This article is about the nephew of the Emperor Augustus. For other people with the same name, see Marcus Claudius Marcellus.

Marcus Claudius Marcellus (43 BCE-September? 23 BCE) was a Roman and the nephew of the emperor, Augustus. He was the son of Octavia Thurina Minor (sister of Augustus) and Gaius Claudius Marcellus Minor, a direct descendant of a famous general in the Second Punic War, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, who's nicknamed by Livy, a Roman historian, the "Sword of Rome".

Early life[edit | edit source]

He was one of Augustus's closest relatives, as the emperor had no sons of his own. In 39 BCE, when Marcellus was only three, he was engaged to a daughter of Sextus Pompeius, son of Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey the Great (1)), as part of the Misenum peace treaty between Sextus and Augustus, though the arrangement became void, after the outbreak of hostilities, and the later death of Sextus.

Public Image & Political Career[edit | edit source]

Marcellus was often seen by the public, as he was present at Augustus's triumph over Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra VII of Egypt after the Battle of Actium. During the triumph, Marcellus rode the right trace-horse, while Tiberius (later to become emperor) rode the left. In his uncle’s campaign against the Cantabri, a tribe that inhabited the coast of Hispania (now Spain), in the Cantabrian Wars (29 BCE-19 BCE), he was a military officer and took part in the war.

He was perceived as Augustus's heir by the public, which was cemented when he married Augustus's only daughter Julia Caesaris, although Augustus's powers were not formally hereditary, as the title of Roman Emperor did not exist yet.

Marcellus's political career was encouraged by his uncle, and in 23 BCE, he was elected to the office of Aedile (as Curule Aedile), and we are told that he put on magnificent spectacles, making him popular with the people. He was also accepted into the College of Pontificates and, by Augustus's request, was granted the right to become consul ten years before the legal age and to sit as an ex-praetor in the Roman Senate.

There was a strong rivalry between Marcellus, and Augustus's close friend and mighty general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. According to Suetonius, Agrippa was jealous "that Marcellus received greater marks of favour"(2) from Augustus, and that was a factor in Agrippa's retirement to Mytilene. Velleius's Compendium of Roman History also states that the people thought that "if anything should happen to Caesar, Marcellus would be his successor in power, at the same time believing, however, that this would not fall to his lot without opposition from Marcus Agrippa".(3) Agrippa was also Marcellus's brother-in-law, as he married Marcellus's sister, Claudia Marcella Major. Although, after all this, when Augustus fell in 23 BCE and thought he was on his deathbead, he gave his signet ring to Agrippa, choosing him to succeed him. Augustus soon recovered, but the message was clear. He thought that Marcellus was too young to rule at the time being, although Augustus would have probably thought that Marcellus would succeed him later, when he was older.

He is described by Velleius as "...a young man of noble qualities, cheerful in mind and disposition, and equal to the station for which he was being reared."

Death & Legacy[edit | edit source]

That year however, Marcellus fell ill and died of an illness in Baiae near Naples, a town in Italy, at the age of nineteen, despite the help of the celebrated physician Antonius Musa Reports of later historians that this poisoning, and other later deaths, were caused by Augustus' wife Livia Drusilla are inconclusive at best. He was cremated and given a state funeral. He was the first person to be interred into the Mausoleum of Augustus and the Theatre of Marcellus (Theatrum Marcelli) was dedicated to his memory.

He died childless, so left no heirs. His niece, Claudia Aemilia Pulchra, married Publius Quinctilius Varus, the general remembered for being wiped out, along with three legions, at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest, an enormous shock to the Roman World.

Marcellus was also paid homage in Publius Vergilius Maro (Virgil)'s The Aeneid, as it was being written around the time of his death. In The Aeneid, Marcellus is seen by Aeneas in the Underworld, and described as "A beauteous youth in glittering dress of war, Though of sad forehead and down-dropping eyes"(4).

In the Res Getae Divi Augusti (The Deeds of the Divine Augustus), a funerary inscription written by Augustus to be set up in inscriptions, he briefly mentions Marcellus, saying "...I built the theatre near the temple of Apollo which was to bear the name of my son-in‑law Marcus Marcellus"(5), referring to the Theatre of Marcellus. 

According to Tacitus's The Histories, on 1st Janaury 69 CE, during the Civil War of 68/69, the Emperor Galba mentioned Marcellus during the speech in which he adopted his heir, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinius, saying "I am following the precedent of the Divine Augustus(6), who placed on an eminence next to his own, first his nephew Marcellus, then his son-in-law Agrippa..."(7), showing that Marcellus had not been forgotten by the Roman people, even 92 years after his death.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Pompey the Great was Julius Caesar's enemy in the Civil War at the end of the Republic.
  2. Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus The Twelve Caesars, Augustus, Chapter 66: His friends
  3. Velleius Paterculus Compendium of Roman History Book II: Chapters 59-93
  4. Publius Vergilius Maro The Aeneid Book VI Chapter 32: Marcellus and Marcellus
  5. Caesar Augustus Res Getae Divi Augustus Chapters 19-24
  6. Soon after Augustus's death, he was officially deified (made a god), so was known as the "Divine Augustus".
  7. Gaius/Publius Cornelius Tacitus The Histories Book I Chapter 15
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