Richard J. Evans, Questioning Reputations: Essays on Nine Roman Republican Politicians. Pretoria: University of South Africa Press, 2003. Pp. x + 221. ISBN 1-86888-198-9. US$23.60, UK£15.20, Euro23.60.
Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Queensland.
Given the strong and continuing interest in Roman statesmen of the late Republican period, and given that every generation interprets and employs such figures in the light of its own concerns, there is little need to justify a book which sets out to question the reputations of some of the more famous Romans in order to see whether it is possible to place them 'in a more tenable historical frame of reference' (p. 1). Richard Evans has produced a book both learned and interesting. It asks a number of acute questions and comes up with several thought- provoking theories that are presented as alternatives to established orthodoxy. The strong emphasis upon comparison and contrast produces quite surprising results at times. Trenchant criticism of named scholars is avoided for an approach that is less combative, perhaps a little understated. Evans seems implicitly to acknowledge that his subjects have elicited strong reactions over the years and that it is the ancient evidence which ought to command our attention. As such, I find his work a model for scholarship in this field.
After an introduction (pp. 1-8), there are eight chapters divided into two sections. The first section is entitled 'The Great Men'. It consists of three chapters on 'The military reputation of Gaius Marius' (pp. 11-36), 'Pompey in the 70s' (pp. 37-64), and 'Caesar's use of tribuni plebis' (pp. 65-92), followed by 'A comparison of Marius, Pompey and Caesar' (pp. 93-5). The second section, entitled 'The Lesser Figures' is similarly split: there are three chapters entitled 'Saturninus and Glaucia: a quest for power' (pp. 99-131), 'The characters of Drusus and Sulpicius' (pp. 133-59), and 'Clodius and Milo: more equals than opposites' (pp. 161-91), followed by 'A comparison of Saturninus and Glaucia, Drusus and Sulpicius, Clodius and Milo' (pp. 193f.). There is a good bibliography (pp. 197-206) and an excellent index (pp. 209-21) at the rear. Unfortunately, a fair number of spelling errors, duplicated lines, and other infelicities have evaded the proofreaders, and the detailed discussion in some of the notes can be interruptive, especially when the notes cross pages in advance of the text.
Chapter 1 attempts to degrade the military reputation of Marius, and in light of Evans's 1994 book on Marius  there are few scholars better qualified to comment. It is argued that Marius' military capabilities have been overestimated, based heavily on Archias' eulogy, Cicero's praise, and a failure to appreciate that Sallust's famous speech may be a combination of Ciceronian virtues and Catonian militarism. Marius was by no means uncultured and was more politician than soldier (esp. pp. 12-13, 22-25, 93). The thesis is intriguing and the source criticism warrants serious consideration, however in the long run a few doubts remain. His length of service in the army has perhaps been overestimated (p. 16), but if victory is the ultimate test, Marius was able to win where a string of others were losing, and losing heavily. He is certainly the recipient of high praise, undoubtedly too high in comparison to generals such as Metellus Numidicus, but this does not really make him a poor general. The nature and significance of his military reforms are given rather cursory treatment (p. 29), and there are problems with statements such as 'even a mediocre general has a good chance of success when he has had two-and-a- half years in which to prepare his forces, his strategy and even the site of battle' (p. 32). These circumstances hardly mean that he was either over- rated or a poor general, and it might be argued that good generals ensure that such circumstances lead to success -- as Marius did. In the end, Evans claims that his intention is to steer a middle course between the positive and the negative, so that Marius' military reputation must diminish (p. 36). Thus the debate becomes a relative rather than an absolute matter, and even though it is right to be wary of panegyrical exaggeration, it seems nonetheless possible to estimate a little more highly than Evans does.
Chapter 2 takes on the prevailing view that Pompey forced the senate to bow to his wishes in the 70s. Evans describes a more competent and cohesive senate than we are used to reading about, and he sees Pompey co-operating with the senatorial government rather than operating against it (p. 38). Once again, the argument is stimulating and a matter of fine judgment. It seems possible to go the other way. Evans does well to describe the complicated events of 77 and argues that Pompey was given his command in Spain because the two consuls had already had their proconsulships assigned and the senate was scrupulously following Sulla's law on the assignment of provincial commands. Pompey had kept his troops together for use against the state's enemies rather than the state and was available (pp. 45-47). Certainly opposition forces were around, particularly in Spain, but were Pompey's legions no threat to the senate? How confident can we be that 'Had there been no war in Spain calling for attention, Pompey would undoubtedly have disbanded his troops' (p. 45)? After the difficult war in Spain, did Pompey's rapturous welcome in Rome and election to the consulship for 70 have nothing to do with popularis sentiments and opposition to the senate? Should they be attributed exclusively to relief at the destruction of Spartacus' slave revolt (pp. 54f.)? It is a little difficult to imagine that the Senators were unperturbed by the thought of Pompey and Crassus at the head of their armies and that they were prepared without demur to accept consulships that were obtained in defiance of the same Sullan rules which Evans finds the senate upholding previously. Finally, Evans seeks to distance Pompey from the jury reforms which were passed later in 70 under the guidance of the praetor L. Aurelius Cotta and perhaps also of the consuls-designate, Hortensius and Metellus Creticus (p. 60). His subsequent retirement at the end of his consular year is taken not as diffidence but as a further sign of senatorial strength in political and military matters (p. 63). Once again, we are asked to make a judgment call in circumstances where power is surging and receding by turns, but the senate did lose considerable influence to its enemies in the 70s, as the jury reforms show undeniably, and it is hard not to see Pompey as a destabilizing force.
In Chapter 3 Evans examines Caesar's attitude to, and employment of, tribunes of the plebs. Is his reputation as a popularis deserved? On the contrary, it turns out that the haughty patrician really had little regard for tribunes, except when they could be of political value to him and in spite of what he says in the opening chapters of the Bellum Civile where he parades as a champion of tribunician rights (pp. 71-74). He showed a pronounced indifference to the fate of the res publica, though he was no more and no less exploitative in his dealings with tribunes than other republican politicians (pp. 74, 91). It was Marius who escalated the employment of tribunes and he might have been Caesar's model (pp. 83-85, 91). Open contempt for the tribunate was shown when Caesar forced his way past L. Metellus into the aerarium in 49, even though he probably had enough money (pp. 75f.). This caused the urban plebs, with whom he had been popular, to think twice about him, and their feelings hardened later when Caesar became embroiled in unexpected conflicts with tribunes in 45 and 44 (pp. 76-80). Evans finds the root of the problem in the famous Catilinarian debate of 63 when Caesar suffered a defeat described as humiliating at the hands of the tribune-elect, Cato the Younger. This incident festered in Caesar's mind over the years into a pathological hatred for both Cato and the tribunate (pp. 81f.). The idea is worth thinking about, though it would be more economical to put Caesar's problems with tribunes down to his growing authoritarianism from 49.
The political qualities of Saturninus and Glaucia are assessed in Chapter 4. Evans finds that their respective abilities, and especially those of Glaucia, have been underrated severely by modern scholars, following too closely the cues given by the ancient sources. Prior to Posidonius and Cicero, it was possible to assess Saturninus positively (pp. 101-3). In subsequent writers, tribunician sedition became the leading theme and Saturninus' reputation suffered accordingly, as did that of Glaucia, who tended to figure less because he did not precisely fit the theme. Evans finds this most unfortunate, for Glaucia was perhaps the more formidable and dynamic of the two (p. 113). There is much that is compelling here, and it is backed up by close scrutiny of the career paths of the two politicians with several redatings of offices (pp. 116-19). The ultimate aim is to argue that the real success of Saturninus and Glaucia came in 101/100. Saturninus' lex frumentaria would have won him great popularity, given the instability in Sicily, and the lex Appuleia agraria, reassigned to 100, was part of a grand design: 'obtaining patronage at home and abroad across a broad sweep of the community over a longer period' (p. 128). It was perceived as a revolutionary measure, as was the prospect of a second tribunate for Saturninus in 99 and the consulship of that year for Glaucia (p. 129). The senate might have been reduced to 'an ornamental areopagus' (p. 130). Of course, this reconstruction tends to divorce the two men from Marius, especially after 103, and relocation of the lex agraria to 100 means that veterans of the Numidian War would not have received land grants as is commonly supposed (pp. 123f.). It may have been so.
Livius Drusus (tr. pl. 91) and Sulpicius Rufus (tr. pl. 88) receive detailed scrutiny in the fifth chapter. The former is denigrated in rather surprising terms and the latter is given a fresh and largely positive appraisal. Evans notices that Drusus does not receive prominent treatment in Cicero, who might have been expected to dwell upon him (p. 134). On the other hand, Cicero does not condemn Sulpicius outright and has a high opinion of his oratory (pp. 136-37). Evans proceeds to investigate the respective traditions about these two men and finds, once more, that it may have been Posidonius who enshrined the negative tradition about Sulpicius as a seditious tribune (pp. 143, 146). Plutarch's mention of Sulpicius' 'anti-senate' of equites (Life of Sulla 8) is put down to his use of Sulla's Commentarii (p. 147). In the end, Sulpicius was talented but too hasty in the pursuit of his objectives (pp. 158f.). Seneca, on the other hand, writes of the unpleasant personal characteristics of Drusus (p. 144), who may have committed suicide, if Florus is correctly interpreted (p. 150). Indeed, a number of clues add up to Drusus having been a violent epileptic prone to panic attacks and emotional instability. The famous anecdote in which he asks his architect to make his house as open to public view as possible may show that he was concerned to demonstrate that rumours of a disease were groundless (p. 156). There is a great deal in this chapter that is fascinating to contemplate but one always has the feeling that the piecemeal nature of our evidence, consisting of many cursory notices and throwaway comments, falls a long way short of being conclusive. Much conjecture proceeds from Cicero's comparative lack of interest in Drusus. Was it really because he was an unsavoury type and best forgotten (p. 135)?
Two minor points in this chapter cry out for more detailed argument elsewhere. The first is the assertion that, given the similarities in their political connections, Sulla may have spared Sulpicius after the march on Rome (p. 147). What exactly can be determined about the connections between the two men? Then there is the statement that Sulla's army in 88 was not composed of capite censi but of wealthier citizens who were unhappy with Sulpicius' reforms (p. 153 n. 46). Why in this case did the officers not join the march on Rome, though it could certainly be argued that the officer class was distinct from that of 'wealthier citizens' more generally?
Finally, in Chapter 6, Evans asks about the differences and similarities between Clodius and Milo. They emerge as 'more equals than opposites' in the words of the chapter's title, and Milo in particular is appreciated rather more warmly than is the norm. Clodius is described as an unoriginal politician, the heir of Catiline or Saturninus (p. 178). He does not deserve the beatification he has received in some modern treatments, which cast him as a champion of the common man and contrast him with a 'bullying' Milo (p. 189). Cicero's charges of sacrilege, profanity, moral turpitude, and incest with his sisters are certainly exaggerated, unfair, or invented, but the point was not so much the accuracy of such charges as the emotion which was displayed in expressing them. Evans does really well to point out that Clodius is not known to have had extra-marital affairs as Caesar did, and in fact he remained consistently faithful to Fulvia. His most serious problem was his unbridled tongue (pp. 169-78, 187, 189). Yet Evans takes seriously the suggestion of an affair between Clodius and Pompeia, Caesar's wife, who was divorced in the wake of the Bona Dea scandal (pp. 167f., 176: 'affair', 188: 'infatuation', 190: 'love affair'). This makes the divorce a political rather than a religious matter (cf. pp. 167f.) and tends to run counter to the thrust of the analysis of Cicero's invective, and also to Clodius' later links with Caesar (e.g. pp. 181, 183). Why was the Bona Dea incident not simply a joke or prank or dare, as Cicero seems to have viewed it at first (p. 170)? Milo is not known before his tribunate in 57, though as a protege of Murena (cos. 62) he may well have served with Clodius and formed an early amicitia with him (p. 180). He certainly employed violence, but in retaliation to Clodius rather than against Clodius, and their fateful meeting on the via Appia was more by accident than design (p. 187). Milo like Clodius is not known to have had any extra-marital affairs, and he had considerable support in the comitia centuriata. Both men, therefore, were linked to Murena, they may at one time have been friends, both employed violence as tribunes, both appear to have remained faithful to their wives, and both enjoyed aristocratic and upper-class support. The real problem for Milo is that Cicero praised him, and Cicero's egotism has been a turn-off to modern scholars.
My impression at various stages was that this is not a book that expects the reader to agree with everything that it argues. Interest and plausibility, even at times possibility, are its aims. In the final chapter, for instance, one could emphasize Clodius' patrician and noble background, his early flamboyance, the optimate backing for Milo, their respective attitudes to Cicero and the arbitrary exercise of authority at Rome, and to comparisons and contrasts with men like Catiline and Saturninus. The emphasis tends, therefore, to fall not so much upon the final arguments as upon the subjects themselves and the method of approach to the evidence. Readers will find the evidence marshaled completely and sifted carefully. It is usually examined in strict chronological order of production in order to discern influence and trends. Reasonable opinions inevitably follow so that a sense of pronounced scholarly competence in answering a number of interesting questions is engendered. This is all to the good. It is also a strength, in my view, that this book takes seriously the personalities and programmes of the individual men studied, and attempts to understand the reactions of others to them. There is among some academics a certain regrettable resistance to studies of the 'great men' nowadays, in spite of the persistent interest in them. Our evidence is too problematic, we are told, and anyway individuals are products of a society and are often swept along by broader social movements and ideas. To a certain degree this must be so, but I would emphasize that studies of individuals are vital if we hold that individuals are capable of exerting any influence at all upon their societies. In addition, it should not be overlooked that ancient writers were overwhelmingly interested in men of power, especially their personalities. It is a major indicator of the hierarchical, individualistic, and moralistic nature of ancient society.
On the other hand, applying some of this debate to the present book, it is plain that much of the evidence is incontrovertibly personal in nature. There is a huge amount of personal invective and a huge amount of praise; there is much talk of immorality and much of the repayment of personal debts, and so on. The evidence supplied by Cicero about Clodius and Milo, for instance, is overwhelmingly of this type. What is missing in assessments of political talent and personal morality based on such evidence are wider public concerns because they are not so relevant to the aims of personal criticism, praise, or relationship negotiation: problems such as military loyalty, indebtedness, corruption in the provinces, tensions in the Italian countryside, displacement, desperation, thuggery in the city, and a myriad of others. The attitudes, behaviour, and talents of the men studied by Evans related very strongly to these kinds of problems. It would be nice if we could find an approach to our evidence that would integrate the 'macro' and the 'micro' somewhat more closely. There seem to be so many unaddressed problems, and so much that is ad hoc and traditional about Roman political measures. This must affect assessments of the 'programmes' and 'talents' of leading politicians.
On the whole, however, the conception of this book is welcome, and Evans probably underplays the importance of doing what he is trying to do in something like the way he is trying to do it. Romans of the late Republic have had extraordinary influence on later ages -- or more correctly their reputations (some might say their images) have had extraordinary influence. The lives and achievements of the men in question have been worked and reworked in later periods by men seeking support for programmes and ideas that in many cases appear to professional historians to be heavily at odds with what the original Romans were about. It seems somehow natural to ask what Caesar and Pompey, for instance, were really like, as though we can recover the 'reality' of their lives; and even if 'reality' turns out to be relative and unrecoverable, the search for a version that emerges from a rational, debatable approach to the ancient evidence continues to have value. The number of appeals made in the twentieth century to figures like Caesar in support of imperial claims or higher ideals should convince us of the need for scholars such as Richard Evans, whose work can be employed to temper outrageous appeals to tendentious authority. Indeed, there is a contemporary admiration for men of action which continues to owe a great deal to the reputations or images of figures like Caesar and Pompey. Books such as the one under review, it seems, will continue to have relevance for some time into the future.
 R.J. Evans, Marius: A Political Biography (Pretoria 1994).