Quintus Roscius Gallus

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Quintus Roscius Gallus

c. 120 b.c.e.–c. 62 b.c.e.


Rome's Most Famous Actor.

Quintus Roscius Gallus was one of the most famous actors in ancient Rome. In fact, his name continued to be used to describe a brilliant actor until the nineteenth century c.e.—as modern critics might use "an Olivier" to designate an especially gifted actor. His cognomen ("last name") Gallus usually denoted someone who was a freedman (the son of a former slave), but Roscius was born to a prosperous family in Latium, what is now the area south of Rome. Most of the biographical information about him comes from the great Roman statesman Cicero, who defended Roscius in court on a charge of business fraud in 69 b.c.e. or thereabouts. He was extremely handsome with a slight squint, and was especially renowned for his venustas ("grace of movement"). He may have tutored Cicero in the art of elocution when Cicero was a young student, but he was aristocratic enough to be part of the inner circle of Sulla, the Roman dictator, who made him a knight in 81 b.c.e. Roscius preferred acting in comedies to tragedies, perhaps because comic roles required more physicality, but he was known for his tragic performances as well. As the great actor grew older, he slowed down his movements and was renowned for his "old man" voice.


Cicero, "In Defense of Roscius the Comic Actor," in On Oratory and Orators. Trans. J. S. Watson (Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986).

Pat Easterling and Edith Hall, eds., Greek and Roman Actors (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

Charles Garton, Personal Aspects of the Roman Theatre (Toronto: Hakkert, 1972).