Saturninus and Glaucia sought to control the more important consular election by the expedient for the removal of inconvenient competitors which had been tried in the previous year; the counter-candidate of the government party, Gaius Memmius--the same who eleven years before had led the opposition against them(9)--was suddenly assailed by a band of ruffians and beaten to death. But the government party had only waited for a striking event of this sort in order to employ force. The senate required the consul Gaius Marius to interfere, and the latter in reality professed his readiness now to draw for the conservative party the sword, which he had obtained from the democracy and had promised to wield on its behalf. The young men were hastily called out, equipped with arms from the public buildings, and drawn up in military array; the senate itself appeared under arms in the Forum, with its venerable chief Marcus Scaurus at its head. The opposite party were doubtless superior in a street-riot, but were not prepared for such an attack; they had now to defend themselves as they could. They broke open the doors of the prisons, and called the slaves to liberty and to arms; they proclaimed-- so it was said at any rate--Saturninus as king or general; on the day when the new tribunes of the people had to enter on their office, the 10th of December 654, a battle occurred in the great market-place--the first which, since Rome existed, had ever been fought within the walls of the capital. The issue was not for a moment doubtful. The Populares were beaten and driven up to the Capitol, where the supply of water was cut off from them and they were thus compelled to surrender. Marius, who held the chief command, would gladly have saved the lives of his former allies who were now his prisoners; Saturninus proclaimed to the multitude that all which he had proposed had been done in concert with the consul: even a worse man than Marius was could not but shudder at the inglorious part which he played on this day. But he had long ceased to be master of affairs. Without orders the youth of rank climbed the roof of the senate-house in the Forum where the prisoners were temporarily confined, stripped off the tiles, and with these stoned their victims. Thus Saturninus perished with most of the more notable prisoners. Glaucia was found in a lurking-place and likewise put to death. Without sentence or trial there died on this day four magistrates of the Roman people--a praetor, a quaestor, and two tribunes of the people--and a number of other well-known men, some of whom belonged to good families. In spite of the grave faults by which the chiefs had invited on themselves this bloody retribution, we may nevertheless lament them: they fell like advanced posts, which are left unsupported by the main army and are forced to perish without aim in a conflict of despair.

Ascendency Of The Government Marius Politically Annihilated

Never had the government party achieved a more complete victory, never had the opposition suffered a more severe defeat, than on this 10th of December. It was the least part of the success that they had got rid of some troublesome brawlers, whose places might be supplied any day by associates of a like stamp; it was of greater moment that the only man, who was then in a position to become dangerous to the government, had publicly and completely effected his own annihilation; and most important of all that the two elements of the opposition, the capitalist order and the proletariate, emerged from the strife wholly at variance. It is true that this was not the work of the government; the fabric which had been put together by the adroit hands of Gaius Gracchus had been broken up, partly by the force of circumstances, partly and especially by the coarse and boorish management of his incapable successor; but in the result it mattered not whether calculation or good fortune helped the government to its victory. A more pitiful position can hardly be conceived than that occupied by the hero of Aquae and Vercellae after such a disaster--all the more pitiful, because people could not but compare it with the lustre which only a few months before surrounded the same man. No one either on the aristocratic or the democratic side any longer thought of the victorious general on occasion of filling up the magistracies; the hero of six consulships could not even venture to become a candidate in 656 for the censorship. He went away to the east, ostensibly for the purpose of fulfilling a vow there, but in reality that he might not be a witness of the triumphant return of his mortal foe Quintus Metellus; he was allowed to go. He returned and opened his house; his halls stood empty. He always hoped that conflicts and battles would occur and that the people would once more need his experienced arm; he thought to provide himself with an opportunity for war in the east, where the Romans might certainly have found sufficient occasion for energetic interference. But this also miscarried, like every other of his wishes; profound peace continued to prevail. Yet the longing after honours once aroused within him, the oftener it was disappointed, ate the more deeply into his heart. Superstitious as he was, he cherished in his bosom an old oracular saying which had promised him seven consulships, and in gloomy meditation brooded over the means by which this utterance was to obtain its fulfilment and he his revenge, while he appeared to all, himself alone excepted, insignificant and innocuous.

The Equestrian Party

Still more important in its consequences than the setting aside of the dangerous man was the deep exasperation against the Populares, as they were called, which the insurrection of Saturninus left behind in the party of material interests. With the most remorseless severity the equestrian tribunals condemned every one who professed oppositional views; Sextus Titius, for instance, was condemned not so much on account of his agrarian law as because he had in his house a statue of Saturninus; Gaius Appuleius Decianus was condemned, because he had as tribune of the people characterized the proceedings against Saturninus as illegal.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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