Cicero, Clodius, and the Triumvirs.
(Aet. 45-48. B.C. 62-59. Epist. III.-IX.)
9. The year 62 B.C.
opened with a series of bitter attacks upon the
senate by Pompey's tool, the tribune Metellus Nepos, supported by the praetor
C. Julius Caesar. Against Cicero, his consulship, and the execution of the
conspirators, Metellus made his fiercest onslaughts,
but the Optimates were
too strong for their opponents. Metellus fled to Pompey
for protection and
Caesar was forbidden for a time to administer the duties of his office.
It was during this period of political uproar that Cicero delivered one of the
most charming of his orations, in defending the claim to citizenship of his old
friend and teacher, Archias.
10. In December of this year, while Caesar was absent in Spain, a festival was
held at his house in honor of the goddess Bona Dea, which it was unlawful for
men to attend . but during the meeting, P. Clodius, a patrician, was found to
be present in disguise (Cf. Epist V.). A judicial investigation
of the matter was made, but Clodius secured an acquittal through the kind
offices of Crassus, who bribed a majority of the jurors. Cicero does not seem
to have taken an active part in the discussion of the Clodian matter in the
but when, in the trial, Clodius attempted to establish an alibi by
offering evidence to prove that he was at Interamna, ninety miles from Rome, at
the time of the sacrilege, Cicero went on the witness stand and testified that
he had seen Clodius in Rome within three hours of the time he claimed to have
been at Interamna.
The anger of Clodius was aroused still more by the humiliation which he
suffered in debate at Cicero's hands,
so that henceforth he thought of little
else than avenging himself upon Cicero. The clash between Clodius and the
senate, and the desire which Clodius felt to injure Cicero, threw Clodius into
the arms of the democratic party, so that the affair, which at the outset was a
purely personal one, developed into a political antagonism.
11. In Jan., 61 B.C., before the trial of Clodius took place, Pompey returned
from the East. Both the senatorial party and the democratic party were anxious
to secure his support; but, with that fatuity which characterized his conduct
so often, he satisfied neither faction. The senate, however, found an
opportunity to punish him for his coldness toward them by declining either to
ratify his arrangements in the
East or to give the accustomed gratuities to his veterans; but his hopes for
the next year were raised by the election of his adherent, L. Afranius, to the
consulship for 60 B.C..
Clodius had been absent for a year as quaestor in
Sicily, and Cicero, although not foreseeing definitely the danger which
threatened him, looked forward with some anxiety to the return of Clodius.
12. A variety of causes conspired in 60 B.C.
to weaken the conservative
party. The knights, who farmed the provincial revenues, in a large degree,
finding that they had made their bids too high, wished to cancel their
The senate would not give its consent. It also passed a measure to
investigate the bribery of the jury in the Clodian trial, and as many of the
suspected jurors were equites, that class regarded the measure as a
political attack upon themselves. The senatorial party was also weakened by
the death of one of its most judicious leaders, Q. Catulus, in the spring of 60 B.C.,
by the indifference of others, like Lucullus, and by the
ascendency of extremists like Cato and Favonius.
13. It was under these circumstances that Caesar returned, fresh from his
victories in Spain, to sue for the consulship. Pompey had won from the senate
nothing but a triumph, and willingly made common cause with Caesar. The
coalition was strengthened by the addition of Crassus, and thus, in the summer
of 60 B.C.
, the so-called First Triumvirate was secretly formed.
The triumvirs carried out the first item in their programme by the election of
Caesar to the consulship for 59 B.C., but with Bibulus,
an extreme aristocrat,
as his colleague; and notwithstanding the violent opposition of Bibulus
and the Optimates, Caesar secured the passage of an agrarian law
and bills ratifying Pompey's arrangements in the East,
while the people, under the
leadership of the tribune P. Vatinius, approved a bill assigning to Caesar,
from Mar. 1, 59 B.C., the provinces of Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum, with an
army of three legions for five years, to which the senate, apparently of its
own motion, added Transalpine Gaul and a fourth legion.
14. After the return of Caesar, Cicero took little part in politics. He did
not sympathize with the uncompromising attitude of the senate, he was hurt by
the coldness of Pompey towards himself, and disappointed by that leader's
selfish aims. While appreciating the irresistible power of the Triumvirate, he
saw a ray of hope in the apparent unpopularity of the triumvirs,
whose rule, he believed, could not last long. Clodius continued straight on toward his
cherished purpose of avenging himself upon Cicero. With that end in view he
caused himself to be adopted by a plebeian, Fonteius, and secured an election
as tribune for the year 58.
Cicero would seem to have been blind to his own danger. He knew of the enmity
of Clodius, but did not fear him, so that he made no opposition to his adoption
or his election, and as late as Nov., 59 B.C., writes in a confident way of the
The conduct of Caesar, who appreciated Cicero's danger, was most
generous. He offered Cicero the position of legatus in Gaul.
This offer, however, Cicero declined, as well as that of a legatio libera,
and a position on the commission to divide the public land in Campania.