Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo

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The so-called "Pseudo-Corbulo", once thought to be the portrait of Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, actually a portrait of an unknown personality of the 1st century BC. Parian marble. (Centrale Montemartini, Rome)

Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo (c. 7 – 67 AD) was a Roman general, brother-in-law of the emperor Caligula and father-in-law of Domitian.

Life[edit]

Descent[edit]

Corbulo was born in Italy into a senatorial family. His father, who shared the same name, entered the Senate as a formal praetor under Tiberius. His mother Vistilia came from a family which held the praetorship.

Military & Political Career[edit]

Reign of Caligula[edit]

Corbulo's early career is unknown but he was consul in 39 during the reign of Caligula, his brother-in-law through Caligula's marriage to Corbulo's half-sister Milonia Caesonia.

In Germania Inferior[edit]

Statue of Corbulo in Voorburg, Netherlands

After Caligula's assassination, Corbulo's career came to a halt until, in 47 AD, the new Emperor Claudius made him commander of the armies in Germania Inferior, with base camp in Colonia (Cologne).

The new assignment was a difficult one and Corbulo had to deal with major rebellions by the Germanic Cherusci and Chauci. During his stay in Germania, the general ordered the construction of a canal between the rivers Rhine and Meuse.[1] Parts of this engineering work, known as Fossa Corbulonis or Corbulo's Canal, have been found at archeological digs. Its course is about identical to the Vliet, which connects the modern towns of Leiden (ancient Matilo) and Voorburg (Forum Hadriani). Upon reaching lower Germania, Corbulo employed both the army and naval squadrons of the fleet patrolling the Rhine and North Sea, eventually expelling the Chauci away from the Roman Provinces and instituting a rigiorous training program in order to ensure maximum effectiveness of his legions. He supposedly executed two legionnaires after they were found to have laid aside their swords when labouring in the construction of fortifications on a marching camp.[2]

In the east[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Roman-Parthian War of 58–63.

Corbulo returned to Rome, where he stayed until 52, when he was named governor of the province of Asia. Following Claudius' death in 54, the new emperor Nero sent him to the eastern provinces to deal with the Armenian question. After some delay, he took the offensive in 58, and, reinforced by troops from Germany, attacked Tiridates, king of Armenia and brother of Vologases I of Parthia. Artaxata and Tigranocerta were captured by his legions (III Gallica, VI Ferrata, and X Fretensis), and Tigranes, who had been brought up in Rome and was the obedient servant of the government, was installed as king of Armenia.

In 61 Tigranes invaded Adiabene, an integral portion of the Parthian Kingdom, and a conflict between Rome and Parthia seemed unavoidable. Vologases, however, thought it better to come to terms. It was agreed that both the Roman and Parthian troops should evacuate Armenia, that Tigranes should be dethroned, and the position of Tiridates recognized. The Roman government declined to accede to these arrangements, and Lucius Caesennius Paetus, governor of Cappadocia, was ordered to settle the question by bringing Armenia under direct Roman administration.

The protection of Syria in the meantime claimed all of Corbulo's attention. Lucius Caesannius Paetus, a weak and incapable commander, who "despised the fame acquired by Corbulo, suffered a severe defeat at Rhandeia (62), where he was surrounded and forced to capitulate to the Parthians and evacuated to Armenia. The command of the troops was again entrusted to Corbulo. In 63 AD, with a strong army, he crossed the Euphrates, but Tiridates declined to give battle and arranged a peace. At Rhandea he laid down his diadem at the foot of the emperor's statue, promising not to resume it until he received it from the hand of Nero himself in Rome.

Fall and death[edit]

After two failed plots by noblemen and senators, including Corbulo's son-in-law, Senator Lucius Annius Vinicianus, to overthrow Nero in 62, he became suspicious of Corbulo and his support among the Roman masses. In 67 disturbances broke out in Judaea and Nero, ordering Vespasian to take command of the Roman forces, summoned Corbulo, as well as two brothers who were the governors of Upper and Lower Germany, to Greece. On his arrival at Cenchreae, the port of Corinth, messengers from Nero met Corbulo, and ordered him to commit suicide, which he loyally obeyed by falling on his own sword, saying, "Axios!".[3]

Works[edit]

Corbulo wrote an account of his Asiatic experiences, which is now lost.

Marriage and issue[edit]

Corbulo married Cassia Longina, a Roman woman from a senatorial family, daughter of Gaius Cassius Longinus and wife Junia Lepida. Cassia bore Corbulo two daughters. The elder daughter Domitia married the senator Lucius Annius Vinicianus and their second daughter Domitia Longina became a Roman Empress and married the future Roman Emperor Domitian. Through Junia Lepida, a great-great granddaughter of Augustus, both of Cassia's daughters by Corbulo were direct descendants of the first Roman emperor and thus, surviving members of the Imperial Julio-Claudian family.

In popular culture[edit]

  • The 2012 live-action video web series Forward Unto Dawn takes place in the fictional Corbulo Academy of Military Science,[4] which is named after General Corbulo. The academy's motto is Axios!, which Corbulo said before killing himself.
  • The 2012 historical novel, "Avenger of Rome", by Douglas Jackson, deals with the fictional last battle of Corbulo.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Tacitus Annales XI 20.
  2. ^ Goldsworthy, Adrian (2003). In the Name of Rome: The men who won the Roman Empire. Great Britain: Orion Publishing Group. p. 268. ISBN 0-297-84666-3. 
  3. ^ "The game of death in ancient Rome: arena sport and political suicide"
  4. ^ "Halopedia: Corbulo Academy of Military Science"

References[edit]

  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Military History, Vol. 23, Number 5, p. 47–53
  • Christian Settipani, Continuite Gentilice et Continuite Familiale Dans Les Familles Senatoriales Romaines, A L'Epoque Imperiale, Mythe et Realite. Linacre, UK: Prosopographica et Genealogica, 2000. ILL. NYPL ASY (Rome) 03-983.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Marcus Aquila Iulianus and Publius Nonius Asprenas
Suffect Consul of the Roman Empire
suffect consul under Caligula with Lucius Apronius Caesianus; and Quintus Sanquinius Maximus, Domitius Afer, Aulus Didius Gallus suffects
39 AD
Succeeded by
Caligula