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Notes on Plutarch: The Life of Sertorius

When I was reading Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans some four years ago, I started making summaries of the extensive biographies to keep track of the important persons and their relationships. Here’s one that I found lonely and forgotten in the less used corner of my hard drive.

Go for the original PDF version to get delicious typography and references to the Dryden edition. Names in color refer to persons also biographed by Plutarch.

Quintus Sertorius

123 BCE – 72 BCE

Roman commander. Took the wrong side of Sylla, escaped to Spain shortly before his final victory. Held out against Rome, establishing his own version of Roman government in Spain. Assassinated by Roman nobility who were close to him and envied his power.

Sertorius was born in the Sabine city of Nursia; his father died when he was young, and he was brought up by his mother Rhea.

He first distinguished himself in the wars with the Cimbri and Teutones. He then commanded a thousand men in Spain. After his return he was appointed the quaestor of Cisalpine Gaul.

When Sylla had left Italy to fight against Mithridates, Octavius and Cinna were the consuls. Octavius remained loyal to Sylla, but was eventually overcome by Cinna, Sertorius and Marius.

Afterwards when Marius and Cinna died, and Sylla was successfully advancing to Rome, Sertorius took possession of Spain. He soon became popular with the locals and started great war preparations. However, when Caius Annius (sent by Sylla) advanced into Spain, Sertorius had to flee to New Carthage and from there to Africa.

Near the coast of Mauritania many of his men were killed by the natives. This forced him to return to the coast of Spain, taking over the island of Pityussa. Annius drove him away again and many of his ships were wrecked by adverse weather. He finally escaped to the Atlantic coast of Spain. He then fought in North Africa, successfully opposing a party supported by the Romans.

The Spanish tribe of Lusitanians then sent for him to become their general against the Romans. He brought them to obedience and gained great authority among them. He successfully defended himself against several Roman commanders and generals, most notably against Metellus and Pompey. His power continually grew. He was also pacifying and civilizing the Spaniards under his command.

Sertorius even created a copy of the Roman government, choosing senators, praetors, and quaestors from the Romans that fled from Rome. Nevertheless, many of the nobility became jealous of his power. A conspiracy instigated by Perpenna Vento arose, inciting the Spaniards against Sertorius. Finally, the conspirators assassinated him at a symposium.

The order set by Sertorius soon collapsed, Spain was subdued by Pompey and most of the conspirators were killed.

March 27, MMXII — Books.