Lucius Coelius Antipater

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L. Coelius Antipater was a historian and jurist in the time of M. Scaurus.



Very little direct biographical information about L. Coelius survives. Cicero seems to regard him as a contemporary of Q. Scaevola the augur, who was born around the year Template:-160; Pomponius, less helpfully, lists him among a range of men who were probably born between the years Template:-175 and C. Laelio Q. Caepione cos. (DCXIV a.u.c.).[1]

 He was a teacher and friend of the orator L. Crassus, who was born C. Laelio Q. Caepione cos. (DCXIV a.u.c.), and was old enough to remember C. Gracchus, who died L. Opimio Q. Maximo cos. (DCXXXIII a.u.c.).[2]

 Cicero's de oratore, set L. Philippo Sex. Caesare cos. (DCLXIII a.u.c.), seems to speak of him as no longer living, though this is not decisive.[3]

It is difficult to be sure of Antipater's social status. His cognomen is Greek and may suggest a slave ancestry, but probably quite a remote one, for references by Cicero seem to treat him as thoroughly respectable.[4]

 Moreover, the composition of histories and legal texts in Latin prose seems at this time to have been a largely aristocratic acitivity.[5]

 He may possibly have been the father of the C. Antipater who was killed while serving in the army of C. Norbanus C. Mario Cn. Carbone (III) cos. (DCLXXII a.u.c.).[6]

Legal thought

It is unclear from Pomponius whether Antipater wrote books on law or whether his contributions to legal science were simply by way of responsa; in any case they do not seem to have been very significant and are not quoted by later legal writers.[7]

 It is true that Cicero calls him "very learned in law", but in the long run he was remembered principally as a historian.[8]

Historical works

Antipater was a significant figure in the development of Roman historical writing and is occasionally cited by later historians. He probably wrote at least two historical works, one of which was known as "Histories".[9]

 His works covered events including the year M. Minucio (II) A. Sempronio (II) cos. (CCLXIII a.u.c.), the Hannibalic war, and the tribunate of C. Gracchus; in short, he seems to have covered the entire sweep of Roman history from at least the beginning of the republic up to his own lifetime.[10]

One of Antipater's sources for his account of the war with Hannibal was the history written in Greek by Silenus of Calatia; another was Cato's.[11]

 He himself was used as a major source for that period by later writers.[12]

 Coelius is called a "reliable authority" by Valerius Maximus, though Valerius was perhaps not the most critical judge of sources;[13]

at any rate he appears to have been detailed and, like Livy, to have taken care when recording disputed events to mention the various different versions and to cite his source for each.[14]

 On the other hand Livy has occasion to accuse him of hyperbole.[15]

A certain Brutus, perhaps the Caesaricide, later made an epitome of Antipater's work that was consulted (or at least wanted) by Cicero.[16]


Though he wrote about a long stretch of history, it seems that Coelius was used by later historians principally as a source for the events of the war against Hannibal, and through Livy we owe much of our own knowledge of those events to him. But he may in the long run have been equally significant for his prose style, for which he was famous in his day and which began to lift factual writing to the level of an art;[17]

indeed he may have deliberately set out to do this.[18]

 By his influence on L. Crassus he may indeed have had a similar effect, indirectly, on Roman oratory.


  1. Cicero, Brutus, 26.102; Justinian, digesta, (mentioning P. Rutilius, Q. Aelius, Sex. Pompeius, and (if we make two small emendations to the text) P. Crassus Mucianus).
  2. Crassus: Cicero, Brutus, 26.102 (as a teacher); de oratore, 2.12.54 (as a friend). Gracchus: Cicero, de divinatione, 1.26.56, Valerius Maximus, 1.7.6.
  3. Cicero, de oratore, 2.12.54-13.54; 3.38.153.
  4. E.g., Cicero, Brutus, 26.102; de oratore, 2.12.54.
  5. Among historians we think of L. Piso Frugi, Sempronius Asellio, L. Sisenna, and of course M. Cato; among legal writers, M. Brutus, P. Scaevola, and M'. Manilius.
  6. Appian, bellum civile, 1.91. This identification is suggested by, for example, Brennan, T.C., The Praetorship In The Roman Republic (Oxford University Press, 2000), vol.2 p.380.
  7. Justinian, digesta,
  8. "iuris valde peritus": Cicero, Brutus, 26.102.
  9. Gellius and Macrobius refer to historiae (Gellius, 10.24.6; Macrobius, 1.4.25) comprising at least two books, the second of which featured events from the Hannibalic war. We know that Coelius also wrote about events as early as the first generation of the republic (see the next footnote), and it seems unlikely that the historiae covered the three hundred odd years from then to the time of Hannibal within its first two books, so there must have been at least one other work in which the period up to the Punic wars was dealt with. One of his works had at least three books: Gellius, 10.1.3.
  10. The Hannibalic war was evidently dealt with in the second book of the "Histories": Gellius, 10.24.6; Macrobius, 1.4.25. The story of the T. Latinius took place M. Minucio (II) A. Sempronio (II) cos. (CCLXIII a.u.c.) but Cicero, de divinatione, 1.26.55, does not say where in Coelius' work he finds the story; nor does either he (de divinatione, 1.26.56) or Valerius Maximus (1.7.6, probably taken from that passage of Cicero) say where the story of Gracchus' dream was to be found.
  11. Silenus: Cicero, de divinatione, 1.24.49. Cato: Gellius, 10.24.7; Macrobius, 1.4.25-26.
  12. Among others, Livy, 21.38, 26.11, 27.27, 28.46, 29.25, 29.27, 29.35; Cicero, de divinatione, 1.24.48, 1.35.78; Gellius, 10.24.7; Macrobius, 1.4.25-26. He was probably, along with Polybius, Livy's principal source for the period.
  13. "... certus Romanae historiae auctor": Valerius Maximus, 1.7.6.
  14. E.g., Livy, 27.27, which also shows that Coelius did (or claimed to have done) original research of his own.
  15. Livy, 29.25.
  16. Cicero, ad Atticum, 13.8.
  17. His fame: Cicero, Brutus, 26.201. Livy, 29.25, suggests a certain penchant for dramataic writing.
  18. Pomponius suggests that he was more interested in style than in content, at least as far as legal writing was concerned: Justinian, digesta, The fact that Coelius was the teacher of that great rhetorical stylist L. Crassus is also suggestive on this point.

Warning: Default sort key "Coelius" overrides earlier default sort key "Lucius Coelius Antipater".

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