The march through the sandy desert between Gaza and Pelusium, in which so many invasions previously directed against Egypt had broken down, was on this occasion successfully accomplished--a result especially due to the quick and skilful leader of the cavalry Marcus Antonius. The frontier fortress of Pelusium also was surrendered without resistance by the Jewish garrison stationed there. In front of this city the Romans met the Egyptians, defeated them--on which occasion Antonius again distinguished himself--and arrived, as the first Roman army, at the Nile. Here the fleet and army of the Egyptians were drawn up for the last decisive struggle; but the Romans once more conquered, and Archelaus himself with many of his followers perished in the combat. Immediately after this battle the capital surrendered, and therewith all resistance was at an end. The unhappy land was handed over to its legitimate oppressor; the hanging and beheading, with which, but for the intervention of the chivalrous Antonius, Ptolemaeus would have already in Pelusium begun to celebrate the restoration of the legitimate government, now took its course unhindered, and first of all the innocent daughter was sent by her father to the scaffold. The payment of the reward agreed upon with the regents broke down through the absolute impossibility of exacting from the exhausted land the enormous sums required, although they took from the poor people the last penny; but care was taken that the country should at least be kept quiet by the garrison of Roman infantry and Celtic and German cavalry left in the capital, which took the place of the native praetorians and otherwise emulated them not unsuccessfully. The previous hegemony of Rome over Egypt was thus converted into a direct military occupation, and the nominal continuance of the native monarchy was not so much a privilege granted to the land as a double burden imposed on it.

Chapter V

The Struggle Of Parties During The Absence Of Pompeius.

The Defeated Aristocracy

With the passing of the Gabinian law the parties in the capital changed positions. From the time that the elected general of the democracy held in his hand the sword, his party, or what was reckoned such, had the preponderance in the capital. The nobility doubtless still stood in compact array, and still as before there issued from the comitial machinery none but consuls, who according to the expression of the democrats were already designated to the consulate in their cradles; to command the elections andbreak down the influence of the old families over them was beyond the power even of the holders of power. But unfortunately the consulate, at the very moment when they had got the length of virtually excluding the "new men" from it, began itself to grow pale before the newly- risen star of the exceptional military power. The aristocracy felt this, though they did not exactly confess it; they gave themselves up as lost. Except Quintus Catulus, who with honourable firmness persevered at his far from pleasant post as champion of a vanquished party down to his death (694), no Optimate could be named from the highest ranks of the nobility, who would have sustained the interests of the aristocracy with courage and steadfastness. Their very men of most talent and fame, such as Quintus Metellus Pius and Lucius Lucullus, practically abdicated and retired, so far as they could at all do so with propriety, to their villas, in order to forget as much as possible the Forum and the senate-house amidst their gardens and libraries, their aviaries and fish-ponds. Still more, of course, was this the case with the younger generation of the aristocracy, which was either wholly absorbed in luxury and literature or turning towards the rising sun.


There was among the younger men a single exception; it was Marcus Porcius Cato (born in 659), a man of the best intentions and of rare devotedness, and yet one of the most Quixotic and one of the most cheerless phenomena in this age so abounding in political caricatures. Honourable and steadfast, earnest in purpose and in action, full of attachment to his country and to its hereditary constitution, but dull in intellect and sensuously as well as morally destitute of passion, he might certainly have made a tolerable state-accountant. But unfortunately he fell early under the power of formalism, and swayed partly by the phrases of the Stoa, which in their abstract baldness and spiritless isolation were current among the genteel world of that day, partly by the example of his great-grandfather whom he deemed it his especial task to reproduce, he began to walk about in the sinful capital as a model burgess and mirror of virtue, to scold at the times like the old Cato, to travel on foot instead of riding, to take no interest, to decline badges of distinction as a soldier, and to introduce the restoration of the good old days by going after the precedent of king Romulus without a shirt. A strange caricature of his ancestor--the gray-haired farmer whom hatred and anger made an orator, who wielded in masterly style the plough as well as the sword, who with his narrow, but original and sound common sense ordinarily hit the nail on the head--was this young unimpassioned pedant from whose lips dropped scholastic wisdom and who was everywhere seen sitting book in hand, this philosopher who understood neither the art of war nor any other art whatever, this cloud-walker in the realm of abstract morals. Yet he attained to moral and thereby even to political importance. In an utterly wretched and cowardly age his courage and his negative virtues told powerfully on the multitude; he even formed a school, and there were individuals--it is true they were but few--who in their turn copied and caricatured afresh the living pattern of a philosopher. On the same cause depended also his political influence. As he was the only conservative of note who possessed if not talent and insight, at any rate integrity and courage, and was always ready to throw himself into the breach whether it was necessary to do so or not, he soon became the recognized champion of the Optimate party, although neither his age nor his rank nor his intellect entitled him to be so.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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