Marcus Livius Drusus (tribune)

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Marcus Livius Drusus
Tribune of the Plebs of the Roman Republic
In office
10 December 92 BC – Late 91 BC
Personal details
Bornc. 130 BC
DiedAssassinated in Autumn 91 BC
Political partyOptimates
Spouse(s)Servilia (daughter of Q. Servilius Caepio the Elder)
FatherM. Livius Drusus the Elder

The younger Marcus Livius Drusus, son of Marcus Livius Drusus the Elder, was a Roman politician and reformer, most famous as tribune of the plebeians in 91 BC. The failure of his legislative reforms and his subsequent assassination late in 91 BC are often seen as an immediate cause of the Social War (91-88 BC).[1]

Early Life[edit]

M. Livius Drusus' was the son of Marcus Livius Drusus the Elder, a distinguished statesman who had served all the major magistracies of the Cursus honorum as tribune in 122 BC, consul in 112 BC, and censor in 109 BC. Drusus the Elder died in 108 BC, at which point the young Drusus would have become the Pater familias of the Drusi.[2]

Cicero reports that Drusus was a high-minded youth.[3] For example, when serving as Quaestor in Asia Minor, he conspicuously refused to wear his official insignia as a sign of respect.[4]

Drusus was also extremely wealthy after the death of his father. With this wealth, he paid for grand gladiatorial shows during his aedileship. Drusus was said to have once commented that he spent so much money on other people that he had 'nothing left to give away to anybody but mud and air'.[5] He also built a grand new house on the Palatine Hill, telling the architect to build it so that all his fellow-citizens could see everything he did. This famous house was successively owned by Cicero, Censorinus, and Rutilius Sisenna.[6]

Reforms as Tribune[edit]

Senatorial Support[edit]

M. Livius Drusus was elected Tribune of the Plebs for 91 BC. Hostile propaganda later portrayed Drusus as a demagogue from the outset of his tribunate, but it is clear from the testimony of Cicero and others that he began with the aim of strengthening senatorial rule and had the backing of the most powerful optimates in the Senate.[7] These included the 'father of the senate' (princeps senatus), Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, who had also served alongside Drusus' father in the censorship of 109 BC; and Lucius Licinius Crassus, the most influential orator of the day.[8]

In pursuing a conservative tribunate, Drusus was following in the footsteps of his father who, as Tribune in 122 BC, had successfully championed the Senate's interests against the famous popularis reformer Gaius Gracchus.[9]

The Quaestio de Repetundis[edit]

History of the Equestrian Courts[edit]

The most important issue which Drusus and his backers sought to address concerned the composition of juries at trials for extortion. In 122, Gaius Gracchus made the juries for such courts (Latin, quaestio de repetundis) composed entirely of wealthy equites, as opposed to senators.[10][11] This gave the equestrians great judicial power, a fact resented by many senators, many of whom found the loss of their forensic role humiliating.[12]

Some of these senators had attempted to end the equestrian monopoly back in 106 BC by supporting the consul Quintus Servilius Caepio, who proposed a law that aimed to create mixed senatorial-equestrian juries. However, despite the famous support of Lucius Crassus, this Lex Servilia was replaced after only two years by a law of Gaius Servilius Glaucia which restored the equestrian monopoly.[13]

Furthermore, over time the equestrian jurors proved very reluctant to give guilty verdicts. Of the many political prosecutions in the years 99-92 BC, not a single individual was condemned under their courts; this created great frustration in the Senate, as it paralysed one of the main avenues of political rivalry.[14] As a result, a growing number of eminent senators came to believe that the equestrian monopoly had to be ended.

This resentment was only intensified by the prosecution and exile of the esteemed consularis Publius Rutilius Rufus in the year 92. Rutilius Rufus had served as legatus to Quintus Mucius Scaevola Pontifex during the latter's governorship in Asia. The two men had famously opposed the rapacity of the equestrian businessmen operating in the province, gaining much praise from the provincials and the Senate but hostility from the equites.[15] In retaliation, the equestrians brought about Rufus' prosecution in one of their own courts when he returned to Rome. Although Rufus was blatantly innocent, the jury nonetheless found him guilty, and he was sent into exile to Smyrna. The injustice of the affair was compounded by Rutilius Rufus' calm, Stoical acceptance of his fate, and his case was long a byword for unjust sentences.[16][17]

It is also worth noting that Publius Rutilius Rufus was one of Drusus' uncles, which likely provided immediate incentive for his reforms.[18]

Drusus' Reform[edit]

The exact form of Drusus' solution to this problem is unclear. Appian says that Drusus proposed to include 300 new equites into the Senate, and that the jurors would henceforth be drawn from the enlarged pool of senators.[19] However, this has been questioned by recent scholars; not only is Appian notoriously misleading as regards Livius Drusus and the Social War, but it seems that he has conflated Drusus' proposal with the actual expansion of the Senate that took place ten years later under Sulla's regime.[20] Other ancient sources indicate that Drusus simply created mixed senatorial and equestrian juries, without the enlargement of the Senate.[21]

Supplementary Legislation[edit]

In order to gain popular support for his jury law, Drusus put forward a number of other bills.[1] To gain support from the plebeians, he passed a land law, which seems to have proposed the redistribution of public land (Ager publicus) to the poor as well as the creation of new colonies in Italy and Sicily.[22] He also assigned himself a place on the board of ten commissioners tasked with carrying out the redistributions.[23] To attract further support, Drusus may also have passed a law reducing the price of grain.[24]

Alongside these popularist bills, Drusus passed a law making the equestrians liable to prosecution for bribery.[25] He may also have deliberately debased the coinage by adding one-eighth of bronze to the silver coins, perhaps in order to help pay for his agrarian redistributions.[26][2] All these bills were likely passed in the early months of 91 BC.[27].

Opposition to Legislation[edit]

Senatorial Opposition[edit]

Despite support from notable backers, Drusus' legislation attracted powerful opposition, most notably the consul Lucius Marcius Philippus. Also among Drusus' opponents was the praetor Servilius Caepio, his former brother-in-law. On the day of voting, Philippus tried to stop proceedings, and was only deterred when one of Drusus' supporters throttled Philippus to the point that the consul started bleeding.[28][29] When Caepio continued to oppose his legislation, Drusus threatened to have the praetor hurled from the Tarpeian Rock, an archaic punishment for treasonable magistrates.[30]

By September, momentum was turning against Drusus and his backers.[31][32] Senators in the Roman Republic were deeply wary of any one individual gaining extraordinary personal power; as a result, Drusus' popularity with the people lost him support in the Senate, where it was feared he was becoming dangerously influential in the model of the Gracchi or Lucius Appuleius Saturninus.[33]

The consul Philippus open called for the abrogation of Drusus' laws,[34] and a heated exchange took place on 13 September in the Senate House between Philippus and L. Licinius Crassus. Philippus claimed he could no longer work with the current Senate, to which Crassus retorted by calling Philippus' status as consul into question, remarking 'Should I consider you a consul, when you don't think that I am a senator?'[35] However, this was to be Crassus' 'last swan-song', in Cicero's words, as he suddenly died a week later.[36]

Italian Proposal and Abrogation of the Laws[edit]

With Crassus dead, Drusus was robbed of one of his most influential backers.[37] It seems that only now, late in the year 91 BC, did he turn towards eliciting support from the Italian allies, [38][39][40] with whom he had existing links: for example, the important Marsic aristocrat Quintus Poppaedius Silo, who would later serve as the main Italian commander in the Social War, was a regular guest at Drusus' house.[41]

However, Drusus' proposal attracted even more opposition, as many senators feared the personal power Drusus would gain from mass enfranchisement.[42] Rumours apparently circulated that the Italians had sworn a sacred oath pledging allegiance to Drusus alone, a version of which is preserved in Diodorus Siculus:[43]

'I swear by Jupiter Capitolinus, by Vesta of Rome, by Mars her ancestral god, by Sol the founder of the race, and by Terra the benefactress of animals and plants, likewise by the demigods who founded Rome and by the heroes who have contributed to increase her empire, that I will count the friend and foe of Drusus my friend and foe, and that I will spare neither property nor the lives of my children or parents except as it be to the advantage of Drusus and of those who have taken this oath. If I become a citizen by the law of Drusus, I shall consider Rome my country and Drusus my greatest benefactor' - The so-called 'Oath of Philippus'.

It was also around this point that Drusus apparently suffered a minor breakdown, prompting a flood of supportive messages from the Italian towns.[44]

Seeing the opposition in Rome to the bill, some of the Italians grew increasingly agitated. Diodorus Siculus reports that Quintus Poppaedius Silo led 10,000 allies in a protest march on Rome,[45] while Florus remarks that Drusus' public meetings attracted such huge crowds that it seemed as though all of Rome were under siege.[46] Eventually, a plot was hatched to assassinate the consuls on the Alban Mount. This was only foiled when Drusus himself caught wind of it and warned Philippus.[47][48] The Italians may also have begun to prepare for an armed conflict at this point, given how quickly they were able to mobilise troops on the outbreak of the Social War.[49]

In this tense climate of political disputes, alleged assassination plots, and Italian discontent, Philippus finally succeeded in persuading the Senate to abolish all of Drusus' legislation. The grounds given were twofold: firstly, that the laws had been passed in contravention of the sacred auspices, meaning they were contrary to the will of the gods;[50] and secondly, that they had contravened the Lex Caecilia Didia, a law passed in 98 BC preventing the inclusion of several unconnected motions in the same bill.[51]


Though he publicly denounced the senatorial decree, Drusus did not attempt to use his tribunical veto to oppose it.[52] He was already being prosecuted for his alleged involvement in the Alban Mount plot,[53] and seems to have recognised that opposition was futile.

It was at this point, sometime in the autumn of 91 BC, that Drusus was assassinated by an unknown killer.[54] According to some ancient sources, the murder took place inside the atrium of Drusus' own house.[55][56] Other sources say he was stabbed whilst walking back from the Forum,[57] and it was even reported by some that the murder was really an act of suicide.[58] Philippus and Caepio were blamed by many for the assassination,[59] as was Quintus Varius Hybrida, the tribune of 90 BC who created a special court to prosecute Drusus' supporters.[60][61]


Since the Social War (91-88 BC) began almost immediately after his assassination, many Romans blamed Drusus for the war – as, for example, Livy did in his monumental history:[62]

Accordingly when the citizenship promised to the allies was not forthcoming, the Italians in their anger began to plot revolt ... Marcus Livius Drusus, of whom even the Senate had come to disapprove, was the author of the Social War, and was as a result killed at his home; no-one knows by whom.

In the immediate aftermath of his death, a special court was set up under the Lex Varia to prosecute and exile anyone who, like Drusus, was suspected of encouraging the Italians to revolt.[63] The convicted included Drusus' friend Gaius Aurelius Cotta, while his mentor M. Scaurus, the princeps senatus, was among the accused.

In the longer term, later generations of Roman historians considered Drusus' tribunate a critical milestone in the Crisis of the Roman Republic. Appian, Livy, and Florus all placed Drusus' "seditio" - perhaps translated best as "revolution" - within a clearly identifiable sequence of similar disorders. In their analysis, he followed the examples of the Gracchi and of Saturninus, and was directly succeeded by the sedition of Gaius Marius and Publius Sulpicius Rufus.[64][65][66] Thus Drusus' original position as champion of the Senate was often forgotten by these authors, who instead emphasised the turbulence of his tribunate and his role in the start of the Social War.

Modern scholars tend to be more forgiving of Drusus. Though few would deny that his promises to the Italians in the year 91 BC directly precipitated the outbreak of the Social War, Drusus is usually seen as a genuine reformer, a progressive who attempted to resolve some of the most pressing issues of the day in an age when few others were willing to do likewise.[67][68] In the judgement of the Italian scholar Emilio Gabba:[69]

Drusus' complex scheme seems to be directed by a precise and shrewd awareness of the historical situation, the political forces at work, and the needs and interests which these forces represented and conveyed. It reveals a political capacity which matched that of Gaius Gracchus.


M. Livius Drusus had many distinguished descendants. Through his adopted son, he became an ancestor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty; and through the two marriages of his sister, Livia, he was uncle to Cato the Younger and great-uncle to Marcus Junius Brutus.

Imperial Descendants[edit]

M. Livius Drusus was first married to Servilia, the sister of his friend Quintus Servilius Caepio. The two did not have any children before they divorced, sometime around the year 97 BC. It seems that Drusus did not marry again before his death in 91 BC.[70]

However, at some point Drusus did adopt Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus, born Appius Claudius Pulcher. This adopted son married Aufidia; their daughter was Livia. This Livia became wife to the emperor Augustus and mother of the second emperor Tiberius, for which is she often known as the Empress Livia, and was perhaps the most famous Roman matron of the time. Thus through the adoption of his son, Marcus Livius Drusus and his family (the Drusi) became eventual ancestors to the imperial family of the Julio-Claudian dynasty[71]

Nieces and nephews[edit]

Drusus had a sister, Livia, whom he married to his friend Quintus Servilius Caepio; in return, Drusus married Caepio's sister Servilia. Livia and Caepio had three children: the famous Servilia, who was sequentially the mistress of Julius Caesar and the mother of the Liberator Brutus; another Servilia, who married the general Lucullus; and a son, also called Quintus Servilius Caepio.

However, Drusus and Caepio fell out, allegedly over the sale of a ring at an auction, and subsequently they became personal enemies.[72] As a result, Drusus divorced Servilia, and Caepio divorced Livia.

Drusus apparently had his sister remarried almost immediately, either in 97 or 96 BC,[73] this time to Marcus Porcius Cato, the grandson of the distinguished Cato the Elder. Livia and Cato had a son, Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, who was to become the famous opponent of Julius Caesar; they also had a daughter, Porcia, who married Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (consul 54 BC). However, both Livia and Cato seem to have died in the mid to late 90s BC, as Servilia, Cato, and Porcia all spent their earliest years in Drusus' house before his assassination in 91 BC.[74]

Family tree[edit]

See also[edit]


1.^ Appian thinks that Drusus' proposal to extend Roman citizenship to all the Italic allies was put forward at this early stage, in order to attract support for his other laws (Appian, Civil Wars 1.35-6). However, recent scholarship has questioned the accuracy of Appian's narrative at this point (most notably: H. Mouritsen, Italian Unification: A Study in Ancient and Modern Historiography (London: 1998)). It has been suggested, for instance, that the enfranchisement of Italy would be a highly controversial proposal. Not only would the roll of citizens increase exponentially with such a bill, but it would involve a fundamental reorganisation of all aspects of Roman society, from the army to taxation to the law. It would seem questionable therefore for Drusus to propose this deeply divisive bill at the start of his tribunate, when he was still positioning himself as a champion of tradition and the concordia ordinum(Cicero, De Oratore 1.7.24). Modern scholars therefore tend to take the side of Velleius Paterculus, whose narrative lets it be understood that proposals for the Italian citizenship were only made public when the rest of Drusus' legislation encountered opposition (Vel. Pat. 2.14.1).
1.^ It is not clear whether the 'Marcus Livius Drusus' in question was the elder or younger Drusus: as a result, it may well have been Drusus' father who had debased the coinage at an earlier date.


  1. ^ e.g. Velleius Paterculus, 2.13-15: 'with the death of Drusus, the long-burgeoning Italian War broke out'
  2. ^ Smith, William (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. 1. Boston, Little. p. 1078.
  3. ^ Cicero, De Officiis 1.30
  4. ^ Pseudo-Aurelius Victor, De Viris Illustribus 66
  5. ^ Pseudo-Aurelius Victor, De Viris Illustribus 66
  6. ^ Velleius Paterculus 2.14
  7. ^ Cicero, De Officiis 1.108; Florus 2.5.1–3
  8. ^ Cicero, De Oratore 3.2-6
  9. ^ Plutarch, Life of C. Gracchus 8.2-12.3
  10. ^ Cicero, First Verrine 38
  11. ^ Velleius Paterculus 2.13.2, 2.32.3
  12. ^ C. Steel, The End of the Roman Republic (Edinburgh: 2013), p.37
  13. ^ Cicero, Brutus 164
  14. ^ E.S. Gruen, 'Political Prosecutions in the 90s BC', Historia 15 (1966), p. 60
  15. ^ Diodorus Siculus, 37.5.1-4
  16. ^ Livy, Epitome of Book 70
  17. ^ Florus, Epitome of Roman History 2.5
  18. ^ E. Gabba, Republican Rome, the Army, and the Allies (Berkley: 1976), p. 132
  19. ^ Appian, Civil Wars 1.35
  20. ^ Steel, The End of the Roman Republic, p.38
  21. ^ Livy, Epitome of Book 71
  22. ^ Appian, Civil Wars 1.35-6
  23. ^ Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae 49
  24. ^ Livy, Epitome of Book 71
  25. ^ Cicero, Pro Cluentio 153
  26. ^ Pliny the Elder, Natural History 33.3.46
  27. ^ Steel, The End of the Roman Republic, p. 39
  28. ^ Florus, 2.5
  29. ^ Pseudo-Aurelius Victor, De Viris Illustribus 66.9
  30. ^ Pseudo-Aurelius Victor, De Viris Illustribus 66.8
  31. ^ Appian, Civil Wars 1.35-6
  32. ^ Valerius Maximus 9.5.2
  33. ^ E. Gabba, 'Rome and Italy: The Social War', in The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume IX: The Last Age of the Roman Republic, 146-43 BC, p. 113
  34. ^ Cicero, De Oratore 1.24-6, 3.1-6
  35. ^ Quintilian, Inst. 8.3.89
  36. ^ Cicero, De Oratore 3.2-6
  37. ^ C.F. Konrad, 'From the Gracchi to the First Civil War', in A Companion to the Roman Republic (Blackwell, 2006)
  38. ^ Steel, The End of the Roman Republic, p. 40
  39. ^ e.g. Velleius Paterculus, 2.14: 'since his excellent programme had fared so badly, Drusus turned his attention to granting the citizenship to the Italians'
  40. ^ Pseudo-Aurelius Victor, De Viris Illustribus 66.10
  41. ^ Plutarch, Life of Cato the Younger 2
  42. ^ On the ancients' fear of one man growing too powerful as a result of enfranchisement: 'a free state will become a monarchy, if a huge multitude attains the citizenship by virtue of the activity of one man ('Sallust', ep. ad Caes. II. 6. 1.)
  43. ^ Diodorus Siculus, 37.11
  44. ^ Pseudo-Aurelius Victor, De Viris Illustribus 66.11
  45. ^ Diodorus Siculus, 37.13
  46. ^ Florus, 2.5.7
  47. ^ Florus, Epitome of Roman History 2.6.8
  48. ^ Pseudo-Aurelius Victor, De Viris Illustribus 66.12
  49. ^ E. Gabba, Rome and Italy: The Social War, CAH IX (1994), p. 114
  50. ^ Asconius 68-69C, commenting on Cicero's Pro Cornelio
  51. ^ Cicero, De Domo 41
  52. ^ Diodorus Siculus 37.10
  53. ^ Pseudo-Aurelius Victor, De Viris Illustribus 66.12
  54. ^ Date: E. Gabba, 'Rome and Italy: The Social War', in CAH IX (1994), p. 113
  55. ^ Appian, Civil Wars 1.36
  56. ^ Velleius Paterculus 2.13
  57. ^ Pseudo-Aurelius Victor, De Viris Illustribus 66.12
  58. ^ Seneca the Younger, De Brevitate Vitae 6.1-2
  59. ^ Pseudo-Aurelius Victor, De Viris Illustribus 66.13
  60. ^ Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3.81
  61. ^ F.C. Tweedie, 'Caenum aut caelum: M. Livius Drusus and the Land', Mnemosyne Vol. 64 (2011), p. 588
  62. ^ Livy, Epitome of Book 70
  63. ^ Appian, Civil Wars 1.37
  64. ^ Appian, Civil Wars
  65. ^ Livy, Epitome of Book 70
  66. ^ Florus, Epitome of the History of Rome
  67. ^ C.F. Conrad, 'From the Gracchi to the First Civil War', in A Companion to the Roman Republic (Blackwell, 2006), p. 177
  68. ^ Jürgen von Ungern-Sternberg, 'The Crisis of the Republic', in The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic (Cambridge: 2004), pp. 96-7
  69. ^ E. Gabba, Republican Rome, the Army, and the Allies (Berkley: 1976), p. 131
  70. ^ E. Gabba, Republican Rome, the Army, and the Allies (Berkley: 1976), p. 134
  71. ^ Smith, William (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. 1. Boston, Little. p. 1082.
  72. ^ Pliny the Elder, Natural History 33.20
  73. ^ E. Gabba, Republican Rome, the Army, and the Allies (Berkley: 1976), p. 134
  74. ^ Plutarch, Life of Cato the Younger 1