Hello all my name is Samuel Runge and welcome to my blog, one that my brother Nathan long ago first suggested I start, no doubt to transfer the burden of listening to my rants from himself to bored and assumedly nerdy individuals surfing the Internet. Nevertheless it was only at the beginning of my uni holidays (now drawing to a close) that I resolved to create one as I had many things I wished to rant about and precious few people to rant too. Which is I imagine why many people have blogs, so they can pretend their not talking to themselves, the nearest wall or the family pet. Unfortunately it was still quite some time till I got a blog as I required technical assistance and in the meantime I lost my ‘inspiration’- If you can call it that and had no idea what to say. Thus now you know why this place has been postless for so long.
Anyway we’ll start our adventures in history on the (relatively) well trodden path of the late Roman Republic, specifically by revisiting in blog form some musings I made while doing the excellent course Ciceronian Rome at Macquarie University. Those of you who (like me) had the pleasure of doing this course would have assumedly also done its predecessor: Rome: from Republic to Empire (itself an excellent course), which covered the immediately preceding period in Roman history to Ciceronian Rome, that being roughly from the 3rd Punic war till the death of Sulla.
Now the decline and fall of the Republic is generally portrayed as well…..a decline, at least in terms of stability (Rome continued to expand its territories at quite a pace during this period) with some exceptions until Augustus and the Principate and there’s a lot to be said for this conception, certainly civil wars, the first of which occurred near the end of the period covered in the Rome: from Republic to Empire with Sulla squaring off against Marius, Cinna, Carbo and co. (for simplicities sake lets not count the Social war as a civil war, I know thats a stretch but I want to get to my point before 5 in the morning). In the period between the death of Sulla and the death of Cicero (roughly the Ciceronian Rome timespan-and well under a century) you have quite a few more civil wars, with more still following between Cicero’s death and the suicide’s of Antony and Cleopatra, we also have proscriptions and mob and gang violence on a grand scale (Clodius and Milo and their homeboys in particular) as well as the most formidable slave revolt in Roman history (though I suspect the slave part has been overstated).
Yet one form of violence and civil strife appears to have become notably less prevalent (at the very least in comparison with the rise in other forms of political violence) post Sulla then in the decades preceding him beginning all the way back with the Grachii (in other words very roughly the Rome from republic to empire period) when Rome’s social fabric is just beginning to visibly tear (pedants you get what I mean), that being the assassination, murder and lynching of radical tribune’s of the plebs by and large by irate aristocrats. Seriously in the period from the Grachii up to and including Sulla’s first march on Rome, it seems like whenever Rome’s aristocracy had a slow day in the senate, discussing tax reform in Sardinia or something they decided to blow off steam by going on a tribune hunt (like a fox hunt except without woods, without horses, with Togas, furniture legs instead of guns and rabid old blue bloods frothing at the mouth instead of pedigree breed hunting dogs frothing at the mouth….see not much difference at all…..oh and a tribune instead of a fox). You know kinda like Africa and military coups and French uni students and rioting, we all need to pass the time of day somehow.
alright to illustrate my point lets go through them, first off Tiberius Gracchus bites the dust, followed by his little brother Gauis, then Saturninus and Lucius Equitius followed by Livius Drusus and then finally Sulpicius (please tell me if I missed anyone), all supposedly inviolate Tribune’s of the plebs cut down while in office (not that some of them left their rivals much choice) most killers facing nor form of formal punishment (though often the enmity of much of Rome’s non-senatorial orders). By comparison in the period covered by Ciceronian Rome (after which Tribunes seem to become an irrelevancy) while there was much violence incited by and against active tribune’s (though if of a serious nature this was normally limited to some of their followers), nor were threats rare such as those made by the consuls (I think it was them…) against the tribune’s Marcus Antonius and Cassius (the famous assassins brother) that led to thier flight from Rome to their patron, Julius Caesar and the threats made by the same Caesar against a tribune that tried to deny him access to the state reasury.
All the same I can not name a single tribune known to have been cut down in office during this time period, a speech attributed to the tribune Macer in one of the fragments of Sallust’s history seems to imply that a certain Sicinius was murdered by a faction of nobles but that seems to be contested and its very difficult to find more information on him (particularly If your lazy and presently only have access to the internet and your own books) but thats about it. yet little seems to suggest that this was due among the nobility to a newfound respect for the sacrosanctity of Tribunes of the Plebs (or the sacrosanctity of anyone else for that matter as Caesar was to find out the hard way…) as evidenced by the above threats and intimidation as well as violence on a lesser scale.
So why then? how with everything else going to Tartarus in a vomitorium did being an uppity tribune actually become safer (allowing for the fact that it was generally speaking becoming more dangerous to be a politician- or even just rich period)!?
Ironically the tribune’s of Cicero’s time may at least in part have Sulla to thank, Sulla who marched an army on Rome and killed Sulpicius, Sulla who did to the powers of the Tribune’s what the words “Democratic republic of” before the name of a nation do to that nations chances of being either. Sulla, Sulla, Marius, Pompey and Crassus.
let’s start at the beginning with Marius himself an uppity Tribune once, why Marius? Because he started two important precedents that I believe were key role in redefining the role of the active, populist tribune in particular and tribunes in general. The first precedent- Marius’s reform of the army is well known to Roman Republican history buffs (even if some of what he supposedly did is contested), the Marian army reforms were key in switching the primary loyalty of many an army from the state at large to the general of the army in question and secondly he was the first of the new model of Roman general to bring into his service violent, agitating demagogue tribunes (both Saturninus and Sulpicius) in order to further his own aims, in exchange he offered the political support of the most distinguished living Roman, not that Saturninus and Sulpicius were small fish (especially Saturninus who appears to have been the most prominent tribune of his time) but one suspects that they and Marius were not equal partners. Indeed After Pompey and Crassus restored the rights of the Tribunes ambitious generals using tribune’s as their instruments seems to almost become the norm (see Curio, Vatinius and the aforementioned Antony and Cassius for Caesar and Manlius and Gabinius for Pompey etc).
This is significant as from the little I know of the Grachii despite their youth and the support that they possessed from a number of highly influential elder statesmen as tribunes they don’t seem to have been anyone’s junior partners, neither (by the even less I know about him) does Drusus -who I believe was after Saturninus, so the transition from “independent” (no Roman politician could thrive without allies and supporters) player to junior ally of a bigger fish for the tribune of the plebs was neither a complete transformation nor accomplished overnight.
Then comes Sulla, though his rival Marius had no qualms with violence and the legally dubious, it was Sulla who backed into a corner by Marius that raised the stakes, marching an army on Rome, not once but twice, showing for the first time the full scope of what Marius’s reforms allowed an ambitious (or otherwise finished) general to do. The precedent was set, the era of civil wars had begun. Sulla’s army on his first march on Rome demonstrated that a mob whipped up by a radical tribune was no match for a professional army, after his second seizure of Rome he initiated a reign of terror, robbed the tribune’s of the plebs of virtually all their authority and demonstrated that it was from generals and their armies not Tribune’s and their rabble rousing that the greatest threat to the aristocracy, the senate and its power came from.
Between the death of Sulla and the 1st consulship of Pompey and Crassus there was much agitation and pressure to restore the powers of the tribune’s of the plebs, slowly a few powers were given back until Pompey and Crassus two generals who had camped their respective armies just outside Rome before the consular elections, something which doubtless played a large role in getting them elected gained great popularity by restoring all the rights of the Tribune’s of the plebs as they stood pre-Sulla.
I think its important to note who and under what circumstances the powers of the tribunes were both taken away and returned in full on both occasions a powerful general/generals who had risen to his/their position/s by the use or the threat of force was responsible, the Imperator giveth and taketh away. I can not think of a better example of the shift in power, the fate of Sulpicius had shown that even if a tribune gained control of Rome through violence, enemies and opportunists could use the opportunity to march an army on Rome, one wonders whether a Saturninus or Sulpicius would ever have dared go as far as they did in post-Sullan Rome, Sulla had shown the tribunes (and those who would oppose them) the limits of their power, however the years following Sulla up to and including Pompey and Crassus’s first consulship revealed another truth to the many senators opposed to the restoration of the tribune’s powers, that being that the tribunate still had its place and those that aimed to return its powers would receive great accolades and influence and those that opposed it, mounting pressure and popular hostility.
Thus I suspect that the notable decline in the tribune assassination rate has something to do with both the tribunes and those senators opposed to populist tribunes coming to realise just how far they could effectively push each other with any degree of success, radical tribunes had a habit of being killed and attempts by them to run roughshod over all opposition by force risked military intervention on the one hand, on the other hand however the attempt to turn the tribunate into a lame duck had been both dangerous and an abject failure. Furthermore as mentioned above many of the most prominent tribunes of the post Sulla period achieved their prominence acting as the agents of powerful generals, threatening much less actually killing a Pompey or a Caesar’s representative could leave them feeling the need to recourse to more direct methods (like crossing a certain small stream in North Italy…..) to get what they want or merely to ensure their own safety (If someone offs your supposedly sacrosanct political representative with impunity in broad daylight thats rather easy to take as a personal threat), the threats directed at the tribune’s Antony and Cassius, though no doubt also aimed at disposing of a nuisance were primarily in effect a (in my opinion) a declaration of war against Julius Caesar.
None of this is to say that violence disappeared or that Tribune’s of the Plebs were never important or powerful post Sulla.
In conclusion if a primary cause (secondary cause mentioned at beginning of preceding paragraph) must be given for the marked reduction in the assassination of Tribune’s it was the rise of generals whose soldiers were loyal to them above the senate this created an atmosphere in which it was increasingly inviable (or rather more obviously so) for a radical tribune to control the Republic by controlling Rome and simultaneously it was often both less beneficial and more dangerous for a Tribune’s opponents to resort to Assassination.
With Sulla Rome moved into a new hunting season: senators and Equites.