XV. PROGRESS OF THE GREAT POMPEY.
The master spirits of this remarkable age were now in full action on the stage, and it is difficult to keep the eye fixed upon all of them at once. Now one is prominent and now another; all are pushing their particular interests, while each tries to make it appear that he has nothing but the good of the state at heart. Whenever it is evident that a certain cause is the popular one, the various leaders, opposed on most subjects, are united to help it, in the hope of catching the popular breeze. During the consulship of Pompey and Catulus, Pompey was the principal Roman citizen, and he tried to make sure that his prestige should not be lessened when he should step down from his high office.
Crassus, aristocrat by birth and aristocrat by choice, had been a candidate for the senate in opposition to Pompey, but he soon found that his interest demanded that he should make peace with his powerful colleague, and as he did it, he told the people that he did not consider that his action was in any degree base or humiliating, for he simply made advances to one whom they had themselves named the Great. Crowds daily courted Pompey on account of his power; but a multitude equally numerous surrounded Crassus for his wealth, and Cicero on account of his wonderful oratory. Even Julius Cæsar, the strong Marian, who pronounced a eulogy upon his aunt, the widow of Marius, seemed also to pay homage to Pompey, when, a year later, he took to wife Pompeia, a relative of the great soldier (B.C. 67).
Both Cæsar and Pompey saw that gross corruption was practised by the chiefs of the senate when they had control of the provinces, and knew that it ought to be exposed and effectually stopped, but Cæsar was the first to take action. He was quickly followed by Pompey, however, who encouraged Cicero to denounce the crimes of Verres with the success that we have already noticed. Cicero loftily exclaimed that he did not seek to chastise a single wicked man who had abused his authority as governor, but to extinguish and blot out all wickedness in all places, as the Roman people had long been demanding; but with all his eloquence he was not able to make the people appreciate the fact that the interests of Rome were identical with the well-being and prosperity of her allies, distant or near at hand.
Both Crassus and Pompey retired from the consulship amid the plaudits of the people and with the continued friendship of the optimates. Crassus, out of his immense income, spread a feast for the people on ten thousand tables; dedicated a tenth of his wealth to Hercules; and distributed among the citizens enough grain to supply their families three months. With all his efforts, however, he could not gain the favor which Pompey apparently held with ease. For two years Pompey assumed royal manners, and gave himself up to the enjoyment of his popularity, but then beginning to fear that without some new evidence of genius he might lose the admiration of the people, he began to make broad plans to astonish them.
For years the Mediterranean Sea had been infested by daring pirates, who at last made it unsafe for a Roman noble even to drive to his sea-side villa, or a merchant to venture abroad for purposes of trade. Cities had been ravaged, and the enemies of Rome had from time to time made alliances with the marauders. The pirates dyed their sails with Tyrian purple, they inlaid their oars with silver, and they spread gold on their pennants, so rich had their booty made them. Nor were they less daring than rich; they had captured four hundred towns of importance, they had once kidnapped Cæsar himself, and held him for enormous ransom, [Footnote: This occurred in the year 76 B.C., when Cæsar, at the age of twenty-four, was on his way to Rhodes, intending to perfect himself in oratory at the school of Apollonius Molo, the teacher of Cicero, lie was travelling as a gentleman of rank, and was captured off Miletus. After a captivity of six weeks, during which he mingled freely with the games and pastimes of the pirates, though plainly assuring them that he should one day hang them all, Cæsar was liberated, on payment of a ransom of some fifty thousand dollars. Good as his word, he promptly collected a fleet of vessels, returned to the island, seized the miscreants as they were dividing their plunder, carried them off to Pergamos, and had them crucified. He then went on to Rhodes, and practised elocution for two years.] and now they threatened to cut off the entire supply of grain that came from Africa, Sardinia, and Sicily,
The crisis was evident to all, and in it Pompey saw his opportunity. In the year 67, he caused a law to be introduced by the tribune Gabinius, ordaining that a commander of consular rank should be appointed for three years, with absolute power over the sea and the coasts about it for fifty miles inland, together with a fleet of two hundred sail, with officers, seamen, and supplies. When the bill had passed, Gabinius declared that there was but one man fit to exercise such remarkable power, and it was conferred with acclamations upon Pompey, whom he nominated. The price of grain immediately fell, for every one had confidence that the dread crisis was passed. The people were right, for in a few weeks the pirates had all been brought to terms. Pompey had divided the sea into thirteen parts, and in each of them the freebooters had been encountered in open battle, driven into creeks and captured, or forced to take refuge in their castles and hunted out of them, so that those who were not taken had surrendered.