Gaius Bruttius Praesens (consul AD 139)

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Gaius Bruttius Praesens Lucius Fulvius Rusticus (68–140 AD) was an important Roman senator of the reigns of Roman emperors Trajan, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. A friend of Pliny the Younger and Hadrian, he was twice consul, governed provinces, commanded armies and ended his career as City Prefect of Rome. Bruttius’ life and career left few coherent traces in the literary record, but a number of inscriptions, including his complete cursus honorum, fills out the picture considerably.

Writings about Gaius[edit]

Pliny, writing to Praesens (Ep. VII.3) refers to him as a Lucanian and an inscription concerning his son has been found at Volceii in Lucania. His mother was a member of the Fulvii Rustici (see gens Fulvius), a senatorial family from Cisalpine Gaul.

Praesens was in 88/89 a military tribune in Legio I Minervia, when he led a vexillation from Germania Inferior to Pannonia and earned decorations for service on the Danube in Roman emperor Domitian’s campaigns.

He served as quaestor in Hispania Baetica, and it may have been at this time that he first became friends with the young Hadrian, but thereafter he retired from public life.

Pliny in 107 was urging Praesens not to remain thus on his estates in Campania and Lucania but to return to Rome and the conduct of affairs. His language suggests Praesens was an Epicurean in his tastes and beliefs, something he shared with Hadrian. At this point Praesens was married to a woman from Campania, his first wife, whose name is unknown. Some years later Praesens married as his second wife a rich Roman heiress called Laberia Hostilia Crispina, a daughter of Manius Laberius Maximus, twice consul and a Roman general whom Trajan banished to a penal island. Laberia bore Praesens a son, Lucius Fulvius Gaius Bruttius Praesens Laberius Maximus 'Polyonymus', who became consul in 153 and 180. Through his son, Praesens became the paternal grandfather to future Roman empress Bruttia Crispina, who married the emperor Commodus, and to the consul Lucius Bruttius Quintius Crispinus.

He is next heard of in the winter of 114/115, during Trajan's Parthian war, commanding Legio VI Ferrata, which according to a fragment of the Parthica of Arrian he marched in deep snow (having secured snowshoes from native guides) across the Armenian Taurus Mountains to get to Tigranakert. After a spell as curator of the Via Latina, he was legate of Cilicia when Trajan died in that province in 117. It is widely assumed that Hadrian made him a suffect consul in late 118 or early 119. He was a novus homo, the first of his family to hold the consulship.

Subsequently Bruttius was Curator operum Publicorum, then governed Cappadocia and Moesia Inferior probably from 121 to 127 or 128. He was Proconsul of Africa in 134/135 and appears to have been governor of Syria in 136 or 137, anomalous for a senior former Proconsul, but perhaps empowered to exercise diplomacy with the Parthians. In a resplendent end to a long career, his second consulship came in 139, as colleague of the new emperor Antoninus Pius, and at the same time he became Praefectus urbi, in succession to Scipio Salvidienus Orfitus.

However Praesens died in this office the following year, as revealed by a fragment of the Fasti Ostienses published in 1982. Eusebius of Caesarea and John Malalas both cite a writer called 'Bruttius' or 'Boutios' as a source for events in the reign of Domitian.

Sources[edit]

  • Several articles by Sir Ronald Syme, especially 'Praesens the Friend of Hadrian' (Roman Papers Volume V, Oxford 1988) which includes the complete text of his cursus from Mactar in Africa.