Spengler on Propaganda in the Late-Roman Republic, on the transition from Democracy to Caesarism

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President Camacho

...For practically a century parties grouped on principles had been dissolving into personal followings grouped upon men who pursued private political aims and were expert in handling the political weapons of their time.

Amongst these means, besides money, was influence upon the courts. Since Classical assemblies voted, but did not debate, the trial before the rostra was a form of party-battle and the school of schools for political persuasiveness. The young politician began his career by indicting and if possible annihilating some great personage, as the nineteen-year-old Crassus annihilated the renowned Papirius Carbo, the friend of the Gracchi, who had later gone over to the Optimates. This was why Cato was tried no less than forty-four times*, though acquitted in every case.

*Extortion and corruption were the usual charges. As in those days these things were identical with politics, and the judges and plaintiffs had acted precisely in the same way as the defendants, the art consisted in using the forms of a well-acted ethical passion to cover a party speech, of which the real import was only comprehensible to the initiated. This corresponds entirely with the modern parliamentary usage. The "people" would be very much astonished to see party opponents, after delivering wild speeches in the chamber (for the reporters) chatting together in the lobbies, or to be told how a party passionately champions a proposal after it has made certain by agreement with the other side that it will not be passed. In Rome, too, the judgment was not the important thing in these "trials"; it was enough if a defendant voluntarily left the city and so retired from the occupancy of, or candidature for, office.

The legal side of the question was entirely subordinate in these affairs. The decisive factors were the party affinities of the judges, the number of patrons, and the size of the crowd of backers — the number of the witnesses was really only paraded in order to bring the financial and political power of the plaintiff into the limelight. The intention in all Cicero's oratory against Verres was to convince the judges, under the veil of fine ethical passion, that the condemnation of the accused was in the interests of their order. Given the general outlook of the Classical, the courts self-evidently existed to serve private and party interests. Democratic complainants in Athens were accustomed at the end of their speeches to remind the jurymen from the people that they would forfeit their fees by acquitting the wealthy defendant.

The tremendous power of the Roman Senate consisted mainly in their occupancy of every seat of the judicial (jurors') bench, which placed the destinies of every citizen at their mercy; hence the far-reachingness of the Gracchan law of 122 which handed over the judicature to the Equites and delivered over the nobility — that is, the official class — to the financial world. In 83 Sulla, simultaneously with his proscription of the financial magnates, restored the judicature to the Senate, as political weapon , of course, and the final duel of the potentates finds one more expression in the ceaseless changing of the judges selected.