The Revolt Of Italy And The Social War

Great discontent had long existed among the Italian subjects of Rome. They

were not only oppressed, but they enjoyed no political privileges. They

did not belong to the class of burgesses.

With the view of extending the Roman franchise, a movement was made by the

tribune, M. Livius Drusus, an aristocrat of great wealth and popular

sympathies. He had, also, projected other reforms, which made him

to all parties; but this was peculiarly offensive to the order

to which he belonged, and he lost his life while attempting to effect the

same reforms which were fatal to Gracchus.

On his assassination, the allies, who outnumbered the Roman burgesses, and

who had vainly been seeking citizenship, found that they must continue

without political rights, or fight, and they made accordingly vast

preparations for war. Had all the Italian States been united, they would,

probably, have obtained their desire without a conflict in the field, but

in those parts where the moneyed classes preponderated, the people

remained loyal to Rome. But the insurgents embraced most of the people in

Central and Southern Italy, who were chiefly farmers.

The insurrection broke out in Asculum in Picenum, and spread

rapidly through Samnium, Apulia, and Lucania. All Southern and Central

Italy was soon in arms against Rome. The Etruscans and Umbrians remained

in allegiance as they had before taken part with the equestrians, now a

most powerful body, against Drusus. Italy was divided into two great

military camps. The insurgents sent envoys to Rome, with the proposal to

lay down their arms if citizenship were granted them, but this was

refused. Both sides now made extensive preparations, and the forces were

nearly balanced. One hundred thousand men were in arms, in two divisions,

on either side, the Romans commanded by the consul, Publius Rutilius

Lupus, and the Italians by Quintus Silo and Gaius Papius Mutilus. Gaius

Marius served as a lieutenant-commander. The war was carried on with

various successes, for "Greek met Greek." The first campaign proved, on

the whole, to the disadvantage of the Romans, who suffered several

defeats. In a political point of view, also, the insurgents were the

gainers. Great despondency reigned in the capital, for the war had become

serious. At length, it was resolved to grant the political franchise to

such Italians as had remained faithful, or who had submitted. This

concession, great as it was, did not include the actual insurgents, but it

operated in strengthening wavering communities on the side of Rome.

Etruria and Umbria were tranquilized.

The second campaign, B.C. 89, was opened in Bicenum. Marius was not

in the field. His conduct in the previous campaign was not satisfactory,

and the conqueror of the Cimbri, at sixty-six, was thought to be in his

dotage. Asculum was besieged and taken by the Romans, who had seventy-five

thousand troops under the walls. The Sabellians and Marsians were next

subjugated, and all Campania was lost to the insurgents, as far as Nola.

The Southern army was under the command of the consul, Lucius Sulla, whose

great career had commenced in Africa, under Marius. Sulla advanced into

the Samnite country and took its capital, Bovianum. Under his able

generalship, the position of affairs greatly changed. At the close of the

campaign, most of the insurgent regions were subdued. The Samnites were

almost the only people which held out.

It was fortunate for Rome that the rebellion was so far suppressed

when the flames of war were rekindled in the East. A great reaction

against the Roman domination had taken place, and the eastern nations

seemed determined to rally once more for independent dominion. This was

the last great Asiatic rising till the fall of the Roman empire. The

potentate under whom the Oriental forces rallied, was Mithridates, king of


The army of Sulla, in Campania, was destined to embark for Asia as

soon as the state of things in Southern Italy should allow his departure.

So the third campaign of the Social war, as it is called, began favorably

for Rome, when events transpired in the capital which gave fresh life to

the almost extinguished insurrection. The attack of Drusus on the

equestrian courts, and his sudden downfall, had sown the bitterest discord

between the aristocracy and the burgess class. The Italian communities,

received into Roman citizenship, were fettered by restrictions which had

an odious stigma, which led to great irritation, for the aristocracy had

conferred the franchise grudgingly. And this franchise was moreover

withheld from the insurgent communities which had again submitted. A deep

indignation also settled in the breast of Marius, on his return from the

first campaign, to find himself neglected and forgotten. To these

discontents were added the distress of debtors, who, amid the financial

troubles of the war, were unable to pay the interest on their debts, and

were yet inexorably pressed by creditors.

It was then, in this state of fermentation and demoralization, that

the tribune Publius Sulpicius Rufus proposed that every senator who owed

more than two thousand denarii (L82) should forfeit his seat in the

Senate; that burgesses condemned by non-free jury courts should have

liberty to return home; and that the new burgesses should be distributed

among all the tribes, in which the freed men should also have the

privilege of voting. These proposals, although made by a patrician, met

with the greatest opposition from the Senate, but were passed amid riots

and tumults. Sulla was on the best terms with the Senate, and Sulpicius

feared that he might return from his camp at Nola, and take vengeance for

these popular measures. The tribune, therefore, conceived the plan of

taking the command from Sulla, who was then consul, and transfer it upon

Marius, who was also to conduct the war against Mithridates, in Asia.

Sulla disobeyed the mandate, and marched to Rome with his

army--little more than a body of mercenaries devoted to him. In his eyes,

the sovereign Roman citizens were a rabble, and Rome itself a city without

a garrison. Sulla had an army of thirty-five thousand men, and before the

Romans could organize resistance he appeared at the gate, and crossed the

sacred boundary which the law had forbidden war to enter. In a few hours

Sulla was the absolute master of Rome. Marius and Sulpicius fled. It was

the conservative party which exchanged the bludgeon for the sword. Sulla

at once made null the Sulpician laws, punished their author and his

adherents, as Sulpicius had feared. The gray-haired conqueror of the

Cimbri fled, and found his way to the coast and embarked on a

trading-vessel, but the timid mariners put him ashore, and Marius stole

along the beach with his pursuers in the rear. He was found in a marsh

concealed in reeds and mud, seized and imprisoned by the people of

Minturnae, and a Cimbrian slave was sent to put him to death, The ax,

however, fell from his hands when the old hero demanded in a stern voice

if he dared to kill Gaius Marius. The magistrates of the town, ashamed,

then loosed his fetters, gave him a vessel, and sent him to AEnaria

(Ischia). There, in those waters, the proscribed met, and escaped to

Numidia, and Sulla was spared the odium of putting to death his old

commander, who had delivered Rome from the Cimbrians.

Sulla, master of Rome, did not destroy her liberties. He suggested

a new series of legislative enactments in the interests of the

aristocracy. He created three hundred new senators, and brought back the

old Servian rule of voting in the Comitia Centuriata. The poorer classes

were thus virtually again disfranchised. He also abolished the power of

the tribune to propose laws to the people, and the initiatory of

legislation was submitted to the Senate. The absurd custom by which a

consul, praetor, or tribune, could propose to the burgesses any measure he

pleased, and carry it without debate, was in itself enough to overturn any


Having settled these difficulties, and made way with his enemies, Sulla,

still consul, embarked with his legion for the East, where the presence of

a Roman army was imperatively needed. But before he left, he extorted a

solemn oath from Cinna, consul elect, that he would attempt no alteration

in the recent changes which had been made. Cinna took the oath, but Sulla

had scarcely left before he created new disturbances.