Lucius Marcius Philippus (consul 91 BC)

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Lucius Marcius Philippus (c. 141–c. 73 BC) was a Roman orator and one of the most important politicians of the late Roman Republic.

His strenuous opposition to the reforms of Marcus Livius Drusus during his consulate of 91 BC, in defense of the "collusionist policy" of the governing class with the publicani chiefs, was instrumental to the outbreak of the disastrous bellum Italicum, the Social War. This should have made him a natural Marian during the violent politics and civil wars of the 80s BC, and he did well under the Marian government, holding high office. But he was more of an individualist and survivor than committed to any cause, and took advantage of the political amnesty offered by Sulla in 83 BC to change sides, along with other Marians of later importance, such as Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (cos.78) and Marcus Junius Brutus the Elder (tr.pl.83), P. Cethegus, and Pompey Magnus.

Philippus had backed the winner in the Civil War, and enjoyed a special eminence in the first decade after as one of the few surviving men of consular rank and as Rome's pre-eminent orator since the death of Marcus Antonius Orator (late 87 BC). Following Sulla's death (78 BC), he played a key role in the suppression of the Lepidan rebellion (78–77 BC).

Family[edit]

He was born the younger son of Quintus Marcius Philippus, mint. IIIvir in 129 BC, and Claudia Pulchra, a daughter of Appius Claudius Pulcher, the consul in 143 BC. He had an older brother named Quintus Marcius Philippus (c. 143–c. 105).

Tribunate[edit]

Marcius Philippus was tribune of the plebs in 104 BC, during which time he brought forward an agrarian law, of the details of which we are not informed, but which is chiefly memorable for the statement he made in recommending the measure, that there were not two thousand men in the state who possessed property.[1] He seems to have brought forward this measure chiefly with the view of acquiring popularity, and he quietly dropped it when he found there was no hope of carrying it. In 100 BC, he defended the state along with other distinguished statesmen to protect it from Lucius Appuleius Saturninus.[2]

Consulship[edit]

He lost in a campaign for the consulship in 93 BC to Marcus Herennius, but did reach the office in 91 BC with Sextus Julius Caesar as his colleague. This was a very turbulent year in Rome for Marcus Livius Drusus, a tribune of the plebs, brought forward laws concerning the distribution of grain, assignation of public land, and the creation of colonies in Italy and Sicily. It is sufficient to state here that Drusus at first enjoyed the full confidence of the senate, especially as he was passing many laws beneficial to the people, and so endeavoured by his measures to reconcile the people to the senatorial party.

Philippus, on the other hand, belonged to the popular party, and he offered a vigorous opposition to the tribune, and thus came into open conflict with the senate. At times there were scenes of quarrelling and turbulence arising from the objection of populares to the designs of Drusus. On one occasion Philippus declared in the senate that he could no longer carry on the government with such a body, and that there was need of a new senate. This roused the great orator L. Licinius Crassus, who asserted in the course of his speech, in which he is said to have surpassed his usual eloquence, that that man could not be his consul who refused to recognise him as senator.[3] This violence spilled out into the forum at other times. In an attempt to prevent Drusus from passing his laws, Philippus interrupted him. This caused Drusus to order his clients to drag Philippus to prison. The order was executed with such violence that the blood started from the nostrils of the consul, as he was dragged away by the throat.[4] Nevertheless, Drusus successfully passed his laws in the assemblies.

Philippus reconciled himself with the senate, when members previously supportive of Drusus began to mistrust him. He, as an augur, convinced the senate to declare the laws of Drusus to be null and void because they were carried against the auspices.[5] Nothing else is recorded of the consulship of Philippus, except that he recommended the senate to lay claim to Egypt, in consequence of its having been left to them by the will of Alexander.[6]

The Civil Wars and After[edit]

Philippus did not play much of a part in the early stages of the Civil Wars of the 80s. While Marcus Tullius Cicero mentions that Philippus was sympathetic to Sulla's party, he remained in Rome unmolested during Cinna's time in power.[7] He even became censor with Marcus Perperna in 86 BC, and is said to have expelled his own uncle Appius Claudius from the senate.[8] However, Philippus went over to Sulla's side after the latter's return to Italy in 83 BC, and served as Sulla's legate in Sardinia during the war.[9]

After Sulla's victory in 82 BC, Philippus was left as one of the most senior politicians in the much-depleted Senate, and delivered the main oration at Sulla's grand state funeral in 79 BC.[10] As the de facto champion of Sulla's regime, Philippus became the main senatorial opponent of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus the Elder (father of the triumvir of the same name), who in 78 BC attempted to repeal the laws and constitution left in place by Sulla. Sallust preserves a version of Philippus' speech against Lepidus in his fragmentary Histories, in which Philippus rallies the Senate and proposes the senatus consultum ultimum charging Quintus Catulus and Pompey with putting down the revolt.[11] [12]

Legacy as an orator[edit]

Philippus was one of the most distinguished orators of his time. His reputation continued even to the Augustan age, whence we read in Horace:[13]

Strenuus et fortis causisque Philippus agendis Clarus.

Cicero says that Philippus was decidedly inferior as an orator to his two great contemporaries Crassus and Antonius, but was without question next to them, but far next (sed longo intervallo tamen proxumus. itaque eum, [...], neque secundum tamen neque tertium dixerim: "I could not call him a second or a third"). In speaking he possessed much freedom and wit; he was fertile in invention, and clear in the development of his ideas; and in altercation he was witty and sarcastic.

Perhaps the most famous example of his wit came in 77 BC. Neither of the consuls Mam. Aemilus Lepidus Livianus nor D. Junius Brutus wanted to be sent to Spain to fight the rebellious general Q. Sertorius. Pompey on the other hand had just put down the revolt of M. Aemilius Lepidus and wanted another command immediately. Philippus spoke in the Senate in favour of Pompey, and famously quipped:[14]

non se illum sua sententia pro consule sed pro consulibus mittere
I give my vote to send him not as a proconsul [pro consule], but instead of the consuls [pro consulibus]

Philippus was also remarkably acquainted with Greek literature for his time.[15] He was accustomed to speak extempore, and, when he rose to speak, he frequently did not know with what word he should begin:[16] hence in his old age it was with both contempt and anger that he used to listen to the studied periods of Hortensius.[17]

Philippus was a man of luxurious habits, which his wealth enabled him to gratify: his fish-ponds were particularly famous for their magnificence and extent, and are mentioned by the ancients along with those of Lucullus and Hortensius.[18]

He had two sons: Lucius Marcius Philippus and a stepson Gellius Publicola.

References[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSmith, William, ed. (1870). "Philippus, Marcius (5)". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. 3. pp. 286–87. 

Political offices
Preceded by
Gaius Claudius Pulcher and Marcus Perperna
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Sextus Julius Caesar
91 BC
Succeeded by
Lucius Julius Caesar and Publius Rutilius Lupus

Further Reading:

  • Plebs Rustica. The Peasantry of Classical Italy I: the Peasantry in Modern Scholarship. Evans, John Karl, 1980.