Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter XIV

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Rome
Tenney Frank

published by
Henry Holt and Company
New York 1923

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter XVI

 p248  Chapter XV

From Sulla to Catiline

Sulla had hardly died when Aemilius Lepidus, the consul of 78, proposed to annul all his laws. The other consul, Catulus, a stanch supporter of the Senate, successfully opposed this measure, but Lepidus was determined, and during the next year attempted to carry the revolt by force. He had the nucleus of a proconsular army, he readily found many willing volunteers in Etruria among the peasants who had been dispossessed by Sulla; the knights, reduced though they were in numbers and shattered in influence and resources by Sulla, lent what support they could, and not a few of the nobility who had been kept from office by Sulla's inner clique were ready to welcome a change. Aside from these partisan and personal motives, there were many who felt that Sulla's constitution was dangerously reactionary and should for the good of Rome be annulled at once. Lepidus actually marched his army on Rome, but Catulus had the aid of Pompey's practical general­ship and defeated the rebel forces. Lepidus fled to Sardinia, where he soon died; but a large number of his partisans took refuge in Spain, where Sertorius, a former officer of Marius, had already gathered a large force of exiled Marians, and with the aid of the natives, whose friendship he had quickly won, had brought most of Spain under his control.

The next great problem for the Senate was in fact the winning back of Spain. For this task Metellus had been chosen by Sulla, but he had failed to make any progress. Pompey desired the command, but it was considered unconstitutional to give the imperium over a province to one who had never held a magistracy. Some indeed feared that Pompey had learned too many dangerous lessons in his  p249 associations with Sulla, and would be likely to return from a successful war to demand the dictator­ship as Sulla had done. The success of Sertorius, however, was such that the Senate yielded, and breaking all precedents made the young man "proconsul" of Spain. His task was by no means easy, for Sertorius was not only an excellent soldier, but he was exceedingly popular with the natives. It was not till Sertorius was murdered by a rival officer, Perperna, in 72, that Pompey was able to win a decisive battle.

Spartacus. Meanwhile a frightful insurrection had broken out among the slaves near Naples. All of southern Italy had extensive ranches and plantations which were worked by slaves, and the region of Capua had many industries, especially iron and bronze works, where brawny slaves were employed. For the heavy work on farms and factories, war prisoners from the barbarian countries were used, since they were too clumsy for household duties. Caesar happens to remark to his army in Gaul, for instance, that the Cimbri and Teutones taken captive by Marius were especially implicated in this revolt. The leader was, however, a Thracian bandit, Spartacus, who had been captured by the Roman army and who was now being trained in a gladiatorial school at Capua. He escaped with many of his associates (in 73), fortified himself in the crater of Vesuvius — which was not then active — and summoned all slaves to his aid. When he had a sufficiently large band he marched southward, gathering in others till he had a force of 100,000 men. The Romans were slow to comprehend the extent of the mischief, and sent insufficient forces against him. Both the consuls of 72 were defeated. Then in 71 the Senate sent Licinius Crassus, who had had military experience under Sulla. With six legions he followed Spartacus to Lucania, where he decisively defeated the horde in a desperate battle. Some five thousand escaped. These attempted to make their way back to their northern homes,  p250 but they fell in with Pompey, who was then returning from Spain, and were cut to pieces.

The end of the Sullan Constitution. In the autumn of 71 Pompey and Crassus, both returning home with victorious armies, announced themselves as candidates for the consul­ship, and in doing so disregarded the lex annalis of Sulla despite the fact that both had been protégés of Sulla. Pompey, now 35, had held no office of state, while Crassus was praetor, and therefore legally two years from the consul­ship. The two men furthermore were bitter personal enemies. The government opposed both strongly but dared not carry opposition to extremities, for Sullan pupils with armies were much dreaded. Neither man, however, cared to employ force. Pompey at any rate, though he had no definite political platform and no knowledge of or respect for tradition, believed in legal forms and desired to win a good name. The two were brought together by mutual friends, and advised to canvass on a platform most likely to win a majority of the votes. Platforms mattered but little to either; they had, to be sure, been counted as Sullans, but if the Sullan constitution had grown to be unpopular it seemed wise to announce themselves as anti-Sullans, and so they did. The people desired a return of that liberty of speech and power of initiating legislation which would follow upon a return of full powers to the tribunes. They also wished to have censors once more, if only to purge the Senate of obese-minded reactionaries. Besides, many new citizens now living at Rome had never been officially listed in the centuries of the comitia centuriata. Their status was uncertain and could best be established by censors. The knights were also recovering from their terrible treatment and asking for their old Gracchan privileges. And in this they were actually supported by several senators who learned to their sorrow that senatorial jury panels voted according to their bias so often that provincial governors felt safe in robbing the subjects they were supposed  p251 to protect. At this very time amazing reports were reaching Rome of how Verres, the propraetor of Sicily, was extorting large sums illegally under the item of military supplies, of how he was buying grain for the city granaries at prices fixed far lower than those he received from the treasury, and how he even compelled provincials to sell him works of art at nominal prices by overawing them with hints of prosecution.

Pompey and Crassus announced that they would restore in the main the democratic institutions, and on this program they were elected. When they set to work to carry out their promises they were aided not a little by Cicero, who undertook the prosecution of Verres, and in his speeches exposed the crimes of provincial rule that were made possible by the partisan­ship of the senatorial courts. Caesar also took an active part in supporting Pompey. In a series of laws passed in the year 70 the tribunes were restored to their former powers, the tribunician assembly was freed from the interference of Senate and consuls, the juries were reformed and constituted out of three classes: senators, knights, and tribuni aerarii (local officials of the wards who possessed a knight's census without the rank). Thus the government was restored to the cumbersome machinery of checks and balances with which the Gracchi had left it. What a lost opportunity! Sulla had at least cut away inconsistencies and, reactionary though he was, he had left a machine that could work. By him the weight of responsibility had at least been squarely placed on the oligarchic element, and if it failed men knew where the blame lay. But Pompey knew nothing about laws and constitutions; he had simply given the people by way of a bargain what they had asked for, and they were hardly intelligent enough to ask for anything but what they had once possessed. One can imagine a liberal and intelligent statesman combining the two assemblies into one, reducing the ten tribunes to one, raising the age qualification by some ten years, and  p252 finally instituting some device for a written ballot throughout Italy so that all electors could reasonably participate. But Pompey, who had lived since early youth in army service, was incapable of such reforms and, it is to be feared, the other politicians preferred an intricate machinery which they best knew how to manipulate. Caesar must have been clever enough to see a better way, but Caesar was exceedingly ambitious, and if he had not yet studied out all the possibilities he at least learned soon how to use all the checks of this device to the disadvantage of his opponents, and how to employ the reconstituted tribunate for the securing of a military command which after Sulla's example might sooner or later vault him into the autocrat's saddle.

The Great Mithradatic war. Meanwhile war was again raging in Asia. In 75 the king of Bithynia, Nicomedes III, died and, like Attalus of Pergamum and Ptolemy of Cyrene, left his kingdom by will to the Roman people. What moved him to do this, it is difficult to say. He probably realized that Mithradates would attempt to seize it as he had done once before, and that Rome alone was strong enough to prevent that. And if he had any sincere regard for his people he doubtless considered the fact that Roman occupation had as a rule brought a cessation of wars and stable government. Mithradates did, in point of fact, invade Bithynia at once, and he did so with no little hope of success, for he had carefully trained a magnificent army of 120,000 men and had built a new fleet. To strengthen his position he sent envoys to Spain to make a pact with Sertorius with a view to common action. He offered Sertorius ships and money, while Sertorius — like any modern diplomat signing "secret treaties" — offered Mithradates several cities and tribes in Asia that were not his to give. In 74 Rome sent both consuls to Asia with strong forces. Mithradates defeated one, Aurelius Cotta, but when he advanced on Cyzicus he was besieged by the other, L. Licinius Lucullus, and forced to retreat. Lucullus followed him  p253 slowly and persistently for two years, beating off one detachment after the other, till the king, utterly destitute, had to flee into Armenia.

Lucullus now turned back to Asia in order to rectify the abuses he found there. The distress caused by Sulla's inexcusable extortion of 20,000 talents by way of "indemnity" had led, in the intervening fourteen years, to general bankruptcy. The communities had had to borrow that money, of course, and since money was not easily obtained by cities exposed to Mithradates' whims, the interest rate had generally been very high. The usurers who had lent were largely the bankers of Greek cities on the coast, Syrians, and South Italian Greeks. But the Roman tax‑gathering corporations had also contributed some, so that Sulla must have enjoyed the discomfiture of these companies when he soon after deprived them of the tax‑contracts. Lucullus found that the debts had now mounted to 120,000 talents. Like all Romans, Lucullus believed in the sacred rights of property, nevertheless he had conscience enough to comprehend that a Roman province must be protected from choking to death. He, therefore, declared the interest rates exorbitant, disallowed two‑thirds of the debts, and decreed that the residue was payable in four annual instalments without further interest. His drastic solution worked like magic, and we are told that the communities were free of debt in four years. But Lucullus was not now as popular with the Roman bankers as he was with the people of Asia. The equestrian corporations at Rome set about to have him recalled, and there can be little doubt that one of the strong factors in the success of Pompey over the Senate in 70 was this bitter determination of the knights to rid themselves of Lucullus and to weaken the Senate which kept him in command.

In 69 Lucullus returned to the contest, for Mithradates had won the aid of Tigranes of Armenia and raised another army. Lucullus won a battle at Tigranocerta without, however,  p254 being able to force any concessions. In fact he seems to have made unreasonable demands. Again in 68 he defeated the two kings at Artaxata, but his soldiers would not follow up success. They thought that he avoided reasonable terms in order to extend his command, and in this attitude they were encouraged by secret emissaries sent out by his enemies in Rome. In 67, while Lucullus delayed in Mesopotamia, two of his lieutenants, who were holding Pontus, were defeated, so that the one thing hitherto definitely won was lost again. Because of the disaffection in his own army Lucullus dared not pursue the king further. The news of this situation was enough to decide his enemies at Rome to act. Pompey's coalition was now in power, and Lucullus was recalled. It was as well. The inordinate love of power and "gloria," a vice found in too many Romans, had turned his head. He might have had fair terms in 72, had he not wished to "extend the empire of Rome" and win a magnificent triumph. As it was, Rome owed him little gratitude in the end. He had sent hordes of Oriental captives home who were bought for the personal household service of rich nabobs. The children of these captives became the future citizens of the imperial city. These are the people also who first brought the eastern mystery religions and a multitude of vices westward. As for Lucullus, since the general's share of booty was always a generous percentage, he was able to live in elegance and luxurious ease for the rest of his days. And yet it is significant rather of modern interests than of Lucullus' conduct that his fame is to most readers associated with the expression "Lucullan banquets" rather than with the saving and organization of a province.

Pompey and the Pirates. Pompey, who was generally favored by the business men as Lucullus' successor, was now engaged in clearing the sea of pirates. During the "social" and civil wars the Eastern buccaneers had grown well-nigh invincible upon all the seas. Sertorius and Mithradates had encouraged them because they served to obstruct  p255 Rome's communications. We have some evidence also that not a few of the Italians that were dispossessed by Sulla's brutal colonization of soldiers took to brigandage upon the seas. Such for instance were the "Roman citizens" that Verres was accused by Cicero of executing illegally. It was only red‑tape and conservatism that kept the Senate so long from wiping out the disgrace. The conservative nobles hesitated to give to one man even temporarily complete command over all seas, and in consequence over the coastal areas covered by a dozen other commands; and they hesitated all the more because Pompey, who had deserted them, was the logical candidate for such a position. But the tribunate was now restored and the tribune Gabinius acted without consulting the Senate. Pompey was voted the command, quickly gathered a fleet of 200 ships, and, beginning at the western end of the Mediterranean, swept the sea clean till he had all the pirates in his net at the eastern end. There he made an end of their fleet in one battle, and with striking generosity settled the captives in small rural colonies. It is one of these pirate-farmers that Vergil in his Georgics later describes at work in his model flower-garden near Tarentum.

Pompey in the East. While Pompey was busy at this task another tribune, Manilius, working in the interest of Pompey and the capitalists, proposed that Pompey be given charge of the war against Mithradates with full command over the East for an indefinite term, and with full power to make whatever terms he saw fit with all states and nations concerned. Cicero was the chief spokesman in favor of the bill, and his speech (Pro Lege Manilia) gives a clear notion of the political and economic factors involved. The Senate opposed this also, partly because it gave extraordinary powers to one man, partly because the Senate felt that it alone should control foreign affairs, as it had in the days of the great wars. The populace, on the other hand, were tired of the long war and desired to see it finished;  p256 they also desired to honor Pompey, who had restored tribunician legislation, and they wished to establish another precedent in support of the theory of popular sovereignty by passing the measure in the tribal assembly. The capitalists were, however, most intimately concerned, for Pompey was in a position to open several new provinces, and might be induced to introduce in them the old contract system of tax‑gathering which had formerly proved so lucrative to the equestrian corporations. Here consequently is a striking instance of business interests laboring with might and main in favor of territorial expansion. It is perhaps the first clear instance of it in Roman history. The command was given to Pompey by popular vote.

In point of fact, Pompey's military task was not difficult, for his enemy's courage and prestige had already suffered severely. As soon as he was notified that the Manilian law had passed, Pompey sent his fleet to block all the Pontic harbors, marched against Mithradates and defeated him. Mithradates escaped beyond the Caucasus to the Greco-Scythian settlements about the sea of Azov (Palus Maeotis), planning to raise new forces there with which to invade Italy. Pompey accepted the submission of Tigranes of Armenia, and confirmed him on his throne, but deprived him of Syria, of which he had recently taken possession.

In 64 and 63 Pompey organized Syria as a new Roman province. Palestine, which had formerly belonged to Syria, but had become practically independent under the Maccabees, happened then to be suffering from an armed dispute between two priest-kings. Pompey, desiring to include Palestine in the province, took advantage of the civil war, espoused the cause of Hyrcanus, who seemed favorable to his interests, and after a siege of three months took Jerusalem, where he enthroned his supporter. The nation was incorporated as an autonomous but tribute-paying kingdom under the protection of the province of Syria. The city was treated with much consideration, but the people did  p257 not soon forget that Pompey, despite vigorous protests, entered the "holy of holies," where none but priests were ever allowed to go. It was because they remembered this insult that the Jews later aided Caesar in his war with Pompey.

While in Palestine Pompey received the news that Mithradates, failing to raise an army of invasion in the far North, had committed suicide. Pompey now devoted a year to the complete reorganization of Asia. Bithynia and Pontus became a province, "Asia" remained as it was, Cilicia was enlarged. Thus Rome now had four provinces in the East: Asia, Bithynia, Cilicia and Syria. Galatia, Cappadocia, and various small temple-states were made into buffer client-kingdoms. Armenia was reorganized as a friendly kingdom, and Pharnaces, the son of Mithradates, was permitted to reign in the Crimea. Pompey also organized the internal affairs of these provinces, going so far as to found thirty-nine new cities which were to act as centers of local government in rural districts. When he returned home he could boast that Rome's public revenue had almost been doubled. It is a pleasure to add that though the knights' companies were given a share in the tax‑gathering, Pompey's settlement retained many of the features of Sulla's reforms. The supervising power of proconsuls was increased and the wilful looting by publicans was permitted far less than it had been by the Gracchan settlement of "Asia."

It will be seen that Pompey did little to change Rome's laissez faire policy in provincial administration. He "Romanized" no more than had his predecessors. Indeed it may rather be said that he continued Alexander's policy of Hellenizing, for when in the rural districts he founded cities in order to facilitate administration he thereby formed centers of Greek culture, since Greek was the language of intercourse and trade in that region. In such towns schools, theaters, and libraries sprang up, but no one for a moment  p258 considered imposing the Latin language upon them, the Romans least of all. Even the proconsuls sent to the East translated into Greek such public decrees as they issued.

With the local governments Pompey interfered not at all unless called upon to do so. The towns, and there were some five hundred in Asia alone, were generally democratic, the town meeting being the law‑making body — not a curia of a hundred city fathers as in Italian municipalities. Except when he was asked to frame a new charter he allowed this democratic system to stand. When, however, he founded or refounded a town he was apt to adopt the more oligarchic Italian plan, for like all Romans of position he instinctively believed in the steadying influence of property and in the superior wisdom of those who had property. In general, then, Pompey disturbed existing customs as little as possible. The towns continued to manage their own affairs and the native courts to settle disputes as before without reference to Roman law. All that the Roman governor was called upon to do was to see that law and order prevailed, that the tithes due Rome did not fall into arrears, that the frontiers were protected, and that such Roman citizens as happened to be in the province should in case of dispute have access to his presence for an interpretation according to the principles of Roman law.

Radicalism in the democratic party. While Pompey was adding vast domains to Rome's empire, the city passed through a crisis that might readily have ended in another devastating civil war but for the vigilance of Cicero. The principles involved were of no great importance, but the incident deserves study as an illustration of how a nation may behave when it has lost self-confidence, when its morale is gone, when conscious of having blundered it stands in dread of committing new blunders, and when every man begins nervously to provide for himself against an impending crash. Catiline's program of reform need not be taken too seriously. It was not based upon a careful study of  p259 social conditions, but rather upon the immediate desires of a few unscrupulous politicians. Behind Catiline, pushing him into reckless activity, were ambitious individuals like Caesar and Crassus. But not even these men represented genuinely popular needs, for their behavior emerged from individual desires which were symptoms of a deeper disease. The disease that had struck Rome was a parasitism due to overmuch conquest. The ruling classes wanted to rule what they had won, the capitalistic classes wanted to exploit it for gain, the populace wanted their old privilege of drawing free grain from it. Politics meant to all of them the control of the power to satisfy these wants. Since Sulla had cut off free grain when he cut off the tribunate the populace felt instinctively that it must keep every possible Sulla at a distance. Since he had destroyed the right to exploit provincials, the equites felt that they must in the future beware of senatorial domination. Finally, since the populace had given Pompey the distinction that a senator might have had, the Senate continued to distrust popular sovereignty. The particular fear which unnerved all parties now was that Pompey would return a dictator in the same way as Sulla had. The senators feared him as a political dictator who might feel called upon to reward the populace by weakening the Senate; ambitious leaders of the populace, like Caesar and Crassus, were apprehensive that Pompey would fill so large a part in the state as to make them quite superfluous. In those days the ghosts of Sulla and Marius rose to shatter the nerves of Rome's leaders. It became evident that the memory of political crimes might exert a more baneful power than even the criminal had exercised in his lifetime.

During the years 66‑64 there was constant excitement at political headquarters. The supporters of the Senate felt that their theory of government had been dealt very dangerous blows by the passage of the Gabinian and Manilian laws. Men like Catulus, the Luculli, and Hortensius bestirred  p260 themselves at elections and assemblies to retain what power was left. The equestrian class were still inclined to continue their coalition with the populace in view of the fact that Pompey, their champion, seemed disposed to remain a democratic leader. But they were from time to time offended at the populistic proposals which the democratic champions were willing to offer. The constant election promises of cheap grain, of bankruptcy laws, of colonization on public lands, rather disgusted men of property. It was not at all clear that Pompey could remain in control of the party. He was hardly demagogue enough for that. Consequently many of the knights began to make overtures to the senatorial party. The populace which made up the voting strength of the democratic party was an uncertain quantity. The new citizens of the outlying regions of Italy were still inclined to favor the popular party because it was the Marian group that had favored their enfranchisement. But by instinct they were more conservative than the city populace. Peasant farmers are not usually in accord with the urban proletariat on economic questions. Furthermore, the Sullan soldiers that had been planted in colonies here and there provided a rural vote which was decidedly anti-democratic, since they had reason to fear that victory on the part of Marian leaders might lead to a law restoring their lands to the original owners. It was will not be therefore what results a full vote of all citizens might have had.

What increased uncertainty on this score was the fact that the Italian voters found it so difficult to reach Rome. Men living two or three hundred miles away who could hardly afford the time might be summoned by party leaders ten or twelve times a year to attend the assembly because some important bill was offered. If they took a week off to make the journey on horseback they might arrive in time to find that some tribune or augur had interceded to postpone action, that another week might be consumed  p261 in the struggle over technicalities, and even then perhaps no vote would be taken. After a few such experiences the more distant voters lost all interest in the franchise. And so, except when bills touching their immediate interests were concerned, they generally left politics to those in or near Rome. And these were, under the effects of the cornº laws, precisely the least fitted to decide such questions. It is true that Sulla had confined freedmen voters to the four urban tribes, but his law seems not to have applied ex post facto. In other words, the horde of urban freedmen that had been spread over the thirty-five tribes by the legislation of Sulpicius and Cinna remained scattered, and it is likely that their sons were now in control of many of the rural tribes also.

L. Sergius Catiline was a patrician of small means who had learned all the worst political tricks that Sulla could teach. He had not hesitated to use his influence with Sulla to profit financially from proscriptions and even to urge the posting of names of men he disliked. After Pompey's political shift elevated the democrats to power he preferred to canvass for office as a democrat. In 66 he returned from the propraetor­ship in Africa to stand for the consul­ship, but was haled to court on the charge of extortion before he could enter his name. As it happened two popular demagogues were elected, but the vigilant Senate succeeded in having both convicted of corrupt election practices and their own men, Aurelius and Manlius, elected in their place. Sallust, who has given the history of these days, informs us that a group of fiery democrats led by Catiline planned to reinstate the two men by having Aurelius and Manlius murdered and that they failed only because of an accident, but this so‑called "first conspiracy" is now doubted on evidence provided by one of Cicero's speeches.

In 65 Crassus, while censor, raised new party questions by proposing that Rome take possession of Egypt as a province. There were Romans who had come from Egypt asserting  p262 that the Ptolemy Auletes, the reigning king, was not the legal heir, that in fact the former king had bequeathed his kingdom to Rome in a will which had been suppressed. The Senate, which had long seen that Rome's empire was overlarge, opposed the measure. Indeed Crassus seems to have urged the project only at Caesar's request, and Caesar seems to have planned it in order to establish himself in a strong military position in Egypt, where he might become independent of Pompey. Such were the forces at work in those days of intense apprehension of the future. The bill was successfully blocked by Catulus, but it served the purpose of revealing where some of the party leaders stood.

Cicero consul. In 64 Catiline stood for the consul­ship again, supported by both Caesar and Crassus, and his program was very radical. It is not to be supposed that these two men really desired cancellation of debts, which Catiline promised if elected. But Pompey seemed then on the point of returning home, and they desired to hold the government firmly in democratic hands when he arrived and if possible secure strong commands for themselves. Neither was eligible for the consul­ship, so the best course was to support a man who would play into their hands. Election promises need of course not be kept. Another candidate was Cicero, but he was a "new man" and the senatorial families usually threw their influence against such men, since they did not desire their own exclusive group enlarged. But as the canvass became more exciting Catiline lost his judgment and grew more and more lavish with promises to the lower classes, even hinting at armed revolution. The result was disastrous to his cause; the Senate and knights used all their influence to aid Cicero, who was elected. Unfortunately he had to endure as colleague a worthless patrician, Antonius, who had favored Catiline.

The year was a stormy one, for Caesar and Crassus, despite the defeat of Catiline, attempted to solidify their position against Pompey's return. And Cicero had the disadvantage  p263 in such contests of refusing to employ low tricks. He could, however, speak as no Roman ever spoke before or after, and speak he did against every demagogic proposal with such eloquence that the people actually refused at Cicero's advice the gifts of land which Caesar and Crassus offered them. The bill in question was introduced by Rullus, a tribune, in the interest of Caesar. It provided for the distribution of all public lands that Rome owned in Italy, and for the purchase of as much more as might be needed by appropriating for the purpose all the booty Pompey was bringing home as well as the vast properties that Pompey had acquired for the state by the confiscation of the royal estates and domains of Pontus, Bithynia, Syria and elsewhere. It placed in the hands of a commission of ten to be elected by the tribes the vast powers of determining owner­ship of lands to be used, of selling, buying and distributing available lands at will, and of organizing whatever military forces might be necessary to carry out the seizures. The last clause, as Cicero pointed out, looked very much as though someone intended to invade Egypt. What a magnificent opportunity the populace had to feather nests for themselves and the landowners to dispose of properties on a rising market! The bill was subversive of all reasonable economic, social and governmental principles, and Cicero found himself in the difficult position of having to face the people and persuade them not to vote themselves into luxury at the expense of the state. The government could hardly remain financially sound if the budget made by the Senate was to be disregarded and the people were to vote themselves bonuses from the treasury at every whim. The colonization might do some good in draining off the city idle, but what social benefit could derive from driving off those who were renting and working state lands and putting ne'er-do‑wells in their place? The evicted renters would only drift to the city and make a new idle group to be disposed of by the next demagogue. Finally what conception  p264 of property rights, of civil law and the dignity of the courts could a man have who proposed to allow a commission to disturb all titles to property throughout Italy? These things Cicero of course touched upon, but he knew too well that sound arguments would not finally block the bill. What he knew would count, he emphasized: that Caesar (he did not mention his name) was merely working for his own interest, and that when he got his power over an army and Egypt he would probably be less enthusiastic about the rest; that Pompey would not endure seeing the fruits of his labor thus scattered without an accounting, and finally that allotments in the wilds of Italy would only remove the recipients from an easy livelihood in the city with its grain distributions, games, and congenial life. He knew that only such arguments would tell, and he used all the arts of his brilliant fluency in drawing for their dull imaginations a gruesome picture of the possible consequences of Rullus' bill. The effect of his four speeches was such that the bill was withdrawn.

Caesar was foiled, and he suffered not a little in prestige. To recover his hold upon the populace he planned to have himself made pontifex maximus, an office of great dignity and one that carried with it much political influence. A bill was accordingly proposed that the pontifex should, as before Sulla's days, be elected by the people.​1 This naturally carried, and Caesar had no difficulty in winning the election. Then he proposed a new measure with the intention of keeping himself before the people as their champion against the usurpations of the Senate. He demanded that one Rabirius be tried for the murder of Saturninus, the demagogue of 37 years before. The purpose of the trial was simply to get the courts thus indirectly to declare illegal the passage of the senatus consultum ultimum by the  p265 Senate. It will be remembered that Tiberius Gracchus had passed a law forbidding the Senate to declare martial law in this fashion, and when nevertheless the Senate did so, after his death, Gaius Gracchus had again passed such a law. The Senate, however, had asserted its right to do so in the case of Gaius, and the fickle people had exonerated by vote the consul Opimius who obeyed the decree. Later, during the riots of Saturninus, Marius had accepted such a senatus consultum and acted upon it. Its regularity was, therefore, a credo of the Senate. Caesar, to win popularity, wished now to prove it illegal and it is also probable that he foresaw riots coming at the next election when Catiline was to be a candidate and that he intended by a popular decision to prevent the Senate's armed interference. He did not dare bring Rabirius before the regular court of senators and knights which would probably acquit him, so he had an old court resurrected from whose decision an appeal could and probably would be taken to the people. It was a very shrewd move and it worked. Rabirius did appeal, and Cicero again had to argue the case in the Senate's interest. He used all the powers of his wit to laugh the case down and all his gifts of persuasion to stir the crowd to pity, but the Senate's executive powers were unpopular and he seemed on the point of failing. Then some clever senator dug up an antiquarian device as archaic as the court procedure that had been invoked by Caesar; he raised from the fort of the Janiculan hill the old flag which formerly served as a signal that an enemy was approaching. That ended business for the day. Caesar at least had a lively sense of humor and confessed defeat by withdrawing his suit. Before the year was over the Senate once more passed a consultum ultimum and, thanks to the failure of Caesar in the case of Rabirius, it had a right to say precedent was in its favor.

Now the elections were approaching and electioneering devices were carried to the extreme. Cicero had a law  p266 passed against corrupt practices (de Ambitu) to prevent such insidious forms of bribery as distributing free seats at games and banqueting ward leaders, but this had little effect. Catiline grew ever more lavish with promises for the repudiation of debts, counting on the fact that in a large agricultural state, very many property owners are apt to be in debt to some extent. Manlius, a lieutenant of his, was busy gathering in the rural vote in Etruria by repeating such promises. Caesar and Crassus still supported him, though less warmly than before. They still believed they could manage him better than any of the other candidates. Sulpicius Rufus was also a candidate, but though he was the greatest jurist of the day, one of those who contributed most to Roman law, he had little real support. He would not stoop to canvass, and the better element found it prudent to throw all their votes to two mediocre but safe nobles, Silenus and Murena, in order to defeat Caius. Again Catiline failed.

The conspiracy of Caius. Catiline gave way to rage, overwhelmed as he was with debts heaped up through lavish expenses at the polls. He gathered his intimate friends, omitting Caesar and Crassus, who would of course not go to extremes, and planned to seize the reins of government by force. Manlius returned to Etruria and secretly gathered a band of discontents into the hills behind Florence, both Sullan colonists who had failed at farming and Marians who had been evicted by Sulla. Cicero, who was informed of these things by detectives in the service of the government, called a meeting of the Senate on October 21 and stated his belief that there would be an outbreak on the 28th. The Senate was not wholly convinced, but passed the senatus consultum ultimum giving the government dictatorial powers. The 28th, therefore, passed quietly, but a week later Caius matured his plans. Cicero was to be killed, fires were to be set at various places in the city and in the confusion Catiline and his forces were to seize the  p267 reins of government. Cicero, learning of this, called the Senate together on the eighth of November and Catiline of course appeared. The consul was in a difficult predicament. He had no written proof to show to skeptics; his former prophecy had not come true, since he had exposed the facts; he could not arrest Catiline and try him on verbal evidence brought by detectives. He must force Catiline into an overt act. He decided to face Catiline before the Senate with a blunt revelation of what he knew without revealing the fact that he had no usable evidence. We may read his terrific arraignment in the first Catilinarian oration. It was in substance a "bluff," but it succeeded. Catiline, completely unnerved, fled from the city and joined Manlius' rebel force, thereby committing himself openly. So far all was well, the state's forces would see to Catiline and the forces in open rebellion, but Cicero knew that Catiline had able lieutenants in the city who would probably carry out the original plan of revolt in the city when the rebel army approached. He therefore waited and again kept the conspirators under close watch. Finally, on December third, he secured the necessary evidence: the conspirators had tampered with Gallic envoys then at Rome and had committed their signatures to treasonable letters. On the 5th of December Cicero opened these letters in the Senate and asked the Senate what should be done with the culprits. The interest in the case was intense, for every senator there knew that the democratic party would, if it returned to power, declare a senatorial vote of the death penalty unconstitutional and would punish those responsible for disregarding the old right of provocatio if the conspirators were executed.

Silenus, the consul elect, at once proposed that the prisoners be executed, and the older senators agreed one by one until Caesar spoke. He did not question the evidence, nor minimize the crime; he even acquiesced in the Senate's right to try the prisoners. He only questioned the constitutionality  p268 of a death sentence in view of the Porcian and Sempronian laws. Caesar's motion was that the culprits should be imprisoned for life and their property confiscated. The speech, summarized by Sallust, suave and dignified though it was, created a sensation. It was a notice from the leader of the opposition that the consul was likely to be held responsible for that day's action. Senators began to waver and modify their statements, several made their way to the presiding officer urging caution. It was then that Cicero arose and delivered the dispassionate fourth Catilinarian urging the Senate not to be frightened by innuendoes, assuring them that the consul knew what he was doing and that whatever the decision he would assume full responsibility for putting the question. Reassured by this speech the Senate proceeded with the discussion, and Cato reintroduced Silenus' motion calling for the death penalty. Cicero put that motion and it carried by a decisive vote. The culprits were hung in prison that very day.

A full treatment of the legality of the procedure would require a survey of Roman constitutional history, a treatment of the question of its advisability would require a deep study of Roman society. On strictly legal considerations Cicero had the right to use all the machinery of martial law to save the state. In view of the fact that the people had decided in favor of Opimius in 121, had failed to challenge the act of Marius in 100, and had acquiesced when Carbo had asked for the "last decree" in 83, the Senate's interpretation of its rights was correct and would continue to be so until the people effectively spoke on the issue again. Cicero was also on firm ground when he asked the Senate to vote on the measure, since the Senate's judicial powers were of old considered as a concomitant of their powers to pass the last decree. Martial law implies a court under the presidency of the executive that proceeds over and above civil courts, and by ancient practice the consul's court was the Senate or a judicial commission empowered by the Senate.  p269 Cicero, however, generously refused to treat this as a trial. He assumed full responsibility as acting under the powers given the consul by the "last decree," and he let the Senate feel that he considered their vote merely a vote of advice.

On the second question, that of advisability, we must again decide with Cicero. Had Caesar's motion passed, the rebels would have felt that the government was repudiated and cowed; they would have proceeded with vigor, knowing that if they won the culprits would at once be freed by the assembly. The execution shattered the rebels, many fell away at once, and Catiline at the end had a very small army. Firm action here certainly saved the lives of thousands, and probably was the chief factor in saving the government. Cicero might of course have brought the culprits before a regular praetor's court de vi or de majestate. But these courts were compelled to permit the convicted felon to choose exile instead of the death penalty, and presumably these rebels would not have remained in exile when the rebellion came on. They would merely have joined Catiline and strengthened his army. Cicero, therefore, though he was severely punished a few years later, and has been harshly criticized by modern writers, would seem to have acted with prudence, with a full knowledge of the principles involved, and with striking courage.

On hearing of the death of his friends Catiline tried to withdraw towards Gaul, for his army began to dwindle. His rear was, however, already blocked. In January he faced the army that Cicero had sent against him. Only the most determined remained with him and the greater part of these fell on the field. Catiline was found dead in the front ranks of the fallen.

Sentimental litterateurs have been prone to picture Catiline as a brave champion of the oppressed who was crushed by a government which put property rights over humane considerations. We happen to have in Sallust's "Catiline"  p270 authentic statements from both Catiline and Manlius giving their most important grievances. That of Manlius (chapter 33) appeals to us as a heartfelt cry for relief in behalf of unfortunates when it speaks of those who have lost their liberty as well as their property. But it would be incorrect to suppose that the people in Etruria who gathered about Manlius represented normal Italians suffering from the normal course of judicial decisions of average praetorian courts. They suffered rather from the effects of the Marian and Sullan revolutions, and war wounds usually go too deep for any remedies that governments find available. The Marian possessors had not only been evicted by Sulla, but they had also been reduced from citizen­ship to the "Latin" status, and the Sullan soldiers who got the lands of the Marians had in large measure assumed debts in order to equip their farms or had proved to be incompetent farmers. Distress was therefore great in Etruria, but through no fault of the restored government. To reopen the question of owner­ship would have known to invite another civil war. And to declare a repudiation of debts in Etruria would have brought on a general financial crisis that would have increased poverty everywhere.

Catiline's letter (addressed to Catulus on his departure) reveals on the other hand not even a wholesome sympathy for the unfortunate. It is merely filled with personal venom evoked by his failure to acquit a lucrative office for himself. Nothing could betray the depravity of the man better than the unconscious revelation of his own statement: "Enraged by insults and injuries heaped upon me, since I have been denied the rewards of my labors and failed to obtain an office of dignity, I have as is my wont espoused the cause of the unfortunate, not because I could not pay my debts out of my own property . . . but because I saw unworthy men honored by high office and found myself severed from the world by unfounded suspicions."  p271 In other words, he became a "reformer" because a novus homo obtained offices at the elections that he, a patrician, could not attain. One can only conclude that there was still much sound judgment in the citizen body which had repudiated Catiline's glittering promises.

The Author's Note:

1 For this election seventeen of the tribes were designated by lot, on the theory that the divine will could play its part in the employment of the lot. Caesar was, of course, aware of the fact that he could win control over seventeen wards with less effort and expense than over thirty-five.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 10 Dec 20