Sunday, May 5, 2013

Dissecting Rome’s First Triumvirate – Part II

The rule for election of Consuls of Rome required that a man be 43 years of age unless he was of the patrician class and then he would get two years credit and be eligible at 41. Election during the first year of eligibility was on Caesar’s mind as he waited for the end of 60 B.C. and the voting. During his term as provincial governor of Spain, Caesar had acquired enough capital to pay off many of his debts. Moreover, his experience leading men in battle had energized him for more efforts in the arena of war. But first it had to be Rome and the Consulship.

Caesar’s competitors in the election were Bibulus and Lucceius. Bibulus had served with Caesar as Aedile, but disliked him immensely. Nonetheless he offered bribes to Caesar for his support. Caesar refused and short on cash himself,  borrowed money from Lucceius. He did not approach Crassus, as he was accustomed to because he didn’t want to offend Pompey who was still at odds with the wealthiest man in Rome. When the votes were tallied, Caesar was elected along with Bibulus who had benefitted from a campaign of bribery undertaken by Cato.

The force bringing the triumvirs together was now set in motion. Caesar was snubbed by the Senate when it assigned the “forests and cattle runs” of southeastern Italy as the province to be administered by the new Consuls.

Pompey was snubbed when the land bill he proposed to accommodate his veterans was defeated. The Senate looked down on Pompey as beneath their class – a plebian by heritage and only now elevated because of his father. They distrusted him fearing he would try to use his army to overthrow the government.

Finally, Crassus was snubbed when he supported the re-write of a tax collection contract favored by the knights. He got Cicero over to his position, but Cato killed the bill.

The Senate of this period was made up of three factions, each amounting to one third of the voting power: conservatives who supported the Republic as it had always been, moderates including Cicero and Cato who allowed some adaptation of the political system, and the liberals who supported Pompey and Caesar. The conservatives were so strict in their point of view, they tried to block all efforts of the triumvirs, unable to perceive the harm they would eventually bring to themselves.

Pompey and Crassus decided to bury the hatchet and go in with Caesar. The latter was still the least influential of the triumvirs but he had two important assets: he was by far the best negotiator and he had previously been a supporter of Marius, the man of the people, whereas the other two were seen as allies of dictator Sulla.

The allies decided to add a fourth man to the group – make a quatumvirate, no less. The man they chose was Cicero, because of his oratorical skills. The invitation to join was delivered to him by Balbus, a confidant of Caesar. Cicero was certainly angry at the conservatives who were in the process of wrecking the Republic, but he could not abide the triumvirs either. He felt Pompey and Crassus were not supportive enough of his handling of the conspiracy of Cataline, while his antipathy toward Caesar was visceral. In the end, he refused to join the others and would suffer later because of it.

Michael Grant, in his biography of Caesar described what followed:

“During the next ten years the triumvirate remained the controlling factor in Roman politics. This is not, as it is sometimes called, a defeat for democracy. The dispute was not between senatorial government and democracy, which never existed in Rome and never would, but between a haughty, reactionary, corrupt oligarchy and an equally ruthless tyranny conducted by three individuals.”

Let me provide more detail for year one – 59 B.C.

When the newly elected Caesar introduced the land bill to the Senate, they filibustered until he withdrew the measure and took it to the assembly. It was vetoed by three tribunes but Pompey and Crassus spoke in favor, making it plain they were allied with Caesar. When Bibulus, the other Consul, tried to block the bill, Caesar had Pompey’s troops burst into the assembly and intimidate the opposition into surrender.

Frustrated, Bibulus and his allies tried the alternative tactic of using auspices to block all assembly meetings. Whenever an Assembly meeting was scheduled, he would take auspices and declare that the date was unsuitable. Caesar ignored this blocking attempt and used the Assembly to pass legislation beneficial to the Triumvirs.

In April, Pompey, who was 43, married Caesar’s daughter Julia, 17. It has been suggested that Pompey needed the link to be able to count on Caesar’s political skills. Caesar also married for political advantage -- Calpurnia, daughter of Lucius Piso, who Caesar sought as a puppet Consul for the next year. These matrimonial maneuverings prompted Cato to remark that the Roman political system had become a marriage bureau.

Now Caesar decided it was time to improve his financial position and sought to use Egypt as the golden nugget. The king of Egypt had died and left a dubious will declaring his country would be bequeathed to Rome. Caesar then bribed the Senate and the Assembly with borrowed money to recognize Ptolemy XII as the rightful king so that he could gain a fortune through his relationship with the new monarch.

Even more important were Caesar’s efforts to secure a province for himself after his term of Consulship ended. Working through a trusted Tribune, Vatinius, he moved a bill through the assembly to allocate to himself Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum for a period of five years instead of the normal two. The Senate was not even consulted. Bibulus declared the law invalid because the omens were not favorable, but, once again, he was ignored. During a subsequent shouting match in the Senate, Caesar declared that he had gotten what he wanted despite the moanings of the Senate and that from now on he would “mount on top of the heads of the Senators”.

Caesar was allocated three legions for his new dominion and as he prepared for the new  assignment, fortune smiled down on him and changed history. Narbonese Gaul (also referred to as Transalpine Gaul) had previously been assigned with Cisalpine Gaul to a single Consul. This time the provinces were split with Metellus Celer receiving the former and Caesar receiving the latter. Before taken his post, however, Celer died, and Caesar used his father-in-law Piso and his son-in-law Pompey to argue that Narbonese Gaul should be added to his domain. The Senate gave in, possibly thinking that the more Caesar had on his plate away from Rome, the less he would meddle in its affairs.

But Caesar’s power remained a threat to the Senate. In July, an informer named Vettius accused Caesar or a plot to kill Pompey, but before the matter could be prosecuted, Vettius died mysteriously. An assassination attempt by a slave followed, but Caesar would survive to let history take its course.

He would spend eight years in Gaul conquering the tribes and write the Commentaries along the way. Julia, wife of Pompey and daughter or Caesar, would die in childbirth (54 B.C.) breaking the marital bond between husband and father. Crassus would be ambushed and killed in Pythia in 53 B.C. leaving no offset to any conflict Caesar and Pompey. Caesar would use Gaul to fortify his resume as a military leader while Pompey languished in Rome, a general out of place as a politician. By the time Caesar crossed the Rubicon in January 49 B.C, he knew he was the man who would change the Republic forever.

1 comment:

Sweedie-The-Cat said...

Wow! What a story! Well written. Thanks!

And if you want to hear a cute, short music video version of it (fewer details)see:

Julius Caesar ("Besame Mucho" by the Beatles)

Then on the "mere subject" of only Rome, I found:
Viva Roma No. V ("Mambo #5" by Lou Bega)