Notes and essays by Bret Mulligan
For a man who devoted such energy to chronicling the exploits of famous men Cornelius Nepos left behind few clues about his own life. Nepos was likely born within a decade of 100 BC in Cisalpine Gaul, the district of northern Italy bounded to the north by the Alps and to the south by the Rubicon River. This prosperous region would produce many of the great Roman authors, including Catullus, Vergil, Livy, Pliny the Elder, and his nephew Pliny the Younger. Nepos' hometown is unknown, but Ticinum and Mediolanum are plausible candidates.
We can be sure that Nepos was not a member of the senatorial elite.1 Nevertheless, Nepos' family possessed sufficient wealth to finance his education and then support his academic pursuits in Rome. He may have immigrated to Rome as a young man—Nepos comments on how Roman fashions changed after Sulla gained power in the late 80s.2 He had certainly arrived in the city by 65 BC, in time to hear Cicero defend the former tribune C. Cornelius against charges of sedition.3 Rome was likely his home for the remainder of his life, although, like many affluent Romans, Nepos travelled—to Greece, Asia Minor, and North Africa, and perhaps even further afield. Nepos died soon after 27 BC, in the early years of Augustus' reign.4
1. Pliny the Younger, Epistles 5.3.6.
2. Pliny the Elder, Natural History 9.137.
3. Jerome, Against John of Jerusalem 12.
4. Pliny the Elder, Natural History 9.137 and 10.60.