1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Marcellus (family)

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MARCELLUS, a Roman plebeian family belonging to the Claudian gens. Its most distinguished members were the following:—

1. Marcus Claudius Marcellus (c. 268–208 B.C.), one of the Roman generals during the Second Punic War and conqueror of Syracuse. He first served against Hamilcar in Sicily. In his first consulship (222) he was engaged, with Cn. Cornelius Scipio as colleague, in war against the Insubrian Gauls, and won the spolia opima for the third and last time in Roman history by slaying their chief Viridomarus or Virdumarus (Polybius ii. 34; Propertius v. 10, 39). In 216, after the defeat at Cannae, he took command of the remnant of the army at Canusium, and although he was unable to prevent Capua going over to Hannibal, he saved Nola and southern Campania. In 214 he was in Sicily as consul at the time of the revolt of Syracuse; he stormed Leontini and besieged Syracuse, but the skill of Archimedes repelled his attacks. After a two years’ siege he gradually forced his way into the city and took it in the face of strong Punic reinforcements. He spared the lives of the inhabitants, but carried off their art treasures to Rome, the first instance of a practice afterwards common. Consul again in 210, he took Salapia in Apulia, which had revolted to Hannibal, by help of the Roman party there, and put to death the Numidian garrison. Proconsul in 209, he attacked Hannibal near Venusia, and after a desperate battle retired to that town; he was accused of bad generalship, and had to leave the army to defend himself in Rome. In his last consulship (208), he and his colleague, while reconnoitring near Venusia, were unexpectedly attacked, and Marcellus was killed. His successes have been exaggerated by Livy, but the name often given to him, the “sword of Rome,” was well deserved.

Livy xxiii. 14-17, 41-46; xxiv. 27-32, 35-39; xxv. 5-7, 23-31; xxvi. 26, 29-32; xxvii. 1-5, 21-28; Polybius viii. 5-9, x. 32; Appian, Hannib. 50; Florus ii. 6.

2. M. Claudius Marcellus, an inveterate opponent of Julius Caesar. During his consulship (51 B.C.) he proposed to remove Caesar from his army in March 49, but this decision was delayed by Pompey’s irresolution and the skilful opposition of the tribune C. Curio (see Caesar, Julius). In January 49 he tried to put off declaring war against Caesar till an army could be got ready, but his advice was not taken. When Pompey left Italy, Marcus and his brother Gaius followed, while his cousin withdrew to Liternum. After Pharsalus M. Marcellus retired to Mytilene, where he practised rhetoric and studied philosophy. In 46 his cousin and the senate successfully appealed to Caesar to pardon him, and Marcellus reluctantly consented to return. On this occasion Cicero’s[1] speech Pro Marcello was delivered. Marcellus left for Italy, but was murdered in May by one of his own attendants, P. Magius Chilo, in the Peiraeus. Marcellus was a thorough aristocrat. He was an eloquent speaker (Cicero, Brutus, 71), and a man of firm character, although not free from avarice.

See Cicero, Ad fam. iv. 4, 7, 10, and Ad Att. v. 11 (ed. Tyrrell and Purser); Caesar, B. C. i. 2; Suetonius, Caesar, 29; G. Boissier, Cicero and his Friends (Eng. trans., 1897).

3. M. Claudius Marcellus (c. 43–23 B.C.), son of C. Marcellus and Octavia, sister of Augustus. In 25 he was adopted by the emperor and married to his daughter Julia. This seemed to mark him out as the heir to the throne, but Augustus, when attacked by a serious illness, gave his signet to M. Vipsanius Agrippa. In 23 Marcellus, then curule aedile, died at Baiae. Livia was suspected of having poisoned him to get the empire for her son Tiberius. Great hopes had been built on the youth, and he was celebrated by many writers, especially by Virgil in a famous passage (Aeneid, vi. 860). He was buried in the Campus Martius, and Augustus himself pronounced the funeral oration. The Theatrum Marcelli (remains of which can still be seen) was afterwards dedicated in his honour.

Horace, Odes, i. 12; Propertius iii. 18; Dio Cassius liii. 28, 30; Tacitus, Annals, ii. 41; Suetonius, Augustus, 63; Vell. Pat. ii. 93.

  1. The authorship of this speech has been disputed.