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Trouble in the East

Decline of the Republic

After the death of Sulla in 78 BC, additional and expected power grabs were the result. Unpopular while he was still alive, Sulla's reforms went under immediate attack without fear of reprisal. Political turmoil was once again the call of the day and various personalities emerged from the restraints of Sulla's power. Among these leading men were his former supporters such as M. Aemilius Lepidus, Q. Lutatius Catulus and Marcus Licinius Crassus. Other men who opposed Sulla, such as Sertorius in Spain figured prominently as well. Two men however, rose above them all. Marcus Tullius Cicero rose to prominence by becoming arguably the most gifted orator and lawyer (along with respectable political skills) in the history of the world, while another, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, stood above them all as the leading military personality before Caesar.

Q. Lutatius Catulus and M. Aemilius Lepidus were elected Consuls for 78 BC and both men were staunch Sulla supporters. At first it seemed that they would maintain the status quo regarding the constitutional reforms. This was not to be the case, however, at least as it pertained to Lepidus. Almost immediately after Sulla's death, Lepidus strongly opposed the reforms and began working to overturn them, and the two Consuls maintained an unhealthy animosity towards each other. He quickly supported the reinstatement of Tribunal powers as well as several other anti-Sullan moves. Among his proposals was a new grain law benefiting the populous, the restoration of exiles and confiscated properties, cancellation of land grants to Sulla's supporters and various acts introduced by Sulla during the civil war. All of these concepts, while popular with the masses, were opposed by Catulus and the hard line optimates.

Within a year, the matter devolved into civil war once again. Lepidus, who had been given Cisalpine Gaul as his pro-Consular province had a strong and loyal clientele base there already. He used his popular agenda to ignite a revolt in Etruria (a heavily victimized area of Sulla's land grants) and gathered many of Sulla's enemies to his cause. At Faesulae in 78 BC, Lepidus' supporters attacked a colony of Sullan settlers and the Senate was forced to act. The senatus consultum ultimum was passed once again, charging Catulus with suppressing Lepidus.

As Lepidus began to gather strength in Etruria for an impending march on Rome, Catulus commissioned Pompey with attacking Lepidus' power base in Gaul. Pompey moved north to face Lepidus' legate Brutus, and the issue was quickly resolved. Brutus was likely betrayed by his own army and given over to Pompey without a fight. Pompey, as he often did while serving Sulla, had Brutus killed for his involvement. When news reached Lepidus, he knew his cause, or perhaps his support was lost, and he gave up plans for marching on Rome. He fled to Sardinia with his forces, where he died shortly after of natural causes. This was not the end of the affair, however. While the situation in Italy was under control, M. Perperna Veiento, a Lepidus' supporter, took what remained of the forces in Sardinia to Spain. There he joined with the rebellion of Sertorius, who had been there in opposition to Sulla for several years already.

continue to Sertorius and Spain

Did you know?

Cisalpine Gaul was after Sicily and Corsica the third province of the Roman Empire and was merged into Italia in 42 BC, as part of Octavian's 'Italicisation' program during the Second Triumvirat.


Decline of the Republic - Related Topic: Caesar and Augustus


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