The Roman empire, as it existed in those days, must not be conceived of by the reader as united together under one compact and consolidated government. It was, on the other hand, a vast congeries of nations, widely dissimilar in every respect from each other, speaking various languages, and having various customs and laws. They were all, however, more or less dependent upon, and connected with, the great central power. Some of these countries were provinces, and were governed by officers appointed and sent out by the authorities at Rome. These governors had to collect the taxes of their provinces, and also to preside over and direct, in many important respects, the administration of justice. They had, accordingly, abundant opportunities to enrich themselves while thus in office, by collecting more money than they paid over to the government at home, and by taking bribes to favor the rich man’s cause in court. Thus the more wealthy and prosperous provinces were objects of great competition among aspirants for office at Rome. Leading men would get these appointments, and, after remaining long enough in their provinces to acquire a fortune, would come back to Rome, and expend it in intrigues and maneuvers to obtain higher offices still.
[Sidenote: Foreign wars.] [Sidenote: The victorious general.]
Whenever there was any foreign war to be carried on with a distant nation or tribe, there was always a great eagerness among all the military officers of the state to be appointed to the command. They each felt sure that they should conquer in the contest, and they could enrich themselves still more rapidly by the spoils of victory in war, than by extortion and bribes in the government of a province in peace. Then, besides, a victorious general coming back to Rome always found that his military renown added vastly to his influence and power in the city. He was welcomed with celebrations and triumphs; the people flocked to see him and to shout his praise. He placed his trophies of victory in the temples, and entertained the populace with games and shows, and with combats of gladiators or of wild beasts, which he had brought home with him for this purpose in the train of his army. While he was thus enjoying his triumph, his political enemies would be thrown into the back ground and into the shade; unless, indeed, some one of them might himself be earning the same honors in some other field, to come back in due time, and claim his share of power and celebrity in his turn. In this case, Rome would be sometimes distracted and rent by the conflicts and contentions of military rivals, who had acquired powers too vast for all the civil influences of the Republic to regulate or control.
[Illustration: Roman plebeians.]
[Sidenote: Military rivals.] [Sidenote: Marius and Sylla.] [Sidenote: The patricians and plebeians.] [Sidenote: Civil contests.] [Sidenote: Quarrel about the command of the army.] [Sidenote: Sylla’s violence.]