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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor

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THE DEATH OF THE CONSPIRATORS

[353] THE Senate no sooner knew that Catiline was with the army than it proclaimed both him and Manlius public enemies.

A messenger was sent to the camp to offer pardon to any who should leave it within a certain time. But no one took advantage of this offer, while many soldiers continued to crowd into it. Rome grew more and more alarmed.

Antonius, the colleague of Cicero, was sent at the head of an army to Fæsulæ. As he was a friend of Catiline he pretended to be ill, and his army did the conspirators no harm. Cicero himself stayed to guard the city, for it was suspected that there was treachery within her walls.

Soon after this the Consul unexpectedly received the proof of the conspirators' guilt.

A Gallic tribe that had been forced to pay a heavy tax to the Romans now sent envoys to Rome to beg that the tax might be removed.

As it chanced, the conspirators in the city saw the envoys, and tried to persuade them to hasten back to their tribe and send a troop of cavalry to the help of the camp at Fæsulæ. They were assured that if they would do this Catiline would see that the money tax was removed.

The envoys promised to aid the conspirators, but they had scarcely left the city when they changed their minds.

Catiline's plot might fail, they said to one another, and then what would happen to their tribe for sending soldiers to his aid, while, if they told Cicero all that they knew, the Consul would certainly reward them well? So they [354] went back into the city and told Cicero what they had been asked to do.

The Consul knew that he now possessed the proof he had so long sought in vain. Moreover, the whole city would rise in fury when she heard that the conspirators had wished to invade Rome with the aid of Gallic troops. So he promised to reward the envoys well if they would do as he bade them.

They were again to leave Rome, and to appear to be faithful to Catiline. But when they had gone a little distance they would be arrested. Now were they to resist overmuch, while the letters they carried were to be given up after a mere show of reluctance.

The envoys agreed to do as the Consul wished, and soon the letters which betrayed the four conspirators within the city were in the hands of the Consul. They were at once arrested and put under guard, while one of them, being a prætor, was forced to resign his office.

Cicero then assembled the people, and delivered his third speech against Catiline and his fellow-conspirators.

When the people heard of the attempted league with Gaul they were roused to a frenzy. Their own leaders had betrayed them, and they were loud in their praise of Cicero for detecting the traitors' schemes.

The Consul had power to pronounce sentence of death on evil-doers, if it seemed necessary for the good of the State. But he did not use his power, begging the Senate rather to counsel him as to what sentence they should suffer.

Many of the senators urged that the four guilty men should be put to death, but Julius Cæsar was more merciful.

"Their crimes," he said, "deserve the severest punishment, but when the excitement is over, severity beyond the laws will be remembered, the crimes forgotten."

He then proposed that the four men should be imprisoned for life, and that their property should be confiscated.

Cæsar's words almost won the day. But Cato, the great- [355] grandson of the Censor, spoke violently against mercy being shown to the conspirators.

Cato was one of the sternest of the Optimates, and his influence was great enough to sway the Senate. It now voted by a majority for the death of the prisoners, and the Consul at once ordered the four men to be strangled.

As Cicero left the Senate-house and hastened through the crowd in the Forum, he said to the people: "They are dead." The citizens seemed satisfied that their city would now be safe, while Cato and Catulus commended Cicero as the "Father of his country."

Early in 62 B.C. Catiline tried to march into Gaul with the troops that had remained faithful to him. But the Roman army was watching for him. He was forced to fight, and nearly all his men were slain.


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