Where the perseverance of a single resolute man could decide, he no doubt sometimes achieved a success, and in questions of detail, more particularly of a financial character, he often judiciously interfered, as indeed he was absent from no meeting of the senate; his quaestorship in fact formed an epoch, and as long as he lived he checked the details of the public budget, regarding which he maintained of course a constant warfare with the farmers of the taxes. For the rest, he lacked simply every ingredient of a statesman. He was incapable of even comprehending a political aim and of surveying political relations; his whole tactics consisted in setting his face against every one who deviated or seemed to him to deviate from the traditionary moral and political catechism of the aristocracy, and thus of course he worked as often into the hands of his opponents as into those of his own party. The Don Quixote of the aristocracy, he proved by his character and his actions that at this time, while there was certainly still an aristocracy in existence, the aristocratic policy was nothing more than a chimera.

Democratic Attacks

To continue the conflict with this aristocracy brought little honour. Of course the attacks of the democracy on the vanquished foe did not on that account cease. The pack of the Populares threw themselves on the broken ranks of the nobility like the sutlers on a conquered camp, and the surface at least of politics was by this agitation ruffled into high waves of foam. The multitude entered into the matter the more readily, as Gaius Caesar especially kept them in good humour by the extravagant magnificence of his games (689)--in which all the equipments, even the cages of the wild beasts, appeared of massive silver--and generally by a liberality which was all the more princely that it was based solely on the contraction of debt. The attacks on the nobility were of the most varied kind. The abuses of aristocratic rule afforded copious materials; magistrates and advocates who were liberal or assumed a liberal hue, like Gaius Cornelius, Aulus Gabinius, Marcus Cicero, continued systematically to unveil the most offensive and scandalous aspects of the Optimate doings and to propose laws against them. The senate was directed to give access to foreign envoys on set days, with the view of preventing the usual postponement of audiences. Loans raised by foreign ambassadors in Rome were declared non-actionable, as this was the only means of seriously checking the corruptions which formed the order of the day in the senate (687). The right of the senate to give dispensation in particular cases from the laws was restricted (687); as was also the abuse whereby every Roman of rank, who had private business to attend to in the provinces, got himself invested by the senate with the character of a Roman envoy thither (691). They heightened the penalties against the purchase of votes and electioneering intrigues (687, 691); which latter were especially increased in a scandalous fashion by the attempts of the individuals ejected from the senate(1) to get back to it through re-election.

What had hitherto been simply understood as matter of course was now expressly laid down as a law, that the praetors were bound to administer justice in conformity with the rules set forth by them, after the Roman fashion, at their entering on office (687).

Transpadanes Freedmen

But, above all, efforts were made to complete the democratic restoration and to realize the leading ideas of the Gracchan period in a form suitable to the times. The election of the priests by the comitia, which Gnaeus Domitius had introduced(2) and Sulla had again done away,(3) was established by a law of the tribune of the people Titus Labienus in 691. The democrats were fond of pointing out how much was still wanting towards the restoration of the Sempronian corn-laws in their full extent, and at the same time passed over in silence the fact that under the altered circumstances--with the straitened condition of the public finances and the great increase in the number of fully-privileged Roman citizens--that restoration was absolutely impracticable. In the country between the Po and the Alps they zealously fostered the agitation for political equality with the Italians. As early as 686 Gaius Caesar travelled from place to place there for this purpose; in 689 Marcus Crassus as censor made arrangements to enrol the inhabitants directly in the burgess-roll--which was only frustrated by the resistance of his colleague; in the following censorships this attempt seems regularly to have been repeated. As formerly Gracchus and Flaccus had been the patrons of the Latins, so the present leaders of the democracy gave themselves forth as protectors of the Transpadanes, and Gaius Piso (consul in 687) had bitterly to regret that he had ventured to outrage one of these clients of Caesar and Crassus. On the other hand the same leaders appeared by no means disposed to advocate the political equalization of the freedmen; the tribune of the people Gaius Manilius, who in a thinly attended assembly had procured the renewal (31 Dec. 687) of the Sulpician law as to the suffrage of freedmen,(4) was immediately disavowed by the leading men of the democracy, and with their consent the law was cancelled by the senate on the very day after its passing. In the same spirit all the strangers, who possessed neither Roman nor Latin burgess- rights, were ejected from the capital by decree of the people in 689. It is obvious that the intrinsic inconsistency of the Gracchan policy--in abetting at once the effort of the excluded to obtain admission into the circle of the privileged, and the effort of the privileged to maintain their distinctive rights--had passed over to their successors; while Caesar and his friends on the one hand held forth to the Transpadanes the prospect of the franchise, they on the other hand gave their assent to the continuance of the disabilities of the freedmen, and to the barbarous setting aside of the rivalry which the industry and trading skill of the Hellenes and Orientals maintained with the Italians in Italy itself.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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