"The last serious resistance to the Roman power in the East
was offered by Mithridates VI., king of Pontus, the most formidable enemy encountered by
Rome since the death of Hannibal. The dominions of Mithridates embraced the whole eastern
coast of the Black Sea (Pontus Euxinus), including the kingdom of Bosporus (Crimea) on the
one hand, and Paphlagonia on the other, while the king of Armenia also was closely allied
to him by marriage. There were three "Mithridatic Wars." In the First the Romans
were commanded by Sulla (88-84 B.C.), who gained great successes, and forced Mithridates
to pay a large sum of money. In the Second (83-82), a short and unimportant affair,
Murena, the Roman commander, was worsted. The Third broke out in B.C. 74, and was
successfully conducted by Lucius Licinius Lucullus, the ablest general of the aristocracy.
When this war had continued for several years, the democratic faction (populares) tooke advantage of some temporary reverses sustained by Lucullus, and of the unpopularity of his administration, to revoke his command and give to the consul of B.C. 67, M'. Acilius Glabrio (the same who had presided at the trial of Verres), the eastern war as his "province." The law affecting this change was proposed by the tribune A. Gabinius, one of the most active demagogues of the time. Another law (lex Gabinia), proposed B.C. 67 by the same politician, required the Senate to appoint a commander of consular rank, with extraordinary powers for three years by land and sea, to suppress the piracy which infested every part of the Mediterranean, having its chief seat in Cilicia. It was understood as a matter of course that Gnaeus Ponpey, who had been living in retirement since his consulship, B.C. 70, would receive this appointment. Pompey accomplished his task with the most brilliant success, and in three months had the seas completely cleared.
Meantime Glabrio had shown himself wholly incompetent to conduct the war against Mithridates, and early in B.C. 66, the tribune Gaius Manilius proposed a law extending Pompey's command over the entire East. Power like this was quite inconsistent with the republican institutions of Rome and with the established authority of the Senate; so that the law was of course opposed by the aristocracy (optimates), led by Hortensius and Catulus. Cicero was now prętor. He was no democrat of the school of Gabinius and Cęsar; but on the other hand he had no hereditary sympathies with the Senate, and he probably failed to recognize the revolutionary character of the proposition and considered merely its practical advantages. He therefore advocated the passage of the Manilian law with ardor.
The law was passed, and Pompey fulfilled the most sanguine expectations of his friends. He brought the Mithridatic War to an end, organized the Roman power throughout the East, and returned home, B.C. 61, with greater prestige and glory than had ever been won by any Roman before him.
The Oration on the Manilian Law was Cicero's first political speech. Till now he had been a public-spirited lawyer; from this time on he was essentially a politician, and it is not hard to see how unfavorably his character was influenced by contact with the corrupt politics of that day."
-- "Introduction to Pro Lege Manilia", Select Orations and Letters of Cicero, ed. J.B. Greenough, G.L. Kittredge, Ginn & Co.: Boston, 1902.
|Pro Lege Manilia Oratio||Latin Text||The source of the Latin text is Select Orations and Letters of Cicero, ed. J.B. Greenough, G.L. Kittredge, Ginn & Company: Boston, 1902.|