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The Opposition Jurists Aristocrats Friendly to Reform Democrats
When Sulla died in the year 676, the oligarchy which he had restored ruled with absolute sway over the Roman state; but, as it had been established by force, it still needed force to maintain its ground against its numerous secret and open foes. It was opposed not by any single party with objects clearly expressed and under leaders distinctly acknowledged, but by a mass of multifarious elements, ranging themselves doubtless under the general name of the popular party, but in reality opposing the Sullan organization of the commonwealth on very various grounds and with very different designs. There were the men of positive law who neither mingled in nor understood politics, but who detested the arbitrary procedure of Sulla in dealing with the lives and property of the burgesses. Even during Sulla's lifetime, when all other opposition was silent, the strict jurists resisted the regent; the Cornelian laws, for example, which deprived various Italian communities of the Roman franchise, were treated in judicial decisions as null and void; and in like manner the courts held that, where a burgess had been made a prisoner of war and sold into slavery during the revolution, his franchise was not forfeited. There was, further, the remnant of the old liberal minority in the senate, which in former times had laboured to effect a compromise with the reform party and the Italians, and was now in a similar spirit inclined to modify the rigidly oligarchic constitution of Sulla by concessions to the Populares. There were, moreover, the Populares strictly so called, the honestly credulous narrow-minded radicals, who staked property and life for the current watchwords of the party-programme, only to discover with painful surprise after the victory that they had been fighting not for a reality, but for a phrase. Their special aim was to re-establish the tribunician power, which Sulla had not abolished but had divested of its most essential prerogatives, and which exercised over the multitude a charm all the more mysterious, because the institution had no obvious practical use and was in fact an empty phantom–the mere name of tribune of the people, more than a thousand years later, revolutionized Rome.
There were, above all, the numerous and important classes whom the Sullan restoration had left unsatisfied, or whose political or private interests it had directly injured. Among those who for such reasons belonged to the opposition ranked the dense and prosperous population of the region between the Po and the Alps, which naturally regarded the bestowal of Latin rights in 665(1) as merely an instalment of the full Roman franchise, and so afforded a ready soil for agitation. To this category belonged also the freedmen, influential in numbers and wealth, and specially dangerous through their aggregation in the capital, who could not brook their having been reduced by the restoration to their earlier, practically useless, suffrage. In the same position stood, moreover, the great capitalists, who maintained a cautious silence, but still as before preserved their tenacity of resentment and their equal tenacity of power. The populace of the capital, which recognized true freedom in free bread-corn, was likewise discontented. Still deeper exasperation prevailed among the burgess-bodies affected by the Sullan confiscations–whether they like those of Pompeii, lived on their property curtailed by the Sullan colonists, within the same ring-wall with the latter, and at perpetual variance with them; or, like the Arretines and Volaterrans, retained actual possession of their territory, but had the Damocles' sword of confiscation suspended over them by the Roman people; or, as was the case in Etruria especially, were reduced to be beggars in their former abodes, or robbers in the woods. Finally, the agitation extended to the whole family connections and freedmen of those democratic chiefs who had lost their lives in consequence of the restoration, or who were wandering along the Mauretanian coasts, or sojourning at the court and in the army of Mithradates, in all the misery of emigrant exile; for, according to the strict family-associations that governed the political feeling of this age, it was accounted a point of honour(2) that those who were left behind should endeavour to procure for exiled relatives the privilege of returning to their native land, and, in the case of the dead, at least a removal of the stigma attaching to their memory and to their children, and a restitution to the latter of their paternal estate. More especially the immediate children of the proscribed, whom the regent had reduced in point of law to political Pariahs,(3) had thereby virtually received from the law itself a summons to rise in rebellion against the existing order of things.