Roman Domestic Politics in the Late Republic - 100-44 B.C.


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The 70's, after the resignation and death of Sulla, eventually made it clear that the endemic family rivalry in Roman politics together with the power to build up a so-called client army (as Sulla had done) was more potent than Sulla's revitalised constitution. The consulship of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Marcus Licinius Crassus in 70, after Pompeius' victories over Marius' relative Quintus Sertorius in Spain and Crassus' victory over Spartacus and his slave army, finally saw the death of Sulla's arrangements (rights of the tribunes restored, equites back in the law courts, etc.) Even before this the weakness was visible, Pompeius had been given a command in Spain in 77, despite not being old enough to even be a quaestor, the lowest rung on the senatorial ladder; the threat of both Crassus' and Pompeius' troops to Rome in 71 meant that the two were assured of the following year's consulships.

The following decade had more "extraordinary commands" for Pompeius, since he was given the command against Mediterranean pirates in 67 (with imperium that exeeded that of the individual provincial govenors) and then against Mithridates VI of Pontus (superceeding the command of Lucius Licinius Lucullus, and earning Pompeius the hatred of Lucullus.) Thus was Pompeius able to build up a massive pool of clients and resources for himself in the east, as well as providing the state with a new source of taxable wealth. Meanwhile at Rome, Crassus was working to rival Pompeius in power and influence, championing the interests of the equites and publicani (the "tax farmers") as well as taking the young Gaius Julius Caesar under his wing. Caesar served as quaestor in Spain in 68 and was elected as an aedile in 64, courting popularity with the urban plebs like a popularis, despite being from one of the oldest patrician families in Rome. Caesar was also elected as Pontifex Maximus (chief priest) in 63 by massive bribery. Crassus and Caesar were suspected of involvement in the main event of the decade, the conspiracies of L. Sergius Catilina, two plots in 65 and 63 to murder the year's consuls and raise an armed revolt against the state. As it turned out the consul of 63, M.Tullius Cicero had a Senatus Consultum Ultimum (the "final decree") passed on some of the conspirators, who were eventually put to death. The affair brought to prominence Caesar himself, who questioned the legality of putting Roman citizens to death without a formal trial, and the young optimate M.Porcius Cato Uticensis who carried the day after insisting on the death penalty.

The follow up to these affairs sets the scene for the events of the next decade. In late 62, the young politician Publius Claudius Pulcher (previously noted for fomenting discontent among the soldiers of Lucullus in the east, and for heading Cicero's bodyguard during Catilina's conspiracy) allegedly dressed up as a serving girl and attended the rites of Bona Dea (the "Good Goddess") at the house of Caesar (who was now Pontifex Maximus) at which men were strictly prohibited. It was said that Claudius was pursuing a liason with the wife of Caesar, Pompeia, and Caesar soon divorced her, declaring "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion". Cato Uticensis followed this up by bringing charges against Claudius for sacrilege. The affair dragged in Pompeius, who had returned from the east in 62, but he strenuously attempted to stay aloof from the matter, as did Caesar who refused to testify against the popular figure. Cicero on the other hand, said to be in love with Claudius' sister, was forced to testify against, under pressure from his wife Terentia. Only a large amount of bribery by Crassus led to Claudius' aquittal, and Claudius nursed his resentment against Pompeius, Caesar and especially Cicero.

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McKeown, J., "Roman Domestic Politics in the Late Republic - 100-44 B.C.," http://
, 21 October 2004.

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