Quintus Dellius

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Quintus Dellius was a Roman commander and politician in the second half of the 1st century BC.

He was a political opportunist and was called desultor bellorum civilium (horse changer of the civil war) by Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus. He received this name because he deserted from Publius Cornelius Dolabella to Gaius Cassius Longinus in 43 BC, from Cassius to Mark Antony in 42 BC, and finally from Antony to Octavian in 31 BC.[1]

Dellius was more than ten years an intimate friend of Antony, who used him mainly for diplomatic missions. In 41 BC, he traveled by Antony’s order to Alexandria to summon the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra VII to Tarsus in Cilicia. There she was to answer for the money that she allegedly had sent to Gaius Cassius for his war against Antony and Octavian.[2] In 40 BC or 39 BC, Antony sent him to Judaea to help Herod the Great with the expulsion of the usurper Antigonus.[3] In 36 BC or 35 BC, Dellius negotiated with Herod, that the Jewish King should appoint the young brother of his wife Mariamne, Aristobulus, high priest.[4] Dellius also participated in Antony’s campaign against the Parthian Empire in 36 BC. Two years later he was ordered to persuade the Armenian king Artavasdes II to wed his four-year-old daughter to the six-year-old Alexander Helios, the son of Antony and Cleopatra VII.[5] It is doubtful if this diplomatic mission was serious because Antony soon cunningly caught the Armenian king and his family.

Dellius liked to make mocking remarks[6] and he was allegedly the matchmaker for Antony to satisfy his erotic passions.[7] Therefore Cleopatra could not stand him.[8]

When Antony fought his last war against Octavian (31 BC) Dellius accompanied his superior to Greece. He recruited reinforcement troops in Macedonia and Thrace when the situation for Antony deteriorated more and more.[9] Just before the Battle of Actium Dellius changed sides to Octavian and betrayed him Antony’s plans for the last fight.[10] He justified his changeover with his fear, that Cleopatra VII wanted to murder him.[8] Dellius was held in high regard by the first Roman emperor.[11] According to the commentator Porphyrio the poet Horace addressed an ode (2.3) to Dellius.

Dellius also wrote a historical work that was dealing with Antony’s war against Parthia, in which he had participated.[12] Therefore it is often assumed that he was the source of Plutarch and Strabo in their account of this campaign.

Fictional portrayals[edit]

Quintus Dellius is portrayed in Colleen McCullough's Antony and Cleopatra as an unprincipled friend of Mark Antony.


  1. ^ Seneca the Elder, suasoriae 1.7
  2. ^ Plutarch, Antony 25.2-3.
  3. ^ Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 14.394; The Wars of the Jews 1.290.
  4. ^ Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 15.25
  5. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman history 49, 39, 2-3.
  6. ^ Some of his bon mots are mentioned by Seneca, suasoriae 1.7; Plutarch, Antony 59.
  7. ^ Plutarch, Antony 25; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 15.25
  8. ^ a b Plutarch, Antony 59.
  9. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History 50.13.8
  10. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History 50.23.1-3; Marcus Velleius Paterculus 2.84.2
  11. ^ Seneca the Younger, de clementia 1.10.1
  12. ^ Strabo, Geographica 11, p. 523; Plutarch, Antony 59.