Publius Cornelius Dolabella (consul 44 BC)

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Publius Cornelius Dolabella
Tribune of the plebs
In office
47 BC
In office
44 BC
Personal details
Bornc. 85–69 BC[1]
Died43 BC
Cause of deathSuicide
Spouse(s)Fabia and Tullia
Domestic partner(s)Caecilia Metella
Antonia Hybrida Minor
ChildrenPublius Cornelius Dolabella
Cornelius Dolabella
Cornelius Lentulus

Publius Cornelius Dolabella (c. 85/69 – 43 BC, also known by his adoptive name Lentulus)[2] was a Roman politician and general under the dictator Julius Caesar. He was by far the most important of the patrician Cornelii Dolabellae[3] but he arranged for himself to be adopted into the plebeian Cornelii Lentuli so that he could become a plebeian tribune.[4] He married Cicero's daughter, Tullia, although he frequently engaged in extramarital affairs. Throughout his life he was an extreme profligate, something that Plutarch wrote reflected ill upon his patron Julius Caesar.


Early life

His father was likely the urban praetor of 69 BC, Publius Cornelius Dolabella, who also served as governor of Asia.[5][6] Dolabella was related to the Servilii Caepiones.[7]

Dolabella's birth date is uncertain.[8]

Military and political careers

In the Civil Wars (49–45 BC) Dolabella at first took the side of Pompey, but afterwards went over to Julius Caesar, and was present when Caesar prevailed at the Battle of Pharsalus (48 BC).[3]

Dolabella had himself adopted by a plebeian so that he could become tribune of the plebs. His adoptive father has been supposed to have been a Lentulus Marcellinus (but the plebeian status of people of this branch is disputed) or Lentulus Vatia[i] but there is no certainty in the matter.[10] In either case the adopter would likely have been a supporter of Caesar.[11] There was also a woman named Livia who expressed interest in adopting Dolabella (possibly on the behalf of her husband, since women could not adopt legally), but it is unknown if this woman's proposal was in any way connected to his adoption by Lentulus.[12]

As a tribune for the plebs for 47 BC, Dolabella had tried to bring about constitutional changes, one of which (to escape the urgent demands of his creditors) was a bill proposing that all debts should be canceled.[3] He tried to enlist the support of Mark Antony, but his fellow tribunes Gaius Asinius Pollio, consul in 40 BC, and Lucius Trebellius Fides advised Antony not to support the measure. Antony, who also suspected he had been cuckolded by Dolabella, took up arms against him when Dolabella occupied the Forum in an attempt to use force to pass the bill. The Senate voted to support this, and a clash ensued in which both sides took losses.[13] Upon his return from Alexandria, Caesar, seeing the expediency of removing Dolabella from Rome, pardoned him,[14] and subsequently took him as one of his generals in the expedition to Africa and Spain.[3]

After Caesar had returned to Rome and been elected consul for the fifth time, he proposed to the Senate that his consulship be transferred to Dolabella. Antony protested, causing a huge disruption that made Caesar withdraw the motion out of shame. Later, Caesar exercised his role as dictator and directly proclaimed Dolabella consul.[15] This time Antony called out that the omens were unfavorable and Caesar again backed down and abandoned Dolabella.[16]

On Caesar's death in 44 BC, Dolabella seized the insignia of the consulship (which had already been conditionally promised him), and, by making friends with Brutus and the other assassins, was confirmed in his office. When, however, Mark Antony offered him the command of the expedition against the Parthians and the province of Syria, he changed sides at once. His journey to the province was marked by plundering, extortion, and the murder of Gaius Trebonius, governor of Asia, who refused to allow him to enter Smyrna.[3]

Dolabella was thereupon declared a public enemy and superseded by Cassius who attacked him in Laodicea. When Cassius's troops captured the place (43 BC), Dolabella ordered one of his soldiers to kill him.[3]


Dolabella was married to a woman named Fabia and had a son by the same name with her.[6] The son may have been Publius Cornelius Dolabella the consul of 35 BC.[17] He was also married to Cicero's daughter Tullia[ii] in 50 BC.[19] In May 49 BC she gave birth to a premature son of seven months[20] that did not survive long after birth.[21][22][23] In 45 BC Tullia divorced him and gave birth to a son named Lentulus at her father's house, some weeks after the birth she died of complications and the boy is suspected to have died young[24][25][26] since his grandfather Cicero does not mention him after 45 BC.[27]

Cultural depictions


Dolabella plays a focal role in John Dryden's 1600s play All for Love, where he is portrayed as warning Cleopatra[iii] about Octavian planning to kidnap her and her children to Rome, which convinces Cleopatra to kill herself. This version of Dolabella is highly fictionalized and a composite character of several ancient Roman people.[28]


He also appears as a character in the novel The Bloodied Toga by William George Hardy.[29] He is also a supporting character in the Masters of Rome series by Colleen McCullough.[30][31][32][33]

See also


  1. ^ Likely the same man as Lentulus Batiatus who trained Spartacus.[9]
  2. ^ Dolabella's first wife Fabia may have been Tullia's maternal half-aunt.[18]
  3. ^ This act likely belongs to Dolabella's son by Fabia.[27]


  1. ^ James K. Finn, Frank J. Groten; Res publica conquassata - page: 190
  2. ^ Shackleton Bailey 1976, pp. 29–32.
  3. ^ a b c d e f  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Dolabella, Publius Cornelius". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 386.
  4. ^ Oxford Classical Dictionary. (3rd ed., 1996) p. 394; Cassius Dio. Roman History, xlii.29.1.
  5. ^ Tansey 2018, pp. 205, 224–227, 254.
  6. ^ a b Treggiari, Susan (August 7, 2007). Terentia, Tullia and Publilia: The Women of Cicero's Family. Routledge. ISBN 9781134264575 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Wiseman, Timothy Peter (1987). Roman Studies: Literary and Historical. F. Cairns. p. 84. ISBN 9780905205625.
  8. ^ Treggiari, Susan (August 7, 2007). Terentia, Tullia and Publilia: The Women of Cicero's Family. Routledge. ISBN 9781134264575 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ Mattingly, Harold B. (1997). "The Date and Significance of the Lex Antonia de Termessibus" (PDF). SCHOLIA Studies in Classical Antiquity. 6: 72 – via
  10. ^ Pinsent, John (1976). Liverpool Classical Monthly. Vol. 1–3. p. 2.
  11. ^ Shackleton Bailey, D. R. (11 February 2009). "The Roman Nobility in the Second Civil War". The Classical Quarterly. 10 (3–4): 253–267. doi:10.1017/S000983880000402X. Retrieved 2021-03-07. Anyone prepared to adopt so active a Caesarian in 49–48, especially for a political reason, was in all probability a Caesarian himself. But the identity of the adoptive parent has always been a puzzle.
  12. ^ D. R. Shackleton Bailey (1960). "The Roman Nobility in the Second Civil War". The Classical Quarterly. 10 (2): 253–267. doi:10.1017/S000983880000402X. JSTOR 638057 – via JSTOR.
  13. ^ Plutarch: Antony, c. 9, in Plutarch, Roman Lives ISBN 978-0-19-282502-5
  14. ^ Antony, c. 10, ibid.
  15. ^ Dio 43.51.8.
  16. ^ Antony, 11.3, less clear from Dio.
  17. ^ Burr Marsh, Frank (1922). The Founding of the Roman Empire (Second ed.). University of Texas. p. 302. ISBN 0722224311.
  18. ^ Sousa Galito, Maria. "Ancient Roman Politics: The Vestals – Women's Empowerment" (PDF). Working Papers CEsA/CSG.
  19. ^ Treggiari, Susan (August 7, 2007). Terentia, Tullia and Publilia: The Women of Cicero's Family. Routledge. ISBN 9781134264575 – via Google Books.
  20. ^ Cicero, Marcus Tullius (March 12, 1891). "Cicero in his letters". Macmillan – via Google Books.
  21. ^ Lightman, Marjorie; Lightman, Benjamin (March 12, 2008). A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman Women. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 9781438107943 – via Google Books.
  22. ^ Tempest, Kathryn (March 24, 2011). Cicero: Politics and Persuasion in Ancient Rome. A&C Black. ISBN 9781847252463 – via Google Books.
  23. ^ Rawson, Beryl (September 5, 2003). Children and Childhood in Roman Italy. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780191514234 – via Google Books.
  24. ^ "The correspondence of M. Tullius Cicero : Arranged according to its chronological order".
  25. ^ Skinner, Marilyn B. (March 12, 2011). Clodia Metelli: The Tribune's Sister. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195375008 – via Google Books.
  26. ^ Rawson, Beryl (December 9, 2010). A Companion to Families in the Greek and Roman Worlds. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781444390759 – via Google Books.
  27. ^ a b "ZPE". Habelt. March 12, 2000 – via Google Books.
  28. ^ The Works of John Dryden, Volume 13 - page: 415
  29. ^ William George Hardy; Macmillan of Canada, 1979. The bloodied toga: a novel of Julius Caesar - page: 54
  30. ^ McCullough, Colleen (March 1, 2014). Masters of Rome Collection Books I - V: First Man in Rome, The Grass Crown, Fortune's Favourites, Caesar's Women, Caesar. Head of Zeus. ISBN 9781781859391 – via Google Books.
  31. ^ McCullough, Colleen (November 26, 2002). The October Horse: A Novel of Caesar and Cleopatra. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780743214698 – via Google Books.
  32. ^ Craik, Elizabeth M. (March 12, 1991). Marriage and Property: Women and Marital Customs in History. Aberdeen University Press. ISBN 9780080412054 – via Google Books.
  33. ^ "ZPE". Habelt. March 12, 2000 – via Google Books.


Political offices
Preceded by Roman consul
44 BC (suffect)
With: Mark Antony
Succeeded by