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Not much is known about the early life of Turbo. There are few records or references that provide reliable information regarding his life before he became a soldier. However, it is known that he was born in the late 1st century and came from a city in western Greece called Epidaurus, which was a place well known for its religious temples and healing centers. The first substantive record of Turbo appears in 113 AD, when he rose to prominence in the Roman military. However, he is thought to have been a Primipilus at some time.
The first record of Turbo appears in 113, during the reign of Emperor Trajan. At this time, he was the commander of the Classis Misenensis, the most senior fleet of the Roman Navy and under the direct control of the Emperor. Under Turbo’s command, the fleet sailed to the east to take part in Trajan's invasion of the Parthian Empire sometime between 113 CE and 116 CE.
Approximately at the same time, large portions of the Jewish population in the Empire rose in rebellion, uprisings taking place almost simultaneously in Judea, Egypt, Libya, Cyprus and parts of Mesopotamia. The grain supply from Egypt to Rome was threatened and with local authorities unable to quell the rebellion, Trajan sent Marcius Turbo, one of his best military men and closest confidants, to Egypt to deal with the situation.
Turbo reestablished control over Egypt and eventually Cyprus. Turbo became the military Prefect of Egypt for several years while the province went through a process of rehabilitation. In 117 Trajan died and was succeeded by his adopted son Hadrian. From the beginning of Hadrian’s reign, Turbo was a close friend, adviser and confidant of Hadrian. After the Jewish revolt had been quelled, Turbo accompanied Hadrian to Mauretania in North Africa where they jointly led a military campaign against local rebels; later Hadrian left Turbo in control of the area and campaign. As another example of how much Hadrian trusted Turbo, he put Turbo in charge of two provinces in North Africa, Mauretania Caesariensis and Mauretania Tingitana.
After his tenure as governor, Turbo, at the request of Hadrian, accepted control of the Danubian Command, part of the Roman military’s presence in the eastern area of the Empire near the Danube River. Turbo was in charge of the Danubian Command till 123. Just after this appointment, unrest broke out in the Roman province of Dacia. Turbo was immediately sent to Dacia and managed to stop any rebellion from materializing. Hadrian, in collaboration with Turbo, split Dacia into two regions in the hope of making the province more manageable and less rebellious. These two new regions were called Dacia Superior and Dacia Inferior. After his tenure as the leader of the Danubian command, Turbo went to Rome.
Hadrian, famous for his long and extensive travels throughout the empire that helped to consolidate his own power and exhibit the strength of the Emperor, realized that he needed a reliable representative in Rome, so he could continue his extended travels in the Empire. Therefore, in 125, Hadrian elevated Turbo to the position of Praefectus Praetorio, or Praetorian Prefect, the leader of the Praetorian Guard. He held this title until 134. It is at this point that Turbo seems to disappear and no more records are found about him. It seems possible that Turbo, along with many others, fell out of favor with Hadrian later in his reign. However, it is also possible that Turbo died from natural causes, because there is no evidence of foul play.
Significance and contemporary assessment
Without a doubt Turbo had an illustrious career that was made all the more noteworthy because he was from Greece and not Italy. Up to this point in time, the high positions of the Roman Government were still reserved for the men of noble and aristocratic families of Roman heritage. However, Turbo’s life shows that the general trend in the Empire was towards an egalitarian society where one’s knowledge, skills and accomplishments were just as important as one’s family and ancestors. The Roman historian Cassius Dio described Turbo as “loyal, assiduous and vigilant.”
Syme, Ronald. Guard Prefects of Trajan and Hadrian. Vol. 70. Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies. 64-80.
Smallwood, Mary E. Palestine A.D. 115-118. 4th ed. Vol. 11. Franz Steiner Verlag. 500-10.
Syme, Ronald. The Wrong Marcius Turbo. 1st ed. Vol. 51. Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 1962. 87-96.
Wade, Donald W. Some Governors of Dacia: A Rearrangement. 2nd ed. Vol. 64. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago P, 1969. 105-07.
"Trajan (c. 53-117)." DISCovering Biography. Online ed. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center - Gold. Gale. Sacred Heart Preparatory (BAISL). 26 Nov. 2008 http://find.galegroup.com/ips/start.do?prodId=IPS
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- Karol Kłodziński, Equestrian cursus honorum basing on the careers of two prominent officers of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, In Tempore 4 (2010)