The Senate Corrupted

The Roman Senate

Victory of the Optimates.--The Moors.--History of Jugurtha.--The Senate corrupted.--Jugurthine War.--Defeat of the Romans.--Jugurtha comes to Rome.--Popular Agitation.--The War renewed.--Roman Defeats in Africa and Gaul.--Caecilius Metellus and Caius Marius.--Marriage of Marius.--The Caesars.--Marius Consul.--First Notice of Sylla.--Capture and Death of Jugurtha > Julius Caesar > Chapter 4


Caius Gracchus was killed at the close of the year 122. The storm was over. The Senate was once more master of the situation, and the optimates, "the best party in the State," as they were pleased to call themselves, smoothed their ruffled plumes and settled again into their places. There was no more talk of reform. Of the Gracchi there remained nothing but the forty thousand peasant-proprietors settled on the public lands; the jury law, which could not be at once repealed for fear of the equites; the corn grants, and the mob attracted by the bounty, which could be managed by improved manipulation; and the law protecting the lives of Roman citizens, which survived in the statute-book, although the Senate still claimed the right to set it aside when they held the State to be in danger. With these exceptions, the administration fell back into its old condition. The tribunes ceased to agitate. The consulships and the praetorships fell to the candidates whom the Senate supported. Whether the oligarchy had learnt any lessons of caution from the brief political earthquake which had shaken but not overthrown them remained to be seen. Six years after the murder of Caius Gracchus an opportunity was afforded to this distinguished body of showing on a conspicuous scale the material of which they were now composed.

Along the south shore of the Mediterranean, west of the Roman province, extended the two kingdoms of the Numidians and the Moors. To what race these people belonged is not precisely known. They were not negroes. The negro tribes have never extended north of the Sahara. Nor were they Carthaginians or allied to the Carthaginians. The Carthaginian colony found them in possession on its arrival. Sallust says that they were Persians left behind by Hercules after his invasion of Spain. Sallust's evidence proves no more than that their appearance was Asiatic, and that tradition assigned them an Asiatic origin. They may be called generically Arabs, who at a very ancient time had spread along the coast from Egypt to Morocco. The Numidians at this period were civilized according to the manners of the age. They had walled towns; they had considerable wealth; their lands were extensively watered and cultivated; their great men had country houses and villas, the surest sign of a settled state of society. Among the equipments of their army they had numerous elephants (it may be presumed of the African breed), which they and the Carthaginians had certainly succeeded in domesticating. Masinissa, the king of this people, had been the ally of Rome in the last Carthaginian war; he had been afterward received as "a friend of the Republic," and was one of the protected sovereigns. He was succeeded by his son Micipsa, who in turn had two legitimate children, Hiempsal and Adherbal, and an illegitimate nephew Jugurtha, considerably older than his own boys, a young man of striking talent and promise. Micipsa, who was advanced in years, was afraid that if he died this brilliant youth might be a dangerous rival to his sons. He therefore sent him to serve under Scipio in Spain, with the hope, so his friends asserted, that he might there perhaps be killed. The Roman army was then engaged in the siege of Numantia. The camp was the lounging-place of the young patricians who were tired of Rome and wished for excitement. Discipline had fallen loose; the officers' quarters were the scene of extravagance and amusement. Jugurtha recommended himself on the one side to Scipio by activity and good service, while on the other he made acquaintances among the high-bred gentlemen in the mess-rooms. He found them in themselves dissolute and unscrupulous. He discovered, through communications which he was able with their assistance to open with their fathers and relatives at Rome, that a man with money might do what he pleased. Micipsa's treasury was well supplied, and Jugurtha hinted among his comrades that if he could be secure of countenance in seizing the kingdom, he would be in a position to show his gratitude in a substantial manner. Some of these conversations reached the ears of Scipio, who sent for Jugurtha and gave him a friendly warning. He dismissed him, however, with honor at the end of the campaign. The young prince returned to Africa loaded with distinctions, and the king, being now afraid to pass him over, named him as joint-heir with his children to a third part of Numidia. The Numidians perhaps objected to being partitioned. Micipsa died soon after. Jugurtha at once murdered Hiempsal, claimed the sovereignty, and attacked his other cousin. Adherbal, closely besieged in the town of Cirta, which remained faithful to him, appealed to Rome; but Jugurtha had already prepared his ground, and knew that he had nothing to fear. The Senate sent out commissioners. The commissioners received the bribes which they expected. They gave Jugurtha general instructions to leave his cousin in peace; but they did not wait to see their orders obeyed, and went quietly home. The natural results immediately followed. Jugurtha pressed the siege more resolutely. The town surrendered; Adherbal was taken, and was put to death after being savagely tortured; and there being no longer any competitor alive in whose behalf the Senate could be called on to interfere, he thought himself safe from further interference. Unfortunately in the capture of Citra a number of Romans who resided there had been killed after the surrender, and after a promise that their lives should be spared. An outcry was raised in Rome, and became so loud that the Senate was forced to promise investigation; but it went to work languidly, with reluctance so evident as to rouse suspicion. Notwithstanding the fate of the Gracchi and their friends, Memmius, a tribune, was found bold enough to tell the people that there were men in the Senate who had taken bribes.

The Senate, conscious of its guilt, was now obliged to exert itself. War was declared against Jugurtha, and a consul was sent to Africa with an army. But the consul, too, had his fortune to make, and Micipsa's treasures were still unexpended. The consul took with him a staff of young patricians, whose families might be counted on to shield him in return for a share of the plunder. Jugurtha was as liberal as avarice could desire, and peace was granted to him on the easy conditions of a nominal fine, and the surrender of some elephants, which the consul privately restored.

Public opinion was singularly patient. The massacre six years before had killed out the liberal leaders, and there was no desire on any side as yet to renew the struggle with the Senate. But it was possible to presume too far on popular acquiescence. Memmius came forward again, and in a passionate speech in the Forum exposed and denounced the scandalous transaction. The political sky began to blacken again. The Senate could not face another storm with so bad a cause, and Jugurtha was sent for to Rome. He came, with contemptuous confidence, loaded with gold. He could not corrupt Memmius, but he bought easily the rest of the tribunes. The leaders in the Curia could not quarrel with a client of such delightful liberality. He had an answer to every complaint, and a fee to silence the complainer. He would have gone back in triumph, had he not presumed a little too far. He had another cousin in the city who he feared might one day give him trouble, so he employed one of his suite to poison him. The murder was accomplished successfully; and for this too he might no doubt have secured his pardon by paying for it; but the price demanded was too high, and perhaps Jugurtha, villain as he was, came at last to disdain the wretches whom he might consider fairly to be worse than himself. He had come over under a safe-conduct, and he was not detained. The Senate ordered him to leave Italy; and he departed with the scornful phrase on his lips which has passed into history: "Venal city, and soon to perish if only it can find a purchaser." 1

A second army was sent across, to end the scandal. This time the Senate was in earnest, but the work was less easy than was expected. Army management had fallen into disorder. In earlier times each Roman citizen had provided his own equipments at his own expense. To be a soldier was part of the business of his life, and military training was an essential feature of his education. The old system had broken down; the peasantry, from whom the rank and file of the legions had been recruited, were no longer able to furnish their own arms. Caius Gracchus had intended that arms should be furnished by the government, that a special department should be constituted to take charge of the arsenals and to see to the distribution. But Gracchus was dead, and his project had died with him. When the legions were enrolled, the men were ill armed, undrilled, and unprovided--a mere mob, gathered hastily together and ignorant of the first elements of their duty. With the officers it was still worse. The subordinate commands fell to young patricians, carpet knights who went on campaigns with their families of slaves. The generals, when a movement was to be made, looked for instruction to their staff. It sometimes happened that a consul waited for his election to open for the first time a book of military history or a Greek manual of the art of war. 2

[B.C 109.] An army so composed and so led was not likely to prosper. The Numidians were not very formidable enemies, but, after a month or two of manoeuvring, half the Romans were destroyed and the remainder were obliged to surrender. About the same time, and from similar causes, two Roman armies were cut to pieces on the Rhone. While the great men at Rome were building palaces, inventing new dishes, and hiring cooks at unheard-of salaries, the barbarians were at the gates of Italy. The passes of the Alps were open, and if a few tribes of Gauls had cared to pour through them, the Empire was at their mercy. Stung with these accumulating disgraces, and now really alarmed, the Senate sent Caecilius Metellus, the best man that they had and the consul for the year following to Africa. Metellus was an aristocrat, and he was advanced in years; but he was a man of honor and integrity. He understood the danger of further failure; and he looked about for the ablest soldier that he could find to go with him, irrespective of his political opinions.

Caius Marius was at this time forty-eight years old. Two thirds of his life were over, and a name which was to sound throughout the world and be remembered through all ages had as yet been scarcely heard of beyond the army and the political clubs in Rome. He was born at Arpinum, a Latin township, seventy miles from the capital, in the year 157. His father was a small farmer, and he was himself bred to the plough. He joined the army early, and soon attracted notice by his punctual discharge of his duties. In a time of growing looseness, Marius was strict himself in keeping discipline and in enforcing it as he rose in the service. He was in Spain when Jugurtha was there, and made himself especially useful to Scipio; he forced his way steadily upward, by his mere soldierlike qualities, to the rank of military tribune. Rome, too, had learned to know him, for he was chosen tribune of the people the year after the murder of Caius Gracchus. Being a self-made man, he belonged naturally to the popular party. While in office he gave offence in some way to the men in power, and was called before the Senate to answer for himself. But he had the right on his side, it is likely, for they found him stubborn and impertinent, and they could make nothing of their charges against him. He was not bidding at this time, however, for the support of the mob. He had the integrity and sense to oppose the largesses of corn; and he forfeited his popularity by trying to close the public granaries before the practice had passed into a system. He seemed as if made of a block of hard Roman oak, gnarled and knotted, but sound in all its fibres. His professional merit continued to recommend him. At the age of forty he became praetor, and was sent to Spain, where he left a mark again by the successful severity by which he cleared the province of banditti. He was a man neither given himself to talking nor much talked about in the world; but he was sought for wherever work was to be done, and he had made himself respected and valued in high circles, for after his return from the peninsula he had married into one of the most distinguished of the patrician families.

The Caesars were a branch of the Gens Julia, which claimed descent from Iulus the son of Aeneas, and thus from the gods. Roman etymologists could arrive at no conclusion as to the origin of the name. Some derived it from an exploit on an elephant-hunt in Africa--Caesar meaning elephant in Moorish; some to the entrance into the world of the first eminent Caesar by the aid of a surgeon's knife;3 some from the color of the eyes prevailing in the family. Be the explanation what it might, eight generations of Caesars had held prominent positions in the Commonwealth. They had been consuls, censors, praetors, aediles, and military tribunes, and in politics, as might be expected from their position, they had been moderate aristocrats. Like other families they had been subdivided, and the links connecting them cannot always be traced. The pedigree of the Dictator goes no further than to his grandfather, Caius Julius. In the middle of the second century before Christ, this Caius Julius, being otherwise unknown to history, married a lady named Marcia, supposed to be descended from Ancus Marcius, the fourth king of Rome. By her he had three children, Caius Julius, Sextus Julius, and a daughter named Julia. Caius Julius married Aurelia, perhaps a member of the consular family of the Cottas, and was the father of the Great Caesar. Julia became the wife of Caius Marius, a mésalliance which implied the beginning of a political split in the Caesar family. The elder branches, like the Cromwells of Hinchinbrook, remained by their order. The younger attached itself for good or ill to the party of the people.

Marius by this marriage became a person of social consideration. His father had been a client of the Metelli; and Caecilius Metellus, who must have known Marius by reputation and probably in person, invited him to go as second in command in the African campaign. He was moderately successful. Towns were taken; battles were won: Metellus was incorruptible, and the Numidians sued for peace. But Jugurtha wanted terms, and the consul demanded unconditional surrender. Jugurtha withdrew into the desert; the war dragged on; and Marius, perhaps ambitious, perhaps impatient at the general's want of vigor, began to think that he could make quicker work of it. The popular party were stirring again in Rome, the Senate having so notoriously disgraced itself. There was just irritation that a petty African prince could defy the whole power of Rome for so many years; and though a democratic consul had been unheard of for a century, the name of Marius began to be spoken of as a possible candidate. Marius consented to stand. The law required that he must be present in person at the election, and he applied to his commander for leave of absence. Metellus laughed at his pretensions, and bade him wait another twenty years. Marius, however, persisted, and was allowed to go. The patricians strained their resources to defeat him, but he was chosen with enthusiasm. Metellus was recalled, and the conduct of the Numidian war was assigned to the new hero of the "populares."

A shudder of alarm ran, no doubt, through the senate-house when the determination of the people was known. A successful general could not be disposed of so easily as oratorical tribunes. Fortunately Marius was not a politician. He had no belief in democracy. He was a soldier, and had a soldier's way of thinking on government and the methods of it. His first step was a reformation in the army. Hitherto the Roman legions had been no more than the citizens in arms, called for the moment from their various occupations, to return to them when the occasion for their services was past. Marius had perceived that fewer men, better trained and disciplined, could he made more effective and be more easily handled. He had studied war as a science. He had perceived that the present weakness need be no more than an accident, and that there was a latent force in the Roman State which needed only organization to resume its ascendency. "He enlisted," it was said, "the worst of the citizens," men, that is to say, who had no occupation and who became soldiers by profession; and as persons without property could not have furnished themselves at their own cost, he must have carried out the scheme proposed by Gracchus, and equipped them at the expense of the State. His discipline was of the sternest. The experiment was new; and men of rank who had a taste for war in earnest, and did not wish that the popular party should have the whole benefit and credit of the improvements, were willing to go with him; among them a dissipated young patrician called Lucius Sylla, whose name also was destined to be memorable.

By these methods and out of these materials an army was formed such as no Roman general had hitherto led. It performed extraordinary marches, carried its water-supplies with it in skins, and followed the enemy across sandy deserts hitherto found impassable. In less than two years the war was over. The Moors to whom Jugurtha had fled surrendered him to Sylla, and he was brought in chains to Rome, where he finished his life in a dungeon.

So ended a curious episode in Roman history, where it holds a place beyond its intrinsic importance, from the light which it throws on the character of the Senate and on the practical working of the institutions which the Gracchi had perished in unsuccessfully attempting to reform.

[1] "Urbem venalem, et mature perituram, si emptorem invenenit."--Sallust, De Bello Jugurthino, c. 35. Livy's account of the business, however, differs from Sallust's, and the expression is perhaps not authentic.

[2] "At ego scio, Quirites, qui, postquam consules facti sunt, acta majorum, et Graecorum militaria praecepta legere coeperint. Homines praeposteri!"--Speech of Marius, Sallust, Jugurtha, 85.

[3] "Caesus ab utero matris."

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