The privileged classes were furious--not merely the nobility, but also the mercantile aristocracy, which felt its exclusive rights endangered by so thorough a state-revolution and once more recognized its true patron in the senate. When the tribune Gabinius after the introduction of his proposals appeared in the senate-house, the fathers of the city were almost on the point of strangling him with their own hands, without considering in their zeal how extremely disadvantageous for them this method of arguing must have ultimately proved. The tribune escaped to the Forum and summoned the multitude to storm the senate-house, when just at the right time the sitting terminated. The consul Piso, the champion of the oligarchy, who accidentally fell into the hands of the multitude, would have certainly become a victim to popular fury, had not Gabinius come up and, in order that his certain success might not be endangered by unseasonable acts of violence, liberated the consul. Meanwhile the exasperation of the multitude remained undiminished and constantly found fresh nourishment in the high prices of grain and the numerous rumours more or less absurd which were in circulation--such as that Lucius Lucullus had invested the money entrusted to him for carrying on the war at interest in Rome, or had attempted with its aid to make the praetor Quinctius withdraw from the cause of the people; that the senate intended to prepare for the "second Romulus," as they called Pompeius, the fate of the first,(12) and other reports of a like character.

The Vote

Thereupon the day of voting arrived. The multitude stood densely packed in the Forum; all the buildings, whence the rostra could be seen, were covered up to the roofs with men. All the colleagues of Gabinius had promised their veto to the senate; but in presence of the surging masses all were silent except the single Lucius Trebellius, who had sworn to himself and the senate rather to die than yield. When the latter exercised his veto, Gabinius immediately interrupted the voting on his projects of law and proposed to the assembled people to deal with his refractory colleague, as Octavius had formerly been dealt with on the proposition of Tiberius Gracchus,(13) namely, to depose him immediately from office. The vote was taken and the reading out of the voting tablets began; when the first seventeen tribes, which came to be read out, had declared for the proposal and the next affirmative vote would give to it the majority, Trebellius, forgetting his oath, pusillanimously withdrew his veto. In vain the tribune Otho then endeavoured to procure that at least the collegiate principle might be preserved, and two generals elected instead of one; in vain the aged Quintus Catulus, the most respected man in the senate, exerted his last energies to secure that the lieutenant-generals should not be nominated by the commander-in-chief, but chosen by the people. Otho could not even procure a hearing amidst the noise of the multitude; the well-calculated complaisance of Gabinius procured a hearing for Catulus, and in respectful silence the multitude listened to the old man's words; but they were none the less thrown away. The proposals were not merely converted into law with all the clauses unaltered, but the supplementary requests in detail made by Pompeius were instantaneously and completely agreed to.

Successes Of Pompeius In The East

With high-strung hopes men saw the two generals Pompeius and Glabrio depart for their places of destination. The price of grain had fallen immediately after the passing of the Gabinian laws to the ordinary rates--an evidence of the hopes attached to the grand expedition and its glorious leader. These hopes were, as we shall have afterwards to relate, not merely fulfilled, but surpassed: in three months the clearing of the seas was completed. Since the Hannibalic war the Roman government had displayed no such energy in external action; as compared with the lax and incapable administration of the oligarchy, the democratic-- military opposition had most brilliantly made good its title to grasp and wield the reins of the state. The equally unpatriotic and unskilful attempts of the consul Piso to put paltry obstacles in the way of the arrangements of Pompeius for the suppression of piracy in Narbonese Gaul only increased the exasperation of the burgesses against the oligarchy and their enthusiasm for Pompeius; it was nothing but the personal intervention of the latter, that prevented the assembly of the people from summarily removing the consul from his office.

Meanwhile the confusion on the Asiatic continent had become still worse. Glabrio, who was to take up in the stead of Lucullus the chief command against Mithradates and Tigranes, had remained stationary in the west of Asia Minor and, while instigating the soldiers by various proclamations against Lucullus, had not entered on the supreme command, so that Lucullus was forced to retain it. Against Mithradates, of course, nothing was done; the Pontic cavalry plundered fearlessly and with impunity in Bithynia and Cappadocia. Pompeius had been led by the piratical war to proceed with his army to Asia Minor; nothing seemed more natural than to invest him with the supreme command in the Pontic-Armenian war, to which he himself had long aspired. But the democratic party did not, as may be readily conceived, share the wishes of its general, and carefully avoided taking the initiative in the matter. It is very probable that it had induced Gabinius not to entrust both the war with Mithradates and that with the pirates from the outset to Pompeius, but to entrust the former to Glabrio; upon no account could it now desire to increase and perpetuate the exceptional position of the already too-powerful general. Pompeius himself retained according to his custom a passive attitude; and perhaps he would in reality have returned home after fulfilling the commission which he had received, but for the occurrence of an incident unexpected by all parties.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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