Ulpius Marcellus

Ulpius Marcellus – Governor of Britannia in post by 180AD, until c.184

This man must have led a vigorous series of campaign into southern Scotland, possibly with sorties across the Forth-Clyde isthmus into the southern highlands. Coins minted c.184AD celebrated major successes in Britain, but other coins produced the following year suggest that fighting still continued.

The mood in the British garrison towards the excessive emperor Commodus was rebellious, and this severe general did nothing to enhance the troops attitude towards the son of Marcus Aurelius, indeed, Marcellus may have contributed a great deal towards the causes of the unrest which was later to sweep through the Roman army in Britain. According to Dio the army in Britain hailed as emperor one Priscus, probably a legionary commander, who firmly declined the position, though this incident showed the general level of disaffection for the emperor’s policies, at least in the British army.

Bronze Sestertius of Commodus, Celebrating Ulpius’ Successes in Britain

P[ontifex] M[aximus] TR[ribunicia] P[otestas] X IMP[erator] VIII CO[n]S[ul] IIII P[atria] P[atriae] S[enatus] C[onsulto] VIC[toria] BRIT[annica]

“High Priest, Tribunician Power ten times,¹ hailed Imperator in the field eight times, Consul four times, Father of the Fatherland, by decree of the senate. Victory in Britain.”

His successor Virius Lupus reported that Caledonii had broken certain treaties (Dio LXXV.v.) and were preparing to aid the Maeatae, a confederation of tribes who lived to the north of Hadrian’s Wall. These agreements may have been forged by Ulpius Marcellus during his four or five year long term of office as governor.

Ulpius Sent by Commodus to Quell Unrest in Britain

“(1) He [Commodus] also had some wars with the barbarians beyond Dacia, in which Albinus and Niger, who later fought against the emperor Severus, won fame; but the greatest struggle was the one with the Britons. (2) When the tribes in that island, crossing the wall that separated them from the Roman legions, proceeded to do much mischief and cut down a general together with his troops, Commodus became alarmed and sent Ulpius Marcellus against them. (3) This man, who was temperate and frugal and always lived like a soldier in the matter of his food as well as in everything else when he was at war, was becoming haughty and arrogant; he was most conspicuously incorrupible, and yet was not of a pleasant or kindly nature. (4) He showed himself more wakeful than any other general, and as he wished the others who were associated with him to be alert also, he used to write orders on twelve tablets, such as are made out of linden wood, almost every evening, and bid an aide to deliver them to such-and-such persons at various hours, so that these officers, believing the general to be always awake, might not themselves take thier fill of sleep. For nature in the first place had made him able to resist sleep, and he had developed this faculty by the discipline of fasting. (5) For in general he would never eat to satiety, and in order that he might not take his fill even of bread, he used to send to Rome for it. This was not because he could not eat the bread of the country, but in order that his bread might be so stale that he should be unable to eat even a small portion more than was absolutely necessary; for his gums were tender and, if the bread was very dry, would soon begin to bleed. However, he puposely exaggerated his natural tendency by simulating, in order that he might have the greatest possible reputation for wakefullness. (6) Such a man was Marcellus; and he ruthlessly put down the barbarians of Britain, and later, when, thanks to his peculiar excellence, he was all but on the point of being put to death by Commodus, he was nevertheless pardoned.”

Cassius Dio History of Rome LXXII.viii.1-6; Epitome of Xiphilinus (184AD)

Ulpius Marcellus – Epigraphic Evidence

RIB 1329 Benwell, Tyne & Wear RIB 1463/1464 Chesters, Northumberland

Benwell, Tyne & Wear RIB 1329 [altarstone; dated: 177-5AD] DEO ANOCITICO IVDICIIS OPTIMORVM MAXIMORVM QVE IMP N SVB VLP MARCELLO COS TINEIVS LONGVS IN PREFECTVRA EQVITVM LATO CLAVO EXORNATVS ET Q D “To the god Antenociticus, by the judgements of our Best and Greatest of emperors, under Ulpius Marcellus the consular [governor], Tineius Longus, while serving in the office of Prefect of Cavalry, [was] adorned with the broad stripe [of a senator] and assigned the Quaestorship”.

Chesters, Northumberland RIB 1463 [dated: 176-84AD] AQVA ADDVCTA ALAE II ASTVR SVB VLP MARCELLO LEG AVG PR PR “[This] aqueduct was introduced by the Second Wing of Asturians under Ulpius Marcellus, legate of the emperor with pro-praetorian power”.

Also at Chesters RIB 1464 [dated: 176-84AD] … ALA II ASTVRVM SVB VLPIO MARCELLO LEG PR PR “[…] the Second Wing of Asturians under Ulpius Marcellus the pro-praetorian legate”.