Marcus Aquilius Regulus was an unscrupulous leading member of the Roman legal world in the 1st century. He had a profitable, but highly controversial, career in Rome’s court system, making large profits by predatorily prosecuting cases against enemies of unpopular Roman emperors—particularly foes of Nero (r. 54-68) and Domitian (r. 81-96). Although his unethical track-record in law made him a great number of critics and enemies among the more principled circles of lawyers and scholars in Rome, Regulus’ controversial lifestyle nevertheless brought him great riches in land and possessions.
Regulus had a son who emulated his father’s lifestyle of luxury and extravagance. The name of the boy, unfortunately, was not recorded by existing sources, but details of his personality and daily life were penned down, albeit by writers who were hostile to Regulus. As the story goes, the mother of Regulus’ son died when the boy was still relatively young. While the boy remained youthful in age, Regulus arranged for the child to assume ownership over certain property that had belonged to the deceased mother’s family. Regulus’ young son enjoyed the autonomy that the independent estate gave him, and he soon began filling the property with his favorite obsession—exotic animals. What Regulus’ child built on the property seemed to be a veritable zoo of selected creatures, with a particular emphasis on ponies, dogs and birds, all kept on the private estate for the young man’s enjoyment.
Unfortunately, Regulus’ son died at a young age, possibly before he even reached adulthood. Although the youth likely cared for his assortment of animals while he was alive, he may not have appreciated how the creatures were treated after he died. As told by the avid letter-writer, Pliny the Younger (c. 61/62-113), the deceased boy’s mourning father, Regulus, made the odd decision to have all of the animals ritualistically slaughtered so that the creatures could be included in the funeral of his son. Pliny the Younger wrote, “Now that his son is dead he mourns with wild extravagance. The boy used to possess a number of Gallic ponies for riding and driving, also dogs of all sizes, and nightingales, parrots, and blackbirds; Regulus had them all slaughtered round his pyre” (Pliny the Younger, Letters, 4.2). This curious funerary decision by Regulus, which was also accompanied by a series of public statues and a published biography about the deceased son, was not received well by Regulus’ many critics.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (cropped Image labeled “Verbrecher, den wilden Thieren überliefert,” issued between 1852 – 1898, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the New York Public Library.jpg).
- The Letters of Pliny the Younger, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1963, 1969.