Publius Cornelius Lentulus Spinther

Publius Cornelius Lentulus Spinther (c. 100 BC – 47 BC) was a Roman politician and general. Hailing from the patrician family of the Cornelii, he helped suppress the Catilinarian conspiracy during his term as curule aedile in 63 BC and later served as consul in 57 BC. Denied the opportunity to invade Egypt the following year, he nevertheless won some victories in his province of Cilicia and celebrated a triumph over it in 51 BC.

Denarius minted by Spinther in 74 BC. The obverse portrays Hercules, while the reverse depicts Genius Populi Romani crowned by Victory. The Q on the obverse stands for quaestor.

In the run up to Caesar's civil war, he sided with Pompey and the senate. Captured by Caesar and pardoned at Corfinium in the opening months of the war, he made his way to Greece to join Pompey's forces. He is last attested to in early 47 BC.

Early careerEdit

Spinther belonged to the famous patrician gens Cornelia. He was the son of a homonymous father and received the cognomen "Spinther" supposedly from his resemblance of an actor by that name.[1] Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Crus, who served as one of the consuls in the year 49 BC, was his younger brother.[2]

He entered public life in 74 BC, when he served as quaestor urbanus.[3][4] During his office, he minted denarii bearing a picture of Genius Populi Romani, to show the justice of the war waged against Sertorius in Spain.[5] Although the Genius is also found on coins minted by other Cornelii Lentuli, numismatist Michael Crawford doubts that he was particularly worshipped in the family.[6]

Afterwards, in the year 63 BC – the same year as that of Cicero's consulship and of the Catilinarian conspiracy – he served as curule aedile.[7] During his term, he assisted Cicero in the suppression of the conspiracy – he held in custody a conspirator and praetor of that year, Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sura, before the conspirator's execution[8] – and also provided splendid games "outd[oing] all his predecessors" wherein he outfitted stage equipment with silver.[9]

He was then served as urban praetor for the year 60.[10] He was elected, also in that year, as one of the pontifices, as one of a number of replacement for members of the college who had died.[11] After his praetorship he was assigned as governor of Hispania Citerior, probably with proconsular status, and served there for the year 59.[12] During his governorship, he struck coins bearing his nickname, proving "Spinther" was now being officially used to distinguish him from homonymous Cornelii.[citation needed]

Consul and governorEdit

In the campaign in 58 BC for the next year's consulship, Spinther received the backing of Julius Caesar and Pompey.[13] Caesar had for some time cultivated Spinther's friendship by supporting Spinther's campaign for the pontificate and his assignment to Hispania Citerior.[14] Elected first, he was then joined in the consulship by Quintus Caecilius Metellus Nepos, a Pompeian enemy.[15]

At the beginning of the consular year, 1 January 57 BC, Spinther moved successfully in the senate – after some convincing of his colleague Nepos who had previously been opposed to the matter – to have Cicero recalled from exile; he then carried a bill through the comitia centuriata to that effect and helped Cicero recover his house, which had been dispossessed during his exile.[16] In the autumn, news came to Rome of an Egyptian dynastic struggle which promised huge financial rewards and prestige for any prospective commander. Spinther, with his colleague Nepos, were successful to having Pompey – known to be interested in the command – relegated to a corn commission.[15] His actions during the year, and thereafter, showed "no strong allegiance to Caesar" nor did Pompey's support "forestall unpleasant friction over the restoration of [Ptolemy]".[17]

Taking as proconsul the governorship of Cilicia – to which the island of Cyprus also had been added – he secured for himself instructions from the senate to intervene in the Egyptian dynastic struggle and restore Ptolemy XII Auletes to the throne, but stopped after a Sibylline oracle prohibited the use of an army.[18] Cicero, in a debate in the senate on 13 January 56 BC, supported Spinther's interests and described the debate in a letter:

Eventually, Bibulus' proposal was defeated; Hortensius' proposal was vetoed by a tribune. After a delay, one tribune – Gaius Porcius Cato – proposed recalling Spinther (already in Cilicia). Another tribune – Lucius Caninius Gallus – proposed sending Pompey. Publius Clodius Pulcher's supporters then proposed sending Marcus Licinius Crassus. After the consul Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus put all tribunician proposals on hold by declaring public holidays; Gaius Cato threatened to veto the elections. Eventually, Isauricus' proposal received senatorial approval, but was then vetoed.[19]

In the end, the duelling machinations of Pompey, Crassus, and opponents all countered each other and led to inaction.[20] The actions of the consuls and the contrasting ambitions of Pompey and Crassus, two of the three men in the so-called First Triumvirate, showed their alliance "in a shambles".[21]

Spinther governed Cilicia from 56–54 BC. During his term, he was acclaimed imperator.[22] He also struck large silver coins (known as Cistophoric tetradrachms) from a provincial mint at Apameia in Phrygia that bear his name - P LENTVLVS P F IMPERATOR.[23][verification needed] He returned to Italy in 53 BC but stayed outside the pomerium hoping for a triumph. He did so for two years before celebrating it in late 51 BC.[24][25]

The civil warEdit

In the run-up to Caesar's civil war, according to Cassius Dio, Spinther played a role in the rejection of an extension of Caesar's term by voting down the insertion of an intercalary month by Gaius Scribonius Curio in 50 BC. In the vote, he allegedly was joined by Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus and a young Marcus Junius Brutus.[26]

When the war started in 49 BC, Spinther took an anti-Caesarian position quickly and sided with Pompey.[27] He joined Domitius Ahenobarbus' attempt to engage Caesar at Corfinium with three legions in the early months of the war but was besieged and the two consulars – along with Domitius' son, one of the quaestors, an ex-praetor, and a Pompeian prefect – were forced to surrender.[28] Caesar granted them their lives and even returned to Domitius, who was in overall command, some six million sesterces; Caesar took, however, all the men and sent them thence to take Sicily.[29]

After some hesitation, he rejoined Pompey and his army in Greece.[2] On his return, Cicero wrote a letter to Caesar thanking him for his generous treatment of Spinther; it seems, privately, Spinther believed Caesar's clemency was merely a cold and temporary stratagem which would disappear if Caesar lost the support of the people.[30]

In 48 BC, Pompey's main army confronted that of Julius Caesar and his lieutenant Marc Antony at the Battle of Pharsalus. Spinther fought in the battle;[2] it ended in decisive defeat for the Pompeian forces. Pompey himself fled to Egypt (where he was then assassinated by Egypt's ruler Ptolemy XIII in the mistaken belief this act would please Caesar) and Spinther escaped to Rhodes, where he was at first refused admission, but subsequently given asylum.[31][verification needed]

Death and familyEdit

Denarius minted in 43 or 42 BC by Cassius Longinus and Spinther's son Lucius, depicting the crowned head of Libertas. The reverse features a jug and lituus, alluding to Lucius Spinther's augurate.[32]

Although Sextus Aurelius Victor implies Spinther was killed in 48 BC,[33] Cicero's dialogue Brutus implies that Spinther survived until early 47 with a terminus ante quem of 46 BC.[34] Aurelius Victor's narrative blames Caesar for Spinther's death; the event is unverified by other contemporary sources, but may explain why his homonymous son joined Caesar's assassins, Brutus and Cassius, and struck coins for them during their civil war against Mark Antony and Octavian.[speculation?] The younger Spinther, like his father, also put his own name and nickname "Spinther" on the reverse of his coins, the obverse of which feature the head of 'Liberty'.[35]

Spinther's wife had an affair with Publius Cornelius Dolabella which lead to their divorce.[36] His wife involved in this scandal was likely Caecilia Metella.[37]

There may also have been some kind of marriage alliance between Spinther and Lucius Aurelius Cotta.[38]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Münzer 1900, col. 1392.
  2. ^ a b c Badian 2012.
  3. ^ Broughton 1952, p. 73. See also the corresponding entry in Broughton, TRS (1986). The magistrates of the Roman republic. American Philological Association Monographs. Vol. 3. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press.
  4. ^ Crawford 1952, pp. 82 n. 1, 705. Publius Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus served as quaestor that year, in Cyrene. Spinther put his full filiation on the coins he minted to distinguish himself from Marcellinus.
  5. ^ Crawford 1974, p. 733.
  6. ^ Crawford 1974, p. 409 (no. 397). He nevertheless writes that if the Genius had some significance for the family, he would echo the claims of supreme power made by the other Lentuli: Sura and Crus.
  7. ^ Broughton 1952, p. 167.
  8. ^ Berry, DH (2020). Cicero's Catilinarians. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-19-751081-0. OCLC 1126348418.
  9. ^ Morstein-Marx 2021, p. 52.
  10. ^ Broughton 1952, p. 183.
  11. ^ Broughton 1952, p. 186.
  12. ^ Broughton 1952, p. 191.
  13. ^ Gruen 1995, pp. 104, 144.
  14. ^ Gruen 1995, pp. 144–45.
  15. ^ a b Gruen 1995, p. 145.
  16. ^ Broughton 1952, p. 200.
  17. ^ Morstein-Marx 2021, p. 228.
  18. ^ Sherwin-White 1992, p. 272; Broughton 1952, p. 210.
  19. ^ Wiseman 1992, p. 392.
  20. ^ Broughton 1952, p. 210.
  21. ^ Gruen 1995, p. 146.
  22. ^ Broughton 1952, p. 218.
  23. ^ Stumpf 74, pl. II, 26; BMC p. 73, 27-8; SNG Copenhagen 158.
  24. ^ Broughton 1952, pp. 229, 242.
  25. ^ Morstein-Marx 2021, p. 264 n. 17.
  26. ^ Morstein-Marx 2021, p. 274 n. 51.
  27. ^ Morstein-Marx 2021, p. 295.
  28. ^ Morstein-Marx 2021, pp. 348, 426.
  29. ^ Morstein-Marx 2021, p. 426.
  30. ^ Morstein-Marx 2021, p. 427.
  31. ^ Cicero, Ad Alt. xi. 13. i
  32. ^ Crawford 1974, pp. 514 (no. 500), 741 n. 4.
  33. ^ Aur. Vict. De vir. ill. 78.9.
  34. ^ Broughton 1952, p. 292.
  35. ^ See Plutarch, Pomp. 49; Valerius Maximus ix. 14, 4; many letters of Cicero, especially Ad Fam. i. 1-9.
  36. ^ Carcopino, Jérôme (1969). Cicero, the Secrets of His Correspondence. ISBN 9780837122809.
  37. ^ Treggiari, Susan (7 August 2007). Terentia, Tullia and Publilia: The Women of Cicero's Family. ISBN 9781134264575.
  38. ^ Ryan, Francis X. (1998). Rank and Participation in the Republican Senate. ISBN 9783515070935.


  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lentulus". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 16 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 431.

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Political offices
Preceded by Consul of the Roman Republic
with Quintus Caecilius Metellus Nepos
57 BC
Succeeded by