Silius Italicus Biography

Silius Italicus, in full Tiberius Catius Asconius Silius Italicus (ca. 28 – ca. 103), was a Roman consul, orator, and Latin epic poet of the 1st century CE (Silver Age of Latin literature). His only surviving work is the 17-book Punica, an epic poem about the Second Punic War and the longest surviving poem in Latin at over 12,000 lines.

Sources and birthplace

The sources for the life of Silius Italicus are primarily letter 3.7 of Pliny the Younger, which is a description of the poet's life written on the occasion of his suicide, some inscriptions, and several epigrams by the poet Martial. Silius is believed to have been born between 23 and 35 CE, but his birthplace has not been securely identified. Italica, in the Roman province of Hispania i.e., Spain was once considered the prime candidate, based on his cognomen Italicus, but if that were the case Latin usage would have demanded the form Italicensis, and it is highly improbable that Martial would have failed to name him among the literary celebrities of Spain in the latter half of the 1st century. The city of Patavium, Padua has been suggested by J. D. Campbell based on a seeming bias in favor of the region in the Punica and the prevalence of the name Asconius in inscriptions from the region.

Political career

In early life Silius was a renowned forensic orator, later a safe and cautious politician. Silius was generally believed to have voluntarily and enthusiastically become an informer under Nero, prosecuting in court persons whom the emperor wished condemned. He was consul in the year of Nero's death (68 CE), and afterward became a close friend and ally of the emperor Vitellius, whom he served, according to Pliny sapienter et comiter, wisely and amicably. He is mentioned by Tacitus as having been one of two witnesses who were present at the conferences between Vitellius and Flavius Sabinus, the elder brother of Vespasian, when the legions from the East were marching rapidly on the capital. Silius became proconsul of Asia ca. 77 CE as attested in an inscription from Aphrodisias which describes his activities in maintaining the institutions of the city. According to Pliny 3.7, he performed his duties well and earned himself a place of importance in the empire.