The Speech on Behalf of Gnaeus Plancius
Gnaeus Plancius was quaestor in Macedonia in 58. His headquarters were at Thessalonica, and thither Cicero came, a dejected exile, in danger of his life from the banished associates of Catiline.a The propraetor of the province was L. Apuleius Saturninus, who had been a friend of Cicero, but who was now afraid to show him any kindness. Plancius, however, displayed a nobler spirit; and from May to November he watched over Cicero with great faithfulness at a time when the fallen orator was suffering the torments of humiliation, and, if we may believe hints he drops in a letter to his brother, was even contemplating suicide.b
In 56 Plancius was a tribune of the plebs, and in 55 stood as a candidate for the aedileship. Something, we know not what, occurred to interfere with the elections, and they were postponed until the following summer, when Plancius was elected along with A. Plotius. Among the unsuccessful candidates was M. Juventius Laterensis, who, though a plebeian, was a nobilis, inasmuch as members of his family
had held magistracies. A few weeks after the election, Laterensis, galled by his defeat at the hands of one who was merely an eques,a prosecuted Plancius on the ground that he had won his victory by illegal methods.
It is necessary, in order to understand Cicero’s argument, to describe briefly the particular illegality which Plancius was alleged to have committed. The institution of annual popular election at Rome, and the practice of personal solicitation for votes, laid open many avenues for corruption, and from as early as the fourth century b.c. we find measures constantly being passed to impede the exertion of undue influence — ambitus, or “going about,” as it was called. Moreover, as the voting was “sectional” (it was not the majority of heads but the majority of tribes or centuries that won the day), bribery was made easier for candidates, who were enabled to distribute their bounty systematically; and the frequency of legislation against this is a measure of its prevalence.
A common and growing form of corruption in Cicero’s day was that by means of sodalicia, translated in this speech as “associations”; in the previous year (55) a lawb had been actually passed (Lex Licinia de Sodaliciis) against the procuring of votes by the intrigues of such associations. They were political clubs within the tribes, whose “aim was to organize and retain in their own hands a system of bribery, so as, if possible, to divert any charge of ambitus from the candidate to themselves, trusting to their