A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

1. L.CorneliusBalbus, sometimes called Major to distinguish him from his nephew [No. 3]. was a native of Gades. and descended from an illustrious family in that town. Gades, being one of the federate cities, supported the Romans in their

war against Sertorius in Spain, and Balbus thus had an opportunity of distinguishing himself. He served under the Roman generals, Q. Metellus Pius, C. Memmius, and Pompey, and was present at the battles of Turia and Sucro. He distinguished himself so much throughout the war, that Pompey conferred the Roman citizenship upon him, his brother, and his brother's sons; and this act of Pompey's was ratified by the law of the consuls, Cn. Cornelius Lentulus and L. Gellius, B. C. 72, (Cic. pro Balb. 8.) It was probably in honour of these consuls that Balbus took the gentile name of the one and the praenomen of the other; though some modern writers suppose that he derived his name from L. Cornelius, consul in B. C. 199, who was the hospes of the inhabitants of Gades. (Pro Bulb. 18.)

At the conclusion of the war with Sertorius, B. C. 72, Balbus removed to Rome. He obtained admission into the Crustuminian tribe by accusing a member of this tribe of bribery, and thus gaining the place which the guilty party forfeited on conviction. Balbus had doubtless brought with him considerable wealth from Gades, and supported by the powerful interest of Pompey, whose friendship he assiduously cultivated, he soon became a man of great influence and importance. One of Pompey's intimate friends, the Greek Theophanes of Mytilene, adopted him; and Pompey himself shewed him marks of favour, which not a little offended the Roman nobles, who were indignant that a man of Gades should be preferred to them. Among other presents which Pompey made him, we read of a grant of land for the purpose of pleasure-grounds. But Balbus was too prudent to confine himself to only one patron; he early paid court to Caesar, and seems to have entirely ingratiated himself into his favour during Pompey's absence in Asia in prosecution of the Mithridatic war. From this time, he became one of Caesar's most intimate friends, and accompanied him to Spain in B. C. 61, in the capacity of praefectus fabrum, when Caesar went into that province after his praetorship. Soon after his return to Rome, the first triumvirate was formed, B. C. 60; and though he was ostensibly the friend both of Pompey and Caesar, he seems to have attached himself more closely to the interests of the latter than of the former. On Caesar's departure to Gaul in B. C. 58, Balbus again received the appointment of praefectus fabrum, and from this time to the breaking out of the civil war, he passed his time alternately in Gaul and at Rome, but principally at the latter. He was the manager and steward of Caesar's private property in the city, and a great part of the Gallic booty passed through his hands. But his increasing wealth and influence raised him many enemies among the nobles, who were still more anxious to ruin him, as he was the favourite of the triumvirs. They accordingly induced an inhabitant of Gades to accuse him of having illegally assumed the rights and privileges of a Roman citizen. The cause came on for trial probably in B. C. 55; and as there was yet no breach between Pompey and Caesar, Balbus was defended by Pompey and Crassus, and also by Cicero, who undertook the defence at Pompey's request, and whose speech on the occasion has come down to us. Balbus was acquitted, and justly, as is shewn in the article Foederatae Civitates in the Dict. of Ant.

In the civil war, in B. C. 49, Balbus remained at Rome, and endeavoured to some extent to keep up the semblance of neutrality. Thus he looked after the pecuniary affairs of his friend, the consul Cornelius Lentulus, who was one of Pompey's partizans ; but his neutrality was scarcely disguised. It is true that he did not appear against Pompey in the field, but all his exertions were employed to promote Caesar's interests. He was especially anxious to gain over Cicero, with whom he had corresponded before the breaking out of the civil war. Knowing the weak side of Cicero, he had first requested him to act the mediator between Caesar and Pompey, and afterwards pressed him to come to Rome, which would have been tantamount to a declaration in Caesar's favour. Cicero, after a good deal of hesitation, eventually left Italy, but returned after the battle of Pharsalia (B. C. 48), when he re-opened his correspondence with Balbus, and requested him to use his good offices to obtain Caesar's pardon for hin. During all this time, Balbus, in conjunction with Oppius, had the entire management of Caesar's affairs at Rome ; and we see, from Cicero's letters, that Balbus was now regarded as one of the chief men in the state. He seems, however, to have used his good fortune with moderation, and never to have been deserted by the prudence which had always been one of his chief characteristics. We are therefore disposed to reject the tale, which is related only by Suetonius (Suet. Jul. 78) and Plutarch (Plut. Caes. 60), that Balbus prevented Caesar from rising to receive the senate on his return from the Spanish war, in B. C. 45.

On the murder of Caesar in March, 44, Balbus was placed in a somewhat critical position. He retired from the city, and spent two months in the country, and was one of the first who hastened to meet young Octavianus at Neapolis. During this time, he frequently saw Cicero, who believed that his professions to Octavianus were hollow, and that he was in reality the friend of Antony. In this, however, Cicero was mistaken; Balbus, whose good fortune it always was to attach himself to the winning party, accompanied Octavianus to Rome, and was subsequently advanced by him to the highest offices in the state. It is uncertain in what year he was praetor; but his propraetorship is commemorated in the annexed coin of Octavianus (copied from the Thesaur. Morell.), which contains on the obverse C. CAESAR. IIIVIR. R. P. C. with the head of Octavianus, and on the reverse BALBUS PRO PR. He obtained the consulship in B. C. 40, the first instance, according to Pliny (Plin. Nat. 7.43. s. 44), in which this honour had been conferred upon one who was not born a Roman citizen. The year of his death is unknown. In his will he left every Roman citizen twenty denarii apiece (D. C. 48.32), which would seem to shew that he had no children, and that consequently the emperor Balbinus could not be, as he pretended, a lineal descendant from him.

Balbus was the author of a diary (Ephemeris)

which has not come down to us, of the most remarkable occurrences in his own and Caesar's life. (Sidon. Apoll. Ep. 9.14; Suet. Jul. 81; Capitolin. Balbin. 2.) He took care that Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic war should be continued ; and we accordingly find the eighth book dedicated to him. There does not, however, appear to be sufficient grounds for the conjecture of some modern writers, that Balbus was the author of the History of the Spanish war. In the collection of Cicero's letters we find four from Balbus. (Ad Att. 8.15, 9.6, 13.)