Cicero: On the War against Mithridates (66 B.C.)
An important war, and one perilous to your revenues and to your allies, is being waged against you by two most powerful kings, Mithridates and Tigranes. One of these having been attacked, thinks that an opportunity offers itself to him to occupy all Asia. Letters are brought from Asia every day to Roman knights, most honorable men, who have great property at stake, which is all employed in the collection of your revenues; and they, in consequence of the intimate connection which I have with their order, have come to me and intrusted me with the task of pleading the cause of the Republic, and warding off danger from their private fortunes. They say that many of the villages of Bithynia, which is at present a province belonging to you, have been burnt; that the kingdom of Ariobarzanes, which borders on those districts from which you derive a revenue, is wholly in the power of the enemy; that Lucullus, after having performed great exploits, is departing from that war; that it is not enough that whoever succeeds him should be prepared for the conduct of so important a war; that one general is demanded and required by all men, both allies and citizens, for that war; that he alone is feared by the enemy, and that no one else is.
You see what the case is; now consider what you ought to do. It seems to me that I ought to speak in the first place of the sort of war that exists; in the second place, of its importance; and lastly, of the selection of a general. The kind of war is such as ought above all others to excite and inflame your minds to a determination to persevere in it. It is a war in which the glory of the Roman people is at stake; that glory which has been handed down to you from your ancestors, great indeed in everything, but most especially in military affairs. The safety of our friends and allies is at stake, in behalf of which your ancestors have waged many most important wars. The most certain and the largest revenues of the Roman people are at stake; and if they be lost, you will be at a loss for the luxuries of peace, and the sinews of war. The property of many citizens is at stake, which you ought greatly to regard, both for your own sake, and for that of the Republic.
Your ancestors have often waged war on account of their merchants and seafaring men having been injuriously treated. What ought to be your feelings when so many thousand Roman citizens have been put to death by one order and at one time? Because their ambassadors had been spoken to with insolence, your ancestors determined that Corinth, the light of all Greece, should be destroyed. Will you allow that king to remain unpunished, who has murdered a lieutenant of the Roman people of consular rank, having tortured him with chains and scourging, and every sort of punishment? They would not allow the freedom of Roman citizens to be diminished; will you be indifferent to their lives being taken? They avenged the privileges of our embassy when they were violated by a word; will you abandon an ambassador who has been put to death with every sort of cruelty? Take care lest, as it was a most glorious thing for them, to leave you such wide renown and such a powerful empire, it should be a most discreditable thing for you, not to be able to defend and preserve that which you have received. What more shall I say? Shall I say, that the safety of our allies is involved in the greatest hazard and danger? King Ariobarzanes has been driven from his kingdom, an ally and friend of the Roman people; two kings are threatening all Asia, who are not only most hostile to you, but also to your friends and allies. And every city throughout all Asia, and throughout all Greece, is compelled by the magnitude of the danger to put its whole trust in the expectation of your assistance.
Wherefore, if on account of their allies, though they themselves had not been roused by any injuries, your ancestors waged war against Antiochus, against Philip, against the Aetolians, and against the Carthaginians; with how much earnestness ought you, when you yourselves have been provoked by injurious treatment, to defend the safety of the allies, and at the same time, the dignity of your empire? especially when your greatest revenues are at stake. For the revenues of the other provinces, O Romans, are such that we can scarcely derive enough from them for the protection of the provinces themselves. But Asia is so rich and so productive, that in the fertility of its soil, and in the variety of its fruits, and in the vastness of its pasture lands, and in the multitude of all those things which are matters of exportation, it is greatly superior to all other countries. Therefore, O Romans, this province, if you have any regard for what tends to your advantage in time of war, and to your dignity in time of peace, must be defended by you, not only from all calamity, but from all fear of calamity. For in other matters when calamity comes on one, then damage is sustained; but in the case of revenues, not only the arrival of evil, but the bare dread of it, brings disaster. For when the troops of the enemy are not far off, even though no actual irruption takes place, still the flocks are abandoned, agriculture is relinquished, the sailing of merchants is at an end. And accordingly, neither from harbor dues, nor from tenths, nor from the tax on pasture lands, can any revenue be maintained. And therefore it often happens that the produce of an entire year is lost by one rumor of danger, and by one alarm of war. What do you think ought to be the feelings of those who pay us tribute, or of those who get it in, and exact it, when two kings with very numerous armies are all but on the spot? when one inroad of cavalry may in a very short time carry off the revenue of a whole year? when the publicans think that they retail the large households of slaves which they have in the salt-works, in the fields, in the harbors, and custom-houses, at the greatest risk? Do you think that you can enjoy these advantages unless you preserve those men who are productive to you, free not only, as I said before, from calamity, but even from the dread of calamity?
And even this must not be neglected by you, which I had proposed to myself as the last thing to be mentioned, when I was to speak of the kind of war, for it concerns the property of many Roman citizens; whom you, as becomes your wisdom, O Romans, must regard with the most careful solicitude. The publicans, most honorable and accomplished men, have taken all their resources and all their wealth into that province; and their property and fortunes ought, by themselves, to be an object of your special care. In truth, if we have always considered the revenues as the sinews of the Republic, certainly we shall be right if we call that order of men which collects them, the prop and support of all the other orders. In the next place, clever and industrious men, of all the other orders of the state, are some of them actually trading themselves in Asia, and you ought to show a regard for their interests in their absence; and others of them have large sums invested in that province. It will, therefore, become your humanity to protect a large number of those citizens from misfortune; it will become your wisdom to perceive that the misfortune of many citizens cannot be separated from the misfortune of the Republic. In truth, firstly, it is of but little consequence for you afterward to recover for the publicans revenues which have been once lost; for the same men have not afterward the same power of contracting for them, and others have not the inclination, through fear. In the next place, that which the same Asia, and that same Mithridates taught us, at the beginning of the Asiatic War, that, at all events, we, having learnt by disaster, ought to keep in our recollection. For we know that then, when many had lost large fortunes in Asia, all credit failed at Rome, from payments being hindered. For it is not possible for many men to lose their property and fortunes in one city, without drawing many along with them into the same vortex of disaster. But do you now preserve the Republic from this misfortune; and believe me (you yourselves see that it is the case), this credit, and this state of the money-market which exists at Rome and in the forum, is bound up with, and is inseparable from, those fortunes which are invested in Asia. Those fortunes cannot fall without credit here being undermined by the same blow, and perishing along with them. Consider, then, whether you ought to hesitate to apply yourselves with all zeal to that war, in which the glory of your name, the safety of your allies, your greatest revenues, and the fortunes of numbers of your citizens, will be protected at the same time as the Republic.
Cicero, Pro lege Manilia (selections).