Jump to content
UNRV Ancient Roman Empire Forums
  • Time Travel Rome

Sign in to follow this  

SENECA'S DE IRA (c.41 AD - mid-First century) 5 questions about the crucified leader

Recommended Posts

Some writers have proposed that Seneca, in his essay "On Anger"/"De Ira", alluded to Jesus when he spoke of a foreign crucified leader. It is perhaps relevant that Seneca dedicated "On Anger" to his older brother Gallio, who in the Book of Acts rejected a Jewish petition to punish Paul for contradicting the Torah.

Since it was written after January 41 AD, Seneca could have reasonably known about Jesus when he composed De Ira.


The exact date of the writing of the work is unknown, apart from an earliest date (terminum post quem), deduced from repeated references by Seneca to the episodic anger of Caligula, who died 24 January 41 AD.[3][4] Seneca refers to his brother by his native name, Novatus, rather than his adoptive one, Gallio, which he bore by 52/53 AD, suggesting the work may date from the mid 40s AD.


Volume I of De Ira in Latin is here: https://www.thelatinlibrary.com/sen/sen.ira1.shtml
Volume II of De Ira in Latin is here: https://www.thelatinlibrary.com/sen/sen.ira2.shtmlIn his first chapter, Seneca introduces general philosophical criticisms of anger, also noting how angry people act like they are crazy. Then in chapter 2 in De Ira, in order to further criticize anger, give examples, and show the reader how it is harmful and cruel, Seneca lists manifestations of anger and then six cases of leaders who were the unfortunate victims of anger:



2. Next, if you choose to view its results and the mischief that it does, no plague has cost the human race more dear: you will see slaughterings and poisonings, accusations and counter-accusations, sacking of cities, ruin of whole peoples, the persons of princes sold into slavery by auction, torches applied to roofs, and fires not merely confined within city-walls but making whole tracts of country glow with hostile flame. See the foundations of the most celebrated cities hardly now to be discerned; they were ruined by anger. See deserts extending for many miles without an inhabitant: they have been desolated by anger.

    See all the chiefs whom tradition mentions as instances of ill fate; anger stabbed one of them in his bed, struck down another, though he was protected by the sacred rights of hospitality, tore another to pieces in the very home of the laws and in sight of the crowded forum, bade one shed his own blood by the parricide hand of his son, another to have his royal throat cut by the hand of a slave, another to stretch out his limbs on the cross: and hitherto I am speaking merely of individual cases.


The underlined phrase says in Latin, "alium in cruce membra diffindere".

Seneca here is suggesting his own sympathy for the victims and finds that they were treated unjustly. He lists the crucified one last, which suggests that this victim was the latest in the list. By listing the crucified victim last, he also suggests that this one was dealt with most severely, since in the preceding sentences, Seneca builds up his list of manifestations of anger, going from "slaughterings" up to describing whole territories destroyed and turned into desert by anger.

(Question 1) Would you have access to Léon Herrmann's book Chrestos, read French, or consider it helpful in understanding the passage?
The reason that I ask is that I have found few scholars trying to interpret this passage.
Livio Stechini draws several conclusions about the figures in the passage based on Hermann's book, writing:


Seneca lists six great men of the past who aspired to royalty but came to an evil end, the last being condemned to have his limbs split asunder upon a cross. The context indicates that this unnamed individual was of foreign nationality, and that his death occurred later than that of Pompey [d. 48 BC]--hence within living memory. See Léon Herrmann, Chrestos (Brussels, 1970), pp. 41-43.

(Question 2) Could one of those killed really have been Pompey, as Stechini theorized above?
The Wikipedia article says that Pompey was stabbed by three assassins, the first Achillas was head of the army, Lucius Septimius had been an officer, and the third was Savius (I don't know if he was a slave).
Septimius "thrust a sword into Pompey and then Achillas and Savius stabbed him with daggers." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pompey#Civil_war_and_assassination)

The Tektonics webpage comments on Stechini's theory:


I'm curious what "context" is supposed to implicate a foreigner, apart from the fact that a Roman of rank would not have been crucified. And it is not only this individual who is unnamed; all six are unnamed, a fact which clearly indicates Seneca expected them to be familiar to his audience.

It would make sense that Seneca did not name the leaders killed if they (like Jesus) were out of favour with or killed by Rome, since Seneca reasonably might not have wanted to openly appear to be supporting them.
It also makes sense that the 6th person listed would be a foreigner, since he suffered crucifixion.

(Question 3) Did Ptolemy of Mauretania have his throat was cut by a slave?
Ben Smith of the Text Excavation project wrote:



I asked for candidates for these six victims of anger on the FRDB (formerly the IIDB), and Jeffrey Gibson further submitted my inquiry to Classics-L, and the following are the suggestions for each victim:

        Stabbed in bed: Candaules by Gyges.
        Struck down at a banquet: Cleitus the black by Alexander of Macedon.
        Killed in the forum: Lucius Appuleius Saturninus by a mob.
        Parricide: The only suggestion was Oedipus as a sort of archetypal figure, but the one making the suggestion acknowledged that it seemed less apt than the suggestions for the rest of the list.
        Throat slit by a slave: Ptolemy of Mauretania on orders from Caligula.
        Crucified: Gavius by Verres, or Hannibal (a Carthaginian general, but not the famous Hannibal Barca) by his own men.



I am skeptical about the proposals for these candidates. Ptolemy of Mauretania was killed in 40 AD, but I couldn't find confirmation that his throat was cut by a slave.

I am also very skeptical that the 6th figure listed above could have been Gavius or the crucified general Hannibal. Gavius was a Roman citizen, but I didn't find him described as a leader or "chief". Wenhua Shi writes about Gavius and Hannibal in his book Paul's Message of the Cross as Body Language:


A good example would be Cicero's accusation of Verres, former governor of Sicily, for inflicting the cruel penalty of crucifixion on a Roman citizen, Gavius, without adequate investigation and proof to show that he was indeed a spy. This unjust action of Verres was clearly unbearable and scandalous to Cicero...

Furthermore, the Hannibal mentioned above was a general crucified in 238 BC or 257 BC, long before Pompey or Ptolemy of Mauretania, whom Seneca likely listed before the crucified, 6th "chief".

While Hannibal's killing in the form of crucifixion was severe, it would have been foreseeable (unlike a particularly unlucky surprise fate) in that he was a general waging a war during a time when captives were sometimes crucified, as when Alexander of Macedonia crucified many people in Tyre after his conquest.
There is a pattern of people in Seneca's list being killed in some treacherous circumstance, like stabbing someone in his bed or killing someone else when the rules of hospitality demanded their protection. General Hannibal's killing by his own men would fit that pattern, but the peaceful Jesus' betrayal by Judas and his accusation by the Sanhedrin and crucifixion for being a rebel "king of the Jews" despite seeking a heavenly kingdom instead of an earthly one would fit that mold too.

(Question 4) Was the Carthaginian general Hannibal crucified in 238 BC after defeat in Sardinia or 257 BC after defeat in Tunis?
Wikipedia has this entry for Hannibal:



Hannibal (died 238 BCE) was a Carthaginian general who took part in the Mercenary War between Carthage and rebel mercenaries. He should not be confused with the more renowned Hannibal Barca, son of Hamilcar Barca...

During the siege of Tunis he was captured during a night raid and crucified, along with some other high-ranking Carthaginians.


The Livius encyclopedia has this entry for Hannibal:



Hannibal ( †257): Carthaginian general, played a role during the first years of the First Punic War. [First Punic War was in 264-241 BCE]

In 258, he was sent to Sardinia, which he had to defend against the Romans. However, he was no match for the Roman commander Gaius Sulpicius Paterculus, who defeated him. Hannibal was crucified by his own men.

(Question 5) Is it correct to say that Regulus was killed by crucifixion? Regulus was a Roman consul killed by the Carthaginians in 250 BC:


He was a Consul captured by Carthaginians during the Punic War and held captive. The Carthaginians sent him to Rome (250 BC)to argue for an exchange between Carthage and Rome of captives and for peace. Instead he argued against the exchange and peace, because it was not in the best interests of Rome. He then kept his word and went back to Carthage where he was mercilessly tortured to death. He is considered an idealized Roman for his loyalty to Rome above all else, his honor, as well his ability to stratagize.

Elsewhere Seneca does write about Regulus' crucifixion:



    . . . Let us come now to Regulus+: what injury did Fortune do to him because she made him a pattern of loyalty, a pattern of endurance? Nails pierce his skin, and wherever he rests his wearied body he lies upon a wound; his eyes are stark in eternal sleeplessness. But the greater his torture is, the greater shall be his glory. Would you like to know how little he regrets that he rated virtue at such a price? Make him whole again and send him back to the senate; he will express the same opinion.

    Do you, then, think Maecenas a happier man, who, distressed by love and grieving over the daily repulses of his wayward wife, courted slumber by means of harmonious music, echoing faintly from a distance? Although he drugs himself with wine, and diverts his worried mind with the sound of rippling waters, and beguiles it with a thousand pleasures, yet he, upon his bed of down, will no more close his eyes than that other upon his cross. But while the one, consoled by the thought that he is suffering hardship for the sake of right, turns his eyes from his suffering to its cause, the other, jaded with pleasures and struggling with too much good fortune, is harassed less by what he suffers than by the reason for his suffering. Surely the human race has not come so completely under the sway of vice as to cause a doubt whether, if Fate should give the choice, more men would rather be born a Regulus than a Maecenas; or if there should be one bold enough to say that he would rather have been born a Maecenas than a Regulus, the fellow, although he may not admit it, would rather have been born a Terentia/a!


Certainly Seneca reveres Regulus, and by including him in a book "On Providence" shows that Regulus was "ill-fated". Plus, he was killed in treacherous circumstances, since he was acting as a diplomat from Rome to Carthage. So he looks like a good candidate. However, Regulus was not a nation's "chief", nor did he die after Pompey or Ptolemy of Mauritania.

One thing that makes me question whether Regulus was killed by crucifixion is how Seneca writes in an Epistle about Regulus being in a chest:


    Now a life of honour includes various kinds of conduct; it may include the chest in which Regulus was confined, or the wound of Cato which was torn open by Cato's own hand, or the exile of Rutilius, or the cup of poison which removed Socrates from gaol to heaven.

Note Tetullian's passage about Regulus in On Martyrs and compare it with Seneca's description of the crucified chief in Latin ("alium in cruce membra diffindere"):



Chapter 4
    Regulus, a Roman general, who had been taken prisoner by the Carthaginians, declined to be exchanged for a large number of Carthaginian captives, choosing rather to be given back to the enemy. He was crammed into a sort of chest; and, everywhere pierced by nails driven from the outside, he endured so many crucifixions.

    IN Latin

    Regulus, dux Romanorum, captus a Carthaginensibus, cum se unum pro multis captivis Carthaginensibus compensari noluisset, maluit hostibus reddi et in arcae genus stipatus undique extrinsecus clavis transfixus, tot cruces sensit.



Edited by Pakobckuu

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

  • Map of the Roman Empire