Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Julius Caesar: the First Triumvirate, 60 BC

Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BC)

In 61 BC Pompey was finally permitted to return to Rome. To the surprise of most people, he showed no desire to make himself a dictator. He disbanded his troops and made two reasonable demands: that his veterans be granted land, and that the Senate should ratify his eastern settlements. But the Senate refused these demands. He was ‘never a revolutionary’ but his success aroused great fears among the traditional elites. The opposition was led by the die-hard republican, M. Porcius Cato, the great grandson of Cato the Censor, who became tribune in 62. 

The complicated intrigues of this period left both Pompey and Crassus feeling aggrieved.  The most significant of Pompey’s allies was an ambitious young man, Gaius Julius Caesar

He was born in 100BC in July, the month that would be named after him, the descendant of an ancient patrician family.  The gens Julia claimed descent from the kings of Rome and the goddess Venus, mother of Aeneas.  Because Caesar’s aunt, Julia, was the widow of Marius, he was forced to leave Rome during Sulla’s dictatorship.  Sulla spared him with misgivings: 
‘In that young man I see many Mariuses'.

In his absence from Rome Caesar built up a military career in campaigns in the east and he may have become the lover of the king of Bithynia. It was only in 78 BC, after Sulla was dead, that he returned to Rome, by now a war hero. He was made aedile in 65 and in this capacity he restored to public view the trophies that Marius had brought back from his victories and staged games in which 320 pairs of gladiators competed. In the same year he countenanced the proscription of Sulla’s agents, thus making free use of the device first introduced by Sulla himself. However, he was highly ambitious.  In 63, with a view to gaining popularity he supported the bills granting Pompey his great commands and argued in the Senate against the execution of the Catilinarian conspirators without trial. In the same year he was elected pontifex maximus, the head of the state religion.

In 60 Caesar returned from Spain where he had served as governor and where he had built up a loyal army. In the Senate Cato, the arch-conservative, led the opposition to him. He persuaded the Senate to deny him a triumph, which meant that he remained officially under arms would not legally be able to enter Rome. Caesar therefore abandoned his triumph and entered Rome as an ordinary citizen, prepared to stand for the consulship. Cato and Caesar were now implacable enemies. Because Cato could command a majority in the Senate, Caesar had to turn to other allies. In late 60 BC, he, Crassus and Pompey formed a secret agreement often, though perhaps misleadingly labelled the First Triumvirate. The historian, Appian, later called this ‘the three-headed monster’.

Caesar, Crassus and Pompey: triumvirs

The year 59 is one of the most important in Roman history.  Caesar was elected consul in spite of continuing opposition from Cato. Artfully, he began to encourage open government by causing the business of the Senate to be published and made accessible for the first time. Following the terms of his agreement with Pompey, he bullied the Senate into providing land settlements for Pompey's veterans. In the spring the alliance was cemented when Pompey married Caesar’s daughter, Julia (after which Cato, perhaps predictably, denounced Caesar as a pimp). 

Caesar them moved against his two most formidable opponents. In 58 Cicero left Rome of his own accord rather than wait to be prosecuted for condemning a Roman citizen to death without a trial and Cato was sent on a diplomatic mission to Cyprus. But while Caesar was absent in Gaul, Pompey, who needed his services as an orator, managed to secure the return of Cicero, who entered Rome in September 57 to the cheers of his supporters. Feeling for the Republic was still running strong and Cicero was its most eloquent advocate. His return, under the auspices of Pompey, is a sign of the fundamentally unstable nature of the triumvirate.

Could Pompey and Caesar trust each other?