Gnaeus Papirius Carbo (consul 85 BC)

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Gnaeus Papirius Carbo
In office
85 BC – 84 BC
In office
84 BC – 83 BC
In office
82 BC – 81 BC
Personal details
Born130s BC
Roman Republic
Died82 BC
Roman Republic
Military service
AllegianceRoman Military banner.svg Roman Republic
Branch/serviceRoman Army
Years of service? – 82 BC

Gnaeus Papirius Carbo (c. 130s BC – 82 BC) was thrice consul of the Roman Republic.[1]


A member of the Carbones of the plebeian gens Papiria, and nephew of Gaius Papirius Carbo (consul for 120 BC), he was a strong supporter of the Marian faction, and took part in the blockade of Rome (87 BC). In 85 BC he was chosen by Lucius Cornelius Cinna as his colleague in the consulship, and extensive preparations were made for carrying out war in Greece against Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who had announced his intention of returning to Italy. Cinna and Carbo declared themselves consuls for the following year, and large bodies of troops were transported across the Adriatic Sea; but when Cinna was murdered by his own soldiers after a major shipwreck,[2] Carbo was obliged to bring them back.[3]

He spent most of 84 BC bolstering his forces in Italy by promising the Italians both citizenship and equal voting rights. Arguing to them that the return of Sulla would reverse those reforms, it was not difficult for Carbo to raise forces;[4] the urban plebs, moreover, feared of Sulla's response to a second civil war after hearing of Sulla's vicious sacks of Greek cities.[5] He orchestrated the election of his successors, Scipio Asiaticus and Gaius Norbanus to the consulship for 83 BC and assumed the proconsulship of the nearby province of Cisalpine Gaul.[6] Shortly thereafter, he induced the Senate to deliver a senatus consultum ultimum declaring Sulla an enemy of the state and giving the consuls, Asiaticus and Norbanus, the province of Italy.[7]

When Sulla returned from the east in the spring of 83 BC, he defeated Norbanus at the Battle of Tifata, forcing his army to flee to Capua, and induced large defections from Asiaticus' army.[8] Sulla captured Asiaticus, set him free to show his benevolence, and Norbanus extricated himself from Capua.[9] In response to these setbacks, Carbo marched south from Cisalpine Gaul, but the Marian-allied forces were unable to mount an effective defence against Sulla and his allies.[10]

Carbo induced the Assembly to elect to the consulship for 82 BC, him and Gaius Marius the Younger.[11] Carbo went north to Etruria to fight Sulla's ally Pompey,[12] while Marius the Younger fought an indecisive engagement with Sulla near Clusium but was defeated with great loss in an attack on the camp of Sulla's general, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius, near Faventia.[citation needed] This forced Marius the Younger to take refuge in Praeneste.[13] Although he still had a large army and the Samnites remained faithful to him, Carbo saw that Sulla had win the balance of the conflict. Unable to relieve Praeneste, where Marius the Younger had taken refuge, that he decided to leave Italy, ostensibly to raise forces in Africa,[14] he intended to flee to Africa via Sicily, but the Sullans won a quick victory and after Carbo was captured on an island off the Sicilian coast, taken in chains before Gnaeus Pompeius at Messana, and put to death.[1]

Although most notable for his role in the chaotic 80s, Carbo had also made a name for himself prior to that period, particularly during his tenure as Tribune of the Plebs in 92 BC.[15] Under his supervision, and with his apparent encouragement, a meeting of the people broke down into disorder; the event was considered significant enough by the Senate to warrant a decree, championed by Lucius Licinius Crassus, placing responsibility for public disorder with the presiding officer; this decree was apparently still active forty years later in the time of Cicero[16]

As with several of the notable politicians of the 90s and 80s BC, such as Publius Sulpicius, Marcus Antonius the Orator, and Lucius Crassus, Carbo had a reputation for effective oratory. For instance, Cicero writes of one occasion when Carbo made use of a certain clausula (a dichoreus or double trochee – u – x), which was so effective that the audience all gave a shout.[17]


  • Duncan, Mike (2017). The Storm before the Storm. New York: PublicAffairs. ISBN 978-1-5417-2403-7. Details a broad narrative history of history from the death of the Gracchi brothers to the dictatorship of Sulla.
  • Appian, Bell. Civ. i. 67-98
  • Livy, Epit. 79, 84, 88, 89
  • Plutarch, Pompey, 5, 6, 10, and Sulla, 28
  • Cicero, ad Fam. ix. 21
  • Eutropius, v. 8, 9
  • Orosius, v. 20
  • Valerius Maximus, v. 3. 5, ix


  1. ^ a b Duncan 2017, p. 249.
  2. ^ Duncan 2017, p. 222.
  3. ^ Duncan 2017, p. 225.
  4. ^ Duncan 2017, p. 225-226.
  5. ^ Duncan 2017, p. 226.
  6. ^ Duncan 2017, p. 227.
  7. ^ Duncan 2017, p. 227-228.
  8. ^ Duncan 2017, p. 232-233.
  9. ^ Duncan 2017, p. 233.
  10. ^ Duncan 2017, p. 234.
  11. ^ Duncan 2017, p. 235.
  12. ^ Duncan 2017, p. 236.
  13. ^ Duncan & 2017 237.
  14. ^ Duncan & 2017 240.
  15. ^ T. Robert S. Broughton, Magistrates of the Roman Republic Vol. 2, p.18
  16. ^ Cicero, De Legibus 3.42
  17. ^ Cicero, Orator 214

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Carbo" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Political offices
Preceded by
Lucius Cornelius Cinna and Gaius Marius
(Suffect: Lucius Valerius Flaccus)
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Lucius Cornelius Cinna
85 BC
Succeeded by
Lucius Cornelius Cinna and Gnaeus Papirius Carbo
Preceded by
Lucius Cornelius Cinna and Gnaeus Papirius Carbo
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Lucius Cornelius Cinna
84 BC
Succeeded by
Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus Asiagenus and Gaius Norbanus
Preceded by
Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus Asiagenus and Gaius Norbanus
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Gaius Marius the Younger
82 BC
Succeeded by
Gnaeus Cornelius Dolabella and Marcus Tullius Decula