Free Cicero by Anthony Everitt

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Authors: Anthony Everitt
had been scheming for years to free the entire region from Roman control. He was an able and ambitious man, of remarkable physical strength and mental stamina. Fearful of the plots endemic in an oriental court, he was reputed to consume small regular doses of poison to build up his resistance. The War of the Allies gave him a one-time opportunity to act while Rome’s back was turned, and he seized it. His army invaded the region and his fleet sailed into the Aegean. Democrats in Athens invited him to liberate Greece.
    Mithridates’ advance was so swift and total that about 80,000 Roman and Italian businessmen and their families found themselves unexpectedly marooned in enemy territory. Mithridates’ solution to the problem of what to do with them was final. He sent secret instructions to local authorities in every town to kill all strangers who spoke Latin. In general the order was obeyed with enthusiasm, clear evidence of the unpopularity of Roman rule. In one town, the executioners planned their work with sadistic ingenuity: children were killed in front of their parents, then wives in front of their husbands and lastly the men. All Italian property was confiscated and handed over to the king.
    The massacre was a terrible blow to the Republic’s authority and added greatly to its economic difficulties, because a regular flow of tax and trading revenues was abruptly cut off. Bankruptcies became common and indebtedness in every social class reached very high levels. Senators, much of whose wealth was locked up in land, found themselves with few liquid assets; the aftermath of the War of the Allies was no time to sell real estate to raise cash. Everyone agreed that it was crucial to retrieve Asia Minor. Thefuture of the Empire was in the balance and, whatever Rome’s internal problems, dealing with the threat in the east came first.
    At this point, Marius, the great general who had saved Rome from the Gauls, unexpectedly reappeared. He had served in the War of the Allies but had spent a number of years out of public view. Now nearly seventy, he was old and embittered by what he saw as the Republic’s ingratitude and was out for vengeance. The Tribune Sulpicius unwisely turned to him for support. In return, he arranged for Sulla’s eastern command to be taken from him and given to Marius. The Consuls tried to stop Sulpicius by suspending public business and in the riots that followed Sulla was forced to take refuge in Marius’s house.
    This was an unbearable humiliation. Sulla decided to rejoin his army not far from the city, where it was waiting for him to lead them eastwards. But he had a score to settle and did not set off at once. Instead he turned his legions on Rome, which he captured after a few hours of street fighting. Sulpicius was hunted down and killed, but Marius, after a series of hair-raising adventures, made his escape to Africa where many of his old troops had been settled. Sulla quickly passed laws which invalidated Sulpicius’s legislation and would make it difficult for reformers to have their way during his absence. He then marched off to fight the King of Pontus, who would not wait.
    Sulla’s entry into Rome was a watershed. He had broken one of the Republic’s greatest taboos by marching soldiers inside the city limits. Worse than that, the army had shown decisively that its loyalty was to its leader, not to the state. The rule of law had been overturned, and a legally elected Tribune, whose person was meant to be sacrosanct, had been put to death. Others would lose little time in exploiting these fatal precedents.
    Sulla’s plans to contain the situation in Rome fell apart almost as soon as his back was turned. One of the Consuls for 87, Lucius Cornelius Cinna, a ruthless
, promptly proceeded to repeal Sulla’s measures. Marius, deranged and in poor health, staged his own invasion of Rome and let his men run amok during five days of slaughter

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