Roman Empire > Roman Empire History > Internal History Of Rome During The Macedonian And Syrian Wars. Cato And Scipio

Internal History Of Rome During The Macedonian And Syrian Wars. Cato And Scipio

The conquests of the Romans in the East had exercised a most pernicious influence upon the national character. They were originally a hardy, industrious, and religious race, distinguished by unbending integrity and love of order. They lived with great frugality upon their small farms, which they cultivated with their own hands; but they were stern and somewhat cruel, and cared little or nothing for literature and the arts. Upon such a people the sudden acquisition of wealth produced its natural effects. They employed it in the gratification of their appetites, and in coarse sensual pleasures. Some of the Roman nobles, such as Scipio Africanus, Flamininus (the conqueror of Philip), and others, acquired a love for Greek literature and art; but the great mass of the nation imitated only the vices of the Greeks. Cooks, who had formerly been the cheapest kind of slaves at Rome, now became the most valuable. A love of luxury and a general depravity gradually spread through all classes of society. A striking instance of the growing licentiousness of the times was brought to light in B.C. 186. It was discovered that the worship of Bacchus had been introduced from Southern Italy into Rome and other towns, and that secret societies were formed, which, under the cloak of this worship, indulged in the most abominable vices. A stringent inquiry was made into these practices; the most guilty were put to death; and a decree of the Senate was passed, forbidding the worship of Bacchus in Rome and throughout Italy.

Another circumstance will illustrate the manners of the times. L. Flamininus, the brother of the conqueror of Philip, and Consul in B.C. 192, took with him into Cisalpine Gaul a beautiful Carthaginian boy, to whom he was attached. The youth complained of leaving Rome just before the exhibition of the games of the gladiators. Shortly after reaching the province, when Flamininus was feasting with his favorite, a Boian chief came into the Consul's tent to implore his protection. Flamininus seized this opportunity to please the boy, and, telling him that he should be rewarded for not seeing the gladiators, he ordered an attendant to stab the Gaul, that his favorite might enjoy the dying agonies of the man.

The increasing love of gladiatorial combats was another indication of the national character. These brutalizing sports are said to have taken their origin from the Etruscans, who were accustomed to kill slaves and captives at the funerals of their relatives. They were first exhibited at Rome in the beginning of the First Punic War (B.C. 264). At first confined to funerals, they were afterward exhibited by the Ædiles at the public games, with the view of pleasing the people. The passion for this brutalizing amusement rose to a great height toward the end of the Republic and under the Empire. Great pains were taken with the training of gladiators, who were divided into different classes according to their arms and modes of fighting.

Among many other important consequences of these foreign wars, two exercised an especial influence upon the future fate of the Republic. The nobles became enormously rich, and the peasant proprietors almost entirely disappeared. The wealthy nobles now combined together to keep in their own families the public offices of the state, which afforded the means of making such enormous fortunes. Thus a new Nobility was formed, resting on wealth, and composed alike of plebeian and patrician families. Every one whose ancestry had not held any of the curule magistracies was called a New Man, and was branded as an upstart. It became more and more difficult for a New Man to rise to office, and the Nobles were thus almost an hereditary aristocracy in the exclusive possession of the government. The wealth they had acquired in foreign commands enabled them not only to incur a prodigious expense in the celebration of the public games in their ædileship, with the view of gaining the votes of the people at future elections, but also to spend large sums of money in the actual purchase of votes. The first law against bribery was passed in B.C. 181, a sure proof of the growth of the practice.

The decay of the peasant proprietors was an inevitable consequence of these frequent and long-protracted wars. In the earlier times the citizen-soldier, after a few weeks' campaign, returned home to cultivate his land; but this became impossible when wars were carried on out of Italy. Moreover, the soldier, easily obtaining abundance of booty, found life in the camp more pleasant than the cultivation of the ground. He was thus as ready to sell his land as the nobles were anxious to buy it. But money acquired by plunder is soon squandered. The soldier, returning to Rome, swelled the ranks of the poor; and thus, while the nobles became richer and richer, the lower classes became poorer and poorer. In consequence of the institution of slavery there was little or no demand for free labor, and as prisoners taken in war were sold as slaves, the slave-market was always well supplied. The estates of the wealthy were cultivated by large gangs of slaves; and even the mechanical arts, which give employment to such large numbers in the modern towns of Europe, were practiced by slaves, whom their masters had trained for the purpose. The poor at Rome were thus left almost without resources; their votes in the popular assembly were nearly the only thing they could turn into money, and it is therefore not surprising that they were ready to sell them to the highest bidder.

Many distinguished men saw with deep regret the old Roman virtues disappearing, and strove vigorously against these corruptions of the national character. Of this party the most conspicuous member was M. Porcius Cato, who may be taken as a type of the old Roman character. He was born at Tusculum in B.C. 234. When a young man, the death of his father put him in possession of a small hereditary estate in the Sabine territory, at a distance from his native town. It was here that he passed the greater part of his boyhood, hardening his body by healthful exercise, and superintending and sharing the operations of the farm. Near his estate was an humble cottage, which had been tenanted, after three triumphs, by its owner M. Curius Dentatus, whose warlike exploits and simple character were often talked of with admiration in the neighborhood. The ardor of the youthful Cato was kindled. He resolved to imitate the character, and hoped to rival the glory, of Dentatus. Opportunity was not wanting. He took his first military lessons in the campaigns against Hannibal, and gained the favor and friendship of Fabius Maximus. He was also patronized by L. Valerius Flaccus, a Roman noble in his neighborhood, and a warm supporter of the old Roman manners, who had observed Cato's eloquence, as well as his martial spirit. Encouraged by Fabius and Flaccus, Cato became a candidate for office, and was elected Quæstor in B.C. 204. He followed P. Scipio Africanus to Sicily, but there was not that cordiality of co-operation between Cato and Scipio which ought to subsist between a Quæstor and his Proconsul. Fabius had opposed the permission given to Scipio to carry the attack into the enemy's home, and Cato, whose appointment was intended to operate as a check upon Scipio, adopted the views of his friend. Cato was Prætor in Sardinia in B.C. 198, where he took the earliest opportunity of illustrating his principles by his practice. He diminished official expenses, walked his circuits with a single attendant, administered justice with strict impartiality, and restrained usury with unsparing severity. He had now established a reputation for pure morality and strict old-fashioned virtue. He was looked upon as the living type and representative of the ideal ancient Roman. To the advancement of such a man opposition was vain. In B.C. 195 he was elected Consul with his old friend and patron L. Valerius Flaccus. During his consulship a strange scene took place peculiarly illustrative of Roman manners. In B.C. 215, at the height of the Punic War, a law had been passed, proposed by the Tribune Oppius, that no woman should possess more than half an ounce of gold, nor wear a garment of divers colors, nor drive a carriage with horses within a mile of the city, except for the purpose of attending the public celebration of religious rites. Now that Hannibal was conquered, and Rome abounded with Carthaginian wealth, there being no longer any necessity for women to contribute toward the exigencies of an impoverished treasury the savings spared from their ornaments and pleasures, two Tribunes thought it time to propose the abolition of the Oppian law; but they were opposed by two of their colleagues. The most important affairs of state excited far less interest and zeal than this singular contest. The matrons blockaded every avenue to the forum, and intercepted their husbands as they approached, beseeching them to restore the ancient ornaments of the Roman matrons. Even Flaccus wavered, but his colleague Cato was inexorable. Finally, the women carried the day. Worn out by their importunity, the two Tribunes withdrew their opposition, and the hated law was abolished by the suffrage of all the tribes.

Cato's campaign in Spain during his Consulship, which added greatly to his military reputation, has been already related. He afterward served in Greece under M. Glabrio, where he distinguished himself at the battle of Thermopylæ fought against Antiochus (B.C. 191).

The victory of Zama had made P. Scipio Africanus the first man in the Republic, and for a time silenced all his enemies. But the party of Fabius still cherished their old animosity against him, and Cato inherited the hatred of his friend and patron. After the return of P. Scipio and his brother Lucius from the war against Antiochus, they were charged with having been bribed to let off the Syrian monarch too leniently, and of having appropriated to their own use a portion of the money which had been paid by Antiochus to the Roman state. The first blow was directed against Lucius Scipio. At the instigation of Cato, the two Petillii Tribunes of the people required Lucius to render an account of all sums of money which he had received from Antiochus. Lucius accordingly prepared his accounts; but, as he was in the act of delivering them up, the proud conqueror of Hannibal indignantly snatched them out of his hands, and tore them in pieces, saying "it was unworthy to call to account for a few thousands a man who had paid millions into the treasury" But this haughty conduct appears to have produced an unfavorable impression, and his brother, when brought to trial in the course of the tame year, was declared guilty, and sentenced to pay a heavy fine. The Tribune ordered him to be dragged to prison, and there detained till the money was paid; whereupon Africanus, still more enraged at this fresh insult to his family, and setting himself above the laws, rescued his brother from the hands of the Tribune's officer. The contest would probably have been attended with fatal results had not Tib. Gracchus, the father of the celebrated Tribune, and then Tribune himself, had the prudence, although he disapproved of the violent conduct of Africanus, to release his brother Lucius from the sentence of imprisonment.

The successful issue of the prosecution of Lucius emboldened his enemies to bring the great Africanus himself before the people. His accuser was the Tribune M. Nævius. When the trial came on, Scipio did not condescend to say a single word in refutation of the charges that had been brought against him, but descanted long and eloquently upon the signal services he had rendered to the commonwealth. Having spoken till nightfall, the trial was adjourned till the following day. Early next morning, when the Tribunes had taken their seats on the rostra, and Africanus was summoned, he proudly reminded the people that this was the anniversary of the day on which he had defeated Hannibal at Zama, and called upon them to neglect all disputes and lawsuits, and follow him to the Capitol, there to return thanks to the immortal gods, and pray that they would grant the Roman state other citizens like himself. Scipio struck a chord which vibrated in every heart; their veneration for the hero returned; and he was followed by such crowds to the Capitol that the Tribunes were left alone in the rostra. Having thus set all the laws at defiance, Scipio immediately quitted Rome, and retired to his country seat at Liternum. The Tribunes wished to renew the prosecution, but Gracchus wisely persuaded them to let it drop. Scipio never returned to Rome. He would neither submit to the laws, nor aspire to the sovereignty of the state, and he therefore resolved to expatriate himself forever. He passed his remaining days in the cultivation of his estate at Liternum, and at his death is said to have requested that his body might be buried there, and not in his ungrateful country (B.C. 183).

Hannibal perished in the same year as his great opponent. Scipio was the only member of the Senate who opposed the unworthy persecution which the Romans employed against their once dreaded foe. Each of these great men, possessing true nobility of soul, could appreciate the other's merits. A story is told that Scipio was one of the embassadors sent to Antiochus at Ephesus, at whose court Hannibal was then residing, and that he there had an interview with the great Carthaginian, who declared him the greatest general that ever lived. The compliment was paid in a manner the most flattering to Scipio. The latter had asked, "Who was the greatest general?" "Alexander the Great," was Hannibal's reply. "Who was the second?" "Pyrrhus" "Who was the third?" "Myself," replied the Carthaginian. "What would you have said, then, if you had conquered me?" asked Scipio, in astonishment. "I should then have placed myself above Alexander, Pyrrhus, and all other generals"

After the defeat of Antiochus, Hannibal, as we have already seen, took up his abode with Prusias, king of Bithynia, and there found for some years a secure asylum. But the Romans could not be at ease so long as Hannibal lived, and T. Flamininus was at length dispatched to the court of Prusias to demand the surrender of the fugitive. The Bithynian king was unable to resist; but Hannibal, who had long been in expectation of such an event, took poison to avoid falling into the hands of his implacable foes.

We now return to Cato, whose Censorship (B.C. 184) was a great epoch in his life. He applied himself strenuously to the duties of his office, regardless of the enemies he was making. He repaired the water-courses, paved the reservoirs, cleansed the drains, raised the rents paid by the publicani for farming the taxes, and diminished the contract-prices disbursed by the state to the undertakers of public works. There can be no doubt that great abuses existed in the management of the public finances, with which nothing but the undaunted courage and administrative abilities of Cato could have successfully grappled. He was disturbing a nest of hornets, and all his future life was troubled by their buzz, and their attempts to sting. But, though he was accused no fewer than forty-four times during the course of his life, it was only once that his enemies prevailed against him. His enactments against luxury were severe and stringent. He levied a heavy tax upon expensive slaves and costly furniture and dress. He justly degraded from the Senate L. Flamininus for the act of abominable cruelty in Gaul which has been already narrated.

The strong national prejudices of Cato appear to have diminished in force as he grew older and wiser. He applied himself in old age to the study of Greek literature, with which in youth he had no acquaintance, although he was not ignorant of the Greek language. Himself an historian and orator, the excellences of Demosthenes and Thucydides made a deep impression upon his kindred mind. But throughout life his conduct was guided by prejudices against classes and nations whose influence he deemed to be hostile to the simplicity of the old Roman character. When Eumenes, king of Pergamus, visited Rome after the war with Antiochus, and was received with honor by the Senate, and splendidly entertained by the nobles, Cato was indignant at the respect paid to the monarch, refused to go near him, and declared that "kings were naturally carnivorous animals" He had an antipathy to physicians, because they were mostly Greeks, and therefore unfit to be trusted with Roman lives. He loudly cautioned his eldest son against them, and dispensed with their attendance. When Athens sent three celebrated philosophers, Carneades, Diogenes, and Critolaüs, to Rome, in order to negotiate a remission of the 500 talents which the Athenians had been awarded to pay to the Oropians, Carneades excited great attention by his philosophical conversation and lectures, in which he preached the pernicious doctrine of an expediency distinct from justice, which he illustrated by the example of Rome herself: "If Rome were stripped of all that she did not justly gain, the Romans might go back to their huts" Cato, offended with his principles, and jealous of the attention paid to the Greek, gave advice which the Senate followed: "Let these deputies have an answer, and a polite dismissal as soon as possible"

Cato was an unfeeling and cruel master. His conduct toward his slaves was detestable. The law held them to be mere chattels, and he treated them as such, without any regard to the rights of humanity. After supper he often severely chastised them, thong in hand, for trifling acts of negligence, and sometimes condemned them to death. When they were worn out, or useless, he sold them, or turned them out of doors. He treated the lower animals no better. His war-horse, which bore him through his campaign in Spain, he sold before he left the country, that the state might not be charged with the expenses of its transport. As years advanced he sought gain with increasing eagerness, but never attempted to profit by the misuse of his public functions. He accepted no bribes; he reserved no booty to his own use; but he became a speculator, not only in slaves, but in buildings, artificial waters, and pleasure-grounds. In this, as in other points, he was a representative of the old Romans, who were a money-getting and money-loving people.

Island in the Tiber, with the Fabrician and Cestian Bridges
Island in the Tiber, with the Fabrician and Cestian Bridges
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