Gaius Laelius

Gaius Laelius

Gaius Laelius, general and statesman, was a friend of Scipio Africanus, whom he accompanied on his Iberian campaign (210 BC - 206 BC; the Roman Hispania, comprising modern Spain and Portugal). His command of the Roman fleet in the attack on New Carthage and command of the Roman-Numidian cavalry at Zama contributed to Scipio's victories.


According to some Roman historians, including Polybius (Book 10), Laelius was a friend of Scipio from childhood; however, his family background is obscure. Livy suggested that he was not from a rich family, since he wanted command of the campaign against Antiochus the Great in 190 BC to repair his family fortunes.Fact|date=May 2007

Polybius suggests that Laelius was a companion of Scipio from their earliest days in the army together, since Laelius was apparently a witness of Scipio's rescue of his father in a skirmish that was probably the Battle of Ticinus in late 218 BC. ["One of these was Gaius Laelius, who from his youth up to the end had participated in his every word and deed, and who has produced the above impression upon myself, as his account seems both probable on the face of it and in accordance with the actual performances of Scipio.". Polybius. "The Histories of Polybius", Book 10, reproduced from The Historiesof Polybius published in Vol. IV of the Loeb Classical Library edition,1922 thru 1927. Retrieved 23 April 2007 from Bill Thayer's website [*.html] ]

Laelius certainly accompanied Scipio on various expeditions from 210 BC to 201 BC but received no official position from the Senate until about 202 BC when he was finally made quaestor. This lack of recognition may have been due to his relatively low social status and/or family's lack of wealth and political influence. [Livy, Book 23, Periochae. [] ] [The Senate in the Second Punic War clearly granted official positions such as tribune, quaestor or higher ranks based on the person's rank and status; a relatively obscure but talented man from a non-senatorial family or from a minor branch of a great family stood virtually no chance of being named to command in a province, or being named or elected a magistrate or tribune. A relatively obscure Roman knight or equestrian named Lucius Marcius Septimus was elected by the survivors in Hispania after the Scipio brothers were killed in 210. The Senate refused to give him formal command, but no Roman general was willing to go to Hispania. Until Scipio arrived, Lucius Marcius Septimus was responsible for holding the surviving Roman armies together in Hispania. It was the young Scipio, and not the Senate, who gave Septimus a formal command, as quoted in Livy's Periochae from Book 23.]

Military career: Laelius in Hispania (210 BC-206 BC)

In the Iberian campaign lasting from 210 BC to about 206 BC, Laelius was a loyal second-in-command; the only man to whom Scipio confided his plans to take Iberia. He commanded the fleet of thirty ships in the assault on Cartagena (New Carthage) in 209 BC. Laelius was in charge of some important hostages after the capture of New Carthage, and he was dispatched, along with those hostages, by Scipio to Rome in a quinquereme with the news of this important victory. The Senate gave Laelius further orders for Scipio, which Laelius conveyed back to Scipio while the troops were still in their winter quarters at Tarraco. The time was therefore around early 208 BC.

According to Polybius, Laelius then commanded the left wing of the army, attacking Hasdrubal's right wing, at the Battle of Baecula (Bailen) in 208 BC, where Scipio inflicted a costly defeat on Hasdrubal who then retreated to northern Iberia and Italy. The next few years were spent fighting off Mago and the Carthaginian fleet, with the Carthaginians finally withdrawing in 206 BC.

The Romans were also troubled by rebellions among the soldiers and insurrections among the local tribes from about 207 BC when Scipio fell ill. [Unknown. "240 – 20 BC Punic Wars and Roman conquest of Hispania". Retrieved 20 May 2007. [] ] Laelius's role during these insurrections is not clear as to whether he attempted to put down the rebellions and insurrections, or was absent. Livy refers to two other Roman commanders Silanus and Lucius Cornelius Scipio (younger brother of Scipio) defeating insurgents in Hispania. Nor is Laelius's role clear in the decisive Battle of Ilipa (206 BC) is not clear.

Laelius in Africa (204-202 BC)

In Scipio's consulship year (205 BC), Laelius went with him to his designated province Sicily, whence he conducted an expedition or raid to Africa while Scipio was readying his troops and supplies for a full-scale invasion. The purpose of this expedition was to detach two Carthaginian allies - the Berber (or Massaesylian) prince Syphax and the Numidian prince Massinissa - from their commitments, both believed to be on the verge of revolt against their Carthaginian overlords. Both princes were apparently won over, but Syphax broke his alliance with Scipio, and joined the Carthaginians when he was offered a marriage alliance with a famous Carthaginian beauty. Subsequently, Syphax drove his bride's former fiance, Massinissa, who remained loyal to Scipio, out of his own territories.

In about 204 BC, Scipio was ready to invade Africa. After several skirmishes, in which Scipio and Laelius set fire to the Carthaginian camp [Polybius. "The Histories of Polybius", Book 14 fragment, reproduced from The Historiesof Polybius published in Vol. IV of the Loeb Classical Library edition,1922 thru 1927. Retrieved 20 May 2007 from Bill Thayer's website [*.html] ] the Romans nevertheless failed to detach Syphax from his marital and political alliance with the Carthaginians; nor, was a complete victory possible over the Carthaginian army, with Scipio fearing for his fleet.

Finally, in 203 BC, Laelius defeated the Massaesylian prince Syphax, Laelius captured the city of Cirta at this time, and took Syphax alive. He then conducted to Rome the captured prince and his son Vermina and some other leading men. [Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 17,published in Vol. II of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1914. Available online at . Retrieved 20 May 2007. [*.html] Cassius Dio states that the Romans gave Syphax an estate at Alba, and "at his death honoured him with a public funeral; and they confirmed Vermina in the possession of his father's kingdom besides bestowing upon him the Numidian captives."]

At Zama (202), Laelius rendered considerable service in command of the cavalry, which was again placed originally on the left wing with Massinissa on the right wing [Polybius. "The Histories of Polybius", Book 15, reproduced from The Historiesof Polybius published in Vol. IV of the Loeb Classical Library edition,1922 thru 1927. Retrieved 23 April 2007 from Bill Thayer's website [*.html] . See this chapter for a detailed account of the battle.] ; without the cavalry to intervene at a crucial time and falling upon the Carthaginians from the rear, Scipio may well have been defeated. [Steven James, Zama: The Infantry Battle Revisited, June 2005. Available [Online] : < >. Retrieved 20 May 2007 [] ] Laelius was finally made quaestor only after the decisive victory in 202 BC, which was his first public office.

Political career

In 197 he was plebeian "aedile" and in 196 BC praetor of Sicily, both times apparently with the aid of his former commander and old friend. Scipio's influence however did not serve to win Laelius the consulship in 192 BC. [Michael Akinde. "Scipio_Africanus_:_Princeps_(200_-_190_BCE)". Retrieved 23 April 2007. [] ] Finally, in 190, he was elected consul along with Scipio's younger brother Scipio Asiaticus but failed to win the campaign against Antiochus III the Great which would have enrichened him. One version has Laelius himself nobly offering the Senate the choice instead of the traditional drawing of lots to decide the allocation of provinces. When his friend Scipio Africanus announced that, if his brother Lucius was chosen to lead the campaign against Antiochus, he would accompany his brother as a legate, the decision was inevitable - Lucius would be preferred. Laelius's decision, if this version is correct, was a triumph of friendship, but not for his personal finances.

He was given Gaul as his province, and was employed in organizing the recently conquered territory in Cisalpine Gaul. Placentia and Cremona were repopulated.

Further history

Laelius's wife is not known, but circa 188 BC, he fathered a legitimate son who would become consul in 140 BC - Gaius Laelius Sapiens.

Like other superannuated Roman generals, Laelius later served on embassies to King Perseus of Macedon (174-173 BC) and to Transalpine Gaul (170 BC). Fact|date=May 2007

It was also in 160 BC, when the aged Laelius (probably then in his mid-seventies) met the author Polybius in Rome [Laelius, Gaius. (). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 23 April 2007, from "Encyclopædia Britannica Online": [] ] during his last years, and gave him much first-hand information about Scipio Africanus. [Polybius. Book 10, "ibid".] Polybius was a client of Scipio's brother-in-law Aemilius Paullus (who died suddenly in the same year 160 BC), and became a friend to both his sons, notably Scipio Aemilianus (Africanus's adoptive grandson).

Laelius appears to have died some years after 160 BC, but his year of death is not mentioned by Livy nor by Polybius.


External links

* Unknown. [ Laelius profile]
* Michael Akinde. [ Spain (210-206)] narrates the adventures of Scipio and Laelius in Hispania, from his website on Scipio. His [ new website] contains the most detailed biography of Scipio available online.
* Unknown. [ Fall of New Carthage]
* Unknown. [ Profiles of father and son] with dates given in Roman timeline.
* Polybius. [*.html Scipio's early life as recounted by Polybius] based on first-hand accounts from Laelius. Books 14 and 15 (all fragments) also contain fragmentary references to Laelius in Africa.

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