ROME-THE IMPERIAL REPUBLIC.
press with vigor the war against Mithridates. By a series of aggressions in
Asia Minor, most of which were directed against the allies of Rome, this
ambitious king had compelled the Senate to make a vigorous opposition
against him, or else abandon Asia Minor to his sway. In B. C. 88,
Mithridates expelled from their dominions the kings of Cappadocia and
Bithynia, and in spite of the Roman armies in the country, overran nearly
the whole of the province of Asia. In the course of these campaigns, he is
said to have ordered the massacre of at least eighty thousand Roman
subjects, and for a while it appeared doubtful whether a vestige of the
authority of the Senate would be left in the country beyond the AEgean.
In the choice of a general to command in the Mithridatic war, the lot fell
to Lucius Cornelius Sulla, now one of the consuls of the Republic. This
remarkable character, whom Byron has designated as the "man-slayer," and
described as "the most lucky among mortals anywhere," is one of the most
unique figures in Roman history. He was born of an aristocratic lineage, in
B. C. 138, and lived to the age of sixty. His first public service was in
the Jugurthine war, in which he served as a quaestor in the army of Marius.
He remained with that austere commander during the times of the Cimbric
invasion, and in B. C. 103 was elected military tribune. From this time
forth he became the rival of Marius, becoming the leader of the Optimate
party, as Marius was of the old savage republicanism of uncultured Rome.
The feud between the two chieftains was for awhile allayed by the common
perils of the social war. With the outbreak of the troubles in the East,
both desired the command against Mithridates; but the rising renown of
Sulla, and the advanced age of Marius-which circumstances had already
raised the former to the consulship-led to the choice of Sulla to command
in the hazardous enterprise of recovering Asia Minor.
Great was the chagrin of Marius. The slumbers of his old age were disturbed
with fierce jealousy. He left his home at Misenum, and encamped with the
young soldiers who were drilling in the Campus Martius. In order to
heighten his popularity, he exerted himself to secure, through the tribune
Publius Shlpicius, the introduction of a new statute in favor of the
Italians. The measures so proposed were three in number: First, that the
citizens recently enfranchised and assigned to the eight new tribes should
now be redistributed among the tribes already existing; second, that all
who had been condemned to exile in the time of the Varian prosecutions
should be recalled; and third, that every senator who owned more than two
thousand denarii should lose his seat in the Senate. In order to prevent
the passage of these radical laws, Sulla, who was now preparing for his
eastern campaign, hastened from Nola to Rome, and declared all the
remaining days of the year to be holidays, for on a holiday no law could be
legally adopted. Sulpicius, however, with the support of Marius, raised a
force, and drove Sulla from the city. A resolution was then adopted by the
assembly transferring to Marius the command of the Mithridatic expedition.
But when two military tribunes were sent to the camp at Nola to assume
command of the army, they were killed by Sulla's soldiers, who demanded to
be led against the capital. Sulla was by no means loath to give a favorable
answer to their clamor. With six legions he left the camp at Nola, marched
to Rome, expelled Marius and Sulpicius, encamped his army in the city, and
summoned the Senate. (1) Are solution was adopted by which Marius and his
supporters were declared public enemies; but the old republican succeeded
in making his escape. Sulpicius was captured and put to death.
In order to secure the ground thus gained, the laws passed during the
tribunate of Sulpicius were revoked, and three new measures adopted, with a
view to the restoration of the ancient prerogatives of the Senate. The
first of these laws was a provision limiting the power of the tribunes of
the people, and requiring every legislative proposition to be first
submitted to the Senate, as was the usage before the passage of the
Hortensian Law. The _________________________________ 1 This was the first
occasion in the history of Rome on which an army had been encamped within
the city walls.