Augustus: His Life and Work - Rene Francis

The Commencement of Individualism

The year 134 B.C. may be said to mark the line of transition for Rome. Hitherto she had been a republic, in fact as well as in name. Henceforward her republican constitution was to suffer the various attacks that eventually destroyed it and paved the way for the inevitable result—Empire.

Italy was now a species of confederation under the rule of Rome—a series of states allied to Rome very closely, some more favoured than others, but one and all united under Rome against the outer world.

They were not as yet Roman; they had not the Roman franchise which was to weld them, with Rome, into one solid whole. That was to come half a century later.

Politically speaking, Rome had still the appearance of unity in her constitution; but the elements of disunion had already made themselves felt.

Provincial government, as it grew in importance, and in separation from the central government, tended to grow more and more independent. The Senate had no longer a complete control over the proconsulate, and the resident magistrates in the various provinces were developing, without check or hindrance, that capacity for avarice and general maladministration which was to make senatorial provincial government a byword and a reproach.

Internally also the disunion was ready to appear. The Senate and the assembly of the plebs were no longer in harmony, but were ready to break out into criticism and opposition, the one or the other. The first open attack was that of the Gracchi, 133-123 B.C.

Tiberius Gracchus raised the question of the allotment of the 'public lands' (won in conquest) among the poorer citizens. This (and, indeed, almost all the land of the Republic) had fallen under the control of wealthy men, who even used it for their pleasure-domains, or wealthy companies, who made vast grazing tracts of it.

Gracchi and Cornelia.


Allotment meant definite ownership; but so far only 'occupation' was allowed. Even that was on an exaggerated scale; a few individuals 'occupied' many thousands of acres.

Tiberius Gracchus also revived the old intercession  of the Tribunate.

Gaius, his brother, went farther. He strove for the enfranchisement of the Latins and the Italians, and for a share in the allotment benefits for them. He instituted monthly corn doles for the benefit of the people. These doles became a regular feature of the Empire. He proposed the restriction of the Senate in the matter of the assignment of provinces; he brought forward measures for regulating the taxation of Asia; and he made certain alterations in the conditions of military service.

As far as the land question was concerned, the attack had no permanent effect. In 118 B.C. the allotment of lands already occupied was stopped. In 111 B.C. all land occupied was declared by law to be private property. For the future, whenever the question of allotment arose, the land required for such allotment had to be purchased by the State.

One most effective step taken by the Gracchi—a step which had far-reaching consequences—was concerned with the Equestrian Order.

The Equestrian Order was originally little more than a name. It may have arisen from the three semi-legendary tribes—the Ramnes, Tities, and Luceres. It had some place in processions on feast days, triumphs, and so forth, and some sort of association with an idea of a citizen cavalry. But as yet the Equestrian Order had not figured as a feature of the State.

Nevertheless it represented a very important element in Rome, namely, the middle class. And for this reason we cannot pass over its first 'official' appearance without some comment as to what it was and what it represented.

The middle class in any State is always the last to make its appearance. But when it does appear it may grow to be the most important class in the community.

A State at its inception is automatically divided into two parts—the rulers and the ruled, the men who work and the men who exact and direct the work.

The rulers direct the history of the State, and the ruled make the history. The rulers make the law and the ruled obey it.

As the life of the State grows in complexity another class arises, between these two classes, allied to each class in a sense, yet independent of either.

The increasing necessities of daily life call for an intermediary who is prepared to deal with them. Thus the trader, the manufacturer, the agent, appear.

So long as the middle class has its own clearly defined occupations, so long as the frontiers between nobility, middle class, and lowest class are clearly marked, there is no particular danger of discontent. But when the line of delimitation becomes less clear, when the spheres of the different classes become gradually involved the one with the other, then readjustment and compromise become necessary, and jealousy and ambition make themselves felt.

The middle class, at the time when the Gracchi appeared, were an appreciable factor in the Roman State. But probably they themselves hardly understood their own ambitions or the possibilities of the power they might exercise. The Gracchi were the first to teach them.

The taxation of the provinces had hitherto been entirely under the control of the Senate and the senatorial magistrates. The Gracchi handed the taxation of the new province of Asia over to the middle class—the money-lenders and merchants. They also carried a measure by which the judges of the newly instituted courts for cases of bribery, extortion, and general provincial misgovernment were chosen from the middle class, or Equestrian Order.

This was the foundation of the hostility between this class and the senatorial class—a hostility that lasted until the time of Augustus, who found a new and a better means of utilizing the Equestrian Order and prepared it for the great part it was to play in the Empire under his successors.

The Gracchi were thus the authors of the first great organized attack upon the Senate. The second attack began, curiously enough, in the very year (118 B.C.) which had witnessed the breakdown of the Gracchan land schemes.

Jugurtha, an African prince, by means of bribes and treachery and murder had succeeded in making himself master of Numidia and throwing off allegiance to Rome.

The war against him was so scandalously mismanaged that the tribunes succeeded in getting a commission of inquiry appointed. They followed this by nominating—in the teeth of the Senate—Marius, a man of quite humble origin, as consul, and in giving him the sole command in Numidia.

Marius, who was an admirable general and soldier, brought the war to a successful finish and led Jugurtha to Rome in chains in 104 B.C.

He was almost at once confronted with a new crisis, the invasion of the Teutones and Cimbri. With this also he dealt successfully, finally defeating these savage northerners in 101 B.C.

The rise of Marius marks the beginning of the stage of individualism in Roman history.

Six times consul, and the head of an army which he had made, he practically ruled Rome for the time being. His veterans helped to pass every measure that he and his associates, Saturninus and Glaucia, proposed, and the Senate was powerless against him. His successive elections were a sign that the people were tired of frequently changing commands, and felt the need of more permanent leadership.

The army of Marius marks the beginning of professional soldiering in Roman history.

True, the army had long ceased to be a mere citizen force raised for emergency. It had its regular training, and its pay while on service: that had been instituted as long ago as 396 B.C., during the, lengthy siege of Veii. But Marius was the first to make the army a separate entity in the State and to sever it entirely from the civil element. He abolished the old compulsory levy, and instituted voluntary enlistment and admission ()I' all classes in the State.

We need not dwell on Marius's statesmanship: it was not his strong point. He only succeeded in passing various measures purely hostile to the Senate and more or less favourable to the other classes of the State. His associates, Glaucia and Saturninus, alienated all classes by their violence and recklessness, and he was actually called upon by the Senate to protect Rome against them. While on their trial the two were murdered by the populace. Their death ensured an interval of quiet for the State.

But a new and formidable crisis supervened. The Italian states had persistently been asking for the franchise, which should have been granted to them years earlier. Again and again disappointed at the scornful attitude of Rome, they at last matured a plan of independence. A vast confederation was to be formed, with a new constitution of its own (faithfully modeled on the hated constitution of Rome, with a Senate and everything else that was Roman!), and a new capital, Corfinium, now to be called 'Italica.'

Rome at once took action, and the 'Social War,' as it was called, commenced (90 B.C.). Marius acted therein as one of the legates of the consuls, and with him Sulla, destined to be his successor in the absolute control of Rome.

The war ended in 88 B.C., thanks to the granting of the franchise. The only state that held out was Samnium, the ancient enemy of Rome; but the Samnites were subdued by Sulla, who distinguished himself greatly in the campaign.

We should mention here one man, Marcus Livius Drusus, who attempted the work of general reconciliation. His ideal was the cessation of hostility between the Equestrians—they were now definitely known under this name—and the Senate; and he strove for the extension of the franchise to Italy. But he failed, as did Cicero after him. The hatred between the two classes in Rome was too great. The Equestrians, indeed, had proved to be quite as bad as the senatorial class; they were extortionate in their taxation, and the courts which they controlled were nothing less than hotbeds of blackmail: not a single magistrate could hope to escape prosecution and condemnation unless he was prepared to pay his accusers all they demanded.

Drusus only succeeded in rousing the enmity of both classes against him; and his efforts in regard to the franchise were construed into support of the Italian allies against Rome. Murdered in 91 B.C., he fell a victim to his zeal for reform.

As soon as the Social War was ended the rivalry between Marius and Sulla came to a head. War had broken out against Mithradates, king of Pontus, in Asia Minor, and the command would obviously go either to Sulla or to Marius.

A tribune, Publius Sulpicius Rufus, proposed Marius; he also brought forward various measures hostile to the Senate. Sulla at once marched from Campania on Rome. Marius fled to Carthage, and Sulla entered the city at the head of his legions—the first armed entry in Roman history of a Roman into Rome.

Sulla at once imposed his conditions, elected the consuls, and left for Asia in 87 B.C.

As soon as he was safely out of Italy Marius returned to Rome, and with him Cinna. The proposals of Sulpicius Rufus were promptly revived. Octavius, the consul chosen by Sulla, drove Cinna out of Rome, but Cinna and Marius gathered together an army and once more were masters of the situation. Marius became consul for the seventh time, and carried out a fearful massacre of all his opponents. But he died shortly after his return to power, in 86 B.C., and Cinna was all-powerful for the next three years.

Sulla meanwhile had finished his task and brought the war in Asia to an end in 85 B.C. He re-entered Italy two years later and again marched on Rome, defeated the 'Marians' (now joined by the Samnites), and gathered the whole power of Rome into his hands. By 81 B.C. the Civil War was at an end.

Sulla pointed out to the Senate that only by his appointment as dictator could order and law be restored, and the Senate, perforce, gave him his will. He had the legions! They could hardly do otherwise.

He might have now reorganized and restored the constitution of Rome once and for all. He did pass measures for the restoration of senatorial power and the restriction of the tribunes. But his laws died with him.

For one thing, Sulla could not forego revenge. His rule was a reign of terror, of proscriptions and confiscations.

Further, the time for reaction was past. The Gracchi had broken down the old traditions of obedience to the Senate.

Lastly, Sulla himself had shown how there was no longer any possible safeguard in any laws. He himself, as proconsul, had defied the Senate: it had never authorized or recognized the peace he made with Mithradates. The very laws he had passed owed their validity to the fact that he was the master of the army.

Any one who could get proconsular command and control of the legions could do just what Sulla had done, and could alter the constitution of Rome to his will.

All that Rome remembered of Sulla after his death was his reign of terror. He and Marius were the first of the 'Adventurers,' the pioneers of individualism, in Rome. We now come to the last of the 'Adventurers.'

Gneius Pompeius was given a proconsular command against Sertorius, a 'Marian' who had practically ruled Spain since 82 B.C. Pompeius was under thirty years of age and had not yet held even the office of quaestor. He defeated Sertorius and returned to Rome in 71 B.C.

Marcus Crassus (prominent for his wealth rather than any other quality) was given command against Spartacus in 73 B.C. Spartacus was a runaway gladiator from Capua; he had organized an army of seventy thousand—brigands, outlaws, slaves, ruined peasants—and was master of Southern Italy. Crassus crushed him in 71 B.C.

Pompeius and Crassus—thanks to the presence of their troops just outside the gates of Rome—were made consuls for 70 B.C. They promptly restored the power of the tribunes, and elected censors (for the first time since 86 B.C.) to purge the Senate of the evil characters surviving from the reign of Sulla.

They also restored to the Equestrians the courts which Sulla had handed over to the Senate. They then devoted their attention to the chances of big foreign commands.

The old order was ended; no one of ambition or ability thought any longer of the old-fashioned magistrate's career. Foreign commands, power over the legions, and the reversal of one or the other party of the State—these were now the mode.

Pompeius was the first to find what he wanted, in the shape of a three years' command against the Cilician pirates, who were ravaging the Mediterranean. He started his campaign, with fifteen legates, two hundred ships, and unlimited troops, under his sole command, in 67 B.C.

The next year brought him a further command against Mithradates. So far the war had been conducted, successfully enough, by Lucullus, an able general and a man of far higher character than was common in his time. But Lucullus, though successful in active campaign, was unable to retain his hold over his legions: he would not bribe them by plunder, and he could not gain their affection as, for example, did Caesar. He returned to Rome in 66 B.C., and his laurels devolved upon Pompeius, who retained them until his return to Rome in 62 B.C. And now appears the third figure of the so-called First Triumvirate, the man who was to lay the foundations upon which Rome, under the auspices of Augustus, was to build her Empire—Gaius Julius Caesar.

Caesar had come to the front in 70 B.C. A nephew of Marius and the son-in-law of Cinna, he was marked out to be the leader of the popular party, and he naturally devoted himself to the work of compensating—so far as that was possible—for the reign of terror instituted by Sulla: he strove to gain the sympathy and the help of Rome for the children of the proscribed.

He also worked for another cause, the extension of the franchise to the peoples beyond the Po.

He worked for the populace. As curule aedile in 65 B.C., he instituted splendid games for the pleasure of the mob; and he spent vast sums of money on the Appian Way, Rome's great southern thoroughfare.

He associated himself with Crassus, whose wealth constituted his real value for the object Caesar had in view—no less than a Western command equivalent to that of Pompeius in the East.

Here we must return to the subject of the Tribunate. We have shown what was the value of this office in early days, and how it practically lapsed when the plebs rose to their rightful position in the State. We have seen how the Gracchi used it as a weapon against the Senate; and Drusus sought its influence in the cause of reconciliation and order.

Now we see it in a different light. The tribunes are no longer the 'protectors of the plebs': they become the jackals for foreign commands.

Sulpicius Rufus acted for Marius. Similarly Clodius, Gabinius, Manilius, Vatinius, appear as agents for Pompeius and Caesar. They gain the power for their chiefs, and at the same time ensure to them popularity with the mob. We shall see how, later on, the chiefs dispensed with their jackals, and themselves annexing the tribunician power, posed as the direct protectors of the populace.

Caesar suffered a set-back by the revolt of Catiline in Southern Italy in 64 B.C. Catiline was one of the lesser adventurers whose only hopes lay in violence; he had collected round him a band of outlaws, brigands, and broken men. Caesar, who had supported him for the consulate in 64 B.C., now fell under suspicion of having favoured this rising. Catiline lost the consulship, and Cicero—the supporter of law and order and the ancient Republican regime—enjoyed a moment of favour and power, thanks to the vigour with which he suppressed the Catilinian revolt, and to the distrust of Caesar prevalent in the middle class.

Caesar went to Spain as propraetor, returned in 60 B.C., and gained the consulate for 59 B.C. He lost no time in cultivating the different factors in the State. He ratified Pompeius's Eastern policy and achievements; he gave to the Equestrian Order the relief which the Senate had denied them: the two orders had quarrelled over the price to be paid for the right of collecting the taxes in Asia. He carried an agrarian law providing for purchase by the State of land for allotment among the poor, and also for distribution of the rich Ager Campanus—a coveted and fertile tract.

Then at last he secured his long-desired command. He was appointed for five years to do as he wished with Illyricum, Cisalpine and then Transalpine Gaul—thanks to an obedient tribune, Vatinius.

We come now to the final stage. Pompeius returns. The Triumvirate meets again at Luca in 56 B.C. Caesar is given five years' further power; Pompeius has Spain and Africa; Crassus has Syria. The last act begins.

In 53 B.C. Crassus fell a victim to the Parthians. At the same time, owing to the disturbed condition of Rome, Pompeius was recalled and entrusted with the 'protection of the State'—even made sole consul in 52 B.C. Caesar had still nearly four years' command to run, but he wished to have the consulship for 49 B.C. and yet not to give up his command. The law of the constitution demanded that a proconsul should resign his command before re-entering Rome. The aim of Caesar's opponents was that he should not stand for the consulship, or, failing this, that he should give up his command. Caesar parleyed in vain with the Senate, who, secure of the support of Pompeius (once their master, but now their hope), commanded him to disband his troops.

In 49 B.C. Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and Pompeius fled to Greece.

We know the ending—how the two met at Pharsalus; how Pompeius, defeated, met his death on the very shore of Egypt, whose king had promised him his friendship; how Caesar, now alone in the field, crushed Pharnaces (a successor to Mithradates) in 47 B.C., ended one rising at Thapsus in Africa in 46 B.C., leaving only suicide for Cato, the last of the true Republicans, and another at Munda in Spain in 45 B.C., and returned at last to Rome—only to fall, one short year later, to the daggers of his assassins.