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The Histories

The speech of Lepidus to the Roman people

Your mercy and your honesty, fellow citizens, which make you supreme and renowned throughout all nations, cause me the greatest apprehension in the face of the tyranny of Lucius Sulla. On the one hand, I fear that you may be outwitted through not believing others capable of acts which you yourselves regard as abominable; especially since all Sulla's hopes depend upon crime and treachery, and since he thinks that he cannot be safe, unless he has shown himself ever worse and more detestable than you fear, so that when you are enslaved to him, you may cease because of your wretchedness to think of freedom. On the other hand, if you are on your guard, I fear that you may be more occupied in avoiding danger than in taking vengeance.

As to his satellites, I cannot sufficiently wonder that men bearing great names, made great by the deeds of distinguished ancestors, are willing to purchase dominion over you with their own slavery, and prefer these two things joined with injustice to living free with the best of right. Glorious scions of the Bruti, Aemilii, and Lutatii, born to overthrow what their ancestors won by their prowess! For what did their forefathers defend against Pyrrhus, Hannibal, Philippus and Antiochus, if not our liberty and our own hearthstones, and our privilege of submitting to nothing but the laws? All these things that caricature of Romulus holds in his possession, as if they had been wrested from foreigners; and not content with their destruction of so many armies, consuls, and other leading men, whom the fortune of war had swept away, he grows more cruel at a time when success turns most men from wrath to pity. Nay, he alone of all within the memory of man has devised punishment for those yet unborn, who are thus assured of outrage before they are of life. Worst of all, he has hitherto been protected by the enormity of his crimes, while you are deterred from trying to recover your liberty by the fear of a still more cruel slavery.

You must rouse yourselves, fellow citizens, and resist the tyrant, in order that he may not possess your spoils. You must not delay or look for help from prayers to the gods; unless haply you hope that Sulla is now weary or ashamed of his tyranny and that what he has criminally seized he will with still greater peril resign. On the contrary, he has sunk so low that he thinks nothing glorious which is not safe, and regards every means of retaining his supremacy as honourable. Hence that state of repose and tranquillity combined with freedom, which many good men prized more highly than honours attended with toil, is a thing of the past; in these times one must either be slave or master, one must feel fear, citizens, or inspire it. For what else is left us? What human laws survive? What divine laws have not been violated? The Roman people, lately ruler of the nations, now stripped of power, repute and rights, without the means to live and an object of contempt, does not even retain the rations of slaves. A great part of our allies and of the people of Latium to whom you gave citizenship in return for distinguished services are robbed of it by one man, while a few of his minions, as a recompense for their crimes, have seized upon the ancestral homes of the guiltless commons. The laws, the courts, the treasury, the provinces, the kings, in fact, the power of life and death over our citizens are in the hands of one man.

You have even beheld human sacrifices and tombs stained with the blood of citizens. If you are men, is anything left to you except to put an end to oppression or to die valiantly? For of a truth Nature has appointed one and the same end for all, even for those encased in steel, and no one awaits the last necessity, daring nothing, unless he has the heart of a woman.

But Sulla says that I am a sower of sedition, because I protest against the rewards paid to civil commotion; a lover of war, because I would reclaim the rights of peace. Of course! since you cannot be safe and fully protected under Sulla's dominion, unless Vettius of Picenum and the clerk Cornelius may squander the goods which others have honestly acquired; unless you all approve the proscription of innocent men because of their wealth, the tortures of distinguished citizens, a city depopulated by exile and murder, the goods of wretched citizens sold or given away as if they were the spoils of the Cimbri. Sulla blames me for having possessions which are derived from the goods of the proscribed. But in fact it is the very greatest of his crimes that neither I nor anyone else would have been safe if we did what was right. Moreover, the property which at that time I bought through fear and paid for I nevertheless restore now to its rightful owners, and it is not my purpose to allow any booty to be taken from the citizens. Let it be enough to have endured what our frenzy has brought about - Roman armies pitted against each other, our arms turned away from the enemy and against ourselves. Let there be an end to crime and outrage; of which, however, Sulla is so far from repenting that he counts them among his titles to glory, and, if he were allowed, would more eagerly do them again.

But now I care no longer what you think of him, but what you dare; for while you are all waiting for someone else to assume the lead, I fear lest you may be caught, not by his forces, which are insignificant and degenerate, but through your own indifference, which allows him to continue his course of rapine and to seem fortunate in proportion to his audacity. For with the exception of his crime-stained minions, who is on his side or who does not desire a complete change, retaining only the victory? Think you it is the soldiers, at the price of whose blood riches are won for vile slaves such as Tarula and Scirtus? Or is it those who are in suing for office were thought less worthy than Fufidius, a vile wench, the dishonour of all honours? It is because of acts like these that I rest my greatest confidence in the victorious army, which has gained nothing by so many wounds and hardships save a tyrant. Unless perhaps they took the field to overthrow the power of the tribunes, which their forefathers had established, and to rob themselves with their own hands of their rights and their jurisdiction; richly rewarded, no doubt, when, banished to swamps and woods, they find that insult and hatred are their portion, that a handful of men gain the prizes!

Why then does the tyrant walk abroad with so great a following and with such assurance? Because success is a wonderful screen for vices; but let a reverse come, and he will be despised as much as he is now feared. Or perhaps he does it to make a pretence of peace and harmony, which are the names which he has applied to his guilt and treason. Furthermore, he declares that the republic cannot be established, and war ended, unless the commons are forever driven from their lands, the citizens cruelly plundered, and all rights and jurisdiction, once belonging to the Roman people, placed in his own hands.

If this seems to you to be peace and order, show your approval of the utter demoralization and overthrow of the republic, bow to the laws which have been imposed upon you, accept a peace combined with servitude and teach future generations how to run their country at the price of their own blood.

For my own part, although by attaining this the highest of offices I had done enough to live up to the fame of my ancestors as well to secure my own dignity, and even my safety, yet it was not my intention to pursue my private interests, but I looked upon freedom united with danger as preferable to peace with slavery. If you are of the same mind, citizens of Rome, rouse yourselves and with the kindly aid of the gods follow Marcus Aemilius, your consul, who will be your leader and champion in recovering your freedom!