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Of patrician, but recently impoverished and undistinguished family, according to Cicero had to work his way up like a novus homo (first man from his family to reach the consulship). He amassed wealth (not always reputably), gained the support of the Caecilii Metelli, and became consul (with a Metellus) 115 bc, defeating Publius Rutilius Rufus. As consul he humiliated the praetor Publius Decius Subulo, triumphed over Ligurian tribesmen and was made princeps senatus (First Senator) by the censors (one a Metellus) although probably not the senior patrician alive. He also began building a road (via Aemilia Scauri) linking the via Aurelia and the via Postumia. 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. Though himself suspect because of his negotiations with Jugurtha, he became chairman of one of the tribunals set up by Gaius Mamilius Limetanus. Censor 109, he refused, until forced, to resign on the death of his colleague Livius Drusus (1).

About 105, he received a cura annonae (office of supervising the foodsupply), superseding the quaestor Saturninus. In 100 he moved the senatus consultum ultimum (‘ultimate decree’ of the senate, in effect a declaration of emergency) against Saturninus and his supporters. In the 90s he went on an embassy to Asia and on his return may have brought about the mission of Quintus Mucius Scaevola. After Rutilius' conviction (92) he avoided prosecution by Quintus Servilius Caepio and became one of the chief advisers of Livius Drusus (2). Attacked by Quintus Varius, he crushed him with a haughty reply. 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 almost ruled the world’ (Cic. Font. 24).

He wrote an autobiography, perhaps the first, but it was soon forgotten. Cicero's admiration for him has coloured much of our tradition, but a very different view is found in (e.g.) Sallust, Iug.

Ernst Badian

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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