The Disappearance Of Robustus

A man named Robustus was a prominent member of the Roman equites social class, commonly translated as the knight class, second in prominence only to the senatorial class. He lived around the time of the 1st-2nd century, and was in the friend circles of wealthy Roman statesmen, such as Pliny the Younger (c. 61/62-113), Baebius Hispanus and Atilius Scaurus. These friends often wrote letters, discussing each other’s goings on, as well as general news from the empire. Correspondence between the friends, however, took a dark turn when Robustus suddenly disappeared while he was traveling. He was last seen journeying in Umbria, along a stretch of the Via Flaminia in the vicinity of ancient Ocriculum (modern Otricoli). After that last sighting, however, Robustus—along with his attendants—dissappeared without a trace. Once concern turned into worry, Robustus’ friends finally decided to mobilize a search party and start an investigation. Of Robustus’ immediate friends, Baebius Hispanus evidently took the helm of organizing the search. The search efforts were recorded by Pliny the Younger, whose correspondences were collected, preserved and published. Robustus’ disappearance was mentioned in one such letter (a response from Pliny to Baebius Hispanus), in which Pliny stated, “You say that the distinguished Roman knight Robustus travelled as far as Ocriculum with my friend Atilius Scaurus, and then completely vanished, and you want Scaurus to come and see if he can put us on the scent” (Pliny the Younger, Letters, 6.25). Pliny went on to comment about a similar instance when a friend named Metilius Crispus who had disappeared, along with his traveling companions, without a trace. Pliny wrote, “neither Crispus nor any of them were seen again, any more than the slaves of Robustus” (Pliny the Younger, Letters, 6.25). Such, then, were the circumstances of the disappearance of Robustus and his attendants. Unfortunately, despite the awareness drawn to the man’s disappearance and the active search carried out by his friends, Robustus and those traveling with him may never have been found. In Pliny the Younger’s preserved letters, no other mention about the search for Robustus was recorded, and his fate remains a mystery.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Marble portrait bust of a man, dated mid–3rd century CE, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).


  • The Letters of Pliny the Younger, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1963, 1969.

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