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  • 8/12/2019 HAWTHORN, The Senate After Sulla


    The Senate after SullaAuthor(s): J. R. HawthornSource: Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Mar., 1962), pp. 53-60Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical AssociationStable URL: .Accessed: 12/09/2011 04:40

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    WE have most of us been surprised when, after reading the historyof the late Republic, we first discovered that in the year 50 amotion was proposed in the Senate that Pompey and Caesar should bothlay down their commands, that it was passed by 370 votes to 22, and thatit was disregarded in the interests of the optimate leaders.' Who werethese 370 men, and why do we not hear more of them? We have read,

    of course, that the Senate consisted of this or that number at this or thattime; and then we read all about the Claudii and Metelli, with scarcelya word about the massed ranks behind them. Yet there they are, and thepicture is incomplete without them. It is likely that we shall never com-plete it satisfactorily-there are so many of them we do not know, andthe few we do know are quite likely to be exceptional in some way-butwe can at least make a start by considering the numbers involved andthe likely divergence as well as the unity of their interests.

    I begin with Sulla, both in order to limit the problem and becauseafter him we have at least some reliable figures. The most certain of theseis that Sulla increased the number of quaestors to 2o and made the quaes-torship the gateway to the Senate. Since we know that the minimum agefor the office was thirty (and the average age is not likely to have beenvery much higher), we can visualize the size of senate which was inSulla's mind. We cannot be certain what he thought of as the active lifeof the senator, but twenty-five years seems not unreasonable; he washimself nearly sixty, and retired soon afterwards. This would eventually

    give a normal active senate of about 500. Since officially there was nosuch thing as retiring, the total number of senators living would behigher; but there comes a time when a man is no longer expected toturn up, and it is the number of those likely to turn up which matters.2

    I Appian, B.C. ii. 30.2 The following facts have some relevance to retiring ages in Rome. (I)

    Under the lex Acilia the iudices had to be between the ages of thirty and sixty.(2) In the early principate the age at which senators were legally free from theirobligation to attend is stated by the elder Seneca to have been sixty-five, bythe younger Seneca to have been sixty. Attendance on ordinary occasions wasof course much less: to judge from the lex Cornelia de privilegiis, 200 membersconstituted a senatusfrequens, and it was often difficult to whip up that number.Marcellus failed to do it for provincial business in 51 (Cic. Fam. viii. 5. 3). Thepresiding magistrate had the power to compel attendance, but, though Antonymight bluster (Cic. Phil. i. I1), it is clear that this was not done.

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    This figure is corroborated. Besides arranging for the future annualentry Sulla made immediate appointments to increase its strength forth-with. Now the number of senators in politics in


    exceptionallylow; what with the casualties of the civil war and the Marians who darednot return it cannot have been much above zoo. If 500 was the figurein Sulla's mind we should expect his emergency appointments to be inthe neighbourhood of 300; and this is the figure in our sources.' By thelate sixties the Senate should have been approaching its normal size.Cicero describes a debate in February 61; it was a moment of high excite-ment, frequenti senatu, and the voting was 15 to 'easily 4oo'.2 If allow-ance is made for about 40 senators in the provinces and some inevitable

    absentees (no advance notice could be given) a 'possible' of about 500seems likely. The 392 votes in the debate from which we started differ

    very little from this, when we remember that at that time there weresenators with Caesar in Gaul.

    Let us look a little more closely at these 500 men. In normal times-if times were ever normal-we might expect to find about 25 consularesin politics;3 about 90 praetorii, of whom some zo still have hopes of the

    consulship, and must therefore be particularly active; not many aedilicii,

    perhaps 25;4and

    upto about

    150tribunicii.s Unless these

    figuresare radically wrong-and the most likely mistake is that I have over-estimated the number of the tribunicii-there remain well over zoo who

    I Appian, B.C. i. Ioo. But the number 300 was not an invention of Sulla;it first appears in the abortive proposal of C. Gracchus. This increase in thesize of the Senate was part of the programme of the moderate reformers, and inthis Gracchus and Sulla were on the same side.

    2 Att. i. 14. 5.3 Assuming an average age at election of about wo years above he minimum.

    Catulus was still in politics fifteen years after his consulship; Hortensius seemsto have been retiring after about twelve. Yet twenty-five consulars seems a highfigure; perhaps some found that ambition-their own or their families'-wassatisfied by their year of office.

    4 A curule aedile is not aedilicius for long; of plebeian aediles it seems fromthe lists in T. R. S. Broughton's Magistrates of the Roman Republic that abouthalf become praetors.

    s Allowing for an average of five years from quaestor o tribune, and for fourof the ten to hold further office. For the eleven years from 65 to 55 Broughtonlists sixty tribunes, of whom twenty-eight are recorded o have become praetors.If Sulla's law banning them from further office had remained n force it would

    have changed all this. Itwould have been difficult o find ten

    youngmen a

    yearwilling to write off in advance heir chance of the praetorship. The tribunatemust then have become a consolation prize for older men (Quinctius, ribunein 74, was nearly fifty), or else have been held by non-senators. Tribunes werestill not without power (cf. Cic. Clu. 74) and this danger was motive enough forthe lex Aurelia.

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    THE SENATE AFTER SULLA 55have held no office since their quaestorship, more than half of whomnever will. It is with the lesser men, from the aedilicii downwards, thatI am here concerned.

    In the immediately post-Sullan years the number of ex-magistrates in

    politics was unusually low, the total number of senators greater thanever before. And of the total less than half were men who had been

    brought up to expect senatorial rank; the remainder were Sulla's nomi-nees. The feelings of the old guard, and the enormity (in their eyes) ofthis act of Sulla's have been too little appreciated.' There is almost

    nothing you can do to an exclusive and aristocratic body which is worsethan flooding it with new members. In 90Io the threat was enough;

    what Lloyd George threatened, Sulla performed. It is not difficult tosee why the nobility did not like him. This senatorial reform had been

    hanging over their heads for the past fifty years, and to have it imposedon them by a patrician senator must have been particularly galling toa mainly plebeian nobility.

    The feelings of the new senators are less easy to gauge, yet on them all

    depended. Would they bring with them the greater variety of interests,the broader outlook of men whose eyes have not been concentrated onthe

    political game?Or would

    theyconform too

    quicklyto the

    existingpattern ? It seems to me to be one of the tragedies of the time that, withone unfortunate exception, they did conform. This long-cherishedvision of the reformers, a broadened and enlightened Senate, proved,when it was tried, to be a mirage. Before we discuss the reasons for thefailure, let us see what sort of men they were.

    They were not poor men, of course-there was little scope in Romefor the poor-and we should expect them to be rich enough to qualifyfor equestrian status.2 But I suspect that not all of them were rich

    enough for the life which was now expected of them. It seems that therewas not at this time a fixed property qualification for senators, and there

    may well have been many (and not new senators only) who did not havethe minimum which Augustus decided was necessary. Augustus sawthat you could not live the life of a senator without a great deal of money;

    I e.g. H. Last in C.A.H. ix, chap. 2, regards Gracchus' proposal to doublethe numbers of the Senate as 'moderate' compared with turning them out ofthe extortion court.

    2Cf. Livy, Epit. 89; Appian, B.C. i. ioo. Sallust's story (Cat. 37. 6) that theyincluded gregarii milites and men enriched by the proscriptions need not be

    wholly false; in a civil war there may be some unusual rankers, and the otherswould qualify by wealth. The presence of a very few parvenus would be magni-fied by hostile propaganda; we can safely dismiss Dionysios of Halikarnassos'iK -rWV ETVrIX-6v-rcov vepdlTrcov v. 77).

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    there are indications that in the post-Sullan period a number of peoplewere trying to do so. I do not include among these the nobles who raninto debt by bribing their way into office, like Caesar in 63, or Milo,who ran through three inheritances giving shows; they are in a differentcategory. The senators who supported Catiline were humbler folk.'

    The most conspicuous evidence of this is provided by the law-courts.When we glibly say that Sulla restored to the Senate the right to sit onthe juries, we should pause to reflect that more than half of these jury-men were new senators-ex-equestrians, in fact. The history of the

    quaestiones s a turbulent one, and they do not often emerge with credit;but there can be little doubt that there was a mounting wave of bribery

    in the seventies. Nor is this confined to cases involving proconsuls,where there was a combination of politics and really big money:Oppianicus and Cluentius were not Jugurtha, yet they found senatorsto take their bribes. Cicero can discuss in open court the mathematicsof the distribution of bribes, and quote a tariff for securing the con-demnation of an ex-praetor. Granted that in the Verrines it suitedCicero's book to paint a gloomy picture; but no one, unless he has cometo take corruption for granted, can read the Pro Cluentio without beingshocked at the extent of the scandal which is

    being onlyhalf revealed.

    Staienus, Gutta, Popilius, Falcula-the list is obviously not complete,and that in a jury of thirty-two. And when Popilius and Gutta were

    prosecuted their accusers were men who had themselves been condemnedfor ambitus.z Besides the iniquity of it all, two things are noticeable.One is the smallness of the gap which separates these senators from the

    equestrians; it does not surprise us that Staienus was prosecuted by two

    equestrians. The other is the kind of epithets which Cicero uses of them.Staienus had to be a villain: we shall discount such general words as

    audax and impudens. But the particular nature of the villainy might beinteresting: twice Cicero gives Staienus a long string of adjectives all tohimself, and in each case the first of them is egens; among the crimes un-covered at the trial, besides the usual fraudes atque fallaciae, was that of

    egestas domestica.3It would also be interesting to know what sort of sums these men could

    receive. There is indeed no lack of figures, but they. are bound to beunreliable. We are dealing with insinuations and propaganda, not

    proven facts,and we must allow for

    exaggeration. First,there is

    Cicero's figure of 40,000 sesterces per juryman in the Cluentius case;this is governed by the fact that he has to account for a known sum of

    640,000 and must make the best of it. Still, Cluentius was acquitted;I Cic. Cat. ii. 18-I9.

    2 Cic. Clu. 98. 3 Ibid. 66, 70, o101.

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    THE SENATE AFTER SULLA 57so the jury must have swallowed it.' Then there is Calidius' estimate of3,000,000 sesterces for the condemnation of apraetorius; this will include

    somethingfor advocates and witnesses, but is

    likelyto leave more for

    the jury than Oppianicus paid, since condemning a noble makes power-ful enemies.2 Lastly there is Verres himself. He had wealthy friends;his guilt was notorious; since there were censors again in 70 the risks of

    perjury were greater; hence we should expect a fancy price. Aemilius,according to Cicero, sat in the market and boasted that Verres hadbought his jurymen for sums ranging between 300,000 and 500,000sesterces apiece.3 The lowest of these figures is ten times Caelius' extra-vagant rent.4 Even allowing for exaggeration, it seems that there was

    quite a lot of money to be made.Of the measures taken to combat the corruption of the courts, one in

    particular calls for notice here-the exclusion, in 55, of the poorestmembers of all three decuriae, senators included. It is a fair inferencethat there were senators poor enough to be corruptible: old senators,impoverished by the civil wars, new ones who were never quite richenough. When sixty-four senators were expelled by the censors of 70,the chief cause seems to have been this corruption. It would be interest-

    ingto know how

    manyof them were Sulla's nominees.

    If, however, we are going to say that the men who sat on Sulla'sjuries were to a large extent the same men who had been sitting on themin the years before, what are we to make of Cicero's statement that in thefifty years before the lex Cornelia there had been no suspicion of cor-ruption ?5 We can, of course, say that it is false; but he is speaking tomen who should know. We can say that memories are short, and thismay be true enough. We shall also point out that there had been fewerquaestiones perpetuae. But we may also suspect that men whose morals

    had been equal to the less splendid equestrian state succumbed to thelure of money when they found themselves involved in a more expensiveway of life.

    They had some excuse for financial embarrassment. Their promotionin status, which increased their expenses, might actually decrease theirincome. In palmier days it had been enacted that senators should notengage in trade, and the laws on this subject had never been repealed.The lex Claudia of 218, for instance, was still the law of the land. Now

    Ibid. 87. Cicero also hints darkly that Staienus had received a similar sum,6oo,ooo, to settle the trial of Safinius Atella, but he makes no detailed charge.2 Verr. i. 38. 3 Verr. ii. 3. 145.4 Cael. I7. Will someone please write us an article on the value of money in

    Rome? Even some post-war books have used the basis of I sesterce = 21d.s Verr. i. 38.

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    he would be a rash man who would assert that these laws were rigorouslyenforced in the second century, let alone the first. It is also true that aback door into commerce was provided by the business of moneylending,which was not forbidden to senators. It had at one time been illegalaltogether, and when Cato the elder wrote the introduction to his De

    agri cultura he remarked that the early Romans had punished the money-lender more severely than the thief, and that in any case fenerari wasnot honestum.' But since it was forbidden to anyone, there was no needfor a special ban on senators, and when in the economic expansion of thesecond century it became respectable there was nothing to keep them outof it. By lending money a man could gain some of the profits of trade-

    on a preference-share basis-without the stigma of being in trade him-self. Even so, they do not seem to have been quite happy about it: whenCicero went to Cilicia he was importuned by Brutus to help Brutus'friend Scaptius to recover a loan; not until his year was half-way throughdid he discover that the creditor was really Brutus himself.2 In fact thecommon assumption that the big business men were not senators doesseem to be true; the demand for the remission of the tax contract is seenas deliciae equitum.3 Yet when Verres has built himself a ship, which is

    plainly illegal,Hortensius claims that the laws on the


    antiquaeet mortuae;4 well, the defending counsel must defend. But what will the

    prosecutor have to say about it ? A violent denunciation ? Or, if not that,then a purple passage on the decay of morals? Certainly not. Witha passing reminder that it is really illegal, he hurries on to firmer ground.And this is what he must do, if he is pleading before a jury of ordinarysenators whose hands in this matter are not clean. When some of themwere promoted to the Senate the question must have arisen whether theywere to abandon their business interests. It is not unduly cynical to

    suspect that some of them had not done so. For this was not a suddenplea of Hortensius: it was quemadmodum u soles dicere.

    As jurors, then, the new senators were not a great success, and thelex Aurelia iudiciaria is a sign of their failure. Did they make their markin politics? In the way that the reformers had hoped, I think not at all.It is thirteen years before we find the sort of legislation which we should

    hope for. In one thing, however, we may see their influence. The Senatehas often been reproached with lack of resolution in its dealings with

    Pompey.In fact

    theyseem to me to have been unable to be firm and un-

    willing to be generous. Now Pompey made it his business to stand wellwith the equestrian order (in fact he did at that time belong to it, and

    I I have to thank Mr. J. P. V. D. Balsdon for drawing my attention to thispassage. 2 Att. vi, i. 5. SIbid. i. 17. 9. 4 Verr. ii. 5. 45.

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    THE SENATE AFTER SULLA 59courted popularity by emphasizing the fact),' and the presence of these

    ex-equestrians in the Senate may help to explain the divided counsels-

    especially at a time when there was a dearth of consulares. But apartfrom this the infusion of new senators made disappointingly littledifference. This is true both of the members injected by Sulla and ofthose who subsequently slipped in among the annual quaestors. Amongequestrians of ability there seem to have been two attitudes to politics:either, like Cicero or Caelius, you aped the nobility and tried to be

    accepted as one of them; or, like Atticus, you stayed out of the game.Neither was very likely to assist in reform.

    The reason why the average members made so little difference is clear

    enough. In practice, senatorial policy was not made in the Senate, anymore than British policy is made in the House of Commons. It wasmade by the consulares, with such others as they chose to admit to theircounsels, the unofficial cabinet of Rome; and although Sulla increasedthe number of senators he did not increase the number of consuls. Hedid make more praetors, so that, of the yearly intake of twenty, on an

    average eight would hold an imperium. But of the eight, six would gono farther, and it was the next step which counted. The consulshipwas as exclusive as ever. From Sulla to Caesar about six new menachieved it, and of these one was a son of one of Sulla's generals, and

    two-perhaps we should say three-were proteges of Pompey. Apartfrom these, the noble families maintained their monopoly. They couldstill provide two consuls a year from their own numbers, and thanksto the incorrigibly aristocratic tone of Roman society they were able tosecure their election. Even to Caesar, who again increased the numberof praetors to match his increase of the Senate, the figure two for the

    consulship was sacred. It was left to Augustus, who had other reasons,

    to find a way of making more consulares without having more consuls.It is not my purpose to follow senatorial policy over the next twenty

    years, but one caution is needed. We must not expect the alignmentsof the seventies to persist into the fifties. In particular the link with the

    equestrians and the support of Pompey both fade away. In 66 therewere senators who supported the lex Manilia; and in the following year,at the trial of Cornelius, Asconius tells us that most of the senators votedon what he openly avows to have been Pompey's side.2 But when

    Pompeyreturns from Asia

    theyfail him.

    Manyof them have been driven

    by their indigence into the clutches of Crassus, who was not slow tomake political capital out of his loans.3 Others are following Cato: ledby their ex-equestrian consul they take his side in the Catilinarian debate.

    I Plut. Pomp. 22. 2 Ascon. p. 6ic. Sall. Cat. 48. 5.

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    And when the tax contract comes up for revision Cato wins again. Inthe last crisis these men do not find any compelling loyalty. There islittle enthusiasm for General

    Pompey,not much more for the

    optimateconsuls. Caesar they have not seen for nine years. Their attitude is ex-

    pressed in the resolution with which we began: 'A plague on both yourhouses ' This resolution has been called 'an overpowering majorityagainst both dynasts'. The pity of it was that no one was overpoweredby it. The senators had become too much accustomed to followingtheir leaders, and in the end they allowed themselves to be bullied.'It is a sad commentary on the spirit and machinery of the Roman statethat an opinion so nearly unanimous was so completely ineffective.

    ' Caes. B.C. i. I. 3.