Julius Caesar

Caesar Military Tribune

Caesar Military Tribune.--Becomes known as a Speaker.--Is made Quaestor.-- Speech at his Aunt's Funeral.--Consulship of Pompey and Crassus.--Caesar marries Pompey's Cousin.--Mission to Spain.--Restoration of the Powers of the Tribunes.--The Equites and the Senate.--The Pirates.--Food Supplies cut off from Rome.--The Gabinian Law.--Resistance of the Patricians.-- Suppression of the Pirates by Pompey.--The Manilian Law.--Speech of Cicero.--Recall of Lucullus.--Pompey sent to command in Asia.--Defeat and Death of Mithridates.--Conquest of Asia by Pompey

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Caesar, having done his small piece of independent service in Caria, and having finished his course with Apollonius, now came again to Rome and re-entered practical life. He lived with his wife and his mother Aurelia in a modest house, attracting no particular notice. But his defiance of Sylla, his prosecution of Dolabella, and his known political sympathies made him early a favorite with the people. The growing disorders at home and abroad, with the exposures on the trial of Verres, were weakening daily the influence of the Senate. Caesar was elected military tribune as a reward for his services in Asia, and he assisted in recovering part of the privileges so dear to the citizens which Sylla had taken from the tribunes of the people.

Caesar Military Tribune

They were again enabled to call the assembly together, and though they were still unable to propose laws without the Senate's sanction, yet they regained the privilege of consulting directly with the nation on public affairs. Caesar now spoke well enough to command the admiration of even Cicero--without ornament, but directly to the purpose. Among the first uses to which he addressed his influence was to obtain the pardon of his brother-in-law, the younger Cinna, who had been exiled since the failure of the attempt of Lepidus. In B.C. 68, being then thirty-two, he gained his first step on the ladder of high office. He was made quaestor, which gave him a place in the Senate.

Soon after his election, his aunt Julia, the widow of Marius, died. It was usual on the death of eminent persons for a near relation to make an oration at the funeral. Caesar spoke on this occasion. It was observed that he dwelt with some pride on the lady's ancestry, descending on one side from the gods, on another from the kings of Rome. More noticeably he introduced into the burial procession the insignia and images of Marius himself, whose name for some years it had been unsafe to mention. 1

Pompey, after Sertorius's death, had pacified Spain. He had assisted Crassus in extinguishing Spartacus. The Senate had employed him, but had never liked him or trusted him. The Senate, however, was no longer omnipotent, and in the year 70 he and Crassus had been consuls. Pompey was no politician, but he was honorable and straightforward. Like every true Roman, he was awake to the dangers and disgrace of the existing mal-administration, and he and Caesar began to know each other, and to find their interest in working together. Pompey was the elder of the two by six years. He was already a great man, covered with distinctions, and perhaps he supposed that he was finding in Caesar a useful subordinate. Caesar naturally liked Pompey, as a really distinguished soldier and an upright disinterested man. They became connected by marriage. Cornelia dying, Caesar took for his second wife Pompey's cousin, Pompeia; and, no doubt at Pompey's instance, he was sent into Spain to complete Pompey's work and settle the finances of that distracted country. His reputation as belonging to the party of Marius and Sertorius secured him the confidence of Sertorius's friends. He accomplished his mission completely and easily. On his way back he passed through northern Italy, and took occasion to say there that he considered the time to have come for the franchise, which now stopped at the Po, to be extended to the foot of the Alps.

The consulship of Pompey and Crassus had brought many changes with it, all tending in the same direction. The tribunes were restored to their old functions, the censorship was re-established, and the Senate was at once weeded of many of its disreputable members. Cicero, conservative as he was, had looked upon these measures if not approvingly yet without active opposition. To another change he had himself contributed by his speeches on the Verres prosecution. The exclusive judicial powers which the Senate had abused so scandalously were again taken from them. The courts of the equites were remembered in contrast, and a law was passed that for the future the courts were to be composed two thirds of knights and one third only of senators. Cicero's hope of resisting democracy lay in the fusion of the great commoners with the Senate. It was no longer possible for the aristocracy to rule alone. The few equites who, since Sylla's time, had made their way into the Senate had yielded to patrician ascendency. Cicero aimed at a reunion of the orders; and the consulship of Crassus, little as Cicero liked Crassus personally, was a sign of a growing tendency in this direction. At all costs the knights must be prevented from identifying themselves with the democrats, and therefore all possible compliments and all possible concessions to their interests were made to them.

They recovered their position in the law-courts; and, which was of more importance to them, the system of farming the taxes, in which so many of them had made their fortunes, and which Sylla had abolished, was once again reverted to. It was not a good system, but it was better than a state of things in which little of the revenue had reached the public treasury at all, but had been intercepted and parcelled out among the oligarchy.

[B.C. 67.] With recovered vitality a keener apprehension began to be felt of the pirate scandal. The buccaneers, encouraged by the Senate's connivance, were more daring than ever. They had become a sea community, led by high-born adventurers, who maintained out of their plunder a show of wild magnificence. The oars of the galleys of their commanders were plated with silver; their cabins were hung with gorgeous tapestry. They had bands of music to play at their triumphs. They had a religion of their own, an oriental medley called the Mysteries of Mithras. They had captured and pillaged four hundred considerable towns, and had spoiled the temples of the Grecian gods. They had maintained and extended their depots where they disposed of their prisoners to the slave-dealers. Roman citizens who could not ransom themselves, and could not conveniently be sold, were informed that they might go where they pleased; they were led to a plank projecting over some vessel's side, and were bidden depart--into the sea. Not contented with insulting Ostia by their presence outside, they had ventured into the harbor itself, and had burnt the ships there. They held complete possession of the Italian waters. Rome, depending on Sicily and Sardinia and Africa for her supplies of corn, was starving for want of food, and the foreign trade on which so many of the middle classes were engaged was totally destroyed. The return of the commoners to power was a signal for an active movement to put an end to the disgrace. No one questioned that it could be done if there was a will to do it. But the work could be accomplished only by persons who would be proof against corruption. There was but one man in high position who could be trusted, and that was Pompey. The general to be selected must have unrestricted and therefore unconstitutional authority. But Pompey was at once capable and honest. Pompey could not be bribed by the pirates, and Pompey could be depended on not to abuse his opportunities to the prejudice of the Commonwealth.

[B.C. 67.] The natural course, therefore, would have been to declare Pompey dictator; but Sylla had made the name unpopular; the right to appoint a dictator lay with the Senate, with whom Pompey had never been a favorite, and the aristocracy had disliked and feared him more than ever since his consulship. From that quarter no help was to be looked for, and a method was devised to give him the reality of power without the title. Unity of command was the one essential--command untrammelled by orders from committees of weak and treacherous noblemen, who cared only for the interest of their class. The established forms were scrupulously observed, and the plan designed was brought forward first, according to rule, in the Senate. A tribune, Aulus Gabinius, introduced a proposition there that one person of consular rank should have absolute jurisdiction during three years over the whole Mediterranean, and over all Roman territory for fifty miles inland from the coast; that the money in the treasury should be at his disposition; that he should have power to raise 500 ships of war and to collect and organize 130,000 men. No such command for such a time had ever been committed to any one man since the abolition of the monarchy. It was equivalent to a suspension of the Senate itself, and of all constitutional government. The proposal was received with a burst of fury. Every one knew that the person intended was Pompey. The decorum of the old days was forgotten. The noble lords started from their seats, flew at Gabinius, and almost strangled him: but he had friends outside the house ready to defend their champion; the country people had flocked in for the occasion; the city was thronged with multitudes such as had not been seen there since the days of the Gracchi. The tribune freed himself from the hands that were at his throat; he rushed out into the Forum, closely pursued by the consul Piso, who would have been torn in pieces in turn had not Gabinius interposed to save him. Senate or no Senate, it was decided that Gabinius's proposition should be submitted to the assembly, and the aristocrats were driven to their old remedy of bribing other members of the college of tribunes to interfere. Two renegades were thus secured, and when the voting-day came, Trebellius, who was one of them, put in a veto; the other, Roscius, said that the power intended for Pompey was too considerable to be trusted to a single person, and proposed two commanders instead of one. The mob was packed so thick that the house-tops were covered. A yell rose from tens of thousands of throats so piercing that it was said a crow flying over the Forum dropped dead at the sound of it. The old patrician Catulus tried to speak, but the people would not hear him. The vote passed by acclamation, and Pompey was for three years sovereign of the Roman world.

It now appeared how strong the Romans were when a fair chance was allowed them. Pompey had no extraordinary talents, but not in three years, but in three months, the pirates were extinguished. He divided the Mediterranean into thirteen districts, and allotted a squadron to each, under officers on whom he could thoroughly rely. Ships and seamen were found in abundance lying idle from the suspension of trade. In forty days he had cleared the seas between Gibraltar and Italy. He had captured entire corsair fleets, and had sent the rest flying into the Cilician creeks. There, in defence of their plunder and their families, they fought one desperate engagement, and when defeated, they surrendered without a further blow. Of real strength they had possessed none from the first. They had subsisted only through the guilty complicity of the Roman authorities, and they fell at the first stroke which was aimed at them in earnest. Thirteen hundred pirate ships were burnt. Their docks and arsenals were destroyed, and their fortresses were razed. Twenty-two thousand prisoners fell into the hands of Pompey. To the astonishment of mankind, Pompey neither impaled them, as the Senate had impaled the followers of Spartacus, nor even sold them for slaves. He was contented to scatter them among inland colonies, where they could no longer be dangerous.

The suppression of the buccaneers was really a brilliant piece of work, and the ease with which it was accomplished brought fresh disgrace on the Senate and fresh glory on the hero of the hour. Cicero, with his thoughts fixed on saving the constitution, considered that Pompey might be the man to save it; or, at all events, that it would be unsafe to leave him to the democrats who had given him power and were triumphing in his success. On political grounds Cicero thought that Pompey ought to be recognized by the moderate party which he intended to form; and a person like himself who hoped to rise by the popular votes could not otherwise afford to seem cold amidst the universal enthusiasm. The pirates were abolished. Mithridates was still undisposed of. Lucullus, the hope of the aristocracy, was lying helpless within the Roman frontier, with a disorganized and mutinous army. His victories were forgotten. He was regarded as the impersonation of every fault which had made the rule of the Senate so hateful. Pompey, the people's general, after a splendid success, had come home with clean hands; Lucullus had sacrificed his country to his avarice. The contrast set off his failures in colors perhaps darker than really belonged to them, and the cry naturally rose that Lucullus must be called back, and the all-victorious Pompey must be sent for the reconquest of Asia. Another tribune, Manilius, brought the question forward, this time directly before the assembly, the Senate's consent not being any more asked for. Caesar again brought his influence to bear on Pompey's side; but Caesar found support in a quarter where it might not have been looked for. The Senate was furious as before, but by far the most gifted person in the conservative party now openly turned against them. Cicero was praetor this year, and was thus himself a senator. A seat in the Senate had been the supreme object of his ambition. He was vain of the honor which he had won, and delighted with the high company into which he had been received; but he was too shrewd to go along with them upon a road which could lead only to their overthrow; and for their own sake, and for the sake of the institution itself of which he meant to be an illustrious ornament, he not only supported the Manilian proposition, but supported it in a speech more effective than the wildest outpourings of democratic rhetoric.

Asia Minor, he said, was of all the Roman provinces the most important, because it was the most wealthy. 2 So rich it was and fertile that, for the productiveness of its soil, the variety of its fruits, the extent of its pastures, and the multitude of its exports, there was no country in the world to be compared with it; yet Asia was in danger of being utterly lost through the worthlessnesss of the governors and military commanders charged with the care of it. "Who does not know," Cicero asked, "that the avarice of our generals has been the cause of the misfortunes of our armies? You can see for yourselves how they act here at home in Italy; and what will they not venture far away in distant countries? Officers who cannot restrain their own appetites can never maintain discipline in their troops. Pompey has been victorious because he does not loiter about the towns for plunder or pleasure, or making collections of statues and pictures. Asia is a land of temptations. Send no one thither who cannot resist gold and jewels and shrines and pretty women. Pompey is upright and pure-sighted. Pompey knows that the State has been impoverished because the revenue flows into the coffers of a few individuals. Our fleets and armies have availed only to bring the more disgrace upon us through our defeats and losses." 3

After passing a deserved panegyric on the suppression of the pirates, Cicero urged with all the power of his oratory that Manilius's measures should be adopted, and that the same general who had done so well already should be sent against Mithridates.

This was perhaps the only occasion on which Cicero ever addressed the assembly in favor of the proposals of a popular tribune. Well would it have been for him and well for Rome if he could have held on upon a course into which he had been led by real patriotism. He was now in his proper place, where his better mind must have told him that he ought to have continued, working by the side of Caesar and Pompey. It was observed that more than once in his speech he mentioned with high honor the name of Marius. He appeared to have seen clearly that the Senate was bringing the State to perdition; and that unless the Republic was to end in dissolution, or in mob rule and despotism, the wise course was to recognize the legitimate tendencies of popular sentiment, and to lend the constant weight of his authority to those who were acting in harmony with it. But Cicero could never wholly forget his own consequence, or bring himself to persist in any policy where he could play but a secondary part.

[B.C. 66-63.] The Manilian law was carried. In addition to his present extraordinary command, Pompey was entrusted with the conduct of the war in Asia, and he was left unfettered to act at his own discretion. He crossed the Bosphorus with fifty thousand men; he invaded Pontus; he inflicted a decisive defeat on Mithridates, and broke up his army; he drove the Armenians back into their own mountains, and extorted out of them a heavy war indemnity. The barbarian king who had so long defied the Roman power was beaten down at last, and fled across the Black Sea to Kertch, where his sons turned against him. He was sixty-eight years old, and could not wait till the wheel should make another turn. Broken down at last, he took leave of a world in which for him there was no longer a place. His women poisoned themselves successfully. He, too fortified by antidotes to end as they ended, sought a surer death, and fell like Saul by the sword of a slave. Rome had put out her real strength, and at once, as before, all opposition went down before her. Asia was completely conquered up to the line of the Euphrates. The Black Sea was held securely by a Roman fleet. Pompey passed down into Syria. Antioch surrendered without resistance. Tyre and Damascus followed. Jerusalem was taken by storm, and the Roman general entered the Holy of Holies. Of all the countries bordering on the Mediterranean Egypt only was left independent, and of all the islands only Cyprus. A triumphal inscription in Rome declared that Pompey, the people's general, had in three years captured fifteen hundred cities, and had slain, taken, or reduced to submission twelve million human beings. He justified what Cicero had foretold of his moral uprightness. In the midst of opportunities such as had fallen to no commander since Alexander, he outraged no woman's honor, and he kept his hands clean from "the accursed thing." When he returned to Rome, he returned, as he went, personally poor, but he filled the treasury to overflowing. His campaign was not a marauding raid, like the march of Lucullus on Artaxata. His conquests were permanent. The East, which was then thickly inhabited by an industrious civilized Graeco-Oriental race, became incorporated in the Roman dominion, and the annual revenue of the State rose to twice what it had been. Pompey's success had been dazzlingly rapid. Envy and hatred, as he well knew, were waiting for him at home, and he was in no haste to present himself there. He lingered in Asia, organizing the administration and consolidating his work, while at Rome the constitution was rushing on upon its old courses among the broken waters, with the roar of the not distant cataract growing every moment louder.

[1] The name of Marius, it is to be observed, remained so popular in Rome that Cicero after this always spoke of him with respect.

[2] "Asia vero tam opima est et fertilis, ut et ubertate agrorum et varietate fructuum et magnitudine pastionis, et multitudine earum rerum, quae exportentur, facile omnibus terris antecellat."--Pro Lege Maniliā. Cicero's expressions are worth notice at a time when Asia Minor has become of importance to England.

[3] Pro Lege Maniliā. abridged.

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