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Chapter III
The Fall of the Oligarchy and the Rule of Pompeius

Continued Subsistence of the Sullan Constitution

The Sullan constitution still stood unshaken. The assault, which Lepidus and Sertorius had ventured to make on it, had been repulsed with little loss. The government had neglected, it is true, to finish the half-completed building in the energetic spirit of its author. It is characteristic of the government, that it neither distributed the lands which Sulla had destined for allotment but had not yet parcelled out, nor directly abandoned the claim to them, but tolerated the former owners in provisional possession without regulating their title, and indeed even allowed various still undistributed tracts of Sullan domain-land to be arbitrarily taken possession of by individuals according to the old system of occupation, which was de jure and de facto set aside by the Gracchan reforms.(1) Whatever in the Sullan enactments was indifferent or inconvenient for the Optimates, was without scruple ignored or cancelled; for instance, the sentences under which whole communities were deprived of the right of citizenship, the prohibition against conjoining the new farms, and several of the privileges conferred by Sulla on particular communities—of course, without giving back to the communities the sums paid for these exemptions. But though these violations of the ordinances of Sulla by the government itself contributed to shake the foundations of his structure, the Sempronian laws were substantially abolished and remained so.

Attacks of the Democracy
Attempts to Restore the Tribunician Power

There was no lack, indeed, of men who had in view the re-establishment of the Gracchan constitution, or of projects to attain piecemeal in the way of constitutional reform what Lepidus and Sertorius had attempted by the path of revolution. The government had already under the pressure of the agitation of Lepidus immediately after the death of Sulla consented to a limited revival of the largesses of grain (676); and it did, moreover, what it could to satisfy the proletariate of the capital in regard to this vital question. When, notwithstanding those distributions, the high price of grain occasioned chiefly by piracy produced so oppressive a dearth in Rome as to lead to a violent tumult in the streets in 679, extraordinary purchases of Sicilian grain on account of the government relieved for the time the most severe distress; and a corn-law brought in by the consuls of 681 regulated for the future the purchases of Sicilian grain and furnished the government, although at the expense of the provincials, with better means of obviating similar evils. But the less material points of difference also—the restoration of the tribunician power in its old compass, and the setting aside of the senatorial tribunals— ceased not to form subjects of popular agitation; and in their case the government offered more decided resistance. The dispute regarding the tribunician magistracy was opened as early as 678, immediately after the defeat of Lepidus, by the tribune of the people Lucius Sicinius, perhaps a descendant of the man of the same name who had first filled this office more than four hundred years before; but it failed before the resistance offered to it by the active consul Gaius Curio. In 680 Lucius Quinctius resumed the agitation, but was induced by the authority of the consul Lucius Lucullus to desist from his purpose. The matter was taken up in the following year with greater zeal by Gaius Licinius Macer, who— in a way characteristic of the period—carried his literary studies into public life, and, just as he had read in the Annals, counselled the burgesses to refuse the conscription.

Attacks on the Senatorial Tribunals

Complaints also, only too well founded, prevailed respecting the bad administration of justice by the senatorial jurymen. The condemnation of a man of any influence could hardly be obtained. Not only did colleague feel reasonable compassion for colleague, those who had been or were likely to be accused for the poor sinner under accusation at the moment; the sale also of the votes of jurymen was hardly any longer exceptional. Several senators had been judicially convicted of this crime: men pointed with the finger at others equally guilty; the most respected Optimates, such as Quintus Catulus, granted in an open sitting of the senate that the complaints were quite well founded; individual specially striking cases compelled the senate on several occasions, e. g. in 680, to deliberate on measures to check the venality of juries, but only of course till the first outcry had subsided and the matter could be allowed to slip out of sight. The consequences of this wretched administration of justice appeared especially in a system of plundering and torturing the provincials, compared with which even previous outrages seemed tolerable and moderate. Stealing and robbing had been in some measure legitimized by custom; the commission on extortions might be regarded as an institution for taxing the senators returning from the provinces for the benefit of their colleagues that remained at home. But when an esteemed Siceliot, because he had not been ready to help the governor in a crime, was by the latter condemned to death in his absence and unheard; when even Roman burgesses, if they were not equites or senators, were in the provinces no longer safe from the rods and axes of the Roman magistrate, and the oldest acquisition of the Roman democracy—security of life and person—began to be trodden under foot by the ruling oligarchy; then even the public in the Forum at Rome had an ear for the complaints regarding its magistrates in the provinces, and regarding the unjust judges who morally shared the responsibility of such misdeeds. The opposition of course did not omit to assail its opponents in—what was almost the only ground left to it—the tribunals. The young Gaius Caesar, who also, so far as his age allowed, took zealous part in the agitation for the re-establishment of the tribunician power, brought to trial in 677 one of the most respected partisans of Sulla the consular Gnaeus Dolabella, and in the following year another Sullan officer Gaius Antonius; and Marcus Cicero in 684 called to account Gaius Verres, one of the most wretched of the creatures of Sulla, and one of the worst scourges of the provincials. Again and again were the pictures of that dark period of the proscriptions, the fearful sufferings of the provincials, the disgraceful state of Roman criminal justice, unfolded before the assembled multitude with all the pomp of Italian rhetoric, and with all the bitterness of Italian sarcasm, and the mighty dead as well as his living instruments were unrelentingly exposed to their wrath and scorn. The re-establishment of the full tribunician power, with the continuance of which the freedom, might, and prosperity of the republic seemed bound up as by a charm of primeval sacredness, the reintroduction of the "stern" equestrian tribunals, the renewal of the censorship, which Sulla had set aside, for the purifying of the supreme governing board from its corrupt and pernicious elements, were daily demanded with a loud voice by the orators of the popular party.

Want of Results from the Democratic Agitation

But with all this no progress was made. There was scandal and outcry enough, but no real result was attained by this exposure of the government according to and beyond its deserts. The material power still lay, so long as there was no military interference, in the hands of the burgesses of the capital; and the "people" that thronged the streets of Rome and made magistrates and laws in the Forum, was in fact nowise better than the governing senate. The government no doubt had to come to terms with the multitude, where its own immediate interest was at stake; this was the reason for the renewal of the Sempronian corn-law. But it was not to be imagined that this populace would have displayed earnestness on behalf of an idea or even of a judicious reform. What Demosthenes said of his Athenians was justly applied to the Romans of this period—the people were very zealous for action, so long as they stood round the platform and listened to proposals of reforms; but when they went home, no one thought further of what he had heard in the market-place. However those democratic agitators might stir the fire, it was to no purpose, for the inflammable material was wanting. The government knew this, and allowed no sort of concession to be wrung from it on important questions of principle; at the utmost it consented (about 682) to grant amnesty to a portion of those who had become exiles with Lepidus. Any concessions that did take place, came not so much from the pressure of the democracy as from the attempts at mediation of the moderate aristocracy. But of the two laws which the single still surviving leader of this section Gaius Cotta carried in his consulate of 679, that which concerned the tribunals was again set aside in the very next year; and the second, which abolished the Sullan enactment that those who had held the tribunate should be disqualified for undertaking other magistracies, but allowed the other limitations to continue, merely—like every half-measure—excited the displeasure of both parties.

The party of conservatives friendly to reform which lost its most notable head by the early death of Cotta occurring soon after (about 681) dwindled away more and more—crushed between the extremes, which were becoming daily more marked. But of these the party of the government, wretched and remiss as it was, necessarily retained the advantage in presence of the equally wretched and equally remiss opposition.

Quarrel between the Government and Their General Pompeius

But this state of matters so favourable to the government was altered, when the differences became more distinctly developed which subsisted between it and those of its partisans, whose hopes aspired to higher objects than the seat of honour in the senate and the aristocratic villa. In the first rank of these stood Gnaeus Pompeius. He was doubtless a Sullan; but we have already shown(2) how little he was at home among his own party, how his lineage, his past history, his hopes separated him withal from the nobility as whose protector and champion he was officially regarded. The breach already apparent had been widened irreparably during the Spanish campaigns of the general (677-683). With reluctance and semi-compulsion the government had associated him as colleague with their true representative Quintus Metellus; and in turn he accused the senate, probably not without ground, of having by its careless or malicious neglect of the Spanish armies brought about their defeats and placed the fortunes of the expedition in jeopardy. Now he returned as victor over his open and his secret foes, at the head of an army inured to war and wholly devoted to him, desiring assignments of land for his soldiers, a triumph and the consulship for himself. The latter demands came into collision with the law. Pompeius, although several times invested in an extraordinary way with supreme official authority, had not yet administered any ordinary magistracy, not even the quaestorship, and was still not a member of the senate; and none but one who had passed through the round of lesser ordinary magistracies could become consul, none but one who had been invested with the ordinary supreme power could triumph. The senate was legally entitled, if he became a candidate for the consulship, to bid him begin with the quaestorship; if he requested a triumph, to remind him of the great Scipio, who under like circumstances had renounced his triumph over conquered Spain. Nor was Pompeius less dependent constitutionally on the good will of the senate as respected the lands promised to his soldiers. But, although the senate—as with its feebleness even in animosity was very conceivable—should yield those points and concede to the victorious general, in return for his executioner's service against the democratic chiefs, the triumph, the consulate, and the assignations of land, an honourable annihilation in senatorial indolence among the long series of peaceful senatorial Imperators was the most favourable lot which the oligarchy was able to hold in readiness for the general of thirty-six. That which his heart really longed for—the command in the Mithradatic war—he could never expect to obtain from the voluntary bestowal of the senate: in their own well-understood interest the oligarchy could not permit him to add to his Africa and European trophies those of a third continent; the laurels which were to be plucked copiously and easily in the east were reserved at all events for the pure aristocracy. But if the celebrated general did not find his account in the ruling oligarchy, there remained— for neither was the time ripe, nor was the temperament of Pompeius at all fitted, for a purely personal outspoken dynastic policy— no alternative save to make common cause with the democratic party. No interest of his own bound him to the Sullan constitution; he could pursue his personal objects quite as well, if not better, with one more democratic. On the other hand he found all that he needed in the democratic party. Its active and adroit leaders were ready and able to relieve the resourceless and somewhat wooden hero of the trouble of political leadership, and yet much too insignificant to be able or even wishful to dispute with the celebrated general the first place and especially the supreme military control. Even Gaius Caesar, by far the most important of them, was simply a young man whose daring exploits and fashionable debts far more than his fiery democratic eloquence had gained him a name, and who could not but feel himself greatly honoured when the world-renowned Imperator allowed him to be his political adjutant. That popularity, to which men like Pompeius, with pretensions greater than their abilities, usually attach more value than they are willing to confess to themselves, could not but fall in the highest measure to the lot of the young general whose accession gave victory to the almost forlorn cause of the democracy. The reward of victory claimed by him for himself and his soldiers would then follow of itself. In general it seemed, if the oligarchy were overthrown, that amidst the total want of other considerable chiefs of the opposition it would depend solely on Pompeius himself to determine his future position. And of this much there could hardly be a doubt, that the accession of the general of the army, which had just returned victorious from Spain and still stood compact and unbroken in Italy, to the party of opposition must have as its consequence the fall of the existing order of things. Government and opposition were equally powerless; so soon as the latter no longer fought merely with the weapons of declamation, but had the sword of a victorious general ready to back its demands, the government would be in any case overcome, perhaps even without a struggle.

Coalition of the Military Chiefs and the Democracy

Pompeius and the democrats thus found themselves urged into coalition. Personal dislikings were probably not wanting on either side: it was not possible that the victorious general could love the street orators, nor could these hail with pleasure as their chief the executioner of Carbo and Brutus; but political necessity outweighed at least for the moment all moral scruples.

The democrats and Pompeius, however, were not the sole parties to the league. Marcus Crassus was in a similar situation with Pompeius. Although a Sullan like the latter, his politics were quite as in the case of Pompeius preeminently of a personal kind, and by no means those of the ruling oligarchy; and he too was now in Italy at the head of a large and victorious army, with which he had just suppressed the rising of the slaves. He had to choose whether he would ally himself with the oligarchy against the coalition, or enter that coalition: he chose the latter, which was doubtless the safer course. With his colossal wealth and his influence on the clubs of the capital he was in any case a valuable ally; but under the prevailing circumstances it was an incalculable gain, when the only army, with which the senate could have met the troops of Pompeius, joined the attacking force. The democrats moreover, who were probably somewhat uneasy at their alliance with that too powerful general, were not displeased to see a counterpoise and perhaps a future rival associated with him in the person of Marcus Crassus.

Thus in the summer of 683 the first coalition took place between the democracy on the one hand, and the two Sullan generals Gnaeus Pompeius and Marcus Crassus on the other. The generals adopted the party-programme of the democracy; and they were promised immediately in return the consulship for the coming year, while Pompeius was to have also a triumph and the desired allotments of land for his soldiers, and Crassus as the conqueror of Spartacus at least the honour of a solemn entrance into the capital.

To the two Italian armies, the great capitalists, and the democracy, which thus came forward in league for the overthrow of the Sullan constitution, the senate had nothing to oppose save perhaps the second Spanish army under Quintus Metellus Pius. But Sulla had truly predicted that what he did would not be done a second time; Metellus, by no means inclined to involve himself in a civil war, had discharged his soldiers immediately after crossing the Alps. So nothing was left for the oligarchy but to submit to what was inevitable. The senate granted the dispensations requisite for the consulship and triumph; Pompeius and Crassus were, without opposition, elected consuls for 684, while their armies, on pretext of awaiting their triumph, encamped before the city. Pompeius thereupon, even before entering on office, gave his public and formal adherence to the democratic programme in an assembly of the people held by the tribune Marcus Lollius Palicanus. The change of the constitution was thus in principle decided.

Re-establishing of the Tribunician Power

They now went to work in all earnest to set aside the Sullan institutions. First of all the tribunician magistracy regained its earlier authority. Pompeius himself as consul introduced the law which gave back to the tribunes of the people their time-honoured prerogatives, and in particular the initiative of legislation— a singular gift indeed from the hand of a man who had done more than any one living to wrest from the community its ancient privileges.

New Arrangement as to Jurymen

With respect to the position of jurymen, the regulation of Sulla, that the roll of the senators was to serve as the list of jurymen, was no doubt abolished; but this by no means led to a simple restoration of the Gracchan equestrian courts. In future—so it was enacted by the new Aurelian law—the colleges of jurymen were to consist one-third of senators and two-thirds of men of equestrian census, and of the latter the half must have rilled the office of district-presidents, or so-called -tribuni aerarii-. This last innovation was a farther concession made to the democrats, inasmuch as according to it at least a third part of the criminal jurymen were indirectly derived from the elections of the tribes. The reason, again, why the senate was not totally excluded from the courts is probably to be sought partly in the relations of Crassus to the senate, partly in the accession of the senatorial middle party to the coalition; with which is doubtless connected the circumstance that this law was brought in by the praetor Lucius Cotta, the brother of their lately deceased leader.

Renewal of the Asiatic Revenue-Farming

Not less important was the abolition of the arrangements as to taxation established for Asia by Sulla,(3) which presumably likewise fell to this year. The governor of Asia at that time, Lucius Lucullus, was directed to reestablish the system of farming the revenue introduced by Gaius Gracchus; and thus this important source of money and power was restored to the great capitalists.

Renewal of the Censorship

Lastly, the censorship was revived. The elections for it, which the new consuls fixed shortly after entering on their office, fell, in evident mockery of the senate, on the two consuls of 682, Gnaeus Lentulus Clodianus and Lucius Gellius, who had been removed by the senate from their commands on account of their wretched management of the war against Spartacus.(4) It may readily be conceived that these men put in motion all the means which their important and grave office placed at their command, for the purpose of doing homage to the new-holders of power and of annoying the senate. At least an eighth part of the senate, sixty-four senators, a number hitherto unparalleled, were deleted from the roll, including Gaius Antonius, formerly impeached without success by Gaius Caesar,(5) and Publius Lentulus Sura, the consul of 683, and presumably also not a few of the most obnoxious creatures of Sulla.

The New Constitution

Thus in 684 they had reverted in the main to the arrangements that subsisted before the Sullan restoration.

Again the multitude of the capital was fed from the state-chest, in other words by the provinces;(6) again the tribunician authority gave to every demagogue a legal license to overturn the arrangements of the state; again the moneyed nobility, as farmers of the revenue and possessed of the judicial control over the governors, raised their heads alongside of the government as powerfully as ever; again the senate trembled before the verdict of jurymen of the equestrian order and before the censorial censure. The system of Sulla, which had based the monopoly of power by the nobility on the political annihilation of the mercantile aristocracy and of demagogism, was thus completely overthrown. Leaving out of view some subordinate enactments, the abolition of which was not overtaken till afterwards, such as the restoration of the right of self-completion to the priestly colleges,(7) nothing of the general ordinances of Sulla survived except, on the one hand, the concessions which he himself found it necessary to make to the opposition, such as the recognition of the Roman franchise of all the Italians, and, on the other hand, enactments without any marked partisan tendency, and with which therefore even judicious democrats found no fault—such as, among others, the restriction of the freedmen, the regulation of the functional spheres of the magistrates, and the material alterations in criminal law.

The coalition was more agreed regarding these questions of principle than with respect to the personal questions which such a political revolution raised. As might be expected, the democrats were not content with the general recognition of their programme; but they too now demanded a restoration in their sense—revival of the commemoration of their dead, punishment of the murderers, recall of the proscribed from exile, removal of the political disqualification that lay on their children, restoration of the estates confiscated by Sulla, indemnification at the expense of the heirs and assistants of the dictator. These were certainly the logical consequences which ensued from a pure victory of the democracy; but the victory of the coalition of 683 was very far from being such. The democracy gave to it their name and their programme, but it was the officers who had joined the movement, and above all Pompeius, that gave to it power and completion; and these could never yield their consent to a reaction which would not only have shaken the existing state of things to its foundations, but would have ultimately turned against themselves—men still had a lively recollection who the men were whose blood Pompeius had shed, and how Crassus had laid the foundation of his enormous fortune. It was natural therefore, but at the same time significant of the weakness of the democracy, that the coalition of 683 took not the slightest step towards procuring for the democrats revenge or even rehabilitation. The supplementary collection of all the purchase money still outstanding for confiscated estates bought by auction, or even remitted to the purchasers by Sulla— for which the censor Lentulus provided in a special law— can hardly be regarded as an exception; for though not a few Sullans were thereby severely affected in their personal interests, yet the measure itself was essentially a confirmation of the confiscations undertaken by Sulla.

Impending Miliatry Dictatorship of Pompeius

The work of Sulla was thus destroyed; but what the future order of things was to be, was a question raised rather than decided by that destruction. The coalition, kept together solely by the common object of setting aside the work of restoration, dissolved of itself, if not formally, at any rate in reality, when that object was attained; while the question, to what quarter the preponderance of power was in the first instance to fall, seemed approaching an equally speedy and violent solution. The armies of Pompeius and Crassus still lay before the gates of the city. The former had indeed promised to disband his soldiers after his triumph (last day of Dec. 683); but he had at first omitted to do so, in order to let the revolution in the state be completed without hindrance under the pressure which the Spanish army in front of the capital exercised over the city and the senate—a course, which in like manner applied to the army of Crassus. This reason now existed no longer; but still the dissolution of the armies was postponed. In the turn taken by matters it looked as if one of the two generals allied with the democracy would seize the military dictatorship and place oligarchs and democrats in the same chains. And this one could only be Pompeius. From the first Crassus had played a subordinate part in the coalition; he had been obliged to propose himself, and owed even his election to the consulship mainly to the proud intercession of Pompeius. Far the stronger, Pompeius was evidently master of the situation; if he availed himself of it, it seemed as if he could not but become what the instinct of the multitude even now designated him—the absolute ruler of the mightiest state in the civilized world. Already the whole mass of the servile crowded around the future monarch. Already his weaker opponents were seeking their last resource in a new coalition; Crassus, full of old and recent jealousy towards the younger rival who so thoroughly outstripped him, made approaches to the senate and attempted by unprecedented largesses to attach to himself the multitude of the capital—as if the oligarchy which Crassus himself had helped to break down, and the ever ungrateful multitude, would have been able to afford any protection whatever against the veterans of the Spanish army. For a moment it seemed as if the armies of Pompeius and Crassus would come to blows before the gates of the capital.

Retirement of Pompeius

But the democrats averted this catastrophe by their sagacity and their pliancy. For their party too, as well as for the senate and Crassus, it was all-important that Pompeius should not seize the dictatorship; but with a truer discernment of their own weakness and of the character of their powerful opponent their leaders tried the method of conciliation. Pompeius lacked no condition for grasping at the crown except the first of all—proper kingly courage. We have already described the man—with his effort to be at once loyal republican and master of Rome, with his vacillation and indecision, with his pliancy that concealed itself under the boasting of independent resolution. This was the first great trial to which destiny subjected him; and he failed to stand it. The pretext under which Pompeius refused to dismiss the army was, that he distrusted Crassus and therefore could not take the initiative in disbanding the soldiers. The democrats induced Crassus to make gracious advances in the matter, and to offer the hand of peace to his colleague before the eyes of all; in public and in private they besought the latter that to the double merit of having vanquished the enemy and reconciled the parties he would add the third and yet greater service of preserving internal peace to his country, and banishing the fearful spectre of civil war with which they were threatened. Whatever could tell on a vain, unskilful, vacillating man—all the flattering arts of diplomacy, all the theatrical apparatus of patriotic enthusiasm—was put in motion to obtain the desired result; and—which was the main point—things had by the well-timed compliance of Crassus assumed such a shape, that Pompeius had no alternative but either to come forward openly as tyrant of Rome or to retire. So he at length yielded and consented to disband the troops. The command in the Mithradatic war, which he doubtless hoped to obtain when he had allowed himself to be chosen consul for 684, he could not now desire, since Lucullus seemed to have practically ended that war with the campaign of 683. He deemed it beneath his dignity to accept the consular province assigned to him by the senate in accordance with the Sempronian law, and Crassus in this followed his example. Accordingly when Pompeius after discharging his soldiers resigned his consulship on the last day of 684, he retired for the time wholly from public affairs, and declared that he wished thenceforth to live a life of quiet leisure as a simple citizen. He had taken up such a position that he was obliged to grasp at the crown; and, seeing that he was not willing to do so, no part was left to him but the empty one of a candidate for a throne resigning his pretensions to it.

Senate, Equites, and Populares

The retirement of the man, to whom as things stood the first place belonged, from the political stage reproduced in the first instance nearly the same position of parties, which we found in the Gracchan and Marian epochs. Sulla had merely strengthened the senatorial government, not created it; so, after the bulwarks erected by Sulla had fallen, the government nevertheless remained primarily with the senate, although, no doubt, the constitution with which it governed—in the main the restored Gracchan constitution— was pervaded by a spirit hostile to the oligarchy. The democracy had effected the re-establishment of the Gracchan constitution; but without a new Gracchus it was a body without a head, and that neither Pompeius nor Crassus could be permanently such a head, was in itself clear and had been made still clearer by the recent events. So the democratic opposition, for want of a leader who could have directly taken the helm, had to content itself for the time being with hampering and annoying the government at every step. Between the oligarchy, however, and the democracy there rose into new consideration the capitalist party, which in the recent crisis had made common cause with the latter, but which the oligarchs now zealously endeavoured to draw over to their side, so as to acquire in it a counterpoise to the democracy. Thus courted on both sides the moneyed lords did not neglect to turn their advantageous position to profit, and to have the only one of their former privileges which they had not yet regained—the fourteen benches reserved for the equestrian order in the theatre—now (687) restored to them by decree of the people. On the whole, without abruptly breaking with the democracy, they again drew closer to the government. The very relations of the senate to Crassus and his clients point in this direction; but a better understanding between the senate and the moneyed aristocracy seems to have been chiefly brought about by the fact, that in 686 the senate withdrew from Lucius Lucullus the ablest of the senatorial officers, at the instance of the capitalists whom he had sorely annoyed, the dministration of the province of Asia so important for their purposes.(8)

The Events in the East, and Their Reaction on Rome

But while the factions of the capital were indulging in their wonted mutual quarrels, which they were never able to bring to any proper decision, events in the east followed their fatal course, as we have already described; and it was these events that brought the dilatory course of the politics of the capital to a crisis. The war both by land and by sea had there taken a most unfavourable turn. In the beginning of 687 the Pontic army of the Romans was destroyed, and their Armenian army was utterly breaking up on its retreat; all their conquests were lost, the sea was exclusively in the power of the pirates, and the price of grain in Italy was thereby so raised that they were afraid of an actual famine. No doubt, as we saw, the faults of the generals, especially the utter incapacity of the admiral Marcus Antonius and the temerity of the otherwise able Lucius Lucullus, were in part the occasion of these calamities; no doubt also the democracy had by its revolutionary agitations materially contributed to the breaking up of the Armenian army. But of course the government was now held cumulatively responsible for all the mischief which itself and others had occasioned, and the indignant hungry multitude desired only an opportunity to settle accounts with the senate.

Reappearance of Pompeius

It was a decisive crisis. The oligarchy, though degraded and disarmed, was not yet overthrown, for the management of public affairs was still in the hands of the senate; but it would fall, if its opponents should appropriate to themselves that management, and more especially the superintendence of military affairs; and now this was possible. If proposals for another and better management of the war by land and sea were now submitted to the comitia, the senate was obviously—looking to the temper of the burgesses— not in a position to prevent their passing; and an interference of the burgesses in these supreme questions of administration was practically the deposition of the senate and the transference of the conduct of the state to the leaders of opposition. Once more the concatenation of events brought the decision into the hands of Pompeius. For more than two years the famous general had lived as a private citizen in the capital. His voice was seldom heard in the senate-house or in the Forum; in the former he was unwelcome and without decisive influence, in the latter he was afraid of the stormy proceedings of the parties. But when he did show himself, it was with the full retinue of his clients high and low, and the very solemnity of his reserve imposed on the multitude. If he, who was still surrounded with the full lustre of his extraordinary successes, should now offer to go to the east, he would beyond doubt be readily invested by the burgesses with all the plenitude of military and political power which he might himself ask. For the oligarchy, which saw in the political-military dictatorship their certain ruin, and in Pompeius himself since the coalition of 683 their most hated foe, this was an overwhelming blow; but the democratic party also could have little comfort in the prospect. However desirable the putting an end to the government of the senate could not but be in itself, it was, if it took place in this way, far less a victory for their party than a personal victory for their over-powerful ally. In the latter there might easily arise a far more dangerous opponent to the democratic party than the senate had been. The danger fortunately avoided a few years before by the disbanding of the Spanish army and the retirement of Pompeius would recur in increased measure, if Pompeius should now be placed at the head of the armies of the east.

Overthrow of the Senatorial Rule, and New Power of Pompeius

On this occasion, however, Pompeius acted or at least allowed others to act in his behalf. In 687 two projects of law were introduced, one of which, besides decreeing the discharge— long since demanded by the democracy—of the soldiers of the Asiatic army who had served their term, decreed the recall of its commander-in-chief Lucius Lucullus and the supplying of his place by one of the consuls of the current year, Gaius Piso or Manius Glabrio; while the second revived and extended the plan proposed seven years before by the senate itself for clearing the seas from the pirates. A single general to be named by the senate from the consulars was to be appointed, to hold by sea exclusive command over the whole Mediterranean from the Pillars of Hercules to the coasts of Pontus and Syria, and to exercise by land, concurrently with the respective Roman governors, supreme command over the whole coasts for fifty miles inland. The office was secured to him for three years. He was surrounded by a staff, such as Rome had never seen, of five-and-twenty lieutenants of senatorial rank, all invested with praetorian insignia and praetorian powers, and of two under-treasurers with quaestorian prerogatives, all of them selected by the exclusive will of the general commanding-in-chief. He was allowed to raise as many as 120,000 infantry, 5000 cavalry, 500 ships of war, and for this purpose to dispose absolutely of the means of the provinces and client-states; moreover, the existing vessels of war and a considerable number of troops were at once handed over to him. The treasures of the state in the capital and in the provinces as well as those of the dependent communities were to be placed absolutely at his command, and in spite of the severe financial distress a sum of; 1,400,000 pounds (144,000,000 sesterces) was at once to be paid to him from the state-chest.

Effect of the Projects of Law

It is clear that by these projects of law, especially by that which related to the expedition against the pirates, the government of the senate was set aside. Doubtless the ordinary supreme magistrates nominated by the burgesses were of themselves the proper generals of the commonwealth, and the extraordinary magistrates needed, at least according to strict law, confirmation by the burgesses in order to act as generals; but in the appointment to particular commands no influence constitutionally belonged to the community, and it was only on the proposition of the senate, or at any rate on that of a magistrate entitled in himself to hold the office of general, that the comitia had hitherto now and again interfered in this matter and conferred such special functions. In this field, ever since there had existed a Roman free state, the practically decisive voice pertained to the senate, and this its prerogative had in the course of time obtained full recognition. No doubt the democracy had already assailed it; but even in the most doubtful of the cases which had hitherto occurred—the transference of the African command to Gaius Marius in 647(9)—it was only a magistrate constitutionally entitled to hold the office of general that was entrusted by the resolution of the burgesses with a definite expedition.

But now the burgesses were to invest any private man at their pleasure not merely with the extraordinary authority of the supreme magistracy, but also with a sphere of office definitely settled by them. That the senate had to choose this man from the ranks of the consulars, was a mitigation only in form; for the selection was left to it simply because there was really no choice, and in presence of the vehemently excited multitude the senate could entrust the chief command of the seas and coasts to no other save Pompeius alone. But more dangerous still than this negation in principle of the senatorial control was its practical abolition by the institution of an office of almost unlimited military and financial powers. While the office of general was formerly restricted to a term of one year, to a definite province, and to military and financial resources strictly measured out, the new extraordinary office had from the outset a duration of three years secured to it—which of course did not exclude a farther prolongation; had the greater portion of all the provinces, and even Italy itself which was formerly free from military jurisdiction, subordinated to it; had the soldiers, ships, treasures of the state placed almost without restriction at its disposal. Even the primitive fundamental principle in the state-law of the Roman republic, which we have just mentioned— that the highest military and civil authority could not be conferred without the co-operation of the burgesses—was infringed in favour of the new commander-in-chief. Inasmuch as the law conferred beforehand on the twenty-five adjutants whom he was to nominate praetorian rank and praetorian prerogatives,(10) the highest office of republican Rome became subordinate to a newly created office, for which it was left to the future to find the fitting name, but which in reality even now involved in it the monarchy. It was a total revolution in the existing order of things, for which the foundation was laid in this project of law.

Pompeius and the Gabinian Laws

These measures of a man who had just given so striking proofs of his vacillation and weakness surprise us by their decisive energy. Nevertheless the fact that Pompeius acted on this occasion more resolutely than during his consulate is very capable of explanation. The point at issue was not that he should come forward at once as monarch, but only that he should prepare the way for the monarchy by a military exceptional measure, which, revolutionary as it was in its nature, could still be accomplished under the forms of the existing constitution, and which in the first instance carried Pompeius so far on the way towards the old object of his wishes, the command against Mithradates and Tigranes. Important reasons of expediency also might be urged for the emancipation of the military power from the senate. Pompeius could not have forgotten that a plan designed on exactly similar principles for the suppression of piracy had a few years before failed through the mismanagement of the senate, and that the issue of the Spanish war had been placed in extreme jeopardy by the neglect of the armies on the part of the senate and its injudicious conduct of the finances; he could not fail to see what were the feelings with which the great majority of the aristocracy regarded him as a renegade Sullan, and what fate was in store for him, if he allowed himself to be sent as general of the government with the usual powers to the east. It was natural therefore that he should indicate a position independent of the senate as the first condition of his undertaking the command, and that the burgesses should readily agree to it. It is moreover in a high degree probable that Pompeius was on this occasion urged to more rapid action by those around him, who were, it may be presumed, not a little indignant at his retirement two years before. The projects of law regarding the recall of Lucullus and the expedition against the pirates were introduced by the tribune of the people Aulus Gabinius, a man ruined in finances and morals, but a dexterous negotiator, a bold orator, and a brave soldier. Little as the assurance of Pompeius, that he had no wish at all for the chief command in the war with the pirates and only longed for domestic repose, were meant in earnest, there was probably this much of truth in them, that the bold and active client, who was in confidential intercourse with Pompeius and his more immediate circle and who completely saw through the situation and the men, took the decision to a considerable extent out of the hands of his shortsighted and resourceless patron.

The Parties in Relation to the Gabinian Laws

The democracy, discontented as its leaders might be in secret, could not well come publicly forward against the project of law. It would, to all appearance, have been in no case able to hinder the carrying of the law; but it would by opposition have openly broken with Pompeius and thereby compelled him either to make approaches to the oligarchy or regardlessly to pursue his personal policy in the face of both parties. No course was left to the democrats but still even now to adhere to their alliance with Pompeius, hollow as it was, and to embrace the present opportunity of at least definitely overthrowing the senate and passing over from opposition into government, leaving the ulterior issue to the future and to the well-known weakness of Pompeius' character. Accordingly their leaders—the praetor Lucius Quinctius, the same who seven years before had exerted himself for the restoration of the tribunician power,(11) and the former quaestor Gaius Caesar— supported the Gabinian proposals.

The privileged classes were furious—not merely the nobility, but also the mercantile aristocracy, which felt its exclusive rights endangered by so thorough a state-revolution and once more recognized its true patron in the senate. When the tribune Gabinius after the introduction of his proposals appeared in the senate-house, the fathers of the city were almost on the point of strangling him with their own hands, without considering in their zeal how extremely disadvantageous for them this method of arguing must have ultimately proved. The tribune escaped to the Forum and summoned the multitude to storm the senate-house, when just at the right time the sitting terminated. The consul Piso, the champion of the oligarchy, who accidentally fell into the hands of the multitude, would have certainly become a victim to popular fury, had not Gabinius come up and, in order that his certain success might not be endangered by unseasonable acts of violence, liberated the consul. Meanwhile the exasperation of the multitude remained undiminished and constantly found fresh nourishment in the high prices of grain and the numerous rumours more or less absurd which were in circulation—such as that Lucius Lucullus had invested the money entrusted to him for carrying on the war at interest in Rome, or had attempted with its aid to make the praetor Quinctius withdraw from the cause of the people; that the senate intended to prepare for the "second Romulus," as they called Pompeius, the fate of the first,(12) and other reports of a like character.

The Vote

Thereupon the day of voting arrived. The multitude stood densely packed in the Forum; all the buildings, whence the rostra could be seen, were covered up to the roofs with men. All the colleagues of Gabinius had promised their veto to the senate; but in presence of the surging masses all were silent except the single Lucius Trebellius, who had sworn to himself and the senate rather to die than yield. When the latter exercised his veto, Gabinius immediately interrupted the voting on his projects of law and proposed to the assembled people to deal with his refractory colleague, as Octavius had formerly been dealt with on the proposition of Tiberius Gracchus,(13) namely, to depose him immediately from office. The vote was taken and the reading out of the voting tablets began; when the first seventeen tribes, which came to be read out, had declared for the proposal and the next affirmative vote would give to it the majority, Trebellius, forgetting his oath, pusillanimously withdrew his veto. In vain the tribune Otho then endeavoured to procure that at least the collegiate principle might be preserved, and two generals elected instead of one; in vain the aged Quintus Catulus, the most respected man in the senate, exerted his last energies to secure that the lieutenant-generals should not be nominated by the commander-in-chief, but chosen by the people. Otho could not even procure a hearing amidst the noise of the multitude; the well-calculated complaisance of Gabinius procured a hearing for Catulus, and in respectful silence the multitude listened to the old man's words; but they were none the less thrown away. The proposals were not merely converted into law with all the clauses unaltered, but the supplementary requests in detail made by Pompeius were instantaneously and completely agreed to.

Successes of Pompeius in the East

With high-strung hopes men saw the two generals Pompeius and Glabrio depart for their places of destination. The price of grain had fallen immediately after the passing of the Gabinian laws to the ordinary rates—an evidence of the hopes attached to the grand expedition and its glorious leader. These hopes were, as we shall have afterwards to relate, not merely fulfilled, but surpassed: in three months the clearing of the seas was completed. Since the Hannibalic war the Roman government had displayed no such energy in external action; as compared with the lax and incapable administration of the oligarchy, the democratic— military opposition had most brilliantly made good its title to grasp and wield the reins of the state. The equally unpatriotic and unskilful attempts of the consul Piso to put paltry obstacles in the way of the arrangements of Pompeius for the suppression of piracy in Narbonese Gaul only increased the exasperation of the burgesses against the oligarchy and their enthusiasm for Pompeius; it was nothing but the personal intervention of the latter, that prevented the assembly of the people from summarily removing the consul from his office.

Meanwhile the confusion on the Asiatic continent had become still worse. Glabrio, who was to take up in the stead of Lucullus the chief command against Mithradates and Tigranes, had remained stationary in the west of Asia Minor and, while instigating the soldiers by various proclamations against Lucullus, had not entered on the supreme command, so that Lucullus was forced to retain it. Against Mithradates, of course, nothing was done; the Pontic cavalry plundered fearlessly and with impunity in Bithynia and Cappadocia. Pompeius had been led by the piratical war to proceed with his army to Asia Minor; nothing seemed more natural than to invest him with the supreme command in the Pontic-Armenian war, to which he himself had long aspired. But the democratic party did not, as may be readily conceived, share the wishes of its general, and carefully avoided taking the initiative in the matter. It is very probable that it had induced Gabinius not to entrust both the war with Mithradates and that with the pirates from the outset to Pompeius, but to entrust the former to Glabrio; upon no account could it now desire to increase and perpetuate the exceptional position of the already too-powerful general. Pompeius himself retained according to his custom a passive attitude; and perhaps he would in reality have returned home after fulfilling the commission which he had received, but for the occurrence of an incident unexpected by all parties.

The Manillian Law

One Gaius Manilius, an utterly worthless and insignificant man had when tribune of the people by his unskilful projects of legislation lost favour both with the aristocracy and with the democracy. In the hope of sheltering himself under the wing of the powerful general, if he should procure for the latter what every one knew that he eagerly desired but had not the boldness to ask, Manilius proposed to the burgesses to recall the governors Glabrio from Bithynia and Pontus and Marcius Rex from Cilicia, and to entrust their offices as well as the conduct of the war in the east, apparently without any fixed limit as to time and at any rate with the freest authority to conclude peace and alliance, to the proconsul of the seas and coasts in addition to his previous office (beg. of 688). This occurrence very clearly showed how disorganized was the machinery of the Roman constitution, whenthe power of legislation was placed as respected the initiative inthe hands of any demagogue however insignificant, and as respected the final determination in the hands of the incapable multitude, while it at the same time was extended to the most important questions of administration. The Manilian proposal was acceptable to none of the political parties; yet it scarcely anywhere encountered serious resistance. The democratic leaders, for the same reasons which had forced them to acquiesce in the Gabinian law, could not venture earnestly to oppose the Manilian; they kept their displeasure and their fears to themselves and spoke in public for the general of the democracy. The moderate Optimates declared themselves for the Manilian proposal, because after the Gabinian law resistance in any case was vain, and far-seeing men already perceived that the true policy for the senate was to make approaches as far as possible to Pompeius and to draw him over to their side on occasion of the breach which might be foreseen between him and the democrats. Lastly the trimmers blessed the day when they too seemed to have an opinion and could come forward decidedly without losing favour with either of the parties— it is significant that Marcus Cicero first appeared as an orator on the political platform in defence of the Manilian proposal. The strict Optimates alone, with Quintus Catulus at their head, showed at least their colours and spoke against the proposition. Of course it was converted into law by a majority bordering on unanimity. Pompeius thus obtained, in addition to his earlier extensive powers, the administration of the most important provinces of Asia Minor— so that there scarcely remained a spot of land within the wide Roman bounds that had not to obey him—and the conduct of a war as to which, like the expedition of Alexander, men could tell where and when it began, but not where and when it might end. Never since Rome stood had such power been united in the hands of a single man.

The Democratic-Military Revolution

The Gabinio-Manilian proposals terminated the struggle between the senate and the popular party, which the Sempronian laws had begun sixty-seven years before. As the Sempronian laws first constituted the revolutionary party into a political opposition, the Gabinio- Manilian first converted it from an opposition into the government; and as it had been a great moment when the first breach in the existing constitution was made by disregarding the veto of Octavius, it was a moment no less full of significance when the last bulwark of the senatorial rule fell with the withdrawal of Trebellius. This was felt on both sides and even the indolent souls of the senators were convulsively roused by this death- struggle; but yet the war as to the constitution terminated in a very different and far more pitiful fashion than it had begun. A youth in every sense noble had commenced the revolution; it was concluded by pert intriguers and demagogues of the lowest type. On the other hand, while the Optimates had begun the struggle with a measured resistance and with a defence which earnestly held out even at the forlorn posts, they ended with taking the initiative in club-law, with grandiloquent weakness, and with pitiful perjury. What had once appeared a daring dream, was now attained; the senate had ceased to govern. But when the few old men who had seen the first storms of revolution and heard the words of the Gracchi, compared that time with the present they found that everything had in the interval changed—countrymen and citizens, state-law and military discipline, life and manners; and well might those painfully smile, who compared the ideals of the Gracchan period with their realization. Such reflections however belonged to the past. For the present and perhaps also for the future the fall of the aristocracy was an accomplished fact. The oligarchs resembled an army utterly broken up, whose scattered bands might serve to reinforce another body of troops, but could no longer themselves keep the field or risk a combat on their own account. But as the old struggle came to an end, a new one was simultaneously beginning—the struggle between the two powers hitherto leagued for the overthrow of the aristocratic constitution, the civil- democratic opposition and the military power daily aspiring to greater ascendency. The exceptional position of Pompeius even under the Gabinian, and much more under the Manilian, law was incompatible with a republican organization. He had been as even then his opponents urged with good reason, appointed by the Gabinian law not as admiral, but as regent of the empire; not unjustly was he designated by a Greek familiar with eastern affairs "king of kings." If he should hereafter, on returning from the east once more victorious and with increased glory, with well-filled chests, and with troops ready for battle and devoted to his cause, stretch forth his hand to seize the crown—who would then arrest his arm? Was the consular Quintus Catulus, forsooth, to summon forth the senators against the first general of his time and his experienced legions? or was the designated aedile Gaius Caesar to call forth the civic multitude, whose eyes he had just feasted on his three hundred and twenty pairs of gladiators with their silver equipments? Soon, exclaimed Catulus, it would be necessary once more to flee to the rocks of the Capitol, in order to save liberty. It was not the fault of the prophet, that the storm came not, as he expected, from the east, but that on the contrary fate, fulfilling his words more literally than he himself anticipated, brought on the destroying tempest a few years later from Gaul.


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