Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus ( ? -31 BC), The Best of His Family

Ahenobarbus achieved considerable naval success against the Second Triumvirate in the Ionian theater, where this denarius was certainly minted

The Battle of Actium, 2 September 31 BC

Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus (died 31 BC) was a general and politician of ancient Rome in the 1st century BC.

Little is known of Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, including his exact birth date. What is known is that he was the scion of a family of distinguished Roman citizens; historian William Smith outlined his genealogical chart in his famed Dictionary of Greek and Roman Mythology (1844). According to Smith, Ahenobarbus was a direct descendant great-grandson of the first Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus (?–196 b.c.), a Roman consul and legate to Scipio Africanus in the war against Antiochus the Great. His father, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, took his son to the battle at Pharsalia (better known as the battle of Pharsalus, 48 b.c.), and it appears that they sided with the forces of the Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, better known as Pompey. Pompey was defeated at Pharsalia by Julius Caesar, and Lucius Ahenobarbus was killed in flight after the battle. Cnaeus Ahenobarbus survived, though he could not return to his native Italy until he was pardoned by Caesar in 46 b.c.

Two years later, on 15 March 44 b.c., Caesar was murdered by a group of conspirators, including his own adopted son, Marcus Junius Brutus. Some historians believe that Ahenobarbus, seeking revenge for Pompey’s defeat, was one of the conspirators, but the evidence is conflicting, and he was not one of the assassins. However, once the murder had been committed, Ahenobarbus left Rome and followed Brutus when the latter fled to what is now Macedonia. Rome then began to hunt down the assassins and conspirators. In 42 b.c., when the Roman Domitius Calvinus tried to sail his fleet from Brundisium (modern Brindisi, southern Italy), Ahenobarbus, commanding some 50 ships in the Ionian Sea, met and defeated him. However, on land at Philippi (in Macedonia, northwest of Mount Pangea, near the Aegean Sea), 100,000 men under Brutus and Cassius fought the Roman legions under Octavian (later Augustus) and Mark Antony, with the Roman army victorious. Brutus committed suicide following the defeat, and Ahenobarbus became a pirate, plundering the coast of the Ionian Sea.

In 40 b.c., Mark Antony agreed to pardon Ahenobarbus, naming him as the governor of Bithynia (now in modern Turkey), where he took part in Antony’s Parthian campaign. He was given the title of consul in 32 b.c. That same year, though, Octavius and Antony severed all ties and became sworn enemies. Ahenobarbus sided with Antony, who was having an affair with Cleopatra. Because of that affair, many of Antony’s officers felt he should step aside and allow Ahenobarbus to command them. Instead, Ahenobarbus crossed over to Octavian, who destroyed Antony’s forces at the battle of Actium. Even though he was suffering from a fever, he took a small boat to Augustus's side. Even though Antony was greatly upset, he still sent him all his gear, his friends and his attendants! Ahenobarbus was not involved in that battle, having died mysteriously days before it happened. The exact date and manner of his death, as well as his place of burial, remain a mystery. Plutarch suggests that his death was due to "the shame of his disloyalty and treachery being exposed." Suetonius says that he was the best of his family. His great-grandson, Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus (a.d. 37–68) became Nero, emperor of Rome.

Ahenobarbus's father Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus had been Consul in 54 BC. His mother was Porcia Catones, sister of Cato the Younger and half-sister of the two Servilias; Servilia Caepionis Major (Caesar's mistress) and Servilia Caepionis Minor (second wife of Lucullus).

His wife was Aemilia Lepida and their son and only child Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus was married to Antonia Major, daughter of Mark Antony by Octavia. They became parents to a younger Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, and grandparents of the Roman Emperor Nero.

The character of Domitius Enobarbus in the play Antony and Cleopatra is loosely based on this man. He is Antony's friend who deserts Antony for Caesar (Act3 scene 13), is stricken with remorse, (Act 4 scene 6), and dies (Act 4 scene 10).

Sources :
Book "World Military Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary" by Mark Grossman

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