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Western Civilization-An Open Source Book, 1st ed.

by Ryan P. Johnson.

Chapter 4:  The Roman Republic 509-31 BCE

The Roman Republic lasted for nearly half a millennium, five hundred years of growth, conquest, and economic, political, and military developments. The Roman state contained numerous positions all meant to balance and check the power of the others-consuls, praetors, censors, the Senate, all working together to run an ever growing territory and population. Not everything ran smoothly; the Struggle of the Orders between the patricians who held all of the political power and the plebeians who held none would last for two hundred years and slowly begin opening the halls of power to more people in Roman society. The story of Rome is the story of an expanding civilization that sought new ways to deal with the responsibilities generated by that expansion. At first Rome allied itself with other city-states in Latium, the region of Italy in which Rome was situated. Soon Rome encountered the Samnites, a people from central Italy, and after defeating them and expanding down the peninsula Rome encountered the Greek city-states already established there. By taking control of southern Italy, however, Rome began encountering other civilizations outside of Italy, namely Carthage in North Africa. After a series of three wars, all of which were won by Rome, some at very high cost, Carthage was defeated and burned to the ground. Rome’s expansion wasn’t done, however, as it began to turn its attention to the east, to Greece and Macedon. By the end of the second century BCE, Rome was master of the entire Mediterranean Basin. The good times, though, wouldn’t last forever, as Rome became plagued by serious problems in the first century, BCE, from land problems that resulted in fewer citizens, and therefore fewer soldiers, to the assassination of politicians trying to fix those problems. The final dramatic acts dealt with a series of strong personalities who engaged in a series of civil wars that brought the Republic to its knees. First Julius Caesar defeated a former friend, Pompey, to become the sole power in Rome. Caesar was assassinated by senators in 44 BCE, leading to another civil war between one of Caesar’s lieutenants, Mark Antony, and Caesar’s adopted heir, Octavian. Octavian would ultimately prove triumphant, defeating Antony in 31 BCE and thereby becoming the sole ruler of Rome.

The documents in this chapter focus mostly on political developments in Rome. First is Polybius, an historian who details the structure of the Republic’s government and the balance between the various organs. The Twelve Tables was a codification of Roman law at the beginning of the Struggle of the Orders, which showed the plebeians how little power they truly had. The next two documents, both from the Roman historian Livy, detail important events of the political battle between the patricians and the plebeians, namely the plebeians physically leaving the city of Rome to force their opponents’ hands, and how the plebeians won access to the highest position in the Republic. Valerius Maximus and the document on chastity will move us out of the realm of politics and into that of society, specifically gender relations, during the Roman Republic. These two excerpts give us a window into the privileges men had over women during this era. Finally in this chapter is an excerpt from Julius Caesar discussing the beginning of the civil war with Pompey that would be the beginning of the end of the Republic.


 

1. Polybius-History

The Greek historian Polybius lived in Rome for a time and traveled around the Mediterranean basin interviewing eye witnesses of the events he would later include in his book The Histories. The main thrust of his work is the emergence of Rome, specifically its rise to prominence on the Italian peninsula and the war against Carthage. In the excerpt below Polybius tells us about the three parts of Rome’s republican system of government-the Consuls, the Senate, and the People-and how each interacts with the other.

As for the Roman constitution it had three elements, each of them possessing sovereign powers, and their respective share of power in the whole state had been regulated with such careful heed to equality and poise, that no one could say surely – not even a native – whether the constitution as a whole were an aristocracy or democracy or despotism. And no wonder; on looking at the power of the Consuls it seems despotic; if on that of the Senate as aristocratic; and if finally one regards the power of the People, it would seem sheer democracy.

The Powers of the Consuls

The Consuls, before leading out the legions, remain in Rome and are chiefs of the [civil] administration. All other magistrates, save the Tribunes, are under them, and take their orders. They introduce foreign ambassadors to the Senate, bring matters requiring deliberation before it, and see to the execution of its decrees. If, again, there are any matters of state which require the authorization of the People, it is their business to see to them, to summon the popular meetings, to bring the proposals before them, and to carry out the decrees of the majority. In the preparations for war also, and in a word in the entire administration of a campaign, they have almost absolute power. They can impose on the allies such levies as they think good; also appoint the military tribunes, make up the roll for soldiers, and select those that are fit. Besides, they have absolute power of inflicting punishment on all who are under their command while on active service ; and they have authority to expend as much of the public money as they choose, being accompanied by a quaestor, who is entirely at their orders. A survey of these powers would in fact justify our describing the constitution as despotic, – a clear case of royal government.

The Powers of the Senate

[But on the other hand] The Senate has first of all the control of the treasury, and regulates the receipts and disbursements alike; for the Quaestors cannot issue any public money for the various departments of the state, without a decree of the Senate, except for the service of the Consuls, The Senate controls, too, what is by far the largest and most important expenditure, – that, namely, which is made by the censor every lustrum [fifth year] for the repair or construction of public buildings; this money cannot be obtained by the censors except by a grant of the Senate. Similarly all crimes committed in Italy, requiring a public investigation, such as treason, conspiracy, poisoning or willful murder, are in the hands of the Senate. Besides, if any individual or state among the Italian allies requires a controversy to be settled, a penalty to be assumed, help or protection to be afforded – all this is in the province of the Senate.

Or again, outside Italy, if it is necessary to send an embassy to reconcile communities at war, or to remind them of their duty, or sometimes to impose requisitions upon them, or receive their submission, or finally to proclaim war against them – all this is the business of the Senate. In like manner the reception to be given to foreign ambassadors in Rome, and the answers to be returned to them, are decided by the Senate. With such business the People have nothing to do. Consequently, if one were staying at Rome when the Consuls were not in town, one would imagine the constitution to be a complete aristocracy, and this has been the idea held by many Greeks, and by many kings as well, from the fact that nearly all the business they had at Rome was settled by the Senate.

The Powers of the Roman People

[After this one naturally asks what part is left for the People, but] they have a part and that a most important one. For the People are the sole fountain of honor and of punishment; and it is by these two things, and these alone, that dynasties, and constitutions, and, in a word, human society, are held together. The People are the only court to decide matters of life and death; also even cases where the penalty is a fine, if the assessment be a heavy one, and especially where the accused have held high magistracies. . . . Men who are on trial for their lives at Rome, while the sentence is in process of being voted – if even only one of the tribes whose votes are needed to ratify the sentence has not voted, have the privilege at Rome of openly departing and condemning themselves to a voluntary exile. Such men are safe at Naples, or Praeneste, or Tibur, and other towns with whom this arrangement has been duly ratified on oath.

Again the People bestow public offices on the deserving, which are the most honorable rewards of virtue. It [the Popular Assembly] has the absolute power of passing or repealing laws; and, most important of all, it is the People who deliberate on the question of peace or war. And when provisional terms are made for alliance, suspension of hostilities or treaties, it is the People who ratify or reject them.

These considerations would lead one to say that the chief power in the state was the People’s, – that the constitution was a democracy.

The Relations of Each Part to the Other

I must now show how each of these several parts can, when they choose, oppose or support one another.

The Consul, then, when he has started on an expedition, seems to be absolute, still he needs both the People and the Senate to help him, otherwise he will have no success. Plainly he must have supplies sent his legions occasionally: but without a decree of the Senate they can get neither corn, clothes, nor pay; so that all the plans of a general are futile, if the Senate is resolved either to shrink from danger, or to hamper his plans. And again, whether a Consul shall bring any undertaking to a conclusion or not, depends entirely on the Senate; for it has absolute authority at the end of the year to send another Consul to supersede him, or to continue the existing one in his command as [proconsul], [Again the Senate controls the matter of the much-prized triumphs] for the generals cannot celebrate them with the proper pomp, nor sometimes celebrate them at all, unless the Senate concurs and grants the necessary money. As for the People, that body ratifies or rejects treaties, terms of peace and the like; and especially when the Consuls lay down their office they have to give an account of their administration, before it. [Consequently the Consuls are obliged to court popular favor.]

As for the Senate, it is obliged to take the multitude into account and respect the wishes of the People. It cannot execute [death sentences] unless the People first ratify its decrees. Also in matters directly affecting Senators – e.g. laws diminishing the Senate’s traditional authority, or depriving Senators of certain dignities and office, or even actually cutting down their property, – even in such cases the People have the sole power of passing or rejecting the law. But most important of all is the fact that, if the [Popular] Tribunes interpose their veto, the Senate not merely cannot pass a decree, but cannot even hold a meeting at all, – formal or informal. How the Tribunes are always bound to execute the will of the People, and above things to have regard to the public wishes; therefore for all these reasons the Senate stands in awe of the multitude, and cannot neglect the feelings of the People.

In like manner the People are far from being independent of the Senate. For contracts innumerable are given out by the Censors to all parts of Italy for the repair or construction of public buildings; there is also the collection of revenues from many rivers, harbors, forests, mines, and land, – everything in a word that comes under the control of the Roman government; and in all these the People at large are engaged; so that there is scarcely a man, so to speak, who is not interested either as a contractor or as being employed in the works. For some purchase the contracts from the censors themselves; others go partners with them, while others again go security for these contractors, and actually pledge their property to the treasury for them. Now over all these transactions the Senate has absolute control; it can grant an extension of time, [in emergency it can lighten or release the contract, or enforce it on the contractors with such severity as to ruin all involved.] But most important of all is the fact that the judges are taken from the Senate for most lawsuits, whether criminal or civil, in which the charges are heavy. Consequently all citizens are at the Senate’s mercy ; they do not know when they may need its aid, and are cautious about resisting or actively opposing its will. For a similar reason men do not rashly resist the Consuls, because every one may become subject to their absolute [military] authority on a campaign.

The Excellence of the Roman Constitution

The result of this power of the several estates for mutual help or harm is a union sufficiently firm for all emergencies, and a constitution which it is impossible to find a better. Whenever any foreign danger compels them to unite and work together, the strength which is developed by the State is so extraordinary that everything required is unfailingly carried out by the eager rivalry of all classes, while each individual works, privately and publicly alike, for the accomplishment of the business in hand.

William Stearns Davis, Readings in Ancient History Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, vol. II Rome and the West (Boston:  Allyn and Bacon, 1913), 43-48. Located on the Internet Archive:

https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.87614/2015.87614.Readings-In-Ancient-History-Ii-Rome-And-The-West#page/n69

2. The Twelve Tables

The Twelve Tables are an important step both in the evolution of law and the social development know as the Struggle of the Orders during the Roman Republic. In 450 BCE a group of ten men, known as the decemviri, were appointed to codify existing Roman rules into a formal set of laws and rights that would become the first ten tables. The following year a second group of ten men created the final two tables. The tables were published around Rome so that every Roman could either read or have the laws read to them. The tables cover such matters as debt, property, land rights, and laws related to injury. The portions excerpted below gives us a window into how the Romans understood justice, fairness, and equality.

Copy and paste the link below into your web browser to access this document:

https://archive.org/stream/TheTwelveTables/The%20Twelve%20Tables#page/n0/mode/2up

3. Livy-Secession of the Plebs

Livy was a Roman historian whose major work, History of Rome, covers the earliest Roman myths up to the reign of Augustus. Since he wrote about many things that happened well before his lifetime the, accuracy of his descriptions is questionable despite many historians’ reliance on Livy as a source. The selection included here discusses an extraordinary event in the development of Rome’s republic-the secession of the plebeians in their attempt to gain more rights and greater equality.

War with the Volscians was threatening, but the state was also sorely disturbed within itself, the animosity betwixt Senate and people glowing now to white heat, largely on account of the imprisonments for debt. Loud was the complaint that while men were fighting abroad for lands and liberty, they were seized and oppressed at home by their own fellow citizens; and that the “liberty of the people” was more secure in war than in peace. This feeling of discontent increasing of itself was still further aggravated by a case of individual suffering.

A certain aged man thrust himself into the Forum, with all the tokens of his miseries upon him. His clothes were utterly squalid; his very body was shocking, pale and emaciated as it was. His long beard and hair impressed, too, a savage wildness upon his features. Notwithstanding his wretched state he was nevertheless recognized, and it was repeated how he had been a centurion, and, while pitying him, men announced his other distinctions won in the public service, while he displayed the various scars on his breast, witnesses as they were to honorable battles.

[As the multitude gathered and questioned him he told how,] “while serving in the Sabine War, because he had not merely lost the produce of his little farm through the hostile ravagers, but also because his house had been burned, his goods stolen, his cattle driven away, and too because a tax had been imposed [on him at that very distressing time, he had fallen into debt. Then this debt had aggravated. First he had been stripped of his father’s and his grandfather’s farm, then of his other property.] Finally he was seized in person by his creditor, and haled away, not into mere slavery, but into a regular house of correction and punishment. He finally displayed his back, all covered with the marks of the stripes so lately inflicted.

Hearing and seeing this, the people rose in great uproar. No longer was the tumult in the Forum merely; it spread all over the city. Those who had been in bonds for debt and those also at liberty rushed into the streets from all quarters, begging the protection of the multitude. Everywhere there was a spontaneous banding together and sedition. Down all the streets they ran with clamorous shouting, and so into the Forum. Such of the Senators as they met there were hustled by the mob to their no slight peril; nor would the people have stopped short of extreme violence had not the consuls Publius Servilius and Appius Claudius bestirred themselves hastily to quiet the uproar.

Turning on the consuls, the multitude displayed their chains and other tokens of misery, and thus taunted the consuls; then they demanded, with threatenings rather than as petitioners, that they “assemble the Senate”; while they posted themselves around the Senate House in a body, resolved to witness and to control all the public counsels.

At first it was proposed to kill the consuls, in order to discharge the men from their oath of obedience; but when it was asserted that no religious obligation could be discharged by a mere crime, on the advice of one Sicinius, they retired without any orders from the consuls, to the “Sacred Mount” beyond the river Anio, three miles from Home.

There, without any regular leader, they fortified their camp with a rampart and a trench, and remained quiet, taking nothing but the food they needed. Thus they kept to themselves for some days, neither attacked themselves nor attacking others.

Meantime in the city was panic and mutual fear. The Plebeians, still in Rome, dreaded the violence of the Senators; these in turn dreaded the commons, and were doubtful whether they wished them to stay [as hostages for the rest] or to depart.

Therefore it was determined to send out an ambassador to the Plebeians, Menenius Agrippa, an eloquent man and withal acceptable, because he himself was of humble origin. When he was admitted to the camp, he is said to have related this story. “Once upon a time the parts of the human body did not agree together, but the various members had each their own policy; and it befell that the other parts were indignant that everything was procured for the belly by their care, while the belly did nothing but enjoy the pleasures they afforded it. So they conspired: the hands should no more carry food to the mouth, the mouth would not receive it, nor the teeth chew it. But while they wished to subdue the belly by famine, these parts themselves, and the whole body, were reduced to the last degree of emaciation. Thus it became evident that the service of the belly was by no means a slothful one [but that it had a most important purpose].  By comparing thus how similar was the sedition within the body to the resentment of the people against the Senators, he made an impression on the minds of the multitude. A commencement was accordingly made toward a reconciliation, and it was allowed that “the Plebeians should have their own magistrates, with inviolable privileges; and these men should have the right of bringing assistance against the Consuls; nor could any Patrician hold these [Plebeian] offices.”  Thus two tribunes of the Plebeians were created, Gains Licinius and Lucius Albinus.

William Stearns Davis, Readings in Ancient History Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, vol. II Rome and the West (Boston:  Allyn and Bacon, 1913), 20-23. Located on the Internet Archive:

https://archive.org/stream/readingsinancien00davi#page/20/mode/2up

4. Livy-How the Plebeians won the Consulship

In this selection, also from Livy’s History of Rome, we see recounted the way in which plebeians were first granted access to the top political office in the Roman Republic-the Consulship. As you read this document pay special attention to what Sextius and Licinius are proposing as changes to Rome’s government and the back-and-forth between them and Rome’s patrician class.

The Proposals of Sextius and Licinius

There appeared a favorable opportunity for making innovations on account of the immense load of debt; since the Plebeians could hope for no lightening of the burden unless their own party gained control of the highest magistracies. To this end they realized they must exert themselves. After Gains Licinius and Lucius Sextius had been elected tribunes of the Plebs, they proposed laws aimed directly at the Patricians and for the benefit of the commonalty. The proposal as to debt was that all interest previously paid should be deducted from the principal, the remainder to be paid off in three years by equal installments: the next, touching the limitation of land, was that no one should possess more than five hundred jugera of land: and the third was that the elections of military tribunes should cease, and that at least one of the consuls should be chosen from the Plebeians. These were all matters of vast importance, and such as could not be obtained without a desperate struggle.

So was opened a contest in which were staked all those objects for which men have ever had the keenest desires, -land, money, and public honors. The Patricians were terrified and dismayed. They could find no other remedy [than their old expedient] of winning over the colleagues [of these two tribunes] to oppose their bill.

[The vetoes of the other tribunes prevented the measures from being put to a vote in the assembly, but Sextius retaliated in kind.]

“Well is it,” spoke he, “that if it is intended that your protests should possess such power, that by this same weapon [of prohibition] we should protect the people. Come, Sir Patricians, call the assembly to select military tribunes. I will take care that the word Veto, which you hear our colleagues chanting with so much pleasure, shall not prove so very pleasant in turn to you.”

Nor were his threats vain. No elections were held, except those of the aediles and tribunes of the Plebs. Licinius and Sextius were reelected tribunes, and they did not allow any curule magistrates to be appointed. For five years this total absence of the [higher] magistrates continued. The Plebeians, however, continued to reelect the two [radical] tribunes of the Plebs, and these in turn prevented the election of military tribunes.

The same tribunes Sextius and Licinius were reelected at length for the tenth time; and they succeeded in passing a law which provided that of “The Board of Ten for attending to Religious Matters” one half should be Plebeians. This step seemed to open the way to the Consulship. [Soon after the dictator Camillas returned after defeating the Gauls] and by great struggles his opposition and that of the Senate were overcome. The elections for consuls were then held in spite of the resistance of the nobles, and Lucius Sextius was elected-the first consul of Plebeian rank.

This was not entirely the end of the contest. The Patricians withheld their consent to the proceedings, and matters were close to a “Secession of the Plebeians,” and other direful threats of civic tumult, but through the interference of the dictator matters were compromised,-the Patricians yielded to the Plebeians one consul; and the Plebeians in turn granted to the Patricians that one of the latter should be elected as praetor to administer justice in the city.

Harmony -being at length restored among the orders, the Senate [ordered that magnificent games should be held to celebrate the return of concord.]

William Stearns Davis, Readings in Ancient History Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, vol. II Rome and the West (Boston:  Allyn and Bacon, 1913), 23-27. Located on the Internet Archive:

https://archive.org/stream/readingsinancien00davi#page/22/mode/2up

5. Valerius Maximus-Memorable Deeds and Sayings

Very little is known of the Roman writer Valerius Maximus other than his primary work was the Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings and that he wrote early in the first century CE, likely during the reign of Tiberius (r. CE 14-31). The selection below comes from the Memorable Deeds and focuses on the way women were treated during this era of Roman history. As you read through this excerpt keep in mind other selections on women from Hesiod, Semonides, Aristophanes, and Euripides and see if you can spot similarities and differences. Also keep in mind the larger context of gender and family relations during the Roman Republic.

Copy and paste the link below to access this document:

http://www.stoa.org/diotima/anthology/wlgr/wlgr-romanlegal109.shtml

6. Various Authors-Women and Chastity

The selection below comes from various authors regarding the proper way women should behave during the Roman Republic. According to the website Women’s Life in Greece and Rome these excerpts are supposedly attributable to a woman from southern Italy named Phintys as well as the geometrician Pythagoras’ wife and daughter, among other women although more than likely they were produced by men who disguised them as the writings of women. Compare and contrast this selection with others on women contained in this book.

Copy and paste the link below to access this document:

http://www.stoa.org/diotima/anthology/wlgr/wlgr-privatelife208.shtml

7. Julius Caesar-Civil War

Julius Caesar is likely the most popularly well-known Roman figure. A general and statesman, Caesar was active in war and politics at the end of the Roman Republic, shortly before it morphed into the Roman Empire, and was indeed a central figure in that transition. For a brief time in 44 BCE Caesar was the single most powerful person in the Roman world, and his assassination only led to more civil war and the emergence of one man rule. The excerpt below comes from Caesar himself, in a work called Civil War, discussing the series of events that led to Caesar launching a war by crossing the Rubicon, a river in northern Italy. A note to the reader-in this text Caesar refers to himself in the third person, so statements such as “Caesar said” or “Caesar did” should be read as “I said” and “I did.”

When Caesar’s letter [with conciliatory proposals] was delivered to the consuls, it was with great difficulty-, and a hard struggle by the tribunes[on Caesar’s side], that they were prevailed upon to suffer it to be read in the Senate; the tribunes, however, could not prevail that any question should be put to the Senate on the subject of the letter. The consuls put the question on ‘• The Regulation of the State.” Lucius Lentulus [one of them] promised that “he would not fail the Senate and the Republic if they declared their sentiments resolutely and boldly, but if they turned their regard to Caesar and courted his favor, as formerly, he would strike out on his own plan, and not truckle to the authority of the Senate; and [added] that he had a way of again getting Caesar’s favor and friendship.” Scipio talked in the same strain, that “it was Pompey’s intention not to abandon the Republic if the Senate would support him; but if they should hesitate and act without energy, they would in vain implore his aid, if ever they should need it later.”

This speech of Scipio’s – as the Senate was convened inside the city, and Pompey was near at hand – seemed to fall from Pompey’s own lips. Some spoke with a certain moderation, as Marcellus first, who said at the outset that the question ought not thus to be put before the Senate until levies had been made through Italy, and armies raised under whose protection the Senate might freely and safely vote what resolutions-seemed proper”; [and two other Senators spoke in like vein]. They were all harshly rebuked by Lentulus, who peremptorily refused to put their motions. Marcellus, overawed by his reproofs, retracted his opinion. Thus most of the Senate, intimidated by the expressions of the consul, by the fears of an army close at hand, and the threats of Pompey’s friends, unwillingly and reluctantly adopted Scipio’s opinion, that Caesar should disband his army by a certain day, and should he not do so, he should be considered as a public enemy. Marcus Antonius and Quintus Cassius, tribunes of the people, here announced their vetoes. At once the question was raised as to the validity of their vetoes. Violent opinions were uttered. Whoever spoke with the greatest bitterness and cruelty was most loudly applauded by Caesar’s enemies.

The Senate having broken up in the evening, all who belonged to that body were summoned by Pompey. He commended the bold talkers and secured their votes for the next day; the more moderate he reproved and excited against Caesar. Many veterans from all parts, who had served in Pompey’s armies, were invited to his standard by the hopes of rewards and promotions. Several officers of the two legions that had been delivered up by Caesar [to Pompey] were sent for. The city and assembly place were crowded with tribunes, centurions, and veterans. All the consul’s friends, all Pompey’s connections, all those who bore any old grudge against Caesar, were forced into the Senate House. By their concourse and asseverations the timid were awed, the irresolute confirmed, and the actual majority deprived of the power to speak their minds freely.

Lucius Piso, the censor, offered to go to Caesar, and so did Lucius Roscius, the praetor, to tell him of how matters stood, and they asked only six days to dispatch their business. Also some opinions were expressed that commissioners should be sent to Caesar to acquaint him with the Senate’s pleasure; [but] all these proposals were rejected, and all were opposed in the harangues of the consul [Lentulus], Scipio, and Cato.

An old enmity against Caesar and chagrin at a [former] defeat goaded on Cato. Lentalus was spurred by the magnitude of his debts, and the hopes of having the government of an army and provinces, and by the presents which he expected from such princes as should get the title of “Friends of the Roman People.” He boasted among his friends that, “He would be a second Sulla, and to him the supreme power would return.” Like hopes of a province and armies which he expected to share with Pompey on account of his [marriage]connection prompted Scipio. Besides that, he had the fear of being called to trial ; and he was moved too by the adulation and an ostentatious display of himself and his friends in power, who at that time had great influence in the administration and the law courts.  As for Pompey, he was stirred up by Caesar’s enemies, and was also unwilling that any man should be his equal in public dignity; consequently, he was now utterly cut off from Caesar’s friendship. He had reconciled himself with their common enemies, though most of these enemies he had himself brought upon Caesar, while the latter was his ally. Then, too, he was chagrined at the disgrace he had incurred by converting two legions from their expedition through Asia and Syria to increase his own power. He was, therefore, anxious for war.

Under these circumstances everything was done in a hasty and disorderly manner, and no time was given to Caesar’s kinsmen to inform him of what was happening, nor liberty to the tribunes of the plebs to set forth the peril they were exposed to, or even to retain the last privilege which Sulla had left them, of using their vetoes. On the seventh day [of the new year] they were obliged to think of their personal safety, something that the most violent plebeian tribunes had not been accustomed to be troubled about, or to fear being brought to book for their actions before the eighth month. Recourse was had to that extreme and final decree of the Senate, – though never had it been resorted to by daring innovators save when the city was in peril of incendiarism, or public safety was despaired of, – “That the Consuls, Praetors, and Plebeian Tribunes, and Proconsuls in the City should see to it that the state suffers no hurt.” These decrees were dated the 8th of January, therefore, in the first five days on which the Senate could meet, from the day on which Lentulus entered into his consulate, the two [intervening] days of election excepted, the severest and most virulent decrees were passed against Caesar’s government, and against those most illustrious dignitaries – the Plebeian Tribunes. The latter at once made their escape from the city and withdrew to Caesar, who was then at Ravenna awaiting an answer to his moderate demands, [hoping that] matters could be brought to a peaceful termination by any act of justice on the part of his enemies.

During the next days the Senate was convened outside the city. Pompey repeated the same things which he had declared through Scipio. He applauded the courage and firmness of the Senate, acquainted them with his force, and told them that he had ten legions ready; besides he was informed and assured that Caesar’s soldiers were disaffected, and he could not persuade them to defend or even to follow him. [The Senate then voted all kinds of military levies and money for Pompey. The provinces were distributed among Caesar’s enemies in a most headlong and disorderly manner.] Levies were made throughout Italy, arms demanded and money exacted from the municipal towns, and violently taken from the temples. . . .

[When the news came to Caesar he appealed to his army, especially dwelling on the unprecedented wrongs done the tribunes, and the troops cried out they would follow him.]

William Stearns Davis, Readings in Ancient History Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, vol. II Rome and the West (Boston:  Allyn and Bacon, 1913), 144-149. Located on the Internet Archive:

https://archive.org/stream/readingsinancien00davi#page/144/mode/2up

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Western Civilization-An Open Source Book by Ryan P. Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.