It sat on the vacated throne with an evil conscience and divided hopes, indignant at the institutions of the state which it ruled and yet incapable of even systematically assailing them, vacillating in all its conduct except where its own material advantage prompted a decision, a picture of faithlessness towards its own as well as the opposite party, of inward inconsistency, of the most pitiful impotence, of the meanest selfishness--an unsurpassed ideal of misrule.

The Men Of The Restoration

It could not be otherwise; the whole nation was in a state of intellectual and moral decline, but especially the upper classes. The aristocracy before the period of the Gracchi was truly not over- rich in talent, and the benches of the senate were crowded by a pack of cowardly and dissolute nobles; nevertheless there sat in it Scipio Aemilianus, Gaius Laelius, Quintus Metellus, Publius Crassus, Publius Scaevola and numerous other respectable and able men, and an observer favourably predisposed might be of opinion that the senate maintained a certain moderation in injustice and a certain decorum in misgovernment. This aristocracy had been overthrown and then reinstated; henceforth there rested on it the curse of restoration. While the aristocracy had formerly governed for good or ill, and for more than a century without any sensible opposition, the crisis which it had now passed through revealed to it, like a flash of lightning in a dark night, the abyss which yawned before its feet. Was it any wonder that henceforward rancour always, and terror wherever they durst, characterized the government of the lords of the old nobility? that those who governed confronted as an united and compact party, with far more sternness and violence than hitherto, the non- governing multitude? that family-policy now prevailed once more, just as in the worst times of the patriciate, so that e. g. the four sons and (probably) the two nephews of Quintus Metellus--with a single exception persons utterly insignificant and some of them called to office on account of their very simplicity--attained within fifteen years (631-645) all of them to the consulship, and all with one exception also to triumphs--to say nothing of sons-in-law and so forth? that the more violent and cruel the bearing of any of their partisans towards the opposite party, he received the more signal honour, and every outrage and every infamy were pardoned in the genuine aristocrat? that the rulers and the ruled resembled two parties at war in every respect, save in the fact that in their warfare no international law was recognized? It was unhappily only too palpable that, if the old aristocracy beat the people with rods, this restored aristocracy chastised it with scorpions. It returned to power; but it returned neither wiser nor better. Never hitherto had the Roman aristocracy been so utterly deficient in men of statesmanly and military capacity, as it was during this epoch of restoration between the Gracchan and the Cinnan revolutions.

Marcus Aemilius Scaurus

A significant illustration of this is afforded by the chief of the senatorial party at this time, Marcus Aemilius Scaurus. The son of highly aristocratic but not wealthy parents, and thus compelled to make use of his far from mean talents, he raised himself to the consulship (639) and censorship (645), was long the chief of the senate and the political oracle of his order, and immortalized his name not only as an orator and author, but also as the originator of some of the principal public buildings executed in this century. But, if we look at him more closely, his greatly praised achievements amount merely to this much, that, as a general, he gained some cheap village triumphs in the Alps, and, as a statesman, won by his laws about voting and luxury some victories nearly as serious over the revolutionary spirit of the times. His real talent consisted in this, that, while he was quite as accessible and bribable as any other upright senator, he discerned with some cunning the moment when the matter began to be hazardous, and above all by virtue of his superior and venerable appearance acted the part of Fabricius before the public. In a military point of view, no doubt, we find some honourable exceptions of able officers belonging to the highest circles of the aristocracy; but the rule was, that the lords of quality, when they were to assume the command of armies, hastily read up from the Greek military manuals and the Roman annals as much as was required for holding a military conversation, and then, when in the field, acted most wisely by entrusting the real command to an officer of humble lineage but of tried capacity and tried discretion. In fact, if a couple of centuries earlier the senate resembled an assembly of kings, these their successors played not ill the part of princes. But the incapacity of these restored aristocrats was fully equalled by their political and moral worthlessness. If the state of religion, to which we shall revert, did not present a faithful reflection of the wild dissoluteness of this epoch, and if the external history of the period did not exhibit the utter depravity of the Roman nobles as one of its most essential elements, the horrible crimes, which came to light in rapid succession among the highest circles of Rome, would alone suffice to indicate their character.

Administration Under The Restoration Social State Of Italy

The administration, internal and external, was what was to be expected under such a government. The social ruin of Italy spread with alarming rapidity; since the aristocracy had given itself legal permission to buy out the small holders, and in its new arrogance allowed itself with growing frequency to drive them out, the farms disappeared like raindrops in the sea. That the economic oligarchy at least kept pace with the political, is shown by the opinion expressed about 650 by Lucius Marcius Philippus, a man of moderate democratic views, that there were among the whole burgesses hardly 2000 families of substantial means.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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