« EelmineJätka »
have been chosen—for Samnium had still to be subdued, and a great foreign war with King Mithradates was just breaking out-civil strife recommenced at Rome. The conduct of the two parties was absolutely insane : there is no parallel for it in history save one : the state of France in 1793-94, when foreign invasion, domestic insurrection, and bloody proscriptions in the capital were all in progress at once, bears much similarity to the state of Italy in B.C. 88–87.
That civil war should arise, when every man and every sesterce was still wanted to preserve the state from dangerous external troubles, is all the more astonishing because in B.C. 88 both the Optimate and the Democratic parties were in a deep state of discredit. No one could say that the rule of the Senate during the last thirty years had been anything but feeble and incompetent. On the other hand, all the main items of the Democratic programme had been tried and found wanting. The agrarian and colonial schemes of the Gracchi had failed to regenerate the state-farming was as unprofitable as ever. The corn-dole of Caius Gracchus had been in working order for a whole generation, and had been carried to its logical extreme by Saturninus and Drusus; yet the urban population was as miserable and as discontented as ever. The franchise had now been granted to the Italians, who had obtained possession of every personal immunity and political privilege that they could wish-save indeed that they had been enrolled in eight tribes only, so that their voting power in the Comitia was not fully equivalent to their numbers. But it had always been the practical advantages of citizenship rather than the right to register their suffrages that they had desired.
But a party does not necessarily cease to exist because its programme is played out, more especially a party of criticism and discontent, such as that of the Roman
francined posses that they neight tri
SULPICIUS AND MARIUS COMBINE 113
populares. They were, if anything, more violent than they had ever been before, though all the constructive items in their political creed had been tried and had proved futile, so that nothing really remained of it save the single destructive cry of “Down with the Senate.” Butif no longer a party with measures, they were now a party with men. The great civil war that was approaching was to show that the personal ambitions of a Marius, a Sulpicius, or a Cinna supplied enough of a war-cry to unite the turbulent elements in Rome, and that the populares could continue to exist even without a popular programme.
Hitherto all the really important constitutional and economic quarrels between Optimates and Democrats had been fought out by mere rioting and chance medley; but now a fierce and prolonged civil war, which was to put scores of legions in the field, was to follow on a mere personal rivalry for a military command. A tribune named Sulpicius Rufus, to whom the mantle of Saturninus had descended, was busy in formulating some new reforms of second-rate importance. The most prominent of them was a bill for distributing the freedmen (who had hitherto been confined to the four city tribes) and the new Italian citizens (who had in a similar way been told off to eight tribes only) among the whole of the old constituencies. There was no great point in the bill so far as the Italians were concerned, for they would rarely if ever come up to vote, on account of the mere difficulties of distance. As to the freedmen, they were the worst element in the state, and to propose to give them more power in the Comitia than they already enjoyed was the act of the most unscrupulous demagogy.
Sulpicius, as it would seem, was a man from whom such legislation might be expected. We have no unbiassed account of his character and his plans, but the records
i Cicero alone speaks well of him in the De Oratore.
which his enemies have left behind paint him in the most lurid colours. “He was inferior to none in desperate attempts,” writes Plutarch, inspired by some Optimate authority. “He was a compound of cruelty, insolence, and avarice, and could commit the most infamous crimes in cold blood. He openly sold the citizenship of Rome to persons who had been slaves, and received their money told out on a table in the Forum. He always went about with a band of 300 armed satellites, and had a council of young Equites whom he called his anti-senate. Though he got a law passed that every man who owed more than 2000 denarii should be expelled from the Senate, he had debts himself to the amount of three millions.” There seems no doubt that he could vie in ruffianly violence with Saturninus and Glaucia. Several times he cleared his adversaries out of the Comitia with staves and daggers. On one occasion, it is said, he tried to murder the consuls Pompeius and Sulla during the actual session of the assembly. The son of the former was killed in this desperate riot.
However exaggerated may be the language of Plutarch, it is at least clear that Sulpicius was a man of violent and unscrupulous character: but for the moment he had control of the streets and the assembly, and it was to him that those who had something to gain addressed themselves. Accordingly it does not surprise us to find him adding to the many laws which he passed one intended for the private and personal benefit of one of his friends. It was a decree appointing Caius Marius to the command of the army which was to be sent to the East to repel King Mithradates. The old general had recovered from the shock of his political humiliation in B.C. 99. He had been entrusted with a considerable body of legions during the Italian war, and had fought with success against the rebels, though he had not gained any very striking SULPICIUS ATTACKS SULLA 115 victories. He felt that he was only half rehabilitated in the eyes of his fellow-citizens, and was anxious to close his career with a series of brilliant campaigns which should cause them to forget the names of Saturninus and Glaucia. The King of Pontus was, he thought, the kind of enemy who would provide a Roman general with the opportunity for winning a sensational triumph, annexing whole provinces, and accumulating untold stores of plunder and trophies. If he returned to Rome laden with the spoils of the East, he would once more occupy the commanding position in the state which he had enjoyed at the end of the Cimbric war.
The army which was destined for the Asiatic campaign was at present lying under the walls of Nola, the last fortress in the lowlands which was still in the hands of the rebellious Samnites. But it was believed that the place would soon fall, and then the six legions which formed the besieging force would be disposable for service over-seas. They were at present under the command of the consul L. Cornelius Sulla, to whom the charge of the Mithradatic war had been duly assigned by the Senate. He was a prominent member of the Optimate party and an old enemy of Marius. In displacing him, the aged general would not merely secure the command of the best Roman army then existing, but would also disappoint and humiliate a personal foe.
Accordingly Marius allied himself to Sulpicius Rufus and paid his enormous debts, while in return the tribune passed the decree which deprived Sulla of his army. They little know the manner of man they were provoking. Their bill was to cost one of them his life; and to cause the other to be hunted out of Italy and driven into a miserable exile. They had stirred up into action the most capable and the most relentless enemy that the Democracy was ever to know.
LUCIUS CORNELIUS SULLA, the man whom Sulpicius and Marius had so recklessly challenged to mortal combat, is one of the most striking figures in Roman history. For mere psychological interest, there is no one who can be compared with him save Cæsar alone. He combined in the most extraordinary degree the old Roman political virtues with the personal vices that the new Rome had borrowed from the Hellenised East.
To his credit it must be granted that, throughout his career, he displayed the main qualities which had distinguished those generations of men who had built up the Roman domination in Italy during the fourth and third centuries before Christ. He had an enormous sense of the dignity and importance of the Roman name: the welfare of the state, as he conceived it, stood before any private or party interest. He was entirely lacking in personal as opposed to national ambition: the crown and the purple robe had no attraction for him; in this respect he must be reckoned superior even to Cæsar, who was not insensible to such things. Nor was he affected by the more insidious craving for power; he was one of those rare spirits who, after they have achieved the highest things, and risen to practical sovereignty in the state, are content to step down from the throne and to retire into private life. Moreover, he had the solid military ability, the steadfast level-headed perseverance, the freedom from vain theory, which had