CHAPTER XXIX. THE FIRST TRIUMVIRATE.
Pompey was ostensibly at the head of the first Triumvirate, and in return supported Caesar in his candidacy for the consulship. Crassus was to contribute his wealth to influence the election. Caesar was elected without opposition (59); his colleague, the Senate's tool, was Marcus Bibulus.
Caesar had now reached the highest round in the ladder of political offices. He had shown himself in all his course to be careful in keeping within the bounds of the constitution, never exerting himself in political quarrels except to defend the law against lawlessness. Now he was in a position to push his ideas of reform, and to show the aristocracy of what stuff he was made.
It would have been well for Cicero, and better for the state, had the orator been willing to join hands with Caesar and Pompey; but he was too vain of his own glory to join hands with those who were his superiors, and he clung to the Senate, feeling that his talents would shine there more, and be more likely to redound to his own personal fame.
Caesar's consulship increased his popularity among all except the aristocrats. His AGRARIAN LAW, carefully framed and worded, was bitterly opposed by the Senate, especially by his colleague, Bibulus, and by Cato. The law provided that large tracts of the ager publicus, then held on easy terms by the rich patricians, be distributed among the veterans of Pompey. Caesar proposed to pay the holders a reasonable sum for their loss, though legally they had no claim whatever on the land. Although Bibulus interfered, Cato raved, and the Tribunes vetoed, still the Assembly passed the law, and voted in addition that the Senate be obliged to take an oath to observe it.
The LEGES JULIAE were a code of laws which Caesar drew up during his year of office. They mark an era in Roman law, for they cover many crimes the commission of which had been for a long time undermining the state.
The most important of these was the LEX DE REPETUNDIS, aimed at the abuses of governors of provinces. It required all governors to make a double return of their accounts, one to be left in the province open for inspection, the other to be kept at Rome.
When Caesar's term of office was nearly ended, he obtained from the reluctant Senate his appointment as Proconsul of Gaul for five years. He must leave the city, however, in safe hands, otherwise all his work would be undone. He managed the consular elections for the next year (58) so adroitly, that Piso and Gabinius, on whose friendship he could rely, were elected.
There were in Rome, however, two men whom it would be dangerous for Caesar to leave behind. Cato, the ultra aristocrat, hated him bitterly. Cicero, whose ambition was to lead the Senate, a body only too willing to crush Caesar, might do him great harm. It was Caesar's good fortune, or, as some believe, the result of his own scheming, that both these men were put temporarily out of the way.
CLODIUS PULCHER was a young aristocrat, notorious for his wildness. At one time, by assuming the dress of a woman, he had gained admittance to the festival of Bona Dea, which was celebrated only by women. He was discovered and brought to trial before the Senate, but acquitted by means of open bribery. Cicero had been instrumental in bringing him to trial, and Clodius never forgot it. He got adopted into a plebeian family in order to be a candidate for the tribuneship, and was successful. He then proposed to the Assembly that any person who had put to death a Roman citizen without allowing him to appeal to the people be considered a violator of the constitution. The proposal was carried. All knew that Cicero was meant, and he fled at once to Macedonia. His property was confiscated, his houses were destroyed, and his palace in the city was dedicated to the Goddess of Liberty.
The kingdom of Cyprus, which had long been attached to that of Egypt, had been bequeathed to Rome at the death of Ptolemy Alexander in 80. The Senate had delayed to accept the bequest, and meanwhile the island was ruled by Ptolemy of Cyprus, one of the heirs of the dead king.
Clodius, on the plea that this king harbored pirates, persuaded the Assembly to annex the island, and to send Cato to take charge of it. He accepted the mission, and was absent two years. His duties were satisfactorily performed, and he returned with about $7,000,000 to increase the Roman treasury. Thus, Cicero and Cato being out of the city, the Senate was without a leader who could work injury in Caesar's absence.