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Marius And Jugurtha Notes

Classics Notes > Roman History; the Roman Republic from 146 BC to 46 BC Notes

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Consider developments in Roman politics 121-100 BC. What earlier issues persisted in this period, and what new issues arose? Can we discern any changes in the relationship between senators and equites, nobiles and new men?
The post-Gracchan period of Roman politics was dominated by the same inner tensions between the nobility and the plebs which, if anything, worsened and then exploded during the conflict with Jugurtha and then the war in Gaul. Demagogues, who did not appear to have the same well meaning spirit as the Gracchi, fired up the people against their leaders and showed the shallowness of Roman political stability. The tense relationship between the senators and equites also changed as the knights began to side with the people against the nobility, whose aversion to new men also became increasingly apparent. Appian and Sallust combine well to illustrate how the nobility took advantage of the period of peace just before the Jugurthine war to promote their own wealth and power at the expense of the lower classes. It is important to understand how this period exacerbated tensions and created a potentially explosive situation which needed only the slightest spark to set it off; a spark duly provided by Jugurtha. Appian talks about how immediately after the death of Gaius Gracchus counter legislation was passed to allow the rich to force the poor to sell their land and as the situation deteriorated further laws were passed to undermine Gracchan agrarian policy, leaving the people "deprived of absolutely everything." As a result of this the same problems which Tiberius and Gaius tried to resolve began to resurface, the population fell and the land was dominated by huge estates; similar problems bring similar results and this was one of the underlying causes of the plebeian backlash against oppression by the nobility, just as had happened with the Gracchans. Sallust goes further and says that in the period of inactivity following the Punic war the nobility appropriated, looted and seized all that they could from the people and began to monopolize all the power in the state, "The conduct of the war and of domestic matters rested on the decision of a few; in the same hands were the treasury, provinces, magistracies, glories and triumphs; the people were oppressed by soldiering and want, while commanders and a few others snatched the plunder of war." The domination of senatorial power was exactly what Gaius Gracchus was attempting to counteract with many pieces of his legislation; Sallust talks in very harsh terms of how Gaius and Tiberius were executed by the state for attempting to share out power and how they annihilated anyone who tried to oppose them. Again it is clear that the same problems were reoccurring and the fact that the nobility had to act very violently against men such as the Gracchi to restore their former prestige made the situation even worse and the response by the people even more extreme: "For as soon as the nobility were discovered who would put true glory before unjust power, the community began to quake and civil dissension to arise, like a convulsion of the earth." The first response to this came from the tribune Gaius Memmius, "a fierce man and hostile to the power of the nobility", in 111 who vehemently attacked the corruption and incompetence of the senate in dealing with the Jugurthine affair, something which he used as a pretext for a much wider attack on the senatorial class. Sallust's depiction of bribery at

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