Mob Violence in the Late Roman Republic, 133-49 B.C

By John Wesley Heaton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
CLODIUS AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES

Although the Catilinarian conspiracy was ostensibly suppressed in summary fashion, the elements of discontent and violence remained in the state.1 Sincere efforts had been made to cure the evils underlying these manifestations by agrarian measures, grain laws, and colonization schemes, yet the mass of the citizenry was still suffering under economic bondage which eager demagogues sought to relieve through various types of entertainment and largesses. On the other hand, the upper classes reserved the fruits of the Mediterranean conquests for themselves, leaving the populace as poverty-stricken as before and the government still handicapped by the outmoded constitution of a city-state.2

Caesar, when praetor in 62 B.C., endeavored to take the leadership of these radical elements,3 with the idea of forming some kind of an alliance with Pompey, who was about to return from his successful campaign in the East. He supported the tribune Metellus in a plan to place Pompey at the head of all Italian military forces, and further proposed that Pompey should replace the senatorial Catulus as curator of the Capitol.4 But the senatorial faction, led by Cato, bent every effort toward defeating these measures, even resorting to violence.5"The result was that a battle waged with clubs and stones and swords took place between them, in which others joined assisting one side or the other."6 Finally the senatus consultum ultimum was invoked, and both Caesar and Metellus were deposed from office. Caesar, nevertheless, continued his duties until he discovered that the senate was preparing to use arms against him. Thereupon, he decided that discretion was the better part of valor and dismissed his armed followers; when a crowd of the plebs offered their services to him, he pacified them and induced them to disperse. The senate consequently decided to rescind its own illegal action and Caesar was restored to his office. Metellus, however, had already fled to Pompey in the East.7

In order to weaken Caesar's support, Cato and the senatorial party now endeavored to make use of the grain dole and thereby to attract the masses to themselves. It was provided that grain should be distributed every month among them, at a cost of 7,500,000 denarii annually. Apparently this measure was successful in reducing Caesar's power for the

____________________
1
Cic., de Dom., XXXIII; cf. Varro, R.R., I, 69, 3.
2
Cic., de Resp. Haur., XXV; Flor., I, 47.
3
Plut., Caes., 8.
4
Suet., Caes., 15-16.
5
Cic., pro Sext., XXIX; Plut., Cat. M., 26-29.
6
Dio, XXXVII, 43.
7
Suet., Caes., 16.

-63-

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