ROME-THE IMPERIAL REPUBLIC.
Senate, from whose ranks the praetors and proconsuls were generally chosen;
and whose members looked forward to the day when each in his turn should
try his hand in the spoliation of a province, soon neutralized the
antagonism of the knights by contriving a new court from the senatorial
rank before which nobles and monopolists accused of malfeasance in office
should be tried. The opulent robber found it not difficult to "influence"
the decisions of such a tribunal.
The system of making public distributions of corn-though it subserved the
temporary purpose of placating the temper of the multitude-became a premium
on idleness, a discount on industry. Why should the Samnite peasant
continue to toil in the fields when he could go to Rome and be fed? The
effects of the system were felt throughout Italy. The under-classes opened
their mouths and flew to the center. Large and fruitful districts were
virtually abandoned. The call of the laborer was unheard frequently in the
field, and the mechanic's hammer lay idle in the workshop. Meanwhile Rome
roared like a deluge of waters.
There were not wanting a few thoughtful men-Romans of the old Republican
stamp- who perceived the perilous condition of the state, and exerted
themselves to ward off the danger. To this class belonged Marcus Porcius
Cato, the Censor. After distinguished services in the Hannibalic wars, he
rose from one position to another until in B. C. 195 he was elected consul.
He at once set himself like flint against the abuses of the times.
Incorruptible himself, he scorned corruption in others. In the time of his
ascendancy the nobility were chiefly concerned with measures calculated to
prevent the admission to high places of those who were designated as novi
homines or "new men"-those who had no aristocratic lineage. By his
profound knowledge of the law, his fruitfulness in expedients, and his
powers as a speaker-no less than by his irreproachable character-he became
a terror to the oligarchy. Himself a novus homo, he was none the less
ardently attached to the Roman constitution, and was fain to purge the
state of its dross and defilement.
The first public break of Cato with the existing order occurred between
himself and the Scipios. The latter were now-for it was just after the
battle of Zama-in the heyday of their renown. But the fearless Cato,
believing Lucius Scipio to have been guilty of receiving bribes, induced
the tribune to bring charges against him, and he was held to answer the
accusation. His accounts were demanded; but when they were about to be read
Africanus, the brother of the accused officer, snatched them from his hand
and tore them to pieces, declaring that it was an outrage for one who had
brought millions into the Roman treasury to be thus called on to account
fora paltry sum. Nevertheless Lucius was condemned to pay a heavy fine; and
when Africanus attempted to take him by force from the hands of the
officers who were conducting him to prison, the attempt was defeated by the
authorities, and the punishment enforced. Cato did not hesitate to follow
up this prosecution with another directed against Africanus himself; but
the day of the trial happened to fall on the anniversary of the battle of
Zama, and aconviction was impossible. Scipio shortly afterwards removed
from Rome and passed the remainder of his life at his country-seat in
Liternum. Here he died, and was buried with this inscription, composed by
himself, to mark the spot: "You, ungrateful country, do not possess even.
In B.C.184 Cato was elected censor. While holding this office he steadily
pursued the policy to which he had adhered during his consulship. No fewer
than forty-four times did his enemies prefer charges of malfeasance and
crime against him, but it was impossible to shake the confidence of the
people in his integrity. He continued to prosecute those who abused the
trusts of office, and retired from public life without the smell of fire on
his garments. In extreme old age he gave up his hostility to foreign
culture, and signalized his eightieth year by learning Greek.
Such was the general condition of Roman society in the last half of the
second century B. C. The state was corrupted by luxury and conquest, and
the old heroic virtues of Republican, agricultural Rome were well-nigh