Page images

SULLA REPRESSES THE KNIGHTS 155 provincials. A second bill put an end to the system of tax-farming in Asia, and imposed on each of its cities a fixed tribute, instead of the tithes. This was an enormous boon to the Asiatics; but probably the way in which the measure commended itself to Sulla's mind had nothing to do with their point of view. He made the change because it would be unpalatable to the knights, who lost an unparalleled source of money-making when the tax-farming disappeared. We may compare him to the Puritans of old, who abolished bear-baiting, not because it was cruel to the bear, but because it gave so much pleasure to the audience. Yet another bill, of which the details have unfortunately perished, would seem to have deprived the Equites of many of their honorary privileges, especially of their seats in the circus. These they did not recover till the law of Roscius Otho restored them in B.C. 67.

There were many other Cornelian Laws outside the three great groups with which we have been dealing. One abolished the corn-dole, a most admirable measure, for which we should admire the dictator more if we could only suppose that he was acting on economic reasons, and not merely doing his best to disoblige the urban multitude. Others systematised the organisation of the Law Courts, which had hitherto been arranged in a very haphazard fashion. Very prominent among his innovations was the law which added new courts for the trial of criminal offences (quaestiones perpetuae) to those already existing, so that every form of offence had for the future its proper venue. But of these legal matters we have no leisure to speak. Nor need we say much concerning his colonial schemes: he settled many of his veterans in Etruria and Samnium, on the lands of the cities which he had destroyed for obstinate adherence to the Democratic cause. But he can hardly have expected his colonies to prove economic successes, considering the character of the settlers, who had long been estranged from the soil, and the indisputable fact that farming had long ceased to pay in Central Italy. They were, no doubt, merely intended to last out Sulla's own day, and to supply him for a time with compact blocks of adherents, accustomed to arms and cantoned in the close vicinity of Rome. It is a curious commentary on the wisdom of the step, that ruined Sullan veterans formed, sixteen years later, an appreciable element in the army of Catiline.

Sulla, as every one knows, laid down his dictatorship in January B.C. 79, after holding it for two years. When he had passed all his long code of constitutional enactments, and had seen the last embers of civil war die down, he laid aside the trappings of power and retired into private life. He had no personal ambition, and when his work was finished and the new constitution had been set going, he resolved to let it have the chance of a fair start, without the danger of overbalance caused by the perpetual presence of his own mighty personality. For the Sullan régime had in it no place for Sullas. The whole scheme of laws had been framed to keep down over-great men, and he was well aware that he was himself over-great. As a conscientious oligarch, it was his duty to remove himself from power, and to resign the abnormal office that he had held throughout B.C. 81 and 80. His function for the future was to stand by, outside the machine, to watch it work, and to step in to lend his aid if ever it showed signs of getting out of gear. His notion of how the new constitution could best be maintained may be gathered from the curious story of the death of Lucretius Ofella. That distinguished officer, the captor of Praeneste, so far presumed on his late services that he boldly proposed to break Sulla’s Lex Annalis by standing for the consulate before he had held the praetorship. Sulla gave him fair

THE DEATH OF OFELLA 157 warning that he would not be allowed to take the office, but he refused to listen, and made a formal canvass in the Forum after the usual style. While Ofella was going his rounds with his white toga in the crowded market-place, his chief quietly told two centurions to cut him down. They did so; and when an uproar began, Sulla stepped forward to take all the blame and responsibility, and to offer to stand his trial for murder. No one dared to come forward as a prosecutor, and so he got off scotfree. The story has several morals; clearly the constitution was still so weak that an ambitious man could venture to attack it ere it was two years old; only Sulla himself could defend it, but as long as he survived it was safe. If he could have looked forward to twenty years of life, he might have dragooned the Roman people into an acceptance of it; but he was already elderly and ailing. Innovators should start young and live long, like the Emperor Augustus. What would have happened to the imperial system if Augustus had died at the age of forty, instead of living on till he was seventy-six ?

No doubt Sulla's constitution was doomed from the first to failure. But, at any rate, the experiment of restoring the oligarchy was worth trying. The opposite political device of the Dernocrats, that of endeavouring to transact all the business of the city and the empire in the Comitia, had proved utterly impracticable. Under Cinna's domination such a régime had been working for nearly four years with the most deplorable results—the popular programme had been tried and found wanting—it had run to nothing more than corn-largesses and the repudiation of debts. At the touch of the sword the Democratic government had fallen to pieces, merely because it commanded neither respect nor affection from any quarter.

Sulla's scheme,-to set up a Senate unhampered by any other power in the state, and possessing full and complete sovereignty, was at least equally worthy of a trial. It failed no doubt, mainly from the want of men able and willing to work the system when the old dictator had passed away. For he left behind him a Senate most unfitted to carry on his great plan—not a number of men of good average ability, each ready to take his turn of duty and power and not desirous of grasping at more, but quite the opposite sort of assembly-a multitude of nonentities and incapables mixed with a few ambitious young generals. The heart and core of the old Optimate party had perished in the Marian massacres; in spite of all its faults, the Senate, down to the days of the civil war, had always contained a certain number of men of mark and respectability-persons such as Antonius the orator; Catulus, the victor over the Cimbri; Crassus, the father of the Triumvir; the consuls Octavius and Merula. All these had been slain by Marius and Cinna. Of the Optimate senators none survived, save those who had been protected by their own insignificance, and the few who had been absent with Sulla in Greece when the civil war broke out. The reconstructed Senate of B.C. 81, therefore, was mainly composed of a mass of trivial and unimportant persons, whose nothingness had caused them to escape Cinna’s eye. But seated among them were the military men who had come to the front during the fighting, such as Ofella, Crassus, and Pompey. These young generals—as was but natural—were not content to take their single turn of power and office in company with the herd of nobodies. They were ambitious, and yearned for the carrière ouverte aux talents, in which the able man could not only reach the front, but stay there. The slow oligarchic rotation, which Sulla had invented, was odious to them, and they were in the end driven to overthrow the new constitution in order that they might be able to assert themselves over the FAILURE OF SULLA’S CONSTITUTION 159

mediocrities. There was no resisting power among the majority—no true heir of Sulla's breed survived to bind them together and to rally them to fight in behalf of the oligarchic system. So the great dictator's constitution fell, almost undefended, only ten years after it had been created.

This, at any rate, was not Sulla's fault. He did his best with the materials set before him. He constructed the first logical and well-planned constitution that Rome had ever known—a triumph of ingenuity, because it changed the essentials while leaving the external features still in existence. It was a thoroughly practical scheme for the governance of city and empire by a pure oligarchy. If it failed, it was because the machine was cleverly built, but its mainspring was not strong enough to keep the wheels moving, i.e. it demanded that the average senator should attain a certain moderate level of courage, capacity, and patriotism,-but the Fathers, as a body, were lacking in all these three essentials. In the hands of the senators of the third century before Christ the Sullan constitution could have been worked; but in B.C. 80 the motive power was too weak, through no fault of Sulla’s, and the machine was bound to run down. As long as he stood beside it to give the pendulum an occasional swing, the clock continued to go. When he died, it ticked feebly for a short time and then stopped.

It was ruinous to the oligarchy that Sulla should have survived only a little more than a year after he laid down the dictatorship. For himself, his early death was probably not so unfortunate: it saved him from many disappointments. Even before he died he had suffered one at least, in seeing M. Lepidus elected to the consulship contrary to his expressed desire. But on the whole his last year was one of prosperity; for the first time for many a long day he was free from the cares of office and

« EelmineJätka »