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A Violent Election


The Cura Julia, the Senate House in the Roman Forum that was converted to a church in the 7th century AD. Copyright image licensed from Shutterstock 2024.

As P. Plautius Hypsaeus issued coins in 58 BC, he wanted the emphasize his excellent lineage as an aspiring consul. Hypsaeus was a curule aedile, a role in the Roman republican government responsible for

  • care of the city (public building, fire protection...)

  • markets and measures (including grain distribution)

  • organizing public games


Generally the triumvir monetalis was the role responsible for minting money in the Roman Republic. This was an entry point for young aspiring politicians. Under some circumstances, with authorization of the senate, the curule aediles would be authorized to issue money. In all cases, the authorization to mint money presented an opportunity to advertise to all Romans your illustrious family associations, and promote your political career.


P. Plautius Hypsaeus made the most of his moment as aedile, issuing coins highlighting his alleged ancestors: Neptune (a god) and Leucone (the daughter of Neptune), as well as his famous ancestor C. Plautius Decianus the consul of 329 BC who was responsible for the capture of Privernum (CEPIT PRIV), a city southeast of Rome that was subsequently integrated into the Roman state.


How does he claim relationships to the gods?

Fable 157 of Hyginus' Fables gives us a connection under the heading of "Children of Neptune" Leuconoe ex Themisto Hypsei filia (Leucone the daughter of Neptune by Themisto Hypseus' daughter. Themisto, a Thessalian princess and daughter Hypseus, King of the Lapiths. This name similarity also explains Leucone shown on the second variant of this coin (Crawford 420/1b).


How does he claim relationships to the consul of 329?

Here his assertions are even more sketchy - the consul of 329 is identified in the Fasti Capitolini as C. Plautius Decianus.

{329}    L. Aemilius L.f. L.n. Mamercinus II - who was given the name Privernas while holding this office, C. Plautius P.f. P.n. Decianus

On this coin P. Plautius Hypsaeus just renames him (C. Hypsaeus) to be clear about the important family connection C Plautius Decimus is from the same family (gens Plautia) but a different branch...Publius certainly making as good a connection as the King from Thessaly Hypseus. Crawford notes "The reverse type records the capture of Privernum by C. Plautius Decimus Cos. 329, falsely given the cognomen Ypsaeus".


The War with Privernum

Livy describes the war with Privernum and the triumph of Plautius in Book 8 of his Roman History. This war with Privernum took place during the Second Samnite War a war triggered by Romes expansion into southern Italy establishing a colony at Fregellae, a town that had been destroyed by the Samnites. A wealthy Fundanian general named Vitruvius Vaccus rebelled against Rome and after losing his first skirmish with Rome took refuge in Privernum. Newly elected consuls, Lucius Aemilius Mamercinus and Gaius Plautius, took office on the Kalends of July (this was the first day for new consuls until 153 BC when it was changed to January 1). They raised a large army and attacked Privernum.

"From this point there is a twofold tradition: some say that the city was carried by storm, and that Vitruvius was taken alive; others, that before the final assault was made, the people came out with a flag of truce3 to the consul and surrendered, and that Vitruvius was betrayed by his own followers."
-Livy, Book VIII


Roman Republican, P. Plautius Hypsaeus, 57 BC, AR denarius (18 mm, 4.0g, 6h), Rome

Obv: P•VPSAE•S•C Head of Neptune to right; behind, trident

Rev: CEPIT / C•YPSAE COS / PRIV Jupiter in quadriga to left, holding reins in his right hand and hurling thunderbolt with his left.

Ref: Babelon (Plautia) 2. Crawford 420/1a. RBW 1513. Sydenham 910.

"Titus Annius Milo [Papianus], Publius Plautius Hypsaeus, and Quintus Metellus Scipio sought the consulship [in 53, for 52] not only by spreading largesse openly but also accompanied by crews of armed men. There was the greatest possible personal hostility between Milo and Clodius, both because Milo was very close to Cicero and he had used his weight as tribune of the plebs in bringing Cicero back from exile; and because Publius Clodius was exceedingly hostile to Cicero once he had been brought back and was on that account very zealously supporting the candidacies of Hypsaeus and Scipio."
-Asconius, Introductory Notes

Election of Consuls for 52: Grievances and Loyalties

In 53 BC, Titus Annius Milo, Publius Plautius Hypsaeus, and Quintus Metellus Scipio vied for the consulship with extensive campaigns and armed supporters, amidst intense personal animosity between Milo and Clodius, partly because of their connections to Cicero. Publius Clodius Pulcher, supporting Hypsaeus and Scipio due to their opposition to Cicero, often clashed violently with Milo's gangs in Rome. These scenes were a mess a grievances and loyalties that left little room for the good of the republic. Many of the alliances and relationships reinforced by marriages and going back to the time of Sulla and Marius (80's BC) and the civil wars of that time.


The Death of Clodius

As the electoral assemblies for the consulship dragged on without a winner, largely due to the candidates' violent disruptions, Rome found itself without consuls and praetors in January, disrupting the political process. During this chaos, a violent encounter occurred between Milo and Clodius near Bovillae (11 miles from Rome), leading to Clodius being fatally wounded and subsequently killed on Milo's orders.


The Burning of the Senate House

Clodius' body, left by the roadside, was later transported to Rome, inciting public outrage and sorrow, especially after his widow Fulvia displayed his wounds. The next day, his body was taken to the Forum, further inflaming public sentiment against Milo. In the ensuing unrest, Clodius' supporters cremated his body in the Senate House (Curia), causing significant damage to the Curia.


The Appointment of Pompey

Milo, undeterred by the backlash and encouraged by Cicero, continued his election campaign. The unrest prompted the Senate to grant Pompey powers to ensure public safety, leading to his sole consulship and the introduction of laws aimed at addressing the violence and electoral corruption, with Milo eventually standing trial under these new laws.


Pompey kills a few people to make sure no one gets in his way as autocrat. Milo went into exile in Massalia (today Marseille, France) and his property was sold at auction.

"The first defendants convicted were absentees: Milo for the murder of Clodius; Gabinius both for violation of law and for impiety, because he had invaded Egypt without a decree of the Senate and contrary to the Sibylline books; Hypsaeus, Memmius, Sextius, and many others for taking bribes and for corrupting the populace. The people interceded for Scaurus, but Pompey made proclamation that they should submit to the decision of the court. When the crowd again interrupted the accusers, Pompey's soldiers made a charge and killed several. Then the people held their tongues and Scaurus was convicted."
-Appian, The Civil Wars, II.24.1

The Aftermath

Pompey who had been a supporter of Hypsaeus, abandoned him.

"How insolently Cn.  Pompeius behaved! On leaving the bath he left Hypsaeus, who was accused of bribery, prostrate at his feet, even though he was a nobleman and his friend; and he trampled on him with a insulting jest, telling him, that he would do nothing but spoil his supper; and despite saying this, he was able to dine as if with a clear conscience. Yet he was not ashamed to ask in the forum for the acquittal of P. Scipio, his father-in-law, who had been accused under certain laws which Pompeius himself had made, although those laws had caused the ruin of many noblemen. For he interfered in the business of the commonwealth according to the caresses of his marriage bed."
-Valerius Maximus, IX.V.53

Cicero defended Milo, arguing that Clodius' death was in the public interest, but the trial was marred by disruptions and intimidation, reflecting the deep divisions and violence of Roman political life at the time.


Milo appears again in 48 BC taking up the fight against Julius Caesar. He dies being hit by a stone thrown from the walls of Compsa under siege.

"He (Milo) tried to rouse those whom he believed to be in difficulties with debt. Since he was unable to make any progress with these, he opened the slave lockups and began to blockade Compsa in the territory of the Hirpini. There Milo perished, struck by a stone from the wall, after . . . by the praetor Quintus Pedius with a legion..."
- Julius Caesar, Civil War, Book III.22

Publius Hypsaeus was also exiled by Pompey for corruption and his story ends as he disappears from surviving records.


The political infighting on Rome continued through the death of Julius Caesar the rise of Octavian and the civil war with Mark Antony. Ultimately any elements of democracy that might have existed under the Roman republic were reduced further as Octavian, heir of the deified Julius Caesar, rose to emperor. The next 400 years in Rome were shaped by service to the emperor and his will and struggles for military power. Any voice of the people during this time was only lightly represented with the faint fear of mass uprising or defection.


References (in addition to those linked inline):



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