This power extended its operations over the whole of our Mediterranean Sea, making it unnavigable and closed to all commerce. This was what most of all inclined the Romans, who were hard put to it to get provisions and expected a great scarcity, to send out Pompey with a commission to take the sea away from the pirates.
Gabinius, one of Pompey's intimates, drew up a law which gave him, not an admiralty, but an out-and-out monarchy and irresponsible power over all men. For the law gave him dominion over the sea this side of the pillars of Hercules, and over all the mainland to the distance of four hundred furlongs from the sea. These limits included almost all places in the Roman world, and the greatest nations and most powerful kings were comprised within them.
Besides this, he was empowered to choose fifteen legates from the senate for the several principalities, and to take from the public treasuries and the tax-collectors as much money as he wished, and to have two hundred ships, with full power over the number and levying of soldiers and oarsmen.
When these provisions of the law were read in the assembly,1
the people received them with excessive pleasure, but the chief and most influential men of the senate thought that such unlimited and absolute power, while it was beyond the reach of envy, was yet a thing to be feared.
Therefore they all opposed the law, with the exception of Caesar; he advocated the law, not because he cared in the least for Pompey, but because from the outset he sought to ingratiate himself with the people and win their support. The rest vehemently attacked Pompey. And when one of the consuls told him that if he emulated Romulus he would not escape the fate of Romulus,2
he was near being torn in pieces by the multitude.
Moreover, when Catulus came forward to speak against the law the people had regard enough for him to be quiet for some time; but after he had spoken at length in Pompey's praise and without any disparagement of him, and then counselled the people to spare such a man and not expose him to successive wars and perils, asking,
‘Whom else will you have if you lose him?’ all with one accord replied,
Catulus, accordingly, since he could not persuade them, retired; but when Roscius came forward to speak, no one would listen to him. He therefore made signs with his fingers that they should not choose Pompey alone to this command, but give him a colleague. At this, we are told, the people were incensed and gave forth such a shout that a raven flying over the forum was stunned by it and fell down into the throng.
From this it appears that such falling of birds is not due to a rupture and division of the air wherein a great vacuum is produced, but that they are struck by the blow of the voice, which raises a surge and billow in the air when it is borne aloft loud and strong.