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Книга Imperium. Содержание - Roll XVI

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Roll XVI

TO DISCOVER WHAT WAS GOING ON, Cicero devised a trap. Rather than simply asking around about what Crassus was up to-which would have got him nowhere, and also have alerted his enemies that he was suspicious-he instructed Ranunculus and Filum to go out into the city and let it be known that they were representing a certain anonymous senator who was worried about his prospects in the forthcoming consular ballot, and was willing to pay fifty sesterces per vote to the right electoral syndicate.

Ranunculus was a runtish, almost half-formed creature, with a flat, round face at the end of a feeble body, who well deserved his nickname of “Tadpole.” Filum was a giant spindle, an animated candlestick. Their fathers and grandfathers had been bribery agents before them. They knew the score. They disappeared into the back streets and bars, and a week or so later reported back to Cicero that something very strange was going on. All the usual bribery agents were refusing to cooperate. “Which means,” as Ranunculus put it, in his squeaky voice, “either that Rome is full of honest men for the first time in three hundred years, or every vote that was up for sale has already been bought.”

“There must be someone who will crack for a higher price,” insisted Cicero. “You had better do the rounds again, and this time offer a hundred.”

So back they went, and back they returned after another week with the same story. Such was the huge amount that the bribery agents were already being paid, and such was their nervousness about antagonizing their mysterious client, that there was not a single vote to be had, and not a breath of rumor as to who that client might be. Now you might well wonder, given the thousands of votes involved, how such an immense operation could remain so tight a secret. The answer is that it was very cleverly organized, with perhaps only a dozen agents, or interpretes as they were called, knowing the identity of the buyer (I regret to say that both Ranunculus and Filum had acted as interpretes in the past). These men would contact the officials of the voting syndicates and strike the initial bargain-such-and-such a price for fifty votes, say, or five hundred, depending on the size of the syndicate. Because naturally no one trusted anyone else in this game, the money would then be deposited with a second category of agent, known as the sequester, who would hold the cash available for inspection. And finally, when the election was over and it was time to settle up, a third species of criminal, the so-called divisor, would distribute it. This made it extremely difficult to bring a successful prosecution, for even if a man was arrested in the very act of handing over a bribe, he might genuinely have no idea of who had commissioned the corruption in the first place. But still Cicero refused to accept that someone would not talk. “We are dealing with bribery agents,” he shouted, in a rare show of anger, “not an ancient order of Roman knights! Somewhere you will find a man who will betray even as dangerous a paymaster as Crassus, if the money is good enough. Go and track him down and find his price-or must I do everything myself?”

By this time-I suppose it must have been well into June, about a month before the election-everyone knew that something strange was going on. It was turning into one of the most memorable and closely fought campaigns in living memory, with a field of no fewer than seven for the consulship, a reflection of the fact that many men fancied their chances that year. The three front-runners were reckoned to be Catilina, Hybrida, and Cicero. Then came the snobbish and acerbic Galba, and the deeply religious Cornificius. The two no-hopers were the corpulent ex-praetor, Cassius Longinius, and Gaius Licinius Sacerdos, who had been governor of Sicily even before Verres, and who was at least a decade older than his rivals. (Sacerdos was one of those irritating candidates who enter elections “not out of any personal ambition,” as they like to say, but solely with the intention of “raising issues.” “Always beware of the man who says he is not seeking office for himself,” said Cicero, “for he is the vainest of the lot.”) Realizing that the bribery agents were unusually active, the senior consul, Marcius Figulus, was prevailed upon by several of these candidates to bring before the Senate a severe new law against electoral malpractice: what he hoped would become the lex Figula. It was already illegal for a candidate to offer a bribe; the new bill also made it a criminal offense for a voter to accept one.

When the time came for the measure to be debated in the Senate, the consul first went around to each of the candidates in turn to ask for his opinion. Sacerdos, as the senior man, spoke first, and made a pious speech in favor; I could see Cicero squirming with irritation at his platitudes. Hybrida naturally spoke against, but in his usual bumbling and unmemorable way-no one would ever have believed his father had once been the most eagerly sought advocate in Rome. Galba, who was going to lose badly in any case, took this opportunity to withdraw from the election, loftily announcing that there was no glory in participating in such a squalid contest, which disgraced the memory of his ancestors. Catilina, for obvious reasons, also spoke against the lex Figula, and I must concede that he was impressive. Utterly without nerves, he towered over the benches around him, and when he came to the end of his remarks he pointed at Cicero and roared that the only men who would benefit from yet another new piece of legislation were the lawyers, which drew the usual cheers from the aristocrats. Cicero was in a delicate position, and as he rose I wondered what he would say. Obviously he did not wish to see the legislation fail, but nor, on the eve of the most important election of his life, did he want to alienate the voting syndicates, who naturally regarded the bill as an attack on their honor. His response was adroit.

“In general I welcome this bill,” he said, “which can only be a terror to those who are guilty. The honest citizen has nothing to fear from a law against bribery, and the dishonest should be reminded that a vote is a sacred trust, not a voucher to be cashed in once a year. But there is one thing wrong with it: an imbalance which needs to be redressed. Are we really saying that the poor man who succumbs to temptation is more to be condemned than the rich man who deliberately places temptation in his way? I say the opposite: that if we are to legislate against the one, we must strengthen the sanctions against the other. With your permission, therefore, Figulus, I wish to propose an amendment to your bill: that any person who solicits, or seeks to solicit, or causes to be solicited, the vote of any citizen in return for money, should be liable to a penalty of ten years’ exile.” That produced an excited and long-drawn-out “Oohh!” from all around the chamber.

I could not see Crassus’s face from where I was standing, but Cicero delightedly assured me afterwards that it turned bright red, for that phrase, “or causes to be solicited,” was aimed directly at him, and everyone knew it. The consul placidly accepted the amendment and asked if any member wished to speak against it. But the majority of the house were too surprised to react, and those such as Crassus who stood to lose most dared not expose themselves in public by openly opposing it. Accordingly, the amendment was carried without opposition, and when the house divided on the main bill, it was passed by a large margin. Figulus, preceded by his lictors, left the chamber, and all the senators filed out into the sunshine to watch him mount the rostra and give the bill to the herald for an immediate first reading. I saw Hybrida make a move toward Crassus, but Catilina caught his arm, and Crassus walked rapidly away from the Forum, to avoid being seen with his nominees. The usual three weekly market days would now have to elapse before the bill could be voted upon, which meant that the people would have their say almost on the eve of the consular election.

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