In the last few centuries, the examples of England and France have proven that after you cut the king's head off, you can restore the monarchy, but it will never really be the same. Fortune's Favorites shows that once one general marches on Rome,* you can restore the republic, but it will never really be the same. Once one general shows the way, the temptation will be out there for the rest. All the king's horses and all the king's men cannot put Humpty together again.
Fortune's Favorites begins with Sulla returning for his second, bloody march on Rome to follow his initial, bloodless one. His enemies are raising an army and purging potential opponents. Rebellious parts of Italy, defeated once, are rising again. And a young general named Pompey, heir to what amounts to a private army, can see who the winner is and places himself at Sulla's disposal. Sulla's health and beauty are gone, and he, too, has become a bit unbalanced, but he remains rational in a sociopathic kind of way. Sulla massacres Italian soldiers after they surrender. He sends his troops to the rebellious areas with the message to reduce them by brute force. He summons the Senate just to hear the screams.
But, his enemies say, this can only be a short-term measure. He cannot afford to field his army indefinitely, and once he disbands them, how will he hold power by force. The answer turns out to be by forming something that Rome never had before and perhaps had no concept of -- a secret police. His political opponents start disappearing. No one knows what is happening. Then people start seeing strange bands of men knock on their doors and drag them off. Then these strange bands of men start to be noticed trailing Sulla's possible enemies, or standing around taking notes. Soon anyone who was too cozy with Marius starts leaving in fear of The Knock In The Night. Heads start appearing on spikes. And all these strange men are called Lucius Cornelius ________, meaning that they are Sulla's freedmen, or perhaps foreigners he sponsored for citizenship.
I never understood why one-party states in modern times feel the need to hold elections with only one candidate for office. What legitimacy could it possibly convey? I still don't understand, but apparently the practice is not a new one. It dates back at least to Sulla. He summons the Senate to announce that he will continue holding elections for offices -- but with only one candidate for each, of his choosing. When one of his loyalist is so foolish as to complain about being skipped over and, worse, to go out and start campaigning for the office, Sulla's secret police very publicly chop his head off and put it up on a spike. From then on, no one dares openly defy him. Brave, brave Metellus Pius dares to ask whether he knows about the disappearances. Sulla confirms that he is behind them. Bravely, Pius continues, asking if he will reveal who he will spare. Sulla refuses. Pius then asks if he can at least tell who he will kill. So Sulla starts posting lists of the proscribed, saying that anyone who kills a victim on the list will receive a two-talent reward. Their property will be seized and sold; indeed, one of the purposes of the lists is to refill the treasury of the devastated country. He forbids the widows of the proscribed from remarrying and their sons from holding office, and orders loyalists married to the daughters of his enemies to divorce them. Naturally, abuses and corruption are rampant in the process.
Sulla's overall focus is to concentrate power as much as possible in the hands of the Senate. He limits the popular Assemblies to voting up or down measures recommended by the Senate. He forbids them from so much as discussing foreign, imperial, or military matters in debate. Never again will an Assembly strip a general of his command, as the Plebeian Assembly did to him. He forbids Tribunes of the Plebs from running for any other office and strips them of their power to initiate legislation, or even to veto. This last is such a breach of tradition that everyone is shocked and horrified. The only power the tribunes retain is to deliver a plebeian from the magistrates. He forbids the state from selling cheap grain. He limits juries to Senators.
He also introduces useful and often long overdue reforms. Some are a bit picky, like establishing proper decorum in the Senate or requiring candidates for office to move from lower to higher officer (from military tribune to aedile to quaestor to praetor to consul). Some are valuable, such as his changes to the courts. I am unclear how courts worked before Sulla. There are references to trial by Tribal Assembly, but also to juries consisting of Senators and equestrians (the first class). It is suggested that the Assembly had to pass a procedure authorizing every major trial! Trial by jury apparently allowed appeal to the Assembly, and only the Assemblies could pass the death sentence on a Roman citizen. Sulla establishes regular judges to preside over different kinds of trials. He ends the right of appeal (saying that if the Assembly authorizes the procedure, the Assembly will approve the trials and no appeal will be necessary). He also ends the death penalty for Roman citizens with one exception. (A hypocritical action given his own proscription lists!) He requires all consuls to allow ten years before they run for the office again and requires all consuls and praetors to serve a year abroad as governors after their terms are up.
He also wants to prevent anyone else from doing what he has done and marching on Rome. So he makes it a crime for any provincial governor or general campaigning abroad, without consent of the Senate to leave the province, march beyond the provincial frontier, start a war, invade a client state, change the status of any foreign country, recruit troops, or remain in the province more than six months after his replacement is sent. These are to be tried in the treason court, with the presumed penalty of exile with loss of property. But treason by any civilian or anyone within the Italian peninsula is to be tried by the Centuriate Assembly, and the penalty is crucifixion.
This is Sulla's attempt to prevent a repeat performance. Of course, he is not successful. Once the unthinkable happens, it ceases to be unthinkable. Trouble is brewing in several forms. Diehard Marian Quintus Sertorius has set up his own independent country in Spain and is receiving aid from Rome's enemies, as well as being in correspondence with supporters at home who want him to return and depose Sulla. Sulla, like Marius, wants to give his soldiers land. But while Marius gave his men land a safe distance away, Sulla gives them land in Italy, taken from owners in rebellious areas. This had the dual effects of inciting discontent and new rebellion and of ensuring that anyone who wants to start a civil war will have plenty of experienced veterans to call on.
And one general is already seeking to emulate Sulla -- young Pompey. Pompey's father was lord of much of northern Italy, with a substantial private army at his command. Young Pompey spots who is going to win this civil war and offers his services to Sulla. He wins victories on Sulla's behalf and shows such enthusiasm executing Sulla's enemies that he is soon know as the Kid Butcher. (His father was know as the Butcher or the Cross-Eyed Butcher). Pompey has both more and less regard for tradition than Sulla. When he wins important victories in Africa but is denied a triumph, Pompey promptly emulates Sulla and marches on Rome. But it is a bluff; he just wants a triumph, not a military dictatorship. Sulla agrees, but then makes Pompey's triumph the third in six days to diminish its importance. Pompey undercuts his own triumph by having his chariot drawn by elephants instead of horses, only to discovery that they won't fit through the gates! The Senate ends up laughing at him. Pompey refuses Sulla's offer of a seat in the Senate, silently vowing that he will repay the Senate's humiliation of him by humiliating them. Sulla sees Pompey as dangerous enough that he buys his loyalty by getting a law that will allow the Senate to give military command to a non-member in case of emergency.
Confident that all power is concentrated in the hands of the Senate, Sulla then steps down. (His dictatorship lasted only about three years; he died about a year later). For reasons that are far from clear, he then appoints as his successors two consuls, one a supporter and one an opponent. Friction promptly develops between them as one seeks to uphold Sulla's measures and one to repeal them. Soon Sulla's opponent is in open revolt, backed by the parts of Italy that Sulla most mistreated. Veteran troops, settled near at hand and feeling bored, scramble to take sides. Meanwhile Pompey, whose land holding have made him fabulously wealthy, bribes a number of influential Senators to form a faction in his favor. He encourages them to stir up the revolt so he can be called upon to suppress it. He also gets them to send him to Spain to defeat Sertorius, which takes several years, but eventually succeeds.
Then Spartacus leads his slave revolt. (Yes, it really did happen at this time). He and his followers first seek to join Sertorius in Spain, but when they learn that Sertorius is defeated, the head for other parts of Italy that Sulla treated most brutally and are eager to rebel again. They sack and pillage anyone who resists. Crassus fights an all-out war of extermination against them. Pompey finishes up a remnant who escape.
Both men intend to parlay their military victories into consulship -- fine and good for Crassus, but Pompey is not even in the Senate and has never held elective office before, making his consulship unconstitutional. Both are fabulously wealthy and seek to buy up as many Senators as possible. Both also bring in their armies, and the threat of civil war once again looms. Caesar manages to patch up a peace between them by pointing out that they are both guilty of treason and that their only hope is to restore the powers of the tribunes, who will then get a law enacted to pardon both of them. (NOTE: The author made up that part. There is no evidence of it).
Crassus and Pompey then become co-consuls and restore the powers of the tribunes. Both fabulously wealthy, both dig deep into their own pockets to buy popularity. At the end of their year in power, both retire, exhausted, to see to their personal fortunes. Peace and prosperity have been restored, at least for now.
At least as interesting as the plot are how McCullough portrays her characters. More on that in my next few posts.
*March on Rome seems awkward to say, because in modern times it is what Mussolini did. But it is what Sulla did as well.