Gnaeus Papirius Carbo (d.81 BC)

Gnaeus Papirius Carbo (d.81 BC) was the main leader of the Marian faction during Sulla's Second Civil War, and was killed after fleeing into exile in Africa as his cause began to collapse.

Carbo was the son of another Gn. Papirius Carbo, one of the consuls for 113 BC. He committed suicide after he was defeated by the Cimbri at the battle of Noreia (112 BC).

The younger Carbo served as tribune of the plebs in 92 BC. During his time in this post a meeting of the people got out of control, and he was blamed. A law was passed making the person who proposed a law responsible for any disorder caused by its discussion. He also put forward a law on the use of the secret ballot in some forms of voting.  

Carbo joined the anti-Sullan forces during Sulla's First Civil War, and took part in the siege of Rome of 87 BC, where he served alongside the consul Cinna and was posted 'opposite' the city walls, presumably besieging the walls facing away from the Tiber (Sertorius was posted above Rome on the Tiber and Marius between Rome and the sea). He then accompanied the Marian army as it moved away from Rome, and camped about 11 miles from the city, after cutting off supplies. Sulla's supporters made the mistake of leaving the city to face Cinna and Marius, and lost control of Rome. Cinna and Marius were invited in, the pro-Sullan Consul G. Octavius was killed, and Marius began a reign of terror that was ended by his death early in 86 BC.

The leadership of the Marian faction then fell to Cinna, who served as consul in 86, 85 and 84 BC. Carbo was his co-consul in 85 and 84 BC. When it became clear that Sulla was winning the war against Mithridates VI of Pontus, and would soon be free to return to Italy, Cinna and Carbo began to raise fresh armies, while also selecting themselves as the consuls for 83 BC. Cinna decided to take the battle to Sulla in the Balkans, but this badly backfired. The second detachment to cross the Adriatic was turned back by a storm and deserted once they were safely back in Italy. The rest of the army then refused to risk the crossing. Cinna attempted to put down the mutiny, but mishandled the situation and was murdered. Carbo was thus left in sole command, and refused to hold an election for a replacement for Cinna. However he also decided not to hold the consulship for 83 BC, which instead went to Gaius Norbanus and Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus. Carbo became the proconsul for Gaul for 83 BC.

Sulla invaded Italy in 83 BC. Carbo's role at the start of the war (Sulla's Second Civil War) isn't entirely clear. Plutarch reports that he commanded one of a series of armies sent to deal with the young Pompey, who was raising an army for Sulla in Picenum, but the details of this campaign appear to duplicate events elsewhere. In the second battle Scipio lost the loyaly of his army, which switched sides, and in the third Carbo is said to have been defeated in battle on the River Aesis. However Scipio lost the loyalty of his army in a better documented encounter against Sulla at Teanum, while one of Carbo's lieutenants was defeated on the Aesis in the first battle of 82 BC. These are probably the genuine incidents, rather than the versions of 83 BC.

As Sulla advanced towards Rome in 83 BC the two consuls both suffered defeats. Norbanus was defeated in battle at Casilinium or Mount Tifata, on the Volturnus River. Scipio agreed to peace talks at Teanum, a few miles to the north, where Sulla was able to convince his entire army to change sides. After this disaster Carbo is reported to have said that 'In making war upon the fox and the lion in Sulla, he was more annoyed by the fox'.

Carbo, who had probably accompanied one of these armies, rushed back to Rome, where he secured control of the city, and had Sulla's supporters declared public enemies. At about this point the Temple of Jupiter on the Capital burnt down, and some blamed Carbo for the disaster, but it wasn't clear if this was the case at the time. The campaign of 83 BC then began to wind down.

Carbo decided to serve as one of the consuls for 82 BC, alongside Marius the Younger, son of Gaius Marius, and despite his young age an powerful recruiting tool. Marius was given the task of facing Sulla to the south of Rome, while Carbo went north to deal with Metellus Pius and the young Pompey. We now come to the more likely battle of the Aesis, where Carbo's lieutenant Carinnas was defeated by Metellus at the river on the northern border of Picenum. Carbo then arrived and restored the situation, and forced Metellus to retreat north. He then besieged him at an unnamed location somewhere to the north of Ariminum (Rimini).

Carbo was soon forced to abandon the siege after bad news came from the south. Marius had been defeated at Sacriportus, and was now besieged in Praeneste. Carbo retreated back to Ariminum, with Pompey harassing him. He then continued to head back towards Rome, but he was beaten to the city by Sulla. Carbo stopped at Clusium, on the River Glanis, about eighty miles to the north of Rome.

Carbo now had three armies on different approaches to Rome. He was at Clusium, on the Via Cassia. To the west was a second force at Saturnia, on the Via Flaminia. To the east Carinnas was close to Spoletium, on the Via Clodia. He had also received some reinforcements - Celtiberian cavalry sent by the governors of Spain.

Sulla moved north from Rome. He defeated part of the Celtiberian cavalry on the Glanis River, and another 270 deserted to him. In response Carbo massacred the remaining cavalrymen, either as punishment or because he feared they would do the same. To the west Sulla's men defeated the detachment at Saturnia. This was followed by a day long battle between Sulla and Carbo (first battle of Clusium), but this ended inconclusively. Carbo probably retained control of the battlefield, but Sulla remained nearby.

To the east Pompey defeated Carinnas on the plains of Spoletium, and besieged him in the town. Carbo sent a force to try and lift the siege, but they were ambushed by Sulla and defeated. Carinnas still managed to escape under the cover of a storm.

Carbo's next move was to send Marcius with eight legions to try and raise the siege of Praeneste. This time Pompey ambushed the relief force, and Marcius escaped with only seven cohorts.

The Marians were now given the boost by the arrival of a large Italian army, of 70,000 Samnites and Lucanians, which threatened to lift the siege of Praeneste. Sulla was forced to dash south to prevent the Samnites from rescuing Marius, leaving Carbo free to dash north in an attempt to defeat Metellus Pius, who was still in Cisalpine Gaul.

This attack went disastrously wrong (Battle of Faventia). Carbo attempted a night attack, but his troops got caught up in vineyards, and Metellus was able to counterattack. Carbo lost most of his army - 10,000 dead and deserters - and he returned to Ariminum with only 1,000 men under arms. His ally Norbanus, who had also been involved in the disaster, decided that the war was lost and fled into exile in the east.

Carbo returned to his army north of Rome. He made one last attempt to raise the siege of Praeneste, sending Brutus Damasippus with two legions to try and break through Sulla's blocking force, but this effort failed. Soon afterwards news arrived that one of Carbo's armies had been defeated near Placentia, and the Gauls of Cisalpine Gaul had changed sides. Although Carbo still had at least 40,000 troops under his own command, this new broke his nerve, and he fled into exile in Africa.

Carbo didn't survive for long in exile. After Sulla had completed his victory in Italy, he sent Pompey to attack the Marian governor of Sicily. This was bad timing for Carbo, who had only just arrived in Sicily himself. He narrowly escaped from Pompey's men, and retreated to Cossyra (Pantellaria), but soon afterwards he fell into Pompey's hands. Pompey's reputation rather suffered after he interviewed Carbo before having him executed - other prisoners had been executed without being humiliated in the same way. Carbo's head was then sent to Sulla.  

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (19 March 2018), Gnaeus Papirius Carbo (d.81 BC) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_carbo.html

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