Cinna and His Times - Harold Bennett

Chapter IV
Summary of Conclusions

Cinna's motives—His relations with Marius—His position during period 86-84 B.C.—Constitutionality of his administration—Position of senate and comita—Character of his rule—His lack of constructive statesmanship—"Democratic party" a misnomer—Significance of Cinna in evolution of Roman government.

Thus perished in the fourth year of his despotism the first tyrant of Rome since the expulsion of the Tarquins; the forerunner of the army-made emperors.

Because he stands at the dawn of a new epoch in the political experience of the Roman people, it would be particularly interesting to study Cinna's motives and to analyze the principles and character of his rule. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the ancient sources give us practically no information on his administration of the state, and offer but little opportunity for judging his motives. However, some inferences may be drawn from the material at hand, and it may be worthwhile to attempt to establish probabilities where we cannot demonstrate the facts.

Cinna's earlier activities show no indication of a definite goal, but only a general striving after personal advancement. Whether or not we accept the story of the Italian bribe, "his rapid changes of policy just before and just after he entered upon his first consulship are an index of his motives. Appearing first as the defender of the democracy against senatorial aggression, he changed to professions of enthusiasm for Sulla's anti-democratic reforms when this course opened up a safer path to the place of power. Once in office, however, he repudiated both his former connections, and sold his services, either for cash or for promises, to a third party with interests inimical to both the others. He appears at this time as a man of no political convictions, but simply as an unprincipled opportunist, ready to serve wherever the reward would be greatest, building with broken faith and perjured oath an ascent to power but dimly discerned.

After his expulsion from the city, he formed an alliance with Marius, not from any political sympathy, but simply for the better achievement of their separate interests. The bargain was made as between equals, but that Cinna actually remained in control throughout their association appears from several incidents, of which the most significant are; first, his attempt to negotiate with Metellus secondly, the drastic measures which he authorized against Marius's troop of slaves, when they refused to observe a limit to the bloodshed. It is significant also that the ancient writers generally place upon Cinna the responsibility for the massacre of 87 B.C., although it is clear that many of the victims were special enemies of Marius. The association with Marius, then, was all of a part with Cinna's opportunistic policy, and not based upon any real community of party interest. It was understood between them, just as it had been between Marius and Sulpicius, that as soon as their enterprise succeeded, Marius was to take the coveted command and leave the political field free to his erstwhile partner. It is true that Marius became the colleague of Cinna in the consulship of 86 B.C., but the purpose of this move was to give him a constitutional right to oust Sulla rather than to establish a diarchy. There can be no doubt that Marius was preparing to lead an expedition to the East when death removed him even more effectively from Cinna's path.

Though it cannot have been a long premeditated plan, autocracy was undoubtedly Cinna's ultimate aim. The fact that during the three years following the death of Marius he was supreme and absolute ruler stands out in well-attested clearness from the evidence of many and varied ancient authorities. "Dominatio" is the word regularly used of his administration, and his authority extended not only over Italy, but over practically the whole Roman world save the war zone in the East. Provincial governors appointed during Cinna's tenure of office seem to have asserted their authority successfully in all the western provinces. Africa was recovered from a Cinnan governor, C. Fabius Hadrianus, by Q. Metellus Pius in 83 B.C., after an unsuccessful attempt had been made in the previous year. Sardinia was recovered from the praetor, Q. Antonius Balbus, by the legate of Sulla, L. Philippus. Spain was unsafe for Sullan sympathizers in 85/84 B.C., for M. Licinius Crassus, whose father and elder brother lost their lives in the Cinnan massacre, spent eight months there, and had to remain concealed in a cave. It is clear, therefore, that the governors of these two provinces whom Sertorius expelled in 82 B.C., must have been Cinnan appointees who had changed sides after Sulla's return, and refused to surrender their provinces to a Cinnan successor. The same thing seems to have happened in Cisalpine Gaul, but there C. Valerius Flaccus was successful in continuing to administer under Sulla the province which he had secured under the former regime. Sicily seems to have been a Cinnan stronghold, for it was there that Carbo and his associates gathered for their last stand after their defeat in Italy.

All the western provinces, then, seem to have acknowledged the authority of the Roman government of which Cinna was the dominating spirit. He himself occupied the consulship in conjunction with a colleague, but the colleague was nominated by Cinna, and their election was at best only a matter of form. The other magistracies were continued, but it is probable that the nominations to these also went by Cinna's favor. A certain measure of constitutionality, however, appears to have been observed in the selection of candidates. For instance, it is known that L. Valerius Flaccus, the consul suffectus of 86 B.C., had previously been curule aedile and praetor, and it is probable that Cn. Papirius Carbo had also reached the consular age and administered the lower magistracies before he was elevated to the curule chair. Q. Sertorius, on the other hand, although certainly the ablest of Cinna's associates, and of equal rank with Carbo in the military operations of 87 B.C., did not reach the praetorship until the year 83, evidently because he had previously attained no higher civil grade than the quaestorship. Other examples of this regard for the constitutional qualifications are to be observed in the choice of Philippus and Perperna as censors of 86 B.C., and their nomination of L. Valerius Flaccus as princeps senatus. These men never belonged to the Cinnan party, but were obviously advanced by Cinna's consent on account of the absence of constitutionally qualified candidates among his own associates. It would appear, then, that Cinna's plan was to establish an absolutism while appearing to retain the established magistracies of the republic in strict constitutional form; that is, in this respect he anticipated, and perhaps to some extent suggested, the policy of the great founder of the principate, [Augustus Caesar]. Of course, the principle from which he derived his own title to authority, namely, the re-election to the consulship, was unconstitutional, but a precedent for the suspension of the law in question had already been established in the case of P. Scipio Africanus (cos. 147, 134 B.C.), and C. Marius (cos. 107, 104-100 B.C.).

Regarding the position of the senate during Cinna's domination, we have very little information. It certainly continued to function, but we have only two direct references to its activity, namely, its reluctant confirmation of Fimbria in the command he had usurped, and its action upon Sulla's letter. In both these cases, the senate appears to have acted as its own master, and in the latter adopted a course which was obviously antagonistic to the views of Cinna, The evidence is hardly sufficient to warrant a general conclusion, but it does indicate that the senate continued to exercise authority in matters which fell within its recognized field, and was far from having been forced into servile acquiescence to the will of the dominant consul. Probably the pro-Sullan element, conformed but not converted, still made up a considerable part of its membership. Senatorial influence on legislation, however, must have been at a very low ebb during the years of Sulla's absence. Very few new laws were enacted, and there can be little doubt that these were proposed by the magistrates directly to the citizen assembly.

The comita were certainly retained as the supreme legislative authority of the state, though there are but few recorded instances of their activities. The measure introduced by the consul L. Valerius Flaccus (86 B.C.) for the relief of debtors is cited as a "lex," and was therefore regularly passed by the comitia; the decrees of exile also must have been regularly voted upon, as their legality was admitted even by the opponents of the party. The negative evidence is strongly corroborative. It has already been pointed out that Cinna lost no time in redeeming his promise to have the Italians enrolled in all the tribes. Is it likely, then, that they would have quietly submitted to seeing their hard-won rights again turned to a mockery by the discontinuance of the tribal assembly? On the contrary, the absence of any subsequent unrest and the hostile attitude of the Italians toward Sulla's return are clear indications that they were well contented with their political position under Cinna's rule.

Nor is there any evidence of any attempt by Cinna to promulgate arbitrary legislation or to substitute the magisterial edict for the vote of the people. One case is recorded of an unusual use of the praetorian edict, namely that of M. Marius Gratidianus regarding the regulation of the currency. So far as I know, there is no parallel for the use of the praetor's edict in this field, but the circumstances clear the magistrate from any suspicion of the arbitrary assumption of unconstitutional power. The agitation for the reform was begun by the college of tribunes, any one of whom might have proposed a new law to remedy the trouble, without any fear of its rejection. Their consultation with the praetors, therefore, points to an attempt to deal with the situation without any alteration of the existing laws. Some solution on this basis must have been found; possibly it was decided to withdraw the plated denarii from circulation at Rome, and to use them for export to distant parts, where their intrinsic value would not be called into question. This practice certainly seems to have been followed later, and may very well have been introduced at this time.

Once firmly established in authority, Cinna appears to have used his power with moderation, and to have given Italy a form of government which was satisfactory to all save the extremists of the former ruling class. The silence of the sources on the period of his supremacy is (considering the party color of the historians) the best evidence for the absence of abuse, and the general opposition which met Sulla on his return shows plainly that Italy was far from feeling the need of a deliverer. Cicero's description of the period as "sine iure et sine ulla dignitate" (without rights and without dignity) is astonishing for its mildness when one considers the author's personal political views and his abhorrence of arbitrary rule in any form. No matter how benevolent the despot, a despotism to Cicero would still be "sine ulla dignitate." A passage in the speech pro Quinctio makes it clear that in describing the times as "sine iure" Cicero meant that the courts were administered in the interests of the dominant party. The charge is undoubtedly true, but such conditions were by no means an innovation due to Cinna. They have been found to obtain to a greater or less degree in all ages and places where judicial officers have been elected or appointed in virtue of their political connections. Had Cinna's principles of government been never so high, he would hardly have been able to keep his administration free from this abuse.

The merits of Cinna's administration, however, are mainly negative. Apart from the equalization of the Italians, not a single example of constructive statesmanship can be assigned to his credit. This may be due in some measure to the hostility of the historians who were the sources of the extant records, and to the fact that all traces of Cinnan innovation must have been completely swept away in the Sullan reaction, but it is hardly possible that any important reform could have been executed, or even projected, without some reference to it having been preserved. A fair conclusion would be that certain minor reforms and adjustments may have been made, but that nothing on a large scale or of permanent influence was attempted. From this again it is apparent that Cinna made himself master of Rome not from any conviction that the existing form of government needed remodeling, nor as the representative of any party of reform, but simply to gratify a personal ambition for power.

The use of the term "democratic party" as a synonym for the Cinnan party is, therefore, misleading if not entirely erroneous. Democratic government, in the ancient sense of the word, had become impracticable at Rome long before the enfranchisement of the Italians made it impossible. The so-called democratic party in the period between the Gracchi and Caesar was really nothing more than a fitful opposition by the politically ambitious to the monopolization of the high offices and senatorial control by a small circle of 'noble' families. It probably had no continuous organization or permanent constructive program, but existed only as a field of potentiality from which an aggressive leader might at any time find adherents for a revolutionary enterprise. Such movements are generally ostensibly democratic, but whatever previous leaders of this anti-oligarchical sentiment may have professed or intended, it is clear that Cinna made no pretensions of championing any other reform movement than the equalization of the Italians. He did not even attempt to conciliate the 'sovereign people' by undertaking to sponsor class legislation in their interest, but forced through his Italian program against the will of senate and old citizens alike.

It is safe to say that of all the leaders of senatorial opposition from the Gracchi to Caesar, Cinna was the least democratic of all, saving perhaps Sulpicius, whose political program he inherited. Of course, the program of Italian equalization was democratic in a wider sense than the partisan, but one can hardly doubt that Cinna adopted it more as a means than as an end, and that his true objective was, not the establishment of an all-Italian democracy, but a new oligarchy with himself as the central figure and the Italian citizen body as the guarantor of power. He achieved his end, carried out his pledges, and gave Italy a government which, if not good, must have been at least tolerably free from abuse; but his measures were temporary and his vision limited. Far from grasping the tremendous issues which the equalization of Italy involved, he failed even to make adequate preparations for the safeguarding of his own position. Ambitious, courageous, strong of will and firm of purpose, Cinna nevertheless lacked those essentials of true statesmanship, political insight and constructive imagination. The one permanent achievement of his career was the equalization of the Italians, but his historical importance rests more upon his example than his performance, and undoubtedly the chief point of his significance in the evolution of Roman government lies in his plan of cloaking absolute power behind the forms of constitutional government.