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The Family of Statilius Taurus

Author(s): Herbert W. Benario
Source: The Classical World, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Nov., 1970), pp. 73-76
Published by: Classical Association of the Atlantic States
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VOL. 64, NO. 3 NOVEMBER 1970 W H OLE NO. 1345
H . W . Benario: T he Family of Statilius T aurus . . . 73
G. Moskowitz: Multo Bene is a "2" . . . . . . 76
E. F. Ridington: Some Recent H istorical Fiction and Juveniles, XVIII . . 79
T . L. Cracas: W hat is "Reading Latin as Latin"? . . . . 81
Reviews . 86 Notes and News . 98 Books Received . . 98
Among the new nobility of the principate, the
family of Statilius T aurus stands high. One of
Octavian's earliest and most valued supporters,
he ennobled his descendants1 and lived into the
fuliness of years with influence and prestige. M.
Vipsanius Agrippa and Q. Salvidienus Rufus,
Octavian's other faithful marshalsin the earliest
days, came to diverse ends. Salvidienus sold the
young Octavian short in the struggle with Antony,
and paid for his misjudgment or crime with his
life. Agrippa won Octavian's greatest triumphs
and reaped the rewards of marriage with the
emperor'sdaughter and a share in the tribunicia
potestas. H is descendants were the greatest men
of the state, and the blood of the man whose
ancestry was unknown flowed in the veins of two
Roman emperors.
T . Statilius T aurus' 2 fortune wasnearer tothat
of Agrippa than that of Salvidienus. H imself
twice consul, in 37 and 26, and praefectusurbis,
he wasresponsible for the construction of Rome's
first stone amphitheatre, a monument that ever
kept his name before the public.3 But unlike
many others of Augustus' foliowers who rose to
the consulate, his family's nobility did not stop
almost at once, but survived intothe fourth gen-
eration,4 with a total of six consulates and dis-
appearance from the fasti only after signal in-
volvement in the machinations of high politics.
H is son, similarly named T . Statilius T aurus,5
did not reach the consulate. Indeed, he attained
no high office, and historical record is almost
totally silent about him. It seemsunquestionable
that he died young, although he did live long
enough to marry and sire two sons.
Each of these became consul. T he elder,6 the
namesake of father and grandfather, added tohis
family's prestige not only another consulate, in
11 A.D., but also alliance by marriage with the
family of the great M. Valerius Messalla Cor-
vinus. T he two sons of this union themselves
reached the highest post, but the family now
was clearly even more intimately involved in the
upper echelons of the Roman aristocracy, for
Messalla, by background and personalcareer, was
one of the last surviving representatives of an
important classof men, those who, at first repub-
lican and then favoring Antony, had been won
over tosupport of Octavian's power that the first
T . Statilius T aurus had helped bring about. It
was Messalla who held the consulship, as col-
league with Octavian, in the fateful year of
Actium, had subsequently been invested with
the prefecture of the city, although he resigned
the office since he did not know what to dowith
it, and, years later, proposed that the title of
Pater Patriae be given Augustus. Yet he never
forgot where his first allegiance had lain; as
Cremutius Cordus put it, Messalla Corvinusim-
peratorem suum Cassium praedicabat: et uterque
'On the question of nobility under the empire, see
H . H ill, "Nobilitas in the Imperial Period,"
H istoria 18 (1969) 230ff., particularly 232 and 238.
2PIR S615.
SS. B. Platner
T . Ashby, T opographicalDictionary
of Ancient Rome (Oxford 1929) 11.
4R. Syme, T he Roman Revolution (Oxford 1939)
5PIR S616.
6PIR S617.
(Polio is the other) opibusque atque honoribus
perviguere. 7 T hrough his daughter, Valeria
Messalina, he wastobecome the great grandfather
of Nero's third wife.
T he second son, Sisenna Statilius T aurus,8 was
consul in 16. W ith the antiquity of the family
now in the third generation, and with family
connectionsloftier through hisbrother'smarriage,
he clearly faced no obstacle in gaining this
magistracy in the early years of T iberius' princi-
pate. T he rise of novi homines had accelerated
in the last years of Augustus; T iberius supported
the claims of nobilitas, and families that traced
their ennoblement back as far as triumviraldays
were not too common.9
T he two sons of Statilius T aurus and Valeria
Messalina held successive consulates, T . Statilius
T aurus 0l in 44, T aurus Statilius Corvinusil in
45. T here is no other certain instance on the
fasti of the early principate of brothersbeingcon-
suls in successive years.'2 Evidence to explain
this unusualoccurrence is non-existent, but con-
jecture may not be out of place.
T he murder of Gaius in 41 produced the first
real crisis of the principate, a crisis in the sense
that, for the first time since the survivalto power
of Octavian, there was an opportunity seriously
to discuss and take action for the restoration of
senatorial primacy. Such talk had been mere
wishful thinking in the late summer and early
fall of 14, when, by possession of the imperium
and tribunicia potestas, T iberius reduced discus-
sion in the senate to a shamefulfarce. Yet even
T iberius felt a certain pressure from potential
rivals, the noisiest of whom was Asinius Gallus,
son of a great father only recently dead, whose
services to Julius Caesar surpassed those of any
man whosurvived intothe late days of Augustus'
reign, and whocould claim that Vergil'sprophetic
song about the birth of a savior-child referred to
him.' 3 In the year 69, Galba introduced, in his
presentation speech for Piso, the new concept in
succession, that the best man is chosen, not one
whose only claim isblood. 14 Such a thought may
have had a certain anachronistic sense in 14, but
it was real, as Augustus himself showed when he
discussed potentialclaimantsor capaces imperii. 1 5
In 37, the succession waseven more sure though
less palatable. Gaius had been, to a degree,
groomed to succeed the aged emperor, and the
affection of the praetorian guard and the armies
gave him the purple without challenge. But the
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Entire contents ? 1970 by T he Classical Associa-
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(November 1970).
7T ac. Ann. 4.34.4.
8PIR S613.
9F. B. Marsh, T he Reign of T iberius (Oxford
1931) 43-4.
'0PIR S618.
11PIR S595.
12C. Velleius Paterculus, perhaps suffectusin 60, and
L. Velleius Paterculus, perhaps suffectusin 61, were
in alllikelihood brothers. Cf. A. Degrassi, IFasti
Consolari dell'Impero Romano (Rome 1952) 16-7,
based upon M. H ammond, "T he T ribunician Day
During the Early Empire," MAAR 15 (1938) 31.
R. H anslik, RE 8A,1 (1955) 660, s.v. Velleius 10
and 11, does not indicate that there is any doubt
about the years of office and the relationship. T he
brothers A. and L. Vitellius were both consuls in
48, the latter succeeding the former. T he distinc-
tion of the Vitellii in that year occasions no sur-
prise, after their father had held his third consulate
in 47 and had become censorius.
13T ac. Ann. 1.13; Serv. Dan. on Ecl. 4.11.
14T ac. H ist. 1.15-6.
15T ac. Ann. 1.13.
terrible four years of his reign soured many
Romans, and, on the occasion of his welcomed
murder, the first reaction of the senatorial aris-
tocracy was to do away with the principate.16
H ow far along these discussions got, and what
preparations had been made to accomplish this,
we donot know, although debate soon turned to
choice of an emperor from their own number.
But the praetorian guard cut short these deli-
berations. By chance, Claudius was discovered
quailing behind an arras, not unlike Polonius.
H e was now in his early fifties; hisreputation, in
his own family and among the people, was that
of a fool, although it can be suggested that it took
more than mere foolishness to survive his mad
nephew. Yet he was the brother of the great
Germanicus, son of Drusus, and, by adoption, the
grandson of the founder of the empire. H is sud-
den discovery saved the day for the continuation
of the Julio-Claudian principate, and, while re-
storation of the republic or choice of a princeps
chosen from the best were solemnly debated in
the senate-house, a new emperor was imposed
upon the state.
H ere wasa blow tothe morale of the senatorial
order perhaps unparalleled in two-thirds of a
century. T he respublica restituta had seemed so
near, and proved to be sodistant. Claudiushad
not suggested himself as a potential emperor to
anyone, and the shock of finding him on the throne
of the Caesars clearly offended many senators,
who no doubt considered themselves better
qualified to be emperor, if there had to be an
emperor. It is perhaps partially because of this
bitterness that Claudius turned more and more
to his own household for assistance and support,
since the senatorialand equestrian orders, which
had worked sowellwith Augustus and T iberius,
withheld their cooperation. 17
It may be that Claudius tried in two diverse
ways to conciliate this bitterness. T he more
obvious was the invasion of Britain, thereby
showing himself a true successor of Julius Caesar
and an imperator in the sense of Rome's expan-
sionist past, with the first major campaign in a
quarter of a century. T he emperor himself took
the field, and his successes were great enough to
warrant extension of the pomerium and the build-
ing of an arch, whose inscription announced his
achievement, quod regesBritannorum XI devictos
sine ulla iactura in deditionem acceperit gentesque
barbarastransOceanum primus in dicionem populi
Romani redegerit.
1 8 But the bulk of the actual
military command was in the hands of two novi
homines, Aulus Palutius and Vespasian, splendid
generals whose ancestry posed no threat to the
emperor. T hey could safely be entrusted with
the command of legions.
It was otherwise with leading figures of the
senatorial order. Aman with a distinguished
name, particularly if his forebearshad had favor
with Augustus, might take advantage of the op-
portunity to challenge the emperor, given the
chance to consort with the army. Men such as
these had to be placated in another way; it is
perhapsfor thisreason that some significant names
appear on the consular fasti early in the reign.
Claudius unquestionably was trying to win their
allegiance and support.
Claudius himself was consulordinarius in the
first two full years of his principate; these were
his second and third consulates, necessary for
prestige and a basisfor comparison with T iberius.
But in 44, the ordinarii bear names with sugges-
tive overtones. T hey are T . Statilius T aurusand
C. Sallustius CrispusPassienus, the latter consul
for the second time.
CrispusPassienus, the son of one of the ordinarii
of 4 B.C. (a year falling within the smallgap be-
tween Augustus' twelfth and thirteenth consul-
ships), L. Passienus Rufus, "inherited the name,
the wealth, and the influence of Sallustius Cris-
pus." 1 9 Sallustius Crispus, nephew of the
eminent historian and adopted, probably post-
humously, into the name and property of that
distinguished man, lived a long and influential
life as adviser to Augustus and to T iberius. H is
adoption of CrispusPassienus was surely influen-
tialin advancing the latter'slife and career, which
saw him become a comesof Gaius, twice consul,
proconsul of Asia in 42-3, and husband first of
Domitia, aunt of Nero, and then of the younger
Agrippina. Iteration of the consulship was
sufficiently uncommon under the Julio-Claudians
to mark especially a man who obtained this dis-
tinction. During this period, with the exception,
of course, of membersof the imperialfamily, only
five men gain a second consulate (T . Statilius
T aurus, M. Vinicius, D. Valerius Asiaticus, C.
Antistius Vetus, and CrispusPassienus) and only
two a third (M. Vipsanius Agrippa and L.
16M. P. Charlesworth, CAH 10 (1934) 666ff.
170n the generalrelationship between Claudius and
the senate, see V. M. Scramuzza, T he Emperor
Claudius (Cambridge, Mass. 1940) 63, and D.
McAlindon, "Senatorial Opposition to Claudius
and Nero," AJP 77 (1956) 113-32, especially 115.
18CIL6.920, 31203.
19R. Syme, T acitus (Oxford 1958) 328.
20H . W . Benario, "T he End of Sallustius Crispus,"
CJ 57 (1961-2) 321-2.
Claudius, we allknow, had been a student of
the historian Livy. Perhaps Crispus Passienus
was given a second consulate not only to placate
the senatorialaristocracy but alsoto calltomind
the name of the republican historian, rerum
Romanarum florentissimusauctor.21
T he designation of the twoStatilii in successive
yearsnodoubt played totheir distinguished name
and the position in nobility that had accrued from
Augustus' famed supporter. And they were
grandsonsof the orator Messalla, whom Claudius
in his youth may wellhave known.
T here was another young man, descended from
perhaps even greater forebears, who will have
had his following in the senate and among the
aristocracy. T his was Asinius Gal]us, grandson
of Asinius Pollioand son of T iberius' gadfly. H e
himself did not attain the consulate, but that the
family of the Asinii was not without influence
under T iberius is shown by the consulates of his
brothers C. Asinius Pollio in 23 and M. Asinius
Agrippa in 25. And there is another brother,
Ser. Asinius Celer, in 38 and a great grandson of
Pollio, M. Asinius Marcellus, in 54. Asinius
Pollio never came over to support the princeps,
but his descendants play an important part in
the history of the principate.
If Claudius hoped to win the support of these
nobles by the deference he showed them in ad-
vancement, he cannot be said tohave succeeded. 2 2
For in 46 there was an attempt upon his position.
Conspirverunt autem ad res novasGallus Asinius
et Statilius Corvinus, Pollionis ac Messalae ora-
torum nepotes, assumptis compluribus libertis
ipsius atque servis.
2 3
T his would surely have
struck students of late republican history as a
strange alliance.
Statilius T aurus did not join the uprising of
his brother, nor did his consular colleague, Cris-
pus Passienus. But the wealth and estates of
each led to his death; the latter was poisoned by
his wife Agrippina, the former committed suicide
after being prosecuted for extortion and magical
practices in the year 53. It was Agrippina's
yearning for the gardens of the Statilii that led
to these legal maneuverings. T he underground
basilica outside the Porta Maggiore is probably
within the extent of these gardens. Is the wor-
ship that was held here in any way connected
with the charge of magicae superstitiones?24
W ith his death came to an end the significant
place of the family of Statilius T auruson the fasti
of the Roman state. H e had consolidated hisown
position and influence by faithful service to
Octavian, and the benefit of his name lasted for
three further generations, a long span in the
picture of the ever-changing aristocracy of the
Roman principate.
21T ac. Ann. 3.30.
22T he view here expressed differs in essentials from
that of D. McAlindon, "Claudiusand the Senators,"
AJP 78 (1957) 284-5.
2 3Suet. Claud. 13.
24T ac. Ann. 12.59; A. D. Nock, CAH 10 (1934) 500;
P. MacKendrick, T he Mute Stones Speak (New
York 1960) 182ff.
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