More especially the immediate children of the proscribed, whom the regent had reduced in point of law to political Pariahs,(3) had thereby virtually received from the law itself a summons to rise in rebellion against the existing order of things.
Men Of Ruined Fortunes Men Of Ambition
To all these sections of the opposition there was added the whole body of men of ruined fortunes. All the rabble high and low, whose means and substance had been spent in refined or in vulgar debauchery; the aristocratic lords, who had no farther mark of quality than their debts; the Sullan troopers whom the regent's fiat could transform into landholders but not into husbandmen, and who, after squandering the first inheritance of the proscribed, were longing to succeed to a second--all these waited only the unfolding of the banner which invited them to fight against the existing order of things, whatever else might be inscribed on it. From a like necessity all the aspiring men of talent, in search of popularity, attached themselves to the opposition; not only those to whom the strictly closed circle of the Optimates denied admission or at least opportunities for rapid promotion, and who therefore attempted to force their way into the phalanx and to break through the laws of oligarchic exclusiveness and seniority by means of popular favour, but also the more dangerous men, whose ambition aimed at something higher than helping to determine the destinies of the world within the sphere of collegiate intrigues. On the advocates' platform in particular--the only field of legal opposition left open by Sulla--even in the regent's lifetime such aspirants waged lively war against the restoration with the weapons of formal jurisprudence and combative oratory: for instance, the adroit speaker Marcus Tullius Cicero (born 3rd January 648), son of a landholder of Arpinum, speedily made himself a name by the mingled caution and boldness of his opposition to the dictator. Such efforts were not of much importance, if the opponent desired nothing farther than by their means to procure for himself a curule chair, and then to sit in it in contentment for the rest of his life. No doubt, if this chair should not satisfy a popular man and Gaius Gracchus should find a successor, a struggle for life or death was inevitable; but for the present at least no name could be mentioned, the bearer of which had proposed to himself any such lofty aim.
Power Of The Opposition
Such was the sort of opposition with which the oligarchic government instituted by Sulla had to contend, when it had, earlier than Sulla himself probably expected, been thrown by his death on its own resources. The task was in itself far from easy, and it was rendered more difficult by the other social and political evils of this age--especially by the extraordinary double difficulty of keeping the military chiefs in the provinces in subjection to the supreme civil magistracy, and of dealing with the masses of the Italian and extra-Italian populace accumulating in the capital, and of the slaves living there to a great extent in de facto freedom, without having troops at disposal. The senate was placed as it were, in a fortress exposed and threatened on all sides, and serious conflicts could not fail to ensue. But the means of resistance organized by Sulla were considerable and lasting; and although the majority of the nation was manifestly disinclined to the government which Sulla had installed, and even animated by hostile feelings towards it, that government might very well maintain itself for a long time in its stronghold against the distracted and confused mass of an opposition which was not agreed either as to end or means, and, having no head, was broken up into a hundred fragments. Only it was necessary that it should be determined to maintain its position, and should bring at least a spark of that energy, which had built the fortress, to its defence; for in the case of a garrison which will not defend itself, the greatest master of fortification constructs his walls and moats in vain.
Want Of Leaders Coterie-Systems
The more everything ultimately depended on the personality of the leading men on both sides, it was the more unfortunate that both, strictly speaking, lacked leaders. The politics of thisperiod were thoroughly under the sway of the coterie-system in its worst form. This, indeed, was nothing new; close unions of families and clubs were inseparable from an aristocratic organizationof the state, and had for centuries prevailed in Rome. But it was not till this epoch that they became all-powerful, for it was only now (first in 690) that their influence was attested rather than checked by legal measures of repression.
All persons of quality, those of popular leanings no less than the oligarchy proper, met in Hetaeriae; the mass of the burgesses likewise, so far as they took any regular part in political events at all, formed according to their voting-districts close unions with an almost military organization, which found their natural captains and agents in the presidents of the districts, "tribe- distributors" (-divisores tribuum-). With these political clubs everything was bought and sold; the vote of the elector especially, but also the votes of the senator and the judge, the fists too which produced the street riot, and the ringleaders who directed it--the associations of the upper and of the lower ranks were distinguished merely in the matter of tariff. The Hetaeria decided the elections, the Hetaeria decreed the impeachments, the Hetaeria conducted the defence; it secured the distinguished advocate, and in case of need it contracted for an acquittal with one of the speculators who pursued on a great scale lucrative dealings in judges' votes. The Hetaeria commanded by its compact bands the streets of the capital, and with the capital but too often the state. All these things were done in accordance with a certain rule, and, so to speak, publicly; the system of Hetaeriae was better organized and managed than any branch of state administration; although there was, as is usual among civilized swindlers, a tacit understanding that there should be no direct mention of the nefarious proceedings, nobody made a secret of them, and advocates of repute were not ashamed to give open and intelligible hints of their relation to the Hetaeriae of their clients.