread and circuses much?).

All this results in a very negative perception of Sulla and what he is seen to stand for, Marius however benefits from being seen (rightly or wrongly) as Sulla’s opposite, the tough, gritty no nonsense  outsider making it big and saving his country and standing up for the little guy, despite the constant attempts of the jealous snooty blue bloods to stop him. A radical, a reformer and fair dinkum working class hero. This is a particularly extreme way to look at it but the current culture does seem to favour Marius over Sulla (not that either lack thier detractors or defenders) as the culture prevalent at other times and place’s has favoured Sulla.

Thus in a sense their rivalry continues down to the present day, are their any takers on who will win the next round?