" To go to the tribunes. "
Gaius Gracchus, Tribune of the Plebs, addresses the people - Credit: Wikimedia Commons
were officials whose role was to protect the people and their interests from harmful acts or decisions of the magistrates. A tribune was sacrosanct; any assault on his person was prohibited by law. Ordinarily, they had the right to convene the plebeian assembly, to propose legislation, and to veto any action or proposed law of a magistrate or the senate. However, the dictator Sulla had severely reduced the power of the tribunes in his reforms
of 82/81 BC. At this point, a tribune’s right to veto was limited, his right to legislate and put someone on trial removed, and he was debarred from holding further office. The powers of the tribunes would soon be restored, but for now it is to these weakened officials that Cicero has gone for help.
" this peculiar creature was none other than the great-grandson of the famous Marcus Porcius Cato "
The famous Marcus Porcius Cato
referred to here is known to us as Cato the Elder, distinguishing him from his great-grandson Cato the Younger. Cato the Elder was a ‘new man’ from an ancient plebeian family who worked his way up the political career ladder to hold the top positions in Roman government (consul and censor at the beginning of the 2nd
century BC). During the Punic Wars against Carthage, he urged against any leniency with their enemy; his motto was ‘Carthage must be destroyed.’ Following Roman victory in the Third Punic War, Carthage was indeed destroyed and the ground salted over to prevent crops from growing.
Cato the Elder was also famous for his traditional Republican values and hatred of excessive displays of wealth. He passed a number of regulations limiting personal luxury, including taxes on dress and personal adornment. He believed strongly that no man should be allowed to seek too much individual power and was a political and personal enemy of Scipio Africanus, the famous Roman general who defeated Hannibal in the Second Punic War, hailed as king by the native Spanish troops serving under him.
" from Picenum in the Italian north-east, the power base of Pompey the Great "
Picenum was a region in Roman Italy and the birthplace of Pompey.
Alexander the Great
" the larger-than-lifesize bust of Pompey, posed in the headgear and armour of Alexander the Great "
was a Macedonian ruler and general of the 4th
century BC who conquered a large area of the ancient world, including Egypt and Persia. By Pompey’s time there had been a long tradition of ambitious men associating themselves with Alexander, often by likening statues of themselves to the Hellenistic general. Such artistic associations, however, were looked on with distaste by the more traditionalist Republicans, who disapproved of the implications suggested by portraying oneself as a mighty king.
" I suppose it makes a change from the Three Graces "
were three Greek goddesses of charm, grace and beauty. Cicero is referring here to the tendency amongst the Roman elite to display their wealth, cultured upbringing, classical education and good taste through art inspired by the Greek myths and culture, or replicas based on original Greek art. This inevitably led to the same fashionable subjects being repeated over and over in all the grand (and those with pretensions of grandeur) Roman houses.
" You know the old poem – “In Rome Metelli are, ‘tis fate,/Elected to the consulate.” "
This saying has been doubtfully attributed to the poet Naevius (c.270-201 BC). In Cicero’s actual published speech against Verres, Cicero uses this saying to make a joke at the expense of Quintus Metellus, the second consul-elect, who had tried to threaten his Sicilian witnesses. He implies that it was Verres’ money, not fate, that got this particular Metellus elected:
“…whereas the rest of your family attained their consulships ‘by act of fate’, yours was the product of his efforts!” (Cicero, Against Verres 1)
See a larger version of the Metellus brothers' family tree here. Consuls in the family are marked with a c.
" Terentia’s distant ancestor who had commanded the Roman line against Hannibal at Cannae a century and a half before "
was the Carthaginian general who famously marched his troops and his war elephants over the alps into Italy during the Second Punic War. He was eventually defeated by Scipio Africanus in 202 BC. Cannae
was a major battle of the Second Punic War, fought near the town of Cannae in southeast Italy. The army was led by the two consuls of that year: Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Terentia’s distant ancestor Gaius Terentius Varro.
" magnificently turned out in the formal dress of a Roman matron "
Roman women would normally wear a peplos
or a chiton
, two variations of a long, full tunic, tied at the waist. Elaborate shoulder pins and belts might then be added. The traditional dress of a Roman matron included the stola
, a long tunic worn over the top of the dress, usually hung from the shoulders with short straps. This was a symbol of marriage, but not all women chose to wear it; it was not a very flattering or fashionable piece of clothing. Respectable women might also wear a long cloak (palla
) when venturing outside. This was draped around the body and over the shoulder, a little like a man’s toga. This cloak could be pulled up to cover the head, another sign of respectability. Find out more about Roman clothes and fashions here
" He actually had the nerve to ask her if she liked dancing "
Dancing was not generally thought proper behaviour amongst reputable Romans, and was certainly not a suitable activity for a respectable Roman woman. Dancing was the activity of drunken men, slave girls and prostitutes.
" provided intelligence on the loyalty of the Roman centuries "
Basic Breakdown of the Roman Army (After Marian Reforms):
The century was the smallest unit in the Roman army, made up of around 80 men. Each century was led by a military leader called a centurion. Two centuries made a maniple, and three maniples made a cohort. Ten cohorts formed a legion. Each legion was assigned six military tribunes. How many legions were given to a particular commander depended on the severity of the campaign. The overall commander would be a man of senatorial rank, sometimes with little or no military training or experience; he would often rely heavily on the expertise of his junior officers.