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M. Porcius Cato

Symptoms Of The Triumvirate Not The Republic

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I have a thesis I'd like to put forward for debate. The thesis is this: The stereotypical depiction of the late republic derives almost all its properties from the change that was brought about by the triumvirate.

 

Here are the stereotypical properties of the late republic:

* Consuls regularly initiate legislation

* Provincial commanders greatly affect politics in Rome itself

* Intense electoral competition leading to secret pacts, bribery, and corruption

* Personal politics (via marriage alliances, patronage, personal loans) influencing public policy

* Violence among rival crowds in the Forum

* The decline of free, public speech (contiones)

 

As far as I can tell, these properties superbly characterize the years 55-50 (i.e., with the election of Pompey and Crassus to the consulship), but much less characterize the years prior to this.

 

Can anyone point to another five-year-period in which the sum of these properties were more pronounced?

 

If not, I think it is fair to say that the triumvirate--not the republic itself--was what was "doomed" to degenerate into a monarchy.

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Cato, remember the 'Beast with 3 Heads'? Of course nobody can point to a period prior to the one you indicated simply because, 1 it exsisted but wasn't documented, or 2, it didn't exsist. The late republic is the best documented period we have of Rome, thankfully so. But, the question should be what caused these men to come together in the first place. Most of your points would be a contributing factors to the formation of the first 'triumvirate'.

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Yes, Varro called the triumvirate "the beast with three-heads".

 

So you're conceding my point?

 

I don't, by the way, take the possibility "the symptoms existed before the triumvirate but no record of it exists" at all seriously. You might as well say that "Martians wrote the Twelve Tables, but forgot to sign their name". The claim has exactly the same epistemological status.

 

It's not as though we fail to have voluminous records prior to 55. The years 60-55 are almost as well documented as the years 55-50. Consider Cicero's output alone during these two periods. Hell, part of my argument rests on the fact that the number of Cicero's speeches *declines* after the triumvirate.

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I'm very far from conceding your point. I'm saying most of your bullet points were contributing factors to the formation of the triumvirate, and therefore DID exists prior to!

Edited by P.Clodius

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I'm very far from conceding your point. I'm saying most of your bullet points were contributing factors to the formation of the triumvirate, and therefore DID exists prior to!

 

OK--so name your five year period and show that my bullet points better characterize that period than the period of the triumvirate. As far as your general point goes, that these bullet points contributed to the formation of the triumvirate--explain how exactly. How, for example, did the decline in free, public speech during your yet-to-be-nominated-5-years contribute to an alliance between Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar?

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One would have to agree with you, but not with your conclusion. Before 55 B.C., there was Sulla, the Gracchi affair, Cicero, etc. The members of the Senate had always been corrupt to varying degrees. I don't think that it matters as to who introduces legislation, but rather, what the legislation is. Your items may justly be said to have produced the 'result', but the Triumvirate was a sympton of the degradation of the Republic. Augustus did curb many of these things and so did some of his successors. Your conclusion implies unanswerable questions: What would have happened without the Triumvirate? Would Caesar still have ruled?Something had to happen. What was it?

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Before 55 B.C., there was Sulla, the Gracchi affair, Cicero, etc.

Take any one of the five-year-periods (or six or four, it doesn't matter) and check on each of the items on my list. No other five-year-period involved so much public violence, scandal, and unconstitutionality. As I've said elsewhere, the triumvirate was a TRUE oligarchy, not just an aspiring oligarchy. The "degradation of the Republic" is a myth--the republic was largely healthy (albeit imperfect) and functioning quite well against domestic threats (e.g., Catiline, Lentulus, etc) prior to the triumvirate. The upheavals from 55-50 were not caused by the Roman constitution: the upheavals were caused by men who wished to overthrow that constitution.

 

The members of the Senate had always been corrupt to varying degrees.

Never on the scale starting in 55 BC. There were courts that were specifically set up to prosecute bribery and corruption, and there was every motivation in the world to nail an adversary there. Yet even still these prosecutions were fairly rare, and--most importantly--they succeeded in bringing down well-connected filchers (such as Verres) without requiring a revolution.

 

I don't think that it matters as to who introduces legislation, but rather, what the legislation is.

It matters a great deal. If the bulk of legislation is being proposed by one man, there is clearly something amiss. Normally legislation was proposed by a fairly large number of individuals, all of whom took their competing ideas to the people for a vote, and only after public speeches on the merits of the bill. This is the essence of the republican constitution--competition for honors among leading men, adjudicated by popular will.

 

Your items may justly be said to have produced the 'result'

Not fair at all--this is a completely arbitrary accusation. Think about it. Do you have any idea what kind of foresight it would take to tailor-make a list to produce this kind of result??? I know my history, but you'd need to have memorized all of UNRV and the Loeb Classical Library to tailor-make a list such as the one above. I produced my list the old-fashioned way: I got it from Fergus Millar!

 

the Triumvirate was a sympton of the degradation of the Republic.

Again, what is the EVIDENCE that the republic ever was so degraded as the state of affairs durring the triumvirate? Find any five-year-period you like, and I'll concede that there was nothing unprecedented in the triumvirate and that it was politics as usual. If you can't, you should concede that the political violence etc that is usually blamed on the republican constitution should instead be blamed on the triumvirs themselves.

 

Augustus did curb many of these things and so did some of his successors.

Actually, I don't think so. The slate of candidates for office was almost always hand-picked by Augustus; freedom of speech evaporated; political violence in the Forum was reduced, but only because Octavian had already killed off any opposition to his regime. Most importantly, however, nothing Augustus and his lackeys could do was subject to veto by a tribune of the plebs who won a free and fair election. Almost everything democratic about the republic was wiped out by Octavian: all that remained were the aristocratic and monarchical elements of the old regime.

 

Your conclusion implies unanswerable questions: What would have happened without the Triumvirate? Would Caesar still have ruled?Something had to happen. What was it?

 

Fascinating questions, but all off-topic.

Edited by M. Porcius Cato

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I have a thesis I'd like to put forward for debate. The thesis is this: The stereotypical depiction of the late republic derives almost all its properties from the change that was brought about by the triumvirate.

 

Here are the stereotypical properties of the late republic:

* Consuls regularly initiate legislation

* Provincial commanders greatly affect politics in Rome itself

* Intense electoral competition leading to secret pacts, bribery, and corruption

* Personal politics (via marriage alliances, patronage, personal loans) influencing public policy

* Violence among rival crowds in the Forum

* The decline of free, public speech (contiones)

 

As far as I can tell, these properties superbly characterize the years 55-50 (i.e., with the election of Pompey and Crassus to the consulship), but much less characterize the years prior to this.

 

Can anyone point to another five-year-period in which the sum of these properties were more pronounced?

 

Are there 5 year periods that meet the same conditions against the 'freedoms' of the Senatorial process? No. I would agree that this period, and of course everything that continued thereafter was a chain of events that eroded that process.

 

However, I will argue that there are many cases where the rights of the people were just as stifled by this Senatorial process before the 'populares' movements. The revolts of the early Republic and the social wars are extreme examples of the Senates exclusionary policies. As for the original question though from the perspective of Senatorial freedom, might the Sulla, Marius and Cinna era actually be worse than the triumvirate? Consider that while the triumvirate dominated policy during its era, proscription was not necessarily a public tool. Yes the street gangs were running amok in order to effect policy and power (assumedly at least with some direction from various powerful players), but Senators and their various factions were not necessarily being exiled, having properties confiscated and potentially losing their lives at nearly a comparable rate to what happened a generation earlier.

 

If not, I think it is fair to say that the triumvirate--not the republic itself--was what was "doomed" to degenerate into a monarchy.

 

Agreed, the triumvirate was a process involving the use of personal popularity and charisma (Caesar and Pompey), military stature (Pompey) and wealth (Crassus) to 'dictate' legislative policy. Its not that everything the triumvirate did was illegal but that it was one more precedent setting event that made continuing political breakdowns that much more possible. Was it doomed to degenerate into monarchy? Quite possible but its the will of individuals who broke the Republic.

 

What we tend to end up arguing in this situation is if the Republic was better than the principate from a moralistic standpoint. I believe that the answer is of course the concept of political freedom is far greater than the dictatorial regime. However, the Republic often gets labelled as some great bastion of freedom for all, when these freedoms were limited in scope and application to the populus. However, despite the fact that the average Roman of the time may have had difficulty finding work due to the abundance of slaves among other social issues, they still had the right to speak out, to assemble, to vote, to work, to be educated, etc. The problem was that many of the opportunities to practice these rights weren't as available as they once might have been.

 

(I may not be entirely on topic there, but I was just free flowing...)

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The Republic was under sustained assault from at least the time of Marius.

 

I suspect that by the time of the triumvirate the concept of passing laws in direct contravention of the spirit of the Republic was well established. Look at the rising number of 'special commands'. And the flouting of laws. Look at Pompey illegally raising an army to assist Sulla. Was he punished for such temerity? Of course not.

 

I don't think it was the demands of governing of an empire that undid the republic but the inherent weakness of its structure.

 

* Consuls regularly initiate legislation

 

and what exactly is unconstitutional about that. You may argue about the specifics of Caesar's pushing through of legislation, but a consul was entitled to propose legislation.

 

 

* Provincial commanders greatly affect politics in Rome itself

 

And Marius, sulla, Pompey etc etc did not?

 

* Intense electoral competition leading to secret pacts, bribery, and corruption

 

Had always gone on.

* Personal politics (via marriage alliances, patronage, personal loans) influencing public policy

 

Had always gone on

 

* Violence among rival crowds in the Forum

 

That I grant you was especially prominent.

 

 

* The decline of free, public speech (contiones)

 

Example?

 

 

The only really exceptional thing is the amount of street violence. And the senate was powerless to stop it

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* Violence among rival crowds in the Forum

 

That I grant you was especially prominent.

 

Actually I'd say no more prominent during the Triumvirate than in earlier times...what about the Tribune Sulpicius' Anti-Senate ? Extended rioting was involved after he unveiled his plans for legislation, crowds (including his personal gaurd of 3000 swordsmen) fighting in the forum and streets of Rome. Attempted intimidation of Senators and violent retaliation on their part exsisted since the time of the Gracchi.

 

The only really exceptional thing is the amount of street violence. And the senate was powerless to stop it

 

In the case of Sulpicius, Senators were behind it.

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However, I will argue that there are many cases where the rights of the people were just as stifled by this Senatorial process before the 'populares' movements. The revolts of the early Republic and the social wars are extreme examples of the Senates exclusionary policies.

 

I have no real quarrel with your general point; however, I do disagree with your examples. First, the senatorial process changed in character after the secession of the plebs, such that the leading senators by the middle to late republic were almost all plebs themselves. Second, the people of Rome were at least as exclusionary as the Senate, which is why tribunes such as the Gracchi and Drusus were abandoned by the people once these tribunes agitated for Italian rights. The social war was not caused by an exclusionary senate alone: from beginning to end, it was almost invariably Roman blue-bloods who advocated Italian rights and almost invariably popular sentiment that opposed it.

 

As for the original question though from the perspective of Senatorial freedom, might the Sulla, Marius and Cinna era actually be worse than the triumvirate? Consider that while the triumvirate dominated policy during its era, proscription was not necessarily a public tool.

 

Yes, I agree entirely. My point is not that the triumvirate was the only bad thing to ever occur during the history of the republic. My point is that the civil strife and conflict that is normally said to be the fault of the republican system is in fact the fault of extra-constitutional actions. The unconstitutional behavior of Sulla, Marius, and Cinna were all bad too, albeit in different ways. As far as I can tell, this fact again strongly argues for the positive effects of the republican system and argues against "innovators" who did more to spill blood than to help the system.

 

If not, I think it is fair to say that the triumvirate--not the republic itself--was what was "doomed" to degenerate into a monarchy.

Agreed, the triumvirate was a process involving the use of personal popularity and charisma (Caesar and Pompey), military stature (Pompey) and wealth (Crassus) to 'dictate' legislative policy.

 

Why the shudder quotes? The fact is that Caesar used political violence to prevent the participation of his opponents in the political process. This same violence brought an end to free speech in the Forum, and it violated the rights of the people and the office of the tribunes. The triumvirs did not 'dictate' policy; they dictated it.

 

I believe that the answer is of course the concept of political freedom is far greater than the dictatorial regime. However, the Republic often gets labelled as some great bastion of freedom for all, when these freedoms were limited in scope and application to the populus.

 

Absolutely. I'm not arguing that the republic was a libertarian utopia. My argument is that (1) the system was basically stable, (2) what was unstable was the triumvirate, and (3) that the triumvirate was unstable because it was an actual oligarchy and not a system that respected the rights of the people.

 

Attempted intimidation of Senators and violent retaliation on their part exsisted since the time of the Gracchi.

 

"Since the time of the Gracchi" implies that there was continuous intimidation of senators by physical violence. Not the case, however. Intimidation by physical violence was rare until the triumvirate, at which time it was almost unremitting.

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"Since the time of the Gracchi" implies that there was continuous intimidation of senators by physical violence. Not the case, however. Intimidation by physical violence was rare until the triumvirate, at which time it was almost unremitting.

 

True enough, it did have that implication, which as you've pointed out is not the case. My only point was that the street level violence of the triumvirate had a precedent.

 

 

and (3) that the triumvirate was unstable because it was an actual oligarchy and not a system that respected the rights of the people.

 

So are you saying that by nature an oligarchy does not respect the rights of the people ?

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So are you saying that by nature an oligarchy does not respect the rights of the people ?

 

A pure oligarchy has no incentive to respect the rights of the people, and so they almost never do so (except accidentally). The nice thing about the Roman republic, Polybius observed, was that the aspiring oligarchs were always having to answer to the people, which gave aspiring rulers an incentive to respect their rights.

 

My only point was that the street level violence of the triumvirate had a precedent.

I agree. I'm not claiming that any of my bullet points were unprecedented prior to the triumvirate, but that during the triumvirate all of these symptoms arose simultaneously and to a degree that was unprecedented.

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* Provincial commanders greatly affect politics in Rome itself

And Marius, sulla, Pompey etc etc did not?

Sure they did, but the number of provincial commanders affecting politics in Rome was not as great. What is your explanation for this fact?

 

* Intense electoral competition leading to secret pacts, bribery, and corruption

Had always gone on.

 

Always? Then it should be easy to name the secret pacts of 85-80, which candidates won through bribery, and which offices were corrupt. I'm quite curious to find out how it was that these always went on without any of the courts set up to prosecute bribery failing in their mission. How would you explain that? Why would a defeated candidate fail to bring charges against his opponent if the candidate was defeated unfairly? Do you happen to know who decided the cases that were tried in these courts by the way?

 

* Personal politics (via marriage alliances, patronage, personal loans) influencing public policy

Had always gone on

ALWAYS gone on? OK--name a five-year-period that was equal to or surpasses the period 55-50 along this dimension.

 

* The decline of free, public speech (contiones)

Example?

 

Look at the dates of Cicero's speeches in the Forum.

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Ave M.P. Cato:

Are you actually arguing that the quality of legislation is less important than who introduces it?

The nature of a government is only changed in extremis(?). When people are not with their governments, they change peaceably, by force or fall entirely. The steady degradation of the Republic had been in the background for a long time. It came to a head with the Triumvirate and the monarchy.

Two consuls could never rule a great empire in alternate months, especially if all business had to cease when one was looking for omens, and a tribune had a veto.

A Triunvirate, perforce, had to fail. A strong central directed government had to be formed, thus (for the times) a monarchy. Democracy has never existed anywhere. Not even in so small a group as a family.

If oligarchs had to answer to the people, 95% of them would not have chosen poverty. :2guns:

Edited by Gaius Octavius

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