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Among the laws of ancient Rome, the Lex Gabinia (Gabinian Law) of 67 BC granted Pompeius Magnus ("Pompey the Great") extraordinary proconsular powers in any province within 50 miles of the Mediterranean Sea. The law was passed by the tribune Aulus Gabinius and it was also known as lex de uno imperatore contra praedones instituendo or lex de piratis persequendis.
The command came with a substantial fleet and army to fight the growing problems of pirates disrupting trade in the Mediterranean Sea.. Appian, in his Roman History, estimated it at 270 warships, 120,000 infantry, and 4,000 cavalry. Others estimate these at 500 warships, 120,000 infantry and around 5,000 cavalry. Given three years to solve the problem, Pompey managed to defeat the pirates in just three months. Pompey enjoyed huge popularity amongst the plebeians of Rome, but the Roman Senate was wary of him and his growing power. The Senate was reluctant to give massive powers to any one man, fearing it would allow another Dictator to seize power as Sulla had done just fifteen years before. The Tribunes though, were able to pass a law conferring huge powers on Pompey to deal with the pirates. The law was proposed by the Tribune Gabinius and therefore was named the Lex Gabinia or Gabinius's Law.
Because most Roman territory was within the 50-mile limit around the Mediterranean, the law gave Pompey, who was then just 39, power over almost every province. In fact, this led to a dispute in 67 BC with the proconsul Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus, when the Cretans attempted to obtain better terms from Pompey than they were receiving from Metellus, who was charged with pacifying Crete.
Though the Senate was theoretically answerable to the Roman people (populus), it was unusual for the people to pass such laws contrary to the wishes of the Senate.
The laws set down by Sulla during his dictatorship had been intended to strengthen the Senate and take power away from the plebeians. The passing of the Lex Gabinia, followed by the Lex Manilia, proved that Sulla's intended new constitution, designed to stop any one man from gaining immense power, was not working; in fact, it produced men who followed Sulla's example rather than his precepts. The passing of the Lex Gabinia was a key development in the collapse of the Senate as the ruling power in Rome. The Senate proved unable to halt the concentration of power into the hands of the popular tribunes like Clodius and successful generals like Julius Caesar, who led his forces in the Civil War which was a key factor in the collapse of the Roman Republic.
- Braund, D.C. "Piracy under the principate and the ideology of imperial eradication / In: War and society in the Roman world, J. Rich, G. Shipley (eds.). London, 1993. - P.: 195-212
- Appian, Mithridatic Wars, chapter 14 or section 94.
- Sabin, Philip A.G., Hans van Wees, and Michael Whitby. The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare Vol.2. p.105.