Marcus Aemilius Scaurus
|Died||c. 89 BC|
|Office||Consul (115 BC)|
Marcus Aemilius Scaurus (161-89 BC) was a Roman statesman who served as consul in 115 BC. He was also a long-standing princeps senatus, occupying the post from 115 until his death in 89, and as such was widely considered one of the most prestigious and influential politicians of the Late Republic.
After his consulship, Scaurus wrote De vita sua, which was probably the first autobiography in Roman history.
Scaurus was born in 163 or 162 into the famous gens Aemilia, one of the most successful patrician gentes of the Republic. However, despite their patrician status, the Aemilii Scauri did not have the prominence of the other stirps of the gens. No ancestor of Scaurus is known to have held a magistracy, albeit he might have descended from the Aemilii Barbulae, who counted several consuls between 317 and 230. Scaurus' father, also named Marcus, was even said to be a charcoal merchant. Scaurus wrote in his autobiography that he only inherited from his father estates worth 35,000 sesterces and six slaves, and that he was not sure whether he should go in banking or politics.Cicero commented that Scaurus was so poor that he was effectively a novus homo.
Scaurus served as a common soldier in Spain, where the Republic waged several long and uncertain wars. Ronald Syme suggested he could have been one of the many ambitious young men who enlisted in the army that Scipio Aemilianus successfully commanded against Numantia, such as Marius, Rutilius Rufus, and Gaius Memmius--all later opponents of Scaurus. Perhaps his distinguished service in Spain convinced Scaurus to engage in politics.
Scaurus is found again serving in Sardinia in the staff of Lucius Aurelius Orestes, consul and proconsul in Sardinia between 126 and 124. It is probably at this time that he became an enemy of Gaius Gracchus, who was Orestes' quaestor throughout the campaign. Scaurus may have been among those in Orestes' staff who were offended by Gracchus' successes in obtaining supplies from the Sardinian natives, as well as grain from the Numidian king Micipsa. In 124 Scaurus possibly denounced Gracchus before the censors for having left his post early in order to run for the tribunician elections for 123.
Scaurus' cursus honorum started in 126 BC when he served as a military tribune in Spain. He next served as curule aedile in charge of the public games in c.123 BC, and afterwards as praetor in 120 BC.
After a failed attempt the previous year, Scaurus was elected consul for 115 BC with Marcus Caecilius Metellus as his junior colleague. During his year in office, he passed legislation including a sumptuary law. He also conducted a successful campaign against tribes in the Alps, for which he was voted a triumph by the Senate.
In the same year, Scaurus was nominated and confirmed as princeps senatus by the Senate, an office which he held until his death. This was the foremost honour during this period, and usually went to the most senior patrician: for the relatively junior Scaurus to receive it was therefore considered somewhat of a coup.
As a senior member of the Roman senate, Scaurus was often sent abroad to settle disputes amongst foreign kings. At the start of the Jugurthine War (112-106 BC), he was sent as envoy to Numidia with orders for Jugurtha to cease hostilities against the Numidian king Adherbal. When Jugurtha refused, war was declared and the consul Lucius Calpurnius Bestia was sent to Africa.
Scaurus served as a senior officer (legatus) for Bestia during the first year of the war (112 BC). According to the historian Sallust (whose account is notably hostile towards Scaurus), both Bestia and Scaurus accepted bribes from Jugurtha to end the war early. When these bribes became known back in Rome, the tribune Gaius Mamilius Limetanus passed a law creating a special court (the Mamilian commission) to prosecute Bestia and other politicians who were suspected of accepting bribes. According to Sallust, Scaurus not only avoided prosecution but even managed to get himself elected as one of the three judges (quaesitores) for the trial. However, some scholars believe Sallust has confused Scaurus with the similarly-named Marcus Aurelius Scaurus.
In 109 BC, Scaurus was elected censor in partnership with Marcus Livius Drusus. As censor, he ordered the construction of the Via Aemilia Scaura and restored several bridges. However, when Drusus suddenly died during their year of office, Scaurus was forced to abdicate his censorship.[i]
In 104 BC, Scaurus became responsible for Rome's grain supply, the cura annonae. However, Scaurus' appointment was at the expense of Lucius Appuleius Saturninus, at the time a quaestor, who had previously been in charge of the supply. Cicero judges that the loss of the cura annonae was the spark that drove Saturninus towards popularis demagoguery.
Scaurus was throughout his political career the leader of the conservative elements of the Senate. In 103 BC, he led the opposition against the popularis tribune Gaius Norbanus. Norbanus was prosecuting Quintus Servilius Caepio, the consul of 106 BC, after the latter's catastrophic loss at the Battle of Arausio (and, more specifically, for stealing the Gold of Tolosa). Alongside the tribune Titus Didius, Scaurus attempted to rally the conservative elements of the Senate against Norbanus, but was driven back through violence: Scaurus was even struck in the head by a stone. Norbanus was eventually tried in c. 95 BC for this act of violence.
In 100 BC, during the height of the violence brought about by Saturninus and Gaius Servilius Glaucia, it was Scaurus who proposed the so-called 'final decree' (senatus consultum ultimum) in the Senate. This decree ordered the consul Gaius Marius to put down Saturninus and Glaucia, and they were soon lynched along with their followers in the Curia Hostilia.
In 92 BC, Scaurus was brought to trial by Quintus Servilius Caepio the Younger for provincial extortion and, it seems, for taking bribes from Mithridates VI of Pontus. However, Scaurus managed to issue a counter-prosecution against Caepio, thereby bringing the process to a legal standstill.
This affair drove Scaurus to support the legislative reforms of Marcus Livius Drusus, tribune in 91 BC and the son of Scaurus' former colleague as censor. Alongside Lucius Licinius Crassus, Scaurus was Drusus' main conservative champion and helped pass his extensive legislative programme. However, after the sudden death of Crassus in September 91 BC, Drusus rapidly lost his support in the Senate, and the consul Lucius Marcius Philippus succeeded in abrogating Drusus' laws on religious technicalities.
After Drusus' assassination and the outbreak of the Social War (91-87 BC), Scaurus was prosecuted in 90 BC under the special court of the tribune Quintus Varius Severus, which had been set up to prosecute anyone suspected of rousing the Italians to revolt. However, Scaurus was able to achieve his own acquittal on the basis of his auctoritas, asking the audience whether they would believe the word of a provincial (Varius was from Spain) or of Scaurus himself, the princeps senatus.
Scaurus' prestige outlived his death, and he was remembered by subsequent generations of Romans as a figure of great importance. Cicero in particular was a keen admirer, and once commented that 'almost the whole world was ruled by his nod' (cuius nutu prope terrarum orbis regebatur).
However, judgements on Scaurus were not always positive. Most notably, the historian Sallust portrays Scaurus in the Bellum Iugurthinum as an unscrupulous and greedy politician. Sallust claims that Scaurus accepted bribes from the Numidian king Jugurtha, and calls him 'a noble full of energy, a partisan, greedy for power, fame, and riches, but clever in concealing his faults' (homo nobilis impiger factiosus, avidus potentiae honoris divitiarum, ceterum vitia sua callide occultans).