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P. Venti'dius Bassus

" This man was a native of Picenum, and having fought against the Romans, when the allies were at war with them, he was made prisoner by Pompeius Strabo, and appeared in his triumphal procession in chains : after this, being manumitted, he was admitted into the Senate in course of time, and was then made praetor in the time of Caesar, and attained to such honour as to conquer the Parthians and to enjoy a triumph for his victory." (D. C. 43.51.) Pompeius Strabo triumphed B. C. 89, and Ventidius B. C. 38, fifty years later, whence we must infer that he was quite a youth when he was captured by the Romans. A. Gellius (15.4; with which compare V. Max. 6.9.9; Juv. 7.199), who has a short chapter on Bassus, says that he was of mean parentage, and that when Pompeius Strabo took Asculum, Bassus and his mother were made prisoners; and that Bassus lay in his mother's lap when she appeared in the triumphal procession. When he grew up to man's estate, he got a poor living by undertaking to furnish mules and vehicles for those magistrates who went from Rome to administer a province. This early occupation of Bassus was not forgotten when he became consul, and the Romans, who have always had a taste for satire, reminded Bassus of that which was not his disgrace but his honour, in the following verse, which is recorded by Gellius : “Nam mulos qui fricabat consul factus est.

Plancus, in a letter to Cicero (Cic. Fam. 10.18), calls Bassus, Ventidius Mulio, in allusion to his early occupation.

In this humble employment Bassus became known to C. Julius Caesar, whom he accompanied into Gaul; but he is not mentioned in Caesar's Commentaries. In the civil war he executed Caesar's orders with ability, and became a favourite of his great commander. He obtained the rank of tribunus plebis, a seat in the Roman senate, and he was made a praetor for B. C. 43.

After Caesar's death Bassus sided with M. Antonius in the war of Mutina (B. C. 43). During the siege of Mutina he raised two legions in the colonies of Caesar, and a third in Picenum, his native country, and he stayed there, says Appian, waiting to see how things would turn out. He afterwards conducted his legions through the Apennines without any opposition from Caesar Octavianus, who had already defeated Antonius before Mutina, and he joined Antonius at Vada Sabatia on the Ligurian coast. (Cic. Fam. 10.33 and 34, 11.10.) After the reconciliation between Antonius and Octavianus near Bononia, Ventidius was made consul suffectus with C. Carrinas (B. C. 43), Octavianus having resigned his consulship, and Q. Pedius having died. (Vell. 2.65, D. C. 47.15.) In B. C. 42 Ventidius was one of the legates of Antonius in Gallia Transalpina, with Q. Fufius Calenus, and stopped some soldiers of Caesar Octavianus from crossing the Alps, whom Caesar had sent into Spain. (D. C. 48.10.) This took place during the quarrel of Caesar with Fulvia and the consul L. Antonius, the brother of Marcus. Ventidius and the other legate of Antonius made no great effort to relieve L. Antonius when he was besieged by Caesar in Perusia (Appian, App. BC 5.31, 35); but there appear to have been some reasons why they could not safely move from their position. After the capture of Perusia (B. C. 40) Ventidius kept his forces together, and was joined by those of Plancus, who had run away. In this year M. Antonius and Caesar came to terms.

While M. Antonius was engaged in Italy (B. C. 39), he sent Bassus as his legatus into Asia to oppose Labienus, whom he pursued to the mountains of Taurus, where Labienus waited for the Parthians, and Bassus for re-inforcements. Ventidius, being afraid of the Parthian cavalry which had arrived, posted himself on high ground, where he was attacked by the Parthians, whom he repelled and defeated. The Parthians made their escape towards Cilicia, followed by Bassus, who halted when he came in sight of the camp of Labienus. The men of Labienus, being discouraged by the defeat of the Parthians, he attempted to escape by night; but many of his men were cut off, and the rest came over to Bassus. Labienus was caught in Cilicia by Demetrius, a freedman of Caesar, and put to death. (Dion, 48.39, 40 ; Florus, 4.9.) Bassus sent forward Popedius Silo to occupy the passes of Amanus, but Barzaphanes, or, as Dion calls him, Pharnapates, who commanded under Pacorus, was in possession of the passes, and Silo was in great danger of being destroyed with his troops, when Bassus came to his assistance and defeated Barzaphanes, who fell in the battle. Bassus now took possession of all Syria easily, except Aradus, and Palestine also. Bassus exacted large sums from King Antigonus, Antiochus of Commagene, and Malchus, a Nabathaean chieftain, on the ground of their having aided Pacorus. The senate conferred no honours on Bassus for his victories, because he was only acting as the legatus of Antonius.

In the following year (D. C. 49.19, 21) Pacorus collected his troops and advanced towards Syria. The troops of Ventidius were dispersed in winter quarters, and he wished to gain time. He contrived to deceive Pacorus by making him believe that he feared that the Parthians would not cross the Euphrates at the Zeugma, the usual place ; for if they did cross there, as he hoped they would, he should be able to take advantage of the high ground at that place to oppose the Parthian cavalry. Bassus confidentially communicated this to a petty chieftain, a native of Cyrrhestica, who was about him; and, as he expected, the chieftain, who was favourable to the Parthians, sent the information to Pacorus. It turned out as Bassus wished : Pacorus, believing that Ventidius wished to meet him at the Zeugma, did not cross the Euphrates there, but advanced by a longer route, which took him forty days, and gave Bassus time to collect his forces. (Frontin. Stratagem. 1.6.6.) The Parthians were defeated in Cyrrhestica, and Pacorus fell in the battle. The head of Pacorus was sent round to the Syrian cities, which induced them to keep quiet. Eutropius (7.3) says that Bassus killed Pacorus, the son of king Orodes, on the same day on which Orodes had killed Crassus through the means of his general Surena. Bassus then moved against Antiochus, king of Commagene, on the pretext that he had not given up some slaves to him, but in reality to ease king Antiochus of some of his money.

In the mean time Antonius arrived, and so far from being pleased with the success of Ventidius, he showed great jealousy of him, and treated him in an unworthy manner. It is said that Antiochus had offered Ventidius a thousand talents as the price of peace, and that Antonius, who undertook the siege of Samosata, was obliged to be content with three hundred. (Plut. Ant. 100.34.)

The Senate decreed to Antonius a supplicatio and a triumph for the victories of Ventidius; and Antonius rewarded his general by dismissing him from his employment. Yet the services of Ventidius were too great to be overlooked; and on his coming to Rome he had a triumph in November B. C. 38. Nothing more is known of him.

Bassus was often cited (Plin. Nat. 7.43) as an instance of a man who rose from the lowest condition to the highest honours; a captive became a Roman consul and enjoyed a triumph; but this was in a period of revolution. It is probable that the talents of Bassus made Caesar and Antonius think it prudent to reward such a man and secure his services.

As to Publius Ventidius, who is named in the text of Appian (App. BC 1.47) as a commander in the Marsic war, see the note in Schweighaeuser's edition of Appian. It is very improbable that P. Ventidius Bassus commanded in that war; and besides this, some authorities state that he was a child when he was taken prisoner.

The annexed coin, struck by Ventidius Bassus, has on the obverse the head of M. Antonius.

Further Information

In addition to the authorities cited, see Florus, IV. 9, and notes in Duker's edition; and the passages in Dio Cassius, with the notes of Reimarus ; and Drumann, Geschichte Roms, Antonii.


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hide References (8 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 10.18
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 10.33
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.4.35
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.6.47
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.4.31
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 7.43
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 15.4
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 6.9.9
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