Of patrician, but recently impoverished and undistinguished family, acc. to Cicero had to work his way up like a novus homo. He amassed wealth (not always reputably), gained the support of the Caecilii Metelli, and became consul (with a Metellus) 115 bc, defeating Rutilius Rufus. As consul he triumphed over Ligurian tribesmen and was made princeps senatus by the censors (one a Metellus) although probably not the senior patrician. Increasingly powerful in the senate, he married Caecilia Metella and became the leader of the Metellan family group, then at the height of its glory. Censor 109, he built the first Roman canals in the Po (Padus) valley for navigation and for drainage. About 105, he received a cura annonae, superseding the quaestor Appuleius Saturninus. In 100 he moved the senatus consultum ultimum against Saturninus and his supporters. After Rutilius' conviction (92) he avoided prosecution and became one of the chief advisers of Livius Drusus. He was dead by late 89, when Metella married Sulla. Throughout his life he was involved in numerous trials, not always successful in prosecution, but never convicted. He was the last great princeps senatus: ‘his nod all but ruled the world’. He wrote an autobiography, perhaps the first. (See biography, roman.) Cicero's admiration for him has coloured much of our tradition.
Subjects: Classical Studies.