Publius Cornelius Lentulus Spinther

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Publius Cornelius Lentulus, nicknamed Spinther because of his likeness to a popular actor of that name, came from an ancient Roman patrician family of the Cornelia gens. Although treated with great favour by Julius Caesar, Spinther eventually came to support the aristocratic senatorial cause of Caesar's great rival Pompeius Magnus and to align himself with the Optimates party. This proved an unwise move that would eventually lead to his political destruction and perhaps to his death.

Early career[edit]

Publius Cornelius Lentulus Spinther first attained public office in 63 BC (the year of Cicero's consulship) when he was voted curule aedile. As curule aedile, Spinther assisted Cicero in the suppression of the Catiline conspiracy, and in that office he also distinguished himself by the splendour of the games he provided (though the royal purple stripe he used on his toga is said to have offended many Romans to whom purple was connected with royalty and therefore anathema to a good Roman.)

Spinther's career didn't suffer, however, and he was elected praetor in 60. Subsequently in 59 BC as pro-praetor he received the governorship of Hispania Citerior (Hither Spain). In seeking this province, Spinther received support for the first time from Julius Caesar.

As pro-praetor in Spain, Spinther struck coins which bore his name and nickname - proving the 'Spinther' nickname was now being officially used to distinguish him from those others in the Cornelia gens who bore the same name as he.

Consul and governor[edit]

Spinther again received the support of Julius Caesar when he sought election to Rome's top job - the consulship in (57 BC). With Caesar's help, Spinther's campaign was successful, and he was elected one of Rome's two consuls for 57 BC. On the first day of his consulship (1 January 57 BC) he moved for the recall of Cicero from exile. Thereafter Cicero speaks of Spinther in friendly and grateful terms and indeed addressed a long letter to him when Spinther was later proconsular governor in Cilicia. This letter has survived and is published in most anthologies of Cicero's letters.

Immediately after his consulship ended - from 56 BC-53 BC P Cornelius Lentulus Spinther was appointed by the Senate to govern the province of Cilicia (with Cyprus). This was his choice, and he appears to have done a good job as pro-consular governor, looking after the best interests of his subjects and not enriching himself at their expense. As governor of a wealthy province in the East, Spinther struck large silver coins (known as Cistophoric Tetradrachms) from a provincial mint at Apameia in Phrygia that bear his name - P LENTVLVS P F IMPERATOR - (Stumpf 74, pl. II, 26; BMC p. 73, 27-8; SNG Copenhagen 158.) These tetradrachms are on average 25mm in diameter and weigh 10.65 grams. They are uncommon but not rare. (In October 2006 at its Sale # 149, Classical Numismatic Group in the USA sold a fine example as Lot 211 for $US192.)

Support for Pompey[edit]

In spite of his indebtedness to Caesar, Spinther increasingly tended to support and side with the patrician Senatorial class and their leader Pompey, rather than with Caesar and his popularist supporters. This steadily distanced him from Caesar and when civil war broke out between the supporters of Pompey and Caesar in 49 BC, Spinther predictably sided with Pompey. Unfortunately although a good governor, Spinther was not a good soldier, and soon found himself trapped and besieged by Caesar's troops in Corfinium where he was forced to surrender. The generosity with which he was subsequently treated by Caesar after the capitulation of Corfinium made Spinther hesitate, but not for long. After a brief retirement to Puteoli he soon rejoined Pompey's main army in Greece.

In 48 BC, Pompey's main army confronted that of Julius Caesar and his lieutenant Marc Antony at the battle of Pharsalus. This battle resulted in a decisive defeat for the Pompeian forces. Pompey himself fled to Egypt (where he was immediately beheaded by Egypt's ruler Ptolemy XIII in the mistaken belief this act would please Caesar) and Spinther escaped to Rhodes, where he was at first refused admission, but subsequently given asylum (Cicero, Ad Alt. xi. 13. i).

Death and family[edit]

Denarius (42 BC) issued by Cassius Longinus and Lentulus Spinther the younger, depicting the crowned head of Libertas, with a sacrificial jug and lituus on the reverse

According to Sextus Aurelius Victor (De vir. ill. Ixxviii., 9, if the reading be correct), he later fell into Caesar's hands and was put to death. This event is unverified by other contemporary sources, but may explain why his son (P Cornelius P f P n Lentulus Spinther) joined Caesar's assassins, Brutus and Cassius, and struck coins for them during their civil war against the forces of Marc Anthony and Octavian. Like his father before him, the younger Spinther also put his own name and nickname 'Spinther' on the reverse of his coins, the obverse of which feature the head of 'Liberty'. See Caesar, Bell. Civ. i. 15-23, iii. 102; Plutarch, Pomp. 49; Valerius Maximus ix. 14, 4; many letters of Cicero, especially Ad Fam. i. 1-9.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus and Aulus Gabinius
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Quintus Caecilius Metellus Nepos
57 BC
Succeeded by
Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus and Lucius Marcius Philippus