First Triumvirate

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See also: First Triumvirate (Argentina) which came to power in 1811.


Marcus Licinius Crassus and Pompey the Great had been colleagues in the consulship in 70 BC, when they had legislated the full restoration of the tribunate of the people (the Roman dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla had stripped the office of all its rights except the ius auxiliandi, the right to rescue a plebeian from the clutches of a patrician magistrate). However, since that time, the two men had entertained considerable antipathy for one another, each believing the other to have gone out of his way to increase his own reputation at his colleague's expense.

Caesar contrived to reconcile the two men, and then combined their clout with his own to have himself elected consul in 59 BC; he and Crassus were already allies (modern consensus as to the beginning of the friendship to be as early as 65 where a young Caesar supported Crassus's proposal to make Egypt tributary to Rome), and he solidified his alliance with Pompey by giving him his own daughter, Julia, in marriage. The alliance combined Caesar's enormous popularity and legal reputation with Crassus's fantastic wealth and influence within the plutocratic Equestrian order (ordo equester) and Pompey's equally spectacular wealth and military reputation.

The Triumvirate was kept secret until the Senate obstructed Caesar's proposed agrarian law establishing colonies of Roman citizens and distributing portions of the public lands (ager publicus). He promptly brought the law before the Council of the People in a speech that found him flanked by Crassus and Pompey, thus revealing the alliance. Caesar's agrarian law was carried through, and the Triumviri then proceeded to allow the demagogue Publius Clodius Pulcher's election as tribune of the people, successfully ridding themselves both of Marcus Tullius Cicero and Cato the Younger, both adamant opponents of the Triumviri.

The Triumvirate proceeded to make further arrangements for itself. The senate awarded Caesar, as a snub to his dealings in the Triumvirate, "the woods and paths of Italy" as his proconsul territory. Caesar passed, through a tribune, his own ruling on the matter, and became proconsul of both Gauls (Gallia Cisalpina and Gallia Transalpina) and of Illyricum, with command of four legions, for five years; Caesar's new father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, was made consul for 58 BC.

By 56 BC, the bonds between the three men were fraying.[1] Caesar first invited Crassus, then Pompey, to a secret meeting, the Lucca Conference, to rethink their joint strategy. The meeting renewed their political alliance. They agreed that Pompey and Crassus would again stand for the consulship in 55 BC. Once elected, they would extend Caesar's command in Gaul by five years. At the end of their joint consular year, Crassus would have the influential and lucrative governorship of Syria, and use this as a base to conquer Parthia. Pompey would keep Hispania in absentia.[2][3]

The alliance had allowed the Triumvirs to dominate Roman politics completely, but it would not last indefinitely due to the ambitions, egos, and jealousies of the three; Caesar and Crassus were implicitly hand-in-glove, but Pompey disliked Crassus and grew increasingly envious of Caesar's spectacular successes in the Gallic War, whereby he annexed the whole of the Three Gauls to Rome.

Death of Crassus and Pompey[edit]

Julia's death during childbirth and Crassus's ignominious defeat and death at Carrhae at the hands of the Parthians in 53 BC effectively undermined the alliance. Pompey remained in Rome, governing his Spanish provinces through lieutenants, and remained in virtual control of the city throughout that time. He gradually drifted further and further from his alliance with Caesar, eventually marrying the daughter of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Cornelianus Scipio Nasica, one of the boni ("Good Men"), an archconservative faction of the Senate steadfastly opposed to Caesar.

Pompey was elected consul without colleague in 52 BC, and took part in the politicking which led to Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon in 49 BC, starting the Civil War. Pompey was made commander-in-chief of the war by the Senate, and was defeated by his former ally Caesar at Pharsalus. Pompey's subsequent murder in Egypt in an inept political intrigue left Caesar sole master of the Roman world.

Family tree showing the relationship between the three members of the First Triumvirate, as well as their relationships with other prominent members of the Republic.

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  1. ^ Boak, "History of Rome", pg. 169.
  2. ^ Cicero, Letters to his brother Quintus 2.3; Suetonius, Julius 24; Plutarch, Caesar 21, Crassus 14–15, Pompey 51
  3. ^ Boatwright, Mary et al. The Romans: From Village to Empire, pg 229.