Gaius Cilnius Maecenas (c70 BC – 8 BC)
Gaius Maecenas was befriended by Octavian and Marcus Agrippa when they met in Apollonia in 45 BC. Though he was already highly educated, he’d been sent there by Julius Caesar at the request of his father to further his education under Athendorus of Tarsus.
Maecenas was proud of his ancient Etruscan heritage which went as far back as the 4th century BC. He claimed descent from the Cilnii, whose wealth was well known and was envied by the people of Arretium where the Cilnii lived. Horace, a poet whom he later mentored, hinted in his writings that Maecenas was descended from one of the early Etruscan kings of Rome.
He and Marcus Agrippa were at Octavian’s side in Apollonia when he learned of Caesar’s assassination. If Agrippa was Octavian’s military commander and advisor, Maecenas was his political advisor and ambassador. He used his influence on Octavian, advising him to avoid cruelty and inhumanity, especially in the period just after the formation of the Second Triumvirate by Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus. This came not only from his sense of decency. It also came from his sense of the practicality of governing and remaining in power. However, when the situation warranted, he would act with ruthless and violent force as he did when he uncovered a plot to assassinate Octavian in Rome. He swiftly had the conspirators executed.
Over time, Maecenas became a talented diplomat. He assisted and perhaps led the negotiations of the Treaties of Brundisium and Tarentum, bringing reconciliation between Octavian and Antony, this, of course, being in Octavian’s best interests at the time. Later, when Octavian and Agrippa departed from Italy to fight the sea battle at Actium against Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian left Maecenas in charge in Rome.
In later years, once Octavian became emperor and took the name Caesar Augustus, Maecenas became a patron of the arts, sponsoring poets, writers, and artists. He did this not only because he enjoyed it, he also wanted to bring culture to Rome and elevate it to a higher purpose.