In this field, ever since there had existed a Roman free state, the practically decisive voice pertained to the senate, and this its prerogative had in the course of time obtained full recognition. No doubt the democracy had already assailed it; but even in the most doubtful of the cases which had hitherto occurred--the transference of the African command to Gaius Marius in 647(9)--it was only a magistrate constitutionally entitled to hold the office of general that was entrusted by the resolution of the burgesses with a definite expedition.

But now the burgesses were to invest any private man at their pleasure not merely with the extraordinary authority of the supreme magistracy, but also with a sphere of office definitely settled by them. That the senate had to choose this man from the ranks of the consulars, was a mitigation only in form; for the selection was left to it simply because there was really no choice, and in presence of the vehemently excited multitude the senate could entrust the chief command of the seas and coasts to no other save Pompeius alone. But more dangerous still than this negation in principle of the senatorial control was its practical abolition by the institution of an office of almost unlimited military and financial powers. While the office of general was formerly restricted to a term of one year, to a definite province, and to military and financial resources strictly measured out, the new extraordinary office had from the outset a duration of three years secured to it--which of course did not exclude a farther prolongation; had the greater portion of all the provinces, and even Italy itself which was formerly free from military jurisdiction, subordinated to it; had the soldiers, ships, treasures of the state placed almost without restriction at its disposal. Even the primitive fundamental principle in the state-law of the Roman republic, which we have just mentioned-- that the highest military and civil authority could not be conferred without the co-operation of the burgesses--was infringed in favour of the new commander-in-chief. Inasmuch as the law conferred beforehand on the twenty-five adjutants whom he was to nominate praetorian rank and praetorian prerogatives,(10) the highest office of republican Rome became subordinate to a newly created office, for which it was left to the future to find the fitting name, but which in reality even now involved in it the monarchy. It was a total revolution in the existing order of things, for which the foundation was laid in this project of law.

Pompeius And The Gabinian Laws

These measures of a man who had just given so striking proofs of his vacillation and weakness surprise us by their decisive energy. Nevertheless the fact that Pompeius acted on this occasion more resolutely than during his consulate is very capable of explanation. The point at issue was not that he should come forward at once as monarch, but only that he should prepare the way for the monarchy by a military exceptional measure, which, revolutionary as it was in its nature, could still be accomplished under the forms of the existing constitution, and which in the first instance carried Pompeius so far on the way towards the old object of his wishes, the command against Mithradates and Tigranes. Important reasons of expediency also might be urged for the emancipation of the military power from the senate. Pompeius could not have forgotten that a plan designed on exactly similar principles for the suppression of piracy had a few years before failed through the mismanagement of the senate, and that the issue of the Spanish war had been placed in extreme jeopardy by the neglect of the armies on the part of the senate and its injudicious conduct of the finances; he could not fail to see what were the feelings with which the great majority of the aristocracy regarded him as a renegade Sullan, and what fate was in store for him, if he allowed himself to be sent as general of the government with the usual powers to the east. It was natural therefore that he should indicate a position independent of the senate as the first condition of his undertaking the command, and that the burgesses should readily agree to it. It is moreover in a high degree probable that Pompeius was on this occasion urged to more rapid action by those around him, who were, it may be presumed, not a little indignant at his retirement two years before. The projects of law regarding the recall of Lucullus and the expedition against the pirates were introduced by the tribune of the people Aulus Gabinius, a man ruined in finances and morals, but a dexterous negotiator, a bold orator, and a brave soldier. Little as the assurance of Pompeius, that he had no wish at all for the chief command in the war with the pirates and only longed for domestic repose, were meant in earnest, there was probably this much of truth in them, that the bold and active client, who was in confidential intercourse with Pompeius and his more immediate circle and who completely saw through the situation and the men, took the decision to a considerable extent out of the hands of his shortsighted and resourceless patron.

The Parties In Relation To The Gabinian Laws

The democracy, discontented as its leaders might be in secret, could not well come publicly forward against the project of law. It would, to all appearance, have been in no case able to hinder the carrying of the law; but it would by opposition have openly broken with Pompeius and thereby compelled him either to make approaches to the oligarchy or regardlessly to pursue his personal policy in the face of both parties. No course was left to the democrats but still even now to adhere to their alliance with Pompeius, hollow as it was, and to embrace the present opportunity of at least definitely overthrowing the senate and passing over from opposition into government, leaving the ulterior issue to the future and to the well-known weakness of Pompeius' character. Accordingly their leaders--the praetor Lucius Quinctius, the same who seven years before had exerted himself for the restoration of the tribunician power,(11) and the former quaestor Gaius Caesar-- supported the Gabinian proposals.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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