78-60 B.C.

66-63 B.C.

The conspiracy of Catiline

Cicero denounces Catilina
Cesare Maccari (1840-1919)

Upon the death of Sylla, the jealousies of Pompey and Crassus, the two most powerful men in the empire, began to excite fresh dissentions. Pompey was the most beloved general, and Crassus was the richest man in Rome. These dissentions led to the conspiracy of Catiline.

The first mutual jealousy was upon the disbanding their troops, with which they had conquered. Neither chose to begin; but at length, Crassus, stifling his resentment, laid down his command, and the other followed. The next trial was, who should be foremost in obtaining the favor of the people.

Crassus entertained the population at a thousand tables, distributed corn to the poor, and fed the greater part of the citizens for nearly three months. Pompey, on the other hand, labored to abrogate the laws made against the people's authority, by Sylla : he restored to the knights the power of judging, which had been formerly granted them by Gracchus, and gave back to the tribunes of the people, all their former privileges.

The expedition in which Pompey cleared the Mediterranean of pirates, added greatly to his reputation. But the victories of Pompey rather served to heighten the glory, than to increase the power of Rome.

While he was pursuing his conquests abroad, Rome was at the very verge of ruin from a conspiracy at home.

This conspiracy was projected and carried on by Sergius Catiline, a patrician by birth, who resolved to build his own power on the ruins of his country.

Catiline having contracted many debts by an ill-spent life, was resolved to extricate himself from them. He assembled about thirty of his debauched associates, and informed them of his aims. It was resolved among them, that a general insurrection should be raised throughout Italy, the different parts of which, were assigned to their different leaders. Rome was to be set on fire in several places at once, and Catiline, at the head of an army raised in Etruria, was, in the general confusion, to possess himself of the city, and massacre all the senators.

Lentulus, one of his profligate assistants, was to preside in their general councils : Cethegus was to direct the massacre. Cicero, being a chief obstacle to their designs, two knights undertook to kill him in his bed; but Cicero had information of the plot : and having taken proper precaution to guard himself against their designs, he took care to provide for the defence of the city; and assembling the senate, consulted what was best to be done. The first step taken was, to offer a considerable reward for further discoveries, and then to prepare for the defence of the state.

Catiline went to the senate, declaring his innocence; but when confronted by the eloquence of Cicero, he hastily withdrew. After a conference with Lentulus and Cethegus, he left Rome by night for Etruria, where Manlius was raising an army to support him.

Cicero took proper precautions to secure all those of the conspiracy who remained in Rome. Lentulus, Cethegus, and several others, were strangled in prison.

While his associates were put to death in the city, Catiline had raised an army of 12000 men; but upon the approach of the consul who was sent against him, and hearing that his confederates were put to death in Rome, he attempted to make his escape over the Apennines into Gaul; but being hemmed in on every side, and seeing all things desperate, he resolved to make one vigorous effort against the army which pursued him.

Antonius, the consul, being sick, the command devolved upon his lieutenant, Petreius, who, after a fierce and bloody action, put Catiline's forces to the rout, and destroyed his whole army.

60 B.C.

The first Triumvirate

The extinction of the conspiracy of Catiline, seemed to leave an open theatre for the ambition of the great men of the state. Pompey was now returned in triumph from conquering the East, as he had before been victorious in Europe and Africa. Crassus and Pompey had long been disunited by an opposition of interests and characters.

It was in this situation of things, that Julius Caesar, who had lately gone praetor into Spain, and had returned with great riches and glory, resolved to convert their mutual jealousy to his own advantage. This celebrated man was nephew to Marius by the female line, and descended from one of the most illustrious families in Rome; he had been quaestor, aedile, grand pontiff, and praetor, in Spain. He warmly espoused the side of the people, and began by offering his services to Pompey.

Pompey readily granted him his confidence and protection. He next applied to Crassus, who, from former connexions, was disposed to become still more nearly his friend.

At length finding neither of them averse to a union of interest, he took an opportunity of bringing them together, and reasoned with them on the advantages of a reconciliation.

A combination was formed, by which the three agreed, that nothing should be done in the commonwealth, without their mutual concurrence and approbation. This was called the first Triumvirate (60 B.C.).

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