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Chapter 19



With Tully she her wide reviving light To senates holds, a Catiline confounds. And saves awhile from Cęsar sinking Rome.--Thomson.


1. Upon the death of Sylla, the jealousies of Pompey and Crassus, the two most powerful men in the empire, began to excite fresh dissensions. Pompey was the most beloved general, but Crassus the richest man in Rome.

2. The first opportunity that was offered of discovering their mutual jealousy, was upon disbanding their troops. Neither chose to begin; so that the most fatal consequences were likely to arise from their dissension. At length Crassus, stifling his resentment, laid down his command; and the other followed his example immediately after. 3. The next trial between them was, who should be foremost in obtaining the favour of the people. Crassus entertained the populace at a thousand tables, distributed corn to the families of the poor, and fed the greatest part of the citizens for nearly three months. Pompey, on the other hand, laboured to abrogate the laws made against the authority of the people by Sylla; restored to the knights the power of judging, which had been formerly granted them by Gracchus; and gave back to the tribunes all their former privileges. 4. Thus each gave his private aims an appearance of zeal for the public good; so that what was in reality ambition in both, took with one the name of liberality; with the other, that of a love of freedom.

5. An expedition, in which Pompey cleared the Mediterranean, which was infested by pirates, having added greatly to his reputation, the tribunes of the people hoped it would be easy to advance their favourite still higher. 6. Man'lius, therefore, one of the number, preferred a law, that all the armies of the empire, the government of Asia, and the management of the war which was renewed against Mithrida'tes, should be committed to Pompey alone. The law passed, with little opposition, and the decree was confirmed.

7. Being thus appointed to the command of that important war, he departed for Asia. 8. Mithrida'tes had been obliged by Lucul'lus to take refuge in Lesser Armenia, and thither that general was preparing to follow him, when his whole army abandoned him; so that it remained for Pompey to terminate the war, which he effected with great ease and expedition, adding a large extent of dominion to the Roman empire, and returning to Rome in triumph at the head of his conquering army.

9. But the victories of Pompey rather served to heighten the glory than to increase the power of Rome; they made it more a glaring object of ambition, and exposed its liberties to greater danger. Those liberties, indeed, seemed devoted to ruin on every side; for, even while he was pursuing his conquests abroad, Rome was at the verge of ruin from a conspiracy at home. 10. This conspiracy was projected and carried on by Ser'gius Cat'iline, a patrician by birth, who resolved to build his own power on the downfall of his country. 11. He was singularly formed, both by art and nature, to conduct a conspiracy: he was possessed of courage equal to the most desperate attempts, and of eloquence to give a colour to his ambition: ruined in his fortunes, profligate in his manners, vigilant in pursuing his aims, he was insatiable after wealth, only with a view to lavish it on his guilty pleasures. 12. Cat'iline having contracted debts in consequence of such an ill-spent life, was resolved to extricate himself from them by any means, however unlawful. Accordingly, he assembled about thirty of his debauched associates, and informed them of his aims, his hopes, and his settled plans of operations. 13. It was resolved among them, that a general insurrection should be raised throughout Italy, the different parts of which he assigned to different leaders. Rome was to be fired at several places at once; and Cat'iline, at the head of an army raised in Etru'ria, was, in the general confusion, to possess himself of the city, and massacre all the senators. Len'tulus, one of his profligate assistants, who had been prętor, or judge in the city, was to preside in their general councils; Cethe'gus, a man who sacrificed the possession of great present power to the hopes of gratifying his revenge against Cicero,[1] was to direct the massacre through the city; and Cas'sius was to conduct those who fired it.

14. But the vigilance of Ci'cero being the chief obstacle to their designs, Catiline was very desirous to see him taken off before he left Rome; upon which two knights of the company undertook to kill him the next morning in his bed, in an early visit, on pretence of business. 15. But the meeting was no sooner over, than Ci'cero had information of all that passed in it; for, by the intrigues of a woman named Ful'via, he had gained over Cu'rius, her lover, one of the conspirators, to send him a punctual account of all their deliberations. 16. Having taken proper precautions to guard himself against the designs of his morning visitors, who were punctual to the appointment, he next took care to provide for the defence of the city; when, assembling the senate, he consulted what was best to be done in such a time of danger.

17. The first step taken was to offer considerable rewards for farther discoveries, and then to prepare for the defence of the state. 18. Cat'iline, to show how well he could dissemble, or justify any crime, went boldly to the senate, declaring his innocence;[2] but, when confronted by the eloquence of Ci'cero, he hastily withdrew, declaring aloud, that since he was denied a vindication of himself, and driven headlong into rebellion by his enemies, he would extinguish the flame which was raised about him in universal ruin. 19. After a short conference with Len'tulus and Cethe'gus, he left Rome by night, with a small retinue, to hasten towards Etru'ria, where Man'lius, one of the conspirators, was raising an army to support him.[3]

20. In the mean time Ci'cero took proper precautions to secure all those of the conspiracy who remained in Rome. Len'tulus, Cethe'gus, Cas'sius, and several others, were put into confinement; and soon after strangled in prison.

21. While his associates were put to death in the city, Cat'iline had raised an army of twelve thousand men, of which a fourth part only were completely armed, the rest being furnished with such weapons as chance afforded; darts, lances, and clubs. 22. He refused, at first, to enlist slaves, who flocked to him in great numbers, trusting to the strength of the conspiracy; but upon the approach of the consul, who was sent against him, and upon the arrival of the news that his confederates were put to death, the face of affairs altered. 23. His first attempt, therefore, was, by long marches, to make his escape over the Appenines into Gaul; but in this his hopes were disappointed; all the passes being guarded by an army superior to his own. 24. Being thus hemmed in on every side, and seeing all things desperate, with nothing left him but either to die or conquer, he resolved to make one vigorous effort against that army which pursued him. Anto'nius, the consul, being sick, the command devolved upon Petrei'us, who, after a fierce and bloody action in which he lost a considerable part of his best troops, put Cat'iline's forces to the rout, and destroyed his whole army.[4]

25. The extinction of this conspiracy seemed only to leave an open theatre for the ambition of the great men to display itself in. Pompey was now returned in triumph from conquering the east, as he had before been victorious in Europe and Africa.

26. Crassus was the richest man in Rome, and next to Pompey, possessed the greatest authority; his party in the senate was even greater than that of his rival, and the envy raised against him was less. He and Pompey had long been disunited by an opposition of interests and of characters; however, it was from a continuance of their mutual jealousies that the state was in some measure to expect its future safety. 27. It was in this situation of things that Julius Cęsar, who had lately gone, as prętor, into Spain, and had returned with great riches and glory, resolved to convert their mutual jealousy to his own advantage. 28. This celebrated man was descended from popular and illustrious ancestors. He warmly espoused the side of the people, and shortly after the death of Sylla, procured the recall of those whom Sylla had banished. He had all along declared for the populace against the senate, and became their most favourite magistrate. 29. This consummate statesman began by offering his services to Pompey, promising to assist him in getting all his acts passed, notwithstanding the senate's opposition. Pompey, pleased at the acquisition of a person of so much merit, readily granted him his confidence and protection. 30. He next applied to Crassus, who, from former connections, was disposed to become still more nearly his friend. 31. At length, finding them not averse to an union of interests, he took an opportunity of bringing them together; and, remonstrating with them on the advantages as well as the necessity of a reconciliation, he had art enough to persuade them to forget former animosities. 32. A combination was thus formed, by which they agreed that nothing should be done in the commonwealth without their mutual concurrence and approbation. This was called the first Trium'virate, by which we find the constitution weakened by a new interest which had not hitherto taken place, very different from that of the senate or the people, and yet dependent on both.


Questions for Examination.

1. What followed on the death of Sylla?

2. What first discovered their mutual jealousy?

3. What was the next trial between them?

4. Under what pretences did they hide their real views?

5. What farther raised the reputation of Pompey?

6. What means were had recourse to for this purpose?

7, 8. What was the state of the war in Asia?

9. What were the consequences of Pompey's victories?

10. Who was the author, and what was the object of this conspiracy?

11. What was the character of Catiline?

12. What occasioned this conspiracy?

13. How was it to be carried into execution?

14. What was the chief obstacle to its accomplishment, and how was this obstacle to be removed?

15. Was Cicero informed of their proceedings?

16. What precautions did he take in consequence?

17. What was the first step taken?

18. What was the conduct of Catiline on this occasion?

19. Did he continue in Rome?

20. Did the other conspirators escape?

21. How was Catiline employed in the mean time?

22. Had he a fair prospect of success?

23. Did he boldly face his opponents?

24. What followed?

25. Did the extinction of this conspiracy give peace to Rome?

26. Who were the contending parties, and what was the consequence of this dissension?

27. Who profited by these jealousies?

28. Who was Julius Cęsar, and by what means did he acquire popularity?

29. What was his first step towards power?

30. To whom did he next apply?

31. What consequence resulted from his application?

32. What agreement was entered into by them, and what were they called?



[1] Ci'cero, the first of Roman orators, as Demos'thenes was of the Greek, was born at Arpin'um, a town of the Volsci, and studied under the most celebrated orators and philosophers of Greece. His style of eloquence was copious, highly ornamented, and addressed more to the passions than to the judgment of his hearers. He was consul at the time of Cat'iline's conspiracy; and, for his eminent services in detecting and frustrating it, was honoured with the title of Pater Patrię.

[2] On his entrance, the senators near whom he attempted to seal himself, quitting their places, left him quite alone.

[3] On his arrival, he assumed all the insignia of a supreme magistrate being preceded by lictors carrying the axes and fasces.

[4] Cataline himself, finding his affairs desperate, threw himself into the midst of the enemy, and there found the death he sought. (Sallust.)

Oliver Goldsmith