Wednesday, June 14, 2006

# Posted 3:25 PM by Patrick Porter  

CALLING ALL ANCIENT HISTORIANS: Does anyone out there know which Roman committed suicide after Emperor Augustus said that they were "no longer my friend." I suspect it was a governor in Egypt whose ambitious personality cult displeased Augustus, but thats a dim memory from undergrad days. Any ideas?
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Hello! Ask and ye shall receive, from a grad student who does some work with history.

His name was Gaius Cornelius Gallus (c. 69 BC - 26 BC). His family was originally of equestrian rank, and he was also a writer of love poetry (and so was a predecessor to more famous Roman love poets like Ovid). He also seems to have known Virgil. FYI, recently a scrap of papyrus was found in Egypt which contained a few lines of his writing.

As for his suicide, Gallus was given charge of Egypt by Augustus when the region first become a Roman holding after the end of Cleopatra in 30 BC. As prefect, Gallus did crush some local unrest, and so forth. Apparently the power rather went to his head. He set up statues of himself along with boastful inscriptions around Egypt (including on the pyramids), and this clearly did not sit well with Augustus, as they could be perceived as treasonous.

Gallus was indeed recalled as Augustus renounced his friendship, and the unfortunate fellow subsequently committed suicide.

By the way, if you're ever in Rome, go to Saint Peter's Square. There is a massive stone obelisk in the center of the piazza--it comes from Egypt and once had an inscription on it recording how Gallus built a forum in an Egyptian town.
thanks Mad Minerva!! its great that the blogosphere can summon learned minds so quickly.

an interesting pattern: Augustus likes to banish/punish naughty poets, Ovid, Gallus...
Glad to be useful! I've been enjoying OxBlog for quite a while, just "lurking."

And poor Ovid. Exiled by an old and bitter Augustus, though I must say, Gallus was more potentially much more "dangerous" than Ovid ever was or could be...and Gallus seems to be not as much deliberately seditious as just stupidly and vaingloriously self-absorbed. Still, as prefect of Egypt, he was in charge of several Roman legions, which doubtless added to Augustus's decision to crush him.

Anyway, there's a whole sub-history of naughty writers-versus-emperors if you are ever interested in that sort of thing, with imperial bans on certain publications, etc. (See for instance Tacitus, Annals book 4, on the banned history of historian Cremutius Cordus, who then committed suicide during the reign of Tiberius, successor to Augustus.)

Cheers, MM
Mad Minerva,

How fortunate that I was reading this site today and stumbled across this dicussion!

As my 'tag' indicates, I'm a proud reader-scholar of Tacitus, whose work you mentioned.

Let me just say that I love the Cremutius Cordus episode, and happened to be reading it the other day. What a stirring defense of the right to free inquiry! And recall his sarcastic retort to the charge that he openly favored Cassius and Brutus: "Are they even now at Phillipi, and am I inciting civil war?"

And yes, poor Ovid. But consider that Augustus exiled his own daughter for much the same reasons, so at least he wasn't playing favorites!

Anyway, it's nice to see a fellow Classicist 'lurking' among the blogosphere. Feel free to check out my group blog, The Optimates, if you're so inclined.
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