The First Triumvirate and Julius Caesar

The End of the Republic - Caesar's Political Life

Statue of Julius Caesar From The Vienna, Austria Parliament

 traveler1116 / Getty Images

By the time of the First Triumvirate, the republican form of government in Rome was already on its way to a monarchy. Before you get to the three men involved in the triumvirate, you need to know about some of the events and people that led to it:

During the era of the late Republic, Rome suffered through a reign of terror. Terror's tool was a new one, the proscription list, by which large numbers of important, wealthy people, and often senators, were killed; their property, confiscated. Sulla, the Roman dictator at the time, instigated this carnage:

Sulla now busied himself with slaughter, and murders without number or limit filled the city. Many, too, were killed to gratify private hatreds, although they had no relations with Sulla, but he gave his consent in order to gratify his adherents. At last one of the younger men, Caius Metellus, made bold to ask Sulla in the senate what end there was to be of these evils, and how far he would proceed before they might expect such doings to cease. "We do not ask thee," he said, "to free from punishment those whom thou hast determined to slay, but to free from suspense those whom thou hast determined to save."

Although when we think of dictators we think of men and women who want enduring power, a Roman dictator was:

  1. A legal official
  2. Duly nominated by the Senate
  3. To handle a major problem,
  4. With a fixed, limited, term.

Sulla had been a dictator for longer than the normal period, so what his plans were, as far as hanging onto the office of dictator went, were unknown. It was a surprise when he resigned from the position of a Roman dictator in 79 B.C. Sulla died a year later.

"The confidence which he reposed in his good genius... emboldened him... and though he had been the author of such great changes and revolutions of State, to lay down his authority...."Sulla's reign drained the Senate of power. The damage had been done to the republican system of government. Violence and uncertainty allowed a new political alliance to arise.

Beginning of the Triumvirate

Between the death of Sulla and the beginning of the 1st Triumvirate in 59 B.C., two of the wealthiest and most powerful remaining Romans, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (106-48 B.C.) and Marcus Licinius Crassus (112–53 B.C.), grew increasingly hostile to each other. This wasn't simply a private concern since each man was backed by factions and soldiers. To avert civil war, Julius Caesar, whose reputation was growing because of his military successes, suggested a 3-way partnership. This unofficial alliance is known to us as the 1st triumvirate, but at the time was referred to as an amicitia 'friendship' or factio (whence, our 'faction').

They divvied up the Roman provinces to suit themselves. Crassus, the capable financier, would receive Syria; Pompey, the renowned general, Spain; Caesar, who would soon show himself to be a skilled politician as well as a military leader, Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul and Illyricum. Caesar and Pompey helped cement their relationship with Pompey's marriage to Caesar's daughter Julia.

End of the Triumvirate

Julia, the wife of Pompey and daughter of Julius Caesar, died in 54, passively breaking the personal alliance between Caesar and Pompey. (Erich Gruen, author of The Last Generation of the Roman Republic argues against the significance of the death of Caesar's daughter and many other accepted details of Caesar's relations with the Senate.)

The triumvirate further degenerated in 53 B.C., when a Parthian army attacked the Roman army at the Carrhae and killed Crassus.

Meanwhile, Caesar's power grew while in Gaul. Laws were altered to suit his needs. Some senators, notably Cato and Cicero, were alarmed by the weakening legal fabric. Rome had once created the office of tribune to give the plebeians power against the patricians. Among other powers, the tribune's person was sacrosanct (they couldn't be harmed physically) and he could impose a veto on anyone, including his fellow tribune. Caesar had both tribunes on his side when some members of the senate accused him of treason. The tribunes imposed their vetoes. But then the Senate majority ignored the vetoes and roughed up the tribunes. They ordered Caesar, now charged with treason, to return to Rome, but without his army.

Julius Caesar returned to Rome with his army. Regardless of the legitimacy of the original treason charge, the tribunes had vetoed, and the disregard for the law involved in violating the tribunes' sacrosanctity, the moment Caesar stepped across the Rubicon river, he had, in legal fact, committed treason. Caesar could either be convicted of treason or fight the Roman forces sent to meet him, which Caesar's former co-leader, Pompey, led.

Pompey had the initial advantage, but even so, Julius Caesar won at Pharsalus in 48 B.C. After his defeat, Pompey fled, first to Mytilene, and then to Egypt, where he expected safety, but instead met his own death.

Julius Caesar Rules Alone

Caesar next spent a few years in Egypt and Asia before returning to Rome, where he began a platform of reform.

  1. Julius Caesar granted citizenship to many colonials, thus widening his base of support.
  2. Caesar granted pay to Proconsuls to remove corruption and gain allegiance from them.
  3. Caesar established a network of spies.
  4. Caesar instituted a policy of land reform designed to take power away from the wealthy.
  5. Caesar reduced the powers of the Senate so as to make it an advisory council only.

At the same time, Julius Caesar was appointed dictator for life (in perpetuity) and assumed the title of imperator, general (a title given ​to a victorious general by his soldiers), and pater patriae 'father of his country,' a title Cicero had received for suppressing the Catilinarian Conspiracy. Although Rome had long abhorred a monarchy, the title of rex 'king' was offered him. When the autocratic Caesar rejected it at the Lupercalia, there were grave doubts about his sincerity. People may have feared he would soon become king. Caesar even dared to put his likeness on coins, a place suitable for the image of a god. In an effort to save the Republic—although some think there were more personal reasons—60 of the senators conspired to murder him.

On the Ides of March, in 44 B.C., the senators stabbed Gaius Julius Caesar 60 times, next to a statue of his former co-leader Pompey.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "The First Triumvirate and Julius Caesar." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Gill, N.S. (2023, April 5). The First Triumvirate and Julius Caesar. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "The First Triumvirate and Julius Caesar." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).