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[4arg] The story of Ventidius Bassus, a man of obscure birth, who is reported to have been the first to celebrate a triumph over the Parthians.


IT was lately remarked in the conversation of certain old and learned men that in ancient times many persons of most obscure birth, who were previously held in great contempt, had risen to the highest grade of dignity. Nothing that was said about anyone, however, excited so much wonder as the story recorded of Ventidius Bassus. He was born in Picenum in a humble station, and with his mother was taken prisoner by Pompeius Strabo, [p. 71] father of Pompey the Great, in the Social War, 1 in the course of which Strabo subdued the Aesculani. 2 Afterwards, when Pompeius Strabo triumphed, the boy also was carried in his mother's arms amid the rest of the captives before the general's chariot. Later, when he had grown up, he worked hard to gain a livelihood, resorting to the humble calling of a buyer of mules and carriages, which he had contracted with the State to furnish to the magistrates who had been allotted provinces. In that occupation he made the acquaintance of Gaius Caesar and went with him to the Gallic provinces. Then, because he had shown commendable energy in that province, and later during the civil war had executed numerous commissions with promptness and vigour, he not only gained Caesar's friendship, but because of it rose even to the highest rank. Afterwards he was also made tribune of the commons, and then praetor, and at that time he was declared a public enemy by the senate along with Mark Antony. Afterwards, however, when the parties were united, he not only recovered his former rank, but gained first the pontificate and then the consulship. 3 At this the Roman people, who remembered that Ventidius Bassus had made a living by taking care of mules, were so indignant that these verses 4 were posted everywhere about the streets of the city:

[p. 73]

Assemble, soothsayers and augurs all!
A portent strange has taken place of late;
For he who curried mules is consul now.
Suetonius Tranquillus writes 5 that this same Bassus was put in charge of the eastern provinces by Mark Antony, and that when the Parthians invaded Syria he routed them in three battles; 6 that he was the first of all to celebrate a triumph over the Parthians, and was honoured when he died with a public funeral.

1 90–89 B.C. War was waged by the Italian allies against Rome. After a bitter contest, in which 300,000 men are said to have perished, the Romans were victorious, but by the lex Plautia Papiria granted nearly all the demands of the allies, including the franchise.

2 Aesculum was the capital of the Picenates, one of the seven peoples who made up the allies.

3 43 B.C.

4 p. 331, 7, Bährens; cf. Virg. Catal. x., believed by some to refer to Ventidius Bassus, but probably wrongly. See Virgil, L.C.L., ii., p. 499, n. 2.

5 Frag. 210, Reiff.

6 39 and 38 B.C.

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