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The Decade in Perspective:   Modern Thoughts

 


This selection of pithy comments concerning the fifties B.C. from noted scholars is meant to provide a good starting bibliography for further research and inquiry into the political scene at Rome.  As a further criterion I have tried to select only those works which are probably accessible to the general public, being either still in print or readily available from secondhand book-dealers.  Therefore, no articles, however important, have been included.

59 B.C.


The year 59 began a new act in the tragedy of the Republic.  Caesar, Pompeius, and Crassus, with the backing of veteran soldiers, pressed home their demands on the legislative bodies, and violence became dominant and comprehensive.  The situation, however, was not without precedent: the overall similarity of 100 to 59 is noteworthy--a consul working with a tribune and the aid of veterans to pass agrarian legislation; the senate in considerable disarray with resistance centering in 100 on one man, Metellus Numidicus, in 59 on two, Bibulus and M. Cato; the subsequent questions about the validity of the legislation.  The important difference was the superior control exercised in 59 over the violence by its instigators and, in consequence, the fulfillment of the legislation.  Cicero's letters and the Roman historical tradition make the year 59 seem more exceptional than it in fact was.  The mere existence of Cicero's correspondence makes more vivid the passions aroused by the violence.  The ugliness of events is magnified, not untruthfully, but in disproportion to previous events of which we know less detail.  The year was important for later historians not so much because of the violence, but owing to the political situation its success created, and, although the coalition of 59 is a good starting-point from which to start tracing the immediate causes of the civil war, writers under Augustus and afterwards probably overstressed it as the epitome of corrupt ambition and thus a suitable scapegoat.

A. W. Lintott.  1968.  Violence in Republican Rome:  pp. 189-190.



58 B.C.


The fundamental distinction between the tribal and the centuriate assembly is shown in the legislation for Cicero's exile and restoration.  It was to the tribal assembly that Clodius as tribune proposed that the man who had put Roman citizens to death without trial should be interdicted from fire and water.  There is no doubt that the urban mob, with which Cicero had been unpopular since the Catilinarian episode, was on the side of Clodius, who was incidentally strengthened by armed thugs and by Caesar's soldiers at the gates.  Cicero charges, moreover, that the bill was passed by armed slaves.

Lily Ross Taylor.  1949.  Party Politics in the Age of Caesar:  p. 60.



57 B.C.


The year 57, as it is represented in our sources for the conduct of political life in the open air, could be divided into three phases:  continued debate and combat over proposals that Cicero should be restored from exile; the celebrated vote of the comitia centuriata which we have encountered already, and which marked Cicero's triumphal return; and very vividly described episodes from the last quarter of the year in which the question of the general corn supply (and not only the now established free monthly distributions) gained an unprecedented prominence and also served to underline the weakness of the Senate in the face of popular demands.  To characterize the year, as far as it offers distinctive evidence for popular politics, in these very personalized terms is of course to emphasize that what is offered here is not a "history" of Rome or of the plebs Romana but a selection of some of the images and reports that our very full but very one-sided evidence happens to make available.  What is available is heavily biased by Cicero's inevitable concern with his own fortunes and by the fact that in the following year, he defended Sestius, who as tribune in 57 had been his most prominent supporter. 

Fergus Millar.  1998.  The Crowd in Rome in the Late Republic:  pp. 146-147.



56 B.C.


In 56 the three leaders [Pompeius, Crassus, and Caesar] met together at Luca (Lucca)—a place which was just inside Cisalpine Gaul (part of Caesar's command), and which was chosen for the meeting because Caesar did not want to leave his province and face prosecution.  At their conference the triumvirs came to a complete agreement once again and decided how to fulfill their future ambitions.

Michael Grant.  1997.  History of Rome:  p. 218.



55 B.C.


After some disturbances and postponement the elections for 55 were finally held, and Pompey and Crassus entered on their second joint consulship.  They employed a tribune, C. Trebonius, to propose that the two Spains and Syria should be allotted to the consuls for five years with considerable military powers, and that Pompey should have the right to administer his Spanish provinces through legates so that he himself could stay near Rome.

H. H. Scullard.  1982.  From the Gracchi to Nero:  p. 119.



54 B.C.


By this time there had come a vital blow to the renewed alliance between Pompeius and Caesar and to the stability of the coalition as a whole.  Pompeius' wife Julia died in childbirth.  There can be no doubt that Pompeius had been devoted to her and that she had constituted a powerful bond between her father and her husband. Her death did not of course immediately dissolve the ties between Pompeius and Caesar: no change, however slight, can be discerned in Pompeius' attitude towards Caesar as a direct consequence of his bereavement.

Robin Seager.  2002.  Pompey the Great:  p. 130.



53 B.C.


Even Pompey had to learn this man's [Cato] political significance:  for, in the first half of the year 53, he obstinately opposed all attempts to secure the dictatorship for Pompey.  At last, in July, the Senate granted the proconsul who was still in Italy authority to maintain order.  Thereupon he returned to the neighborhood of the city, and in his circle a vigorous propaganda campaign was conducted in favour of a dictatorship, although he himself pretended that he did not want the position.

Matthias Gelzer.  1968.  Caesar: Politician and Statesman:  p. 148.



52 B.C.


The year 52 introduced sharp changes—or so it has seemed.  Chaos provided a radical departure from convention.  A solitary figure was named to the consulship--a virtual contradiction in terms. Did that signal the collapse of the constitution, a herald of the new order? Analysis of the background will suggest a very different conclusion.

Erich Gruen.  1974.  The Last Generation of the Roman Republic:  p. 150.



51 B.C.


The inimici of Caesar began their campaign against him in earnest in 51.  The long tenure in Gaul was drawing to a close, and anxious politicians sought means to discredit the proconsul before he could make a triumphant return.

Erich Gruen.  1974.  The Last Generation of the Roman Republic:  p. 460.



50 B.C.


In the autumn men began to speak of an inevitable war.  Fortune was arranging the scene for a grand and terrible spectacle.  Caesar would tolerate no superior, Pompeius no rival.  Caesar had many enemies, provoked by his ruthless ambition, by his acts of arrogance towards other principes—and by his support, when consul and proconsul, of the domination of Pompeius, who now, for supreme power, seemed likely to throw over his ally.

Ronald Syme.  1939.  The Roman Revolution:  pp. 41-42.



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