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60 BC - 1st Triumvirate
Caesar, Pompey and Crassus

The lack of tact and foresight in the methods of the conservative party came out clearly enough two years after the suppression of the Catilinarian conspiracy, on Pompey's return from his campaigns against Mithridates. By treating Pompey generously at that time it could have made him its supporter, but its failure to gratify his reasonable expectations forced him into an alliance with C. Julius Caesar and Crassus.

Gaius Julius Caesar had not been a prominent figure in politics up to this time. He had shown his colors plainly enough, however, at the funeral of his aunt, who was the wife of Marius, by displaying in the funeral procession, the bust of that distinguished general and democratic leader, and by setting up again the Cimbrian trophies of Marius which Sulla had removed. While Pompey had been vainly trying to bring the senate to listen to his claims, Caesar had been propraetor of Spain.

Pompey and Crassus were not on good terms, but it was not difficult for Caesar to bring them together on the basis of their common needs. Their compact, which was made in 60 BC, and which is commonly known as the first triumvirate, was merely a private understanding.

The Triumvirate controlled Roman politics. Under it Caesar was elected for the following year to the consulship; lands were given to Pompey's veterans, and his acts in the East were ratified. What Crassus got from the bargain is not clear - perhaps certain tax concessions, or possibly assurance of a future consulship. Provision was made for Caesar's future by a measure which made him governor of Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum for a period of five years, counting from March 1, 59 BC, with an army of three legions. To this the senate, perhaps under the influence of Pompey, added Transalpine Gaul and a fourth legion.

At the end of his year of office, Caesar was unwilling to depart from the city and leave the interests of the triumvirate in the hands of two such tactless leaders as Pompey and Crassus, without humbling the senate in such a way that it would not dare to upset his plans during his absence. He secured his object by humiliating and sending from Rome two of the ablest senatorial leaders, Cicero and Cato. The methods which he used in accomplishing his purpose had a touch of humor or cynicism in them. Cicero, the champion of the constitution, was banished for having violated the constitution during his consulship by executing the Catilinarian conspirators without granting them an appeal to the people. Honest Cato was sent to Cyprus on the dishonest mission of seizing that island and its treasure.

Cicero's recall from exile in 57 raised the spirits of the senatorial party, but its hopes were crushed again by the renewal of the triumvirate the following year, by the extension of Caesar's term of office for another period of five years, and by the assignment of Spain and Syria to Pompey and Crassus respectively for five years. Pompey lingered in Rome, but Crassus set out for the East, where he fell on the field of Carrhse in a campaign against the Parthians.

The personal bond which held Pompey and Caesar together had been severed in 54 by the death of Pompey's wife Julia, who was the daughter of Caesar. The death of Crassus in the following year destroyed the balance of power in the triumvirate, and brought Caesar and Pompey face to face as rivals. Pompey, at least, seemed to be waiting only for the right time to strike. The right moment seemed to come in 52, when he was elected sole consul.

The senate, which had been watching eagerly for signs of an estrangement between the two men, now began to move boldly against Caesar; and Pompey, after showing the hesitation and duplicity which was so characteristic of him in political matters, at last went over to its side. Caesar's second term of five years would come to an end March 1, 49, but he expected that, in accordance with precedent, his governorship would be extended to the end of the year. Now he was a candidate for the consulship for the year 48, and so hoped to step from the proconsulship to the consulship at the end of the year 49 without a break. This program he was anxious to carry out, because, if an interval should elapse between his incumbency of the two offices, it would give his enemies at Rome an opportunity to bring political charges against him as a private citizen, which could not be brought against him if he held office.

Rumors reached Caesar in Gaul in 50 BC that the senate was planning to appoint a governor to succeed him before the close of the year 49. Consequently, when the new consuls called the senate together January 1, 49 BC, a representative of Caesar laid before that body the proposals of his absent master. Their exact character is unknown, but the senate refused to listen to them, and declared that Caesar would be a public enemy unless he gave up his provinces and his army before the first of July, 49. Two tribunes in the senate who favored his cause and interposed their vetoes to the senate's action, were threatened with personal violence, and set out at once for Caesar's camp at Ravenna, and Caesar replied to the challenge of the senate and Pompey by crossing the frontier into Italy, and marching toward Rome to restore the tribunes to their rightful authority.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:28:30 ZULU