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After no very long time of waiting the orator was avenged, for Clodius, intoxicated with his long series of successes in the Forum, took to treating Pompey himself with less respect than was his due. He began with releasing, contrary to the triumvir's wishes, the captive son of Tigranes, the Armenian king, who was being kept at Rome to prevent him from raising trouble in the East. Then he prosecuted some of Pompey's dependents, and when their patron came down to give evidence in their behalf, assailed him with ribald insults and set a carefully selected mob to hoot at him. Pompey's dignity was hurt. He had often been the object of hate and fear in his earlier years, but it was a new thing to be the butt of vulgar jokes—to be called in one breath the tyrant of Rome and “the man who scratches his head with one finger.”
It may be hard to say what is the right course for a respectable politician of first-rate importance to take, when he has been mocked and fouted by a vulgar demagogue. It is clear, however, that Pompey's reply to Clodius was a hideous mistake. He summoned clients and pugilists about him, and replied by violence to the violence of the tribune. This was undignified, unwise, and unprofitable. It was honouring the rowdy overmuch to copy his methods. But the worst thing of all was that Pompey was not even successful. His bands were amateurs in rioting compared with the partisans of Clodius: they were several times out of the field, and he himself was beleaguered in his house.
This wretched interlude lasted throughout the later months of the tribunate of Clodius, and it was not till he had gone out of office that things righted themselves a little, and Pompey was able to reassert himself. In the next year he took his revenge on the demagogue, by assisting the leading Optimates to recall Cicero from exile, The orator had learnt his lesson, and no longer over-esti
THE FAMINE OF B.C. 57
mated his own power and authority. He never forgave Pompey for having allowed him to be expelled in B.C. 58. However, he was constrained to behave as if gratitude for his tardy return was his only sentiment. Shortly after reaching Rome he is found supporting an important proposal for the creation of a new special commission for Pompey's benefit.
Some five years had now passed since the great general had held any office, and he seems to have thought that it was high time that he should again come forward. Something must be done to make the Senate and People forget the ignominious contest with Clodius, in which he had cut such a poor figure. No war was raging at the moment, save indeed the Belgic campaign, in which Cæsar was winning new laurels; but if Pompey could not ask for military work, there was a tiresome administrative problem on hand, with which he thought himself competent to deal. The year B.C. 57 was a time of dearth and famine all over the Mediterranean lands, and even Rome itself was suffering from scarcity. There was no regular machinery in the constitution for dealing with such troubles, and in earlier years famines had been met by special decrees of the Senate appointing persons to buy
At a hint from Pompey, his friends (led by the tribune Messius) brought forward the proposal that a special commissionership should be assigned to him, empowering him not only to deal with the existing dearth, but to reorganise the corn-supply of Italy on a permanent basis. Remembering the times of plenty which had followed on his campaign against the pirates, the people eagerly took up the cry, even though Clodius tried to persuade them that the famine had been brought about by a deliberate “corner in wheat” got up by Pompey's friends. The accusation was a little too absurd to deceive even the denizens of the Suburra. In spite of the demagogue's noisy opposition, and the secret intrigues of the irreconcilable Optimates, a commission was granted to Pompey, which gave him charge of the corn-supply for five years, placed a large sum of money at his disposal, and granted him proconsular authority, concurrent with that of the governors, in the provinces. A very unnecessary addition, to the effect that he should also be empowered to raise a war fleet and a land force, if he found it necessary, was rejected. It does not seem that Pompey himself asked for such a grant. It was probably the invention of some of those over-zealous friends with whom most statesmen are cursed,
The famine was daily growing worse, and the high commissioner did not delay his departure. He announced that he himself would visit Sicily, Africa, and Sardinia, while his legates should deal with the remoter provinces. He set sail in the midst of a fearful tempest early in November B.C. 57. The captain of his vessel made much ado as to starting, and asked him to wait for a few days till the gale should have blown over. “ It is necessary to sail, it is not necessary to live," replied Pompey, and ordered the anchor to be lifted.
In this commission, as in every other administrative work that he took in hand, Pompey acquitted himself in the most satisfactory way. His winter voyage to Sicily and Africa turned out most prosperously. When he sought for corn he found it: apparently the dearth had been due as much to maladministration by the local governors as to a real shortness of supply. He insisted that, in spite of the season, ships should be sent out at once to carry the grain that he had collected to Italy. his success was answerable to his
He covered the sea with vessels and filled the markets with wheat, insomuch that there was soon an overplus in Rome to feed the provinces, and plenty, as if from a fountain,