Titus Labienus

"Labienus" redirects here. For other persons named Labienus, see Labiena (gens).
For the historian named Titus Labienus, see Titus Labienus (historian).

Titus Labienus (c. 100 BC – March 17, 45 BC) was a professional Roman soldier in the late Roman Republic. He served as Tribune of the Plebs in 63 BC, and is remembered as one of Julius Caesar's lieutenants, mentioned frequently in the accounts of his military campaigns. He was the father of Quintus Labienus.


Early career

Reasoning from the fact that his praetorship was in 60 or 59 BC, Titus Labienus most likely was born in 99 or 98 BC.[1] Many sources suggest that he came from the town of Cingulum in Picenum. His family was of equestrian status. He most likely had early ties with Pompey during his time as a patron for Picenum and his desire to rise in military rank.[1] His early service was c. 78–75 BC in Cilicia under Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus.[2]

Tribune of the Plebs, Trial of Gaius Rabirius

In 63 BC, Titus Labienus was a Tribune of the Plebs with close ties to Pompey. Gaius Julius Caesar was also working closely with Pompey and therefore he and Labienus occasionally cooperated. These interactions were the seed that eventually developed into a friendship between Labienus and Caesar.

At Caesar's instigation, Labienus accused Gaius Rabirius of high treason (perduellio) for the murder of the tribune Lucius Appuleius Saturninus and of his uncle Titus Labienus in 100 BC. The purpose of this trial was to discredit the so-called "final decree of the Senate" (senatus consultum ultimum), an emergency measure of the senate commonly used against the Populares and the Roman assemblies. Labienus used the antiquated procedure of the duumviri, used in the early republic, against Rabirius. The procedure bypassed normal criminal law and Rabirius would be tried without defense. Since tribunes were sacrosanct, it was seen as an act against the gods to kill one. Thus punishment of the culprit was seen as more of a cleansing to appease the gods. The killing was seen as a pollution so profound that a normal criminal trial was unnecessary and immediate cleansing was necessary to avoid the wrath of the gods. The duumviri were assigned to accuse under the pretense of obvious guilt and cleanse the culprit through scourging.

Rabirius appealed to the Centuriate Assembly and Cicero spoke in his defense. However, before the assembly could vote, Metellus Celer used his powers as an augur to claim the sightings of bad omens and take down the flag in Janiculum. This postponed the trial. Rabirius was ultimately sentenced to exile, as he was unable to pay an unreasonable fine.[3]

In the same year Labienus carried a plebiscite returning the elections of the pontifices to the people. This indirectly secured for Caesar the dignity of Pontifex Maximus, by his act of supporting Labienus in this cause (Dio Cassius xxxvii. 37).

Labienus was more a soldier than politician, and primarily used his office as a gateway to secure himself positions of high military command. After his term as tribune, Labienus served as Caesar’s legate in Gaul.

Lieutenant under Caesar in Gaul

Labienus acted as Caesar’s second in command during his campaign in Gaul and was the only legate mentioned by name in Caesar’s writings about his first campaign.[4] He was a skilled cavalry commander and could be considered a military genius, rivaling Caesar himself in tactical command. However Caesar, as imperator, took credit for many of the accomplishments of his subordinates, especially Labienus.

Labienus commanded the winter quarters in Vesontio in 58 BC. He also had full command of the legions in Gaul during Caesar’s absence, as his legatus pro praetore.[5] He had this privilege when Caesar was administering justice in Cisalpine Gaul as well as during Caesar’s second campaign in Britain (in 54 BC).[6]

In 57 BC, during the Belgian campaign, in a battle against the Atrebates and Nervii near Sabis, Labienus, commanding the 9th and 10th legions, defeated the opposing Atrebates force and proceeded to take the enemy camp.[7] From there he sent the 10th Legion against the rear of the Nervii line while they were engaged with the rest of Caesar’s army, single-handedly turning the tide of battle and securing Caesar the victory.[8]

Labienus is also credited with the defeat of the Treviri under Indutiomarus. Labienus spent days with his army fortified in their camp, while Indutiomarus harassed him daily in an attempt at intimidation and demoralization. Labienus waited for the right moment, when Indutiomarus and his forces were returning to their camp disorganized, to send out his cavalry through two gates. He gave them the orders to first kill Indutiomarus, then his trailing forces on their return. Labienus’s men were successful, and with the death of their leader, the Treviri army scattered.[9] The Treviri forces later regrouped under relatives of Indutiomarus and moved upon Labienus, setting up camp across the river from his legions, waiting for reinforcements from the Germans. Labienus feigned a withdrawal, enticing the Treviri to cross the river, after which he turned around and had his men attack. Being in such a disadvantageous position, the Treviri forces were shattered. After hearing this, the German reinforcements turned around.[10]

Labienus’s victory over the Parisii in Lutetia in the Battle of Agendicum is another example of his tactical genius. Sending five cohorts back towards Agedincum, and himself crossing the Sequana River with three legions, he tricked the enemy into thinking that he had divided his army and was crossing the river in three different locations.[11] The enemy army split into thirds and pursued Labienus. The main body met Labienus which he subsequently surrounded with the rest of his legions. He then annihilated the reinforcements with his cavalry.[12]

In September, 51 BC, Caesar made Labienus governor of Cisalpine Gaul.[13]

Defection from Caesar, command under Pompey in Civil War

Before Caesar took Rome, Labienus left him in Gaul and joined Pompey.[14] He was rapturously welcomed on the Pompeian side, bringing 3,700 Gallic and German cavalry with him.

In the book, Biography of Titus Labienus, Caesar’s Lieutenant in Gaul, Tyrrell notes that modern historians describe Labienus's actions as defection from Caesar, and do not hesitate to call him a “deserter” or “renegade”, possibly due to their liking for Caesar. Tyrrell recognizes that in the end Labienus can be described as a man who “joined the legitimate government in its struggle against a revolutionary proconsul who placed his own dignitas above his country (Tyrrell, 36). Tyrrell points out, however, that "Labienus had proved on every occasion his capacity for independent command. He could easily have felt himself Caesar’s equal in the field. Although a praetorius since 59 or 58, a consulship with its subsequent provincial army was not forthcoming. The consulship with Caesar, even if seriously planned, would not have altered the balance of power between them. Antonius’ election to the augurate, the first step to the consulship, showed the direction of Caesar’s purposes. Caesar’s enemies held out a new opportunity to gain an army. Three years later he could boast that he had won the loyalty of his troops (BAf. 19.3)." Beyond that, we cannot go.".[15]

Pompey made Labienus commander of the cavalry. He attempted to convince Pompey to face Caesar in Italy and not retreat to Hispania (Iberian Peninsula, comprising modern Spain and Portugal) to regroup, insisting that Caesar’s army was thin and weakened after his campaign in Gaul.[16]

But Labienus's ill fortune under Pompey was as marked as his success had been under Caesar. From the defeat at the Battle of Pharsalus, he fled to Corcyra, and after hearing of the death of Pompey then proceeded to Africa. He created confidence in the followers of Pompey by lying to them, claiming that Caesar had received a mortal wound at the Battle of Pharsalus.[17] He was able through mere force of numbers to inflict a slight check upon Caesar at the Battle of Ruspina in 46 BC.[18] By condensing his force into dense formations, he tricked Caesar into thinking he had only foot soldiers, was able to rout Caesar’s cavalry and surround Caesar’s army. However, Labienus was unable to defeat Caesar's forces, and was compelled to leave the field. After the defeat at the Battle of Thapsus he joined Gnaeus Pompeius (son of Pompey the Great) in Hispania.

Death came to Labienus in the Battle of Munda, an evenly matched conflict between the armies of Caesar and the sons of Pompey. King Bogud, an ally of Caesar, and his army also approached the Pompeians from the rear. Labienus was commanding the Pompeians’ cavalry unit at the time and saw this and took the cavalry from the front lines to meet him. The Pompeian legions misinterpreted this as a retreat, became disheartened and began to break.[19] Pompey suffered massive casualties during the rout. This defeat ended the Roman Civil War. Labienus was killed during the rout. He was buried but according to Appian (BC2.105), his head was brought to Caesar.

Fictional accounts

Labienus is featured in The Gods of War, a novel by British author Conn Iggulden, though in a much reduced role, as his historical position as Caesar's second-in-command is filled instead by Marcus Junius Brutus, whose relationship with Caesar is conversely greatly expanded. He was also an important minor character in the later Masters of Rome novels by Australian author Colleen McCullough. In these, his first appearance is in the Trial of Rabirius, but this is placed rather later in the political year than it is usually stated as having been, orchestrated by Caesar as a reaction to Cicero's decision to have several Catiline conspirators executed without trial while the "Senatus Consultum Ultimum" is in force - rather than as a prior warning against such an action before the decree was even in place. He then falls on hard times because he had drawn the disfavour of Pompey for having an affair with his Picentine wife Mucia Tertia. He is portrayed latterly as a very capable but fierce and cruel soldier and commander, whose brilliance wins battles in Gaul, but whose brutality went some way towards alienating Caesar's Gallic allies and thus causing the battles in the first place. McCullough takes a somewhat different interpretation of the events, and has Caesar shunning Labienus, instead of Labienus defecting to Pompey. In the novels, Caesar disowns Labienus when it comes to civil war, not wanting him on his side because he is too cruel and unpredictable. Labienus was also featured in the BBC One docudrama Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire. Labienus is a prominent character in S.J.A. Turney's series 'Marius' Mules'.

See also


  1. 1 2 Tyrrell(3)
  2. Tyrrell(4)
  3. Tyrrell (9)
  4. Tyrrell(19)
  5. Dio(41.4.3)
  6. Bellum Gallicum(5.8)
  7. BG(2.23)
  8. BG(2.26)
  9. BG(5.57)
  10. BG(6.8)
  11. BG(7.61)
  12. BG(7.62)
  13. BG(8.52)
  14. M. Tullius Cicero (Fam, 16.12)
  15. Tyrrell, "Labienus' Departure from Caesar in January 49 B.C." Historia 21 (1972), 224-40
  16. Tyrrell (31)
  17. Sextus Julius Frontinius: Stratagems Book II
  18. Bellum Africum Book 41
  19. Dio(43.38)


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