The Manillian Law

One Gaius Manilius, an utterly worthless and insignificant man had when tribune of the people by his unskilful projects of legislation lost favour both with the aristocracy and with the democracy. In the hope of sheltering himself under the wing of the powerful general, if he should procure for the latter what every one knew that he eagerly desired but had not the boldness to ask, Manilius proposed to the burgesses to recall the governors Glabrio from Bithynia and Pontus and Marcius Rex from Cilicia, and to entrust their offices as well as the conduct of the war in the east, apparently without any fixed limit as to time and at any rate with the freest authority to conclude peace and alliance, to the proconsul of the seas and coasts in addition to his previous office (beg. of 688). This occurrence very clearly showed how disorganized was the machinery of the Roman constitution, whenthe power of legislation was placed as respected the initiative inthe hands of any demagogue however insignificant, and as respected the final determination in the hands of the incapable multitude, while it at the same time was extended to the most important questions of administration. The Manilian proposal was acceptable to none of the political parties; yet it scarcely anywhere encountered serious resistance. The democratic leaders, for the same reasons which had forced them to acquiesce in the Gabinian law, could not venture earnestly to oppose the Manilian; they kept their displeasure and their fears to themselves and spoke in public for the general of the democracy. The moderate Optimates declared themselves for the Manilian proposal, because after the Gabinian law resistance in any case was vain, and far-seeing men already perceived that the true policy for the senate was to make approaches as far as possible to Pompeius and to draw him over to their side on occasion of the breach which might be foreseen between him and the democrats. Lastly the trimmers blessed the day when they too seemed to have an opinion and could come forward decidedly without losing favour with either of the parties-- it is significant that Marcus Cicero first appeared as an orator on the political platform in defence of the Manilian proposal. The strict Optimates alone, with Quintus Catulus at their head, showed at least their colours and spoke against the proposition. Of course it was converted into law by a majority bordering on unanimity. Pompeius thus obtained, in addition to his earlier extensive powers, the administration of the most important provinces of Asia Minor-- so that there scarcely remained a spot of land within the wide Roman bounds that had not to obey him--and the conduct of a war as to which, like the expedition of Alexander, men could tell where and when it began, but not where and when it might end. Never since Rome stood had such power been united in the hands of a single man.

The Democratic-Military Revolution

The Gabinio-Manilian proposals terminated the struggle between the senate and the popular party, which the Sempronian laws had begun sixty-seven years before. As the Sempronian laws first constituted the revolutionary party into a political opposition, the Gabinio- Manilian first converted it from an opposition into the government; and as it had been a great moment when the first breach in the existing constitution was made by disregarding the veto of Octavius, it was a moment no less full of significance when the last bulwark of the senatorial rule fell with the withdrawal of Trebellius. This was felt on both sides and even the indolent souls of the senators were convulsively roused by this death- struggle; but yet the war as to the constitution terminated in a very different and far more pitiful fashion than it had begun. A youth in every sense noble had commenced the revolution; it was concluded by pert intriguers and demagogues of the lowest type. On the other hand, while the Optimates had begun the struggle with a measured resistance and with a defence which earnestly held out even at the forlorn posts, they ended with taking the initiative in club-law, with grandiloquent weakness, and with pitiful perjury. What had once appeared a daring dream, was now attained; the senate had ceased to govern. But when the few old men who had seen the first storms of revolution and heard the words of the Gracchi, compared that time with the present they found that everything had in the interval changed--countrymen and citizens, state-law and military discipline, life and manners; and well might those painfully smile, who compared the ideals of the Gracchan period with their realization. Such reflections however belonged to the past. For the present and perhaps also for the future the fall of the aristocracy was an accomplished fact. The oligarchs resembled an army utterly broken up, whose scattered bands might serve to reinforce another body of troops, but could no longer themselves keep the field or risk a combat on their own account. But as the old struggle came to an end, a new one was simultaneously beginning--the struggle between the two powers hitherto leagued for the overthrow of the aristocratic constitution, the civil- democratic opposition and the military power daily aspiring to greater ascendency. The exceptional position of Pompeius even under the Gabinian, and much more under the Manilian, law was incompatible with a republican organization. He had been as even then his opponents urged with good reason, appointed by the Gabinian law not as admiral, but as regent of the empire; not unjustly was he designated by a Greek familiar with eastern affairs "king of kings." If he should hereafter, on returning from the east once more victorious and with increased glory, with well-filled chests, and with troops ready for battle and devoted to his cause, stretch forth his hand to seize the crown--who would then arrest his arm? Was the consular Quintus Catulus, forsooth, to summon forth the senators against the first general of his time and his experienced legions? or was the designated aedile Gaius Caesar to call forth the civic multitude, whose eyes he had just feasted on his three hundred and twenty pairs of gladiators with their silver equipments? Soon, exclaimed Catulus, it would be necessary once more to flee to the rocks of the Capitol, in order to save liberty. It was not the fault of the prophet, that the storm came not, as he expected, from the east, but that on the contrary fate, fulfilling his words more literally than he himself anticipated, brought on the destroying tempest a few years later from Gaul.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book