Nobody’s Year: CHAOS (57 B.C.E.)


When the consuls for the year 57 BCE assumed
office, Rome was in bad shape. Cicero had been banished from the city, Clodius
and his supporters were on the streets, and political violence was on the rise. Two new consuls were walking into this mess:
the first was Lentulus, a well respected politician on friendly terms with Caesar and Pompey,
as well as Cicero. The second was Metellus Nepos. He was not well respected. He was a populist who had got into a bit of
a tussle with Cato in 62 BCE, which had ended with him being humiliated, and fleeing Rome
in disgrace. But he was one of Pompey’s people, and Pompey’s
support was enough to secure for him the consulship. Cicero’s younger brother, Quintus, went to
Pompey at the beginning of the year to make a deal on his brother’s behalf. He promised that if Pompey could get Cicero’s
banishment lifted, Cicero would agree to not criticize Pompey, Caesar, or Crassus openly. Remember that these three were in a semi-secret
alliance. Pompey agreed, but he had to run it by his
allies first. So a messenger was sent to Caesar in Cisalpine
Gaul. Initially Caesar wasn’t super supportive,
he was still feeling sore towards Cicero for not supporting his agenda during his year
as Consul, but getting this kind of concession out of one of Rome’s most influential politicians
was too good to pass up. He agreed. Crassus had no special quarrel with Cicero,
so he was cool with it too. With that, it was decided. Pompey pulled some strings, and at the Senate’s
first meeting, Lentulus put forward a proposal to lift Cicero’s banishment. Cicero’s personal popularity in the Senate
remained high, so that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that the Senate had been strong-armed
by Clodius the year before, and had felt pressured to force Cicero into exile. But with Lentulus introducing the bill, and
Metellus Nepos supporting it, and Pompey speaking passionately on its behalf, everybody felt
comfortable getting on board. It passed with a huge majority. As always, the legislation then went to a
Public Assembly to be rubber-stamped by the people. Clodius was no longer in elected office, but
he was still a senator, and had voted against the bill. And more importantly, he still had his gangs
of supporters out on the streets. On the day of the vote, Clodius showed up
with his gang, which included bunch of gladiators, armed with swords. Let’s not gloss over this. Up to this point political violence had been
somewhat normalized in Rome. Pushing and shoving had become common. Open street fights between different factions
were becoming more and more frequent. But make no mistake, Clodius was bringing
this to a whole new level. All of our sources say that he brought “gladiators,”
but don’t forget that these were professional killers, and Clodius was paying them. We have a word for that: mercenaries. Armed with swords. Rome was supposed to be a demilitarized zone,
and swords were forbidden in the city. I can’t overstate how significant this was. This was looking more and more like an armed
militia. Clodius’s supporters moved against the Public
Assembly, and there’s no other way to say it, it was horrible. Dead bodies covered the streets, and people
fled in terror. Several of the Tribunes of the Plebs were
seriously wounded, which, let’s not forget, was a death penalty offense. Cicero’s brother Quintus was there to see
the lifting of his brother’s banishment, and he survived the slaughter only by crawling
under some bodies and pretending to be dead. Titus Annius Milo was a popular, conservative
Tribune of the Plebs, and for him this was a life-altering experience. He decided on that day that the only way to
put an end to this political violence was to fight fire with fire. Milo rallied his supporters, and told them
to take to the streets. He then enlisted his own cadre of gladiators,
or mercenaries, whatever we’re calling them, and illegally armed them with swords as well. From that moment on, whenever Clodius showed
up and started to cause trouble on the streets, Milo responded by rallying his supporters
and causing trouble in return. Violent clashes broke out all over the city,
and the death toll skyrocketed. We have one description of the Tiber being
filled with corpses, and the ground at the Forum being covered in blood. This wasn’t just gangs getting into fistfights
anymore, these were men armed to the teeth, showing up with the intent to kill. This was anarchy. As the body count continued to rise, public
opinion began to turn. The mob violence was horrifying, and normal
citizens began to call for Cicero’s return. There are two reasons for this. First, people were hopeful that the violence
would stop if Cicero’s banishment was taken off the table. Second, Cicero was most well known for being
the guy who restored order during the Catiline Conspiracy. This “rule of law” kind of conservatism was
now looking pretty good, and as a result Cicero’s personal popularity soared. If Cicero was popular in Rome, he was a rock-star
in the rest of Italy. He had been born a provincial Italian, not
a native Roman, and the Italians viewed him as one of their own. It helped matters that he put in the work
to maintain these relationships, especially with some of the richer landowners in the
countryside. Pompey could sense that Rome was approaching
a tipping point, so he went on a tour of Italy, giving speeches and whipping up support. People from all over the countryside began
to flood into Rome to voice their support for overturning Cicero’s banishment. With Cicero’s popularity higher than ever,
the consul Lentulus launched a trial balloon. He introduced some legislation that didn’t
actually do anything except formally thank everybody in Rome who was working to get Cicero’s
banishment lifted. This passed with plenty of support, and got
through the Public Assembly without any violence. That was a good sign, so for the second time,
he introduced the legislation that would formally lift Cicero’s banishment. And again, Clodius voted against the bill,
but it didn’t matter. It passed with plenty of support. When it went before the People’s Assembly,
many powerful senators joined together and spoke to the crowd in support of the bill. Milo and his hired gladiators, armed with
their swords, were lined up protecting the stage. Clodius showed up with his supporters, but
when he saw Milo’s show of force, that scared him off. The bill was approved by the Public Assembly
pretty much unanimously. Cicero was free to re-enter the city. When he finally did, he was greeted with cheering
crowds. Cicero spoke before the Senate, and singled
out Pompey, thanking him for working tirelessly behind the scenes to get his banishment lifted. And with Cicero finally back in the Senate,
it was back to business. The most pressing issue to attend to was the
fact that Rome was currently in the middle of a food shortage. Clodius’s grain program, which had been passed
last year, had promised free food to the urban poor. Supply simply couldn’t keep up, and Rome’s
granaries were dry. Cicero suggested that the Senate appoint a
special commissioner to take command of Rome’s agricultural supply chain. This commissioner would have unilateral authority
to go and fix the problem, with the power to override regional governors or generals. Cicero then suggested that Pompey be that
man. Lentulus seized on this idea, and formally
put it before the Senate. With Cicero’s support, and the support of
both consuls, it passed easily. We can kind of piece together the deal that
was made here. Cicero’s banishment gets lifted with the help
of Pompey, and now Pompey gets a powerful assignment with the help of Cicero. Pompey left Rome to go and fix the grain situation,
and, Pompey being Pompey, he did it in no time at all, and made it look easy. Cicero was emboldened by his renewed popularity,
and had some scores to settle. Shortly after Pompey left Rome, Cicero marched
up to the Capitoline Hill with a small group of supporters, took the tablet that listed
Clodius’s accomplishments during his term as Tribune of the Plebs, and destroyed it. He then gave a speech, arguing that none of
Clodius’s actions as Tribune of the Plebs were valid, because his conversion from Patrician
to Plebeian was illegal. Keep in mind that Pompey and Caesar had been
the ones to oversee this conversion. Cicero had a legitimate feud with Clodius,
but indirectly dragging Pompey and Caesar into it makes it seem like Cicero was beginning
to go back on his promise not to criticize them openly. Cicero was making an extremely controversial
claim, and at the next Senate meeting Cato slapped him down by saying that it would be
highly irregular for them to overturn an entire year’s worth of legislation. Cicero was clearly out for blood, which is
why he had opened up with a full frontal assault on Clodius’s entire legislative legacy. But with that avenue closed to him, Cicero
began to make it clear that he was particularly interested in overturning a specific piece
of legislation, which he considered to be a highly symbolic, lingering, personal attack
against him. While Cicero had been banished, Clodius had
had Cicero’s home in the center of Rome demolished and had erected a temple to Liberty in its
place. To Cicero, this was a daily reminder of his
humiliation, and he felt that the only way to complete his political comeback was to
rebuild his home. The problem was, you couldn’t just tear down
a temple. It was religious issue, which took him before
a body we’re now familiar with, the College of Pontiffs. Remember, Caesar was the Pontifex Maximus,
which meant that he was supposed to oversee the College of Pontiffs. But he was off in Cisalpine Gaul, which meant
that the College kind of governed itself. Cicero made his arguments to them, and when
he was done, the College discussed the case behind closed doors. Finally, they came to a decision, and made
their report to the Senate. The College decided that it didn’t feel comfortable
overturning all of Clodius’s laws, since the Senate had actually affirmed all of his actions
when they had voted in favour of his legislation. But, taking into account the Senate’s acknowledgement
that they had acted foolishly when they banished Cicero, the College said that they would be
comfortable with changing the designation of the temple, allowing it to be demolished
if Cicero wished. On top of this ruling, the Senate voted to
foot a portion of the bill to rebuild Cicero’s home. This was a big symbolic victory for Cicero,
even though he would go on to complain that the Senate was deliberately snubbing him by
refusing to pay 100% of the cost. You just can’t please some people. Clodius was pretty upset by the Senate’s rebuke,
even if it was symbolic. Once the construction crews started work on
Cicero’s home, Clodius had his gang attacked, chasing them away. This wasn’t quite enough for them, so they
also attacked Cicero’s brother’s home, which was nearby, and set it on fire. Not long after this, Cicero was walking down
the street when Clodius’s gang attacked him. They were all throwing rocks, and he could
see that some had swords. He darted into the home of one of his supporters,
and a crowd gathered outside to fended off Clodius’s gang. When it’s no longer safe for senators to go
about their daily business, you know the political violence is out of control. The continuing threat of this violence had
forced the elections to be postponed several times. But finally, late in the year, they were held,
and Clodius was elected Aedile, proving once and for all that his support remained strong,
even after a year of setbacks at the hands of Milo and Cicero. At this point, Clodius and Milo were at each
other’s throats, each at the head of their own militia. Political rhetoric had reached unprecedented
heights, with the two men openly threatening to murder each other in public. And sadly, it would only get worse.

100 thoughts on “Nobody’s Year: CHAOS (57 B.C.E.)”

  1. Were the Latins considered different from Italians? Even if they were from the countryside of Latium? I only ask bc of the mention of Cicero being popular outside of Rome.

  2. It's interesting because we may be reaching this point again in this Country soon, where politicians are attacked in their daily business

  3. Deja Vu? I don't want to sound too political, but this scene (or a similar one with violence) I feel I've seen on American News…

  4. I would like to recommend a trilogy of books written by Robert Harris. Told from the view from Tiro, Cicero's secretary, slave and good friend, it's some of the best historical fiction that I have ever read in my life. It basically covers Cicero's rise in power and fame all the way until his downfall. The characters and dialogue are so well written that you feel like you're apart of the story

  5. It seems to me that the Republic was dead long before Caesar crossed the Rubicon. Tribunus plebis were sacrosanct. Only in the most extreme cases had one ever been physically harmed before and in the case of the Gracchi it was exceptional . This atrocity was truly shocking. It would have been then, even to the Romans at that time of all classes, utterly astonishing and horrifying.

  6. The "History" Channel is nothing but god awful reality TV shows now. But YouTube's History channels are thriving. Thank you for making these. This is why old media is dying.

  7. 2:48 Uh yeah no gladiators are more trained fighters than killers. They're no more trained to kill than a boxer/mma fighter would be to us in the modern day. So yeah its impressive he hired gladiators but that's just like hiring mike tyson and conor mcgregor to be your security rather than actual murders that kill people.

  8. It's utterly amazing how unpunished violence went, and how close "might" was to being "right"! THANK YOU FOR THESE AWESOME VIDEOS!!!

  9. 7:25 The two guys deciding to make Pompey the GRAIN COMMISSIONER were
    CICERO (Chickpea) and LENTULUS (Lentil).
    You couldn't make that up.

  10. This reminds me of situation in USA now, they are not at that stage of open hostility, but they are on that path with mob politics and intimidation tactics of opponents from left wing side.

  11. "It is astonishing how much we know about political beefs that went down more than 2000 years ago! Romans sure as hell knew how to document things!" -Wobbly Wombat 2

    This guy makes a good point. When Caesar, hired scribes to take down his memoirs, or to set in the Senate Curia and take dictation on bills and proceedings, they were in great detail about retaining accuracy. Yet, many (mostly recent) historians want to tell the lie that "ALL" Roman depictions of victories and enemies are inaccurate or completely fictional. I disagree. Especially if one considers the religious ethic attached to the marking of Roman letters. It was an affront to the Gods, to scribe a knowing falsehood, especially in trade or matters of debt and honor. Satire, political rhetoric and of course, poetry took liberties in this regard, but state and historical accounts were held to a spiritual standard of truth. No scribe wanted to be held to account for lies in Hades. Why would Caesar, painfully describe building a bridge, yet spin a total yarn about kills and losses in a battle? We are given accounts of battles between men and gladiators in the games or in public brawls for posterity so that all of the record is kept as it was in life.

    Food for thought.

  12. So a member of the Senate could attack and kill people and other members of the Senate with impunity,? This Republic was completely rotten.

  13. Thank you so much for your videos, they are absolutely fantastic. Sometimes you mispronounce Latin words or names like Léntulus, but it's a minor deal, a speck of dust compared to the hard work you've put into these wonderful videos.

  14. How was Claudius allowed to remain in Rome, let alone the Senate after not only inciting numerous slaughters, but clearly breaking the law by bringing gladiators armed with swords into Rome?

  15. I like how you say "whatever we're calling them" referring to the gladiators with Milo. Yet you pause the whole procession to obsess over the supposed gladiators with Clodius. You also speak of Milo "rallying" his supporters while Clodius, he simply shows up with his gang. You're as bad as Plutarch and Appian

  16. Imagine a US Senator hiring an armed militia to massacre people in the streets of DC and still having support afterwards. And the Romans called themselves civilized.

  17. Wild that at this period you could just run around murdering people and no one would stop you if you were popular.

  18. Wait, couldn’t Cicero just have some of his supporters argue that the political violence and the crimes against Rome should have him killed? He couldn’t do anything because of his deal, but I can’t imagine nobody else was upset about this political violence.

  19. If I was Cicero I would've proposed a bill to create a god dam police force. Mass violence in the streets should be enough of a reason for that

  20. Ok so real talk; if Claudius didn't have legal immunity why wasn't he executed like at least a dozen times throughout this shit … Just like constantly raiding Rome with mercenaries for political and personal gain? Nice…

  21. i know this is an oldie, but i always wanted to say: Anarchy does not equal chaos.

    Chaos is, well, chaos!

    Anarchy is the complete absence of it. Anarchy is (in my opinion) an unreal belief though. Not an impossible one, but one that requires ppl living in 6000 bce, where humanity has achieved an unprecedented level of conciousness in which we don't need governments anymore.

    Since anarchy has never been implemented anywhere in the world (and we therefore have no idea how it works, only very limited and isolated manifestations of it – mostly in protests, and by name only), i think its a bit unfair to make it a synonym of chaos. Just because some ppl who call themselves "anarchists" bombed places, that doesn't mean that anarchy is the same as chaos. Let us read up some more theory and debate it! 😀

    That's all, i love your work <3

  22. Wow with all that violence on the streets, and bullying elected officials im shocked to learn Antifa goes all the way back to Rome. Learn something new every day i guess

  23. I love Cicero, his political work is like a journey into all the glory that humankind could achieve if we embraced his teachings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *