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Alfred J. Church

A Brawl and Its Consequences

Clodius, who had taken the lead in driving Cicero into exile, was of course furious at his return, and continued to show him an unceasing hostility. His first care was to hinder the restoration of his property. He had contrived to involve part at least of this in a considerable difficulty. Cicero's house on the Palatine Hill had been pulled down and the area dedicated—so at least Clodius alleged—to the Goddess of Liberty. If this was true, it was sacred for ever; it could not be restored. The question was, Was it true? This question was referred to the Pontiffs as judges of such matters. Cicero argued the case before them, and they pronounced in his favour. It was now for the Senate to act. A motion was made that the site should be restored. Clodius opposed it, talking for three hours, till the anger of his audience compelled him to bring his speech to an end. One of the tribunes in his interest put his veto on the motion, but was frightened into withdrawing it. But Clodius was not at the end of his resources. A set of armed ruffians under his command drove out the workmen who were rebuilding the house. A few days afterwards he made an attack on Cicero himself. He was wounded in the struggle which followed, and might, says Cicero, have been killed, "but," he adds, "I am tired of surgery."

Pompey was another object of his hatred, for he knew perfectly well that without his consent his great enemy would not have been restored. Cicero gives a lively picture of a scene in the Senate, in which this hatred was vigorously expressed. "Pompey spoke, or rather wished to speak; for, as soon as he rose, Clodius' hired ruffians shouted at him. All through his speech it was the same; he was interrupted not only by shouts but by abuse and curses. When he came to an end—and it must be allowed that he showed courage; nothing frightened him: he said his say and sometimes even obtained silence—then Clodius rose. He was met with such an uproar from our side (for we had determined to give him back as good as he had given) that he could not collect his thoughts, control his speech, or command his countenance. This went on from three o'clock, when Pompey had only just finished his speech, till five. Meanwhile every kind of abuse, even to ribald verses, were shouted out against Clodius and his sister. Pale with fury he turned to his followers, and in the midst of the uproar asked them, 'Who is it that is killing the people with hunger?' 'Pompey,' they answered. 'Who wants to go to Alexandria?' 'Pompey,' they answered again. 'And whom do you  want to go?' 'Crassus,' they said. About six o'clock the party of Clodius began, at some given signal, it seemed, to spit at our side. Our rage now burst out. They tried to drive us from our place, and we made a charge. The partisans of Clodius fled. He was thrust down from the hustings. I then made my escape, lest anything worse should happen."

A third enemy, and one whom Clodius was destined to find more dangerous that either Cicero or Pompey, was Annius Milo. Milo was on the mother's side of an old Latin family. The name by which he was commonly known was probably a nickname given him, it may be in joking allusion to the Milo of Crotona, the famous wrestler, who carried an ox on his shoulders and eat it in a single day. For Milo was a great fighting man, a well-born gladiator, one who was for cutting all political knots with the sword. He was ambitious, and aspired to the consulship; but the dignity was scarcely within his reach. His family was not of the highest; he was deeply in debt; he had neither eloquence nor ability. His best chance, therefore, was to attach himself to some powerful friend whose gratitude he might earn. Just such a friend he seemed to find in Cicero. He saw the great orator's fortunes were very low, but they would probably rise again, and he would be grateful to those who helped him in his adversity. Hence Milo's exertions to bring him back from banishment, and hence the quarrel with Clodius. The two men had their bands of hired, or rather purchased, ruffians about the city, and came into frequent collision. Each indicted the other for murderous assault. Each publicly declared that he should take the earliest chance of putting his enemy to death. What was probably a chance collision brought matters to a crisis.

On the twentieth of January Milo left Rome to pay a visit to Lanuvium, a Latin town on the Appian road, and about fifteen miles south of Rome. It was a small town, much decayed from the old days when its revolt against Rome was thought to be a thing worth recording; but it contained one of the most famous temples of Italy, the dwelling of Juno the Preserver, whose image, in its goat-skin robe, its quaint, turned-up shoes, with spear in one hand and small shield in the other, had a peculiar sacredness. Milo was a native of the place, and its dictator; and it was his duty on this occasion to nominate the chief priest of the temple. He had been at a meeting of the Senate in the morning, and had remained till the close of the sitting. Returning home he had changed his dress and shoes, waited a while, as men have to wait, says Cicero, while his wife was getting ready, and then started. He travelled in a carriage with his wife and a friend. Several maid-servants and a troop of singing boys belonging to his wife followed. Much was made of this great retinue of women and boys, as proving that Milo had no intention when he started of coming to blows with his great enemy. But he had also with him a number of armed slaves and several gladiators, among whom were two famous masters of their art. He had travelled about ten miles when he met Clodius, who had been delivering an address to the town council of Aricia, another Latin town, nearer to the capital than Lanuvium, and was now returning to Rome. He was on horseback, contrary to his usual custom, which was to use a carriage, and he had with him thirty slaves armed with swords. No person of distinction thought of travelling without such attendants.

The two men passed each other, but Milo's gladiators fell out with the slaves of Clodius. Clodius rode back and accosted the aggressors in a threatening manner. One of the gladiators replied by wounding him in the shoulder with his sword. A number of Milo's slaves hastened back to assist their comrades. The party of Clodius was overpowered, and Clodius himself, exhausted by his wound, took refuge in a roadside tavern, which probably marked the first stage out of Rome. Milo, thinking that now he had gone so far he might go a little further and rid himself of his enemy for ever, ordered his slaves to drag Clodius from his refuge and finish him. This was promptly done. Cicero indeed declared that the slaves did it without orders, and in the belief that their master had been killed. But Rome believed the other story. The corpse of the dead man lay for some time upon the road uncared for, for all his attendants had either fallen in the struggle or had crept into hiding-places. Then a Roman gentleman on his way to the city ordered it to be put into his litter and taken to Rome, where it arrived just before nightfall. It was laid out in state in the hall of his mansion, and his widow stood by showing the wounds to the sympathizing crowd which thronged to see his remains. Next day the excitement increased. Two of the tribunes suggested that the body should be carried into the market-place, and placed on the hustings from which the speaker commonly addressed the people. Then it was resolved, at the suggestion of another Clodius, a notary, and a client of the family, to do it a signal honour. "Thou shalt not bury or burn a man within the city" was one of the oldest of Roman laws. Clodius, the favourite of the people, should be an exception. His body was carried into the Hall of Hostilius, the usual meeting-place of the Senate. The benches, the tables, the platform from which the orators spoke, the wooden tablets on which the clerks wrote their notes, were collected to make a funeral pile on which the corpse was to be consumed. The hall caught fire, and was burnt to the ground; another large building adjoining it, the Hall of Porcius, narrowly escaped the same fate. The mob attacked several houses, that of Milo among them, and was with difficulty repulsed.

It had been expected that Milo would voluntarily go into exile; but the burning of the senate-house caused a strong reaction of feeling of which he took advantage. He returned to Rome, and proceeded to canvass for the consulship, making a present in money (which may be reckoned at five-and-twenty shillings) to every voter. The city was in a continual uproar; though the time for the new consuls to enter on their office was long past, they had not even been elected, nor was there any prospect, such was the violence of the rival candidates, of their being so. At last the Senate had recourse to the only man who seemed able to deal with the situation, and appointed Pompey sole consul. Pompey proposed to institute for the trial of Milo's case a special court with a special form of procedure. The limits of the time which it was to occupy were strictly laid down. Three days were to be given to the examination of witnesses, one to the speeches of counsel, the prosecution being allowed two hours only, the defence three. After a vain resistance on the part of Milo's friends, the proposal was carried, Pompey threatening to use force if necessary. Popular feeling now set very strongly against the accused. Pompey proclaimed that he went in fear of his life from his violence; refused to appear in the Senate lest he should be assassinated, and even left his house to live in his gardens, which could be more effectually guarded by soldiers. In the Senate Milo was accused of having arms under his clothing, a charge which he had to disprove by lifting up his under garment. Next a freedman came forward, and declared that he and four others had actually seen the murder of Clodius, and that having mentioned the fact, they had been seized and shut up for two months in Milo's counting-house. Finally a sheriff's officer, if we may so call him, deposed that another important witness, one of Milo's slaves, had been forcibly taken out of his hands by the partisans of the accused.

On the eighth of April the trial was begun. The first witness called was a friend who had been with Clodius on the day of his death. His evidence made the case look very dark against Milo, and the counsel who was to cross-examine him on behalf of the accused was received with such angry cries that he had to take refuge on the bench with the presiding judge. Milo was obliged to ask for the same protection.

Pompey resolved that better order should be kept for the future, and occupied all the approaches to the court with troops. The rest of the witnesses were heard and cross-examined without interruption. April 11th was the last day of the trial. Three speeches were delivered for the prosecution; for the defence one only, and that by Cicero. It had been suggested that he should take the bold line of arguing that Clodius was a traitor, and that the citizen who slew him had deserved well of his country. But he judged it better to follow another course, and to show that Clodius had been the aggressor, having deliberately laid an ambush for Milo, of whose meditated journey to Lanuvium he was of course aware. Unfortunately for his client the case broke down. Milo had evidently left Rome and the conflict had happened much earlier than was said, because the body of the murdered man had reached the capital not later than five o'clock in the afternoon. This disproved the assertion that Clodius had loitered on his way back to Rome till the growing darkness gave him an opportunity of attacking his adversaries. Then it came out that Milo had had in his retinue, besides the women and boys, a number of fighting men. Finally, there was the damning fact, established, it would seem, by competent witnesses, that Clodius had been dragged from his hiding-place and put to death. Cicero too lost his presence of mind. The sight of the city, in which all the shops were shut in expectation of a riot, the presence of the soldiers in court, and the clamour of a mob furiously hostile to the accused and his advocate, confounded him, and he spoke feebly and hesitatingly. The admirable oration which has come down to us, and professes to have been delivered on this occasion, was really written afterwards. The jury, which was allowed by common consent to have been one of the best ever assembled, gave a verdict of guilty. Milo went into banishment at Marseilles—a punishment which he seems to have borne very easily, if it is true that when Cicero excused himself for the want of courage which had marred the effect of his defence, he answered, "It was all for the best; if you had spoken better I should never have tasted these admirable Marseilles mullets."

Naturally he tired of the mullets before long. When Cæsar had made himself master of Rome, he hoped to be recalled from banishment. But Cæsar did not want him, and preferred to have him where he was. Enraged at this treatment, he came over to Italy and attempted to raise an insurrection in favour of Pompey. The troops whom he endeavoured to corrupt refused to follow him. He retreated with his few followers into the extreme south of the peninsula, and was there killed.