Anno Urbis - The Roman Empire Online

The Story of Rome From the Earliest Times to the End of the Republic

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The master spirits of this remarkable age were now in full action on the stage, and it is difficult to keep the eye fixed upon all of them at once. Now one is prominent and now another; all are pushing their particular interests, while each tries to make it appear that he has nothing but the good of the state at heart. Whenever it is evident that a certain cause is the popular one, the various leaders, opposed on most subjects, are united to help it, in the hope of catching the popular breeze. During the consulship of Pompey and Catulus, Pompey was the principal Roman citizen, and he tried to make sure that his prestige should not be lessened when he should step down from his high office.


Crassus, aristocrat by birth and aristocrat by choice, had been a candidate for the senate in opposition to Pompey, but he soon found that his interest demanded that he should make peace with his powerful colleague, and as he did it, he told the people that he did not consider that his action was in any degree base or humiliating, for he simply made advances to one whom they had themselves named the Great. Crowds daily courted Pompey on account of his power; but a multitude equally numerous surrounded Crassus for his wealth, and Cicero on account of his wonderful oratory. Even Julius Cæsar, the strong Marian, who pronounced a eulogy upon his aunt, the widow of Marius, seemed also to pay homage to Pompey, when, a year later, he took to wife Pompeia, a relative of the great soldier (B.C. 67).

Both Cæsar and Pompey saw that gross corruption was practised by the chiefs of the senate when they had control of the provinces, and knew that it ought to be exposed and effectually stopped, but Cæsar was the first to take action. He was quickly followed by Pompey, however, who encouraged Cicero to denounce the crimes of Verres with the success that we have already noticed. Cicero loftily exclaimed that he did not seek to chastise a single wicked man who had abused his authority as governor, but to extinguish and blot out all wickedness in all places, as the Roman people had long been demanding; but with all his eloquence he was not able to make the people appreciate the fact that the interests of Rome were identical with the well-being and prosperity of her allies, distant or near at hand.

Both Crassus and Pompey retired from the consulship amid the plaudits of the people and with the continued friendship of the optimates. Crassus, out of his immense income, spread a feast for the people on ten thousand tables; dedicated a tenth of his wealth to Hercules; and distributed among the citizens enough grain to supply their families three months. With all his efforts, however, he could not gain the favor which Pompey apparently held with ease. For two years Pompey assumed royal manners, and gave himself up to the enjoyment of his popularity, but then beginning to fear that without some new evidence of genius he might lose the admiration of the people, he began to make broad plans to astonish them.

For years the Mediterranean Sea had been infested by daring pirates, who at last made it unsafe for a Roman noble even to drive to his sea- side villa, or a merchant to venture abroad for purposes of trade. Cities had been ravaged, and the enemies of Rome had from time to time made alliances with the marauders. The pirates dyed their sails with Tyrian purple, they inlaid their oars with silver, and they spread gold on their pennants, so rich had their booty made them. Nor were they less daring than rich; they had captured four hundred towns of importance, they had once kidnapped Cæsar himself, and held him for enormous ransom, [Footnote: This occurred in the year 76 B.C., when Cæsar, at the age of twenty-four, was on his way to Rhodes, intending to perfect himself in oratory at the school of Apollonius Molo, the teacher of Cicero, lie was travelling as a gentleman of rank, and was captured off Miletus. After a captivity of six weeks, during which he mingled freely with the games and pastimes of the pirates, though plainly assuring them that he should one day hang them all, Cæsar was liberated, on payment of a ransom of some fifty thousand dollars. Good as his word, he promptly collected a fleet of vessels, returned to the island, seized the miscreants as they were dividing their plunder, carried them off to Pergamos, and had them crucified. He then went on to Rhodes, and practised elocution for two years.] and now they threatened to cut off the entire supply of grain that came from Africa, Sardinia, and Sicily,

The crisis was evident to all, and in it Pompey saw his opportunity. In the year 67, he caused a law to be introduced by the tribune Gabinius, ordaining that a commander of consular rank should be appointed for three years, with absolute power over the sea and the coasts about it for fifty miles inland, together with a fleet of two hundred sail, with officers, seamen, and supplies. When the bill had passed, Gabinius declared that there was but one man fit to exercise such remarkable power, and it was conferred with acclamations upon Pompey, whom he nominated. The price of grain immediately fell, for every one had confidence that the dread crisis was passed. The people were right, for in a few weeks the pirates had all been brought to terms. Pompey had divided the sea into thirteen parts, and in each of them the freebooters had been encountered in open battle, driven into creeks and captured, or forced to take refuge in their castles and hunted out of them, so that those who were not taken had surrendered.

The next move among the master spirits led to the still greater advancement of Pompey. His supporters at Rome managed to have him appointed to carry on a war in the East. In the year 74, when other enemies of the republic seized the opportunity to rise against Rome, Mithridates, never fully conquered, entered upon a new war. Lucius Licinius Lucullus, who had gained fame in the former struggle with Mithridates, was sent again to protect Roman interests in Pontus. He completely broke the power of the great monarch, in spite of his vast preparations for the struggle, but, under a pretext, he was now superseded by Pompey, who went out with a feigned appearance of reluctance, to pluck the fruit just ready to drop (B.C. 66). Cicero urged Pompey to accept this new honor, [Footnote: When the Manilian law which enlarged the powers of Pompey was under discussion, Cicero made his first address to the Roman people, and though vigorously opposed by Hortensius and Catulus, carried the day against the senate and the optimates whom they represented. This oration contains a panegyric of Pompey for suppressing piracy, and argues that a public servant who has done well once deserves to be trusted again.] and Cæsar, who enjoyed the precedents that Pompey had established, in adopting monarchical style, was now glad to have a rival removed from the country, that he might have, better opportunity to perfect his own plans.

[Illustration: A ROMAN POETESS.]

The third or great Mithridatic war lasted from the year 74, when Lucullus was sent out, to 61. By the terms of the Manilian law, Pompey went out with unlimited power over the whole of Asia, as far as Armenia, as well as over the entire Roman forces; and as he already was supreme over the region about the Mediterranean Sea, he was practically dictator throughout all of the dominions of the republic. He planned his first campaign with so much skill that he cut Mithridates off from all help by sea, and destroyed every hope of alliances with other rulers. So clearly did it appear to the Pontic monarch that resistance would be vain, that he sued for peace. Pompey would accept no terms but unconditional surrender, however, and negotiations were broken off. Mithridates determined to avoid battle, but Pompey finally surprised and defeated him in Lesser Armenia, forcing him to flight. He found a retreat in the mountainous region north of the Euxine Sea, where Pompey was unable to follow him. There he meditated grand schemes against the Romans, which he was utterly unable to carry out, and at last he fell a victim to the malevolence of one of his former favorites (B.C. 63).

Pompey continued his conquering progress throughout Asia Minor, and did not return to Rome until he had subdued Armenia, Syria, Phoenicia, and Palestine, [Footnote: There was civil war in Palestine at the time, and the king surrendered to Pompey, but the people refused, took refuge in the stronghold of the temple, and were only overcome after a seige of three months. Pompey explored the temple, examined the golden vessels, the table of shew bread, and the candlesticks in their places, but was surprised to find the Holy of Holies empty, there being no representation of a deity. He reverently refrained from touching the gold, the spices, and the money that he saw, and ordered the place to be cleansed and purified that service might be resumed.] had established many cities, and had organized the frontier of the Roman possessions from the Euxine to the river Jordan. When he arrived at Rome, on the first of January, 61, he found that affairs had considerably changed during his absence, and it was not easy for him to determine what position he should assume in relation to the political parties. Cicero offered him his friendship; Cato, grandson of the stern old censor, and an influential portion of the senate opposed him; Crassus and Lucullus, too, were his personal enemies; and Cæsar, who appeared to support him, had really managed to prepare for him a secondary position in the state. On the last day of September, Pompey celebrated the most splendid triumph that the city had ever seen, and with it the glorious part of his life ended. Over three hundred captive princes walked before his chariot, and brazen tablets declared that he had captured a thousand fortresses, many small towns, and eight hundred ships; that he had founded thirty-nine cities, and vastly raised the public revenue.

The year following the departure of Pompey for the East was rendered noteworthy by the breaking out of a conspiracy that will never be forgotten so long as the writings of Cicero and Sallust remain. These were times of treasons, stratagems, and greed for spoils. Vice and immorality were rampant, and among the vicious and debased none had fallen lower than Lucius Sergius Catiline, a ferocious man of powerful body and strong mind, who first appears as a partisan of Sulla and an active agent in his proscription. All his powers were perverted to evil, and when to his natural viciousness there was added the intensity of disappointed political ambition, he was ready to plunge his country into the most desperate strife to gratify his hate. He stands for the worst vices of this wretched age. He had been a provincial governor, and in Africa had perpetrated all the crimes that Cicero could impute to a Verres, and thus had proclaimed himself a villain of the deepest dye, both abroad and at home.

Gathering about him the profligate nobles and the criminals who had nothing to lose and every thing to gain by revolution, Catiline plotted to murder the consuls and seize the government; but his attempt was foiled, and he waited for a more favorable opportunity. Two years later he was defeated by Cicero as candidate for the consulship, and the plot was renewed, it being then determined to add the burning of the city to the other atrocities contemplated. Cicero discovered the scheme, and unveiled its horrid details in four orations; but again the miserable being was permitted to escape justice. He was present and listened in rage to the invective of Cicero until he could bear it no longer, and then rushed wildly out and joined his armed adherents, an open enemy of the state. His plot failed in the city through imprudence of the conspirators and the skill of Cicero, and he himself fled, hoping to reach Gaul. He was, however, hemmed in by the Roman army and killed in a battle. Catiline's head was sent to Rome to assure the government that he was no more. Cicero, who had caused nine of the conspirators to be put to death, [Footnote: Under Roman law no citizen could legally be put to death except by the sanction of the Comitia Curiata, the sovereign assembly of the people, though it often happened that the regulation was ignored. If nobody dared or cared to object, no notice was taken of the irregularity, but we shall see that Cicero paid dearly for his action at this time.] now laid down his consular authority amid the plaudits of the people, who, under the lead of Cato and Catulus, hailed him as the Father of his Country.

Cicero was apparently spoiled by his success. Carried away by his own oratorical ability, he too often reminded the people in his long and eloquent speeches of the great deeds that he had done for the country. They cheered him as he spoke, but after this they never raised him to power again.

Just about this time a noble named Publius Clodius Pulcher, who was a demagogue of the worst moral character, in the pursuance of his base intrigues, committed an act of sacrilege by entering the house of Cæsar, disguised as a woman, during the celebration of the mysteries of the Bona Dea, to which men were never admitted. He was tried for the impiety, and, through the efforts of Cicero, was almost convicted, though he managed to escape by bribery. He was ever afterward a determined enemy of the great orator, and, by the aid of Pompey, Cæsar, and Crassus, finally succeeded in having him condemned for putting to death the Catilinian conspirators without due process of law. Cicero does not appear manly in the story of this affair. He left Rome, fearing to face the result; and after he had gone Clodius caused a bill to be passed by which he was declared a public enemy, and every citizen was forbidden to give him fire or water within four hundred miles of Rome (spring of 58). He found his way to Brundusium and thence to Greece, where he passed his time in the most unmanly wailings and gloomy forebodings. His property was confiscated, his rich house on the Palatine Hill and his villas being given over to plunder and destruction. Strange as it appears, Cicero was recalled the next year, and entered the city amid the hearty plaudits of the changeful people, though his self-respect was gone and his spirit broken.

Meantime, Cæsar had been quietly pushing himself to the front. He had returned from Spain, where he had been governor, at about the time that Pompey had returned from the East. He reconciled that great warrior to Crassus (called from his immense wealth Dives, the rich), and with the two made a secret arrangement to control the government. This was known as the First Triumvirate [Footnote: Each of the three pledged himself not to speak nor to act except to subverse the common interest of all, though of course they were not sincere in their promises of mutual support.] or government of three men, though it was only a coalition, and did not strictly deserve the name given it (B.C. 60). Cæsar reaped the first-fruits of the league, as he intended, by securing the office of consul, through the assistance of his colleagues, whose influence proved irresistible.


Entering upon his office in the year 59, Cæsar very soon obtained the good-will of all,--first winning the people by proposing an agrarian law dividing the public lands among them. This was the last law of this sort, as that of Cassius (B.C. 486) had been the first. [Footnote: See page 83.] He rewarded Crassus by means of a law remitting one third of the sum that the publicans who had agreed to farm the revenues in Asia Minor had contracted to pay to the state; and satisfied Pompey by a ratification of all his acts in the East. The distribution of the lands among the people was placed in the hands of Pompey and Crassus.

At the end of his term of office Cæsar was made governor of Gaul, an office which he sought no more for the opportunity it afforded of gaining renown by conquering those ancient enemies who had formerly visited Rome with such dire devastation, than because he hoped to win for himself an army and partisans who would be useful in carrying out further ambitious ends.

Cæsar now entered upon a wonderful career of conquest, which lasted nine years. The story of what he accomplished during the first seven is given in his "Commentaries," as they are called, which are still read in schools, on account of the incomparable simplicity, naturalness, and purity of the style in which they are written, as well as because they seem to give truthful accounts of the events they describe. Sixty years before this time the Romans had possessed themselves of a little strip of Gaul south of the Alps, which was known as the Province, [Footnote: See pages 166 and 182.] and though they had ever since thought that there was a very important region to the north and west that might be conquered, they made no great effort to gain it. Cæsar was now to win imperishable laurels by effecting what had been before only vaguely dreamed of. He first made himself master of the country of the Helvetii (modern Switzerland), defeated the Germans under their famous general Ariovistus, and subjected the Belgian confederacy. The frightful carnage involved in these campaigns cannot be described, and the thousands upon thousands of brave barbarians who were sacrificed to the extension of Roman civilization are enough to make one shudder. When the despatches of Cæsar announcing his successes reached Rome, the senate, on motion of Cicero, though against the protestations of Cato, ordained that a grand public thanksgiving, lasting fifteen days, should be celebrated (B.C. 57). This was an unheard-of honor, the most ostentatious thanksgiving of the kind before--that given to Pompey, after the close of the war against Mithridates--having lasted but ten days.

Pompey and Crassus had fallen out during the absence of Cæsar, and he now invited them to meet and consult at Lucca, at the foot of the Apennines, just north of Pisa, where (April, 56) he held a sort of court, hundreds of Roman senators waiting upon him to receive the bribes with which he ensured the success of his measures during his absences in the field. [Footnote: Pompey had left Rome ostensibly for the purpose of arranging for supplies of grain from Africa and Sardinia. He was followed by many of his most noted adherents, the conference counting more than two hundred senators and sixscore lictors. Cæsar, like a mighty magician, caused the discordant spirits to act in concert. The power of the triumvirs is shown by the change that came over public opinion, and the calmness with which their acts were submitted to, though it was evident that the historic form of government was to be overturned, and a monarchy established. ] Here the three agreed that Pompey should rule Spain, Crassus Syria, and Cæsar Gaul, which he had made his own. Cæsar still kept on with his conquests, meeting desperate resistance, however, from the hordes of barbarians, who would not remain conquered, but engaged in revolts that caused him vast trouble and the loss of large numbers of soldiers. Incidentally to his other wars, he made two incursions into Britain, the home of our forefathers (B.C. 55 and 54), and nominally conquered the people, but it was not a real subjugation. Shakespeare did not make a mistake when he put into the mouth of the queen-wife of Cymbeline the words:

* * * "A kind of conquest
Cæsar made here; but made not here his brag Of 'came' and 'saw' and 'overcame,'"

and certainly the brave Britons did not continue to obey their self- styled Roman "rulers."

In the sixth year of Cæsar's campaigns in Gaul, it seemed as if all was to be lost to the Romans. There arose a young general named Vercingetorix, who was much abler than any leader the Gauls had ever opposed to their enemies, and he united them as they had never been united before. This man persuaded his countrymen to lay their own country waste, in order that it might not afford any abiding place for the Romans, but contrary to his intentions one town that was strongly fortified was left, and to that Cæsar laid siege, finally taking it and butchering all the men, women, and children that it contained. Vercingetorix then fortified himself at Alesia (southeast of Paris), where he was, of course, besieged by the Romans, but soon Cæsar found his own forces attacked in the rear, and surrounded by a vast army of Gauls, who had come to the relief of their leader. In the face of such odds, he succeeded in vanquishing the enemy, and took the place, achieving the most wonderful act of his genius. The conquered chief was reserved to grace a Roman triumph, and to die by the hand of a Roman executioner. [Footnote: The historian Mommsen says of this unfortunate "barbarian": "As after a day of gloom the sun breaks through the clouds at its setting, so destiny bestows on nations in their decline a last great man. Thus Hannibal stands at the close of the Phoenician history and Vercingetorix at the close of the Celtic. They were not all to save the nations to which they belonged from a foreign yoke, but they spared them the last remaining disgrace--an ignominious fall.... The whole ancient world presents no more genuine knight [than Vercingetorix], whether as regards his essential character or his outward appearance."] The fate of Gaul was now certain, and Cæsar found comparatively little difficulty in subduing the remaining states, the last of which was Aquitania, the flat and uninteresting region in the southwest of modern France, watered by the Garonne and washed by the Atlantic. The conqueror treated the Gauls with mildness, and endeavored in every way to make them adopt Roman habits and customs. As they had lost all hope of resisting him, they calmly accepted the situation, and the foundation of the subsequent Romanizing of the west of Europe was laid. Three million Gauls had been conquered, a million had been butchered, and another million taken captive, while eight hundred cities, centres of active life and places of the enjoyment of those social virtues for which the rough inhabitants of the region were noted, had been destroyed. Legions of Roman soldiers had been cut to pieces in accomplishing this result, the influence of which upon the history of Europe can hardly be over-estimated Cæsar had completely eclipsed the military prestige of his rival, Pompey the Great.

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