Sunday, April 21, 2013

Dissecting Rome’s First Triumvirate – Part I

The first triumvirate of the Roman Republic was a classic study in power and politics. Three men, each with their own unique personality, battled for control of Rome, but it took a titan of titans to defeat the other two, and that man removed the final brick from the Republic and used it to establish the foundation for an empire.

Gaius Julius Caesar was born in 100 B.C. A member of the famed Julian clan, he was the son of another Gaius Julius Caesar whose sister Julia married Gaius Marius, the famous general. Caesar matured during the civil war between Marius and Sulla (88-82 B.C), although his allegiance to Marius almost cost him his life. During the time Marius was in control of Rome, Caesar was named priest and married the daughter of Marius’ ally Cinna. But then Sulla took control of the city causing Caesar to lose his wife’s dowry, title, and was forced into hiding. Ironically, the loss of priestly office freed Caesar to join the army and serve in the east. Hearing of Sulla’s death in 78, he returned to Rome to work as an attorney in order to hone his skills in rhetoric and oratory. Then, by 70 B.C, Caesar was ready to begin his political career.

After serving as military tribune, Caesar was elected Questor in 69 B.C, Aedile in 66, and then Pontifex Maximus and Praetor Urbanus in 63. After his Praetorship, Caesar was appointed governor of Spain, but could not take that position until he satisfied his creditors. He appealed to Marcus Crassus for help and the richest man in Rome paid or guaranteed many of Caesar’s debts. Caesar stood for Consul in 59 B.C. and was elected in one of the most corrupt campaigns on record.

Marcus Licinius Crassus was born in 115 B.C, son of P. Licinius Crassus, who was Consul in 97 B.C and Censor in 89. During the civil war, Crassus’ father and brother committed suicide rather than being captured by the troops of Marius. Later, after Marius’ death, his ally Cinna began proscriptions on all those who had supported Sulla, forcing the younger Crassus into exile. Then, after Cinna’s death in 84 B.C, Crassus joined Sulla in Africa and eventually became one of the leaders of the attack force that retook Rome in 82 B.C. Crassus spent the next few years amassing the greatest fortune in Roman history through land speculation, proscriptions against the followers of Marius, and slave trade. Now wealthy, he began his political career through the curule path. Political advancement was interrupted by the slave war with Spartacus, which Crassus helped put down in 71 B.C, but he was elected consul in 70 B.C, serving with Pompey and then Censor in 65 B.C. In 60, he was returned to consul, again serving with Pompey.

Gnaeus Pompey Magnus was born in 106 B.C. His father, Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo served as Praetor in 92 B.C. and Consul in 89 B.C. He died during Marius’ siege on Rome in 87 B.C. The son served in the army under his father and found soldering to his liking. Prior to Sulla’s assault on Rome, Pompey raised three legions to support him and forever earned the trust of the new dictator. After victories over the remaining Marians in Sicily and Africa, Sulla dubbed his young general “Magnus” supposedly in derision because Pompey had no political experience worthy of a title. After putting down a revolt following the death of Sulla, Pompey demanded that the Senate name him proconsul of Hispania. Fearing his rising military power, the Senate said no, but Pompey got his way when he threatened the Senate by refusing to disband his legions. He remained in Hispania until 71 B.C. when the Senate requested that he help Crassus with the war against Spartacus.

Pompey was elected consul with Crassus in 70 B.C. without having first served in the Senate, a very unusual accomplishment. At 35 years of age, he was already Rome’s greatest general and, as head of the army, a power to be reckoned with. Following his consulship, Pompey continued his military exploits, fighting in the east against Mithridates, and then on to Syria and Palestine. He returned to Rome for his third triumph in 61 B.C. and again joined Crassus as consul in 60.

So we had three men, three personalities, who had accumulated great power on their own, each harboring a defect preventing further glory. Caesar, the youngest, had little military experience and substantial debts which limited his influence. Crassus lacked leadership skills and was forced to use coin in its place. Pompey had no political resume and lacked a skill for politics. They all experienced Sulla’s attempts to reform the Republic, but Pandora’s box had been opened and Sulla could not put the Republic back to the way it used to be. The new world would be fashioned by the triumvirate and that which would follow it.

1 comment:

Sweedie-The-Cat said...

And for those who want a quick Musical summary of Rome:

1st. The story of....
Julius Caesar ("Besame Mucho" by the Beatles)

2nd. The Story of Rome:
Viva Roma No. V ("Mambo #5" by Lou Bega)

3rd. The Story of The Arena:
Gladiator ("You Know I'm No Good" by Amy Winehouse)

4th. The story of....
Constantine ("Come On, Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners)