Attacks Of The Democracy Corn-Laws Attempts To Restore The Tribunician Power

There was no lack, indeed, of men who had in view the re-establishment of the Gracchan constitution, or of projects to attain piecemeal in the way of constitutional reform what Lepidus and Sertorius had attempted by the path of revolution. The government had already under the pressure of the agitation of Lepidus immediately after the death of Sulla consented to a limited revival of the largesses of grain (676); and it did, moreover, what it could to satisfy the proletariate of the capital in regard to this vital question. When, notwithstanding those distributions, the high price of grain occasioned chiefly by piracy produced so oppressive a dearth in Rome as to lead to a violent tumult in the streets in 679, extraordinary purchases of Sicilian grain on account of the government relieved for the time the most severe distress; and a corn-law brought in by the consuls of 681 regulated for the future the purchases of Sicilian grain and furnished the government, although at the expense of the provincials, with better means of obviating similar evils. But the less material points of difference also--the restoration of the tribunician power in its old compass, and the setting aside of the senatorial tribunals-- ceased not to form subjects of popular agitation; and in their case the government offered more decided resistance. The dispute regarding the tribunician magistracy was opened as early as 678, immediately after the defeat of Lepidus, by the tribune of the people Lucius Sicinius, perhaps a descendant of the man of the same name who had first filled this office more than four hundred years before; but it failed before the resistance offered to it by the active consul Gaius Curio. In 680 Lucius Quinctius resumed the agitation, but was induced by the authority of the consul Lucius Lucullus to desist from his purpose. The matter was taken up in the following year with greater zeal by Gaius Licinius Macer, who-- in a way characteristic of the period--carried his literary studies into public life, and, just as he had read in the Annals, counselled the burgesses to refuse the conscription.

Attacks On The Senatorial Tribunals

Complaints also, only too well founded, prevailed respecting the bad administration of justice by the senatorial jurymen. The condemnation of a man of any influence could hardly be obtained. Not only did colleague feel reasonable compassion for colleague, those who had been or were likely to be accused for the poor sinner under accusation at the moment; the sale also of the votes of jurymen was hardly any longer exceptional. Several senators had been judicially convicted of this crime: men pointed with the finger at others equally guilty; the most respected Optimates, such as Quintus Catulus, granted in an open sitting of the senate that the complaints were quite well founded; individual specially striking cases compelled the senate on several occasions, e. g. in 680, to deliberate on measures to check the venality of juries, but only of course till the first outcry had subsided and the matter could be allowed to slip out of sight. The consequences of this wretched administration of justice appeared especially in a system of plundering and torturing the provincials, compared with which even previous outrages seemed tolerable and moderate. Stealing and robbing had been in some measure legitimized by custom; the commission on extortions might be regarded as an institution for taxing the senators returning from the provinces for the benefit of their colleagues that remained at home. But when an esteemed Siceliot, because he had not been ready to help the governor in a crime, was by the latter condemned to death in his absence and unheard; when even Roman burgesses, if they were not equites or senators, were in the provinces no longer safe from the rods and axes of the Roman magistrate, and the oldest acquisition of the Roman democracy--security of life and person--began to be trodden under foot by the ruling oligarchy; then even the public in the Forum at Rome had an ear for the complaints regarding its magistrates in the provinces, and regarding the unjust judges who morally shared the responsibility of such misdeeds. The opposition of course did not omit to assail its opponents in--what was almost the only ground left to it--the tribunals. The young Gaius Caesar, who also, so far as his age allowed, took zealous part in the agitation for the re-establishment of the tribunician power, brought to trial in 677 one of the most respected partisans of Sulla the consular Gnaeus Dolabella, and in the following year another Sullan officer Gaius Antonius; and Marcus Cicero in 684 called to account Gaius Verres, one of the most wretched of the creatures of Sulla, and one of the worst scourges of the provincials. Again and again were the pictures of that dark period of the proscriptions, the fearful sufferings of the provincials, the disgraceful state of Roman criminal justice, unfolded before the assembled multitude with all the pomp of Italian rhetoric, and with all the bitterness of Italian sarcasm, and the mighty dead as well as his living instruments were unrelentingly exposed to their wrath and scorn. The re-establishment of the full tribunician power, with the continuance of which the freedom, might, and prosperity of the republic seemed bound up as by a charm of primeval sacredness, the reintroduction of the "stern" equestrian tribunals, the renewal of the censorship, which Sulla had set aside, for the purifying of the supreme governing board from its corrupt and pernicious elements, were daily demanded with a loud voice by the orators of the popular party.

Want Of Results From The Democratic Agitation

But with all this no progress was made. There was scandal and outcry enough, but no real result was attained by this exposure of the government according to and beyond its deserts. The material power still lay, so long as there was no military interference, in the hands of the burgesses of the capital; and the "people" that thronged the streets of Rome and made magistrates and laws in the Forum, was in fact nowise better than the governing senate. The government no doubt had to come to terms with the multitude, where its own immediate interest was at stake; this was the reason for the renewal of the Sempronian corn-law.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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