Page:Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) - Volume 3.djvu/493

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


good sense to see, what the short-sightedness of I the majority of the aristocracy blinded them to, that further opposition to the people would have been most injurious to the interests of the aristocracy itself. The law was passed with little opposition; for the senate felt that it was worse than useless to contend against Pompey, supported as he was by the popular enthusiasm and by his troops, which were still in the immediate neighbourhood of the city. Later in the same year Pompey also struck another blow at the aristocracy by lending his all-powerful aid to the repeal of another of Sulla's laws. From the time of C. Gracchus (b. c. 123) to that of Sulla (b. c. 80), the joudices had been taken exclusively from the equestrian order; but by one of Sulla's laws they had been chosen during the last ten years from the senate. The corruption and venality of the latter in the administration of justice had excited such general indignation that some change was clamorously demanded by the people. Accordingly, the praetor L. Aurelius Cotta, with the approbation of Pompey, proposed a law by which the judices were to be taken in future from the senatus, equites, and tribuni aerarii, the latter probably representing the wealthier members of the third order in the state. (Comp. Madvig, De Tribunis aerariis, in Opuscula, vol. ii. p. 242,&c.) This law was likewise carried; but it did not improve the purity of the administration of justice, since corruption was not confined to the senators, but pervaded all classes of the community alike. In carrying both these measures Pompey was strongly supported by Caesar, with whom he was thus brought into close connection, and who, though he was rapidly rising in popular favour, could as yet only hope to weaken the power of the aristocracy through Pompey's means.

Pompey had thus broken with the aristocracy, and had become the great popular hero. On the expiration of his consulship he dismissed his army, which he no longer needed for the purpose of overawing the senate, and for the next two years (b. c. 69 and 68) he remained in Rome, as he had previously declared that he would not accept a province. Having had little or no experience in civil affairs, he prudently kept aloof during this time from all public matters, and appeared seldom in public, and then never without a large retinue, in order to keep up among the people the feelings of respectful admiration with which they had hitherto regarded him. Pompey did not possess the diversified talents of Caesar : he was only a soldier, but he showed no small good sense in abstaining from meddling with matters which he did not understand. But the necessities of the commonwealth did not allowhim to remain long in inactivity. The Mediterranean sea was at this time swarming with pirates. From the earliest times down to the present day piracy has more or less prevailed in this sea, which, lying as it does between three continents, and abounding with numerous creeks and islands, presents at the same time both the greatest temptations and the greatest facilities for piratical pursuits. Moreover, in consequence of the civil wars in which the Romans had been engaged, and the absence of any fleet to preserve order upon the sea, piracy had reached an alarming height. The pirates possessed fleets in all parts of the Mediterranean, were in the habit of plundering the most wealthy cities on the coasts, not only of Greece and of the islands, but even of Italy itself, and had at length carried their audacity so far as to make descents upon the Appian road, and carry off Roman magistrates, with all their attendants and lictors. All communication between Rome and the provinces was cut off, or at least rendered extremely dangerous; the fleets of corn-vessels, upon which Rome to a great extent depended for its subsistence, could not reach the city, and the price of provisions in consequence rose enormously. Such a state of things had become intolerable, and all eyes were now directed to Pompey. He, however, was not willing to take any ordinary command, and the scarcity of provisions made the people ready to grant him any power he might ask. Still he was prudent enough not to ask in person for such extraordinary powers as he desired, and to appear only to yield to the earnest desires of the people. Accordingly, at the beginning of the year b. c. 67, he got the tribune A. Gabinius, a man of abandoned character, and whose services he had probably purchased, to bring forward a bill, which was intended to give Pompey almost absolute authority over the greater part of the Roman world. It proposed that the people should elect a man with consular rank, who should possess unlimited and irresponsible power for three years over the whole of the Mediterranean, and to a distance of fifty miles inland from its coasts,—who should have fifteen legates from the senate, a fleet of 200 ships, with as many soldiers and sailors as he thought necessary, and 6000 Attic talents. The bill did not name Pompey, but it was clear who was meant. The aristocracy were in the utmost alarm, for not only did they dread the ambition of Pompey, but they feared that he might interfere with many of their friends and relatives, who held provinces which would come under his imperium, and probably spoil their plans for making their fortunes by the plunder of the provincials. Accordingly, they resolved to offer the most vigorous opposition to the bill. In the senate Caesar was almost the only member of the senate who came forward in its support. Party spirit ran to such a height that the most serious riots ensued. The aristocracy, headed by the consul C. Piso, made an attack upon Gabinius, who, in danger of his life, fled for refuge to the people; and they, in their turn, led on by Gabinius, assaulted the senate-house, and would probably have sacrificed the consul to their fury, had not Gabinius effected his rescue, dreading the odium which such a catastrophe would have occasioned. Even Pompey himself was threatened by the consul, "If you emulate Romulus, you will not escape the end of Romulus." When the day came for putting the bill to the vote, Pompey affected to be anxious for a little rest, and entreated the people to appoint another to the command, but this piece of hypocrisy deceived no one. Q. Catulus and Q. Hortensius spoke against the bill with great eloquence, but with no effect. Thereupon the tribune L. Trebellius, whom the aristocracy had gained over, placed his veto upon the voting ; and as no threats nor entreaties could induce him to withdraw his opposition, Gabinius proposed that he should be deprived of his tribuneship. Even then it was not till seventeen out of the thirty-five tribes had voted for his degradation, that Trebellius gave way, and withdrew his veto. It was now too late in the day to come to any