Lucius Marcius Philippus (consul 91 BC)

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Lucius Marcius Philippus (c. 141–c. 73 BCE) 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 BCE, 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 BCE, 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 BCE to change sides, along with other Marians of later importance, such as Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (cos.78) and Marcus Junius Brutus the Elder (, P. Cethegus, and Pompey Magnus. He had backed the winner and enjoyed a special eminence in the first decade after the civil wars as one of the few surviving men of consular rank, and Rome's pre-eminent orator since the death of Marcus Antonius Orator (late 87 BCE). Following Sulla's death (78 BCE) he played a key role in the suppression of the Lepidan rebellion (78–77 BCE) and, shortly before his own death, in the rapid restoration of the public finances in the mid 70s BCE. His political career and character were typified by the harshly cynical but effective measures which he successfully advocated in that grave crisis.


Marcius Philippus was tribune of the plebs in 104 BCE, 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 BCE, he defended the state along with other distinguished statesmen to protect it from Lucius Appuleius Saturninus.[2]


He lost in a campaign for the consulship in 93 BCE to Marcus Herennius, but did reach the office in 91 BCE 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 on 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 Civil Wars. While Cicero mentions that he was in Sulla's party, he remained in Rome unmolested during Cinna's time in power.[7] He even became censor with Marcus Perperna in 86 BCE and he is said to have expelled his own uncle Appius Claudius from the senate.[8]

It was likely Philippus who delivered the oration at Sulla's state funeral in 79 BC.[9] After Sulla's death, Philippus resisted attempts to change the constitution Sulla left in place.[10] But he soon gave his support to Gnaeus Pompeius, by whose means the people eventually regained most of their former political power.

During the insurgence of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus the Elder (father of the triumvir of the same name) in 78 BC, it was Philippus who rallied the Senate and proposed the senatus consultum ultimum charging Quintus Catulus and Pompey with putting down the revolt.[11]

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:[12]

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:[13]

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

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.[17]

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


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSmith, William, ed. (1870). "article name needed". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. 

Political offices
Preceded by
Gaius Claudius Pulcher and Marcus Perperna
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Sextus Julius Caesar
91 BCE
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.