I remember reading a few years back that there was a particular Roman strongman who had a very intense way of dealing with enemies.

He had dozens of either slaves or former slaves (freedmen), but I can not remember which, who all shared his name, who he used as enforcers and death squads to intimidate and kill political rivals. The really intimidating thing was that they all named themselves after their (former?) master, so, say if his name was Gaius Lucius, then you had 20 slaves showing up at your door named Gaius Lucius and you knew exactly what was about to happen.

The problem is I can not remember the name of this Roman politician, or even when he was around. I tried googling for about an hour yesterday and still could not remember who it was.

Anyone familiar with this guy that could tell me who it was?

1 Answer 1


Nice question, but you've got the premise a bit wrong. Roman slaves could not be called by their master's name, not ever. But freedmen were, as a matter of law/custom. This applied to all cases, and wasn't the whim or fancy of a particular nobleman. Of course to differentiate, the slave would append his old, "barbarian" name as a cognomen. So if one Marcus Gavius freed his slave Plato, then the freshly-minted freedman would be called Marcus Gavius Plato.

Anyway, the guy you have in mind is likely to be Publius Clodius Pulcher who had a notorious gang of slaves at his beck and call. Here is Plutarchus telling us about his conduct in his biography of Cicero:

[30] (1) But Clodius, having escaped his peril, and having been chosen tribune [in 57 BCE], at once began to attack Cicero, arraying and stirring up against him all things and all men alike. (2) He won the favour of the people by benevolent laws, got large provinces voted to each of the consuls (Macedonia to Piso, and Syria to Gabinius), brought many of the poorer class into organized political activity, and kept armed slaves about his person.

And again:

(7) But Clodius met him [Cicero] everywhere in the streets, with a band of bold and insolent men about him, who made many unbridled jests upon Cicero's change of attire, and often pelted him with mud and stones, and so interfered with his supplications to the people.

There are also a few references to Clodius's gang in Cicero's own speeches, catalogued here.

Btw, It is instructive to note that Cicero approved of his own supporter, T. Annius Milo who had a gang of apparently the same kind but ranged in the service of the conservative party - in Cicero's telling it sounds like a high-minded civic organization....

P.S. Gaius Lucius is an impossible name. Lucius is a prenomen (sort of given name) and so is Gaius.

P.P.S. Welcome and +1 for the question.

  • Thank you, I meant freedmen, I do actually recall that they were his former slaves who he had turned into something of a personal mafia. The name was the most generic Roman placeholder name I could think of, next time I'll use Lucius Julius or something =]
    – Clinton J
    May 1, 2013 at 20:30
  • @DVK: I added some primary sources about Clodius. May 1, 2013 at 20:55

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