Charles William Chadwick Oman.

Seven Roman statesmen of the later republic: The Gracchi. Sulla. Crassus. Cato. Pompey. Caesar online

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Online LibraryCharles William Chadwick OmanSeven Roman statesmen of the later republic: The Gracchi. Sulla. Crassus. Cato. Pompey. Caesar → online text (page 1 of 28)
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FVrd Published, May 1902.

Reprinted, 1902, 1903, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1911,
1913, 191 1, 1916, 1917, 1921, 1923, 1925, 1927,
1929. 1934.

Made and PrintH In Crent IirlUin by T. and A. Comhtabi.b Ltd.
at the I


There are several general histories of the decline and
fall of the Eoman Republic, dealing with its political
and constitutional aspects. This little book is not a
history, but a series of studies of the leading men of
the century, intended to show the importance of the
personal element in those miserable days of storm and
stress. It is thus, I think, that their true meaning is
best brought out.

It is a pleasant duty to express the gratitude which
I owe to my friend Mr. J. Wells, of Wadham College,
for having been good enough to read through my proofs,
and to make a great number of valuable suggestions,
which I have done my best to carry out.

I have also to thank the Authorities of the British
Museum Coin-Room (and especially Mr. G. F. Hill) for
the kindness with which they aided me in selecting the
Roman coins for my three plates of illustrations.

Naples, April n, 1902.

R £87501




The Eater Days of the Roman Republic , » , i

Tiberius Gracchus • 12

Caius Gracchus . 51

From the Gracchi to Sulla ...... 89

Sulla . 116

Crassus . 162

Cato 204


PoMPEY .....< . .... 234


C.ESAR . . 289

INDEX ,341



Bust of Julius Caesar (from the Museum at Naples) Frontispiece

Roman Coins — Plate I. (from the British Museum) To face p. 83

>i » I*« » >» » I2 4

M M IIT - N M » 22 °

Blst of Pompey „ IV (from the Museum at Naples) „ 268




There was a time, not so very long ago, when the taunt
was true that history was written as if it were a mere
string of anecdotal biographies of great men. But for
the last forty years the pendulum has been swinging so
much in the other direction, that it has become necessary
to enforce the lesson that the biographies of great men
are, after all, a most important part of history. It is well
to have conceptions of the streams of tendency and the
typical developments of every age, but the blessed word
"evolution" will not account for everything, and it is
absurd to neglect the influence of the great personalities.

Roman history in particular has been so much treated of
late years as a mere example of constitutional growth and
degeneration, or as a bundle of interesting administrative
and legal details, that it seems not out of place to recall
that other aspect of it which was more familiar to elder
generations, and to look at it for a moment from the
personal and biographical point of view, with Plutarch
before us as well as Mommsen and Marquardt's Staats-
recht and Staatsverwaltung.

This is all the more rational because in the last century
of the Roman Republic we find ourselves in a time of
dominating personalities. In Rome's earlier days this



was conspicuously not the case, and her history was (aa
has been truly said) the history of great achievements
done by men who were themselves not great. But from
the Gracchi onward we come to a period in which in-
dividuals make and mar the course of the times, when the
doings of a Sulla and a Cassar, or even of a Marius and
a Pompey, form the main determining element in the
history of the day.

From the end of the Second Punic War down to the
time of the Gracchi, Roman history is very monotonous
and uninteresting to the reader. It is little more than
the record of the haphazard building up of an empire, by
the unintentional and unsystematic conquest of various
disconnected districts round the Mediterranean. The
wars are uninteresting, because they are waged by men
who are little more than names to us ; the commander,
be he a Flamininus or a Mummius, disappears from the
historical stage when his consulship is over, and is lost to
view once more in the ranks of an impersonal senate.
Even the younger Scipio Africanus, who has to serve M a
hero in these times for want of a better, soon palls upon
us ; he stays in our mind only as a vague impersonation
of civic virtue and somewhat cold-blooded moderation.

After B.C. 133 all is different; at last we have living,
interesting, individual men to deal with; the names of
Tiberius Gracchus, or Bulla, or Caesar are not remembered
merely a^ connected with files of laws or lists of battles.
At the same time both the internal and the external
history of Rome becomes of absorbing interest. Ex-
ternally the question arises whether the sporadic and
ill-compacted empire built up in the last hundred years
shall endure, or whether it shall be swept away by tho
brute force of the Cimbri and Teutons, or carved in two
by Mithradatea Looking at the growing imbecility of
Roman generall in that day, and the growing deteriora-


tion of Roman armies, it is not too much to say that, but
for the intervention of two great personalities, the Roman
Empire might have been swept away. If Marius had not
appeared, a few more generals like Mallius and Caepio
would have let the Cimbri and Teutons into Central Italy,
and the exploits of Alaric in A.D, 410 might have been
perpetrated by his remote ancestors. Similarly, but for
Sulla the Nearer East might perchance have passed back,
seven hundred years before the appointed time, into the
hands of Oriental rulers, and have shared the fate which
overtook Hellenistic Babylon and Bactria, by losing its
touch with Western civilisation under a dynasty almost
as thinly veneered with Greek culture as the Parthian
Arsacidae or the Bactrian Scyths.

Internally the problems of Roman history during this
period are quite as interesting. While the imperial city was
fighting abroad, to maintain her existence and her suze-
rainty over the whole Mediterranean basin, she was being
torn at home by a great constitutional struggle which
pierced to the very roots of her being. This was the
problem of determining with whom should reside for the
future sovereignty, in the technical sense of the word,
i.e. the actual supreme voice in the administration and
law-making of the City and the Empire.

For the last two centuries there had existed a practical
compromise between the theoretical omnipotence of the
Public Assembly and the actual conduct of affairs by the
Senate. This compromise was no longer possible, because
Rome had developed from a city-state into an imperial
state. Neither the Comitia nor the Senate was really
competent to rule the new empire which they had acquired.
If there was anything more preposterous than the theory
of the Optimates (I mean that the government of the
Roman world should be conducted by a small ring of
narrow-minded noble families), it was certainly the


opposite theory of the Democrats — that the mixed multi-
tude of paupers and aliens into which the Comitia was
fast degenerating, should supersede the senatorial oligarchy
as administrators of the Empire. Complicated with this
great constitutional question, as to where sovereignty
should reside at Rome, were a number of social and
economic questions, arising from the fact that the
new commercial conditions of the Mediterranean world,
which followed from the Roman conquests, were bringing
about the ruin of the old farmer class which had for so
many centuries formed the backbone of the state.

The details of the sporadic and never-ending wars in
Spain, Macedonia, and the Hellenic East, which cover the
period B.C. 200-140, hide the unwritten history of the
most important changes in the social and economic con-
ditions of Italy. In B.C. 200 Rome was still in the main
a city-state of the old type, though she had already begun
to acquire important transmarine domains. She was
still a self-supporting agricultural community, feeding
herself on home-grown corn. Moreover, she might still be
described as a narrow-minded purely Italian town, little
affected as yet, either in blood or in thought, by external
influences. The elder Cato, with all his hard practical
common sense, his stolidity, his passion for the life of the
farm, and his contempt for the foreigner, was the typical
Roman of that generation. By the last years of his old
age he had seen a new world grow up, and complained
that he was living in a city which he no longer under-

For by B.C. 140 Rome was transformed. She was
indubitably an imperial state, though she tried to shirk
as long as possible the responsibilities of empire. Her
population was no longer mainly a race of farmers
dwelling on their own narrow acres; it was rapidly
becoming divorced from the soil, and degenerating into


a city-bred proletariate fed from abroad. Above all,
Rome had to a large extent become cosmopolitan, having
absorbed much Greek, or rather Graeco-Asiatic, culture
and philosophy, and still more of Hellenistic luxury and
demoralisation. The very blood of the people was getting
largely diluted with a foreign strain, owing to the whole-
sale manumission of slaves.

While Rome had been transformed, her constitution
remained perfectly unchanged, and the rude administra-
tive machinery which had sufficed to manage a small com-
munity of farmers living close around the walls of the
city, was being applied with a rigid and stupid formalism
to the government of a widely extended empire.

Down to the Second Punic War, Rome had not acquired
any provinces that tried very seriously her power to
govern. Sicily and Sardinia were close at haud, in ready
and constant communication with the city. They were
actually visible from the headlands of Italy — mere broken-
off fragments of the peninsula. An order could without
much difficulty reach them in a few days : the Senate
and People could make their will felt by governors and
generals in districts so close to themselves.

The serious trial of the old municipal system of govern-
ment, as applicable to the administration of distant depen-
dencies, came after the acquisition of the Carthaginian
dominions in Spain at the end of the Second Punic War.
Separated from Italy by the still unsubdued coast-land of
Southern Gaul, Spain could only be reached by a long
sea voyage, which the Roman never loved, and which he
rigidly eschewed at certain seasons of the year. The pro-
consuls in Spain got from the first a free hand such as no
previous Roman governor had possessed.

It was a long time before any other provinces were
added to the over-seas empire of the Senate and People.
But at last they came, Macedonia and Africa both in 146,


Asia in 133. It was the acquisition of these distant pos-
sessions that broke down the ancient power of the Senate
to control the doings of the provincial magistrates. It
was impossible to maintain a constant supervision over a
governor at Gades, or Thessalonica, or Ephesus, or to get
at hira within any reasonable space of time. lie had to
be left very much to his own inspirations. It was but
natural that the more ambitious proconsuls came to take
advantage of this fact, and began to make or break
treaties, to enter into wars, and to make conquests at their
good pleasure. The Senate was sometimes provoked into
disowning and annulling their doings, but not very often:
when it did, the reason was not always creditable — as
witness the case of Mancinus at Numantia.

Roughly, then, it may be said that by the third quarter
of the second century before Christ, Rome had acquired
an empire, but refused to take up any of the responsibilities
of empire. The Senate still wished to control everything,
but they could no more do so efficiently, owing to the
mere difficulties of geographical distance, than in the
eighteenth century the East India Company's directors
could control Clive or Warren Hastings. The proconsuls,
on the other hand, could govern, but each only for his
short year of office, and the work of each successor gener-
ally (and often deliberately) undid the work of his pre-

The responsibilities of empire, of which we have made
mention were, in the main, threefold. The first was to
provide good government within the provinces; this the
Roman Republic notoriously failed to secure. The con-
stitution imposed on each conquered region, by the sena-
torial commission which drew up the lex provincix after
its annexation, was often wisely designed and reasonable.
But when once it was formulated, there was no proper
machinery for modifying it in accordance with the neces-


aities of the times, or even for seeing that the proconsul
did not violate its spirit by arbitrary tampering with the
edidum tralaticium, the supplementary code which he
could issue and vary at his own pleasure. All through
the second century the control of the Senate was growing
weaker, and it seemed that the wish as well as the power
to check misgovernment was disappearing. The natural
result was that the type of proconsul steadily deteriorated,
as the probability of impunity for abuse of authority grew
greater. Expedients like the establishment of the special
court De Repetundis for the repression of financial mal-
administration were practically useless. To be effective,
it would have required an active public prosecutor, ready
to investigate every returning magistrate's record, and a
bench of judges absolutely beyond the breath of suspicion.
But Roman usage entrusted all prosecutions to private
initiative, and the court which tried the accused was so
much swayed by personal and party bias that from the
first there were scandals in its working. When a con-
demnation did occur, it was generally whispered that the
convicted magistrate was suffering for some old political
escapade at home, rather than for mere maladministration

The second of the responsibilities of empire, which
Rome seemed unable to discharge, was the duty of keeping
the police of the high seas and suppressing piracy. This
task had in earlier centuries been to some extent dis-
charged by the old naval powers — Carthage in the west,
Macedon and Egypt in the east. Rome had now destroyed
Carthage and Macedon, and the Ptolemies had sunk into
hopeless imbecility and decay. The Romans would not
keep up a permanent national fleet, both because it was
expensive, and because they themselves disliked the sea.
Hence the Mediterranean swarmed with pirates in a way
that had never before been seen. The poorer and wilder


maritime races took to piracy en masse, and almost
strangled commerce. The Balearic Islanders swept the
western seas ; the unsubdued Dalmatians, the Adriatic ;
the Cretans, the /Egean ; the Pamphylians and Cilicians —
the most numerous and reckless of all these bands — had
almost taken possession of the waters of the Levant.
Their pirate squadrons went out a hundred vessels strong,
levied blackmail on whole regions, and often made
descents on cities within the boundaries of the Roman
empire. The Senate only resented their outrages by fits
and starts. If they grew too insolent, a squadron was
sometimes sent against them, but it was seldom composed
of vessels equipped and manned from Italy. The ordinary
method was to requisition a fleet from the maritime allies
of the state, who rendered unwilling and inefficient service.
Hence it came to pass that though many Roman expe-
ditions had been sent against the pirates, and several
commanders had celebrated triumphs over them, the evil
was not removed, and the Mediterranean did not become
really safe for imperial commerce till the great naval
campaign of Pompey in B.C. 67.

The third great responsibility which the Romans
assumed, when they annexed great and remote provinces,
was that of protecting the civilised world from the outer
barbarian. The conquests of Spain and Macedonia made
them the neighbours of scores of wild tribes, whom the
Carthaginians in the one and the kings of the house of
Antigonus in the other peninsula had been wont to drive
back and to keep in check. The Roman, their heir by right
of conquest, discharged this duty very spasmodically and
inefficiently. The main reason for this was the deep-
rooted dislike of distant and prolonged foreign service
among the inhabitants of Italy. The people had com-
prehended, fifty years before, the need for universal con-
scription and long service in such crises as the Second


Punic War. They could not see things in the same light
when there was a call for troops to keep back Paeonian
or Illyrian raids on Upper Macedon, or Lusitanian raids
on Baetica. They grumbled and rioted every time that
a new legion had to be raised. This made the Senate
chary of calling out conscripts, or keeping them long on
foreign service. But finally, the crisis always grew so
dangerous that the hated levy had at last to be raised.
Nothing can better illustrate the dislike of the Roman
populace for the lingering and bloody wars of Spain, than
the fact that twice in the middle years of the century
(in 151 and in 138 B.C.) tribunes actually arrested and
imprisoned consuls who persisted in enforcing the con-
scription, when public opinion was adverse to a new
Spanish campaign. Yet the condition of the Roman
borders in the Iberian peninsula was undoubtedly such
that these levies were necessary. The Celtiberian and
Lusitanian tribes were so warlike and turbulent that the
frontier could never stand still. Raids had to be punished
by retaliatory expeditions. The tribe that had been
chastised would not remain quiet till it had been actually
annexed ; and so the process went on, for beyond each
marauding clan lay another and a fiercer robber tribe.
The whole peninsula was like the Afridi and Waziri
frontier of North- Western India at the present day, and
by advancing their boundary-marks the Romans only
changed the names of their enemies. There was no
finality till the Atlantic was reached, and the last Galician
and Cantabrian mountaineers maintained their ferocious
independence till the days of Julius Csesar and Augustus.
In the Balkan peninsula the state of affairs was much
the same under the later Republic, though the Triballi
and Scordisci and Paeonians were not such formidable
foes as the Spaniards. Macedon was never really free
from northern inroads till the days of the empire. And


in the East, when annexations had once begun in Asia,
similar troubles, first with Galatians and Isaurians, and
later with the formidable horse-bowmen of Pai thia, came
pouring in upon the perplexed senatorial oligarchy,
which tried to govern an empire without an imperial
outfit of army, navy, and civil service.

The Roman world, in short, was badly governed and
badly defended : the provinces were steadily decreasing
in wealth and resources from the moment that they were
annexed. And since Italy and Rome herself were — as we
shall see — tending to internal decay, though certain indi-
vidual Romans and Italians were drawing huge profits
from the newly acquired empire, the whole Mediterranean
world seemed doomed to retrogression and collapse. It
is possible that the Republic might have been demolished,
if there had arisen against it any really formidable and
well-equipped enemy. But the outer world was singularly
destitute of strong men at this period. Jugurtha and
Mithradates, in spite of all the trouble that they ga\ e,
were very third-rate personalities. And the one truly
dangerous foe that marched against Rome during the last
century of the Republic — the Cimbri and Teutons — repre-
sented mere brute force unguided by brains and strategy.
At the last moment, when they had actually passed the
Alps, they were annihilated by a general who possessed
the art of improvising and handling a great army. It is
curious to speculate what might have happened if not
Marius, but some imbecile Optimate of the type of his
predecessors Mallius and Caepio, had been in command
at Aquae Sextiae or on the Raudian Plain. Bat Europe
escaped the premature coining of the Dark Ages, and the
black cloud of barbarism from the north having pai
away, the men of the later Republic were left free to work
out their own problems in their own unhappy way, in
h- dition, conspiracy, civil war, and proscription, till the


coming of that great personality who showed the way — a
bad way at the best — out of the hopeless deadlock into
which Kome had fallen.

But ere Julius Cassar appeared there were not one but
many Eomans who saw well enough that the Roman
world was out of joint, and tried, each in his more or less
futile fashion, to set it right. With some of these states-
men it is our task to deal. Their successive biographies
show well enough the course of the whole history of the
later Republic ; there is no gap between man and man ;
Sulla as a boy may have witnessed the violent end of
Caius Gracchus : Julius Ceesar as a boy did certainly
witness and well-nigh suffer in the proscriptions of Sulla.
The seven lives between them completely cover the last
century of Rome's ancien regime.



By the third quarter of the second century before Christ,
the contradiction between the new conditions of Roman
life and the old forms of Roman government had grown
so glaring, that even the conservative Roman mind saw
that the present state of things could not endure much
longer. The two problems which had forced themselves
to the front needed solution. What was to be done to
adapt the constitution to the new needs of empire ? —
Was the Senate or the Public Assembly to rule the world,
and by what machinery ? And, secondly, how was the
state to deal with the unfortunate fact that the new
commercial conditions of the Mediterranean countries,
brought about by the Roman conquests, were beginning
to ruin Italian agriculture and to thin out the farmers
who formed the backbone of the old Roman race.

A single man was fated to bring forward both these
questions, to formulate them in the most contentious
shapes possible, to confuse their issues in the most inex-
tricable fashion, and to leave a heritage of stiifo behind
him for the next three generations of Romans.

Tiberius Gracchus is one of the most striking instances
in history of the amount of evil that can be brought about
by a thoroughly honest nnd well-meaning man, who is so
entirely convinced of the righteousness of his own inten-
tion •-■ and the wisdom of his own measures, that he is
driven to regard any one who strives to hinder him as not
only foolish but morally wicked. The typo of exalted


doctrinaire who exclaims that any constitutional check
that hinders his plans must be swept away without
further inquiry, that every political opponent is a bad
man who must be crushed, has been known in many
lands and many ages, from ancient Greece down to the
France of the Revolution. But in Rome such a figure
was an exception ; the stolid conservatism, the reverence
for mos majorum, the dislike for abstract political specu-
lation which marked the race, were against the develop-
ment of such a frame of mind. The reformers of the
past had been content to work slowly, to introduce
changes by adding small rags and patches to the constitu-
tion, or by inventing transparent legal fictions, which
gained the practical point, while leaving the theory of the
law that they were attacking apparently untouched. The
earnest doctrinaire, all in a hurry, and perfectly regard-
less of ancestral landmarks, was as incomprehensible as
he was distasteful to the average Roman mind. It is
well to remember the delightful comment of the elder
Cato, who having been induced in his old age to read
some of Plato's political dialogues, gravely remarked "that

Online LibraryCharles William Chadwick OmanSeven Roman statesmen of the later republic: The Gracchi. Sulla. Crassus. Cato. Pompey. Caesar → online text (page 1 of 28)