Publius Cornelius Dolabella (suffect consul 44 BC)

Publius Cornelius Dolabella (c. 85–69[1] BC – 43 BC) was a Roman general, by far the most important of the Dolabellae.[2] He arranged for himself to be adopted by a plebeian so that he could become a plebeian tribune.[3] He married Cicero's daughter, Tullia. Throughout his life he was an extreme profligate, something that Plutarch wrote reflected ill upon his patron Julius Caesar.


In the Civil Wars (49–45 BC) Dolabella at first took the side of Pompey, but afterwards went over to Julius Caesar, and was present when Caesar prevailed at the Battle of Pharsalus (48 BC).[2]

As a Tribune for the Plebs for 47 BC, Dolabella had tried to bring about constitutional changes, one of which (to escape the urgent demands of his creditors) was a bill proposing that all debts should be canceled.[2] He tried to enlist the support of Mark Antony, but his fellow tribunes Gaius Asinius Pollio, consul in 40 BC, and Lucius Trebellius Fides advised Antony not to support the measure. Antony, who also suspected he had been cuckolded by Dolabella, took up arms against him when Dolabella occupied the Forum in an attempt to use force to pass the bill. The Senate voted to support this, and a clash ensued in which both sides took losses.[4] Upon his return from Alexandria, Caesar, seeing the expediency of removing Dolabella from Rome, pardoned him[5], and subsequently took him as one of his generals in the expedition to Africa and Spain.[2]

After Caesar had returned to Rome and been elected consul for the fifth time, he proposed to the Senate that his consulship be transferred to Dolabella. Antony protested, causing a huge disruption that made Caesar withdraw the motion out of shame. Later, Caesar exercised his role as dictator and directly proclaimed Dolabella consul.[6] This time Antony called out that the omens were unfavorable and Caesar again backed down and abandoned Dolabella.[7]

On Caesar's death in 44 BC, Dolabella seized the insignia of the consulship (which had already been conditionally promised him), and, by making friends with Marcus Junius Brutus and the other assassins, was confirmed in his office. When, however, Mark Antony offered him the command of the expedition against the Parthians and the province of Syria, he changed sides at once. His journey to the province was marked by plundering, extortion, and the murder of Gaius Trebonius, proconsul of Asia, who refused to allow him to enter Smyrna.[2]

Dolabella was thereupon declared a public enemy and superseded by Cassius (the murderer of Caesar), who attacked him in Laodicea. When Cassius's troops captured the place (43 BC), Dolabella ordered one of his soldiers to kill him.[2]

Also in 43 BC, on behalf of the Senate, Cornelius Dolabella had recognized Caesarion, the boy-king, as Caesar's son.[8]

Cultural depictions

Dolabella plays a focal role in John Dryden's 1600s play All for Love, where he is portrayed as warning Cleopatra about Octavian planning to kidnap her and her children to Rome, which convinces Cleopatra to kill herself. This version of Dolabella is highly fictionalized and a composite character of several ancient Roman people.[9]

He also appears as a character in the novel The Bloodied Toga by William George Hardy.[10]

See also


  1. James K. Finn, Frank J. Groten; Res publica conquassata - page: 190
  2.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Dolabella, Publius Cornelius". Encyclopædia Britannica. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 386.
  3. Oxford Classical Dictionary. (3rd ed., 1996) p. 394; Cassius Dio. Roman History, xlii.29.1.
  4. Plutarch: Antony, c. 9, in Plutarch, Roman Lives ISBN 978-0-19-282502-5
  5. Antony, c. 10, ibid.
  6. Dio 43.51.8.
  7. Antony, 11.3, less clear from Dio.
  9. The Works of John Dryden, Volume 13 - page: 415
  10. William George Hardy; Macmillan of Canada, 1979. The bloodied toga: a novel of Julius Caesar - page: 54
Political offices
Preceded by
Julius Caesar V,
Mark Antony
Consul of Rome
44 BC (suffect)
With: Mark Antony
Succeeded by
C. Vibius Pansa,
Aulus Hirtius
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