The Roman world, in short, was badly governed and badly defended the provinces were steadily decreasing in wealth and resources from the moment that they were annexed. And since Italy and Rome herself were—as we shall see—tending to internal decay, though certain individual Romans and Italians were drawing huge profits from the newly acquired empire, the whole Mediterranean world seemed doomed to retrogression and collapse. It is possible that the Republic might have been demolished, if there had arisen against it any really formidable and well-equipped enemy. But the outer world was singularly destitute of strong men at this period. Jugurtha and Mithradates, in spite of all the trouble that they gave, were very third-rate personalities. And the one truly dangerous foe that marched against Rome during the last century of the Republic—the Cimbri and Teutons—represented mere brute force unguided by brains and strategy. At the last moment, when they had actually passed the Alps, they were annihilated by a general who possessed the art of improvising and handling a great army. It is curious to speculate what might have happened if not Marius, but some imbecile Optimate of the type of his predecessors Mallius and Caepio, had been in command at Aquae Sextiae or on the Raudian Plain. But Europe escaped the premature coming of the Dark Ages, and the black cloud of barbarism from the north having passed away, the men of the later Republic were left free to work out their own problems in their own unhappy way, in sedition, conspiracy, civil war, and proscription, till the coming of that great personality who showed the way—a bad way at the best—out of the hopeless deadlock into which Rome had fallen.
But ere Julius Caesar appeared there were not one but many Romans who saw well enough that the Roman world was out of joint, and tried, each in his more or less futile fashion, to set it right. With some of these statesmen it is our task to deal. Their successive biographies show well enough the course of the whole history of the later Republic; there is no gap between man and man; Sulla as a boy may have witnessed the violent end of Gains Gracchus Julius Caesar as a boy did certainly witness and well-nigh suffer in the proscriptions of Sulla. The seven lives between them completely cover the last century of Rome’s ancient regime...