Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus (c. 102 BC – 48 BC) was a politician of the late Roman Republic. An opponent of Julius Caesar, he was consul alongside Caesar in 59 BC, and fought against him in the civil war that broke out between Caesar and Pompey in 49 BC.
Early years and Consulship
A member of the plebeian Calpurnia clan, Bibulus served as Curule aedile alongside Julius Caesar in 21 BC, who proceeded to overshadow Bibulus throughout his year in office, particularly in the provision of the Ludi Romani. He again served alongside Caesar in 21 BC when both were elected praetor, opposing him at every opportunity. During his term in office, Bibulus was called upon to suppress supporters of Catiline’s rebellion among the Paeligni.
Married as he was to the daughter of Marcus Porcius Cato Uticencis, another implacable opponent of Caesar, Bibulus was firmly in the camp of the self described boni, politicians who believed that the traditional role of the Senate was being usurped by the Roman assemblies of the people for the benefit of a few power hungry individuals, and thus were against anyone who was determined to use the legislative assemblies to reform the state, of which Julius Caesar was a primary example. Consequently, when Caesar nominated himself to stand for the consular elections of 21 BC, with the support of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Marcus Licinius Crassus, Cato and the rest of the boni, fearing him to be a radical who would destroy the Mos maiorum, bribed heavily in order to ensure that Bibulus would be his consular colleague. He succeeded, defeating Caesar’s preferred consular candidate, Lucius Lucceius.
Entering into office, Bibulus began his term as consul by vetoing Caesar’s proposed bill to purchase land in order to discharge and settle Pompey's soldiers who had returned from the east some years previously. After successfully delaying the passage of the bill in the Senate, Caesar was forced to take the bill to the Centuriate Assembly, where Bibulus was able to secure the support of three Plebeian Tribunes in order to block the passage of the bill. However, Pompey and Crassus publicly supported Caesar’s bill, and the opposition to Bibulus was such, especially after he told the voters that he did not care about what they wanted that his Tribunes were unwilling to veto the bill. Bibulus then proceeded to declare that the rest of the days on which the Centuriate Assembly could meet would be religious holidays. Caesar ignored this, and set the date upon which the vote was to take place; on the day of the vote, Bibulus and two of his tribunes mounted the steps of the Temple of Castor and Pollux and attempted to denounce the bill, upon which the crowd broke his fasces, pushed him to the ground and dumped feces on him. Getting up, Bibulus uncovered his neck and shouted to the crowd to kill him, but was persuaded by his fellow senators to leave and regroup at a nearby temple, as the assembly proceeded to pass the bill. The following day, Bibulus entered the Senate where he made a formal complaint about the treatment which he had suffered, and appealed to the Senate to annul the law, but this was not acted upon. He then resisted swearing an oath to uphold the new law, but was eventually convinced to take the oath. After this in March 59, Bibulus stopped attending the meetings of the Senate, leaving Caesar with complete control over the consulship, although he occasionally issued complaints against Caesar and Pompey, which led to attacks on his house from Caesar and Pompey's supporters. For the rest of the year, supporters of the First Triumvirate mocked Bibulus by declaring that the two consuls were really "Julius and Caesar"; Bibulus returned the insult by referring to his co-consul as the "Queen of Bithynia," an allusion to Caesar's alleged love affair with the king of Bithynia. He also alleged that Caesar had been involved in the first conspiracy of Catiline. Bibulus then spent the remainder of his term sequestered in his house where he claimed he was watching for omens, an act that purported to technically invalidate all legislation passed that year.
By the middle of his consulship, Caesar’s popularity apparently began to wane, whilst Bibulus’s popularity was, according to Cicero, on the rise, mostly due to his vitriolic attacks on Caesar. Seeking to further cause trouble for Caesar and Pompey, in July he directed that the consular elections for 58 were to be postponed until October 18. However, in August, Bibulus, alongside one of the consular candidates for 58, Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Crus, were accused by Lucius Vettius of being involved in a plot to assassinate Pompey. Bibulus responded by declaring that he had warned Pompey of the possibility of an assassination attempt on May 13. Vettius was then murdered the day before Bibulus was going to be questioned about his alleged involvement in the plot, and Lentulus was unsuccessful when the delayed elections finally took place.
Bibulus tried again to block Caesar’s five year appointment as governor of the provinces of Cisalpine Gaul and Transalpine Gaul by declaring that no public business could be conducted whilst he observed the sky for omens, but was again rebuffed by Pompey and one of the consul-designates who supported Caesar’s appointment. Finally, at the end of the year, Bibulus emerged from his self-enforced retirement. When he presented himself before the assembly, he took the traditional oath declaring he had done his duty in his consulship. He was then about to justify his actions as consul when the new Tribune of the Plebs, Publius Clodius Pulcher, used his veto to prohibit Bibulus from speaking further.
Civil war and death
Throughout the 50s, Bibulus continued to attack Pompey in the Senate, blaming him for the fighting between Publius Clodius and Titus Annius Milo in 56 BC, to the point where Pompey was convinced that Bibulus was in league with plotters who were intent on assassinating him. He also voted against Pompey being granted permission to go to Egypt in person to restore Ptolemy XII Auletes to his throne. Nevertheless, by the end of the 50s, Pompey had been cynically embraced by the ‘’boni’’, who saw in him a champion to bring down Caesar. As a consular senator, in 52 BC, Bibulus proposed an unconstitutional and illegal resolution, which the Senate accepted, allowing Pompey to serve as sole consul in 52 BC to deal with the breakdown of order in Rome after the murder of Publius Clodius.
As a result of a law passed by Pompey during his sole consulship, proscribing that governorships could not be held by persons who had served as praetor or consul within five years of leaving office, Bibulus was appointed governor of Syria in 51 BC. He offended the army there by claiming the victory won by Gaius Cassius Longinus over the Parthians at Antioch, for which the Senate granted Bibulus a thanksgiving of twenty days. With the Parthian threat still present, Bibulus sent two of his sons to Egypt in 50 BC to demand the recall of the Roman soldiers who had settled there, but were killed by the soldiers who refused to march. When Cleopatra sent him the murderers to be punished, he returned them saying it was up to the Senate to punish them.
Finishing his governorship, he returned to the west in 49 BC, to find that civil war had erupted between Caesar and Pompey. Joining up with Pompey, he was placed in charge of Pompey’s fleet in the Adriatic, to ensure that Caesar and his troops could not cross from Brundisium in Italy to Epirus. Letting his guard down because winter was approaching and assuming that Caesar would not cross any time soon, Bibulus was caught by surprise when on the evening of November 6, 49 BC, Caesar and his fleet successfully crossed the Adriatic, landing at Palaeste. Although Bibulus was stationed near Corcyra, some 50 miles south of Palaeste, he had not sent out scouts and his ships were not ready to be put out to sea to intercept Caesar’s transports. When he finally heard of Caesar’s crossing, he ordered his rowers to return to their ships, and sailed northward, hoping to capture the ships carrying Caesar’s reinforcements from Brundisium. Again too slow, he managed to get there for their return journey to Italy, capturing and burning 30 of Caesar’s transports. He then maneuvered to prevent any further ships crossing to reinforce Caesar, but only succeeded in capturing one transport, which had been chartered by some private individuals and had refused to obey Bibulus’s orders. Enraged, he ordered the killing of the entire crew of the transport.
Bibulus then proceeded to blockade all the harbors along the coast, hoping to prevent any further crossings from Italy, and leaving Caesar stranded in Epirus. Unfortunately, he found that he could not resupply his ships without abandoning the blockade, and so he attempted to bluff Caesar’s legates at Oricum into getting Caesar to agree to a temporary truce in order that he could resupply. However, when Bibulus refused to guarantee the safety of Caesar’s envoys to discuss a peaceful settlement with Pompey, Caesar realised it was a bluff and pulled out of negotiations. Determined to continue with the blockade, Bibulus pushed himself too hard; he fell ill in early 48 BC and died near Corcyra before the end of winter.
Bibulus was married twice. From the first marriage he had three sons, including the later statesman Lucius Calpurnius Bibulus. His two eldest sons were killed in Egypt by some of the soldiery which Aulus Gabinius had left there after having restored Ptolemy Auletes to the throne. His second wife was Cato's daughter Porcia, whom he married sometime between 58 and 53 BC. He may have had a daughter called Calpurnia who was the first wife of Roman Senator Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus.
Preceded by Lucius Afranius and Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer
Consul of the Roman Republic with Gaius Julius Caesar 59 BC
Succeeded by Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus and Aulus Gabinius