Sulla was scarcely dead before an attempt was made to overthrow the aristocratic constitution which he had established. The Consul M. Lepidus had already, as we have seen, endeavored to prevent the burial of Sulla in the Campus Martius. He now proposed to repeal the Dictator's laws; but the other Consul, Q. Catulus, remained firm to the aristocracy, and offered the most strenuous opposition to the measures of his colleague. Shortly afterward the Senate ordered Lepidus to repair to Farther Gaul, which had been assigned to him as his Province; but he availed himself of the opportunity to collect an army in Etruria, and at the beginning of the following year marched straight upon Rome. The Senate assembled an army, which they placed under the command of Q. Catulus, with Pompey as his lieutenant. A battle was fought near the Mulvian bridge, in which Lepidus was defeated, and, finding it impossible to maintain his footing in Italy, he sailed with the remainder of his forces to Sardinia, where he died soon afterward.
Meantime the remainder of the Marian party found refuge in Spain. Q. Sertorius, one of the ablest of their generals, had received the government of this country in the year B.C. 82. He soon acquired an extraordinary ascendency over the minds of the natives, and flattered them with the hope of establishing an independent state which might bid defiance to Rome. His influence was enhanced by the superstition of the people. He was accompanied on all occasions by a tame fawn, which they believed to be a familiar spirit. So attached did they become to his person, that he found no difficulty in collecting a formidable army, which for some years successfully opposed all the power of Rome. After defeating several generals whom Sulla had sent against him, he had to encounter, in B.C. 79, Q. Metellus, who had been Consul the previous year with Sulla. But Metellus did not fare much better than his predecessors; and in B.C. 78 Sertorius was re-enforced by a considerable body of troops which Perperna carried with him into Spain after the defeat of Lepidus. The growing power of Sertorius led the Senate to send Pompey to the assistance of Metellus. Pompey, though only 30 years of age, was already regarded as the ablest general of the Republic; and as he played such a prominent part in the later history, we may here pause to give a brief account of his early career.
POMPEY was born B.C. 106, and was, as we have already seen, the son of Cn. Pompeius Strabo, who fought against the Italians in his Consulship, B.C. 89. The young Pompey served under his father in this war, when he was only 17 years of age, and continued with him till his death two years afterward. He was present at the battle of the Colline Gate in B.C. 87, and shortly afterward he saved the life of his father, and quelled an insurrection of the soldiers by his courage and activity. As soon as Sulla had finished the Mithridatic war, and was on his way to Italy, Pompey, instead of waiting, like the other leaders of the aristocracy, for the arrival of their chief, resolved to share with him the glory of crushing the Marian party. Accordingly, he proceeded to levy troops in Picenum without holding any public office; and such was his personal influence that he was able to raise an army of three legions. Before joining Sulla he gained a brilliant victory over the Marian generals, and was received by Sulla with the greatest distinction. Upon the conclusion of the war in Italy Pompey was sent first into Sicily, and afterward into Africa, where the Marian party still held out. His success was rapid and decisive. In a few months he reduced the whole of Numidia, and, unlike other Roman governors, abstained from plundering the province. His military achievements and his incorruptibility procured him the greatest renown, and he returned to Rome covered with glory (B.C. 80). Numbers flocked out of the city to meet him; and the Dictator himself, who formed one of the crowd, greeted him with the surname of MAGNUS or the GREAT, which he bore ever afterward. Sulla at first refused to let him triumph. Hitherto no one but a Dictator, Consul, or Prætor had enjoyed this distinction; but as Pompey insisted upon the honor, Sulla gave way, and the young general entered Rome in triumph as a simple Eques, and before he had completed his 25th year.
Pompey again exhibited his power in promoting, in B.C. 79, the election of M. Æmilius Lepidus to the Consulship, in opposition to the wishes of Sulla. The latter had now retired from public affairs, and contented himself with warning Pompey, as he met him returning from the comitia in triumph, "Young man, it is time for you not to slumber, for you have strengthened your rival against yourself" Lepidus seems to have reckoned upon the support of Pompey; but in this he was disappointed, for Pompey remained faithful to the aristocracy, and thus saved his party. He fought at the Mulvian bridge against Lepidus, as we have already related, and afterward marched into Cisalpine Gaul against the remains of his party. The Senate, who now began to dread Pompey, ordered him to disband his army; but he found various excuses for evading this command, as he was anxious to obtain the command of the war against Sertorius in Spain. They hesitated, however, to give him this opportunity for gaining fresh distinction and additional power; and it was only in consequence of the increasing power of Sertorius that they at length unwillingly determined to send Pompey to Spain, with the title of Proconsul, and with powers equal to Metellus.
Pompey arrived in Spain in B.C. 76. He soon found that he had a more formidable enemy to deal with than any he had yet encountered. He suffered several defeats, and, though he gained some advantages, yet such were his losses that at the end of two years he was obliged to send to Rome for re-enforcements. The war continued three years longer; but Sertorius, who had lost some of his influence over the Spanish tribes, and who had become an object of jealousy to M. Perperna and his principal Roman officers, was unable to carry on operations with the same vigor as during the two preceding years. Pompey accordingly gained some advantages over him, but the war was still far from a close; and the genius of Sertorius would probably have soon given a very different aspect to affairs had he not been assassinated by Perperna in B.C. 72. Perperna had flattered himself that he should succeed to the power of Sertorius; but he soon found that he had murdered the only man who was able to save him from ruin. In his first battle with Pompey he was completely defeated, his principal officers slain, and himself taken prisoner. Anxious to save his life, he offered to deliver up to Pompey the papers of Sertorius, containing letters from many of the leading men at Rome. But Pompey refused to see him, and commanded the letters to be burnt. The war was now virtually at an end, and the remainder of the year was employed in subduing the towns which still held out against Pompey. Metellus had taken no part in the final struggle with Perperna, and Pompey thus obtained the credit of bringing the war to a conclusion. The people longed for his return, that he might deliver Italy from Spartacus and his horde of gladiators, who had defeated the Consuls, and were in possession of a great part of the peninsula.
A righteous retribution had overtaken the Romans for their love of the cruel sports of the amphitheatre. The gladiators were generally prisoners taken in war, and sold to persons who trained them in schools for the Roman games. There was such a school at Capua, and among the gladiators was a Thracian of the name of Spartacus, originally a chief of banditti, who had been taken prisoner by the Romans, and was now destined to be butchered for their amusement. Having prevailed upon about 70 of his comrades, he burst out of the school with them, succeeded in obtaining arms, and took refuge in the crater of Vesuvius, at that time an extinct volcano (B.C. 73). Here he was soon joined by large numbers of slaves, who flocked to him from all quarters. He was soon at the head of a formidable army. The desolation of the Social and Civil Wars had depopulated Italy, while the employment of slave-labor furnished Spartacus with an endless supply of soldiers. In addition to this, the war with Sertorius was not yet finished, and that with Mithridates, of which we shall speak presently, had already commenced. For upward of two years Spartacus was master of Italy, which he laid waste from the foot of the Alps to the southernmost corner of the peninsula. In B.C. 72 he found himself at the head of 100,000 men, and defeated both Consuls. As the Consuls of the following year had no military reputation, the conduct of the war was intrusted to the Prætor, M. Licinius Crassus, who had greatly distinguished himself in the wars of Sulla. He had been rewarded by the Dictator with donations of confiscated property, and had accumulated an immense fortune. Six legions were now given him in addition to the remains of the Consular armies already in the field. The Roman troops were disheartened and disorganized by defeat, but Crassus restored discipline by decimating the soldiers. Spartacus was driven to the extreme point of Bruttium. Crassus drew strong lines of circumvallation around Rhegium, and by his superior numbers prevented the escape of the slaves. Spartacus now attempted to pass over to Sicily, where he would have been welcomed by thousands of followers. He failed in the attempt to cross the straits, but at length succeeded in forcing his way through the lines of Crassus. The Roman general hastened in pursuit, and in Lucania fell in with the main body of the fugitives. A desperate battle ensued, in which Spartacus perished, with the greater part of his followers. About 6000 were taken prisoners, whom Crassus impaled on each side of the Appian road between Rome and Capua. A body of 5000 made their way northward, whom Pompey met as he was returning from Spain, and cut to pieces. Crassus had, in reality, brought the war to an end, but Pompey took the credit to himself, and wrote to the Senate, saying, "Crassus, indeed, has defeated the enemy, but I have extirpated them by the roots"
Pompey and Crassus now approached the city at the head of their armies, and each laid claim to the Consulship. Neither of them was qualified by the laws of Sulla. Pompey was only in his 35th year, and had not even held the office of Quæstor. Crassus was still Prætor, and two years ought to elapse before he could become Consul. Pompey, however, agreed to support the claims of Crassus, and the Senate dared not offer open opposition to two generals at the head of powerful armies. Pompey, moreover, declared himself the advocate of the popular rights, and promised to restore the Tribunitian power. Accordingly, they were elected Consuls for the following year. Pompey entered the city in triumph on the 31st of December, B.C. 71, and Crassus enjoyed the honor of an ovation.
The Consulship of Pompey and Crassus (B.C. 70) was memorable for the repeal of the most important portions of Sulla's constitutional reforms. One of Pompey's first acts was to redeem the pledge he had given to the people, by bringing forward a law for the restoration of the Tribunitian power. The law was passed with little opposition; for the Senate felt that it was worse than useless to contend against Pompey, supported as he was by the popular enthusiasm and by his troops, which were still in the immediate neighborhood of the city. He also struck another blow at the aristocracy. By one of Sulla's laws, the Judices, during the last ten years, had been chosen from the Senate. The corruption and venality of the latter in the administration of justice had excited such general indignation that some change was clamorously demanded by the people. Accordingly, the Prætor L. Aurelius Cotta, with the approbation of Pompey, proposed a law by which the Judices were to be taken in future from the Senate, Equites, and Tribuni Ærarii, the latter probably representing the wealthier members of the third order in the state. This law was likewise carried; but it did not improve the purity of the administration of justice, since corruption was not confined to the Senators, but pervaded all classes of the community alike. Pompey had thus broken with the aristocracy, and had become the great popular hero. In carrying both these measures he was strongly supported by Cæsar, who, though he was rapidly rising in popular favor, could as yet only hope to weaken the power of the aristocracy through Pompey's means.