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Tiberius Claudius Balbilus

Tiberius Claudius Balbilus

The basics
Quick Facts
Occupations Astrologer
Gender male
Birth Alexandria
Death Rome
The details

Tiberius Claudius Balbilus, his full name Tiberius Claudius Balbillus Modestus, also known as Tiberius Claudius Balbillus, Barbillus, Babilus, Balbillus and Balbillus the Wise (Tiberius Claudius Balbillus Modestus in Greek: Τιβέριος Κλαύδιος Βαλβίλλος Μόδεστος, 3-79) was a distinguished Ancient Roman Scholar, Politician and a court Astrologer to the Roman emperors Claudius, Nero and Vespasian in the 1st century.

Descent, Family Background & Early Life

The assuming birthplace of Balbilus has been Alexandria, in the Roman Province of Egypt. Balbilus was a Roman Egyptian nobleman mostly of Greek and partly of Armenian and Median descent. Balbilus was the son and the younger child born to Tiberius Claudius Thrasyllus also known as Thrasyllus of Mendes a Grammarian, Literary Commentator, Court Astrologer who became the personal friend of the Roman emperor Tiberius and Aka II of Commagene, a Princess from the Kingdom of Commagene being a great, granddaughter of Antiochus I Theos of Commagene and his wife, Isias Philostorgos.

Balbilus had one known sibling, an elder unnamed sister. His sister married the Eques Lucius Ennius. Through her, Balbilus was the maternal uncle of Ennia Thrasylla who married the Praetorian prefect of the Praetorian Guard Naevius Sutorius Macro and perhaps, Lucius Ennius who was the father of Lucius Ennius Ferox, a Roman Soldier who served during the reign of the Roman emperor Vespasian from 69 until 79. Although, Balbilus was born and raised in Egypt, he was of the Roman equestrian order. Balbilus was a friend of Tiberius’ nephew, Claudius, whom Balbilus knew from when they were children and had met at his father’s house.

According to a surviving Papyrus found in Theogonis Egypt, dated August 26, 34, mentions Balbilus as one of the owners of a bathhouse located in the city and the Papyrus mentions the Lease of the Bathhouse and taxation paid from its revenue. In the reign of Roman emperor Caligula 37-41, Balbilus left Rome and returned to Alexandria.

Political career

After the assassination of Caligula on January 24, 41, his paternal uncle Claudius succeeded him as Roman emperor. The political career of Balbilus started in the reign of Claudius. Balbilus left Alexandria to go to Rome, to support Claudius as a friend when he became emperor. Balbilus accompanied Claudius on his expedition to Britain in 43 in a military capacity, serving as an officer in the 20th legion (Legio XX Valeria Victrix). He served in the Roman legion, as a Military Tribune and the Commander of the Military Engineers, thus being of the first Greek people to be in Britain. When Claudius with the Roman Legions returned from Britain to Rome, Balbilus was awarded a crown of honor.

According to Suetonius (Claud.28,1), Claudius rewarded Balbilus a Hasta Pura and perhaps a corona aurea during the Triumph to celebrate the conquest of Britain in 44. As Balbilus was a part of his retinue, it seems likely that his awards, as much as his military rank, were honorary.

Balbilus was one of the highest ranking Equestrian Magistrates that served in Rome. After Balbilus returned to Rome from the Roman conquest of Britain, he received an important post in Egypt. In Alexandria, Balbilus was appointed High Priest at the Temple of Hermes and Director of the Library, he split his time between Alexandria and Rome. Sometime after he served as a Procurator of the Asia province.

In October 54, Claudius died and was succeeded by Nero as Roman emperor. Under Nero, Balbilus was appointed Prefect of Egypt where he served from 55 until 59. After his Prefecture ended in Egypt, Balbilus continued to live in Alexandria.


Balbilus succeeded to his father’s skill in astrology. He was a leading astrologer of his time in Rome. He remained in Rome during Claudius’ reign as his advisor, after he had passed an edict expelling all astrologers from the city and foretold an eclipse which fell on one of the emperor’s birthdays.

During the reign of Nero 54 til 68, Balbilus served as an astrological adviser to him and his mother, Agrippina the Younger. A comet had passed across the sky in either 60 or 64, signalling the death of a great personage. Balbilus tried to calm Nero’s fears by noting that the usual solution was to murder prominent citizens, thus appeasing the Gods and Nero agreed, killing many nobles. As Balbilus proved to be a distinct Astrologer, he avoided the fatal end of many astrologers under Nero.

During the reign of Roman emperor Vespasian from 69 until 79, Balbilus returned to Rome from Alexandria. In Rome, Balbilus served as an Astrologer to Vespasian and found favor with the emperor.

Balbilus was a learned man. Seneca the Younger describes him as ‘an excellent man of most rare learning in every branch of studies’. He wrote an astrology treatise, titled Astrologumena which fragments from the book have survived. The book was addressed to Hermogenes.

Family & Issue

The identity of the wife of Balbilus is unknown and most probably she was a Greek noblewoman perhaps from the aristocracy of the Roman Near East. There is a possibility that the wife of Balbilus may have been royalty regardless, if she was Commagenian or other. From the union with his wife, Balbilus had a daughter called Claudia Capitolina. Claudia Capitolina is his only known child. The nomen Claudia she inherited from her father’s family while the Cognomen Capitolina, she may have inherited from her mother’s family.

In 64, Capitolina married her second paternal cousin the Prince from Commagene, Gaius Julius Archelaus Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus IV of Commagene, and his sister-wife, Queen Iotapa. Capitolina bore Epiphanes one son, called Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos and one daughter, called Julia Balbilla.

Balbilus has two further namesakes the Emesene Priests of the cult of El-Gebal in Rome, Tiberius Julius Balbillus and his relative, Titus Julius Balbillus who lived in the second half of the 2nd century and the first half of the 3rd century. Like Balbilus, Tiberius Julius Balbillus and Titus Julius Balbillus were descendants of the King Antiochus I Theos of Commagene, through Balbilus’ maternal uncle Iotapa who married into the Emesani dynasty.

Posthumous Honors

Although Balbilus died in 79, he may have died in June of that year around the same time that Vespasian did. In his later years Balbilus lived in Ephesus. Vespasian granted privileges to him and his city of Ephesus because of his proficiency in the art.

As Vespasian thought very highly of him and favored him to the extent, that he dedicated and allowed Ephesians to institute games held in his honor. The games held in his honor became a sporting festival called the Balbillean Games. Named after him, the event was held at Ephesus from 79 well into the 3rd century. An inscription in Ephesus honors Balbilus and his daughter.

Balbilus is honored by his granddaughter Julia Balbilla in two epigrams in Aeolic Greek which is dated in 130. The two epigrams are a part of four epigrams recorded which are inscribed and are preserved on lower parts on one of the Colossi of Memnon. The Colossi of Memnon are two massive stone statues built by the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep III (flourished 14th century BC), to stand guard at the entrance of Amenhotep’s memorial temple. Balbilla had travelled to Egypt and was the escort to the Roman emperor Hadrian with his wife, Vibia Sabina in the country. The inscriptions that Balbilla commissioned commemorated their visit to the country.

Balbilla by inscribing her name on the Colossi of Memnon, she is acknowledging and making reference to her royal and aristocratic descent. In the last two lines of the second epigram, she honors her family including Balbilus:

For my parents were noble, and my grandfathers,
The wise Balbillus and Antiochus the king.

The fourth and final epigram, Balbilla dedicates to her parents and grandfathers. This epigram is dedicated also to her noble and aristocratic blood. In the epigram, Balbilla mentions that Balbilus has royal lineage.

For pious were my parents and grandfathers: Balbillus the Wise and King
Antiochus; Balbillus, the father of my mother of royal blood and king
Antiochus, the father of my father. From their line I too draw my noble
blood, and these verses are mine, pious Balbilla.
  • Laale, Ephesus (Ephesos): An Abbreviated History from Androclus to Constantine Xi, p.200
  • Bunsen, Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire, p.52
  • Bunsen, Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire, p.52
  • Beck, Beck on Mithraism: Collected Works With New Essays, p.43
  • Laale, Ephesus (Ephesos): An Abbreviated History from Androclus to Constantine Xi, p.200
  • Laale, Ephesus (Ephesos): An Abbreviated History from Androclus to Constantine Xi, p.200

Balbilus in Fiction

  • The Hasta Pura of Balbilus is mentioned in the second part of the novel series, written by Robert Graves, I, Claudius and Claudius the God. Graves calls the decoration an "Arrow without a head" and refers to its award to Balbilus.
  • Balbilus's somewhat dubious role as court astrologer is referred to throughout the fourth to sixth parts of the novel series Romanike by Codex Regius (2006-2014)
  • See Claudius the God and his Wife Messalina. London: Arthur Barker, 1934; New York: Smith & Haas, 1935
  • http://www.opus-gemini.de

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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