When Augustus (sole rule c. 30 BCE-14 CE) took power in Rome, he extended Julius Caesar’s policy of continually hosting extravagant spectacles to keep the people happy, or at least distracted. While writing about such Augustan entertainments and performances, the Roman scholar, Suetonius (c. 70-130), mentioned a little showman who made a big impact on the Roman masses.
Lycius was a member of the equestrian order, a Roman equivalent of a knight. Even though the Senate banned the equites (members of the equestrian order) and other noblemen from being public performers, they apparently made an exception for Lycius and let him continue entertaining.
The physical description of Lycius can vary from manuscript and translator, with some saying he suffered from dwarfism, and others claiming he was a child still under two feet in height. Nevertheless, all versions agree that he was short in stature and reportedly weighed about seventeen pounds. Lycius’ size, however, was not what packed the stadiums and amphitheaters—despite his small stature, Lycius had a tremendously powerful and beautiful voice.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Roman mosaic from the Antiochia House of the Evil Eye. [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius, translated by Robert Graves and edited by James B. Rives. New York: Penguin Classics, 2007.