XIV. THE MASTER SPIRITS OF THIS AGE.
Rome was now ruled by an oligarchy, - that is, the control of public affairs fell into the hands of a few persons. There was an evident tendency, however, towards the union of all the functions of governmental authority in the person of a single man, whenever one should be found of sufficient strength to grasp them. The younger Gracchus had exercised almost supreme control, and Marius, Cinna, and Sulla had followed him; but their power had perished with them, leaving no relics in the fundamental principles of the government, except as it marked stages in the general progress. Now other strong men arise who pursue the same course, and lead directly up to the concentration of supreme authority in the hands of one man, and he not a consul, nor a tribune, nor a dictator, but an emperor, a titled personage never before known in Rome. With this culmination the life of the populus Romanus was destined to end.
A dramatist endeavoring to depict public life at Rome during the period following the death of Sulla, would find himself embarrassed by the multitude of men of note crowding upon his attention. One of the eldest of these was Quintus Sertorius, a soldier of chivalric bravery, who had come into prominence during the Marian wars in Gaul. He had at that time won distinction by boldly entering the camp of the Teutones disguised as a spy, and bringing away valuable information, before the battle at Aix. When Sulla was fighting Mithridates, Sertorius was on the side of Cinna, and had to flee from the city with him. When the battle was fought at the Colline gate, Sertorius served with his old comrade Marius, whom he did not admire, and with Cinna, but we do not know that he shared the guilt of the massacre that followed. Certainly he punished the slaves that surrounded Marius for their cruel excesses. When Sulla returned, Sertorius escaped to Spain, where he raised an army, and achieved so much popularity that the Romans at home grew very jealous of him. [Footnote: Sertorius is almost the only one among the statesmen of antiquity who seems to have recognized the modern truth, that education is a valuable aid in making a government firm. He established a school in Spain in which boys of high rank, dressed in the garb of Romans, learned the languages that still form the basis of a classical education, while they were also held as hostages for the good behavior of their elders. He was not a philanthropist, but a sagacious ruler, and the author of Latin colonies in the West. He was for a time accompanied by a white fawn, which he encouraged the superstitious barbarians to believe was a familiar spirit, by means of which he communicated with the unseen powers and ensured his success.] He did not intentionally go to live in Spain, but having heard that there were certain islands out in the Atlantic celebrated since the days of Plato as the abode of the blest; where gentle breezes brought soft dews to enrich the fertile soil; where delicate fruits grew to feed the inhabitants without their trouble or labor; where the yellow-haired Rhadamanthus was refreshed by the whistling breezes of Zephyrus; he longed to find them and live in peace and quiet, far from the rush of war and the groans of the oppressed. From this bright vision he was turned, but perhaps his efforts to establish a merciful government in Spain may be traced to its influence.
Another prominent man on the stage at this time was a leader of the aristocratic party, Marcus Crassus, who lived in a house that is estimated to have cost more than a quarter of a million dollars. Probably he would not have been very prominent if his father had not left him a small fortune, to which he had added very largely by methods that we can hardly consider noble. It is said that when the Sullan proscription was going on, he obtained at ruinously low prices the estates that the proscribed had to give up, and, whenever there was a fire, he would be on the spot ready to buy the burning or ruined buildings for little or nothing. He owned many slaves who were accomplished as writers, silversmiths, stewards, and table-waiters, whom he let out to those who wished their services, and thus added largely to his income. He did not build any houses, except the one in which he lived, for he agreed with the proverb which says that fools build houses for wise men to live in, though "the greatest part of Rome sooner or later came into his hands," as Plutarch observes. He was of that sordid, avaricious character which covets wealth merely for the desire to be considered rich, for the vulgar popularity that accompanies that reputation, and not for ambition or enjoyment. He was said to be uninfluenced by the love of luxury or by the other passions of humanity. He was not a man of extensive learning, though he was pretty well versed in philosophy and in history, and by pains and industry had made himself an accomplished orator. He could thus wield a great influence by his speeches to the people from the rostra.