A Biography of Lucius Cornelius Balbus: Pompey's Veteran, Caesar's Agent, and Cicero's Acquaintance

Thumbnail Image
Richards, David E.
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Western Illinois University
The following work is a biography of Lucius Cornelius Balbus (c. 100 - 32 B.C.). Balbus was a noteworthy participant in the political struggles of the final camps midst 50s. days of the Roman Republic. As an agent of both (first Pompey's, then Caesar's), he was in the of the drama played out by the Triumvirate in the 50s. He survived through the fall of the Republic and witnessed the beginning of the Principate. Besides his political connections and delegated duties with Pompey and Caesar, Balbus knew the renowned Cicero. During the Triumvirate, Cicero (along with Pompey and Crassus) was obliged to defend Balbus in court. Being Caesar's agent, Balbus gained the enmity of the opposition, and in order to eliminate him from Caesar's camp and from Rome, Caesar's antagonists accused Balbus of violating the lex Papia (a kind of 'Alien Act'). A successful conviction could have evicted Balbus from Rome, and thus ruined his career as Caesar's agent. The prosecution questioned the legitimacy of Balbus' citizenship as granted by Pompey some twenty years earlier for services rendered in the Sertorian War. Cicero, who had lost his own political autonomy to the Triumvirs, was pressured to defend Balbus and successfully secured his acquittal. The trial (56 B.C.) illustrates the cooperation of the Triumvirs and various questions regarding the importance and prestige of Roman citizenship. The biography first surveys the homeland and early career of Balbus. He was a Spaniard born in Gades (a Spanish coastal city, largely Phoenician in culture, bound to Rome by treaty). The study of Spain during the Late Republic reveals the social and cultural influences on the young Balbus. The chapter concludes with his service under Pompey the Great during the Sertorian War (79 - 72 B.C.) and his subsequent reward of citizenship. The second and third chapters deal with Balbus' activities and political associations in Rome and with Caesar. He served as Caesar's praefectus fabrum in 61 B.C. and during the Gallic Wars. After the important trial in 56, Balbus gained in significance until he finally served as one of Caesar's chief financial and administrative officers although he did not have an official government position or title during and after the Civil War. The study concludes with the dawn of the Augustan Age when Balbus became the first foreign born consul of Rome (40 B.C.). Balbus probably died shortly after Atticus in 32 B.C., and it is not known if he heard of the result of the Battle of Actium which inaugurated the Principate. The thesis involved extensive research into a variety of sources including Cicero's Episulae ad Atticum, and ad Familiares, and the Pro Balbo. Cicero's works contain the majority of the references to Balbus, but additional highlights are obtained from Caesar, Dio Cassius, Livy, Pliny, Plutarch, and Suetonius. The number of sources is not surprising since Balbus was truly an exceptional individual. He was born a provincial in the distant port of Gades, but later became acquainted with Pompey the Great, Cicero, and Octavian. But more importantly, he became the advisor and friend of Gaius Julius Caesar.