60-50 B.C. - Caesar, Crassus and Pompey and The First Triumvirate

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Caesar, Crassus and Pompey and The First Triumvirate

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (106 - 47 BC), Roman soldier and statesman, circa 48 BC. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Triumvirate means three men and refers to a type of coalition government. Earlier in the last century of the Roman Republic, Marius, L. Appuleius Saturninus and C. Servilius Glaucia had formed what could have been called a triumvirate to get those three men elected and land for the veteran soldiers in Marius' army. What we in the modern world refer to as the first triumvirate came somewhat later. It was formed of three men (Julius Caesar, Marcus Licinius Crassus and Pompey) who needed each other to get what they wanted. Two of these men were hostile to each other ever since the revolt of Spartacus; another pair allied themselves only tenuously through marriage. The men in a triumvirate didn't have to like one another.

Note that I wrote "What we in the modern world refer to as the first triumvirate." The first triumvirate the Romans actually sanctioned came even later, when Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus received the power to act as dictators. We refer to the one with Octavian as the second triumvirate.

During the Mithridatic Wars, Lucullus and Sulla won the major victories, but it was Pompey who got the credit for ending the menace. In Spain, Sertorius' own ally killed him, but Pompey got credit for taking care of the Spanish problem. Likewise, in the Spartacus revolt, Crassus did the work, but after Pompey went in to (basically) mop up, he got the glory. This did not sit well with Crassus. He joined other opponents of Pompey in fear-mongering that Pompey would follow his former leader (Sulla) in leading troops into Rome to establish himself as military despot [Gruen].

All three men of the first triumvirate had survived Sulla's proscriptions. Crassus and Pompey had supported the dictator, the one as, in Lily Ross Taylor's words, the arch-Sullan profiteer, and the other, as a general. Something else Crassus and Pompey had in common was wealth, an advantage Julius Caesar and his family, which could trace its ancestry back to the beginnings of Rome, didn't have. Earlier, Julius Caesar's aunt had married Marius, the urban plebeians' late hero, in an alliance that conferred aristocratic connections on Marius and access to money for Caesar's family. Pompey needed help getting land for his veterans and resurrecting his political favor. Pompey was linked to Caesar by marriage to Caesar's daughter. She died, in 54, in childbirth, after which Caesar and Pompey fell out. Motivated by desire for power and influence, Crassus may also have enjoyed watching Pompey's predictable fall from grace as the Optimates, who had supported him, began to fade away. Crassus was willing to back Caesar's debts when he set out for his province, Spain, in 61. Exactly when the first triumvirate started is debated, but it was to help all three that the triumvirate was formed right around the year 60 B.C., the year Caesar was elected to the consulship.

During his consulship, in 59 (elections were held before the year in office), Caesar pushed through Pompey's land settlements, which were to be administered by Crassus and Pompey. This was also when Caesar saw to it that the acts of the Senate were published for public reading. Julius Caesar obtained the provinces he had wanted to take charge of after his term as consul ended and finagled his desired five year-term as proconsul. These provinces were Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum -- not what the Senate had wished for him.

The doggedly moral Optimate Cato did all he could to thwart the aims of the triumvirate. He had help from the year's second consul, Bibulus, who boycotted and vetoed Caesar. Many