Balbus, literally "stammerer," the name of several Roman families. Of the Acilii Balbi, one Manius Acilius Balbus was consul in 150 B.C., another in 114. To another family belonged T. Ampius Balbus, a supporter of Pompey, but afterwards pardoned by Julius Caesar (cf. Cic. ad Fam. vi. 12 and xiii. 70). We know also of Q. Antonius Balbus, praetor in Sicily in 82 B.C., and Marcus Atius Balbus, who married Julia, a sister of Caesar, and had a daughter Atia, mother of Augustus. The most important of the name were the two Cornelii Balbi, natives of Gades (Cadiz).
1. Lucius Cornelius Balbus (called Major to distinguish him from his nephew) was born early in the last century B.C. He is generally considered to have been of Phoenician origin. For his services against Sertorius in Spain, the Roman citizenship was conferred upon him and his family by Pompey. Becoming friendly with all parties, he had much to do with the formation of the First Triumvirate, and was one of the chief financiers in Rome. He was careful to ingratiate himself with Caesar, whom he accompanied when propraetor to Spain (61), and to Gaul (58) as chief engineer (praefectus fabrum). His position as a naturalized foreigner, his influence and his wealth naturally made Balbus many enemies, who in 56 put up a native of Gades to prosecute him for illegally assuming the rights of a Roman citizen, a charge directed against the triumvirs equally with himself. Cicero, Pompey and Crassus all spoke on his behalf, and he was acquitted. During the civil war he endeavoured to get Cicero to mediate between Caesar and Pompey, with the object of preventing him from definitely siding with the latter; and Cicero admits that he was dissuaded from doing so, against his better judgment.
Subsequently, Balbus became Caesar's private secretary, and Cicero was obliged to ask for his good offices with Caesar. After Caesar's murder, Balbus seems to have attached himself to Octavian; in 43 or 42 he was praetor, and in 40 consul - an honour then for the first time conferred on an alien. The year of his death is not known. Balbus kept a diary of the chief events in his own and Caesar's life (Suetonius, Caesar, 81). The 8th book of the Bell. Gall., which was probably written by his friend Hirtius at his instigation, was dedicated to him.
Cicero, Letters (ed. Tyrrell and Purser, iv. introd. p. 62) and Pro Balbo; see also E. Jullien, De L. Cornelia Balbo Maiore (1886).
2. Lucius Cornelius Balbus (called Minor), nephew of the above, received the Roman citizenship at the same time as his uncle. During the civil war, he served under Caesar, by whom he was entrusted with several important missions. He also took part in the Alexandrian and Spanish wars. He was rewarded for his services by being admitted into the college of pontiffs. In 43 he was quaestor in Further Spain, where he amassed a large fortune by plundering the inhabitants. In the same year he crossed over to Bogud, king of Mauretania, and is not heard of again until 21, when he appears as proconsul of Africa. Mommsen thinks that he had incurred the displeasure of Augustus by his conduct as praetor, and that his African appointment after so many years was due to his exceptional fitness for the post. In 19 Balbus defeated the Garamantes, and on the 27th of March in that year received the honour of a triumph, which was then for the first time granted to one who was not a Roman citizen by birth, and for the last time to a private individual. He built a theatre in the capital, which was dedicated on the return of Augustus from Gaul in 13 (Dio Cassius liv. 25; Pliny, Nat. Hist. xxxvi. 12, 60). Balbus appears to have given some attention to literature.
He wrote a play of which the subject was his visit to Lentulus in the camp of Pompey at Dyrrhachium, and, according to Macrobius (Saturnalia, iii. 6), was the author of a work called Ἐξηγητικά, dealing with the gods and their worship.
See Velleius Paterculus ii. 51; Cicero, ad Att. viii. 9; and on both the above the exhaustive articles in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopadie, iv. pt. i. (1900).