Gaius Laelius Sapiens

Gaius Laelius Sapiens

Gaius Laelius G.f. Sapiens (born ca. 188 BC), was a Roman statesman, best known for his friendship with the Roman general and statesman Scipio Aemilianus (Scipio the Younger) (d. 129 BC). He was consul of 140 BC, elected with the help of his friend, by then censor, after failing to be elected in 141 BC. Gaius Laelius G.f. Sapiens was the son and heir of the Punic war general Gaius Laelius himself consul in 190 BC. This Laelius had been former second-in-command and long-time friend, since childhood, of the Roman general and statesman Scipio Africanus. The younger Laelius was apparently born around 188 BC, after his father had become consul but had failed to win command of the campaign against Antiochus III the Great of Syria which would have made him a rich man. His mother's name is unknown.

Political significance

Laelius was a candidate for the consulship in 141 BC, but withdrew his candidacy thanks to the false promises of a New Man Quintus Pompeius (a distant relative of the future Pompey the Great) who promised to also step down but then returned to the field after Laelius had formally withdrawn. Pompeius thus became consul along with Gnaeus Servilius Caepio (of a family traditionally allied with the Cornelii Scipiones), and Scipio Aemilianus suffered a humiliating political reverse. Aemilianus got his friend elected consul in the following year (140 BC) along with Quintus Servilius Caepio, who was the third successive Servilii Caepione brother to become consul in as many years.

Laelius was called "Sapiens" (English translation: "wise") because of his decision not to undertake efforts at political reform that were beginning to create serious dissension in the Roman Senate. These efforts at reform had been initially proposed by Scipio Aemilianus but abandoned by him when the Senate failed to agree unanimously as he had demanded. Laelius was seen as wise because he avoided creating further dissension at the time; however, his unwillingness to stick his neck out led to a political schism within the Scipionic Circle. The reform program abandoned by Scipio and his circle of intimates, including Laelius, were later taken up by the brothers Publius Mucius Scaevola and Publius Licinius Crassus Dives Mucianus, and partially implemented by their relatives by marriage, the Brothers Gracchi. Despite this connection to radical reformers who were killed for their efforts, Laelius's own political significance is slight.

Cultural significance

Laelius was a member of the Scipionic Circle, a group of friends, political allies, and Graecophiles who had gathered around the wealthy and well-connected Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus, adoptive grandson of Scipio Africanus. As heir to the most prominent branch of the wealthy Cornelii Scipiones, Scipio Aemilianus was able to act as patron to many Greek scholars, philosophers, and historians, including the historian Polybius (a Greek aristocrat who was a Roman hostage for nearly two decades) and the playwright Terence (a Carthaginian-born Roman slave, educated and freed by his master, a Roman senator Varro).

Laelius's two sons-in-law were both consuls - Gaius Fannius who was consul in 122 BC (with the aid of Gaius Sempronius Gracchus) and Quintus Mucius Scaevola Augur who was consul in 117 BC. The younger son-in-law, himself connected by marriage to the Brothers Gracchi, was a prominent rhetorician and jurist, and the teacher and mentor of young Cicero. Cicero thus learned much about Laelius and his relationships with great men from his mentor Scaevola Augur, who was Laelius's son-in-law. Some of those relationships were inspiration and source material for Cicero's treatises on friendship. [ [ Project Gutenberg - Treatises on Friendship and Old Age by Marcus Tullius Cicero] ] [ [ Project Gutenberg - De Amicitia, Scipio's Dream by Marcus Tullius Cicero] ]

In the later essay On Old Age (De Senectute), by Cicero, Laelius is depicted, alongside his friend Scipio, as admiring Cato the Elder for how well he bears his old age.


According to Cicero, relying on Mucius Scaevola for first-hand information, the younger Gaius Laelius was married all his life to one woman, whose name is not mentioned. By her, he had two surviving daughters, both of whom married consuls. Cicero states that Laelia Minor, the wife of Mucius Scaevola, and her two daughters (as well as their daughters) were known for the quality and purity of their Latin. The younger daughter of Mucius Scaevola and his wife Laelia was Mucia Secunda, who was wife of Lucius Licinius Crassus consul in 91 BC who was patron to the young Cicero. Crassus and his wife Mucia had two surviving daughters, the elder of whom married a praetor Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica, descended from several consuls and censors and had several children including Metellus Scipio.


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