Caesar, Pompey and Crassus

Home | Category: Age of Caesar



Gnaeus Pompeius, Pompey (106-48 B.C.), or Pompey the Great, was one of Rome’s greatest generals and leaders and is known best for his showdowns with Julius Caesar. Pompey was born in Rome on Sept 29, 106 B.C. He scored many important victories while serving as a Roman general. He helped defeat Mithridates and the kingdom of Pontus in 65 B.C. , ended the slave revolt led by Spartacus in c.72 B.C. and furthered Rome’s conquest in Spain. He also helped destroy the Mediterranean pirates in .67 B.C., captured Jerusalem and Syria and formed alliances with places as far away as Armenia. Pompey's settlement of the East established the pattern of administration for over a century. [Source: Dena Connors-Millard, Minnesota State University, Mankato, +]

Because of his leadership abilities Pompey was elected consul in 70 B.C. However, he ran into opposition in the senate, especially from Marcus Crassus, and returned to leading the army to more conquests.When Pompey returned to Rome in 61 B.C. the tensions between Crassus and himself had grown. To advert a war between the two, Julius Caesar negotiated an alliance making Pompey, Crassus and Caesar the three leaders of Rome. This triple leadership is known as a Triumvirate. Once the agreement was signed, the senate was forced to obey. +\

The historian William Stearns Davis wrote: “Pompey is usually overshadowed in most histories by his greater rival, Caesar, but he won marked successes along certain lines. The greatest thing that he did was to consolidate and organize the Roman power in Asia Minor, Syria, and Palestine. How important this work was, and how magnificent was the triumph that Pompey celebrated in Rome (September 30th, 61 B.C.) is told by Appian. [Source:William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 118-120, 123-127


Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Challenges to Sulla’s Legacy

Failures of the Sullan Party: When Sulla resigned his power and placed the government in the hands of his party, he no doubt thought that he had secured the state from any further disturbance. He had destroyed all opposition, he fancied, by wiping out the Marian party. But as soon as he died, the remnants of this party began to reappear on every side. With the restoration of the senate’s power there also returned all the old evils of the senatorial rule. The aristocratic party was still a selfish faction ruling for its own interests, and with little regard for the welfare of the people. The separation between the rich and the poor became more marked than ever. Luxury and dissipation were the passion of one class, and poverty and distress the condition of the other. The feebleness of the new government was evident from the start, and Sulla was scarcely dead when symptoms of reaction began to appear. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]


David Silverman of Reed College wrote: Although Sulla gets credit from moderns for resigning his dictatorship, the measures he undertook to ensure that the Republican system would continue to work were not adequate. Things had gone too far; all of the ominous trends which we have noticed in the previous two lectures, i.e political violence in the city, armies whose loyalty belonged in the first instance to individual commanders and only secondarily to the state itself, agitation for land distributions, and threats to the traditional prerogatives of the Senate, all these intensify in this period.” [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

The Revolt of Lepidus (77 B.C.): The first attempt to overthrow the work of Sulla was made by the consul M. Aemilius Lepidus, a vain and petulant man, who aspired to be chief of the popular party. Lepidus proposed to restore to the tribunes the full power which Sulla had diminished, and then to rescind the whole Sullan constitution. But his colleague, Q. Lutatius Catulus,1 had no sympathy with his schemes and opposed him at every step. To prevent a new civil war the senate bound the two consuls by an oath not to take up arms. But Lepidus disregarded this oath, raised an army, and marched on Rome. He was soon defeated by Catulus with the aid of Cn. Pompey. It is well for us to notice that Pompey by this act came into greater prominence in politics as a supporter of the senate and the Sullan party. \~\

Silverman wrote: “Lepidus pressed all of the populist hot buttons, calling for a renewed and strong tribunate and cheap subsidized grain; there were new issues as well resulting from the proscription; Lepidus wanted the former partisans of Marius, now exiles, restored to citizenship and their lands, which were confiscated and distributed to Sulla's veterans, returned. When these ideas met with resistance, Lepidus used his consular army to support the farmers who were trying to eject the Sullan colonists from their lands in Etruria. This made Lepidus an enemy of the state, and responsibility for putting him down fell to the young Pompey, who got a special grant of imperium from the Senate to do the job. And, inevitably, the senatus consultum ultimum was passed against Lepidus. Pompey's success allowed him to persuade the senate to send him next, with proconsular imperium, to Spain to crush the rebellion of Q. Sertorius. One of Marius' old proteges, the wily Sertorius had set up a Roman government in exile in Spain. Like some latter day Scipio Africanus, he had great support both among the locals (who believed that he enjoyed divine favor and that his white fawn foretold the future) and the expatriates in Spain. After a series of setbacks Sertorius was assassinated by one of his own men in 72, and Pompey wiped up the remnants of his army in the next year.” ^*^

Sertorian in Spain War and Pompey (80-72 B.C.)

Pompey and Tidius Sextus

A much more formidable attempt at revolution was made by Q. Sertorius, who was one of the friends of Marius, and who had escaped to Spain during the Sullan proscriptions. Sertorius was a man of noble character, brave, prudent, generous, and withal a very able soldier. The native tribes of Spain were chafing under the Roman governors; and Spain itself had become the retreat of many Marian refugees. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Sertorius, therefore, formed the plan of delivering Spain from the power of Rome, and setting up an independent republic. He won the devotion and loyalty of the Spanish provincials, whom he placed on an equality with his Roman subjects. He organized the cities after the Italian model. He encouraged the natives to adopt the arts of civilization. He formed a school at Osca, where the young men were instructed in Latin and Greek. He also defeated the Roman legions under Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius, who had been sent against him. \~\

The Roman senate was firmly convinced that something must be done to save the Spanish province. Pompey was therefore appointed proconsul in Spain—although he had never been consul or held any other civil office. Sertorius showed what kind of general he was when he defeated the young Pompey in the first battle, and might have destroyed his army if Metellus had not come to his assistance. But fortune at last frowned upon Sertorius and favored Pompey. Sertorius, in a fit of wrath, caused the boys in the school at Osca to be put to death. This cruel act aroused the indignation of the Spanish subjects. It was not long before he himself was murdered by one of his lieutenants. With Sertorius out of the way, Pompey obtained an easy victory; and Spain was reduced to submission. \~\

Crassus, Rome's Richest Man

One of the most powerful politicians in the era of corruption, Marcus Licinius Crassus (115-53 B.C.), not surprisingly was also one of the richest Roman. Born into a wealthy family, he acquired his riches, according to Plutarch, through "fire and rapine." Crassus became so powerful that he financed the army that put down the slave revolt led by Spartacus. To celebrate Spartacus's crucifixion, Crassus hosted a banquet for the entire voting public of Rome (10,000 people) that lasted for several days. Each participant was also given an allowance of three months of grain. His ostentatious displays gave us the word crass.


Crassus made a fortune in real estate by controlled Rome's only fire department acquiring the land from property owners victimized by fire.. When a fire broke out, a horse drawn water tank was dispatched to the site, but before fire was put out, Crassus or one of his representatives haggled over the price of his services, often while the house was burning down before their eyes. To save the building Crassus often required the owner to fork over title to the property and then pay rent.

Crassus was most likely the largest property owner in Rome. He also purchased property with money obtained through underhanded methods. While serving as a lieutenant in the civil war of 88-82 he able to buy land formally held by the enemy at bargain prices, sometimes by murdering its owners. Crassius also opened a profitable training center for slaves. He purchased unskilled bondsmen, trained them and then sold them as slaves for a handsome profit.

Crassus was not unlike successful modern businessmen who contribute large sums of money to a political parties in return for favors or high level government positions. He gave loans to nearly every Senator and hosted lavish parties for the influential and powerful. Through shrewd use of his money to gain political influence he reached the position of triumvir, one of the three people responsible for controlling the apparatus of state.

After attaining riches and political power the only left for Crassus to do was lead a Roman army in a great military victory. He purchased an army and sent to Syria by Caesar to battle the Parthians. In 53 B.C. Crassus lost the Battle of Carrhae, one of the Roman Empire's worst defeats. He was captured by the Parthians, who according to legend, poured molten gold down his throat when they realized he was the richest man in Rome. The reasoning of the act was that his lifelong thirst for gold should quenched in death.

Crassus and the Spartacus Slave Revolt (73-71 B.C.)

Before the war with Sertorius was ended, the senate was called upon to meet a far greater danger at home. In order to prepare the gladiators for their bloody contests in the arena, training schools had been established in different parts of Italy. At Capua, in one of these so-called schools (which were rather prisons), was confined a brave Thracian, Spartacus. With no desire to be “butchered to make a Roman holiday,” Spartacus incited his companions to revolt. Seventy of them fled to the crater of Vesuvius and made it a stronghold. Reënforced by other slaves and outlaws of all descriptions, they grew into a motley mass of one hundred thousand desperate men. They ravaged the fields and plundered the cities, until all Italy seemed at their mercy. Four Roman armies were defeated in succession. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

With Pompey still absent in Spain, the senate sought some other leader to crush this fearful insurrection. The command fell to M. Crassus, who finally defeated Spartacus and his army. A remnant of five thousand men fled to the north, hoping to escape into Gaul; but they fell in with Pompey, who was just returning from Spain, and were destroyed. By this stroke of luck, Pompey had the assurance to claim that in addition to closing the war in Spain, he had also finished the war with the gladiators. \~\

See Spartacus Slave Revolt

Rise of Crassus and Pompey

Zoelas Bronce of Crassus

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Meanwhile back at Rome the populist agitation had begun again. Again, as the tribunate had been rendered powerless, a consular (C. Aurelius Cotta, the consul of 75) was at the helm. He succeeded in abrogating the Sullan law which had made the tribunate a political dead end. This took place without violence, but there was trouble on other fronts, with rampant piracy in the Mediterranean, with Thracian incursions into Macedonia, and especially with Mithradates of Pontus, who was threatening Bithynia, declared a province in 74. So large armies had to be raised to deal with all these threats: L. Licinius Lucullus (of the Lucullan feasts) went to Bithynia/Pontus to deal with Mithradates, M. Antonius (the father of Mark Antony) Creticus (as he was later called) got a special "imperium infinitum" (power across the borders of different provinces) to deal with the pirates; and Crassus got a special proconsular imperium to deal with the slave revolt of Spartacus. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“There was also pressure on the senators with regard to the courts. Several notorious trials took place at which men of the senatorial class, who had been provincial governors, were acquitted of rapacity in the face of a preponderance of the evidence, and these led to hostility especially on the parts of the equites and to further attempts to restructure the courts. This finally happened in 70. Crassus, fresh from his victory over the rebellious slaves, was a natural for the consulship of 70; his colleague in that office was a surprise. Pompey had returned victorious from Spain, and refused to disband his legions until the Senate agreed to allow him (although he was not qualified according to the electoral laws) to stand for the consulship. The Senate had to agree and Pompey was duly elected. Not a natural ally of Crassus, although both men had been partisans of Sulla, he nonetheless managed to cooperate with him at first. Together they restored the tribunician power; but this would never be the same again after Sulla's attack on it, and for the rest of the Republic's life, with one significant exception, the tribunes figure as the tools of one or another of the senatorial factions. Crassus and Pompey also were behind the Lex Aurelia (sponsored by Cotta) which wrested control of the law courts away from the senate. The new formula for composition of the jurors was one-third senatorial, one-third equites, and one-third tribunes of the treasury (tribunes aerarii); the precise identity of this latter group is disputed, but Brunt has argued plausibly that they were a subset of the equites, such that the reform of the courts was very clearly in favor of that group. But this was the last joint accomplishment of Pompey and Crassus, whose cooperation did not last through the entire term of their office. ^*^

“The trickiness of pinning Pompey to an ideological agenda comes out with the events of 67 and 66. Creticus having failed to suppress the pirates, Pompey allowed himself to be elevated to the command by a Lex Gabinia, passed in the popular assembly but backed by Caesar and of course by Pompey himself. The measure was opposed by the optimates because it gave Pompey a huge force (500 ships, 124,000 men) and unlimited imperium to use them. He would be away from Rome for the rest of the decade. ^*^

First Consulship of Pompey and Crassus (70 B.C.)

Pompey and Aureus Sextus coin

With their victorious legions, Pompey and Crassus now returned to the capital and claimed the consulship. Neither of these men had any great ability as a politician. But Crassus, on account of his wealth, had influence with the capitalists; and Pompey, on account of his military successes, was becoming a sort of popular hero, as Marius had been before him. The popular party was now beginning to gather up its scattered forces, and to make its influence felt. With this party, therefore, as offering the greater prospect of success, the two soldiers formed a coalition, and were elected consuls. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

The chief event of the consulship of Pompey and Crassus was the complete overthrow of the Sullan constitution. The old power was given back to the tribunes. The legislative power was restored to the assembly, which now could pass laws without the approval of the senate. The exclusive right to furnish jurors in criminal cases was taken away from the senate; and henceforth the jurors (iudices) were to be chosen, one third from the senate, one third from the equites, and one third from the wealthy men below the rank of the equites (the so-called tribuni aerarii). Also, the power of the censors to revise the list of the senators, which Sulla had abolished, was restored; and as a result of this, sixty-four senators were expelled from the senate. By these measures the Sullan regime was practically destroyed, and the supremacy of the senate taken away. This was a great triumph for the popular party. After the close of his consulship, Pompey, with affected modesty, retired to private life. \~\

Pompey and the War with the Pirates

Pompey was needed to rescue Rome from still another danger. Since the decline of the Roman navy the sea had become infested with pirates. These robbers made their home in Crete and Cilicia, from which they made their depredations. They had practically the control of the whole Mediterranean, and preyed upon the commerce of the world. They plundered the cities of nearly every coast. They even cut off the grain supplies of Rome, so that Italy was threatened with a famine. To meet this emergency a law was passed (lex Gabinia, B.C. 61) giving to Pompey for three years supreme control over the Mediterranean Sea and its coasts for fifty miles inland. He was given five hundred ships and as many soldiers as he might wish. The public treasuries and all the resources of the provinces were placed at his disposal. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Such extraordinary power had never before been given to any man, except Sulla. But Pompey fully satisfied the expectations of the people. Within ninety days from the time he set sail, he had cleared the whole Mediterranean Sea of its pirates. He had captured three thousand vessels, slain ten thousand of the enemy, and taken twenty thousand prisoners. Cicero said in his rhetorical way that “Pompey had made his preparations for the war at the end of the winter, began it in the early spring, and finished it in the middle of the summer.” Pompey remained in the East to settle affairs in Cilicia, and perhaps to win fresh laurels as a soldier. \~\

Pompey and the Conquest of the East

The splendid success of Pompey against the pirates led his friends to believe that he was the only man who could bring to a close the long and tedious war against Mithridates. Since the death of Sulla the king of Pontus had continued to be a menace to Rome. The campaigns in the East had been conducted by L. Licinius Lucullus, who was a really able general, but who was charged with prolonging the war in order to enrich himself. There was some ground, too, for this charge: for, as it was afterward well said of him, “he transplanted the luxury of Asia to Rome.” [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Lucullus had already gained several victories over Mithridates; but the war still lingered. A law was then passed at Rome (lex Manilia, B.C. 66) displacing Lucullus and giving to Pompey supreme control over all the Roman dominions in the East. Armed with this extensive authority, Pompey began the conquest of the East. He soon succeeded in defeating Mithridates, and in driving him from his kingdom. He then invaded Syria and took possession of that kingdom. He next entered Judea, and after a severe struggle succeeded in capturing Jerusalem (63 B.C.). All the eastern coasts of the Mediterranean were now subject to Pompey. Out of the conquered countries he formed four new provinces: (1) Bithynia with Pontus; (2) Syria; (3) Cilicia; and (4) Crete. When he returned to Italy he had the most successful and brilliant record that any Roman general had ever achieved.

conquests by Pompey are in orange

The Roman historian Appian (A.D. 95-165) recorded Pompey’s successes in the East and his triumph in Rome. In his account of Mithridatic Wars, 114-119, he wrote:“Pompeius Magnus [i.e., Pompey], having cleaned out the robber dens, and prostrated the greatest king living [Mithridates] in one and the same war; and having fought successful battles, besides those of the Pontic war, with Colchians, Albanians, Iberians, Armenians, Medes, Arabs, Jews, and other Eastern nations, extended the Roman sway as far as Egypt. He let some of the subjugated nations go free, and made them allies. Others he placed at once under Roman rule; still others he distributed to various vassal-kings. [Source: William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 118-120, 123-127

“He founded cities also: in Lesser Armenia was Nicopolis named for his victory; in Pontus Eupatoria (which Mithridates Eupator had built and named after himself, but destroyed because it had received the Romans without a fight) Pompeius Magnus rebuilt, and named it Magnopolis. In Cappadocia he rebuilt Mazaca, which had been completely ruined by the war. He restored other towns in many places, that had been destroyed or damaged, in Pontus, Palestine, Coele Syria, and Cilicia, in which he settled the greater part of the pirates he had conquered, and where the city formerly called Soli is now known as Pompeiopolis. The city of Talauri [in Pontus] Mithridates had used as a store house of furniture. Here were found 2000 drinking cups made of onyx welded with gold, and many cups, wine coolers, and drinking horns, bridles for horses, etc. . . . all ornamented in like manner with gold and precious stones The quantity of this store was so great that the inventory of it occupied thirty days. These things had been inherited from Darius the Great of Persia and other mighty rulers.

Pompey’s Triumph After the Conquest of the East

On Pompey’s triumph in Rome (September 30th, 61 B.C.), Appian wrote: “At the end of the winter [63-62 B.C.] Pompey distributed rewards to the army, 1500 Attic drachmas [Arkenberg: about $3857 in 1998 dollars] to each soldier, and in like proportion to the officers, the whole, it was said, amounting to 16,000 talents [Arkenberg: about $229 million in 1998 dollars]. Then he marched to Ephesus, embarked for Italy, and hastened to Rome, having dismissed his soldiers at Brundisium to their homes, by which act his popularity was greatly increased among the Romans. [Source: William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 118-120, 123-127]

“As he approached the city he was met by successive processions, first of youths, farthest from the city; then bands of men of different ages came out as far as they severally could walk; last of all came the Senate, which was lost in wonder at his exploits, for no one had ever before vanquished so powerful an enemy and at the same time brought so many great nations under subjection and extended the Roman rule to the Euphrates.

“He was awarded a triumph exceeding in brilliancy any that had gone before. It occupied two successive days; and many nations were represented in the procession from Pontus, Armenia, Cappadocia, Cilicia, all the peoples of Syria, besides Albanians, Heniochi, Achaeans, Scythians, and Eastern Iberians; 700 complete ships were brought into the harbor; in the triumphal procession were two-horse carriages and litters laden with gold or with other ornaments of various kinds, also the couch of Darius [the Great], the son of Hystaspes, the throne and scepter of Mithridates Eupator himself, and his image, eight cubits high, made of solid gold, and 75,000,000 drachmae of silver coin [Arkenberg: about $193 million in 1998 dollars]. The number of wagons carrying arms was infinite and the number of prows of ships. After these came the multitude of captives and pirates, none of them bound, but all arrayed in their native costume.

Pompey's triumph

“Before Pompey himself were led the satraps, sons and generals of the kings against whom he had fought, who were present — some having been captured, some given as hostages — to the number of three hundred and twenty-four. Among them were five sons of Mithridates, and two daughters; also Aristobulus, king of the Jews; the tyrants of the Cilicians, and other potentates. There were carried in the procession images of those who were not present, of Tigranes king of Armenia, and of Mithridates, representing them as fighting, as vanquished, and as fleeing. Even the besieging of Mithridates and his silent flight by night were represented. Finally, it was shown how he died, and the daughters who perished with him were pictured also, and there were figures of the sons and daughters who died before him, and images of the barbarian gods decked out in the fashion of their countries.

A tablet was borne, also, inscribed thus:
Ships with brazen beaks captured dccc:
Cities founded
In Cappadocia viii:
In Cilicia and coele-syria xx:
In Palestine the one now called seleucis.
Kings conquered:
Tigranes the Armenian:
Artoces the Iberian:
Oroezes the Albanian:
Aretas the Nabataean:
Darius the Mede:
Antiochus of Commagene.

“Pompey himself was borne in a chariot studded with gems, wearing, it is said, the cloak of Alexander the Great, if any one can believe that. This was supposed to have been found among the possessions of Mithridates. . . . His chariot was followed by the officers who had shared the campaigns with him, some on horseback, and others on foot. When he reached the Capitol, he did not put any prisoners to death, as had been customary at other triumphs, but sent them all home at the public expense, except the kings. Of these Aristobulus alone was shortly put to death, and Tigranes son of Tigranes the king of Armenia some time later.”

Caesar Allies Himself with Crassus

Caesar furthered his career by allying himself with Crassus, the richest man in Rome. Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: “Caesar, in the meantime, being out of his praetorship, had got the province of Spain, but was in great embarrassment with his creditors, who, as he was going off, came upon him, and were very pressing and importunate. This led him to apply himself to Crassus, who was the richest man in Rome, but wanted Caesar's youthful vigour and heat to sustain the opposition against Pompey. Crassus took upon him to satisfy those creditors who were most uneasy to him, and would not be put off any longer, and engaged himself to the amount of eight hundred and thirty talents, upon which Caesar was now at liberty to go to his province. In his journey, as he was crossing the Alps, and passing by a small village of the barbarians with but few inhabitants, and those wretchedly poor, his companions asked the question among themselves by way of mockery, if there were any canvassing for offices there; any contention which should be uppermost, or feuds of great men one against another. To which Caesar made answer seriously, "For my part, I had rather be the first man among these fellows than the second man in Rome."[Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

Julius Caesar

“It is said that another time, when free from business in Spain, after reading some part of the history of Alexander, he sat a great while very thoughtful, and at last burst out into tears. His friends were surprised, and asked him the reason of it. "Do you think," said he, "I have not just cause to weep, when I consider that Alexander at my age had conquered so many nations, and I have all this time done nothing that is memorable." As soon as he came into Spain he was very active, and in a few days had got together ten new cohorts of foot in addition to the twenty which were there before. With these he marched against the Calaici and Lusitani and conquered them, and advancing as far as the ocean, subdued the tribes which never before had been subject to the Romans. Having managed his military affairs with good success, he was equally happy, in the course of his civil government. He took pains to establish a good understanding amongst the several states, and no less care to heal the differences between debtors and creditors. He ordered that the creditor should receive two parts of the debtor's yearly income, and that the other part should be managed by the debtor himself, till by this method the whole debt was at last discharged. This conduct made him leave his province with a fair reputation; being rich himself, and having enriched his soldiers, and having received from them the honourable name of Imperator.

Romans Politics Under Caesar and Crassus

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Domestic politics in the 60's B.C. was dominated by the coalition of Caesar and Crassus. In 65 B.C. they attempted to make Egypt a province (this failed, but its significance was clear, that they were showing that Pompey was not the only one who could enrich the state); in 64 B.C. Caesar tried to prosecute the Sullans, and in that same year he and Crassus backed L. Sergius Catilina for the consulship of 63 B.C. , against the novus homo Cicero; and in the next year Caesar attacked poor old G. Rabirius as having taken part in the lynching of Saturninus, 27 years before. Rabirius was defended by Cicero, and Cicero's lot was mainly thrown in with the Optimates, but he also acted as the guardian of Pompey's interests in his absence; we'll hear more about Cicero's political views later. His partisanship for Pompey is evident from his support of the Lex Manilia of 66 B.C., which gave to Pompey (who had driven the pirates east all the way to Cilicia) the command against Mithradates; the law was also supported by Caesar, albeit for other reasons.” [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class]

Suetonius wrote: “For all that he presently made a more daring attempt at Rome; for a few days before he entered upon his aedileship he was suspected of having made a conspiracy with Marcus Crassus, an ex-consul, and likewise with Publius Sulla and Lucius Autronius, who, after their election to the consulship, had been found guilty of corrupt practices [65 B.C.]. The design was to set upon the senate at the opening of the year and put to the sword as many as they thought good; then Crassus was to usurp the dictatorship, naming Caesar as his master of horse, and when they had organized the state according to their pleasure, the consulship was to be restored to Sulla and Autronius. This plot is mentioned by Tanusius Geminus in his History, by Marcus Bibulus in his edicts, and by Gaius Curio the elder in his speeches. Cicero too seems to hint at it in a letter to Axius, where he says that Caesar in his consulship established the despotism which he had had in mind when he was aedile. Tanusius adds that Crassus, either conscience-stricken or moved by fear, did not appear on the day appointed for the massacre, and that therefore Caesar did not give the signal which it had been agreed that he should give; and Curio says that the arrangement was that Caesar should let his toga fall from his shoulder. Not only Curio, but Marcus Actorius Naso as well declare that Caesar made another plot with Gnaeus Piso, a young man to whom the province of Hispania had been assigned unasked and out of the regular order, because he was suspected of political intrigues at Rome; that they agreed to rise in revolt at the same time, Piso abroad and Caesar at Rome, aided by the Ambrani and the peoples beyond the Po; but that Piso's death brought both their designs to naught. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

“When aedile [65 B.C.], Caesar decorated not only the Comitium and the Forum with its adjacent basilicas, but the Capitol as well, building temporary colonnades for the display of a part of his material. He exhibited combats with wild beasts and stageplays too, both with his colleague and independently. The result was that Caesar alone took all the credit even for what they spent in common, and his colleague Marcus Bibulus openly said that his was the fate of Pollux: "For," said he, "just as the temple erected in the Forum to the twin brethren, bears only the name of Castor, so the joint liberality of Caesar and myself is credited to Caesar alone." Caesar gave a gladiatorial show besides, but with somewhat fewer pairs of combatants than he had purposed; for the huge band which he assembled from all quarters so terrified his opponents, that a bill was passed limiting the number of gladiators which anyone was to be allowed to keep in the city.

“Having won the goodwill of the masses, Caesar made an attempt through some of the tribunes to have the charge of Egypt given him by a decree of the commons, seizing the opportunity to ask for so irregular an appointment because the citizens of Alexandria had deposed their king, who had been named by the senate an ally and friend of the Roman people, and their action was generally condemned. He failed however because of the opposition of the Optimates [a political faction among the Roman nobiles]; wishing therefore to impair their prestige in every way he could, he restored the trophies commemorating the victories of Gaius Marius over Jugurtha and over the Cimbri and Teutoni, which Sulla had long since demolished. Furthermore in conducting prosecutions for murder, he included in the number of murderers even those who had received moneys from the public treasury during the proscriptions for bringing in the heads of Roman citizens, although they were expressly exempted by the Cornelian laws.

“He also bribed a man to bring a charge of high treason against Gaius Rabirius, who some years before, had rendered conspicuous service to the senate in repressing the seditious designs of the tribune Lucius Saturninus; and when he had been selected by lot to sentence the accused, he did so with such eagerness, that when Rabirius appealed to the people, nothing was so much in his favor as the bitter hostility of his judge.”

“After giving up hope of the special commission, he announced his candidacy for the office of pontifex maximus, resorting to the most lavish bribery. Thinking on the enormous debt which he had thus contracted, he is said to have declared to his mother on the morning of the election, as she kissed him when he was starting for the polls, that he would never return except as pontifex. And in fact he so decisively defeated two very strong competitors (for they were greatly his superiors in age and rank), that he polled more votes in their tribes than were cast for both of them in all the tribes.”

Triumvirate of Pompey, Caesar and Crassus (60 B.C.)

The first phase of Rome becoming a major empire and Caesar become ruler of the known world was the creation of a power-sharing arrangement called the Triumvirate (“Group of Three”) with Caesar, the popular general Pompey and Crassus as the money man.

When Pompey returned to Rome in 61 B.C. the tensions between Crassus and himself had grown. To advert a war between the two, Julius Caesar negotiated an alliance making Pompey, Crassus and Caesar the three leaders of Rome. Once the agreement was signed, the senate was forced to obey. After the Triumvirate was formed, Pompey married Caesar's daughter, Julia. This marriage managed to keep an uneasy peace between Pompey and Caesar.

When Pompey returned to Italy from his victories in the East (61 B.C.) he was given a magnificent triumph. But like Sulla returning from the East, he was feared by those in power, lest he might use his victorious army to overthrow the existing government, and reign in its stead. To allay all suspicion, Pompey disbanded his army as soon as it touched the soil of Italy; and he hoped that his great services would give him the proud position of the first citizen of Rome. But in this he was disappointed. By disbanding his army, he had given up the source of his influence. Still, he hoped that the senate would at least confirm his arrangements in the East and reward his veterans by grants of land. In this, too, he was disappointed. Yielding to the influence of Lucullus, who had been deposed from the command in the East, the senate refused either to confirm his acts, or to reward his soldiers. Pompey had thus a serious grievance against the senate. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

But this grievance of Pompey might not have been very dangerous, if the senate had not also offended Caesar. Caesar was rapidly gaining power and influence. He had held the offices of military tribune, quaestor, aedile, pontifex maximus, and praetor. Then as propraetor he had been sent to Spain, where he laid the basis of his military fame. On his return from Spain the senate thwarted him in his desire to have a triumph. In other ways Caesar was embarrassed by the senate. But he was beginning to feel his power, and was not the man to put up with petty annoyances. He accordingly entered into a coalition with Pompey, to which Crassus was also admitted. This coalition, or self-constituted league, is known as the “first triumvirate.” It was formed for the purpose of opposing the senatorial party, and of advancing the personal designs of its members. By the terms of this compact Pompey was to have his acts confirmed and his veterans rewarded; Crassus was to have an opportunity to increase his fortune; and Caesar was to have the consulship, and afterward a command in Gaul. Pompey was ostensibly at the head of the league, but Caesar was its ruling spirit. \~\

First Triumvirate: caesar, Crassus and Pompey

Plutarch wrote in “Lives”:“There is a law among the Romans, that whoever desires the honour of a triumph must stay without the city and expect his answer. And another, that those who stand for the consulship shall appear personally upon the place. Caesar was come home at the very time of choosing consuls, and being in a difficulty between these two opposite laws, sent to the senate to desire that, since he was obliged to be absent, he might sue for the consulship by his friends. Cato, being backed by the law, at first opposed his request; afterwards perceiving that Caesar had prevailed with a great part of the senate to comply with it, he made it his business to gain time, and went on wasting the whole day in speaking. Upon which Caesar thought fit to let the triumph fall, and pursued the consulship. Entering the town and coming forward immediately, he had recourse to a piece of state policy by which everybody was deceived but Cato. This was the reconciling of Crassus and Pompey, the two men who then were most powerful in Rome. There had been a quarrel between them, which he now succeeded in making up, and by this means strengthened himself by the united power of both, and so under the cover of an action which carried all the appearance of a piece of kindness and good-nature, caused what was in effect a revolution in the government. For it was not the quarrel between Pompey and Caesar, as most men imagine, which was the origin of the civil wars, but their union, their conspiring together at first to subvert the aristocracy, and so quarrelling afterwards between themselves. Cato, who often foretold what the consequence of this alliance would be, had then the character of a sullen, interfering man, but in the end the reputation of a wise but unsuccessful counsellor.Thus Caesar, being doubly supported by the interests of Crassus and Pompey, was promoted to the consulship, and triumphantly proclaimed with Calpurnius Bibulus. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

Outcome of the Triumvirate

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “The extraordinary coalition, known as the first triumvirate, which came into existence as an informal alliance among Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus in 61/60 B.C., had not been planned as early as a few years before. In 63 B.C. Caesar and Crassus had tried to pass a land bill, the Rullan law, which was violently opposed by Cicero and which went down to defeat; this should probably be viewed as an attempt to head Pompey off, since he was certain to want land for his veterans upon his return from the East. In Pompey's absence, Cicero had drifted as close as possible to the Old Guard; when Pompey returned, it was to them that Cicero led him. Pompey wanted two things: 1) Land for his veterans, and 2) the ratification of his many dispensations over the future status of the lands in the east. Either Pompey was too powerful and popular already, or the conservatives (including M. Porcius Cato) were too pig-headed to see that it was in their own interests to embrace him; in any case he was rebuffed, Cicero could do nothing, and Pompey was driven into the arms of Crassus and Caesar.” [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: A little time after become a member of the Triumvirate, “Caesar married Calpurnia, the daughter of Piso, and got Piso made consul for the year following. Cato exclaimed loudly against this, and protested, with a great deal of warmth, that it was intolerable the government should be prostituted by marriages, and that they should advance one another to the commands of armies, provinces, and other great posts, by means of women. Bibulus, Caesar's colleague, finding it was to no purpose to oppose his bills, but that he was in danger of being murdered in the forum, as also was Cato, confined himself to his house, and there let the remaining part of his consulship expire. Pompey, when he was married, at once filled the forum with soldiers, and gave the people his help in passing the new laws, and secured Caesar the government of all Gaul, both on this and the other side of the Alps, together with Illyricum, and the command of four legions for five years. Cato made some attempts against these proceedings, but was seized and led off on the way to prison by Caesar, who expected that he would appeal to the tribunes. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

“But when he saw that Cato went along without speaking a word, and not only the nobility were indignant, but the people also, out of respect for Cato's virtue, were following in silence, and with dejected looks, he himself privately desired one of the tribunes to rescue Cato. As for the other senators, some few of them attended the house, the rest, being disgusted, absented themselves. Hence Considius, a very old man, took occasion one day to tell Caesar that the senators did not meet because they were afraid of his soldiers. Caesar asked, "Why don't you, then, out of the same fear, keep at home?" To which Considius replied, that age was his guard against fear, and that the small remains of his life were not worth much caution. But the most disgraceful thing that was done in Caesar's consulship was his assisting to gain the tribuneship for the same Clodius who had made the attempt on his wife's chastity and intruded upon the secret vigils. He was elected on purpose to effect Cicero's downfall; nor did Caesar leave the city to join his army till they two had overpowered Cicero and driven him out of Italy.”

Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: “When he entered on his office he brought in bills which would have been preferred with better grace by the most audacious of the tribunes than by a consul, in which he proposed the plantation of colonies and the division of lands, simply to please the commonalty. The best and most honourable of the senators opposed it, upon which, as he had long wished for nothing more than for such a colourable pretext, he loudly protested how much it was against his will to be driven to seek support from the people, and how the senate's insulting and harsh conduct left no other course possible for him than to devote himself henceforth to the popular cause and interest. And so he hurried out of the senate, and presenting himself to the people, and there placing Crassus and Pompey, one on each side of him, he asked them whether they consented to the bills he had proposed. They owned their assent, upon which he desired them to assist him against those who had threatened to oppose him with their swords. They engaged they would, and Pompey added further, that he would meet their swords with a sword and buckler too. These words the nobles much resented, as neither suitable to his own dignity, nor becoming the reverence due to the senate, but resembling rather the vehemence of a boy or the fury of a madman. But the people were pleased with it. In order to get a yet firmer hold upon Pompey, Caesar having a daughter, Julia, who had been before contracted to Servilius Caepio, now betrothed her to Pompey, and told Servilius he should have Pompey's daughter, who was not unengaged either, but promised to Sylla's son, Faustus. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

Death of Grassus

Renewal of the Triumvirate at Lucca (56 B.C.)

When Caesar had departed from Rome to undertake his work in Gaul, Clodius began to feel his own importance and to rule with a high hand. The policy of this able and depraved demagogue was evidently to govern Rome with the aid of the mob. He paraded the streets with armed bands, and used his political influence to please the rabble. Pompey as well as the senate became disgusted with the regime of Clodius. They united their influence, and obtained the recall of Cicero from exile. At the same time Cato retuned from his absence in Cyprus. On the return of the old senatorial leaders, it looked as though the senate would once more regain its power, and the triumvirate would go to pieces. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

But the watchful eye of Caesar detected these symptoms of discontent, and a conference of the leaders took place at Lucca, a town in northern Italy, where a new arrangement was brought about. Caesar was now to be given an additional term of five years in Gaul, and to be elected consul at the end of that time; Pompey and Crassus were to receive the consulship; and at the close of their term of office Pompey was to have the provinces of Spain and Africa, and the money-loving Crassus was to receive the rich province of Syria. In this way they would divide the world among them. The terms of the agreement were apparently satisfactory to the parties concerned. Caesar now felt that matters at Rome were safe, at least until he could complete his work in Gaul and fortify his own power with a devoted and invincible army. \~\

When Crassus died in Syria in 55 B.C.; only two of the Triumvirate rulers remained. When Julia died in 54 B.C. Caesar and Pompey became bitter enemies. Pompey went to the senate and became consul again.

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “According to Mommsen, by the end of 56 B.C. it makes sense to say that "[the Romans] were living in fact no longer under the Republic, but under monarchy." A different view is taken by Gruen in his Last Generation of the Roman Republic. Gruen makes much of the fact that the triumvirs seem not to have been able to control the elections at Rome very effectively, even after Luca. In 54 B.C., for example, L. Domitius Ahenobarbus was consul, and Cato (later Uticensis) was praetor. Neither could the regents control the criminal courts. Caesar's lackey A. Gabinius was successfully prosecuted for extortion in 54 B.C., against the combined opposition of Caesar and Pompey (Dio 39. 63). [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“In 53 B.C. there was more violence associated with the elections (see esp. Cicero ad Att. 4.15-17). T. Annius Milo and P. Clodius were both demagogues with substantial followings at Rome and a personal enmity between them; the Republicans (the "party" of Cato) adopted Milo as their candidate for consul in 52. In response, possibly with the connivance of Pompey, Clodius started a riot, and was himself killed by Milo's men (some said by Milo himself). This was construed as an attack upon Pompey, in support of whom riots ensued and the sacred Senate house was set ablaze. The whole affair so cowed the Senate that it acquiesced in Pompey's being the sole consul for 52. That year saw another ominous development as well: a standing garrison was stationed on the Capitoline to preserve order. The centuries-old taboo against armed assemblage within the pomerium was broken. While it is true, however, that the sole consulship of Pompey was irregular, nonetheless it met with great approval from the traditionalists and Republicans (see Cicero Ad Att. 7.1.4), because Pompey succeeded in fixing some of what was broken (as is proved by the orderly elections for the consulship of 51).

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.