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

The Consulship of Caesar - 59 B.C.

Page 2

In September 57, with Cicero triumphantly returned, the way was clear for Pompeius to be given a powerful command to organise the grain supply (because of severe shortages). However, the proposal of the tribune G. Messius to give Pompeius a legionary force to restore king Ptolemy Auletes to his throne in Alexandria was eventually dropped: The consul of 57, P. Cornelius Lentulus Spinther, wanted the Egyptian command himself, while Crassus' rivalry sprung from the fact that in 65, he had attempted and failed to have Egypt declared as a Roman province, giving him the bargaining power, in the form of land and patronage, against the victor of the east, Pompeius.

The year 56 saw continued political violence at Rome. Clodius and Milo still led their gangs while Clodius and Cicero were attacking Caesar's legislation. Cicero was also urging Pompeius to side with the optimate faction. With the triumvirate strained to breaking point, the three men met at Luca, N.Italy, in this year to patch up their understanding. It was agreed that Pompeius and Crassus would stand together for the following year's consulships, while Caesar would have his command in Gaul renewed for another five years if they were successful. Cicero, Clodius and Milo were to be brought to heel. In the event, the consular elections for 55 were not held until January 55 because of the disorder in Rome, and Pompeius and Crassus were elected by bribery and intimidation. The new consuls used the tribune Trebonius to realise their demands; Pompeius was given Spain as his proconsular province, and Crassus Syria. It may have been agreed at Luca that Caesar would be allowed to stay in Gaul until the end of 49, then enter a second consulship in 48, and the lex Pompeia-Licinia of 1 March 55 duly gave Caesar another five years in Gaul.

Events did not turn out as expected. Crassus set out for his proconsular province even before his consular year was over, and was soon leading an invasion of Rome's rival, Parthia, in the east. Pompeius shrewdly chose to govern Spain through his legati (lieutenants) while he stayed in Rome. As it turned out, Crassus' force was defeated, and he and his son met their deaths in the east in 53. Also, Julia, Caesar's only daughter and Pompeius' wife had an untimely death. The whole balance of the triumvirate was upset, and relations between Pompeius and Caesar became increasingly strained, especially after Pompeius refused Caesar the hand of his own daughter Pompeia, and himself married Cornelia, the widow of Crassus' son Publius (also killed in the east) who was the daughter of the optimate politician Metellus Scipio . The way was clear for a rapproachement between Pompeius and the optimates, but this was not immediately forthcoming.

During 54 and 53 continued disorder at Rome meant that public life was in disarray. All of the consular candidates for 54 were being prosecuted, while at the start of 53 there were no consuls at all. Violence continued in to 52, when Clodius was standing for a consulship and his rival Milo was running as a praetorian candidate. Clodius, however, was killed in a gang fight with Milo's mob, so when there were still no magistrates, the optimates in the senate then voted Pompeius a sole consulship, without a colleague, hoping thereby to avoid the long standing fear that Pompeius was aiming at a dictatorship. Pompeius' laws during this year helped to stir mistrust between himself and Caesar: A law against political violence was passed and used against Milo for the death of Clodius (the death of the former meant that the latter had outlived his political usefulness); another law stated that from henceforth, there was to be a five year interval between a consulship and its corresponding proconsular command. The latter law, designed to reduce bribery and extortion of provincials, had the knock on effect of threatening Caesar's continued presence in Gaul, so Caesar then had to rely on Pompeius' good will to avoid this. Caesar persuaded the ten tribunes of the year to pass a law to allow himself to stand for the consulship of 49 in absentia, despite Pompeius tightening up a law stating that all consular candidates be present at Rome in person. The fact that Pompeius then exempted Caesar from this provision demonstrated to everyone, the optimates and Caesar, that he was in the dominant political position.

By 51, the optimates in the senate were agitating for the immediate recall of Caesar from Gaul (L. Domitius Ahenobarbus had been attempting to replace him since 55) but Pompeius persuaded the senate not to discuss the matter until after 1 March 50, the fifth anniversary of the lex Pompeia-Licinia which gave Caesar his extra five years in Gaul. Pompeius' new laws of 52 meant that Caesar could be recalled, and prosecuted as a private citizen after this date, despite the earlier arrangements of the triumvirate. The impasse continued until late in 50, by which time the optimate tribune of the plebs Caius Scribonius Curio had changed sides and was looking after Caesar's interests in Rome. On 1 December, Curio forced a vote in the senate for both Pompeius and Caesar to lay down their commands immediately. The motion was carried by 322 votes to 22, and Curio became an overnight hero. The optimate faction, however, had other moves in store, and the next day, the consul G. Marcellus entered the senate with rumours that Caesar was already planning to march his highly trained veterans on Rome itself. When Marcellus' attempt to have Caesar declared a hostis (enemy) failed, he went straight to Pompeius and entreated the general to "save the Republic". Pompeius reluctantly accepted.

Throughout December there were continued negotiations, proposals and counter-proposals which came to nothing , and in January 49 the optimates in the senate managed to have a Senatus Consultum Ultimum passed against Caesar. When the two new tribunes Marcus Antonius (later triumvir with Octavian and Lepidus) and Quintus Cassius tried to impose their veto, they were censured and had soon fled to Caesar, who was by now in Cisalpine Gaul awaiting news. Civil war was now virtually a certainty.

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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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