BMCR 2021.12.47

Il tesoro di Cipro: Clodio, Catone e la conquista romana dell’isola

, Il tesoro di Cipro: Clodio, Catone e la conquista romana dell’isola. Studi ciprioti, 1. Venice: Edizioni Ca'Foscari, 2020. Pp. 386. ISBN 9788869694455 €34,00.

Calvelli states that the purpose of his book is to offer a detailed examination of a particular incident in the history of the late Republic— Roman occupation of Cyprus in 58 BCE—through a careful examination of the sources and then of the way that the events were recalled in the literary tradition (p. 305).

To appreciate Calvelli’s discussion, which provides a useful analytic paradigm for scholars seeking freedom from a Ciceronian view of the late Republic, it is worth keeping some aspects of late Ptolemaic history in mind. These are simply that Ptolemy XII Auletes and his brother, who would become king of Cyprus, were the sons of Ptolemy IX Soter (also known as Lathyrus), who had been deposed by his mother, Cleopatra II, and replaced on the throne by his younger brother, Ptolemy X Alexander I, in 107. Ptolemy IX remained on Cyprus as king from 107-88, but his two sons, who were sent to Cos in 89, were captured and delivered to Mithridates of Pontus, along with their cousin, Alexander. It is likely that all three boys were delivered by Mithridates to Sulla at the end of the first Mithridatic war, though we only know this to be true of Alexander (App. BC 1.481). When Ptolemy IX died, the only available heir in Alexandria was his daughter Berenice, who became queen. Sulla, who liked Alexander, then sent him to Alexandria, instructing Berenice to marry him. Alexander took the throne as Ptolemy XI Alexander II, murdered his wife, and was in turn murdered by an Alexandrian mob, having first made a will leaving his kingdom to Rome (on this crucial point see Calvelli p.150). For what happened next our sole evidence is a poorly informed passage from Trogus’ Historiae Philippicae, which says this: Ut Alexandriam post interitum Ptolomaei Lathyri substituti sint eius filii: alteri data Cypros (Praef. 40). It appears that there was no direct Roman involvement in these events, and it is quite possible that the absence of consultation led to the hostility evident in 63 (as Calvelli observes). A feature of the Rullan land bill would have annexed Egypt, allowing the sale of royal properties. Since Cicero says this was a result of the will of “king Alexas” (LA 2.42), it is clear that Rome did not recognize the legitimacy of any member of the Ptolemaic dynasty until 59 when Ptolemy XII paid Caesar and Pompey (or promised to pay) 6,000 talents to secure his recognition as king of Egypt from the senate. At that point, Calvelli notes, Egypt and Cyprus were set on different paths (p. 158-9). The annexation of Cyprus was already in view before the end of 59 when Clodius announced the first steps of his legislative program for the coming year.

In the De domo sua and the Pro Sestio, Cicero presented the annexation of Cyprus as an unprecedented outrage in which a friendly king was dispossessed by legislation of questionable legality. Calvelli does a good job analyzing Cicero’s statements in light of later traditions that offer alternative details and offers a convincing chronology for the passage of two bills, one ordering the confiscation of Ptolemy’s estates, the other entrusting the task to Cato. Contradicting a tradition, originating with Cicero, who claimed that Cato’s mission to Cyprus was comparable to his own exile (De domo 65; Sest. 60)(p. 185), Calvelli makes the excellent point that Cato’s appointment to secure money to fund Clodius’ grain bill was in line with Cato’s own tribunician legislation expanding the dole (p. 138-9), and accorded with his general hostility to Pompey. The additional aspects of Cato’s charge, the restoration of exiles to Byzantium and the installation of Brogitarus as a king of the Galatians as well as high priest of the Magna Mater at Pessinus, would have impinged on Pompey’s monopolistic patronage in the eastern provinces.

The only issue upon which I would differ with Calvelli is on the extent of Clodius’ legislative program. He is correct that the law defining an eastern mission as consisting of three elements is distinct from the law conferring these missions on Cato (p. 61-63). What is missing is a law accepting the inheritance from Ptolemy Alexander II, which, by analogy with the Gracchan law accepting the inheritance of Attalus III in 133, as well as the laws accepting the inheritance of Bithynia in 74 and the belated acceptance of Cyrene from Ptolemy Apion a year earlier (App. BC 1.517), would have preceded the appointment of governors. Likewise, I suspect that, in order to avoid the invalidation of his laws as a satura, Clodius passed individual laws about the restoration of the exiles and the status of Brogiterus before creating a provincia consisting of the three missions in a second law; such a process would mirror the process employed by Gabinius in 67 to first create a provincia with one law and confer it upon an individual, extra ordinem, with a second one. Calvelli’s chronology of the passage of the laws, placing the promulgation of the law ordering the sale of royal property in February, would suggest that the law concerning the inheritance of Ptolemy Alexander II would have been passed in January.

Less convincing is Calvelli’s discussion of Clodius’ justification for his action—based on Strabo and Cassius Dio—that the Ptolemaic regime on Cyprus was known to be hand-in-glove with Cilician pirates (p. 129-132). So is his analysis of the accounts of Clodius’ own capture by the pirates in 67, the result of a botched naval operation which he commanded. Ptolemy refused to ransom him, and he was only released when Pompey moved into the area in 66.

Calvelli’s first two chapters treat the Clodian legislative program and the various explanations offered in the sources for the annexation; the next two chapters read as an extensive commentary on Plutarch’s biography of the Younger Cato, analyzing Plutarch’ account in depth and then alternative traditions. The first of these chapters treats Cato’s activities on Cyprus, the second his return to Rome.

In dealing with Clodius’ expedition, Calvelli devotes detailed treatment to Plutarch’s story that Clodius sent Cato on his way with a two-person staff, consisting of a “one man who was a rogue and a thief, the other a client of Clodius” (ὧν ὁ μὲν κλέπτης καὶ παμπόνηρος, ἅτερος δὲ Κλωδίου πελάτης); the notion that Cato was assigned to Cyprus as a sort of exile (a discussion that essentially repeats earlier conclusions); Cato’s meeting with Ptolemy XII Auletes on Rhodes; the suicide of Ptolemy of Cyprus; and Cato’s arrival on Cyprus with Brutus. In discussing traditions about Cato’s handling of Cypriot treasure, Calvelli also discusses Metellus Scipio’s highly critical posthumous discussion of Cato’s career. The chapter’s final section explores Munatius Rufus’ handling of Cato’s expedition and notes the possibility of continued connections between Cato’s family and the island (p. p. 241-3). In his discussion of Cato’s entourage, Calvelli dismisses (at greater length than necessary) the notion that the Κλωδίου πελάτης might have been Sextus Cloelius, and then, more significantly, demolishes the entire notion that Cato’s entourage was so limited. Cato appears to have headed to Cyprus with a coterie of his own dependents who were enabled to profit from the annexation (p.187-88). The story of Clodius’ proposed entourage and other aspects of Plutarch’s account of Cato’s expedition is traced to Munatius Rufus’ posthumous biography, which, Calvelli agrees, is also the source of the account of Cato’s meeting with Ptolemy XII on Rhodes that came to light on P.Oxy. 4940 (p. 197-202).

The final chapter opens with a discussion of the disposition of Ptolemaic property on Cyprus, noting, correctly, that the bulk of the money would have been realized from the sale of land that had belonged to the king. As Calvelli notes, this is not a straightforward picture. In the case of Cyrene, where royal lands are also said to have been sold, some portion of that land that Rome inherited was still ager publicus in the imperial period, as were the copper mines of Cyprus, known to have been administered by royal officials under the Ptolemies (OGIS 165, for which Calvelli accepts J.B Cayla’s case for dating the text to the period after Ptolemaic control was restored by Caesar). The revenues of these mines were later granted by Augustus to Herod the Great (Jos. AJ 16.128-9). From this, Calvelli moves on to discuss Cato’s elaborate and heavily stage-managed return to Rome, resulting in his being granted the right to stand for the praetorship a year early (p. 272-3). The fact Cato lost this election may be linked not just to the negotiations that resulted in the consulship of Pompey and Crassus, but also to the bitter quarrels first between Cicero and Cato over the legality of Clodius’ tribunician legislation (Plut. Cat. Min. 40; Plut. Cic. 34.2 ; Dio 39.22.2-4), then between Cato and Clodius, when the latter accused him of having embezzled Cypriot monies (Dio 39.23.3 for the chronology; Plut. Cat. Min 45.1 dating the event to 54). As Calvelli rightly observes, the short-lived alliance between Clodius and Cato effectively weakened the position of both.

Calvelli has produced a convincing reconstruction both of the events surrounding the annexation of Cyprus and the historiographic traditions preserving information about the event. His picture of the fluid nature of republican politics aligns well with a model for Roman politics descending from the work of Peter Brunt. While Calvelli’s reconstruction of source traditions in Latin is generally convincing, the handling of Greek material, aside from Plutarch, is less so. Strabo had no discernable contact with Latin historiography, Appian and Dio were deeply imbued with the Latin as well as Greek literature, so treating “tre autori grecefoni” (p.110) as representing a “Greek tradition” is somewhat misleading. Still, this book realizes the goals Calvelli set for it.