The History of Rome: The Leadership of L. Aemilius Paulus

Inauguration Speech

“I think, Quirites, that my having received, through the ballot, Macedonia as my province has been greeted more warmly than when I was congratulated on my election as consul, or on the day when I entered on office. And the sole reason for this, I believe, is that you thought I could be the means of bringing this long-protracted war to such a close as shall be worthy of the greatness of Rome. I hope that the decision of the ballot has been regarded with favour by the gods also, and that they will aid me in executing the task before me. Some things I can prognosticate, others I can feel hopeful about. This I venture to affirm with absolute certainty-I will strive to the utmost of my power, that the hopes you have formed of me shall not turn out to be vain.

In all public places where people congregate, and actually-would you believe it! —in private parties, there are men, who not only lay down what ought to be done [in this war], but when anything is done contrary to their opinion they arraign the consul as though he were being impeached before the Assembly. This greatly interferes with the successful prosecution of a war, for it is not everybody who can show such firmness and resolution in the teeth of hostile criticism as Fabius did; he preferred to have his authority weakened by the ignorance and caprice of the people rather than gain popularity by disservice to the State.

I am not one of those who think that generals are not to be advised; on the contrary, the man who always acts on his own initiative shows, in my judgment, more arrogance than wisdom. How then does the case stand? Commanders ought first of all to get the advice of thoughtful and far-seeing men who have special experience of military affairs; then from those who are taking part in the operations, who know the country and recognise a favourable opportunity when it comes, who, like comrades on a voyage, share the same dangers. If, then, there is any man who in the interests of the commonwealth feels confident that he can give me good advice in the war which I am to conduct, let him not refuse to help his country, but go with me to Macedonia. I will supply him with a ship, a horse, a tent, and with his travelling expenses as well. If anyone thinks this too much trouble, let him not try to act as a sea pilot whilst he is on land. The city itself affords plenty of subjects for conversation, let him confine his loquacity to these; he may rest assured that the discussions in our councils of war will satisfy us.”

Tragedy and Triumph

During those days of triumph, Paulus, resplendent in gold and purple, was suffering too. Of the two sons whom he kept with him as the heirs to his name and his house, a boy of about twelve, died five days before his triumph, and the elder, a boy of fourteen, died three days after it. They ought to have been riding with their father, wearing the praetexta and anticipating triumphs similar to his. A few days later, following the practice of other commanders, he gave an account of what he had done [before the Assembly]. It was a memorable speech worthy of a Roman leader.

“Although, Quirites, I do not suppose that you are unaware of the good fortune and success which have marked my administration, nor of the two thunderbolts which have within these last few days fallen upon my house, seeing that you were at one time spectators of my triumph, and at another were watching the obsequies of my children, still I ask you to allow me to make a comparison in a befitting spirit between the prosperity of the republic and my own private fortunes.

On my departure from Italy I ordered the fleet to leave Brundisium at sunrise. In nine days I brought up at Corcyra with all my ships. Five days later I offered sacrifice to Apollo at Delphi on behalf of myself and of your fleets and armies. Four days brought me from Delphi to the camp, where after taking over the army I made changes in certain matters that were seriously interfering with the chances of victory. As the enemy camp was unassailable, and the king could not be forced into an engagement, I advanced and cleared the pass in spite of the force posted to defend it, and advanced to Petra. Here I forced the king to give battle and defeated him. Macedonia submitted, and in a fortnight I finished a war which for four years the consuls before me had conducted in such a way that each handed on to his successor a more serious task than he had received.

There was nothing more for me to pray for, my one ardent desire was that in the usual turn of Fortune’s wheel the change might affect my house rather than the commonwealth. I hope, therefore, that its continued prosperity has been secured by the signal calamity which has overtaken me. As though in mockery of mortal grief, my triumph intervened between the death of my two sons. Both Perseus and myself may now be regarded as noteworthy examples of the lot which awaits men. He, himself a captive, has seen his children led as captives before him, but still, he has them safe and sound; I, who have triumphed over him, went from the funeral of one of my sons in my chariot to the Capitol, and returned to find the other at the point of death. Out of all my sons, not one remains to bear the name of Lucius Aemilius Paulus. But your happiness and the good fortune of the republic are my consolation in this ruin of my house.”


1. According to Plutarch, Aemilius Paulus’ first wife was Papiria, the daughter of Maso, who had formerly been consul. With her he lived a considerable time in wedlock, and she bore to him the renowned Scipio and Fabius Maximus, both of whom were adopted by noble families.


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