Quintus Lollius Urbicus

Quintus Lollius Urbicus was a Berber[1][2] governor of Roman Britain between the years 139 and 142, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius. He is named in the Historia Augusta, although it is not entirely historical, and his name appears on five Roman inscriptions from Britain; his career is set out in detail on a pair of inscriptions set up in his native Tiddis, near Cirta, Numidia.

Early life

Lollius Urbicus was the son of Marcus Lollius Senecio, who was a Berber Numidian landowner,[3] and his wife Grania Honorata.[4]

Early career

The early senatorial career of Lollius Urbicus is known from a detailed inscription erected in Tiddis.[5] After a military tribunate with the Twenty-second Legion at Mainz, he entered the Senate and served for a year as legate to the proconsul of Asia. He quickly rose to prominence as the emperor Hadrian's candidate, and commanded the Tenth Legion at Vienna. He was decorated for service as a legate during Hadrian's Jewish War of 132–135. His consulship can be placed in 135 or 136, after which he governed Germania Inferior. He was transferred to Britannia soon after Hadrian's death.[6]

Governor of Britain

According to the Augustan History, the emperor Antoninus Pius "defeated the Britons through the agency of the legate Lollius Urbicus".[7] It seems that, in a reversal of Hadrianic policy in Britain, he sent Lollius Urbicus to effect the reconquest of Lowland Scotland. Between 139 and 140 Urbicus refurbished the fort at Corbridge,[8] in preparation for the move north of Hadrian's Wall, and commemorative coins were issued in 142 celebrating a victory in Britain.[9] It is therefore likely that Urbicus led the reoccupation of southern Scotland in 141, using all three legions and a variety of auxiliary units. In 143 he oversaw the initial construction of the Antonine Wall; he is explicitly named on building inscriptions from Balmuildy.[10]

No historical source describes the Antonine invasion, so any attempted reconstruction will be purely speculative. Urbicus may have campaigned against several British tribes (possibly including factions of the northern Brigantes), certainly against the lowland tribes of Scotland; the Votadini and the Selgovae of the Scottish Borders region, also the Damnonii of Strathclyde and the Novantae of Dumfries and Galloway. All three of the legions of Britain will have taken part (the Second Augusta based at Caerleon, the Sixth Victrix based at York and the Twentieth Valeria Victrix based at Chester), as they are all mentioned on the inscriptions recording building work undertaken along the Antonine Wall. This legionary core was, no doubt, backed up by a substantial contingent of auxiliary units, of which we have record of around nine regiments (e.g. RIB 1276, 2140, 2142, 2149, 2155, 3509).

It seems likely that Urbicus planned his campaign of attack from Corbridge in Northumberland, just to the rear of Hadrians Wall, as dedicatory inscriptions positively dated to the early 140s have been uncovered at the Antonine storage-depot there. From here he drove north-north-west into the Scottish Borders along the Agricolan military road Dere Street, leaving garrison forts at High Rochester in Northumberland and possibly also at Newstead in the Borders, as he struck towards the Firth of Forth. Both of these sites, likewise similar such military installations at Risingham, Chew Green, Cappuck and Inveresk were very likely used as bases from which to police the lowland tribes, the Votadini to the east and the Selgovae to the west.

Having secured an overland supply route for military personnel and equipment along Dere Street, Urbicus very likely set up a supply port at Carriden for the supply of grain and other foodstuffs before proceeding against the Dumnonii tribe who inhabited South Strathclyde. This done, came the task of completing a new barrier of turf and timber stretching for thirty-five miles from east to west across the narrow neck of land separating the mighty Rivers Forth and Clyde, nowadays known as the Antonine Wall.

Later career

Urbicus returned to Rome with the prospect of the prestigious post of praefectus urbi (Prefect of Rome), which he probably held in AD 146, after the death of the incumbent, Sextus Erucius Clarus. He was perhaps the praefectus urbi who is known to have died in AD 160.[11]

One recorded activity of Urbicus while praefectus urbi was his presiding at the trial of one Ptolemaeus, who had been accused by her ex-husband of being a Christian; she admitted to the prefect that she was indeed a Christian and was sentenced to death. This trial led Justin Martyr, who had converted her, to write his Apology to plead for her life.[12]

Citing Urbicus' career inscription, Colin Wells offers an eloquent account of what today might be dubbed the "multiculturalism" and equal opportunity of life in the Roman Empire. He concludes that: "At no other period of history could the second or third son of a Berber landowner from a very small town in the interior enjoy a career which took him to Asia, Judaea, the Danube . . . the lower Rhine and Great Britain, culminating in a position of great power and honor in the capital of the empire to which all these regions belonged."[13]

See also


  1. Gnammankou, Dieudonné; Modzinou, Yao (2008). Les Africains et leurs descendants en Europe avant le XXe siècle: actes du colloque international, 8-10 décembre 2005, Maison de la recherche, Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail organisé par la Maison de l'Afrique à Toulouse (La MAT) (in French). MAT Editions. p. 41. ISBN 9782953120905.
  2. Moffat, Alistair (2011-05-23). The Faded Map: The Lost Kingdoms of Scotland. Birlinn. ISBN 9780857900579.
  3. Freeman, Charles (2014-03-01). Egypt, Greece, and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean. Oxford University Press. p. 508. ISBN 9780199651917.
  4. His family is named on the four sides of a pillar from Tiddis, CIL VIII, 6705 ("For his father Marcus Lollius Senecio, his mother Grania Honorata, his brother Lucius Lollius Senex, his brother Marcus Lollius Honoratus, and his uncle Publius Granius Paulus, Quintus Lollius Urbicus the Prefect of the City (set this up)").
  5. CIL VIII, 6706 The posts are shown in reverse order, sandwiched between the twin honours of the consulship (top) and his patronage of his hometown (bottom).
  6. W. Eck, Die Statthalter der germanischen Provinzen vom 1.-3. Jahrhundert (Epigraphische Studien Band 14, Cologne/Bonn, 1985, p. 168.
  7. Historia Augusta, Antoninus Pius 5.4.
  8. RIB 1147 and 1148. Rebuilding was also under way at High Rochester, RIB 1276.
  9. The coins (RIC 745) showing the figure of Britannia as the reverse image are broadly datable to the period AD 140–142 by Pius' titulature (ANTONINUS AUG PIUS P P TR P COS III), but the reverse legend (IMPERATOR II) can be dated by cross-reference to the Puteoli inscription (CIL X, 515) linking IMP II with TRIB POT V (AD 142).
  10. RIB 2191 and 2192. The inscriptions are undated within the reign of Antoninus Pius, but probably relate to AD 142 or 143.
  11. L. Vidman, Fasti Ostienses (2nd edn, 1982), p. 52: [... Q Lollius Urbicus praef(ectus) u]rb(is) excessi[t].
  12. Anthony R. Birley, Marcus Aurelius: A Biography (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 111f
  13. Collin Wells. The Roman empire p. 226. Harvard University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-674-77770-0


External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Unknown, then
Publius Mummius Sisenna
Roman governors of Britain
Between 139 and 142
Succeeded by
Gnaeus Papirius Aelianus
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