Caesar, Pompey, and the Collapse of the First Triumvirate
by Kristopher Stenson
The creation of the the ?First Triumvirate? of Gaius Julius Caesar, Gnaius Pompeius Magnus, and Marcus Licinius Crassus certainly stands as one of the most pivotal events in Roman Republican history. Ironically, its inception, and the resulting power swing that it created, was the beginning of the end for that very republic. Where as the men had weaknesses while
separate, together they were nearly untouchable by the optimates that sought to reduce the ?Triumvirs?? influence. What, then caused the breakup of these men? The alliance seemed, at least at the beginning, to be the perfect combination for controlling Roman politics, but ultimately the personalities of the three led them in different directions. While the destruction of the Triumvirate is frequently blamed upon the deaths of Crassus and Julia,2 this is an overly simplistic explanation.
To understand the reasons for the rift one must first understand the men who comprised the amicitia. It brought together three powerful men who all wanted to be in ultimate control. Pompey was the hero of the past, Caesar the hero of the future, but both wanted to be the hero of the present. Crassus was the man whose own significant achievements were overshadowed by
both. His drive to show up Pompey was his undoing, as he met an ignoble death in a catastrophic defeat. The alliance among them was thus doomed from the beginning, with three men clambering for the same place; to be First Man in Rome. Caesar proved to be the most cunning, as Pompey was far too prone to believe the flattery constantly heaped upon him by those who
would sway him to their interests, namely the optimates who so vehemently hated Caesar. To Caesar, the Triumvirate was a tool to be utilized, and he was a master at using that tool as best he could, even when the situation was adverse. The civil war that followed the men?s split was unfortunate, but was merely the final step in Caesar?s rise to the top of the Republic.
The success of the Triumvirate, at least in the beginning, was based upon a mutual need for support among the three.
For one, the money of Crassus and Pompey, by the 60?s BC the two richest men in Rome, allowed for plenty of ?greasing the gears of state?. There were few things or people that these two men could not buy, and their money was used extensively in the securing of friendly Tribunes and other magistrates throughout their alliance. The money was also lavishly spent to secure the Consular elections of Caesar and Pompey. While Caesar did not contribute a great deal of money to the cause, what he did bring was a noble family name combined with a formidable political presence that gained the support of the populus with ease.
Especially in its early incarnation, the alliance among these men was seen by contemporaries as being dominated by Pompey, not Caesar, as would become the dominant belief among later historians. Certainly Pompey and Caesar were the leading figures of the three, with the aging Crassus definitely the ?third wheel?. Given that the purpose of this study is primarily to
examine the relationship between Caesar and Pompey, Crassus will not be scrutinized in great detail.
Though my aim is not to give a biography for these three men, a small amount of background on each is nonetheless necessary, so that one can better understand their dynamic together. I will focus primarily on their lives as they neared their pact.
Gnaius Pompeius Magnus was a living legend in his own time, and even more so in his own mind. During his rise to the top of Roman politics he made his mark as both a capable general and a brilliant administrator. As a young man he took it upon himself to levy troops in support of Sulla during the civil wars, meeting the latter as he entered Italy in 83. He was merely 23 at the time, but this movement on his part catapulted him to the forefront of Roman politics. He served for several more years under Sulla, and accounted for himself quite well in actions in Africa and Spain against the Marians. His success garnered him high praise from Sulla, who showed the young man respect that he scarcely ever showed to older, more experienced commanders.
Following his successes in Africa Pompey, who had yet to even enter the Senate, was granted
proconsular imperium and was given the task of taking on Sertorius in Spain. I do not wish to labor through every single engagement or command that Pompey was involved with, but these early posts were pivotal in creating the man that Pompey would become in later years.