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66 BC - The Catilinarian Conspiracy

Discontent with the new order of things had not dared to raise its head during the lifetime of Sulla, but with his death the opposition began to make itself felt. The knights protested at their exclusion from the juries; the masses murmured at the loss of prestige which their representative, the tribune, had suffered and at the curtailment of the powers of the popular assembly; the towns whose property had been confiscated for supporting the democratic cause, and the children of the proscribed clamored for the restitution of their rights and their property, and the moderates looked forward with misgiving to the unrestrained and selfish exercise of authority by the senate. These classes found a temporary champion in M. Aemilius Lepidus, consul of the year 78, but the armed uprising which he led was quickly crushed out by his colleague, Q. Lutatius Catulus, a firm supporter of the Optimates, or conservatives, with the help of Pompey.

It was left for two of Sulla's own lieutenants to undo his work, and they employed in tearing down the structure which he had reared the same agency which he had used in building it up, that is, the army. One of them, Pompey, had behind him an army fresh from its victory over Sertorius, the Marian leader in Spain; the other, Crassus, was supported by the troops which had just suppressed the dangerous uprising in Italy of the slaves under Spartacus.

At the close of the year 71 BC Pompey and Crassus appeared before the city to claim certain political honors, and the moment for making an attack on the constitution of Sulla seemed to have come. Pompey wanted lands for his veterans, which the senate would be loath to give him. Crassus, the rich moneylender, coveted power, and perhaps wished for milder treatment of the tax-gatherers in the East. The knights, the democrats, and all the discontented were ready to support their claims, provided concessions were made to themselves. Two victorious armies at the gates of the city furnished an argument which the senate could not resist, and Pompey and Crassus were elected consuls for the year 70. They loyally carried out the bargain which they had made with the democrats and knights, by removing the restrictions placed on the tribunate and by securing the passage of a law which stipulated that the juries should henceforth be composed of senators, knights, and representatives of the commons known as tribuni aerarii. By the passage of these two bills the repeal of Sulla's political legislation was complete, and the senate lost the strength which his measures had given it. Only the non-political judicial and administrative changes continued in force. Later the conservatives were still further humiliated by seeing Pompey, in spite of their vigorous opposition, vested with the extraordinary powers which the Gabinian and Manilian laws, as we have already noticed, gave him for the campaigns against the pirates and against Mithridates.

These two campaigns of course took Pompey away from Rome and removed him from all direct participation in politics up to the close of the year BC 62. It is within this period that the Catilinarian conspiracy falls, and it was this conspiracy which brought into prominence the Roman orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero. Cicero was born at Arpinum in 106. By descent he was a knight and a "new man," or novus homo, since none of his ancestors had held a curule office. By profession he v/as an advocate. The influence which these facts had upon Jinn, strengthened by his natural)/ cautious temperament, made him a moderate in politics, and a strong supporter of the constitution and of constitutional methods. The reactionary program of Sulla was as little to his taste as the revolutionary methods of the democrats. In fact, he entered public life as a critic of one of Sulla's supporters and won his political reputation by suppressing the uprising of the radicals under Catiline.

At the outset in 66 BC the Catilinarian Conspiracy movement seems to have had for its object an improvement in the condition of certain classes in Rome and throughout Italy by constitutional, or at least by peaceful, methods. The repeated disappointments which its leaders met in the years 66-64 led to the formation of a secret conspiracy, ready to use any means whatsoever for the accomplishment of its purpose. At this point the timid, the judicious, and in large measure the respectable supporters of the movement fell away, and its further development was left in the hands of moral and financial bankrupts or of honest fanatics and adventurers.

Their leader was a patrician, L. Sergius Catiline. He represents a type not uncommon in this period. He was accomplished, brave, dashing, restlessly energetic, and had a charm of manner which attracted others, but he lacked the moral fiber, the mental balance, the largeness of outlook, and the ability to organize and direct which the true leader needs. He came forward in 65 as a candidate for the consulship, but he was charged with extortion in Africa, and not allowed to stand for office. He presented himself again in 64. Much against their will, the senatorial party threw their support to his opponent Cicero. The knights and the middle classes throughout Italy also supported Cicero, because he was one of their own number, and was the champion of law and order. Pompey helped him because he had advocated the Gabinian and Manilian laws, and the orator was returned at the head of the polls. Driven to extreme measures by his defeat, Catiline planned to murder the magistrates and take the city by force. His plans were discovered; he was forced to leave the city, and fell in battle in Etruria. The Catilinarian leaders in Rome were put to death, and Cicero was hailed "Father of his Country."

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:28:32 ZULU