The First Triumvirate


Welcome back to the greatest of all game shows, another round of that exciting game, “Let’s Destroy the Roman Republic.”  We’ve got more excitement, bigger prizes, the return of some of your favorite characters and (yes!) some entertaining new characters.   Just a reminder of who is still in the game:

It’s 62 BC.  Pompey has returned from a very successful campaign in the east.  He’s added provinces to the Roman Empire and secured some valuable alliances.  He’s added to his personal fortune, and richly rewarded his officers and enlisted men. 

But on his return to Rome, he miscalculates slightly.  He sends his men home (25,000 soldiers!), expecting the senate to ratify his treaties and award him the honors he is due.  But the senate doesn’t come through!

Beginning of the First Triumvirate

Meanwhile, Gaius Julius Caesar was continuing his promising career.  He serves successfully as propraetor in Spain (62 BC), and figures he’s ready for an even more prestigious command. He wants a consulship and the proconsulship that will follow.  He gets help from Crassus who backs him up financially, and manages to win one of the two 59 BC consulships.  The senate, however, had decided in advance that the proconsulship awaiting him was “the forests and grasslands of Italy,” a pretty trivial assignment.  But what can Caesar do about it?  Life is like cricket, we play by the rules—except for men like Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar who make up the rules as they go.

Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar now meet together and come up with that informal arrangement we call the First Triumvirate.  They agree to combine forces so that each of them can get more of what they want than the senate might be inclined to give them.

Caesars proconsulship is going to be in Gaul—a place he’s going to have plenty of good opportunities.  Also, this is a potentially long-term position: nice, because, while in office, Caesar can’t be prosecuted.

Pompey gets a ratification of the arrangements he had made in the east, good terms for his soldiers, and (perhaps best of all) he gets to be Caesar’s son-in-law.  Although Pompey is older than Caesar, he gets Caesar’s daughter Julia as his wife—and, apparently, she was a wonderful woman, loved both by her father and her husband.

And Crassus?  Well, he gets a player to be named later, “power and influence,” many texts will tell you, but what that really means is protection of his investments.

Clodius and his thugs

Meanwhile, a new player enters the game: Publius Clodius.  Clodius was from an old Roman family, but he gets himself adopted by a Plebeian—so he could be eligible to run for tribune! He had been involved in a scandal involving Caesar’s wife Pompeia—who he was very much in lust with.  He had waited until a celebration of Bona Deia, the good goddess, at Caesar’s house.  It was a time when men weren’t supposed to be around, so he has to disguise himself as a woman. He’s discovered, and there’s a suspicion Pompeia had connived in this.  Caesar doesn’t push the issue: Cicero tried to prosecute Clodius, but Caesar had said no.  Still, Caesar divorced Pompeia: Caesar’s wife must be beyond suspicion.

Clodius operate like Saturninus and Glaucia, gathering a bunch of thugs as a personal body guard, but also using those thugs to intimidate political opponents.  He makes himself popular with a program of free grain. He likewise maneuvers his enemies out of Rome.  Cicero is exiled for putting Roman citizens to death without trial (losing, by the way, his nice prizes: his estates are confiscated).  Cato is sent out to govern Cyprus, an “honor” that works out mighty conveniently for people who don’t want that great champion of senatorial privilege in Rome.

Ultimately, Clodius goes too far.  Pompey, besieged in his own home, sets up a rival tribune with a band of thugs of his own: Milo.  Pompey manages to get the upper hand in Rome itself, but it looks like there’s too much friction for the triumvirate to last.

Renewal of the triumvirate

In 56 BC, though, Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar meat again at Luca, and they patch up their differences, agreeing once again that each of them will get a nice prize.

Caesar gets his proconsulship in Gaul prolonged.  Crassus and Pompey will each get consulships in 55, and Crassus will get a proconsulship in the east.  He’ll get to take on the Parthians.  Pompey gets a proconsulship in Spain, but he can do this by proxy.  Also, Pompey secures permission for Cicero to come back, and Cato returns to Rome too.

Everybody’s a winner!

Breakdown of triumvirate

But you’ve hear the syllogism.  All men are mortal.  Socrates is a man.  Therefore, Socrates is mortal.  Well, all men are mortal.  Julia is a mortal.  Therefore, Julia is a man.  Or maybe it’s all men are mortal, Julia is not a man, therefore Julia is not mortal.  All people are mortal.  Julia is a person.  Julia is mortal. 

Julia dies in childbirth in 54 BC—breaking an important link between Caesar and Pompey.  Crassus dies in battle against the Parthians—losing all eight legions.  And in Rome, there’s anarchy.  The Milo and Clodius gangs are fighting in the streets, and, in the confused state of affairs, the consular elections can’t even be held.  When Clodius is killed, the senate declares an emergency, and makes Pompey sole consul (52 BC).  So it looks like Pompey has got the grand prize. He’s princeps senatus and more.  But will he be able to keep his prize?  We will see.