Marcus Livius Drusus

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Marcus Livius Drusus

Marcus Livius Drusus (ca. 124-91 B.C.) was a Roman statesman who attempted to unite the nobility with the equestrian order and to reconcile the cities of Italy to the rule of Rome.

Drusus was a member of a great plebeian family, the son and grandson of consuls. Drusus' mother belonged to the great patrician family of the Cornelii; his wife was Servilia, daughter of the Optimate leader Q. Servilius Caepio; and his sister Livia was married to Servilia's brother, also named Q. Servilius Caepio.

Political Career

It was inevitable that a man of Drusus' wealth and family connections should enter politics. He was elected a military tribune (ca. 105 B.C.), became one of the decemviri stilitibus judicandis, a court of 10 which decided cases as to whether a man was free or a slave (ca. 104), and was chosen a quaestor (ca. 102), the first step on the ladder of public office for aspiring Roman politicians. He was aedile in 94 and became a pontifex at some unknown time, an office which he held until his death.

Domestic Reforms

On Dec. 10, 92, Drusus became a plebeian tribune and used his own influence and the powers of this office to propose an extraordinary series of reforms designed to solve the major domestic problems of the day. He proposed to placate the poor citizens by suggesting the establishment of 12 colonies in Italy to which they could migrate, with a free distribution of land. To smooth relations between the Senate and the equestrian order (equites), Drusus wanted to restore to the senators the right, taken from them by C. Gracchus and given to the equites, of sitting on the juries which decided cases of alleged corruption in office. Equestrian opposition was to be overcome by doubling the size of the Senate by adding 300 equites to it. The restive cities of Italy Drusus wanted to conciliate by extending Roman citizenship to all Italians.

These proposals were adopted into law by the assembly of all citizens, but they violated Roman law providing that one bill of proposals could not contain several unrelated topics; force had been used as well. This gave an opportunity to Drusus' opponents to reopen the question. His brother-in-law Caepio, who had quarreled with him and had divorced his sister Livia, and the consul Marcus Philippus led the opposition. After violent agitation and threats of mass movements in support of Drusus by the Italians, Drusus' enemies persuaded a majority of the Senate to declare all of these laws invalid. The results were tragic: Drusus was murdered in his home, his supporters were subjected to prosecution in the law courts, and the Italians rose in open rebellion in the Social War (91-87).

Further Reading

There is no book-length work on Drusus. The best summary of his career is that by Hugh Last in the Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 9 (1932; corrected repr. 1951). For general background see Matthias Gelzer, The Roman Nobility (1912; trans. 1969); A. N. Sherwin-White, The Roman Citizenship (1939); and H. H. Scullard, From the Gracchi to Nero (1959). □