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First Triumvirate

First Triumvirate

In 60 BC, Caesar's decision to forego a chance at a triumph for his achievements in Spain put him in a position to run for Consul. He faced considerable opposition from the optimate Senators, or as Cicero dubbed them, the boni (good men). Even though Caesar seemed to hold overwhelming popularity within the citizen assemblies, he had to manipulate formidable alliances within the Senate itself in order to secure his election. Already maintaining a solid friendship with the fabulously wealthy Crassus, he approached Crassus' rival Pompey with the concept of an amicitia (coalition). Pompey had already been considerably frustrated by the inability to get land reform for his eastern veterans and Caesar brilliantly patched up any differences between the two powerful leaders. Crassus, on the other hand, had significant assets tied up in eastern interests and was a great ally of the business leading Equestrian families. He needed a politician, Caesar, to support items of interest to this faction and willingly joined the coalition.

The first triumvirate however is a bit misleading in name. Not only was it never called that by the contemporary Romans, but it was a far more inclusive factio (faction) than the term triumvirate implies. Many leading men were involved, such as Lucius Lucceius and Lucius Calpurnius Piso, whose daughter Calpurnia Caesar later married. The great orator Cicero, due to his association with Pompey and relative influence, was likely asked to participate in forming this 'majority' style government but if so, he clearly chose to separate himself and refused to participate. Without Cicero, the alliance was formed in late 60 BC, and remarkably remained a secret for some time. Caesar won the election easily enough, but the boni managed to have Caesar's former co-aedile Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus elected as the junior Consul. The clear intention was to thwart what were sure to be radical attempts at legislation by Caesar. Bibulus was only the office holding face of the optimates, however, as it was Marcus Porcius Cato who held much influence among the conservatives.

Of interesting note regarding the election is Caesar's age. The constitution, under normal circumstances, required a Consular candidate to be 42 years of age. Caesar, however, according to common beliefs, being born in 100 BC, was only 40 years old. This has led to much speculation that he was actually born in 102 BC to make him the right age for the office. The fact that the 'boni' and their ultra conservative policies make little argument against the legality of Caesar running for Consul, lends credence to the argument that Caesar was actually born 2 years earlier. In fact, each office Caesar held was exactly 2 years prior to being legally eligible. However, circumstances throughout this imperatorial period of the Republic often negated such rules. Pompey served as consul in his 20's without even having been a Senator first. Both Plutarch and Suetonius, ancient Rome's great biographers, both say that Caesar died during his 56th year. He would have turned 56 in July of 44 BC making it seem quite clear that Caesar was indeed born in 100 BC. Some theories have suggested that his age may have been overlooked because Caesar won the corona civica in his youth while on campaign in the east. Regardless, no special legislation or extenuating circumstances seemed to block Caesar's legal position to run for Consul.

Once in office in 59 BC, Caesar's first order of business was to pass a law that required the public release of all debates and procedures of the Senate. This was the beginning of Caesar's propaganda machine that would eventually culminate in his own written records of the Gallic Wars and the Civil Wars. Forcing the publication of certain arguments could make Caesar appear to be heroic for the populist cause in the face of conservative resistance, regardless of the real nature of any proposed legislation or debate. Next on the agenda was the appeasement of Pompey. Caesar developed a land bill that reportedly was so carefully written that resistance from political opponents was hoped to be minimal. He personally read each section of the law before the Senate offering open debate and promising to delete any segment that the Senate disliked. The volatile political hot point of lands in Campania would not be offered to Pompey's veterans or the Roman poor, but rather unused land in other parts of Italy would be restored and offered instead. Doing so would not only alleviate the problem of the unemployed mob in Rome but would satisfy Pompey and his legions. Caesar assured that he could in no way gain from the bill, as was common with agrarian bills in the past, and excluded himself from any potential oversight committees related to it. Still Cato and the optimates faction opposed the concept, not only because they were certainly skeptical and in general opposition to Caesar, but because legislation of such far reaching consequence was rarely unanimous or passed without revision. Rather than continue along the standard deliberative process, Caesar rebuked the Senate and took it directly to the people.

While speaking before the citizen assemblies, Caesar asked his co-consul Bibulus his feelings on the bill, as it was important to have the support of both standing consuls. His reply was simply to say that the bill would not be passed even if everyone else wanted it. At this point the so-called first triumvirate was made publicly known with both Pompey and Crassus voicing public approval of the measure in turn. The boni, likely in a mild panic from this now public alliance, did everything they could to stop the legislation. Bibulus tried to stop it by declaring bad omens and public holidays, both key events that would delay voting. Caesar, however, as Pontifex Maximus, and with public support could counter any charge of bad omens and took the vote to the Temple of Castor. Here, Cato and his boni made a last stand. Bibulus tried to veto the entire process inciting the crowd. A basket of dung was thrown on his head and the optimate Senators were driven away. The law carried with overwhelming public support and Bibulus retired to his home in disgrace. Bibulus spent the remainder of his Consular year trying to use religious omens to declare Caesar's laws as null and void, in an attempt to bog down the political system. Instead, however, he simply gave Caesar complete autonomy to pass almost any proposal he wanted to. After Bibulus' withdrawal, the year of the Consulship of Caesar and Bibulus was often referred to jokingly thereafter as the year of "Julius and Caesar" and was a foreboding indication of Caesar's political machinations.

The next order of business was securing Crassus' support. Caesar brought tax proposals that would benefit Crassus' equestrian business interests before the people's assembly and passed them through without opposition. Additional eastern settlements were passed to confirm Pompey's deeds while on campaign there. Additional laws aimed at blocking corruption were passed, making sure that provincial governors were more accountable for their actions while serving abroad. While the 'first triumvirate' was technically completely legal, as were taking bills before the people's assembly rather than the Senate, the actions of Caesar during this year would lead directly to attempts at prosecution later. Circumventing the religious omens as well as other legal manipulation would eventually lead directly to a choice between surrender for punishment or civil war.

Already secure with Crassus, by marrying the daughter of his client Piso, Caesar next strengthened his alliance with Pompey. Pompey was married to Caesar's daughter Julia, in what seemed to be a completely happy arrangement, by all accounts. Next, Caesar secured his own future with the support of the Tribune Publius Vatinius. The 'Lex Vatinia' gave Caesar the Proconsulship of Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum, granting him the opportunity to match political victories with military glory. This five year term, unprecedented for an area that was relatively secure, was an obvious sign of Caesar's ambition for external conquests, and would also lead to calls for prosecution. Despite all of Rome's conquests, the system required valid reasons and the support of the Senate to enable military action. Caesar's future campaigns would all be conducted at his own discretion. In an additional stroke of luck, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer died, the current governor of Gallia Narbonensis, and this province was assigned to Caesar as well.

As 59 BC came to a close, Caesar had the support of the people, along with the two most powerful men in Rome (aside from himself), and the opportunity for infinite glory in Gaul. At the age of 40, while already holding the highest office in Rome and defeating his enemies at every turn, the true greatness of his career was yet to come. Marching quickly to the relative safety of his provinces, to invoke his 5 year imperium and avoid prosecution, Caesar was about to alter the geographic landscape of the ancient world.

continue to the Gallic Wars

Did you know?

The Boini or Optimates ('Good Men') were the aristocratic faction of the later Roman Republic.


First Triumvirate - Related Topic: Crassus


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