Rome From The Death Of Sulla To The Great Civil Wars Of Caesar And Pompey

On the death of Sulla, the Roman government was once more in the hands of

the aristocracy, and for several years the consuls were elected from the

great ruling families. But, in spite of all the conquests of Sulla and all

his laws, the State was tumbling into anarchy, and was convulsed with

fresh wars.

Sulla was alive when M. Lepidus came forward as the leader of the

democratic party against C. Lutatius C
tulus--a man without character or

ability, who had deserted from the optimates to the popular party, to

escape prosecution for the plunder of Sicily. The fortune he acquired in

his government of that province enabled Lepidus to secure his election as

consul, B.C. 78, and he even attempted to deprive Sulla of his funeral

honors. A conspiracy was organized in Etruria, where the Sullan

confiscation had been most severe. Lepidus came forward as an avenger of

the old Romans whose fortunes had been ruined. The Senate, fearing

convulsions, made Lepidus and Catulus, the consuls, swear not to take up

arms against each other; but at the expiration of the consulship of

Lepidus, went, as was usual, to the province assigned to him. This was

Gaul, and here the war first broke out. An attempt on Rome was frustrated

by Catulus, who defeated Lepidus, and the latter soon died in Sardinia,

whither he had retired.

Sertorius was then in command of the army in Spain,--a man who had

risen from an obscure position, but who possessed the hardy virtues of the

old Sabine farmers. He served under Marius in Gaul, and was praetor when

Sulla returned to Italy. When the cause of Marius was lost in Africa, he

organized a resistance to Sulla in Spain. His army was re-enforced by

Marian refugees, and he was aided by the Iberian tribes, among whom he was

a favorite. For eight years this celebrated hero baffled the armies which

Rome, under the lead of the aristocracy, sent against him, for he

undertook to restore the cause of the democracy.

Against Sertorius was sent the man who, next to Caesar, was destined

to play the most important part in the history of those times--Cn.

Pompeius, born the same year as Cicero, B.C. 106, who had enlisted in the

cause of Sulla, and early distinguished himself against the generals of

Marius. He gained great successes in Sicily and Africa, and was, on his

return to Rome, saluted by the dictator Sulla himself with the name of

Magnus, which title he ever afterward bore. He was then a simple

equestrian, and had not risen to the rank of quaestor, or praetor, or

consul. Yet he had, at the early age of twenty-four, without enjoying any

curule office, the honor of a triumph, even against the opposition of


Pompey was sent to Spain with the title of proconsul, and with an

army of thirty thousand men. He crossed the Alps between the sources of

the Rhone and Po, and advanced to the southern coast of Spain. Here he was

met by Sertorius, and at first was worsted. I need not detail the varied

events of this war in Spain. The Spaniards at length grew weary of a

contest which was not to their benefit, but which was carried on in behalf

of rival factions at the capital. Dissensions broke out among the officers

of Sertorius, and he was killed at a banquet by Perpenna, his lieutenant.

On the death of the only man capable of resisting the aristocracy of Rome,

and whose virtues were worthy of the ancient heroes, the progress of

Pompey was easy. Perpenna was taken prisoner and his army was dispersed,

and Spain was reduced to obedience.

In the mean time, while Pompey was fighting Sertorius in Spain, a

servile war broke out in Italy, produced in part by the immense demand of

slaves for the gladiatorial shows. One of these slaves, Spartacus, once a

Thracian captain of banditti, escaped with seventy comrades to the crater

of Vesuvius, and organized an insurrection, and he was soon at the head of

one hundred thousand of those wretched captives whose condition was

unendurable. Italy was ravaged from the Alps to the Straits of Messina. No

Roman general, then in Italy, was equal to the task of subduing them. But,

in the second year of the war, Crassus, who was a great proprietor of

slaves, and who had ably served under Sulla, undertook the task of

subduing the insurrectionary slaves. With six legions he drove them to the

extremity of the Bruttian peninsula, and shut them up in Rhegium by strong

lines of circumvallation. Spartacus was killed, after having broken

through the lines, and most of his followers were destroyed; but six

thousand escaped into Cisalpine Gaul, as the northern part of Italy was

then called, and met Pompey on his victorious return from Spain, by whom

they were utterly annihilated. Pompey claimed the merit of ending the

servile war, and sought the honor of the consulship, although ineligible.

Crassus, also ineligible, also demanded the consulship, and both these

lieutenants of Sulla obtained their ends. But both, in order to obtain the

consulship, made great promises. Pompey, in particular, promised to

restore the tribunitian power. Pompey now broke with the aristocracy,

whose champion he had been, and even carried another law by which the

judices were taken from the equites as well as the Senate. Thus was the

constitution of Sulla subverted within ten years. In this movement Pompey

was supported by Julius Caesar, who was a young man of thirty years of age.

On the expiration of his consulship, Pompey remained inactive,

refusing a province, until the troubles with the Mediterranean pirates

again called him into active military service. These pirates swarmed on

every coast, plundering cities, and cutting off communication between Rome

and the provinces. They especially attacked the corn vessels, so that the

price of provisions rose inordinately. The people, in distress, turned

their eyes to Pompey; but he was not willing to accept any ordinary

command, and through his intrigues, his tool, the tribune Gabinius,

proposed that the people should elect a man for this service of consular

rank, who should have absolute power for three years over the whole of the

Mediterranean, and to a distance of fifty miles inward from the coast, and

who should command a fleet of two hundred ships. He did not name Pompey,

but everybody knew who was meant. The people, furious at the price of

corn, and full of admiration for the victories of Pompey, were ready to

appoint him; the Senate, alarmed and jealous, was equally determined to

prevent his appointment. Tumults and riots were the consequence. Pompey

affected to desire some other person for the command but himself; but the

law passed, in spite of the opposition of the Senate, and Pompey was

commissioned to prepare five hundred ships, enlist one hundred and twenty

thousand sailors and soldiers, and also to take from the public treasury

whatever sum he needed.

In the following spring his preparations were made, and in forty days he

cleared the western half of the Mediterranean from the pirates, and drove

them to the Cilician coast. Here he gained a great victory over their

united fleets, and took twenty thousand prisoners, whom he settled at

various points on the coasts, and returned home in forty-nine days after

he had sailed from Brundusium. In less than three months he had ended the


This great success led to his command against Mithridates, who had

again rallied his forces for one more decisive and desperate struggle with

the Romans. Asia rallied against Europe, as Europe rallied against Asia in

the crusades. Mithridates, after his defeat by Sulla, had retired to

Armenia to the court of his son-in-law, Tigranes, whose power was greater

than that of any other Oriental potentate. Tigranes was not at first

inclined to break with Rome, but (B.C. 70) he consented to the war, which

continued for seven years without decisive results. The Romans were

commanded by Lucullus, the old lieutenant of Sulla, and although his

labors were not appreciated at Rome, he broke really the power of

Mithridates. But, through the intrigues of Pompey and his friends, he was

recalled, and Pompey was commissioned, with the extraordinary power of

unlimited control of the Eastern army and fleet, and the rights of

proconsul over the whole of Asia. He already had the dominion of the

Mediterranean. The Senate opposed this dangerous precedent, but it was

carried by the people, who could not heap too many honors on their

favorite. Cicero, then forty years of age, with Caesar, supported the

measure, which was opposed by Hortensius and Catulus.

Lucullus retired to his luxurious villa to squander the riches he

had accumulated in Asia, and to study the academic philosophy, while

Pompey pursued his conquests in the East over foes already broken and

humiliated. He showed considerable ability, and drove Mithridates from

post to post in the heart of his dominion. The Eastern monarch made

overtures of peace, which were rejected. Nothing but unconditional

surrender would be accepted. His army was finally cut to pieces, and the

old man escaped only with a few horsemen. Rejected by Tigranes, he made

his way to the Cimmerian Bosphorus, which was his last retreat. Pompey

then turned his attention to Armenia, and Tigranes threw himself upon his

mercy, at the cost of all his territories but Armenia Proper. Pompey then

resumed the pursuit of Mithridates, fighting his way though the mountains

of Iberia and Albania, but he did not pursue his foe over the Caucasus.

Mithridates, secure in the Crimea, then planned a daring attempt on Rome

herself, which was to march round the Euxine and up the Danube, collecting

in his train the Sarmatians, Gaetae, and other barbarians, cross the Alps,

and descend upon Italy. His kingdom of Pontus was already lost, and had

been made a Roman province. His followers, however, became disaffected,

his son Pharnaces rebelled, and he had no other remedy than suicide to

escape capture. He died B.C. 63, after a reign of fifty-three years, in

the sixty-ninth year of his age--the greatest Eastern prince since Cyrus.

Racine has painted him in one of his dramas as one of the most heroic men

of the world. But it was his misfortune to contend with Rome in the

plenitude of her power.

Pompey, before the death of Mithridates, went to Syria to regulate

its affairs, it being ceded to Rome by Tigranes. After the defeat of

Tigranes by Lucullus, that kingdom, however, had been recovered by

Antiochus XIII., the last of the Seleucidae, who held a doubtful

sovereignty. He was, however, reduced by a legate of Pompey, and Syria

became a Roman province. The next year, Pompey advanced south, and

established the Roman supremacy in Phoenicia and Palestine, the latter

country being the seat of civil war between Hyrcanus and Aristobulus. It

was then that Jerusalem was taken by the Roman general, after a siege of

three months, and the conqueror entered the most sacred precincts of the

temple, to the horror of the priesthood. He established Hyrcanus as high

priest, as has been already related, and then retired to Pontus, settled

its affairs, and departed with his army for Italy, having won a succession

of victories never equaled in the East, except by Alexander. And never did

victories receive such great eclat, which, however, were easily won, as

those of Alexander had been. No Asiatic foe was a match for either Greeks

or Romans in the field. The real difficulties were in marches, in

penetrating mountain passes, in crossing arid plains.

But before the conqueror of Asia received the reward of his great

services to the State--the most splendid triumph which had as yet been seen

on the Via Sacra--Rome was brought to the verge of ruin by the conspiracy

of Catiline. The departure of Pompey to punish the pirates of the

Mediterranean and conquer Mithridates, left the field clear to the two

greatest men of their age, Cicero and Caesar. It was while Cicero was

consul that the conspiracy was detected.

Marcus Tullius Cicero, the most accomplished man, on the whole, in

Roman annals, and as immortal as Caesar himself, was born B.C. 106, near

Arpinum, of an equestrian, but not senatorial family. He received a good

education, received the manly gown at sixteen, and entered the forum to

hear the debates, but pursued his studies with great assiduity. He was

intrusted by his wealthy father to the care of the augur, Q. Mucius

Scaevola, an old lawyer deeply read in the constitution of his country and

the principles of jurisprudence. At eighteen he served his first and only

campaign under the father of the great Pompey, in the social war. He was

twenty-four before he made a figure in the eye of the public, keeping

aloof from the fierce struggles of Marius and Sulla, identifying himself

with neither party, and devoted only to the cultivation of his mind,

studying philosophy and rhetoric as well as law, traveling over Sicily and

Greece, and preparing himself for a forensic orator. At twenty-five he

appeared in the forum as a public pleader, and boldly defended the

oppressed and injured, and even braved the anger of Sulla, then

all-powerful as dictator. At twenty-seven he again repaired to Athens for

greater culture, and extensively traveled in Asia Minor, holding converse

with the most eminent scholars and philosophers in the Grecian cities. At

twenty-nine he returned to Rome, improved in health as well as in those

arts which contributed to his unrivaled fame as an orator--a rival with

Hortensius and Cotta, the leaders of the Roman bar. At thirty he was

elected quaestor, not, as was usually the case, by family interest, but

from his great reputation as a lawyer. The duties of his office called him

to Sicily, under the praetor of Lilybaeum, which he admirably discharged,

showing not only executive ability, but rare virtue and impartiality. The

vanity which dimmed the lustre of his glorious name, and which he never

exorcised, received a severe wound on his return to Italy. He imagined he

was the observed of all observers, but soon discovered that his gay and

fashionable friends were ignorant, not only of what he had done in Sicily

but of his administration at all.

For the next four years he was absorbed in private studies, and in

the courts of law, at the end of which he became aedile, the year that

Verres was impeached for misgovernment in Sicily. This was the most

celebrated State trial for impeachment on record, with the exception,

perhaps, of that of Warren Hastings. But Cicero, who was the public

accuser and prosecutor, was more fortunate than Burke. He collected such

an overwhelming mass of evidence against this corrupt governor, that he

went into exile without making a defense, although defended by Hortensius,

consul elect. The speech which the orator was to have made at the trial

was subsequently published by Cicero, and is one of the most eloquent

tirades against public corruption ever composed or uttered.

Nothing of especial interest marked the career of this great man

for three more years, until B.C. 67 he was elected first praetor, or

supreme judge, an office for which he was supremely qualified. But it was

not merely civic cases which he decided. He appeared as a political

speaker, and delivered from the rostrum his celebrated speech on the

Manilian laws, maintaining the cause of Pompey when he departed from the

policy of the aristocracy. He had now gained by pure merit, in a corrupt

age, without family influence, the highest offices of the State, even as

Burke became the leader of the House of Commons without aristocratic

connections, and now naturally aspired to the consulship,--the great prize

which every ambitious man sought, but which, in the aristocratic age of

Roman history, was rarely conferred except on members of the ruling

houses, or very eminent success in war. By the friendship of Pompey, and

also from the general admiration which his splendid talents and

attainments commanded, this great prize was also secured. He had six

illustrious competitors, among whom were Antonius and Catiline, who were

assisted by Crassus and Caesar. As consul, all the energies of his mind and

character were absorbed in baffling the treason of this eminent patrician

demagogue. L. Sergius Catiline was one of those wicked, unscrupulous,

intriguing, popular, abandoned and intellectual scoundrels that a corrupt

age and patrician misrule brought to the surface of society, aided by the

degenerate nobles to whose class he belonged. In the bitterness of his

political disappointments, headed off by Cicero at every turn, he

meditated the complete overthrow of the Roman constitution, and his own

elevation as chief of the State, and absolutely inaugurated rebellion.

Cicero, who was in danger of assassination, boldly laid the conspiracy

before the Senate, and secured the arrest of many of his chief

confederates. Catiline fled and assembled his followers, which numbered

twelve thousand desperate men, and fought with the courage of despair, but

was defeated and slain.

Had it not been for the vigilance, energy, and patriotism of Cicero, it is

possible this atrocious conspiracy would have succeeded. The state of

society was completely demoralized; the disbanded soldiers of the Eastern

wars had spent their money and wanted spoils; the Senate was timid and

inefficient, and an unscrupulous and able leader, at the head of

discontented factions, on the assassination of the consuls and the

virtuous men who remained in power, might have bid defiance to any force

which could then, in the absence of Pompey in the East, have been

marshaled against him.

But the State was saved, and saved by a patriotic statesman who

had arisen by force of genius and character to the supreme power. The

gratitude of the people was unbounded. Men of all ranks hailed him as the

savior of his country; thanksgivings to the gods were voted in his name,

and all Italy joined in enthusiastic praises.

But he had now reached the culminating height of his political

greatness, and his subsequent career was one of sorrow and disappointment.

Intoxicated by his elevation,--for it was unprecedented at Rome, in his

day, for a man to rise so high by mere force of eloquence and learning,

without fortune, or family, or military exploits,--he became conceited and

vain. In the civil troubles which succeeded the return of Pompey, he was

banished from the country he had saved, and there is nothing more pitiful

than his lamentations and miseries while in exile. His fall was natural.

He had opposed the demoralising current which swept every thing before it.

When his office of consul was ended, he was exposed to the hatred of the

senators whom he had humiliated, of the equites whose unreasonable demands

he had opposed, of the people whom he disdained to flatter, and of the

triumvirs whose usurpation he detested. No one was powerful enough to

screen him from these combined hostilities, except the very men who aimed

at the subversion of Roman liberties, and who wished him out of the way;

his friend Pompey showed a mean, pusillanimous, and calculating

selfishness, and neither Crassus nor Caesar liked him. But in his latter

days, part of which were passed in exile, and all without political

consideration, he found time to compose those eloquent treatises on almost

every subject, for which his memory will be held in reverence. Unlike

Bacon, he committed no crime against the laws; yet, like him, fell from

his high estate in the convulsions of a revolutionary age, and as Bacon

soothed his declining years with the charms of literature and philosophy,

so did Cicero display in his writings the result of long years of study,

and unfold for remotest generations the treasures of Greek and Roman

wisdom, ornamented, too, by that exquisite style, which, of itself, would

have given him immortality as one of the great artists of the world. He

lived to see the utter wreck of Roman liberties, and was ultimately

executed by order of Antonius, in revenge for those bitter philippics

which the orator had launched against him before the descending sun of his

political glory had finally disappeared in the gloom and darkness of

revolutionary miseries.

But we resume the thread of political history in those tangled

times. Cicero was at the highest of his fame and power when Pompey

returned from his Asiatic conquests, the great hero of his age, on whom

all eyes were fixed, and to whom all bent the knee of homage and

admiration. His triumph, at the age of forty-five, was the grandest ever

seen. It lasted two days. Three hundred and twenty-four captive princes

walked before his triumphal car, followed by spoils and emblems of a war

which saw the reduction of one thousand fortresses. The enormous sum of

twenty thousand talents was added to the public treasury.

Pompey was, however, greater in war than in peace. Had he known

how to make use of his prestige and his advantages, he might have

henceforth reigned without a rival. He was not sufficiently noble and

generous to live without making grave mistakes and alienating some of his

greatest friends, nor was he sufficiently bad and unscrupulous to abuse

his military supremacy. He pursued a middle course, envious of all talent,

absorbed in his own greatness, vain, pompous, and vacillating. His

quarrels with Crassus and Lucullus severed him from the aristocratic

party, whose leader he properly was. His haughtiness and coldness

alienated the affections of the people, through whom he could only advance

to supreme dominion. He had neither the arts of a demagogue, nor the

magnanimity of a conqueror.

It was at this crisis that Caesar returned from Spain as the

conqueror of the Lusitanians. Caius Julius Caesar belonged to the ancient

patrician family of the Julii, and was born B.C. 100, and was six years

younger than Pompey and Cicero. But he was closely connected with the

popular party by the marriage of his aunt Julia with the great Marius, and

his marriage with Cornelia, the daughter of Cinna, one of the chief

opponents of Sulla. He early served in the army of the East, but devoted

his earliest years to the art of oratory. His affable manners and

unbounded liberality made him popular with the people. He obtained the

quaestorship at thirty-two, the year he lost his wife, and went as quaestor

to Antistius Vetus, into the province of Further Spain. On his return, the

following year, he married Pompeia, the granddaughter of Sulla, of the

Cornelia gens, and formed a union with Pompey. By his family connections

he obtained the curule aedileship at the age of thirty-five, and surpassed

his predecessors in the extravagance of his shows and entertainments, the

money for which he borrowed. At thirty-seven he was elected Pontifex

Maximus, so great was his popularity, and the following year he obtained

the praetorship, B.C. 62, and on the expiration of his office he obtained

the province of Further Spain. His debts were so enormous that he applied

for aid to Crassus, the richest man in Rome, and readily obtained the loan

he sought. In Spain, with an army at his command, he gained brilliant

victories over the Lusitanians, and returned to Rome enriched, and sought

the consulship. To obtain this, he relinquished the customary triumph,

and, with the aid of Pompey, secured his election, and entered into that

close alliance with Pompey and Crassus which historians call the first

triumvirate. It was merely a private agreement between the three most

powerful men of Rome to support each other, and not a distinct magistracy.

As consul, Caesar threw his influence against the aristocracy, to

whose ranks he belonged, both by birth and office, and caused an agrarian

law to be passed, against the fiercest opposition of the Senate, by which

the rich Campanian lands were divided for the benefit of the poorest

citizens--a good measure, perhaps, but which brought him forward as the

champion of the people. He next gained over the equites, by relieving

them, by a law which he caused to be passed, of one-third of the sum they

had agreed to pay for the farming of the taxes of Asia. He secured the

favor of Pompey by causing all his acts in the East to be confirmed. At

the expiration of his consulship he obtained the province of Gaul, as the

fullest field for the development of his military talents, and the surest

way to climb to subsequent greatness. At this period Cicero went into

exile without waiting for his trial--that miserable period made memorable

for aristocratic broils and intrigues, and when Clodius, a reckless young

noble, entered into the house of the Pontifex Maximus, disguised as a

woman, in pursuit of a vile intrigue with Caesar's wife.

The succeeding nine years of Caesar's life were occupied by the

subjugation of Gaul. In the first campaign he subdued the Helvetii, and

conquered Ariovistus, a powerful German chieftain. In the second campaign

he opposed a confederation of Belgic tribes--the most warlike of all the

Gauls, who had collected a force of three hundred thousand men, and

signally defeated them, for which victories the Senate decreed a public

thanksgiving of fifteen days. That given in Pompey's honor, after the

Mithridatic war, had lasted but ten. At this time he made a renewed

compact with Pompey and Crassus, by which Pompey was to have the two

Spains for his province, Crassus that of Syria, and he himself should have

a prolonged government in Gaul for five years more. The combined influence

of these men was enough to secure the elections, and the year following

Crassus and Pompey were made consuls. Caesar had to resist powerful

confederations of the Gauls, and in order to strike terror among them, in

the fourth year of the war, invaded Britain. But I can not describe the

various campaigns of Caesar in Gaul and Britain without going into details

hard to be understood--his brilliant victories over enemies of vastly

greater numbers, his marchings and countermarchings, his difficulties and

dangers, his inventive genius, his strategic talents, his boundless

resources, his command over his soldiers and their idolatry, until, after

nine years, Gaul was subdued and added to the Roman provinces. During his

long absence from Rome his interests were guarded by the tribune Curio,

and Marcus Antonius, the future triumvir. During this time Crassus had

ingloriously conducted a distant war in Parthia, in quest of fame and

riches, and was killed by an unknown hand after a disgraceful defeat. This

avaricious patrician must not be confounded with the celebrated orator, of

a preceding age, who was so celebrated for his elegance and luxury.

Affairs at Rome had also taken a turn which indicated a rupture with Caesar

and Pompey, now left, by the death of Crassus, at the head of the State.

The brilliant victories of the former in Gaul were in everybody's mouth,

and the fame of the latter was being eclipsed. A serious rivalry between

these great generals began to show itself. The disturbances which also

broke out on the death of Clodius led to the appointment of Pompey as sole

consul, and all his acts as consul tended to consolidate his power. His

government in Spain was prolonged for five years more; he entered into

closer connections with the aristocracy, and prepared for a rupture with

his great rival, which had now become inevitable, as both grasped supreme

power. That struggle is now to be presented in the following chapter.