Far the stronger, Pompeius was evidently master of the situation; if he availed himself of it, it seemed as if he could not but become what the instinct of the multitude even now designated him--the absolute ruler of the mightiest state in the civilized world. Already the whole mass of the servile crowded around the future monarch. Already his weaker opponents were seeking their last resource in a new coalition; Crassus, full of old and recent jealousy towards the younger rival who so thoroughly outstripped him, made approaches to the senate and attempted by unprecedented largesses to attach to himself the multitude of the capital--as if the oligarchy which Crassus himself had helped to break down, and the ever ungrateful multitude, would have been able to afford any protection whatever against the veterans of the Spanish army. For a moment it seemed as if the armies of Pompeius and Crassus would come to blows before the gates of the capital.

Retirement Of Pompeius

But the democrats averted this catastrophe by their sagacity and their pliancy. For their party too, as well as for the senate and Crassus, it was all-important that Pompeius should not seize the dictatorship; but with a truer discernment of their own weakness and of the character of their powerful opponent their leaders tried the method of conciliation. Pompeius lacked no condition for grasping at the crown except the first of all--proper kingly courage. We have already described the man--with his effort to be at once loyal republican and master of Rome, with his vacillation and indecision, with his pliancy that concealed itself under the boasting of independent resolution. This was the first great trial to which destiny subjected him; and he failed to stand it. The pretext under which Pompeius refused to dismiss the army was, that he distrusted Crassus and therefore could not take the initiative in disbanding the soldiers. The democrats induced Crassus to make gracious advances in the matter, and to offer the hand of peace to his colleague before the eyes of all; in public and in private they besought the latter that to the double merit of having vanquished the enemy and reconciled the parties he would add the third and yet greater service of preserving internal peace to his country, and banishing the fearful spectre of civil war with which they were threatened. Whatever could tell on a vain, unskilful, vacillating man--all the flattering arts of diplomacy, all the theatrical apparatus of patriotic enthusiasm--was put in motion to obtain the desired result; and--which was the main point--things had by the well-timed compliance of Crassus assumed such a shape, that Pompeius had no alternative but either to come forward openly as tyrant of Rome or to retire. So he at length yielded and consented to disband the troops. The command in the Mithradatic war, which he doubtless hoped to obtain when he had allowed himself to be chosen consul for 684, he could not now desire, since Lucullus seemed to have practically ended that war with the campaign of 683. He deemed it beneath his dignity to accept the consular province assigned to him by the senate in accordance with the Sempronian law, and Crassus in this followed his example. Accordingly when Pompeius after discharging his soldiers resigned his consulship on the last day of 684, he retired for the time wholly from public affairs, and declared that he wished thenceforth to live a life of quiet leisure as a simple citizen. He had taken up such a position that he was obliged to grasp at the crown; and, seeing that he was not willing to do so, no part was left to him but the empty one of a candidate for a throne resigning his pretensions to it.

Senate, Equites, And Populares

The retirement of the man, to whom as things stood the first place belonged, from the political stage reproduced in the first instance nearly the same position of parties, which we found in the Gracchan and Marian epochs. Sulla had merely strengthened the senatorial government, not created it; so, after the bulwarks erected by Sulla had fallen, the government nevertheless remained primarily with the senate, although, no doubt, the constitution with which it governed--in the main the restored Gracchan constitution-- was pervaded by a spirit hostile to the oligarchy. The democracy had effected the re-establishment of the Gracchan constitution; but without a new Gracchus it was a body without a head, and that neither Pompeius nor Crassus could be permanently such a head, was in itself clear and had been made still clearer by the recent events. So the democratic opposition, for want of a leader who could have directly taken the helm, had to content itself for the time being with hampering and annoying the government at every step. Between the oligarchy, however, and the democracy there rose into new consideration the capitalist party, which in the recent crisis had made common cause with the latter, but which the oligarchs now zealously endeavoured to draw over to their side, so as to acquire in it a counterpoise to the democracy. Thus courted on both sides the moneyed lords did not neglect to turn their advantageous position to profit, and to have the only one of their former privileges which they had not yet regained--the fourteen benches reserved for the equestrian order in the theatre--now (687) restored to them by decree of the people. On the whole, without abruptly breaking with the democracy, they again drew closer to the government. The very relations of the senate to Crassus and his clients point in this direction; but a better understanding between the senate and the moneyed aristocracy seems to have been chiefly brought about by the fact, that in 686 the senate withdrew from Lucius Lucullus the ablest of the senatorial officers, at the instance of the capitalists whom he had sorely annoyed, the dministration of the province of Asia so important for their purposes.(8)

The Events In The East, And Their Reaction On Rome

But while the factions of the capital were indulging in their wonted mutual quarrels, which they were never able to bring to any proper decision, events in the east followed their fatal course, as we have already described; and it was these events that brought the dilatory course of the politics of the capital to a crisis. The war both by land and by sea had there taken a most unfavourable turn.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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