In the beginning of 687 the Pontic army of the Romans was destroyed, and their Armenian army was utterly breaking up on its retreat; all their conquests were lost, the sea was exclusively in the power of the pirates, and the price of grain in Italy was thereby so raised that they were afraid of an actual famine. No doubt, as we saw, the faults of the generals, especially the utter incapacity of the admiral Marcus Antonius and the temerity of the otherwise able Lucius Lucullus, were in part the occasion of these calamities; no doubt also the democracy had by its revolutionary agitations materially contributed to the breaking up of the Armenian army. But of course the government was now held cumulatively responsible for all the mischief which itself and others had occasioned, and the indignant hungry multitude desired only an opportunity to settle accounts with the senate.

Reappearance Of Pompeius

It was a decisive crisis. The oligarchy, though degraded and disarmed, was not yet overthrown, for the management of public affairs was still in the hands of the senate; but it would fall, if its opponents should appropriate to themselves that management, and more especially the superintendence of military affairs; and now this was possible. If proposals for another and better management of the war by land and sea were now submitted to the comitia, the senate was obviously--looking to the temper of the burgesses-- not in a position to prevent their passing; and an interference of the burgesses in these supreme questions of administration was practically the deposition of the senate and the transference of the conduct of the state to the leaders of opposition. Once more the concatenation of events brought the decision into the hands of Pompeius. For more than two years the famous general had lived as a private citizen in the capital. His voice was seldom heard in the senate-house or in the Forum; in the former he was unwelcome and without decisive influence, in the latter he was afraid of the stormy proceedings of the parties. But when he did show himself, it was with the full retinue of his clients high and low, and the very solemnity of his reserve imposed on the multitude. If he, who was still surrounded with the full lustre of his extraordinary successes, should now offer to go to the east, he would beyond doubt be readily invested by the burgesses with all the plenitude of military and political power which he might himself ask. For the oligarchy, which saw in the political-military dictatorship their certain ruin, and in Pompeius himself since the coalition of 683 their most hated foe, this was an overwhelming blow; but the democratic party also could have little comfort in the prospect. However desirable the putting an end to the government of the senate could not but be in itself, it was, if it took place in this way, far less a victory for their party than a personal victory for their over-powerful ally. In the latter there might easily arise a far more dangerous opponent to the democratic party than the senate had been. The danger fortunately avoided a few years before by the disbanding of the Spanish army and the retirement of Pompeius would recur in increased measure, if Pompeius should now be placed at the head of the armies of the east.

Overthrow Of The Senatorial Rule, And New Power Of Pompeius

On this occasion, however, Pompeius acted or at least allowed others to act in his behalf. In 687 two projects of law were introduced, one of which, besides decreeing the discharge-- long since demanded by the democracy--of the soldiers of the Asiatic army who had served their term, decreed the recall of its commander-in-chief Lucius Lucullus and the supplying of his place by one of the consuls of the current year, Gaius Piso or Manius Glabrio; while the second revived and extended the plan proposed seven years before by the senate itself for clearing the seas from the pirates. A single general to be named by the senate from the consulars was to be appointed, to hold by sea exclusive command over the whole Mediterranean from the Pillars of Hercules to the coasts of Pontus and Syria, and to exercise by land, concurrently with the respective Roman governors, supreme command over the whole coasts for fifty miles inland. The office was secured to him for three years. He was surrounded by a staff, such as Rome had never seen, of five-and-twenty lieutenants of senatorial rank, all invested with praetorian insignia and praetorian powers, and of two under-treasurers with quaestorian prerogatives, all of them selected by the exclusive will of the general commanding-in-chief. He was allowed to raise as many as 120,000 infantry, 5000 cavalry, 500 ships of war, and for this purpose to dispose absolutely of the means of the provinces and client-states; moreover, the existing vessels of war and a considerable number of troops were at once handed over to him. The treasures of the state in the capital and in the provinces as well as those of the dependent communities were to be placed absolutely at his command, and in spite of the severe financial distress a sum of; 1,400,000 pounds (144,000,000 sesterces) was at once to be paid to him from the state-chest.

Effect Of The Projects Of Law

It is clear that by these projects of law, especially by that which related to the expedition against the pirates, the government of the senate was set aside. Doubtless the ordinary supreme magistrates nominated by the burgesses were of themselves the proper generals of the commonwealth, and the extraordinary magistrates needed, at least according to strict law, confirmation by the burgesses in order to act as generals; but in the appointment to particular commands no influence constitutionally belonged to the community, and it was only on the proposition of the senate, or at any rate on that of a magistrate entitled in himself to hold the office of general, that the comitia had hitherto now and again interfered in this matter and conferred such special functions.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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