But it was not to be imagined that this populace would have displayed earnestness on behalf of an idea or even of a judicious reform. What Demosthenes said of his Athenians was justly applied to the Romans of this period--the people were very zealous for action, so long as they stood round the platform and listened to proposals of reforms; but when they went home, no one thought further of what he had heard in the market-place. However those democratic agitators might stir the fire, it was to no purpose, for the inflammable material was wanting. The government knew this, and allowed no sort of concession to be wrung from it on important questions of principle; at the utmost it consented (about 682) to grant amnesty to a portion of those who had become exiles with Lepidus. Any concessions that did take place, came not so much from the pressure of the democracy as from the attempts at mediation of the moderate aristocracy. But of the two laws which the single still surviving leader of this section Gaius Cotta carried in his consulate of 679, that which concerned the tribunals was again set aside in the very next year; and the second, which abolished the Sullan enactment that those who had held the tribunate should be disqualified for undertaking other magistracies, but allowed the other limitations to continue, merely--like every half-measure--excited the displeasure of both parties.

The party of conservatives friendly to reform which lost its most notable head by the early death of Cotta occurring soon after (about 681) dwindled away more and more--crushed between the extremes, which were becoming daily more marked. But of these the party of the government, wretched and remiss as it was, necessarily retained the advantage in presence of the equally wretched and equally remiss opposition.

Quarrel Between The Government And Their General Pompeius

But this state of matters so favourable to the government was altered, when the differences became more distinctly developed which subsisted between it and those of its partisans, whose hopes aspired to higher objects than the seat of honour in the senate and the aristocratic villa. In the first rank of these stood Gnaeus Pompeius. He was doubtless a Sullan; but we have already shown(2) how little he was at home among his own party, how his lineage, his past history, his hopes separated him withal from the nobility as whose protector and champion he was officially regarded. The breach already apparent had been widened irreparably during the Spanish campaigns of the general (677-683). With reluctance and semi-compulsion the government had associated him as colleague with their true representative Quintus Metellus; and in turn he accused the senate, probably not without ground, of having by its careless or malicious neglect of the Spanish armies brought about their defeats and placed the fortunes of the expedition in jeopardy. Now he returned as victor over his open and his secret foes, at the head of an army inured to war and wholly devoted to him, desiring assignments of land for his soldiers, a triumph and the consulship for himself. The latter demands came into collision with the law. Pompeius, although several times invested in an extraordinary way with supreme official authority, had not yet administered any ordinary magistracy, not even the quaestorship, and was still not a member of the senate; and none but one who had passed through the round of lesser ordinary magistracies could become consul, none but one who had been invested with the ordinary supreme power could triumph. The senate was legally entitled, if he became a candidate for the consulship, to bid him begin with the quaestorship; if he requested a triumph, to remind him of the great Scipio, who under like circumstances had renounced his triumph over conquered Spain. Nor was Pompeius less dependent constitutionally on the good will of the senate as respected the lands promised to his soldiers. But, although the senate--as with its feebleness even in animosity was very conceivable--should yield those points and concede to the victorious general, in return for his executioner's service against the democratic chiefs, the triumph, the consulate, and the assignations of land, an honourable annihilation in senatorial indolence among the long series of peaceful senatorial Imperators was the most favourable lot which the oligarchy was able to hold in readiness for the general of thirty-six. That which his heart really longed for--the command in the Mithradatic war--he could never expect to obtain from the voluntary bestowal of the senate: in their own well-understood interest the oligarchy could not permit him to add to his Africa and European trophies those of a third continent; the laurels which were to be plucked copiously and easily in the east were reserved at all events for the pure aristocracy. But if the celebrated general did not find his account in the ruling oligarchy, there remained-- for neither was the time ripe, nor was the temperament of Pompeius at all fitted, for a purely personal outspoken dynastic policy-- no alternative save to make common cause with the democratic party. No interest of his own bound him to the Sullan constitution; he could pursue his personal objects quite as well, if not better, with one more democratic. On the other hand he found all that he needed in the democratic party. Its active and adroit leaders were ready and able to relieve the resourceless and somewhat wooden hero of the trouble of political leadership, and yet much too insignificant to be able or even wishful to dispute with the celebrated general the first place and especially the supreme military control. Even Gaius Caesar, by far the most important of them, was simply a young man whose daring exploits and fashionable debts far more than his fiery democratic eloquence had gained him a name, and who could not but feel himself greatly honoured when the world-renowned Imperator allowed him to be his political adjutant.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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