Marcus Aemilius Scaurus (consul 115 BC)

Marcus Aemilius Scaurus (born c. 163 BC – died 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.

Marcus Aemilius Scaurus
Consul of the Roman Republic
In office
1 January 115 BC  31 December 115 BC
Preceded byQuintus Fabius Maximus Eburnus
and Gaius Licinius Geta
Succeeded byGaius Porcius Cato
and Manius Acilius Balbus
Personal details
Bornc. 163 BC
Diedc. 89 BC
Political partyOptimates
Spouse(s)Caecilia Metella Dalmatica


Early career

Scaurus was born c. 163 BC into a prestigious but impoverished patrician family: Cicero for instance comments that Scaurus was so poor that he was effectively a novus homo.[1] In order to maintain the family lifestyle, his father became a coal-dealer. However, Scaurus himself declined any commercial activities (forbidden for senators) and embarked on a political life.[2]

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.[3]


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.[4] 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.[5]

Jugurthine War

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.[6] 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).[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] However, some scholars believe Sallust has confused Scaurus with the similarly-named Marcus Aurelius Scaurus.[10]

Censorship and 'Father of the Senate'

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.[11] However, when Drusus suddenly died during their year of office, Scaurus was forced to abdicate his censorship.[lower-roman 1]

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.[17]

Scaurus was throughout his political career the leader of the conservative elements of the Senate. In 103 BC, he lead 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.[18]

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.[19] 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.[20]

Late 90s

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.[21][22] 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 the Younger,[23] 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 (91-88 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.[24]

The exact date of Scaurus' death is unknown. However, since his wife Caecilia Metella Dalmatica married Sulla in 88 BC, Scaurus probably died in 89 BC.[25]


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).[26]

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).[27]

Personal Life

Scaurus married Caecilia Metella Dalmatica, who was later the third wife of Lucius Cornelius Sulla. From this marriage, Scaurus had two children:


  1. Several sources indicate that Scaurus was consul a second time in 107, in place of Lucius Cassius Longinus, who fell in battle against the Tigurini.[12][13][14][15] However, Pauly–Wissowa indicates that this is a phantom consulship, arising from a misplaced fragment of the Fasti Capitolini, identifying a consul Scaurus who should instead be identified with Marcus Aurelius Scaurus, consul suffectus in the preceding year.[16]


  1. Ernst Badian, entry for 'Aemilius Scaurus, Marcus (1)', in Oxford Classical Dictionary
  2. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, vol. III, p.736 (Scaurus, Aemilius, No. 2).
  3. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, vol. III, p.736 (Scaurus, Aemilius, No. 2).
  4. Pliny, NH 8.223
  5. Ernst Badian, entry for 'Aemilius Scaurus, Marcus (1)', in Oxford Classical Dictionary
  6. Sallust, The Jugurthine War 25
  7. Sallust, The Jugurthine War 28.5
  8. Sallust, The Jugurthine War 29, 30, 32
  9. Sallust, The Jugurthine War 40.4
  10. E.g. G.M. Paul, A Historical Commentary on Sallust's Bellum Iugurthinum, pp.119–121
  11. Ernst Badian, entry for 'Aemilius Scaurus, Marcus (1)', in Oxford Classical Dictionary
  12. Drumann, Geschichte Roms, vol. I, p. 19.
  13. Orelli, Onomasticon Tullianum, p. 18.
  14. Krause, Vitae et Fragmenta, p. 224.
  15. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, vol. III, pp. 736, 737 (Scaurus, Aemilius, No. 2).
  16. Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, Aemilius No. 140.
  17. Cicero, pro Sestio 39
  18. Andrew Lintott, 'Political History, 146–95 B.C.', in The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume IX, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: 1994), p. 93
  19. Ernst Badian, entry for 'Aemilius Scaurus, Marcus (1)', in Oxford Classical Dictionary
  20. Cicero, Rab. perd. 7, 20; Cat. I, 2, 4; Valerius Maximus, iii.2.18; App. B. civ., i.31.
  21. Asconius 21 C, 26 C
  22. Valerius Maximus 3. 7. 8.
  23. Asconius 21 C
  24. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, vol. III, p.736 (Scaurus, Aemilius, No. 2).
  25. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, vol. III, p.737 (Scaurus, Aemilius, No. 2).
  26. Cicero, pro Fonteio 24
  27. Sallust,The Jugurthine War 15


  • The Chronicles of the Roman Republic — Philip Matyszak
Preceded by
Quintus Fabius Maximus Eburnus and Gaius Licinius Geta
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Marcus Caecilius Metellus
115 BC
Succeeded by
Manius Acilius Balbus and Gaius Porcius Cato
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