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Mary Macgregor

Cicero Discovers the Catilinarian Conspiracy

The excitement caused by Pompey's return to Rome was soon over. Then the great general found that, in spite of all that he had done for his country, and in spite of the splendour of his triumph, there were many in the city who did not welcome his return.

His very first request to the Senate was refused, and it may be that Pompey thought half regretfully of his disbanded army. To it his slightest wish had been law. The Optimates, too, had grown used to his absence, and were ready to thwart or ignore him.

So Pompey determined to join the two most powerful men in Rome at that time. One of these was the wealthy Crassus, the other was Julius Cæsar, who was destined to become the greatest man Rome had ever known.

Pompey did not like Crassus, and he soon became jealous of Julius Cæsar. But in the meantime these three men formed a secret union, for they thought that then they alone would govern Rome. This union was afterwards called The First Triumvirate. When Pompey married Julia, the beautiful daughter of Cæsar, it seemed probable that the father and husband would share many interests.

For a time another great man named Cicero threw in his lot with the three leaders. It is of him that I wish to tell you now.

Cicero was a great orator and man of letters. In 63 b.c. he was chosen Consul. During the lifetime of Sulla, Cicero's influence was used on behalf of the plebeians. But before long his reverence for the Rome of the past made him ready to denounce any side which threatened to disregard the ancient laws.

In the end he joined the Optimates, because he believed that if they would cease to live only for pleasure, and would learn to govern the provinces with justice, the old order of things might be restored.

By eloquent speeches he tried to rouse the nobles to live more useful and upright lives. But they paid little heed to his words, partly, perhaps, because they did not find that his teaching rang true. For they knew that he did not always act justly although he bade them do so, that he often used his eloquence to defend his friend or his party, when it was plain that the cause of neither was just. And so his words had not the power which true words always have.

Two years before Cicero became Consul, Rome had been greatly disturbed by the discovery of a plot to kill the Consuls, to seize the government, and even to burn Rome.

This plot, which was never proved, was known as The First Catilinarian Conspiracy, for Catiline, who had belonged to Sulla's party, was said to have planned it.

In 63 b.c. Cicero declared that a new plot was being prepared by the same leader.

Catiline had gathered around him a band of the wildest of the popular party. His followers hoped that Catiline would be elected Consul, and that then he would reward them. One of the ways in which he could do this would be by passing a law for the abolition of debts.

But Catiline was not chosen Consul, while Cicero was. It was then, in his rage and disappointment, that Catiline was said to have made a deliberate plot to assassinate Cicero, to attack the houses of the senators, and to burn the city. While this was being done, an invading army was to march into Rome.

Now there seemed reason to be alarmed, for it was known that troops were assembling near Fæsulæ, a small town about three miles from Florence. And not only so, but their captain was Manlius, an old officer of Sulla. Since the terrible proscriptions, it was natural that any one who had been connected with Sulla was feared as well as hated.

Although Cicero had no doubt that a plot was on foot, he could not find proof enough to arrest the conspirators. Yet at a meeting of Senate, early in November, the Consul rose, and in a vehement speech denounced Catiline, who was present. The conspirator sat apart from the other senators, for he knew that they were suspicious of him.

When Cicero's speech ended, Catiline begged the Senate not to judge him hastily, and then he left the Assembly.

That same night the conspirator left Rome apparently for Marseilles, where, if a Roman chose to live in exile, he could escape being impeached by his fellow-citizens.

On his journey, Catiline wrote a letter to a friend, begging him to protect his wife, and at the same time he assured him that he, Catiline, was innocent, "save only that he wished to help his countrymen who were poor and downtrodden."

The following morning Cicero made another speech against Catiline, and as the people clamoured to know why the conspirator had been allowed to escape, the Consul confessed that he had not proof sufficient to arrest him.


The following morning Cicero made another speech against Catiline.

Before long the city was startled to hear that the fugitive had not gone to Marseilles, but to the camp at Fæsulæ, where he was now in command of the army.