Sunday, 11 March 2012

Elephants, Hannibal and the Metellus Family

Silver Denarius with Elephants
drawing a chariot.
Minted in Rome  - circa 125 B.C.
The coin shown was minted around 125 BC by the Metellus family to commemorate a triumph at Panormus (now Palermo, Sicily) in 251 BC, during the First Punic War by the then consul Lucius Caecilius Metellus. Metellus decisively defeated the Carthaginian general Hasdrubal by panicking the enemy's elephants (as Scipio later did at Zama). The elephants which he took in this battle were exhibited in his triumph at Rome - the first time elephants had appeared in a triumph. Thereafter the image of an elephant frequently appeared on coins issued by the Metellus family.

Other members of the Metellus family figured in the story of Hannibal and his family.

The Metelli were a distinguished plebeian family of the Caecilia gens at Rome.

As well as achieving other honours, Lucius Caecilius Metellus became consul a second time in 249, and was elected pontifex maximus in 243, holding this position for twenty-two years. In 241 he rescued the Palladium when the Temple of Vesta was on fire, but lost his sight in consequence. He was dictator in 224 for the purpose of holding the comitia. He probably died shortly before the coin was issued.

As Pliny relates (Natural Histories 7.139):

Quintus Caecilius Metellus [his son] gave the funeral oration (in 221 BC) for his father, Lucius Caecilius Metellus, who had been a pontifex, twice consul, dictator, master of horse, quindecimvir for the distribution of land; he was the first man to lead elephants in a triumphal procession, in the first Punic war. In the oration Quintus wrote: 'he achieved the ten greatest and best things, which wise men spend their whole lives seeking. He wished to be the first of warriors, the best orator, the bravest general; to direct matters of the greatest moment under his own auspices; to be held in the greatest honour; to possess supreme wisdom; to be regarded as the supreme senator; to come by wealth by honourable means; to leave many children; and to be the most distinguished man in the state. These things he achieved, and none but he achieved them since Rome was founded.' 

Quintus played a role in the Second Punic War against Hannibal and his family. He was plebeian aedile in 209; curule aedile in 208; served in the army of the consul Claudius Nero in 207, and was one of the legates sent to Rome to convey the news of the defeat and death of Hasdrubal - the brother of Hannibal - which marked the beginning of the end of the war. He was consul with Lucius Veturius Philo in 206 when they both carried on the war against Hannibal in Bruttium, where he remained as proconsul during the following year. In 205 he was dictator for the purpose of holding the comitia.

Quintus Metellus survived the Second Punic War for many years, and was employed in several public commissions.

His brother - Lucius Caecilius Metellus Calvus - was a consul in 142 and his eldest son - Quintus Caecilius Metellus Balearicus - was consul in 123, when he subdued the inhabitants of the Balearic Islands, and received in consequence the surname of Balearicus. He was also censor in 120.

The son of Quintus - Quintus Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus - carried on the family tradition. He was praetor in 148,  and carried on war in Macedonia against the usurper Andriscus, whom he defeated and took prisoner. He next turned his arms against the Achaeans, whom he defeated at the beginning of 146. On his return to Rome in the same year, he was given a triumph, and received the surname of Macedonicus. Metellus was consul in 143, and received the province of Nearer Spain, where he carried on the war with success for two years against the Celtiberi, where he was succeeded by Quintus Pompeius in 141. Metellus was censor 131. He died 115, 'full of years and honours'. He is frequently quoted by the ancient writers as an extraordinary instance of human felicity. He had filled all the highest offices of the State with reputation and glory, and was carried to the funeral pile by four sons, three of whom had obtained the consulship in his lifetime, while the fourth was a candidate for the office at the time of his death.

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