CHAPTER XXVIII. TROUBLES AT ROME. - CONSPIRACY OF CATILINE.
While Pompey was absent in the East, matters at Rome were daily becoming worse, and shaping themselves for the speedy overthrow of the Republic. There were many who had suffered under Sulla, and who were anxious to regain what they had lost, and there were many who, enriched by the Dictator, had squandered their ill-gotten wealth, and now only waited a leader to renew the assault upon the state. The Senate was jealous of the power of the people, and the people distrusted the Senate.
Among the patricians who were aspiring to the consulship was LUCIUS SERGIUS CATILÍNA, a villain steeped in every crime, but adroit, bold, and withal captivating. In 68 he had been Praetor, the next year Governor in Africa, where by his extortions he had obtained enough money, as he hoped, to purchase his election to the consulship. On his return home he was impeached for his misgovernment, but acquitted through Cicero's defence and the careful selection of a jury.
He then came forward as candidate for the consulship of the next year (63). There were two other candidates, Antonius, the uncle of Mark Antony, and Cicero himself. Antony was sure of an election, so the struggle was really between Catiline and Cicero. The latter was elected, owing to the popularity he had acquired by his prosecution of Verres and his defence of the Manilian Law. Thus Cicero reached the goal for which he had been so long striving.
Caesar was rising at the same time. The year previous (65) he had been Curule Aedile, had built a row of costly columns in front of the Capitol, and erected a temple to the Dioscúri (Castor and Pollux). But what made him especially pleasing to the populace was his lavish display at the public games and exhibitions.
Caesar was now looked upon as a prominent democratic leader. In 63 the office of Pontifex Maximus, the head of the state religion, became vacant by the death of its occupant, Metellus Pius. Caesar became a candidate for the office, and was elected, receiving more votes than both the rival candidates combined. He also received further evidence of the popular favor by being chosen Praetor for the next year (62).
Cicero's consulship would have closed without adding anything to his fame had it not been for Catiline. The latter's failure to be elected caused him to enter into a plot to seize and burn the city. He had many followers, men of noble families, among whom were the former Consul Lentulus, who had been recently expelled from the Senate by the Censors, and Cethégus, a bankrupt spendthrift, who was anxious to regain a fortune by a change in government. There were veterans of Sulla, starving peasants who had been dispossessed of their farms, and outlaws of every description. The conspirators were divided into two parties; those outside of the city, headed by Marcus Manlius, whose head-quarters were at Faesulae (Fiesole), where was gathered an army of trained soldiers; and those inside of the city, headed by Catiline. Here secret meetings were held, the purpose of which was to excite an uprising, kill the magistrates, seize the government, and then unite with the army in Etruria. Cicero was informed of these meetings by spies, and just before the plans for the uprising were matured, he disclosed them to the Senate.
Catiline fled from Rome; but his accomplices, of whom Lentulus and Cethégus were the most prominent, were arrested in the city. A serious difficulty now arose as to the disposition of the prisoners. Lentulus was at that time Praetor, and the persons of public officers were sacred. The Sempronian Law of Gracchus forbade the executing of any Roman citizen without giving him a right of appeal to the Assembly. Too many were implicated in the conspiracy for this to be safe.
In the debate in the Senate, the principal speakers were Caesar, Cato, and Cicero.
Cato and Cicero advocated immediate death; Caesar, imprisonment for life. The motives of the men are so characteristic that they form a complete key to their several public careers. Cicero, vain and selfish, weak in council, and distrustful of the temper of the people and of his own ability to rule their factions, feared that they would become dangerous enemies to himself; Cato, desiring the reformation of the state, would make an example and warning for the future. The one, forgetful of the state, was overcome by personal fears; the other, unmindful of self, would have purity at any cost.
Caesar, on the other hand, wished everything done in strict accordance with the laws; as a bold and wise statesman, he urged that nothing was more impolitic than lawless violence on the part of the rulers. Cicero was the timid magistrate; Cato, the injudicious reformer; but Caesar, with his keener knowledge and stronger hand, was the safer guide.
A sentence of death was voted; and Cicero, with unseemly haste, caused the conspirators to be strangled that same night (December 5, 63). The suppression of the conspiracy in the city was followed by the defeat of the army in Etruria. Thither Catiline had fled, and there he fell fighting with desperate courage at the head of his motley force of soldiers near Pistoria.
The name of "Father of his Country" was given to Cicero for the vigilance shown in this affair.
The execution of Lentulus and Cethégus resulted as Caesar had expected. It was a lawless act on the part of the Consul and the Senate, and it was felt that by it the constitution was still more endangered. The people demanded that Pompey return. In him they thought to have a deliverer from internal strifes.