Page images
PDF
EPUB

that his position should be unassailable on his rival's return. He had now bought himself a most able managing partner in the person of Julius Caesar, whose first prominent appearance in politics belongs to these years. The young man possessed the two gifts of eloquence and geniality, in which both Crassus and Pompey were so hopelessly lacking. But at this period of his career he was impecunious and a trifle disreputable; no one foresaw in him the future dictator and the founder of the monarchy. At this time he was absorbing Crassus's money at a preposterous rate, and flinging it about with both hands. Men looked upon him much as they looked upon Glodius ten years later, and never suspected that the lieutenant of Crassus was more than a splendid mob-orator and a skilled manager of "corner boys."

The chief landmarks of this period of Crassus's political career are a series of bids for popularity, which failed to produce the desired effect. As censor in B.c. 65 he tried to enrol as full citizens the entire population of Cisalpine Gaul, but his colleague Catulus refused to recognise the grant, and the Optimates continued to deny it right down to the Civil War. Another and more ambitious scheme was the bill to annex Egypt in the same year, the chief object of which seems to have been to find an excuse for giving Cassar an army which might serve as a counterpoise to that of Pompey. But the Senate succeeded in stopping the design. A little later it would seem that the Democrats were growing more desperate. Caesar's attack on Rabirius was a warning to the Optimates that extreme measures might be tried against them, if they stood in the way of his employer's road to power. But the bill of Servilius Rullus was far more startling: it styled itself an Agrarian Law, but was much more like a measure for suspending the constitution. With the ostensible object of relieving economic distress at Borne, THE LAW OF RULLUS 181

it proposed to create a body of Decemvirs, with far greater powers than, the Triumviri agris dandis assignandis of Tiberius Gracchus had ever held. These Land Commissioners, of whom Crassus and Caesar were to be the chiefs, were to be granted the military imperium and the right to levy troops. They were to be permitted to select 200 subaltern officers from among the Equites, to have power to sell the public lands in Italy, and in the provinces, to plant colonies, to take out of the treasury whatever they wished, and to sit in judgment in all lawsuits which might arise from their own proceedings. Considering that the law was mainly levelled against Pompey (for it was of him rather than of the Senate that Crassus was in fear), it was adding insult to injury to place the public lands and revenues of Syria and the other newly annexed Eastern provinces at the disposition of the Land Commissioners. The immense machinery provided by Rullus was so disproportionate to the task which it had to serve, and the power given to the Decemvirs so inordinate (their very name recalled the old tyrannical ten of B.C. 451-450 and the misdoings of Appius Claudius), that the bill failed to pass. Cicero headed against it a combination of the Optimates and the friends of Pompey, who when allied proved able to triumph over the Democrats, in spite of all the bribes of Crassus and all the eloquence of Cassar.

But the agrarian law of Rullus was not the strangest project that was attributed to the two Democratic leaders. There were many who accused them of being implicated also in the reckless plots of L. Sergius Catilina.

It is impossible to arrive at any certain conclusion concerning the character and scope of the so-called Catilinarian conspiracies. If we were to accept in its entirety the official narrative, which was composed by Cicero, and practically embodied wholesale in Sallust and most other historians, we should regard the participation of Crassus in the designs of Catiline as most improbable. "We are told that the leader of the plot was a monster of depravity, a sort of malignant demon in human form, who, after spending his early years in murdering his relatives and debauching all the youth of Rome, wished in his middle age to inaugurate a reign of ccedes and ineendium, to massacre the Senate, burn the city, and rule as a tyrant among the corpses and the smoking ruins. If there were any truth in all this, we should conclude that Crassus, as the largest householder in Rome, was not likely to be privy to a plan for wholesale incendiarism, and, as the greatest creditor in the city, would hardly wish to massacre a Senate in which a vast number of the members owed him large sums of money.

But Cicero himself furnishes us with much evidence for doubting his own narrative. If Catiline was such a notorious villain, it is odd that the orator should have proposed to run with him as a joint candidate for the consulship, and have offered to defend him when he was going to be indicted for extortion in his late province of Africa.1 Still stranger are Cicero's statements in the Pro Ccelio, where (defending a friend of the conspirator) he remarks that he was always meeting Catiline in the best society: "I thought him a good citizen, and esteemed him for the many eminent virtues which he seemed to possess." If it was possible for Cicero to make such allegations with any show of good faith, it is clear that Catiline cannot have been the social pariah who is described in the orator's speeches of B.c. 63. Evidently the fluent consul, thinking his own neck in danger, had painted his foe and all concerned with him in very lurid colours.

1 See Ad Atticum, i. 2 and i. I.

CRASSTJS AND CATILINE 183

It is impossible, on the other hand, to believe (with Professor Beesly) that Catiline was a respectable politician and the avowed head of the Democratic party at Rome during the years B.C. 65-63. If he had been beyond reproach, Sallust and other historians of the Cajsarian faction would have taken the opportunity to represent him as a martyr to the jealousy of the Optimates and a victim of Cicero's spiteful tongue. Since they did not dare to take this line, and reproduced the orator's account of him almost verbatim, we are driven to conclude that the insurgent chief was really a man of doubtful character and reckless designs. But at the same time we are forced to believe, from Cicero's own evidence already quoted, that he had not such a notoriously bad reputation as to make it impossible to use him as an associate or a tool in political schemes. If we look upon him as no more than an unscrupulous demagogue of the same type as Saturninus or Clodius—that is, as a desperate brawler and mobleader rather than an anarchist—it does not seem so unlikely that Crassus and Caesar may have had relations with him during the years of his activity. If their plan was to have a bold and reckless Democratic consul—a man who would not shrink from using violence when the crisis came—in power, when Pompey should return from the East, we can well understand that they may have taken Catiline into their pay. He and they, in short, may well have been aiming at a coup d'dtat, though it is most improbable that they intended either to massacre the whole Senate or to set the city on fire. These accusations are the embroidery with which Cicero adorned his orations, when he wished to enlist all the men of material interests on the side of the Optimates. Not only did he succeed at the moment, for even the Equites were seen with swords in their hands offering to kill Caesar, but he has left for all ages a stain on the name of Catiline which is probably one or two shades deeper than that very unscrupulous politician really deserved.

The story of the Catilinarian plots, as we now have it, is too fragmentary and too obscure to bear complete unravelling. The version of the first plot, in which Ceesar and Catiline are said to have assembled a mob of assassins in order to murder the consuls of B.C. 65, Torquatus and Cotta, and then to have failed to give the signal for the onset, is most unconvincing. Concerning the conspiracy of B.C. 63 we have more details, but they are very contradictory. On the one hand, we know that there was a widespread rumour that Catiline was acting under the orders of Crassus. Sallust, no unfriendly witness, allows that a great part of the Senate suspected the great millionaire of being implicated in the plot. On the other hand, it is certain that Crassus volunteered some information to Cicero concerning the designs of the insurgents, though that information was tardy and practically useless. He is said to have come in a melodramatic manner, late at night and muffled in a cloak, and to have placed in the hands of Cicero an anonymous letter which had been delivered to him, warning him to be out of Rome on the day of the preconcerted outbreak. If this midnight visit really occurred, it is probable that Crassus was merely "hedging,"—that he told Cicero what he considered would be enough to protect him from a charge of complicity if the plot should fail, but not enough to do Catiline and his colleagues any harm if they were going to succeed.

One thing is clear—that Cicero did not consider it prudent to assail Crassus, and remained deaf to all the suggestions made to him with that object. Another public man, when incited to fall upon the millionaire, once answered with the proverb, "Fcenum habet in cornu" meaning that Crassus was too dangerous a sort of

« EelmineJätka »