Roman Politics Prior To The Roman Civil War

by Daniel Russ on June 20, 2011

Julius Caesar

In 69 BC, Caesar married Sulla’s daughter, consolidating the power of two dynastic families. During his early years when he ran afoul of powerful people- however he managed to survive because of his charm, his wits, and also because also he was famous and powerful. At first he didn’t have quite the wealth needed to grow into a political power. By that I am talking about buying favors, building legacy architecture, or even throwing lavish parties for Roman gentry required money and Caesar had to borrow himself into heavy debt to do all these things. Crassus, his close friend lent him plenty of money and by the time the debts were coming due, Caesar had plenty of plunder from his military expeditions in Spain. This was the razor’s edge gambling that marked Caesar’s modus operandi.

In 59 BC Caesar was elected Consul.  Now three powerful people controlled the largest land empire at the time: Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey. Oddly, they were respectful to each other;  but many times they acted as vicious rivals. Each of them brought something important to the political debate. Pompey was at the time the most respected leader, the most like leader, and he was the most successful military commander. He married Caesar’s daughter, Julia. Crassus brings money and everything that comes with wealth. Caesar was politically astute and well liked and an absolutely brilliant combat commander.

One of the things that created tensions early on was the fact that Pompey told his officer corps that if they won battles they would be granted land inside of Rome. Caesar opposed the idea. Italy was…how shall we say? Full up. Caesar also asked for concessions from the other tributes and senators. He won them easily. He was elected Consul for five years, instead of the usual one year term. He also received a provincial consulship in Alpine Gaul ( Italy) Gaul ( France) and Lydia (Western Anatolia). That moment alone expanded the Roman empire significantly and it scared his rivals how much power he aggregated so quickly.

Cicero was upset that these three men all had dictator like powers and so he decided to drive wedges in between them. He began by conspiring with Pompey. Caesar and Crassus got the word that secret planning to sabotage would topple them and despoil their their winnings. You have to understand too that most of this period of machinations Caesar was in Gaul conquering territory. Caesar and Crassus and Pompey decided to meet and air out differences in 56 BC. They meet in Lucca. The conversations settle differences in the short term and in typical fashion Caesar is even grated more money and more time in power. They all agreed to restrain Cicero. Once the settlement was made Cicero was forced to support the triumvirate.

In 54 BC, tension was in the air. Caesars daughter died, and she had been married to Pompey. So Pompey decided to marry a women who was related to one of Caesar’s enemies, Cornelia, daughter of Metellus Scipio and later widow of Publius Crassus. Crassus had also tasted some ambition and he expanded his power by leading legionnaires into Parthia, now Iran, and latter into the Mesopotamian valley. It did not go well. In 53 BC, in what is now Syria, Crassus Legions were soundly defeated by a large force of Parthians. The Roman infantry could not stave off the armored horsemen, cataphracts, and the mounted archers who just made mincemeat of the Romans. One the way to parley a deal after the Battle of Carrhae, Crassus was beheaded. His head was pickled and place in a jar and sent to Pompey.

One down. Two still in power.

Caesar from 54 BC to 50 BC was pushing the Germanic tribes back across the Rhine. He decided then to create his vision of empire,

Crassus was not just a politican in ancient Rome, he was one of the richest men

Marcus Licinius Crassus Dives

which was not a Rome that forced everyone to live like Romans. Instead it would demand a small tribute; existing institutions were left standing; local customs honored. This reduces the number of sworn enemies when to the conquered it just meant the end of fighting.

Of course two men hungry for power could not find enough space to share their toys in one Rome. A civil war was portended here. The civil war between Sulla and Marius was dwarfed by the size of this conflict. In 52 BC, to keep things calm, Pompey was voted sole Consul and was successful in settling insurrections and establishing civil order. Seeing the coming conflict, Gracchus put forth a resolution to Pompey and Caesar to both disarm on December 1st, 50 BC. On the second of December we found out that Caesar thought the demilitarization was great idea, but not Pompey. Pompey refused to disarm and furthermore took a solemn vow to protect Rome from all of Rome’s enemies. Of course, he meant Caesar, but politicians lie often by keeping their cards to their vests. Caesar was still in Gaul but brought his troops close to the Rubicon and Mark Anthony fled Rome to stand by Caesar. Keep in mind that crossing the Rubicon itself under arms was against Roman law. So when Caesar crossed the Rubicon it meant war. Period.

In 49 BC Caesar invaded Rome and took it over. He came with lightning speed and caught Pompey’s forces off guard. Pompey fled Rome and took his forces and surrounded it. Caesar them promptly forgave all his enemies. He was making his bed, reducing the internal enemies and consolidating his power. In 58 BC at the battle of Parsallus Caesar defeated Pompey. Pompey fled to Egypt where he was murdered on the order of Ptolemy XIII Cleopatra’s cousin.

 

 

 

 

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