Kicked to the Curb: 5 Romans in Exile
Banishment from Rome was many things—a political trick, an act of revenge, and a terrible verdict even its best citizens fell prey to. When you own much of the known world, it’s easy to stick someone in a corner. Here are five people the Romans booted.
1. Agrippa Postumus
Exiled to: Planasia, 9 CE
Cause: It’s not quite clear
Agrippa Postumus (top) was Caesar Augustus’ grandson through his daughter, Julia. When Agrippa's father and brothers died, he moved up in the line of succession. The other option to inherit the throne was Tiberius, a man Augustus wasn't fond of. At 44, Tiberius was an experienced general, while Agrippa Postumus was a brawling, cavorting 15 year old. Like it or not, Augustus decided Tiberius was the better choice. The next year, Augustus sent Agrippa away from Rome and in 9 CE he permanently banished him to Planasia (now Pianosa), a minuscule island off Tuscany.
Under guard, Agrippa was forbidden any news of home. He died about the same time as Augustus in 14 CE, likely murdered on the orders of the now-ruling Tiberius. His mother Julia, also in exile, died shortly after.
And then ... he came back. A man claiming to be Agrippa traveled toward Rome in 16 CE, shoring up the lingering support Agrippa's father and brothers had built long ago. In reality, this was Agrippa’s slave Clemens. The man was fake, but Tiberius feared a very real conspiracy and executed Clemens later that year.
Agrippa Postumus may have been exiled for political reasons or simply because he was an uncontrollable wild child. But his exile and death (twice!) helped Tiberius hold the power Augustus didn't want to give to him.
2. Metellus Numidicus
Exiled to: Rhodes, 100 BCE
Recalled: 99 BCE
Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus was, by most accounts, an aristocrat beloved by the common Roman. Even rumors of war profiteering in Africa, which were spread by his lieutenant Gaius Marius, couldn’t dim his popularity. Marius ended up taking Metellus’ consulship and command, but Metellus was nonetheless received by Rome in triumph in 107 BCE.
When he was elected censor in 102 BCE—which put him in charge of maintaining the census, supervising areas of the government's finances, and policing public morality—Metellus tried and failed to expel Marius' political ally, the tribune L Appuleius Saturninus, from the senate.
Marius and Saturninus brought legislation that was deliberately offensive to the aristocracy. Metellus refused his oath and paid the necessary fine. After Saturninus charged him with treason, friends of Metellus armed themselves and prepared to prevent it. Metellus wanted no civil unrest on his account, so he told them to stand down and he went quietly into exile in 100 BCE.
In Rhodes, Metellus was able to study Greek philosophy and cultivate an interest in war and the arts far from the machinations of Rome. Saturninus was killed that same year, and Marius’ power wasn’t enough to keep Metellus away. Metellus' son called for the exile to be lifted, and Metellus Numidicus was recalled to a hero’s welcome, after which he retired to private life. A little time away can work wonders.
3. Gaius Marius
Exiled to: Africa, 87 BCE
Recalled: He marched back in 87 BCE
Gaius Marius was once considered the “3rd founder of Rome.” Country-bred, Marius raised a successful army from Rome’s poor and landless and won five consulships through foreign wars between 104 and 100 BCE (in addition to his first, earned in 107). Only one other Roman had ever held six consulships. Nearing old age, Marius felt destined to break that record.
In 88 BCE, consulship over the war in Asia went to Marius’ one-time subordinate, Cornelius Sulla. Nearly 70, Marius wanted the command. A political tussle led to street fighting. Sulla lost, but he bet on the loyalty of his army, who refused Marius and followed Sulla into Rome.
No Roman had ever marched on the immortal city before, and the invasion was a struggle. Unable to pay his own army to fight for him, Marius sent his son to Africa and fled across Italy. Bad winds kept Marius from sailing. Separated from friends, he hid in a swamp until he was captured and held in a house in a town south of Rome. A German slave was sent in to execute him, but Marius’ loyalty to the poor and landless paid off. The slave ran away, crying, “I cannot kill Gaius Marius.” Freed thereafter, Marius found his allies waiting on an island off Naples.
They sailed for Africa and half were killed in Sicily when they stopped for supplies. When they reached Africa, they were denied entry. Disheveled and weary, Marius camped in the ruins of Carthage before finding his son.
Rousing a force of his old soldiers, Marius got a second wind. Besieging Roman ports on the way, he landed in Italy, adding freed slaves to his growing army. Joining forces with the ousted consul Cinna, Marius again marched on Rome.
Marius returned a conqueror, but in a fine display of passive-aggressiveness he declared he could not legally enter as a fugitive. Voting to repeal his exile began, but Marius got bored and entered anyway, his fanatical slave army killing at the slightest nod of his head. Cinna had to slaughter the Marians as they slept to stop the bloodshed.
Amazingly, exile restored Marius’ clout. Duly elected in 86 BCE, he finally earned his seventh consulship. Sulla was exiled and Marius died just weeks later.
Exiled to: Macedonia, 58 BCE
Cause: Executing citizens without trial
Recalled: 57 BCE
There were degrees to every banishment. Full exile stripped wealth and citizenship and would be a devastating loss. Cicero felt its sting at the hands of a noble he unsuccessfully charged with blasphemy, P Clodius Pulcher.
Cicero was well-respected, and in 63 BCE, he was named "father of the fatherland" for uncovering a plot against the state.
Using his own good connections as tribune, Clodius charged Cicero with executing the conspirators without due process. Cicero appealed, but the consuls were in Clodius’ pocket and mobs waited to uphold the guilty verdict with violence. Even Cicero's ally—and one of Rome's most powerful men—Gnaeus Pompey stood back.
Banished to Macedonia, his houses destroyed and lands dedicated to the goddess of Liberty, Cicero fell into a depression. In letters home, he despaired at the shame he had brought on his family. But people were sympathetic. Pompey needed Cicero back and had the new tribune, Milo, campaign for his return. Clodius’ thugs campaigned in opposition and days of street fighting ended only when Milo’s own gang guarded the senate while it voted for Cicero’s recall. Clodius cast the only vote against.
Exiled to: Tomis, 8 CE
Cause: He wouldn’t say
Getting kicked out of Rome was bad enough. Worse, sometimes, was where you ended up.
Ovid, a man about town and a poet with no political motivations, loved Rome for Rome. Famed for erotic poetry, he ran up against moral reforms that Augustus enacted. However, this might have been a smokescreen to punish Ovid for a less tangible “mistake.” Ovid writes it was not a crime but more of a "fault" that greatly offended Augustus and that it was not safe to talk about. Scholars agree it was something he saw or heard, perhaps entangled with Augustus' family life.
Technically, Ovid was not fully exiled, just “relegated,” but still able to keep his property. He left his wife in Rome to manage their estate and he addressed poetry to Augustus asking to be forgiven. Augustus was unmoved by his verse.
His early work was stripped from public libraries and his exile poetry was circulated privately. His most famous poem completed in exile, the Metamorphoses, ends, "wherever Roman might extends ... in my fame forever I will live."