Text #9755"Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sura", in .
Publius Cornelius Lentulus, nicknamed Sura, (114 BC – 5 December 63 BC) was one of the chief figures in the Catilinarian conspiracy and also a stepfather of Mark Antony.
When accused by Sulla (to whom he had been quaestor in 81 BC) of having squandered the public money, he refused to render any account, but insolently held out the calf of his leg (sura), on which part of the person boys were punished when they made mistakes in playing ball, akin to inviting a slap on the wrist. He was praetor in 75 BC, governor of Sicily in 74 BC, and consul in 71 BC.
In 70, being expelled from the senate with a number of others for immorality, he allegedly joined Catiline. Said to have been relying upon a Sibylline oracle that three Cornelii should be rulers of Rome, Lentulus regarded himself as the destined successor of Lucius Cornelius Sulla and Lucius Cornelius Cinna. When Catiline left Rome after Cicero’s second speech In Catilinam, Lentulus allegedly took his place as chief of the conspirators in the city. According to Cicero, in conjunction with C. Cornelius Cethegus, he undertook to murder Cicero and set fire to Rome, but the plot failed owing to his timidity and indiscretion - or to the fact that such a plot never existed.
Ambassadors from the Allobroges being at the time in Rome, the bearers of a complaint against the oppressions of provincial governors, Lentulus allegedly made overtures to them, with the object of obtaining armed assistance. Pretending to fall in with his views, the ambassadors obtained a written agreement signed by the chief conspirators, and informed Q. Fabius Sanga, their “patron” in Rome, who in his turn acquainted Cicero who may have threatened the Allobroges in order to get them to play their part in his set-up of Sura.
The conspirators were arrested and forced to admit their guilt. Lentulus was compelled to abdicate his praetorship, and, as it was feared that there might be an attempt to rescue him, he was put to death in the Tullianum on 5 December 63 BC, along with other senatorial supporters of Catiline.
The legitimacy of these killings, which were carried out on the personal command of the consuls and without a judicial trial, was disputed. Cicero argued that his actions were lawful under the Senatus consultum ultimum, but was exiled in 58 BC after the apprehension of people’s tribune Publius Clodius Pulcher, accused of mastering the unlawful execution of Roman citizens, among them Sura. He was recalled the following year, though, by a vote of the senate.
Cicero had cause to regret his actions, as his treatment of Lentulus was one of the reasons why Mark Antony, Lentulus’ stepson, later demanded Cicero’s own execution as a condition of his joining the Second Triumvirate.
Dio Cassius xxxvii. 30, xlvi. 20
Plutarch, Cicero, 17
Cicero, In Catilinam, iii., iv.; Pro Sulla, 25.
March, Duane A. (1989), “Cicero and the ‘Gang of Five’”, Classical World, Volume 82, p.225–234.
Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.