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The Death of Lucius Equitius on 10 December 100 b.c.1

  • J. Lea Beness (a1) and T. W. Hillard (a2)

The picture of L. Appuleius Saturninus' last days is usually derived from the straightforward narrative account found in Appian's Civil Wars, an account which modern analysis has shown to be flawed. That narrative may be glossed as follows. At the consular elections for the year 99, Saturninus (a tribune who had that year been elected to a third tribunate) and Glaucia (a praetor and candidate for the consulship) instigated the death of a more hopeful contender. Chaos followed. On the following day, when the People (demos) had made its intention to do away with the ‘malefactors’ absolutely plain, Saturninus, Glaucia and the quaestor Saufeius seized the Capitol with followers from the country. The Senate voted for their suppression and Marius invested the hill. With hopes of a safe conduct, the beseiged surrendered and Marius detained them in the curia. Those who feared that the seditiosi might escape rough justice broke in and killed, amongst others, ‘a quaestor, a tribune and a praetor, still decorated with the insignia of office. Many others also perished in the stasis, including another tribune, thought to be the son of Gracchus and being a tribune for the first time on that very day’: ταμίαν τε κα⋯ δήμαρχον κα⋯ στρατηγόν, ἔτι περικειμ⋯νους τ⋯ σ⋯μβολα τ⋯ς ⋯ρχ⋯ς. πολὺς δ⋯ κα⋯ ἄλλος ὅμιλος ⋯ν τῇ στάσει δι⋯φθαρτο κα⋯ δήμαρχος ἕτερος, ⋯ το⋯ Γράκχου παῖς εἶναι νομιζ⋯μενος, πρώτην δημαρχ⋯ν ⋯κε⋯νην ⋯μ⋯ραν.

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2 Most recently and thoroughly, Badian E., ‘The Death of Saturninus’, Chiron 14 (1984), 101–47, esp. 101–6.

3 Bell. Civ. 1.323.

4 ibid. 1.32.

5 cf. Bell. Civ. 1.28, where Glaucia is given as praetor in 101. E. Gabba (Athenaeum 33 [1955], 218) is willing to follow Niemeyer, Niccolini and Broughton in supposing that Appian was capable of rendering the qualification designatus which he found in his source(s) as if the magistrate was already in office. Broughton offers a parallel at Dio 40.45.2 where Q. Pompeius Rufus is given as tribune, when only trib. desig. (ibid., n. 5). B. L. Twyman argues that Appian is ignorant of the regular interval between designation and entry into office (‘The Date of Sulla's Abdication and the Chronology of the First Book of Appian's Civil Wars', Athenaeum 54 [1976], 271–95, see esp. 277ff. and 283–4). He is led to a rather convoluted hypothesis in an attempt to explain seeming contradictions in Appian's narrative simply because he is unaware (as everybody else seems to be unaware) that Appian's evidence need not point to Equitius L. (trib. desig. 99) having been killed on the day following the consular elections of 100 b.c. In his commentary on Bell. Civ. 1.33, Gabba also seems willing to believe that Appian thought the tribunician elections in 100 were held the day before the lynching of Saturninus (i.e. the same day as the consular elections!); cf. Badian E., art. cit. above (n. 2), 103: ‘Appian is indeed known to be frequently unaware of the fact that, in Rome, entry upon office did not immediately follow election’.

6 2.4(16)3.

7 Bell. Civ. 1.32.

8 On that problem, see now the comprehensive coverage by Badian , art. cit. above (n. 2), 101–6. Those who object to Appian's apparent chronology have argued that the date of the massacre must have been earlier. December would have been unusually late for consular elections (though not impossibly). The event certainly seems to have taken place in warmer weather than one might have expected for December. Appian speaks of Saufeius' serious thirst. The author of the de viris illustribus (73, 10) records the events as having taken place maximo aestu (which may, of course, be a careless gloss on the observation of Saufeius' thirst in one or more of his sources). Moreover, Val. Max. 3.2.18 records that Equitius was tribune-designate at the time of the ‘sedition’ and seemingly at the time of the Capitoline siege. This could only have been before 10 December. Most objections were met by Seager R., ‘The Date of Saturninus' Murder', CR 17 (1967), 910. Badian, however, picks up a neglected observation of F. W. Robinson which seems to settle the matter. Saufeius was a quaestor at the time of his death; his quaestorship must belong to the year 100 (since the quaestorian elections for 99 would, as custom demanded, have had to have been held subsequent to the consular ones and, therefore, could not yet have taken place); his death, therefore, must have occurred before 5 December (the end of his term of office), art. cit., 106 n. 13. This will stand, of course, unless Saufeius had been a quaestor for 100 but was awaiting provincial assignment for 99. (Proquaestors retained, if they wished, their insignia: de vir. ill. 66.3, for an exception.) While such a solution is possible, it is perhaps perverse.

9 MRR iii.22, probably a slip.

10 Val. Max. (9.7.1.) records that he was a candidate in 101.

11 We take the periphrasis τοὺς τοὺς τ⋯ν Ἀπουλ⋯ιον which Appian uses to identify the victims on this occasion – amongst whom, outstandingly, were the three magistrates – to be inclusive of Saturninus. (The deaths of ‘others’, which includes Equitius', is an additional item.)

12 The ambivalence of Furius notwithstanding.

13 Appian's usage might favour a shorter period of time (i.e. weeks rather than months). For continued commotion of some duration, he was inclined to use the plural: e.g. 1.2 bis (the struggles of the orders and the troubles after the death of Ti. Gracchus); 1.3 (the cessation of commotion during Sulla's later years); 1.4 (similar quietude during Caesar's dictatorship); 1.5 (the escalation of commotion following Caesar's death); 1.10 (the disturbances surrounding the lex Sempronia agraria); 1.58 and 60 (the disturbances of 88, escalating to murder and thence to open war). His use of the singular with the article (as here at 1.33) refers on another occasion (1.27) to a series of disturbances associated with a particular leader and approximates seditio (the sedition, i.e. the revolutionary activity, of C. Gracchus). When a specific disturbance is described, the singular is used without the article, e.g. 1.30 (the eruption of violence in one of Saturninus' legislative assemblies) and 1.58 (where a battle is contrasted with a political brawl). In such a way the singular is perhaps to be read (i.e. rather than as a generic) at 1.2 where Ti. Gracchus is registered as the first to have been killed ⋯ν στ⋯σει, and at 1.60 where stasis is the reason for Sulla's outlawing of Marius, Sulpicius et al., but cf. 1.13.

One other problem needs to be addressed here. The tribunician activity of P. Furius is registered in Appian's account after Equitius' death, while it is almost certainly to be dated before 10 December, i.e. to the tribunician year of 100. (Orosius (improbably) places Furius' plebiscite confiscating the property of Saturninus between the deaths of Saturninus and Glaucia and that of Saturninus' frater Dolabella, quite obviously on the same day (see below). While that is difficult to credit, it is clear that at least the promulgation of the bill immediately followed the mêlée: cf. Badian, art. cit. (n. 2), 130–3.) We would argue that this does not necessarily indicate confusion on Appian's part, but that Furius' activity is recorded by Appian only as part of the prelude to the recall of Metellus Numidicus from exile which Furius blocked (in 100), but which would occur in 99.

14 5.17.10.

15 On the popular appeal of Equitius, Cic. Sest. 101; Val. Max. 3.8.6; 9.7.2; 9.15.1; App. Bell. Civ. 1.32. On the intense popular feeling generated by the memory of the Gracchi (a heritage appropriated by Equitius), Plut. CG 18.2.

16 V.M. dates the incident to Marius' fifth consulship but the item hardly seems to suit 101 when Marius was still apparently on good terms with his popularis allies; cf. Badian, art. cit. (n. 2), 113. Equitius of course might have been a different matter. In the context of 9.7, V. M. clearly intended to date the incident to 101. In his sixteenth-century edition, Pighe suggested the emendation sextum. This should be treated as a correction rather than V. M.'s original text. For Pighe as corrector, cf. the emendation of Val. Max. 1.6.4. While V. M. was probably in error over the date, there is no reason to suppose that he erred in the circumstance: ‘…tribunatumque adversus leges cum L. Saturnino [Equitius] petebat’.

17 cf. Cic. Rab. Perd. 20; Sest. 101; de vir. ill. 62.1; App. Bell. Civ. 1.32.

18 No source referring to Equitius mentions him as having shared Saturninus' fate on the same day.

1 The authors would like to thank T. J. Cornell, E. A. Judge, B. A. Marshall, R. Seager and the Editors for their useful criticism.

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