ElAnt v1n3 - Sulpicius (tr. pl. 88 BC) and the Pompeii

Volume 1, Number 3
August 1993


J. Lea Beness,
Department of Classics and Ancient History,
University of New England,
N.S.W. 2351,
e-mail: jbeness@metz.une.edu.au

Rivalry for the consulship of 88 BC was fierce. That much has been noted by others and in any case such competition was often fierce. ( 2 ) Three, probably four, candidates are known: the forty- nine year old L. Cornelius Sulla (pr. c. 96), ( 3 ) Q. Pompeius Rufus (pr. 91), C. Julius Caesar Strabo Vopiscus (aed. cur. 90) and Cn. Pompeius Strabo (cos. 89).( 4 ) At stake, a prestigious eastern command; ( 5 ) for one candidate a possible consulship ex aedilitate and for another a second (successive) consulship. The two patrician candidates knew that one or the other had to be eliminated, a fact that has led some to speculate that in opposing Caesar Strabo's irregular candidacy the tribune Sulpicius was representing the interests of Sulla.( 6 ) But what of the other candidates? Would they have viewed the contest in such a tunnel- visioned way? The elimination of one patrician candidate - which was a necessity for the other - did not benefit only that individual. Would they not have been gratified to see the elimination of any competitor for the coveted position? ( 7 )

There can be no doubt that Sulpicius sought to secure the election of his intimate friend Pompeius Rufus.( 8 ) His close friendship with Rufus had flourished within the now disarrayed Drusan group, that illustrious constellation which had met at Tusculum and discussed Sulpicius' prospective candidature for the tribunate of 89.( 9 ) Pompeius Rufus, like Sulpicius, had been a warm adherent of this Tusculum coterie.( 10 )

It has been argued that Sulpicius represented the interests of the winning team - i.e., Pompeius Rufus and Sulla ( 11 ) (whose daughter at some stage married Rufus' son).( 12 ) A connection between Sulla and Sulpicius is however unattested and a priori unlikely. So too is Sulla's membership of the Drusan group. He would not have been considered good enough for inclusion in such an illustrious circle.( 13 ) Witness the affected horror when Sulla as consul scored a domestic alliance with the Metelli, marrying the widow of M. Aemilius Scaurus.( 14 ) It has been suggested, for no good reason and certainly without evidence, that this alliance was in the wind earlier.( 15 ) It is as likely as not that in this round of realignment and new recognition, Sulla effected a marriage alliance with his new colleague (and not before).( 16 )

Sulpicius' intimacy with Pompeius Rufus remained strong until the latter had entered the consulship - and the breakdown was in some way spectacular and much talked about. Cicero depicts Sulpicius as alienating himself from Pompeius Rufus.( 17 ) In backing his close friend for the consulship, Sulpicius may have remained true to certain political ideals, ideals with which Rufus' colleague Sulla was probably not in sympathy.( 18 )

On the other hand, Pompeius Rufus' kinsman, the ambivalent Strabo ( 19 ), may have shared common political ground with Sulpicius. Sulpicius served as a legate in the Social War ( 20 ) and it is known that a Sulpicius served on Pompeius Strabo's consilium at Asculum.( 21 ) Mattingly has argued convincingly that this Sulpicius is to be identified with the tribune of 88 BC.( 22 ) The seniority of Sulpicius' position on the consilium might suggest close ties with the consul of 89.( 23 )

Political affinity with Pompeius Strabo in 89 may seem surprising given that Sulpicius was closely linked during the nineties with those eminent supporters of Drusus who met at Tusculum in 91.( 24 ) It appears that Pompeius Strabo was no friend of this group. Rutilius Rufus, whose scandalous condemnation in 92 strengthened its resolve to press for judicial reform, represented Strabo in his memoirs as totally depraved ( pamponeros ).( 25 )

By late 89, however, Sulpicius and Pompeius Strabo shared common views on the Italian question, the most pressing and controversial issue of the day. Both realised that it was necessary for Rome to abandon the prevailing narrow views on the franchise question. As tribune Sulpicius was to sponsor a revolutionary proposal to enrol the newly enfranchised Italians in all the tribes.( 26 ) As consul, Pompeius Strabo had given the ius Latinum to the Transpadanes, ( 27 ) an act which was undoubtedly regarded in conservative ranks as one of unnecessary generosity.( 28 ) His gift of citizenship to thirty equites Hispani is even more revealing.( 29 ) It is extremely unlikely that in 89 there were many precedents for the enfranchisement of men who were not domiciled in Italy.( 30 ) At the time of the Hannibalic War a few individuals who had rendered outstanding services to Rome were given the civitas but it appears that there is no earlier parallel for Strabo's wholesale enfranchisement of provincials.( 31 )

Pompeius Strabo may also have shared common political ground with Antistius, the tribune who aided Sulpicius in his opposition to the controversial candidacy. Cicero states that Antistius finally won favour during his tribunate, surpassing Sulpicius in the skill of his legal argumentation in the case against the proposed candidature of Caesar Strabo.( 32 ) Three years later Antistius gained notoriety by the distinct partiality he displayed as judge in a case involving Pompeius' son.( 33 ) The favour was capped with a marriage alliance.( 34 ) Though Plutarch indicates that the deal was actually negotiated at the time of the trial a friendship may well have been forged at an earlier date. It it perhaps significant that those who testified on behalf of the young Pompey, prominent politicians such as Hortensius, Carbo and Philippus, probably shared a common link with Strabo.( 35 ) Antistius too might be numbered amongst Strabo's amici . He certainly acted in his interests in late 89 when he argued so vociferously against Caesar Strabo's consular candidature.

The consular elections were not held before December 89.( 36 ) The delay may have occurred because Pompeius Strabo was the presiding officer ( 37 ) and was unable to return to Rome either because of the military situation or because of his forthcoming triumph on December 25.( 38 ) The activities of his old rival Caesar Strabo had no doubt begun some time before.( 39 ) Sulpicius and Antistius (as tribunes-elect and tribunes in office) may have represented Pompeius Strabo's interests during his absence by spearheading the opposition to Caesar Strabo's candidacy, a candidacy which threatened the former's hopes for a successive consulship.( 40 )

It may be worth noting that the hostis declaration against Marius, Sulpicius et al. was closely followed by an attempt to recall Pompeius Strabo.( 41 ) That may have been routine or it could be that Sulla and Pompeius Rufus perceived that the presence of Pompeius Strabo in the north constituted a threat.( 42 ) If he was so perceived, it could have been because of his dangerous opportunism or it could have been because of his political inclinations or even more the suggested connection with Sulpicius.

If Pompeius Strabo were a candidate again for 88 (as he almost certainly was) Sulpicius' scruples were not raised against him. Sulpicius may have been using his tribunate to further the interests of one whom he knew from personal experience to be sympathetic to the Italian cause or would offer a sympathetic consular reception to tribunician activity in that regard. The assistance may have been tacit. He need not have canvassed actively for Pompeius Strabo, though the obstruction of Caesar Strabo provided effective aid (as it did, in effect, to all other candidates). If Sulpicius was so acting, he could do so without sacrificing his long standing friendship with Pompeius Rufus, for whom he was bound to canvas.( 43 ) But Sulpicius' political commitments and popularis behaviour would ensure that that particular friendship would not survive the next year.


1. I would like to thank T.W. Hillard and R. Seager for their valuable criticism.

2.The date of Caesar Strabo's controversial consular candidacy is December 89: so E. Badian, Historia 18 (1969), p. 482; B.R. Katz, RhM 120 (1977), pp. 45-47; A. Keaveney, Latomus 38 (1979), p. 451, n. 1; T.J. Luce, Historia 19 (1970), p. 190. Cf. E.S. Gruen, JRS 55 (1965), p. 72, especially n. 161; A.W. Lintott, CQ n.s. 21 (1971), pp. 446-449; T.N. Mitchell, CPh 70 (1975), pp. 201-203. As Badian ( Historia 18 [1969], p. 482) rightly points out, Sulpicius' opposition to the candidacy and conversion to demagogy should be placed early in his tribunate. Appian ( Bell. Civ. 1.52) indicates that the elections for 88 were delayed until the winter had set in.

3. For possible dates of Sulla's praetorship and propraetorship, cf. MRR iii. 73-74.

4. Velleius Paterculus (2.21.2) reports that Pompeius Strabo was foiled in his hope of gaining a successive consulship ( frustratus spe continuandi consulatus ). This of course need not necessarily mean that he submitted his professio but the inference is attractive (cf. B.R. Katz, CPh 71 [1976], p. 329, n.6). R. Seager ( Pompey: A Political Biography [Oxford, 1979], p. 3) rightly argues that Velleius' text must refer to aspirations in 89 and not to those in 87 for which there is the direct testimony of Granius Licinianus 35, p.19 F (cf. Seager, op. cit., p. 4). Pace A. Keaveney, 'Pompeius Strabo's Second Consulship', CQ n.s. 28 (1978), pp. 240-241, Pompeius Strabo's recent outstanding military achievements may have encouraged the general's belief that he would be reappointed for a second consular term, a beneficiary of the Marian tradition of continuing tenure of office during a military crisis.

No ancient source mentions Marius' involvement in the conflict associated with Caesar Strabo's consular candidature or claims that he canvassed for the consulship of 88. Orosius' statement (5.19.3) that Marius tried to secure a seventh consulship and to seize the Mithridatic command on the eve of Sulla's departure for the East is assuredly confused, arising perhaps from a faulty recall of some statement in Livy that Marius tried to snatch Sulla's imperium (since his text makes it perfectly clear that Sulla held the consulship at the time) or from some confusion with Marius' seizure of the consulship in 87/86. Diodorus' statement (37.2.12) that Marius and Caesar Strabo were in competition for the Mithridatic command is probably confused (so Keaveney, Latomus 38 (1979), pp. 451-453, especially p. 453). It certainly does not indicate that Marius was a consular candidate in 89. Marius is too central an historical figure for an unsuccessful consular bid in such tumultuous times to have gone unrecorded (and unrecalled by Plutarch), pace Katz, RhM 120 (1977), pp. 49-50.

5. Cf. ibid., p. 47 for the view that the Mithridatic command was the primary goal of those aiming for the consulship in 89.

6. Cf. ibid., p. 55, n. 51. It is clear that Keaveney ( Sulla: The Last Republican [London/Sydney, 1982], p. 58) has missed this point altogether when he says: ' . . . it is unlikely that his [Caesar Strabo's] candidature would have proved a threat to Sulla's own chances of election'. Clearly, Sulla and Caesar Strabo could not both be elected consul. Katz ( RhM 120 [1977], p. 55, n. 51) admits the possibility (following T.J. Cadoux [ MRR Suppl. ], p. 19) that the old law requiring at least one plebeian consul had either been repealed or become obsolete, referring to the joint consulship of the patricians Cinna and Flaccus in 86. Though (as Katz acknowledges) Flaccus was a suffect consul, which may serve to explain the anomaly - and, in any case, we should not look to the Cinnan dominatio for evidence of constitutional practice (cf. MRR ii. p. 30, n. 3).

7. Sulpicius may of course have simply acted as the defender of constitutional propriety in late 89, a possibility which is too readily dismissed by prosopographers but which seems to be ruled out in this case by the fact that any concern for electoral regularity was selective. Cf. discussion below.

8. Cic. Lael. 2.

9. Cic. de Orat . 1. 24-27.

10. Cf. Cic. de Orat. 1.168; Gruen, JRS 55 (1965), p. 65. Close ties with Drusus are strongly suggested by Rufus' indictment during the first phase of prosecutions under the lex Varia and by the fact that Philippus, the inimicus of Drusus, testified against him ( pace R. Seager, Historia 16 [1967], p. 43; cf. Cic. Brut. 304). Cf. Gruen, JRS 55 (1965), p. 72, for Sulpicius' membership of the Drusan group.

11. Keaveney, Latomus 38 (1979), pp. 455-460; Katz, RhM 120 (1977), pp. 48, 60.

12. App. Bell. Civ . 1.56; Liv. Per . 77; Vell. Pat. 2.18.6. E. Badian ( Lucius Sulla: The Deadly Reformer [Sydney, 1970], p. 13, n. 37) speculates on the date of the marriage on the grounds that a son of the marriage held a tribunate in 52, suggesting that the marriage took place in 89 or 88. The age at which Q. Pompeius (trib. 52) held office is, as Badian acknowledges, not decisive evidence. More to the point, the birth-date of a son of that marriage is not implicit evidence for the date of the marriage.

13. Pace E. Gabba, in P.J. Cuff (trans.), Republican Rome, the Army and the Allies (Oxford, 1976), p. 134. Similarities between the Drusan and Sullan reform programs need not indicate political ties between the two men in 91.

14. Plut. Sull . 6. Plutarch places the marriage in Sulla's fiftieth year and after his election to the consulship.

15. Badian, Lucius Sulla , p. 13 and n. 37.

16. If the marriage occurred before the consular elections there can be no doubt that Sulla and Pompeius Rufus campaigned in each other's interests. This is not to say that Sulpicius must have actively canvassed for both candidates. That the electorate did not necessarily vote for tickets is suggested by the case of Caesar and Lucceius versus Bibulus in 60 (Suet. Iul. 19).

17. Lael. 2.

18. The fact that the consuls postponed the vote on Sulpicius' bill to enrol the new Italian citizens in all the tribes strongly suggests that they were not in sympathy with its provisions. They probably feared that Sulpicius was capable of passing it through the use of violence. Cf. App. Bell. Civ. 1.55. On Sulla's effective disfranchisement of the new citizens, cf. T.J. Cornell, JRS 78 (1988), p. 204.

19. On the relationship, see G.V. Sumner, AJAH 2 (1977), p. 21.

20. Cic. Brut. 304.

21. ILS 8888.

22. H.B. Mattingly, Athenaeum 53 (1975), pp. 264-266, arguing that Sulpicius was neither a patrician nor a Rufus; cf. D.R. Shackleton Bailey, Two Studies in Roman Nomenclature , American Classical Studies 3 (University Park, Pa., 1976), pp. 131-132; P. Harvey, AJPh 101 (1980), p. 119; E. Badian, in N. Horsfall (ed.), Vir Bonus Discendi Peritus. Studies in Celebration of Otto Skutsch's Eightieth Birthday , BICS Suppl. 51 (London, 1988), pp. 6-7. On the identity of the fourth legate listed on the Asculum inscription, cf. C. Cichorius, Romische Studien (Berlin, 1922), pp. 137-139; N. Criniti, L' Epigrafe di Asculum di Gn. Pompeo Strabone (Milan, 1970), pp. 96-98. Appian ( Bell. Civ. 1.47) mentions a Sulpicius whose initiative in setting fire to the enemy camp saved Pompeius Strabo and his army at Firmum; cf. Oros. 5.18.25; Liv. Per . 76. The epitomator of Livy (73) notes that a certain Servius Sulpicius defeated the Paeligni; but cf. MRR ii. p. 31, n. 18 on the textual difficulties.

23. Although it should not be assumed that members of a general's consilium were necessarily his past or future political associates (cf. R. Seager, LCM 3 [1978], p. 234), a number of young men starting their careers on the general's staff were no doubt chosen amicitiae causa (cf. Caes. Bell. Gall. 1.39). One need go no further than the previous year to the lists of legati serving under the consuls P. Rutilius Lupus and L. Julius Caesar to find political affiliation between commanding officers and their staff (E. Badian, Studies in Greek and Roman History [Oxford, 1964], pp. 52- 56).

Several officers of Pompeius Strabo reappear on the one hand as collaborators with Cinna in the 80's (E.S. Gruen, Roman Politics and the Criminal Courts, 149-78 B.C. [Cambridge, Mass., 1968], pp. 242-243), and on the other as allies of Magnus (also on Strabo's consilium along with his cousin) subsequently - e.g. L. Gellius and Cn. Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus coss. 72, censs. 70 (identifying Cn. Cornelius Cn. f. Pal. trib. with the latter; cf. G.V. Sumner, The Orators in Cicero's 'Brutus': Prosopography and Chronology , Phoenix Suppl. 11 [Toronto, 1973], p. 124; pace Criniti, L' Epigrafe di Asculum , pp. 82, 108-110) and M. Aemilius Lepidus cos. 78 (following the identification of Cichorius, Romische Studien , p. 147 and Criniti, , pp. 106- 108).

24. On the illustrious group which gathered at Tusculum, cf. J. Linderski, in R.I. Curtis (ed.), Studia Pompeiana and Classica in Honor of Wilhelmina F. Jashemski ii (New Rochelle, New York, 1989), pp. 106-109.

25. Plut. Pomp. 37.3. A hint survives of a connection with Philippus, the active opponent of Drusus in 91 (Plut. Pomp. 2.2). It might also be significant that a son of Philippus probably served on Strabo's consilium (Cichorius, Romische Studien , pp. 168-169; cf. Criniti, L' Epigrafe di Asculum , pp. 146-148). Cf. n. 35 below. Pompeius' service in 90 under the consul Rutilius Lupus may even indicate sympathies with the Mariani. Cf. Badian, Studies in Greek and Roman History , pp. 52-56.

26. Cf. MRR ii. p. 41.

27. Ascon. 3C; cf. Dio 37.9.3.

28. In 89 it must have required some boldness to even suggest such a gift to a people regarded by many as semi-barbarians (cf. Sall. Bell. Cat. 52.24; Tac. Ann. 11.23; G.H. Stevenson, JRS 9 [1919], p. 97). Cf. Cic. Balb. 50-51 for Strabo's bestowal of citizenship on Publius Caesius of Ravenna and Phil. 12.27 for the cordial conference between Strabo and the Marsian leader Publius Vettius Scato.

29. ILS 8888.

30. Cf. E. Badian, Foreign Clientelae, 264-70 B.C. (Oxford, 1958), p. 261, n.4.

31. Stevenson, JRS 9 [1919], p. 100. The liberality of Strabo's franchise grants is further underlined by the probability that the Spaniards did not previously possess any form of Roman privilege (ibid.).

32. Brut. 226.

33. Cf. Gruen, Roman Politics and the Criminal Courts , p. 245, n. 133 for the identification of the presiding officer at the trial with the tribune of 88.

34. Plut. Pomp . 4.1-3; cf. 9.2-3.

35. Plut. Pomp . 2.2; Cic. Brut. 230; Val. Max. 5.3.5, 6.2.8. Gelzer ( Kleine Schriften [Wiesbaden, 1962], ii. pp. 125-126) suggests that Pompey inherited the connections from his father. In his Pompeius (Munich, 1949), p. 34, he makes it clear that this can be no more than a suggestion. Cf. n. 25 above.

36. App. Bell. Civ. 1.52.

37. His consular colleague Cato had been killed in action during the course of the year (cf. MRR ii. p. 32). If Pompeius Strabo presided over the elections he may have been placed in the awkward position of admitting his own candidacy. Marius had faced a similar situation in 103 (cf. MRR . i. p. 562), the awkwardness of which may be reflected in his apparent reluctance to present himself as a candidate (Plut. Mar . 14.6-8; Liv. Per. 67). Cf. Liv. 27.6.2-11.

38. Cf. Inscr. Ital . 13.1, 84-85 and 563. The possibility that the military situation necessitated Pompeius Strabo's absence from Rome is suggested by Appian's statement ( Bell. Civ. 1.52) that when Sulla returned to Rome to stand for the consulship Pompeius continued the resistance against the Italian insurgents.

39. After his quaestorian service in Sardinia c. 106 under Titus Albucius, Pompeius Strabo collected evidence for a repetundae charge against his commanding officer but was rejected at the divinatio and the prosecution was assigned to Caesar Strabo (Cic. div. in Caec. 63; cf. Cic. Off. 2.50; Ps.-Ascon. 203 St.; Suet. Iul. 55.2; Apul. Apol . 66.4). Cf. MRR iii. pp. 165-166 on the date of Strabo's quaestorship. The incident probably intensified the rivalry between the two consular candidates in late 89. Cf. Katz, RhM 120 (1977), p. 51: ' . . . the two Strabones were, at the very least, far from friends in 89'.

40. Though Sulpicius appears to have been at Asculum on 17th November; cf. ILS 8888.

41. The attempt initially failed because of the veto of another tribune, Gaius Herennius (cf. Sall. Hist. 2.21M apud Gellius 10.20.10). On the dating of the fragment, cf. E. Badian, Hermes 83 (1955), pp. 109-112; Hermes 89 (1961), pp. 254-256. Ex composito refers to an arrangement between Herennius and Pompeius Strabo.

42. The subsequent murder of Pompeius Rufus, who had been dispatched to take over Strabo's troops in Picenum, reveals that any such fears were justified (Vell. Pat. 2.20.1; Liv. Per. 77; App. Bell. Civ. 1.63; Val. Max. 9.7. mil.Rom. 2). Appian ( Bell. Civ. 1.64) notes Sulla's apprehension for his own safety when the assassination was reported in Rome.

43. Cicero ( Har. Resp. 43) claims that Sulpicius started by defending the optima causa against Caesar Strabo's ambition to gain consular office. On this point, see the sensible discussion of Badian, Historia 18 (1969), pp. 481-482.

J. Lea Beness
e-mail: jbeness@metz.une.edu.au

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Electronic Antiquity Vol. 1 Issue 3 - August 1993
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