‘Caesar had accustomed himself to great effort and little rest; to concentrate on his friends’ business at the expense of his own, and never to neglect anything which was worth doing as a favour. He craved great imperium, an army and a new war so that he could show his talent.’ - Sallust, late forties BC.1
‘Yet what would history say of me in six hundred years time?For that is a thing which I fear more than the idle chatter of men alive today.’ - Cicero, April 59 BC.2
On 28 and 29 September 61 BC Pompey the Great celebrated his third triumph, which commemorated his victories over the pirates and Mithridates. The festivities coincided with his forty-fifth birthday and included displays and processions of unprecedented scale and magnificence. His first triumph had been twenty years before, but this time there was no ridiculous plan for riding in a chariot pulled by elephants. Pompey was older, more mature and had no need for such theatrics, for the splendour of his victories dwarfed the achievements of the great generals of the past. Even so, triumphs were never occasions for restraint or modesty. Like any Roman aristocrat, Pompey took care to quantify his success and the processions included placards declaring that he had killed, captured or defeated 12,183,000 people, taken or sunk 846 warships, and accepted the surrender of 1,538 towns or fortified places. Each kingdom, people or place he had overcome was listed in turn on the great floats carrying the spoils he had taken from them. Then there were paintings showing famous episodes from the wars. Other signs told of how every soldier in the army had been given 1,500 denarii - equivalent to more than ten years’ pay - and proclaimed that the vast sum of 20,000 talents of gold and silver had been added to the State Treasury. Pompey boasted that as a result of his efforts, the annual revenue of the Republic had more than doubled, from 50 million to 135 million denarii. At the end of the procession was an enormous float presented as a trophy of victory over the known world. People were saying that Pompey had triumphed over all three continents: Africa as part of his first triumph, Europe and specifically Spain in his second, and now Asia in his third. Ahead of Pompey walked over 300 senior hostages, including kings, queens, princesses, chieftains and generals, all wearing their national costume. The general himself rode in a chariot decorated with gemstones and wore a cloak captured from Mithridates, which he claimed had once been owned and worn by Alexander the Great. Appian, writing over a century and a half later, thought this unlikely, but Pompey revelled in the parallels often drawn between himself and the greatest conqueror in history.3
There is no doubting the scale of Pompey’s achievement. The suppression of the pirates had been a dazzling display of meticulous planning and rapid action, but proved to be merely a prelude to even greater successes. Mithridates of Pontus had proven one of Rome’s most resilient enemies. Sulla had expelled him from Greece and recovered the province of Asia, but the need to return to Italy had prevented him from achieving total victory. Lucullus had done more in the seven years he held command in the region, savaging the king and his allies in a series of battles. In the process he became fabulously rich from the spoils of war, but alienated the publicani operating in Asia as tax collectors, as well as many of his own soldiers. A successful general never lacked for opponents in the Senate, for senators were instinctively nervous of anyone else gaining too much glory, wealth and auctoritas. There were growing complaints that the war was going on too long, and even that Lucullus was deliberately prolonging it to enrich himself still more. His large province was broken up, and sections given to new governors, starving him of the men and material with which to wage war. With Lucullus weakened, Mithridates was given a chance to win back some of the ground he had lost. Everything changed when Pompey arrived in 66 BC. Backed by resources on a scale of which his predecessor could only have dreamed, he had irrevocably smashed the king’s power by the end of the year. It would be going a little far to say that Lucullus had already won the war - unlike the Slave War, which had certainly been decided by Crassus before Pompey arrived and tried to steal the credit - but he had certainly contributed a great deal to the eventual Roman victory.
His assigned task complete, Pompey showed no desire to go back to Rome straightaway, but instead sought new opportunities to win glory with the forces under his command. Over the next two years he took advantage of any opportunity to lead his legions further than any Roman army had gone in the past. They marched against the Iberians and Albanians, round the eastern shore of the Black Sea and into what would become southern Russia. Intervening in a civil war between rival members of the Judaean royal family, Pompey laid siege to Jerusalem and took it after three months. All of these spectacular achievements were celebrated in his triumphal procession. Pompey had throughout these campaigns given abundant evidence of his abilities as a commander, and may also, as in earlier campaigns, have occasionally led charges in person, emulating Alexander’s heroic style of leadership. In Jerusalem he and his commanders had gone into the Holy of Holies in the Great Temple, something forbidden to all save the high priests. As a mark of respect, none of the treasures were removed, but the gesture, as was intended, provided a new tale to tell at Rome of the unprecedented deeds of Rome’s great general. For the Romans, the spectacular was often combined with the practical, and Pompey spent much of his time organising the administration of Rome’s old provinces in the region and the new ones he had created. Active campaigning largely ceased when news arrived in 63 BC that Mithridates was dead - killed by a bodyguard after he had tried to poison himself but discovered that the antidotes he had taken throughout his life rendered him immune. Even so Pompey remained in the east for over a year settling the region. His organisational talents were considerable and many of the regulations he established would remain in force for centuries.4
The wild activities of Metellus Nepos during his tribunate increased the apprehension over what Pompey would do on his return to Italy Nepos was his brother-in-law, had served under him as a legate, and so his readiness to use violence and intimidation in his effort to allow Pompey to retain command of his army was deeply worrying. crassus is said to have exploited the mood by taking his family abroad. It is difficult to know how far Nepos had been acting under instructions, but clearly Pompey cannot have been pleased with a result that raised many senators’ suspicion of him without achieving any benefit. In the spring of 62 BC he wrote to the Senate as a whole and privately to leading senators assuring them of his desire for peaceful retirement. Another of his legates, Marcus Pupius Piso, was already in Rome canvassing for the consulship for 61 BC. Pompey asked the Senate to postpone the elections till the end of the year so that he could be present and support his friend. Opinions were divided, but Cato prevented any vote by manipulating the procedure of the House. When asked his opinion in the debate, he kept on talking until the day ended and the meeting closed without a result. No one attempted to discuss the issue again. In the event Piso won the consulship anyway, but this was the first of a series of snubs that Pompey was to suffer. It did not prevent him from continuing his efforts to reassure the Senate of his good intentions. When he finally landed at Brundisium in December 62 BC he immediately demobilised his legions, instructing the soldiers to gather again only when it was time for them to march in his triumph.5
Until he had celebrated his triumph, Pompey could not actually cross the pomerium, the sacred boundary of the city, so he took up residence in his villa in the Alban Hills outside Rome. By the middle of the first century BC, substantial parts of Rome were actually outside the pomerium. On several occasions the Senate chose to meet, or public meetings were called, at locations in these areas to permit Pompey to attend. When he had become consul in 70 BC Pompey had the experienced senator and prolific author Marcus Terentius Varro write him a pamphlet explaining senatorial procedure. His return to political life showed that he still had much to learn after almost six years away on campaign. The first speech he made fell flat, pleasing no one. It was especially unfortunate that he had arrived at the height of the controversy over the trial of Clodius for sacrilege, with fierce debate over the procedure to be used and in particular the selection of jurors. Piso, Pompey’s former legate, was a friend and supporter of Clodius, while his consular colleague was an equally determined opponent. Not a well trained or especially gifted orator, Pompey attempted to show his firm support and respect for the Senate when his opinion was asked on such issues, but his speeches met with little enthusiasm. Cicero, smarting over Pompey’s refusal to praise him with sufficient enthusiasm for his suppression of Catiline, was scathing in his judgement of the man he had so often supported in the past. On 25 January 61 BC he wrote to his friend Atticus that Pompey ‘is now openly and ostentatiously trumpeting his friendship for me, but secretly he is jealous and does not conceal it very well. In him there is no real courtesy, straightforwardness, statesmanlike talent, or indeed a sense of honour, constancy, or generosity’6 Cicero was delighted when Crassus began eulogising him in the Senate, probably largely because Pompey had failed to do so.7
In the domestic sphere things were little better. Pompey had divorced his wife Mucia almost as soon as he had returned to Italy She and Caesar had had an affair in her husband’s absence, but he had not been her only lover and her infidelities were a matter of public scandal. Politically this had unfortunate consequences, alienating Pompey from her half-brothers Metellus Nepos and Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer, for the Metelli as a family were never slow to respond to real or apparent slights. After he had been attacked by Nepos, Cicero had had to go to great lengths to placate Metellus Celer even though it had been his brother who had begun the dispute. Celer was a strong candidate for the consulship in 60 BC, making him an especially dangerous enemy. Nevertheless, the divorce gave Pompey the opportunity for making a new political alliance, and he clearly wished to demonstrate again his commitment to the senatorial elite and show that he was no revolutionary. He approached Cato and asked that he and his son be allowed to marry his nieces, the daughters of Servilia. To the dismay of both the girls and their ambitious mother, Cato rejected the proposal, a gesture that added to his reputation for placing the stern dictates of virtue ahead of political advantage. Although he lost the prospect of an alliance with the wealthiest man and most successful commander in the Senate, the incident added to the legend that Cato was consciously building by his actions and behaviour.8
Pompey had two main objectives in these years. The first was to secure grants of land to the discharged veterans of his armies. In 70 BC a law had been passed to provide for the men who had fought under him in Spain, but had failed to achieve much as the Senate had not provided the resources to make an adequate distribution of land possible. His second aim was to secure the ratification of his Eastern Settlement, the scheme of laws and regulations that he had established after his victory over Mithridates. It was normal for such things to be done by a senatorial committee, but Pompey had gone ahead without this authority. The fact that he had done the job extremely well did not prevent considerable criticism. Lucullus, who had been forced to wait years for his own triumph and was still deeply bitter of his replacement in the command by Pompey, came out of his self-imposed retirement from public life to oppose him. He was especially critical of anything that had altered his own rulings. Pompey wanted his entire Eastern Settlement to be ratified in a single law. Lucullus, Cato and many other leading senators demanded instead that each individual ruling be discussed and dealt with on its own. During Piso’s consulship in 61 BC nothing was achieved, in part because of his preoccupation with the trial of Clodius. Realising that Metellus Celer was practically certain to win the consulship for 60 BC, Pompey indulged in massive bribery to ensure that he was given a more amenable colleague. The man chosen was another of his former legates, a ‘new man’ called Lucius Afranius. Although he may have been a capable officer, Afranius was better known as a dancer than for his skill as a politician. As consul he proved an abject failure, his fellow ‘new man’ Cicero viewing him as little more than a joke in the poorest taste. More talented was Lucius Flavius, one of the tribunes of the year who was eager to do Pompey’s bidding. He proposed a land law, which was intended to provide farms for the veterans and a substantial number of the urban poor. Metellus Celer led the opposition, and was so bitter in his invective that the tribune ordered him led off to prison. The consul was a shrewd enough player of the political game to know how to exploit the situation and promptly convened a meeting of the Senate in the prison itself. Flavius responded by placing his tribunician bench of office in front of the entrance to stop anyone from getting in. Undaunted, Metellus ordered his attendants to knock a hole in the prison’s wall to admit the senators. Pompey realised that Flavius was losing the contest and instructed him to release the consul. The episode showed the same almost farcical respect for convention as the confrontation between Cato and Nepos in 62 BC on the podium of the Temple of Castor and Pollux. In this case, things stopped short of actual violence. Further attempts to intimidate Metellus by denying him the right to go to a province failed and the bill was eventually dropped.9
After two years Pompey had achieved neither of his key objectives. The confirmation of the Eastern Settlement and the provision of land for veteran soldiers were both sensible measures, that would have been of benefit to the Republic. Metellus opposed the land bill primarily because he resented doing anything for the man who had divorced his half-sister Mucia, but also because of the prestige of standing alone and out of his innate stubbornness. His grandfather had won fame through being the only senator to refuse to take an oath to obey one of Saturninus’ laws, suffering a period of exile as a result. Lucullus was motivated by memory of the wrong he felt that Pompey had once done to him in 66 BC. Cato and others were more inclined to thwart Pompey as a means of cutting him down to size and preventing him from dominating the Republic through his great wealth and fame. Pompey was not the only senator to feel frustration in these years. Crassus, who had at first enjoyed his rival’s discomfort, found that many of the same senatorial clique were as willing to block a measure of great importance to him. Early in 60 BC a dispute erupted between the Senate and the equestrians who headed the great companies of the publicani. These had bought the rights to collecting taxes in Asia and the other eastern provinces only to discover that in the aftermath of so many years of warfare they were unable to raise sufficient revenue to cover the sum they had pledged to the State Treasury Faced with the prospect of making a loss, rather than the usual handsome profit derived from tax collecting, the dismayed publicani wanted to renegotiate the terms of their contract, reducing the amount that was due to the Treasury. Crassus, who was closely associated with the leading publicani and probably had a stake in a number of companies, was an enthusiastic supporter. Cicero thought that the demand was outrageous, but nevertheless was willing to go along with it since the wealthy equestrian order ought to be placated and kept on the side of the Senate. A new bribery law had just imposed severe fines on equestrian as well as senatorial jurors, causing deep offence amongst the order. Cato was never one to restrain his own outrage and vigorously opposed the publicani, persuading the Senate to reject their appeal. Cicero despairingly commented that Cato ‘in the best spirit and with unquestionable honesty . . . does harm to the State: the resolutions he puts forward are more fitting for Plato’s ideal Republic, than the cess-pit of Romulus’.10
Pompey and Crassus, the two wealthiest and in some ways most influential men in the Republic, were both finding themselves thwarted by members of the handful of noble families that dominated the Senate. Pompey, in particular, had been rejected when he attempted to become part of this inner elite. Necessary, sensible and popular reforms, along with more questionable measures that may have been politically expedient, were all being blocked by a small minority of aristocrats. The inertia at the heart of the Republic was alienating many citizens at all levels of society Decades later, one of Caesar’s former commanders would begin his history of the Civil War in the year when Metellus Celer and Afranius were consuls. With hindsight many would see 60 BC as the year when the disease infecting the Republic became terminal.11
In the summer of 60 BC Caesar returned from Spain. He was forty and - presumably with the same dispensation he had enjoyed to hold earlier offices two years before the normal time - now eligible to stand for the consulship for 59 BC. He had clearly been preparing the way for his candidature for some time. Unable to canvass in person he seems to have written to leading senators, including Cicero. Caesar was a prolific letter writer, making it all the more unfortunate that so little of his correspondence has been preserved. He is said to have been able to dictate to several scribes at the same time, while it was noted that he was the first man who while in Rome regularly wrote to friends and political allies who were also in the city. It may well be that he had divorced Pompeia in a written note. It was probably also by letter that he reached an agreement with another of the candidates to run a joint campaign. This was Lucius Lucceius, a man of considerable wealth but little reputation or charisma. The combination of his money and Caesar’s popularity was a strong one. In early June 60 BC, before he had even reached Rome, Caesar was seen as the favourite in the race for the consulship, Cicero commenting that he had a ‘following wind’. Caesar’s letters to Cicero had evidently pleased the orator, for he wrote to Atticus that he hoped to ‘make Caesar better’, which he saw as a good service to the Republic.12
Caesar, just like Pompey two years before, arrived outside Rome, but could not cross the pomerium until he had celebrated the triumph awarded for his campaigns in Spain. A triumph, with its spectacular procession and accompanying celebrations, would further enhance his election prospects. The Roman electorate and society in general admired military glory above almost everything else, and in practical terms a consul was very likely to find himself placed in command of an important war, so that proof of martial talent was obviously a good thing. Cicero at times liked to claim that a great record as an advocate in the courts was almost as highly valued as martial exploits, but evidently knew in his heart that this was not the view of most voters. However, by law, candidates for office had to present themselves in person at a meeting in the Forum. It took time to prepare properly for the triumphal celebration, which could then only be held on a day allotted by the Senate. The date for the election had already been set, and Caesar would be unable to stand unless he crossed the pomerium and so gave up the right to his triumph. He requested an exemption to the rule to allow him to become a candidate without appearing in person. Presumably this was done by a letter to the Senate, or through an intermediary, since there is no record of the Senate convening at one of the temples outside the pomerium to permit him to attend. Suetonius tells us that there was widespread opposition to this petition. Our other sources unsurprisingly single out Cato as the main focus of this. He once again used the tactic of simply continuing to speak until time for the debate ran out and the meeting had to close without voting on the issue. The Senate would not assemble again until after the list of candidates had been formally announced - the House was only permitted to meet on certain days and could not, for instance, convene on the same day as any of the Popular Assemblies. Cato’s tactic of ‘talking out’ a proposition had worked in the past and this time ensured that Caesar could not celebrate his triumph and stand for the consulship for the next year.13
Cato’s filibuster worked, but not in the way that he had intended. When Caesar realised what was happening he immediately gave up his triumph and entered the city, crossing the pomerium so that he could present himself as a candidate. It is difficult to understate the importance of this decision. A triumph was one of the greatest honours a Roman aristocrat could win, something permanently commemorated by the display of its symbols on the porch of his house. Pompey, whose whole career had been deeply unorthodox, had triumphed three times, but this was exceptional, and in this period it was very rare for a man to win the honour more than once. Not only that, but triumphs were awarded to no more than a tiny minority of propraetors in the first century BC and were fairly rare even for proconsuls. It was the clearest indication that Caesar was looking ahead, absolutely convinced that far greater deeds and opportunities lay ahead of him. A triumph for his victories in Spain would have been very welcome and he did his best to secure it, but the consulship was a far greater prize.
Cato’s motives are also worth consideration, for at first glance his action seems to have been pointless, while with hindsight it was also highly ill- judged. At best he would have delayed Caesar’s candidature for a year. Caesar would have held his triumph, which could only have increased his already good electoral prospects. Perhaps Cato hoped that during the next twelve months, Caesar’s debts would finally overwhelm him and his career implode. Yet he had just returned from his province and, like all Roman governors and especially those who fought a successful war, had doubtless profited. His debts were too huge to have been paid off, and Caesar obviously felt the need for Lucceius’ finances in his election campaign, but all in all he must have been in a more secure financial position on his return to Rome compared with when he had left. As a private citizen Caesar would be open to prosecution, so perhaps it was hoped that he might be charged in the extortion court. Yet, most former governors faced with such charges were acquitted and, as we have seen, Caesar may well genuinely not have been guilty - not that that was necessarily the key factor in many legal cases. There was a more personal reason for delaying Caesar’s candidature for a year. Cato’s son-in-law, Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, was also standing for the consulship. This was the man who had been so overshadowed by Caesar during their aedileship in 65 BC. Bibulus’ talents were modest, and made to seem all the more so by comparison with the flamboyant and extremely capable Caesar. Yet the system, with the minimum ages for each office, ensured that a man was likely to compete and hold office with the same men throughout his career. Both Caesar and Bibulus had been praetors in 62 BC, although there is no record of any conflict between them. Postponing Caesar’s bid for the consulship would mean that for once Bibulus would have a chance of taking the limelight himself. It also avoided the danger that the ‘new man’ Lucceius, boosted by his ally’s popularity, would actually beat Bibulus into third place. Losing an election was a humiliating blow to a member of a noble family
Therefore, there were certainly advantages to be gained for Cato’s family in blocking Caesar’s request. The conflict between their personalities should also not be ignored. It is no exaggeration to say that Cato loathed Caesar, believing that he had seen past his outward charm. Servilia’s continuing affair with this man exacerbated her half-brother’s feelings. The Roman aristocracy saw nothing wrong in senators pursuing personal hatreds, as long as their actions did not become excessive. Viewed in this light, Cato was simply taking an opportunity to do one of his enemies a bad turn. Furthermore, every time that he changed the Senate’s mind or stopped it from doing something added to Cato’s reputation. He was still only thirty- five and had held no magistracy higher than the tribunate, but was already well established as one of the dominant voices in the Senate. This was because he was Cato, paragon of old-fashioned virtue as exemplified by his famous ancestor, and never to be dissuaded from his views or afraid to state them even if they were contrary to the mood of the majority. It does seem unlikely that in 60 BC he represented Caesar as a danger to the Republic. Cicero’s letters make it clear that such a view was not widespread before the elections. The only hint that there was some suspicion came when the Senate allocated the provinces that the consuls of 59 BC would receive after their year of office, something that a law of Caius Gracchus had stipulated that they must do before the election. In this case the Senate decided that both men would be sent to deal with ‘woodland and country lanes of Italy’ (silvae callesque). It was true that rural Italy had suffered much in recent decades, but even so such a task was pitifully beneath the dignity of one, let alone both, consuls. The suggestion that this was intended merely to keep the consuls in reserve, in case a major war erupted in Gaul, is unconvincing, since this was not normal Roman practice. Instead it was an insult and, the sources maintain, one aimed at Caesar, although it should be noted that Bibulus was as likely to suffer as a result of it.14
Consuls were elected by the Comitia Centuriata, whose structure differed markedly from the Tribal Assemblies. Caesar had already been successful in the Comitia when he was elected praetor, but competition was inevitably stronger for the two consulships than for the eight praetorships for each year. Consular elections were usually held at the end of July, so that Caesar had only a few weeks to canvass in person. The Comitia Centuriata met on the Campus Martius, amidst rituals that had strong associations with the military system of Rome’s early history - for instance, the raising of a red flag on the Janiculum Hill already mentioned in connection with the trial of Rabirius (see p.123). The presiding magistrate, one of the consuls of the current year, also gave his instructions to the Assembly in a traditional form, which made them sound much like military orders. First there was an informal meeting or contio before proceedings began, although it is not known specifically whether or not the candidates were given the chance to make a speech as one last plea to the electorate. The consul would open the business with a prayer, followed by a set formula that ordered the people to choose the two new consuls. The voters were divided into centuries based upon their property as recorded in the last census. Individual centuries were composed of men from the same tribes, but only to this extent was there a tribal element. Voting began with the seventy centuries of the First Class, followed by the eighteen equestrian centuries. Each century chose two names from the list of candidates to fill the two vacancies for consul. There were 193 centuries altogether, and the outcome of elections could be, and often was, decided during the voting of the Second Class. Members of the First Class, had to have significant property, although just how much is unclear for this period. It would be a mistake to see all of them as very wealthy. Some were almost as well off as equestrians, but others had relatively modest means. There is no real trace of the members of this class having a strong sense of their corporate identity or forming a social class in the modern sense. The decision of the centuries voting first influenced subsequent voting, since there seems often to have been an urge to choose the men who were expected to win. Especially influential was the decision of one century from the First Class chosen by lot to speak first. This was the centuria praerogativa, and it was generally believed that the man whose name was placed first in the vote of this century was bound to win the election.15
Like other elections, the voting of the Comitia Centuriata took place in the saepta or ‘sheep-pens’ on the Campus Martius. Sometimes known also as the oviles, this temporary structure of wooden enclosures for each of the voting units was open to the elements and covered a wide area. We do not know how many citizens normally chose to participate. Over 900,000 male citizens were listed in the census, and at least several hundred thousand of these lived in Rome itself, at least for some parts of the year. Yet it seems extremely unlikely that the majority even of these residents could all have voted even if they had wanted to, given the size of the saepta. Estimates have been made of the number of voters who could have been accommodated within the voting enclosures, usually modified by entirely conjectural notions of how long the voting would have taken, for the whole process had to be complete by sunset. These vary from as many as 70,000, to 55,000, or as few as 30,000. Each commentator has tended to suggest that these are maximum figures and that the real numbers would usually have been much lower. Although it would be unwise to place any real reliance on such guesswork, it is safe to assume that only a minority of those eligible actually did vote. Yet it is hard to say whether it was always substantially the same voters who did assemble - this tends to be assumed, but we really do not know. A consular election was certainly a great event, and significant numbers of citizens deliberately travelled to Rome from all over Italy to take part. Inevitably these tended to be the better off, but since the wishes of the equestrian order and First Class carried such weight this made them all the more important. It is very clear that election results were unpredictable and that it was exceptionally rare for there to be two candidates for the consulship both of whom were seen as certainties. The praerogativa century was selected by lot on the day of the election, adding an additional element of uncertainty to proceedings.16
During his own campaign Cicero had thought about visiting Cisalpine Gaul to canvass amongst the wealthy citizens there and throughout his life tried to maintain links with many parts of Italy. Where past favours and friendship did not suffice, money might win the day. There were men in each tribe who were recognised as able to sway the vote of their fellow tribesmen, whether they voted as a whole or each in their own century In 61 BC it was widely reported that many of these men had visited the garden of Pompey’s house to receive payment for their support for his candidate Afranius. In 60 BC the bribery was less blatant, but still employed by all candidates. Lucceius’ money acted for himself and Caesar, while Bibulus drew not only on his own resources, but was aided by a number of prominent senators. Cato approved, just as he had refrained from prosecuting his brother-in-law from electoral bribery in 63 BC when he had attacked Murena for the same thing. Like any senator, he wanted his family to succeed. Suetonius claims that he and Bibulus’ other backers were also motivated by fear of what Caesar might do if as consul he had a colleague who was closely tied to him politically. This may well simply be the view of hindsight - the connections and status of Bibulus’ family probably were far more important factors.17
On the day of the election Caesar came first by a very comfortable margin. Bibulus secured the second place, so that Lucceius ended up with little return for his expenditure. Many of the voters must have named Caesar and Bibulus on their ballots. Having reached the most senior magistracy, it was now a question of what Caesar would do and how he would behave in his twelve months of office.
THE LAND LAW
In December 60 BC, just a few weeks before Caesar would take up the consulship on 1 January 59 BC, Cicero received a visitor in his country villa. The caller was Lucius Cornelius Balbus, the Roman citizen from Gades in Spain who had recently served on Caesar’s staff and was now starting to act as his political agent. Balbus spoke mainly of the agrarian law that Caesar was planning to introduce in his consulship. Throughout his life Cicero had a landowner’s aversion to any redistribution, and his opposition had done much to block Rullus’ bill three years before. This time he had a choice between opposing the new law, absenting himself for a while to avoid committing himself, or supporting it. As Cicero wrote to Atticus, Caesar expected him to back the bill. Balbus had ‘assured me that Caesar will follow my own and Pompey’s opinion in every issue, and that he will strive to reconcile Crassus to Pompey’. If Cicero followed this course he had the prospect of ‘a very close alliance with Pompey, and, if I want, with Caesar as well, and a reconciliation with my enemies, peace with the mob, and security in old age’. Caesar was preparing carefully for his year of office and trying to gain as many political allies as possible. Cicero, in spite of his successes as consul, remained a ‘new man’, never entirely accepted by the established families of the Senate, and his execution of the conspirators in 63 BC left him vulnerable to attack for overstepping his powers. For the last decade he had consistently presented himself as Pompey’s loyal supporter. Now Pompey was clearly associated with Caesar’s land bill and both men wanted to secure Cicero’s oratory to help their cause.18
After some thought, Cicero refused to commit himself. This was certainly a disappointment for Caesar, but not a critical one, since he had already secured two allies who were far more powerful. Balbus had hinted to Cicero of the prospect of an alliance between Pompey and his arch-rival Crassus. At some point during these months, Caesar was able to achieve just that, bonding himself to both men so that, as Suetonius put it, ‘nothing could be done in the Republic, which displeased any one of the three’.19 This political alliance is known to scholars as the First Triumvirate - the Second Triumvirate being formed between Mark Antony, Octavian and Lepidus in November 43 BC to oppose Caesar’s murderers. Triumvirate simply means board of three, but unlike the latter alliance, which was formally instituted by law with the three men receiving dictatorial powers, the association between Crassus, Pompey and Caesar was informal. At first it was also secret. The fact that in December 60 BC Balbus spoke only of the possibility of reconciliation between Pompey and Crassus should not be taken as an indication that the triumvirate had not yet been formed, merely that it had not yet become public knowledge. Caesar had been closely associated with Crassus for some time, and the latter had invested heavily in him when he chose to act as surety for the debts that nearly prevented Caesar from leaving to govern Further Spain. Caesar had time and again been a vocal supporter of measures favouring Pompey. He had doubtless also met him - the world of the Roman aristocracy was a small one, and the two had both been in Rome for much of 70-67 BC - although there is no record of any particular intimacy. Caesar had seduced Pompey’s wife during his absence overseas, which had surely not endeared him to her husband, but then he had also slept with Crassus’ wife without it preventing their political collaboration. Both Pompey and Crassus had been frustrated in the last few years, discovering that their wealth and influence were not sufficient to get everything that they wanted. Pompey needed a more gifted and determined consul than Piso or Afranius to do his bidding. Caesar had sacrificed a triumph to reach the consulship immediately. For this to have been worthwhile, he needed an opportunity for far greater military adventures after his year of office was over, something that the ‘woods and paths’ of Italy would certainly not provide. To make this possible he wanted influential supporters. If he had joined with either Pompey or Crassus individually, it was likely that the mutual antipathy of these two would have ensured that the other opposed him. With Cato, Bibulus and their associates certain to resist his every move, he simply could not afford another powerful enemy Therefore, the elegantly simple answer was to unite Pompey and Crassus, knowing that their combined weight ought to be irresistible. Cato and the other nobles who had blocked and embittered the two greatest men in the Republic had created the opportunity to do this. Even so, it doubtless took all of Caesar’s persuasiveness and charm to convince the old enemies that he could deliver what they wanted if only they combined to support him.20
The negotiations to create the triumvirate may have begun by letter, but it is unlikely that any real decision was made until Caesar returned to Italy in the summer of 60 BC. Agreement may not have come until after the consular elections, when Caesar’s success strengthened his bargaining position. It is not clear whether Pompey and Crassus openly joined forces to canvass on his behalf. Even had they done so, this might not have been seen as especially significant, since it was quite normal for personal enemies both to support the same candidate if each had individual ties of friendship with him. Co-operation between the three men was not widely suspected until January 59 BC at the earliest. Later, it became even more obvious and provoked outrage and the usual cries of the end of the Republic. Varro, the polymath who had in 70 BC advised Pompey on senatorial procedure and later served as his legate, wrote a pamphlet decrying the ‘three-headed beast’. Over a century and a half later, Plutarch was adamant that the friendship between the triumvirs, especially between Caesar and Pompey, was the root cause of civil war and the end of the Roman Republic. It was the way in which Caesar could gain so much power that in the end he could overcome even Pompey. It was a judgement based on hindsight, but certainly not a unique one, though it suggests an inevitability about future events that is questionable. Yet in one sense Plutarch had understood that the triumvirate was not at heart a union of those with the same political ideals and ambitions. Pompey, Crassus and Caesar were all seeking personal advantage. Pompey wanted land for his veterans and the ratification of his Eastern Settlement, and Crassus relief for the tax collectors of Asia. Caesar was very much the junior member, who needed powerful backers if he was to achieve anything in the face of a recalcitrant consular colleague and gain an important provincial command afterwards. He was effectively the tool of the other two, for they needed a magistrate to introduce and force through the legislation they needed. For this he would be rewarded. Each of the three knew that the others would benefit from the arrangement, but were content for this to happen so long as they achieved their own aims. It was ultimately a marriage of convenience, to be broken by any of the members as soon as it ceased to be to his advantage. To see it as anything more solid or permanent risks misunderstanding the events of this and subsequent years. Dio speaks of the three men taking solemn oaths, but this is most probably just later propaganda. The secret swearing of oaths was always viewed as a sinister act by the Romans. Catiline was supposed to have done this with his followers. In later centuries this would also be one of the accusations against the early Christians.21
The two consuls were equal in power, but each took precedence over his colleague on alternate months. Caesar had come first in the polls on election day, and so when he and Bibulus took up office on 1 January 59 BC, it was he who held precedence and so began the Republic’s year with prayers and sacrifices. Each consul was accompanied by twelve lictors carrying the fasces which symbolised a magistrate’s power. The consul with precedence in that month was said to hold the fasces. Normally the lictors went ahead of a magistrate, clearing a path through the crowd if this was necessary As a mark of respect to his colleague, Caesar stated at the beginning of the year that whenever Bibulus held the fasces, his own lictors would follow behind him. Instead only a single lesser official, the clerk or accensus, would precede him. It was just one of a number of reasonable gestures that Caesar made at the very beginning of the year. He also wanted his deeds and words, as well as those of everyone else, to be a matter of public knowledge. Therefore, speeches in the Senate and at public meetings were to be recorded by scribes and published in the Forum. In the past this had only been done occasionally, for instance, for some of the debates during Cicero’s consulship.22
Yet his immediate priority was the land bill, and it is probable that this was read in the Senate and debated on either 1 or 2 January Haste was necessary, for a bill needed to be published twenty-four days before the Tribal Assembly was called to vote upon it. If Caesar was to have this vote in January while he himself held the fasces, then every day was precious, for the Senate could not meet on the 3rd or 4th. Considerable effort had already been devoted to preparing the bill and securing its passage before the end of the previous year. We have already seen that Balbus had been sent to canvass for Cicero’s active support. Caesar had been careful to learn from the failed land bills of Rullus and Flavius. The publicly owned land in Campania - the ager Campanus, which supplied the Treasury with a healthy revenue - was formally exempted. Clauses also made it clear that private property was to be respected. A commission would oversee the purchase and distribution of the land to both Pompey’s veteran soldiers and large numbers of the urban poor. The commissioners were only permitted to purchase land from owners willing to sell, and would do so at the value recorded in the last census. The funding for this was to come from the vast surplus provided by Pompey’s victories. Other clauses of the law expressly recognised all existing land occupation, lest fears grow up that there would be investigations into whether or not it was legally owned. It also barred the new settlers from selling their land for twenty years, to emphasise that it wanted to set up stable and permanent new communities. There were to be twenty commissioners, so that no one or two men should have overwhelming patronage in their hands, although there does appear to have been an inner council of five members to take some decisions. The commissioners would be elected, and the law expressly excluded Caesar from being amongst their number, so there would be no question of his proposing legislation from which he would derive tangible benefit. Roman laws tended to be long and complex - one of Rome’s most enduring legacies to the world is cumbersome and tortuous legal prose. Before Caesar read the entire text to the Senate, he announced that he would alter or remove any clause to which an objection was raised.23
The bill was well crafted and sensible. There was little or nothing within it that could be reasonably criticised, and the senators were aware that anything they said in the debate was to be published. It was most probably on 2 January that Caesar began to ask individual senators their opinion. Crassus was the first of the ex-consuls and presumably gave his approval, as did Pompey who would have been asked second. The others were somewhat sullen, but unwilling to go on record as opponents of the bill. The same was true of the former praetors. It was only when Caesar reached the ex-tribunes and called upon Cato to speak that there was anything other than unenthusiastic support or equivocation. Even Cato was forced to acknowledge that the bill was a good one, but he felt that it was badly timed and claimed that it would be a mistake to bring in any innovation during this year. Some of the earlier speakers had managed to delay proceedings by introducing tangential matters, but Cato was the true master of manipulating the conventions of the House. Having been asked his view he gave it, and then continued to give it, speaking without interruption as the minutes stretched into hours. It was obvious that he planned once again to keep on talking until the Senate had to end its session for the day and so prevent a vote from being taken. He had employed the same tactic in the past and always succeeded.
This time Caesar’s temper snapped and he ordered his attendants to arrest Cato and lead him off to prison. Extreme though this action seems, there was no other way of stopping a member of the House from continuing to speak once he had been asked his opinion, since someone like Cato could not simply be shouted down. It was a sign of Caesar’s frustration and rapidly proved to be a mistake. Cato knew how to milk the situation by playing the part of the righteous defender of the Republic who refused to bow to ‘tyranny’. In the Senate at least, there was widespread sympathy for him, even though for a while the debate continued. One senator, Marcus Petreius, the man who had defeated Catiline in battle in 62 BC and had already undergone thirty years of military service, got up and left the House. Caesar demanded to know why he was leaving before the session had ended and received the tart reply from the grizzled veteran that he would rather be in prison with Cato than here with Caesar. The consul was already realising that he had misjudged the situation. He is supposed to have hoped that Cato would call upon one of the tribunes of the plebs to veto his arrest. However, the prisoner was enjoying the moment too much to provide Caesar with an easy way out. In the end the consul had to order his release. The day had been spent without the Senate ever voting on a motion supporting the bill.24
Cato had won a victory and added once again to his reputation. Yet, like many of the successes of his career, it was a hollow triumph that in the long run made things worse. This time he was not facing a Piso or Afranius who could easily be diverted or blocked. Caesar, who had done so much to appear conciliatory, now declared that since the Senate would do nothing, he would go directly to the Roman people. Probably the next day he held a meeting in the Forum, and once again made every effort to be reasonable. He summoned his colleague Bibulus to the Rostra and asked him his opinion of the land bill in full view of the crowd. It is always difficult to know precisely who attended these public gatherings and whether they were genuine reflections of the views of the wider population or more like modern party rallies. On the one hand there was little to stop any citizen - or indeed noncitizen - who was in Rome from turning up and watching proceedings. On the other hand the space in the Forum was limited and could not possibly have contained more than a small fraction of the city’s vast population. It seems doubtful that more than 5,000 people could actually have heard a speech being made, although parts of the Forum could probably have contained bigger crowds than this. Most scholars assume that the magistrate calling the meeting would ensure that the gathering was packed with his supporters. This is quite possibly true, although there is no real evidence for how this was organised, and we should probably be a little cautious about making their control of such gatherings absolute. In this case, the mood of the crowd was certainly favourable to Caesar. Nevertheless, Bibulus repeated Cato’s argument that whatever the merits of the bill, there should be no innovations in his year of office. Caesar kept trying to persuade his colleague, and told the crowd that they could have the law if only Bibulus would consent. He lead the chant that called upon his fellow consul to agree, but the pressured Bibulus only shouted out that, ‘You shall not have this law this year, even if you all want it.’ After this crass comment, Bibulus stormed off.25
Roman magistrates were not elected to represent anyone, and neither they nor senators were answerable to any sort of constituency. In this way Roman politics differed markedly from the theory - if not necessarily the practice - of modern democracies. Yet in the end the will of the Roman people was supposed to be sovereign and for a consul to express such disdain for the voters was a serious error. Caesar had pressured him into making the mistake and now built upon this success. He summoned no more magistrates to his meeting - or meetings, as there may well have been more than one - but instead called upon distinguished senior senators. This was entirely normal practice, and Caesar began with Crassus and Pompey. Both enthusiastically supported the bill, for the first time giving a clear public indication of their association with the consul. Pompey spoke of the need to reward with land the soldiers who under his own command had fought so well for Rome. He also reminded them that the spoils won by his armies had given the Republic ample funds to make the distribution practical. Caesar worked on the crowd once again, getting them to beg Pompey to ensure that the bill became law. Always susceptible to adulation, he announced in reply to Caesar’s questioning that if anyone ‘took up the sword’ to stop the bill, then he was ‘ready with his shield’ (or in another version ‘with his sword and shield’). The threat was more than a little clumsy. It delighted the cheering crowds, but made many senators nervous. Cato and Bibulus had blocked Caesar in the Senate, but raising the stakes in the struggle had not deterred him or his backers. In the end, Caesar was at least as stubborn and determined as they were. Like Tiberius Gracchus in 133 BC, having failed to gain the Senate’s approval, Caesar took his law directly to the voters. A date was set in the last days of January for a Tribal Assembly to vote on the land bill. Caesar had handled his public meetings well and all indications suggested that it would be approved. Although they presented themselves as the true defenders of the Republic, it is doubtful that Cato and Bibulus spoke for more than a small minority of citizens. In fact, their views were probably only shared by a minority, if perhaps a larger one, of the Senate, but in that case it included many of the most distinguished and influential nobles.26
THE CONSULSHIP OF JULIUS AND CAESAR
In the early hours of the day when the Tribal Assembly was to vote on the bill, supporters of Caesar, Pompey and Crassus began to position themselves in key places around the Forum. Amongst them were probably some of the veterans from Pompey’s army, who had a vested interest in the passage of the bill. Some carried arms, which were at least partially concealed. It is doubtful that there were enough of them to control all access to the Forum, and as the sun rose many other citizens came to join the crowd gathering in front of the Temple of Castor and Pollux. The choice of this location for a public meeting before the Assembly suggests that large numbers were anticipated, as there was more space in this end of the Forum than around the Rostra itself. It should be remembered that the proposed distribution of land does seem to have had widespread support and, even more, that those actively opposed to it, rather than simply unconcerned, were very few. Pompey’s open support had convinced many who might have been less sure of Caesar’s motives. Whether those present felt intimidated - or even protected - by the burly men standing in groups around the Forum, is harder to say. Caesar made a speech from the podium of the temple, once again explaining the need for his law. In the middle of this, his consular colleague arrived. Bibulus was accompanied by his attendants and lictors, and with him were Cato, three of the year’s tribunes and a band of supporters. The crowd parted in front of them as the consul made his way to join Caesar. Dio says that this was in part out of natural respect for the supreme magistracy, but also because they thought that he had come round and would no longer oppose the law. Once he had reached Caesar on the platform of the temple - and perhaps remembered his own grim joke about their joint aedileship - Bibulus made it clear that his attitude had not wavered in the slightest. The presence of the tribunes suggests that he and Cato planned to veto proceedings and prevent an assembly from being held. He may also have considered announcing that he had seen unfavourable omens, which would also have broken up the meeting. However, matters may already have gone too far for this, since such pronouncements were supposed to precede the order for the citizens to separate into their tribes, which Caesar may already have given.27
The response of the crowd was immediately hostile. Doubtless the ensuing violence was led by the armed supporters. Bibulus was pushed off the steps of the temple as he tried to speak against Caesar. His lictors were overpowered and the fasces they carried smashed - an important symbolic humiliation for a magistrate. According to Appian, Bibulus bared his neck and shouted out that he would rather stain proceedings with his death since he could not stop Caesar. His attempt at heroism ended in farce, when a basket full of dung was dumped over his head. Missiles were flung and several attendants wounded, as were one or more of the tribunes in some versions.
Several of the attendants were injured by missiles. No one was killed, which may suggest that the violence was tightly controlled by Caesar and his allies. Covering the consul in manure rather than actually injuring him rather adds to the impression of well-orchestrated and restrained use of force. This was in marked contrast to most of the other periodic outbursts of violence since 133 BC. Cato was unhurt and was the last to leave, all the while shouting at his fellow citizens to persuade or intimidate them to his own point of view. Appian claims that he was actually carried out by some of Caesar’s supporters, but later sneaked back in and only gave up when he realised that no one would listen to anything he said. The Assembly then convened and approved the bill by a comfortable majority. The new law included a clause requiring every senator to take an oath to abide by its clauses and not to seek its repeal. Failure to do so would result in exile. Within a short period - perhaps five days, which was the period for a similar clause in another law - all had taken the oath. Metellus Celer, the consul who had summoned the Senate to join him in his prison cell a year before, was reluctant, but finally relented. Cato is said to have been persuaded by Cicero that he was of more value to Rome in the city than as an exile. Bibulus had summoned the Senate as soon as was possible after the day of the vote to protest at Caesar’s behaviour. The meeting was most likely held on 1 February when he assumed the fasces. However, Bibulus’ hope that the Senate would condemn Caesar, perhaps pass the senatus consultum ultimum and strip him of his office as had been done to Lepidus in 78 BC, proved unfounded. No senator was willing to oppose Caesar or his law, given the enthusiasm shown for both by so many of the people. Many of the members of the House were anyway closely attached to his backers, Pompey and Crassus.28
Bibulus retired to his house and did not again appear in public as consul for the rest of the year. He busied himself writing scurrilous pamphlets and denunciations of Caesar, Pompey and their supporters, which he ordered posted up in the Forum. Yet he remained out of sight. Soon it was common to speak of the ‘consulship of Julius and Caesar’, rather than Bibulus and Caesar. Suetonius repeats verses popular at the time:
Not long ago an act was passed during Caesar’s year, not that of Bibulus.
I don’t remember anything done in Bibulus’ consulate.
Yet Bibulus was not entirely inactive, and still attempting to block Caesar. The consuls had the task of fixing dates for those festivals that did not have to be celebrated on a certain day. Bibulus chose to place these on days when the Popular Assemblies were allowed to meet, preventing this from happening. However, his colleague was not obliged to acknowledge this, and Caesar routinely ignored him. He could not prevent Bibulus from declaring the celebration of periods of thanksgiving already voted by the Senate to successful commanders. No public business could be conducted during such periods, and some of the year was lost to Caesar and his allies in this way. Yet these methods were not sufficient to block all activity in the year, and so Bibulus routinely sent messengers to every meeting and assembly held by Caesar to announce that he had seen unfavourable omens and that therefore business had to be suspended. This practice of ‘watching the skies’ was hallowed by antiquity, but lacked the force of such an announcement made in person. In this case it was a sham, and everyone realised this, but archaic ritual could still have an impact in public life, as with the lowering of the flag on the Janiculum, which ended the trial of Rabirius. It did raise the question of whether or not any of Caesar’s laws were valid, although the Romans themselves seem to have been unsure of the answer. Caesar himself was Pontifex Maximus, and Pompey an augur, the college of priests with particular responsibility for interpreting omens.29
Caesar refused to accept Bibulus’ declarations, for there were too many measures that he needed to get through. For all the obstructions his year of office was crammed with new legislation, the precise chronology of which is uncertain. The land law had helped to achieve one of Pompey’s goals, and at some point his Eastern Settlement was also finally ratified by a vote of the Tribal Assembly. It may have been in a meeting to discuss this that Lucullus spoke out against Caesar. The consul replied with such a fierce tirade and with threats of prosecution that the senior senator flung himself on the ground to beg for mercy For Crassus there was a one-third reduction in the sum due from the publicani for the right to collect the Asian taxes. However, Caesar did formally warn the companies not to bid in such a reckless way in future. He may have benefited directly from this relief, for Cicero later claimed that Caesar was able to reward his agents with shares from the major companies. He had long taken an interest in how Rome’s provinces were governed, with most of his famous appearances in court being prosecutions of oppressive governors. Now he framed a law that closely regulated the behaviour of provincial governors, clarifying and improving a law passed by Sulla as dictator. This proved highly successful and would remain in force for centuries. Cicero later described it as an ‘excellent law’. Both Caesar and Crassus had in earlier years tried to secure special commissions to Egypt. Pompey, who had personally reorganised great swathes of the eastern Mediterranean, also took a deep interest in the area.
In 59 BC they ensured that the Roman Republic formally recognised the rule of Ptolemy XII, an illegitimate son of Ptolemy XI. Ptolemy XII, who was nicknamed Auletes or ‘the flute-player’, was deeply unpopular with the Egyptians, but had paid a massive bribe to Pompey and Crassus. Suetonius claimed that this amounted to 6,000 talents, or a staggering 36 million denarii. Some of these laws were presented in Caesar’s own name, so that each was a Julian law (lex Julia) on whatever the subject happened to be. Others were put forward by sympathetic tribunes. The most notable of these was Publius Vatinius, who comes across as a charming rogue in our sources. On one occasion he led a crowd to Bibulus’ house and tried to make him come out and announce his unfavourable omens in public. There was even talk of arresting him. Vatinius supported Caesar, but it would be wrong to see him merely as the consul’s tool, for like any senator he had ambitions of his own. He helped Caesar because this brought him personal benefits, including some of the shares in the tax-gathering companies mentioned above. Cicero claims that in later years Caesar would wryly comment that Vatinius had done nothing ‘for free’ during his tribunate.30
For all his legislative activity, Caesar had time for other things during 59 BC. He remained deeply in love with Servilia, and in these months presented her with a pearl worth 1.5 million denarii - perhaps paid for from Ptolemy’s bribe. Caesar had now been single since the divorce of Pompeia in 62 BC. None of our sources tell us whether Caesar and Servilia felt any desire to marry. Since both the divorce from Silanus and any union with Caesar would have required Cato’s approval, it was obviously not a realistic possibility Julia, Caesar’s only child, was also now of marriageable age. In late April or early May 59 BC two weddings were announced. Caesar took as his wife Calpurnia, the daughter of Lucius Calpurnius Piso, who was obviously favoured for the next year’s consulship and would win this easily with the backing of the triumvirs. It was a move that secured a sympathetic successor to protect Caesar’s interests. This marriage was politically successful and, as far as we can tell, reasonably happy, although the couple spent the vast majority of their time apart, since Caesar was to spend the bulk of the remainder of his life on campaign overseas. The second marriage was between Julia and her father’s political ally, Pompey the Great. Pompey was six years older than Caesar, and the age difference between husband and wife was great even by Roman standards. He had also divorced his last wife for infidelity with, amongst others, his new father-in-law. The marriage clearly had a political motivation and was announced suddenly. Julia was already engaged to Quintus Servilius Caepio, the marriage scheduled for just a few days later. Caepio was understandably upset when the betrothal was broken, prompting Pompey to give him his own daughter Pompeia as a wife, a move which in turn involved the severing of her engagement to Faustus Sulla, the dictator’s son. The creation of such a close family link between Caesar and Pompey is usually seen as an indication that the consul was becoming worried over the loyalty of his ally Dio and our other sources certainly felt that the initiative came from Caesar. He had taken a lot of chances to force through the legislation Pompey wanted and would need powerful friends in Rome when he himself set out for a province. Caesar also needed Pompey’s support in order to secure an appropriate province for himself. Yet the marriage may equally have been an indication of the triumvirate’s success. Caesar had proved himself and a more permanent tie was now worthwhile. Pompey’s new wife was young, attractive, intelligent and seems to have had much of her father’s charm. The forty-seven-year-old husband rapidly fell deeply in love with his teenage bride. His affection appears to have been returned and the marriage was undoubtedly a happy one. Pompey had always thrived on adoration, and willingly returned devotion with devotion.31
From the middle of April to well into May, most senators tended to leave Rome and visit their rural estates. As a result, there were rarely any meetings of the Senate or assemblies during these weeks. Probably before this unofficial recess began, Caesar had already put forward another agrarian law. This time it dealt specifically with the publicly owned land in Campania, which had been exempted from his first law. The commissioners for the first law had already been elected and begun their work, and it may be that they had found too little other land available for immediate purchase. Perhaps Caesar had always thought that its distribution would also be necessary at some point, or maybe the realisation that his first law was on its own inadequate came more gradually If we knew this, we would certainly have a clearer idea of whether he had genuinely hoped to win over the Senate to support his first land law, or had merely wanted to put them in the wrong in the eyes of the electorate. Now 20,000 citizens - or rather 20,000 families since only married men with three or more children were eligible - were selected from Rome’s poor and settled on farms in Campania. The same commissioners who oversaw the first law were probably placed in charge of this. The emphasis on men with families is very interesting, for it was a consistent feature of similar colonisation plans under the emperors, and was evidently believed to encourage more serious and deserving colonists. Senators were once again bound by a solemn oath to uphold this law and not seek its repeal.32
Around the same time as this new land bill, the tribune Vatinius also put forward a proposal to give Caesar a special five-year command, combining the provinces of Illyricum and Cisalpine Gaul into one. These provinces were garrisoned by three legions and were also conveniently close to Italy. He was given the privilege of choosing his own legates, at least one of whom would be granted propraetorian imperium. Both laws were passed, probably at the end of May. By a vote of the Senate, Caesar’s province was increased to include Transalpine Gaul, which had become vacant on the death of its current governor, Metellus Celer, who had not actually reached his province when he fell ill and died. A five-year command, with powerful armies - there was an additional legion in Transalpine Gaul - and opportunities for military adventure in the Balkans, or in Gaul itself, where trouble had been simmering for some years, was just what Caesar had wanted. Bibulus could be left to cope with the ‘woods and country paths’, although in fact he does not seem to have taken up this post and did not actually take command in any province for nearly a decade. Yet, although each of the triumvirs had achieved his objective, their success was as yet unsecured, and the danger remained that the hostility against them could produce opposition in the future. In the worst possible scenario, a magistrate in the next or subsequent years would move to have all the acts of Caesar’s consulship declared invalid. As a result the triumvirs remained nervous and inclined to react strongly to any open criticism.
In early April Cicero’s old consular colleague, Caius Antonius, was accused of extortion during his governorship of Macedonia. In 63 BC this wealthy province had actually been voted to Cicero himself, but he had voluntarily given it to Antonius to keep the latter on his and the Republic’s side during Catiline’s conspiracy. Although he had no high opinion of Antonius, and probably guessed at his obvious guilt, the orator chose to defend him. The prosecution was backed by Caesar and probably Crassus as well. The prosecution carried the day and Antonius went into luxurious exile. During his defence, Cicero made the mistake of openly criticising the triumvirs and lamenting the poor state of the Republic. That was in the morning. In the afternoon his personal enemy Clodius - the same man who had invaded the Bona Dea festival to seduce Caesar’s wife Pompeia - was transferred from patrician to plebian status. Caesar as Pontifex Maximus presided over the ceremony, with Pompey officiating as augur, which involved Clodius’ adoption by a plebian. Clodius had been angling unsuccessfully for this for several years, wanting to stand for the tribunate, an office from which patricians were banned. He had already taken to spelling his name in the more vulgar form of Clodius rather than Claudius. As if to emphasise the farcical nature of this ceremony, the plebian adopting Clodius was younger than he was.33
Cicero spent much of the remainder of the year swinging between nervousness and sudden optimism. For much of the rest of April he was at his villa in Antium, ‘lying low’, as he put it. He was not alone, and attendance in the Senate apparently slumped as many members of the House simply stayed away On one occasion, Caesar is supposed to have asked an elderly senator why so few were present at a meeting. The old man, a certain Considius, apparently replied that the others were afraid of Caesar’s armed followers. When the consul asked why Considius himself continued to attend, he was told that as an old man he was past fear, given that he had very little future ahead of him anyway. Cicero welcomed the Campanian Law, because he thought that it might alienate many senators from the triumvirs. He pointed out that this redistribution would take away a significant source of revenue. This was certainly true of taxation levied in Italy, but Pompey’s conquests had more than compensated for this. Once more there were attempts to win him over to join the triumvirs. Caesar offered him a post as a legate with him in Gaul, but neither this nor any alternative quite swayed him from his belief that they had acted wrongly There was also mild bitterness at Cato, whom he felt had only made things worse by his actions earlier in the year, and at the principal nobles whose support for him could not be relied on if he took a stand. By late April he began to hope that the balance in public affairs was changing and wrote to Atticus, saying that ‘if the power of the Senate was hateful, you can guess what will happen now control has passed not to the people, but to three immoderate men. In a short time you will see not only those of us who made no mistakes praised, and even Cato, for all his errors.’34 On 18 April Cicero had heard that Clodius planned to stand for the tribunate, but was publicly declaring that he would annul all of Caesar’s laws. This was probably because he had been denied a lucrative posting to Egypt and been offered a less attractive one to Armenia instead. Gossip claimed that Caesar and Pompey were now denying that they had ever performed the adoption ceremony. This was encouraging but in May he wrote with some despair of Pompey, even suggesting that he was planning to establish a tyrannical rule. Later in the year a young senator accused Pompey of this openly in the Forum and came close to being lynched, although whether by the triumvirs’ partisans or the wider crowd is unclear. Cicero’s description of this man, Caius Cato, as ‘a youth of little political sense, yet still ... a Cato’, provides a clear indication of the power of a famous name at Rome.35
As the summer drew on, Cicero reported that the most vocal opponent of the triumvirs was Caius Scribonius Curio, son of the consul of 76 BC. Like Caius Cato, Curio was still a young man, and it is striking that the triumvirs faced little open criticism from distinguished senators and former magistrates. It was another indication of the weakness of the senior ranks of the Senate in these years, largely as a result of the civil war and more recent disturbances. Sometimes, however, it was a crowd of ordinary citizens who chose to protest. Pompey was hissed when he took his seat in a place of honour at games held by Gabinius, the man who as tribune had secured him the command against the pirates and subsequently served as his legate. At a play an actor was cheered when he emphasised the line ‘You are great through our misery’, which was evidently meant to be taken as an attack on Pompey the Great. According to Cicero:
When Caesar came in the cheering died away; but then young Curio followed him and there was applause of the kind Pompey used to get in the days when the Republic was still secure. Caesar was very irritated. They say that a letter flew to Pompey at Capua. They are upset with the equites who rose and cheered Curio - they [the triumvirate] are now enemies of everyone.36
Bibulus’ vitriolic and often filthy edicts were read with glee by many citizens, and Cicero spoke of the crowd that was usually clustered around them in the Forum. Their enjoyment need not have been a sign of particular sympathy for the housebound consul - throughout the ages political satire has often amused even those who disagreed with it. The Romans had a robust sense of humour and enjoyed such crude invective. Caesar was the target for much of his colleague’s insults, but seems not to have been bothered by it. Pompey never coped well with criticism and on 25 July was moved to make a speech in the Forum defending himself against these slurs. Cicero found the sight pathetic, for he continued to hope for a renewal of friendship with the man he had praised so often, but noted that all Pompey achieved was to attract even more attention to Bibulus’ pamphlets. Pompey was by this time continually assuring Cicero that he need have no fears of Clodius. The latter had evidently dropped his plans to attack Caesar’s laws - if indeed he had ever seriously considered this and was not aiming at the tribunate all along. By the autumn Cicero felt, or perhaps wanted to believe, that Pompey regretted the disturbances of earlier in the year and his alienation from the nobles in the Senate.37
In late summer or early autumn a strange episode occurred, which is still not fully understood. Vettius, the man who in 62 BC had accused Caesar of complicity in Catiline’s conspiracy and been beaten and imprisoned for his pains (see p.145), was brought before the Senate and declared that he knew of another ‘plot’. He had become friendly with Curio and eventually told him that he planned to murder Pompey - or both Pompey and Caesar in another version. Curio told his father, who promptly told Pompey, and the Senate was summoned and called Vettius in for questioning. Now he accused Bibulus of inciting Curio to murder Pompey, and perhaps Caesar as well. He named several other conspirators, among them Servilia’s son Brutus, now in his mid twenties. He, and at least one of the other men named, could perhaps be seen to possess a motive, since Pompey had executed their fathers during the civil war. One of Bibulus’ servants was supposed to have supplied the dagger that the young conspirators were to use. At the time Cicero believed that Caesar was behind Vettius, and that he had wanted to neutralise Curio for criticising the triumvirs. Yet it seems extremely unlikely that he would have wanted his lover’s son implicated. Curio defended himself well against the attack, while Pompey had already thanked Bibulus some months before for warning him against assassins. Vettius’ story was treated with great suspicion and he was placed into custody, for having by his own admission been discovered with a concealed dagger in the Forum. On the following day Caesar and Vatinius called him to the Rostra at a public meeting. This time Vettius made no mention of Brutus. Cicero, doubtless hinting at Caesar’s relationship with Servilia, noted slyly that ‘it was obvious a night, and a night-time plea had intervened’.38 Instead he claimed that Lucullus and a number of other men were involved, one of them Cicero’s own son-in-law. No one was inclined to believe him and he was to be put on trial, but was found dead in his cell before this could begin.
How Vettius died is unclear. Plutarch says that it was called suicide, but that marks of strangulation were visible on his neck. Suetonius, who claimed that Caesar was behind the whole affair, says that he had Vettius poisoned A few years later Cicero shifted the blame for this episode onto Vatinius rather than Caesar. More recently, scholars have varied in their opinions as to who was really behind it. Some have blamed Caesar, but others have speculated about Clodius, and even Pompey himself. On the one hand, the business may have helped to make Pompey nervous, for he had always had a morbid fear of assassination, and confirm him in his loyalty to the triumvirate in spite of the barrage of abuse from Bibulus and his unaccustomed popularity. Yet the naming of Brutus makes it very unlikely that Caesar inspired the whole thing. More probably he simply sought to profit from the affair once it had been revealed. The omission of Brutus’ name on the second day indicates that the informer had come under pressure. Vettius may have been acting on his own account, craving a return to the limelight or hoping to restore his fortunes with the reward an informer might win. Caesar obviously did try to use him, but quickly realised that there was little to be gained and that Vettius could not be relied upon. It is plausible enough that he gave the orders to kill the prisoner, who was after all a man who had attacked him in the past, but this cannot be proven.39
Bibulus did manage to delay the consular elections from July to October. However, in spite of the fact that he had the right to preside over these, he remained at home and the task was left to Caesar. The consuls elected for 58 BC were Caesar’s new father-in-law Calpurnius Piso and Gabinius, both of them favourable to the triumvirs. How things went in the next months would be critical for Caesar’s fortunes, for the longer that his legislation was respected then the harder it would be for anyone to raise serious questions over its validity. At the end of his year as consul, Caesar lingered for some months in or near Rome to see how events were likely to take shape. Clodius had been elected to the tribunate and, since his own transferral to plebian status was bound up with the legality of Caesar’s actions as consul, was now clearly going to devote much effort to confirming their validity. Dio says that he forbade Bibulus from delivering a speech when he finally emerged on the last day of his consulship - just as Metellus Nepos had stopped Cicero at the end of 63 BC. Two of the new praetors attacked Caesar, and he answered their criticisms in a meeting of the Senate. Three speeches he delivered in these debates were published to present a lasting defence of his actions in 59 BC. Sadly these have not survived. However, after three days the House had come to no decision. An attempt by one of the new tribunes to prosecute him was blocked by the majority of the college. It was not until March 58 BC that Caesar finally left for Gaul, where a situation had arisen that required his immediate attention.40
Caesar had achieved a great deal during his consulship. An extensive programme of land resettlement was now under way and would continue throughout the decade. Pompey had secured his Eastern Settlement and Crassus had gained relief for the tax farmers. Caesar, through allying himself with the other two, had been able to do all this in the face of opposition that his initially conciliatory actions had not been able to win over. It had been a turbulent year, with tensions running high on a number of occasions. Cicero wrote in his letters of his fears of tyranny and impending civil war. Neither had happened, but many of the conventions and precedents that regulated public life had come under great strain and been further eroded. Bibulus’ and Cato’s determination to block Caesar at all costs had done as much damage as his own determination to push on at all costs. Yet for the moment Caesar had won, and had gained the chance to win military glory on a grand scale. Now he had a long and important provincial command it was a question of winning victories for the Republic. If his military successes were grand enough - and Caesar was determined that they would be - then surely even his bitterest opponents would have to accept him as a great, perhaps the greatest, servant of the Republic, and the more dubious acts of his consulship could be forgotten or pardoned. The passage of the Lex Vatinia giving him Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum, and the subsequent addition to his province of Transalpine Gaul, had delighted Caesar. Elated by this success, he declared in the Senate that, since ‘he had gained his greatest desire to the great grief of his enemies, he would now mount on their heads’. Whether this was an intentional double entendre or not, one senator retorted that that would be a hard thing for a woman to do, referring to the old story of Caesar and Nicomedes, which Bibulus’ edicts had revived. Caesar quipped cheerfully back that it should not be difficult, since ‘Semiramis . . . had been queen of Syria and the Amazons in days of old had held sway over a great part of Asia.’ It seems fitting to end the account of this year with a crude joke, as well as an episode that shows Caesar’s confidence and self- satisfaction.41