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MURDER OF ANTULLIUS 79 twelve years before. Neither party made any attempt to disguise their intention of using force if it should become necessary. The Optimates secretly armed their clients and slaves. On the other hand, Flaccus sent the word round rural Italy that strong arms were needed at Rome. It is said that hundreds of his partisans, disguised as labourers, came up to the city on the day when the Bill was to be brought forward, and that there were more allies than citizens among these able-bodied visitors. Caius appears to have disliked this open appeal to violence. He felt that the Democrats would be putting themselves in the wrong if they began the fray, and seems to have discouraged his followers by his fervid appeals to them not to take the offensive. But the die was cast. The more enthusiastic Democrats were determined to fight, and came down to the assembly armed with daggers and staves as if a conflict was absolutely certain. They were so far right, and their leader so far wrong, that in the present strained situation of affairs there was no hope of a peaceful issue.
On the day of voting the Optimates and the Democrats faced each other more like two armies than two orderly political factions. On each side the lethal weapons were barely disguised beneath the broad folds of the togas. The only doubt was whether the enemies or the partisans of Gracchus would strike the first blow. As a matter of fact, the Democrats put themselves in the wrong by opening the battle by a wanton murder.
The Consul Opimius had opened the proceedings by the usual sacrifice in the porch of the Capitoline temple. When he had done, one of his servants—à certain Q. Antullius—who was carrying away the entrails of the victim, rudely pushed through the front rank of the Democrats, crying, “Stand off, yo bad citizens, and make way for honest men.” It is said that he emphasised his insulting words by making a gesture of contempt in the very face of Gracchus. At this Caius gave him a fierce look, whereupon an over-zealous follower stepped forward and stabbed the man through and through with a dagger. Antullius fell dead between the two parties, with the sacred entrails still in his hand.
Prepared for strife as all those present had been, they were yet shocked by this sacrilegious murder. No mêlée followed, but the enemies stood gazing upon each other, and no one dared to strike a second blow. At this moment a sudden thunderstorm burst over the Capitol, and, awed by the manifest wrath of Jupiter, the whole armed multitude melted homeward in the drenching rain.
The day ended without the expected battle, but blood had been shed, and the Optimates were able to cast the responsibility for the commencement of civil strife upon their adversaries. It is certain that if Antullius had been left alone, the contest would merely have broken out a few minutes later, for both crowds were bent on mischief, and the most trivial incident would have sufficed to set them by the ears. Morally speaking, the guilt may be equally divided between them, for each had come down prepared to fight, and if the Democrats had not struck the first blow, the Optimates would have done so a little later. Both the Consul Opimius and the headstrong Fulvius Flaccus had deliberately got ready for battle, and whatever may have been the private feelings of Caius, it is certain that he came down armed to support his friends. His admirers have alleged that he was precipitated into civil war against his will; his detractors have quite as much to say for their view when they assert that he lost his opportunity for carrying out a coup d'état because a reckless fool struck too soon, and placed his whole party at a moral disadvantage.
There can be no doubt that the dagger-thrust dealt by
THE DEMOCRATS TAKE ARMS V
this over-zealous Democrat ruined his party. It was to little purpose that Caius went down to the Forum that same afternoon, and tried to explain away what had happened as a deplorable accident, for which he was not responsible. Many who might otherwise have supported him had been profoundly shocked, and it is impossible for the man who has placed himself at the head of an armed mob to disavow any connection with its atrocities. Just as Robert Emmett was responsible for the murder of Lord Kilwarden, though he may not himself have thrust a pike into the old judge, so was Caius Gracchus responsible for the murder of Antullius. It is useless in such cases to plead blameless character and patriotic intentions. Moreover, the friends of Caius did not even take the trouble to excuse themselves. Fulvius Flaccus, when the assembly had broken up, called together a mob of his supporters, harangued them, and armed them with a store of weapons which lay in his house, for he possessed a complete arsenal of Gallic broadswords and lances, the trophies of his successful campaign of B.C. 125. He and his reckless satellites passed the night in noise, riot, and carousing; the ex-consul himself, it is said, was the first man drunk, and in his cups uttered many obiter dicta most unbecoming in one who was about to plunge the city into war next morning. The behaviour of Caius was very different; he burst into tears on leaving the Forum and shut himself up in his room, gloomily pondering over the end to which two years of civic power had brought him. But though he did not commit himself to any overt course of action, a great mob of his partisans gathered round his house, and encamped about it all night. Another mass collected in the Capitol before dawn, to occupy the points of vantage for the struggle which was expected to break out in the morning.
Meanwhile Opimius and the other foes of the Demo
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cratic party had been making much more practical preparations. The consul had ordered every senator and every knight of the Optimate party to provide two fully armed men; he had taken command of a body of Cretan mercenaries who chanced to be passing through the city, and had ordered a general muster of the clients and retainers of his friends. They were a formidable band, and, with the magistrates at their head, they had the inestimable advantage of appearing to represent law and order.
Protected by this mass of special constables the Senate met next morning. The consul began to lay before them the desperate state of affairs, and the necessity for outlawing the Democratic leaders. At this moment, by a preconcerted arrangement, the bier of Antullius, followed by his mourning friends, was borne past the doors of the Senate-house. The Fathers rushed out and burst forth into exaggerated demonstrations of horror and sympathy. Then flocking back to their seats they passed the senatus consultum ultimum, which empowered the consuls, in the usual terms, “to take care that the republic might receive no harm.” Rome was thus put under martial law, and as a last formality messengers were sent to Gracchus and to Fulvius Flaccus, bidding them repair in person to the Curia in order to give an account of their doings.
Frightened at the great armed force around the Senatehouse, the Democrats had begun to concentrate on the Aventine. They were almost destitute of guidance, for Caius was sunk in a melancholy apathy, and Flaccus was barely recovered from the effects of last night's debauch; it was with difficulty that he could be roused at all that morning. The only intention displayed was to stand at bay on the old plebeian stronghold ; no offensive action seems even to have been contemplated. But the temple