Part IV

When Romans Ruled the World

In this part . . .

By the late second century BC, Rome was the most successful state in the ancient world. She had more power and prestige than anyone else. Yet, in the next hundred years, the Roman Republic tore itself to pieces. All the wealth and power Rome had went to the heads of several very ambitious men. Civil war nearly destroyed the greatest phenomenon of the ancient world.

It could have been terminal but for the genius of one man: Augustus Caesar. Augustus reinvented the Republic by turning it into a hereditary monarchy. His genius was to pretend that he had restored the Republic. How he did that, and as a result made the Roman Empire more powerful than ever before, is what you’ll read about in this part. At its climax Roman power spread from the hills of Scotland right the way across Europe and the Mediterranean to the remote southern deserts of Egypt.

Chapter 14

Reform and Civil War

In This Chapter

● The bitterness of Rome’s class conflicts

● The reformers and the new men

● How military dictators seized power

● Why the First Triumvirate came into being

● How the Republic dissolved into civil war

Whenever a country grows rich and powerful, it’s usually the case that the rich get richer and all too often the poor get poorer. As Rome’s power and wealth grew during the second century BC, all sorts of domestic political issues started to come to the front. Because the Romans hadn’t planned to end up with a growing Empire, no-one had really given any time to wondering whether the now increasingly ancient institutions of the Republic were really up to coping with the new order.

Crisis in Rome

There was a sea change in Roman politics in the second century BC. The Roman Republican system was originally built around magistracies, like the consulship (see Chapter 3). The idea was that the system would roll on endlessly, year after year, with no one man becoming pre-eminent. But corruption and self-interest led to demands for reform, led by the Gracchi brothers (read about them in the section ‘Enter the Gracchi’, later in this chapter). Their campaigns, and the hostility from their enemies, showed how bitterly personal Roman politics was becoming. Meanwhile, the emergence of powerful generals, like Marius, who used their armies to increase their political power at Rome showed a different side to personality-based politics and led to the civil wars of the first century BC. These wars between generals with their rival armies brought the end of the Republic.

The Conflict of the Orders, the class war between patricians and plebeians, was beginning to look like a big waste of time (Chapter 10 explains how the Conflict of the Orders started). The aristocracy, which eventually included the most successful plebeian families, had ended up controlling the whole political system and held all the high offices, leaving all the other plebeians with no real power at all. This caused terrible tensions, as the plebeians and their representatives, like the Gracchi brothers, demanded reform from an aristocracy determined to do anything to stop them.

Power to the people! - Not

Unrest arose over who was going to benefit from Rome’s new wealth and power. As Rome’s territories increased, new tribes had been added with new voters. Since 241 BC, the Roman voting population had been divided into 35 tribes, the final total (for more on tribes, see Chapter 2). Citizens still had to do their voting through the Comitia Centuriata, the assembly of male citizens eligible for military service, but it just became impossible for many of the new Roman citizens to get to Rome to vote. They simply lived too far away. Only those citizens in and around Rome were able to use their vote.

Buying Votes

In addition, Roman politics were getting too complicated for most Romans. It was the politically ambitious who were able to use the system to gain power. Roman society was based round rich, powerful individuals known as patrons, who surrounded themselves with hangers-on, their own freed slaves (‘freedmen’), business associates, and so on, called their clients. Patrons looked after their clients in return for loyalty. This made it easy for the nobility to persuade their clients to vote for them, and buying votes became routine. Nobles simply paid clients cash for votes or, more subtly, put on free public entertainments. Case in point: A whole series of new public games were invented during the Second Punic War (see Chapter 8 for the gaming calendar).

The Roman mob was steadily getting bigger because of the influx of farm workers and smallholders to Rome. Rome’s wars put these men out of work and also captured thousands of slaves who did the work instead, situations explained in more detail in the later sections ‘A soldier’s tale’ and ‘Slaves to circumstance’). Keeping this growing mob happy became more and more important to the aristocrats because of the risk of riots and disorder in Rome if the mob became hostile.

Aristocrats on top

The upshot was that all the power ordinary people had won in the Conflict of the Orders was being gradually worn down by the aristocracy. The power of the Comitia Centuriata was also weakened. Although most senators came from plebeian families, they had become known as nobiles (‘nobles’). In theory, any plebeian could enter the Senate and hold office, but in practice, the new nobiles shut the door on aspiring plebeian senators.

Rome was now ruled by old and new aristocrats. No-one else could get a look in. By the year 134 BC, 25 families had dominated the consulship over the last 75 years. Although no individual could hold permanent political power, it was starting to look as if the family was becoming more powerful than the individual. Aristocratic families tried to hold on to their interests by forging political ties through marriage, and did anything they could to maximise their support and political strength. At the same time, they looked for any sign that a political enemy had broken the law and then set about having those enemies prosecuted.

The rise of the equestrians

The structure of Roman society was changing. Wealth was replacing birth. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, countries like the USA and Britain saw the rise of families that had grown wealthy from trade, rather than from inheriting vast landed estates like the aristocratic families. These newly rich families had a dramatic effect on society, and that’s pretty much what was happening in Rome.

The main beneficiaries were the equestrians (equites), originally Roman citizens wealthy enough to field a horse in battle. By the late Republic, this was long in the past, and the equestrians had evolved into a sort of second-grade aristocracy below the senators. There were now really two types: the ‘financier equestrians’ in Rome who had grown rich from trade and business, and the equestrians who belonged to local municipal aristocracies in Italian cities with Roman citizen status (refer to Chapter 2 for where equestrians fitted into Roman society and Chapter 3 for the sorts of jobs they could do).

The trouble with allies

Other tensions were simmering. Rome’s allies wanted more of the rights that Roman citizens enjoyed, such as voting and the chance to take part in the colonisation of conquered territory. After all, the allies had put a lot into winning Rome’s wars for her, providing around half the troops Rome had used to fight the war in Spain and the Third Punic War. Amazingly, in 177 BC, the allies were even told they were only entitled to war booty at half the rate a Roman citizen enjoyed. Insulting treatment by Romans made the allies even crosser. In 173 BC, the city of Cales banned its own townsfolk from using the baths when a Roman magistrate was staying there.

A soldier's tale

Fewer and fewer people, especially Romans, wanted to do Rome’s fighting. Even the senators protested and led the way by organising draft-dodging for their sons who ended up with office jobs on a general’s staff instead of fighting. Military leadership tended to be poor. Even though hardened professionals like Scipio Africanus and his adoptive grandson Scipio Aemilianus had triumphed in the Second and Third Punic Wars respectively, the Romans continued to rely on the system of sending out a new consul each year as general. This was what had contributed to the disasters of Trasimene and Cannae in the Second Punic War because there was no system of choosing men on ability or experience.

Traditionally, Rome had relied on part-time soldiers. Raised from the Roman citizenry based on a minimum property qualification, counted in the census, these men did not come from a background of solid military training and discipline. They were raised on an as-need basis, and at this time, no man could be made to serve for more than 16 years. Normally what happened is that the army was disbanded at the end of a campaign, so there was no means of creating an experienced army and keeping it together. It wasn’t until the days of the late Republic and the Empire that the Romans developed a professional army (explained in Chapter 5).

This system of part-time soldiers worked well in the past, but it wasn’t good for long-term campaigning abroad because as many as 100,000 men could be involved each year. Most of Rome’s soldiers worked on farms. Taking them away from their land and families for years on end could mean ruin, not just for a man and his household, but also serious consequences for Roman society and the Roman economy, so it’s no surprise that some men deserted.

In an effort to increase the number of available soldiers, the minimum property qualification had to be drastically lowered. But in practice, this seems to have had little effect on improving things. Nothing at all was done to build up a highly-trained, experienced, and fully-prepared army. Instead, Rome continued to call up inexperienced new troops when needed and to rely on her allies to bolster the numbers and also on her massive resources to keep pounding away until her enemies were worn down. But as Rome’s power and influence grew, it became obvious this couldn’t go on. It wasn’t till Gaius Marius (discussed in the section ‘Marius the New Man - and More Unrest’) came on the scene that a professional Roman army was organised, providing the foundation of the army of the Empire, but that brought its own dangers, as you’ll see.

Slaves to circumstance

Slaves were the lowest of the low in Roman society, and Rome’s wars had generated thousands more of them. These slaves worked on aristocratic estates and in the city.

On the plus side, using slaves on farms helped make good the shortage of peasants who were away fighting. On the minus side, this meant that peasants came home from the wars to find they often couldn’t get work on the land. This was especially true for those peasants who fell into debt while away. In addition, land speculation, which made for larger and more efficient estates, meant more slaves were needed, forcing even more free men off the land.

In Roman society, there’s a difference between a ‘free man’ and a ‘freedman’. Free man means someone like you and me. A freedman, on the other hand, is someone who was formerly a slave.

Slaves became essential to the Roman economy, but as their numbers grew, the fear of the Romans at the prospect of slave rebellions grew as well. At the same time, free men forced off the land to make way for these huge estates became more and more discontented.

Enter the Gracchi

The Gracchi (which is the plural of Gracchus) brothers, Tiberius and Gaius, came into the world with the perfect pedigree. Their mother Cornelia was the daughter of Scipio Africanus, hero of the Second Punic War (refer to Chapter 12). Their father, Titus Sempronius Gracchus, had been one of the more successful commanders in Spain (refer to Chapter 13). Tiberius Gracchus had fought with distinction in the Third Punic War (detailed in Chapter 13) and climbed the social ladder by marrying Claudia, daughter of Appius Claudius Pulcher, who had been Senator in 143 BC. Strange to say, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus set out to reform the very system that had made themselves and their families powerful.

Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus tried to pass laws that would increase the Roman citizen base in Italy and make land distribution fairer, but both found themselves fighting the self-interest of the Senate and the aristocracy, who used underhand methods to undermine them. Even though the Gracchi brothers’ reforms failed, they had made a name for themselves, and their violent deaths turned them into popular martyrs.

Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus

No-one knows what turned Tiberius Gracchus, a man born to privilege and wealth, into a social reformer. But while in Spain, he’d seen that Roman soldiers weren’t as tough as they used to be and also noticed how free peasant farmers and farm-workers were being replaced by slaves. Tiberius had also been disturbed by how a massive slave revolt had exploded in Sicily in 135 BC, provoked by extremely harsh treatment and started by slaves working on a farm. Before long, more than 70,000 slaves had risen, murdering their masters and leading to minor copycat slave rebellions in Italy, too. It took a Roman army till 132 BC to crush the Sicilian slave revolt.

Tiberius Gracchus probably concluded that the Italian farming stock, which provided the backbone of the army, needed support with improved rights and privileges so that Rome would have a better and bigger source of soldiers for its wars, and not have to depend for agriculture on slavery, with all its dangers of rebellion. He also realised that a system where the aristocracy controlled so much of the wealth was bound to lead to civil unrest if something wasn’t done (perhaps he’d looked into the future and seen the French Revolution!).

Proposing land reform

In 133 BC, Tiberius Gracchus was elected Tribune of the Plebs (see Chapter 3 for this important post). As tribune, he tried to bring in a law to distribute public land acquired since the Second Punic War more fairly to encourage the farming of land by free men rather than slaves (this wasn’t an entirely new idea; his father-in-law Appius Claudius Pulcher had already suggested this). Tiberius Gracchus proposed that big landowners should be compensated and the land divided up into smaller parcels.

Because this was a slap in the face to all those senators who’d been profiteering from land over the past few decades, it’s no great surprise to learn that the Senate refused to fund the commission to organise the reforms. But thanks to Attalus III of Pergamon in 133 BC and leaving his kingdom of Asia to the Romans (refer to Chapter 13), Tiberius brought in a bill to appropriate those funds instead and the commission set to work.

An ancient law of Rome held that no Roman could have more than 500 acres of land. No-one had taken any notice of the law for generations, but Tiberius Gracchus wanted the law restored in order that more people would benefit. Senators with vast estates were horrified.

A veto war, a new (and law, and growing concern

The nobles, unhappy with Tiberius Gracchus’s proposed change, were out to get him. They had the other Tribune, Marcus Octavius, on their side, and he vetoed Tiberius Gracchus’s bill. A veto war broke out. Tiberius Gracchus vetoed all the other legislation going through at the time. Both Tiberius Gracchus and Marcus Octavius were determined not to back down.

Tiberius Gracchus finally told Marcus Octavius to abandon his veto or be thrown out of office by the plebs. Marcus Octavius refused, so he was removed by a vote of the plebs. The new land law went through, but there were deep concerns that Tiberius Gracchus had broken the law by having Octavius thrown out.

In 132 BC, Tiberius Gracchus stood for Tribune again, to protect himself and his new laws. He hoped this would make his position safe because the job of tribune was treated as inviolable. This strategy was both tactless and borderline illegal (a law of 180 BC banned holding the same magistracy two years running, though it wasn’t clear to anyone if this included the tribuneship) - it was certainly bad practice, and Tiberius Gracchus lost a lot of support. A brawl broke out during the electoral meetings. A bunch of senators got out of control and, in their fury, clubbed Tiberius Gracchus and 300 of his senators to death. So much for the rule of law in Rome. The Senate went on to use the law to prosecute the rest of Tiberius Gracchus’s supporters, though in reality it was more of a witch hunt.

Continuing Tiberius Gracchus's reforms: Scipio Aemilianus and Marcus Fulvius Flaccus

As a senator, Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus denounced Tiberius Gracchus for his dubious actions. But Scipio Aemilianus, the great commander in the Third Punic War who’d destroyed Carthage and Numantia in Spain (refer to Chapter 13), knew how much Rome owed to its Latin and Italian soldiers. Scipio Aemilianus decided to promote the soldiers’ interests, which irritated the Roman mob. Mysteriously, Scipio Aemilianus was then found dead. It was probably a natural death, but the situation had become so heated that there was talk of foul play. And the prime suspect was Scipio Aemilianus’s wife Sempronia, sister of Tiberius Gracchus.

Marcus Fulvius Flaccus, Consul for 134 BC, took up Scipio Aemilianus’s proposal to give the allies who wished, Roman citizenship. This was totally unacceptable to the senators who only wanted voters in Rome whom they could buy and control. The proposed extension of citizenship was a missed opportunity and started a time bomb ticking that would go off in 90 BC.

Gaius Gracchus

Gaius Gracchus, who in 123 BC became Tribune of the Plebs, followed up his brother’s reforms and became one of the most important political figures in Rome’s history. He was a brilliant speaker. Unlike his brother Tiberius, Gaius Gracchus was hot-blooded, but he knew what he was doing, kept cool, and avoided acting on impulse. If Gaius Gracchus got worked up, a slave calmed him down by playing the flute.

Reforms on his Watch

As Tribune of the Plebs, Gaius Gracchus brought in social and economic reforms, including:

● Land reforms: Gaius Gracchus promoted his brother Tiberius’s land reforms and arranged for new roads to be built in order that produce could be transported and sold more easily.

● New colonies: Gaius Gracchus founded new colonies to stimulate industry in Italy.

● Agricultural reform: Gaius Gracchus reorganised Rome’s corn supply to prevent fluctuations in availability by arranging for storage, setting the amount for each person, and regulating prices.

● Legal reform: Gaius Gracchus decreed that Roman citizens could not be executed before the Roman people without a trial.

Gaius Gracchus also challenged abuses of the law, such as senators on juries who had acquitted fellow senators charged with extortion while serving as provincial governors. Gaius Gracchus’s new law passed control of such juries to the equestrians, which everyone interpreted as an insult to the Senate. Senators would no longer be able to control and exploit provincial governorships. Gaius Gracchus also promoted the interests of the equestrians by making the tax collectors among them responsible for collecting revenue from the newly acquired province of Asia. By offering the equestrians so much power, Gaius Gracchus also bought their support.

Downfall of Gaius Gracchus

In 122 BC, Gaius Gracchus was re-elected tribune but with none of the trouble his brother Tiberius experienced. Wisely, Gaius Gracchus hadn’t actually stood for re-election, but the people voted him in anyway. Gaius Gracchus proposed that the first overseas Roman colony be founded near the site of old Carthage. He also reintroduced the idea that the Latin allies be made full Roman citizens and the rest given Latin status. But a rival tribune called Marcus Livius Drusus, with secret Senate backing, vetoed Gaius Gracchus’s ideas and offered an even more attractive package of reforms. They included 12 new settlements in Italy, open even to the poorest, and also total exemption for the Latins from execution or flogging by Roman military commanders.

Livius Drusus’s laws were passed, though nothing was ever done about any of them; their sole purpose had been to undermine Gaius Gracchus, whose popularity was on the wane anyway, partly because rumours were circulating that his new colony near Carthage was encroaching on the ‘cursed’ site of the old city destroyed at the end of the Third Punic War in 146 BC. In 121 BC, Gaius Gracchus tried to get in as tribune for a third term, but failed.

The Senate told one of the new tribunes, Marcus Minucius Rufus, to propose annulling the law intended to create the new colony in Africa. One of the reasons was that the Senate had an abiding fear that one day a colony of Rome would end up being more powerful than Rome. After all, the original Carthage started life as a colony of the city of Tyre in Phoenicia (roughly where Lebanon is now) and had ended up totally overshadowing its mother city.

Gaius Gracchus’s opponents in the Senate had a leader in the form of Lucius Opimius, a man who hated everything Gaius Gracchus stood for, and they made sure he was elected Consul. Lucius Opimius and his associates immediately started revoking Gaius Gracchus’s laws. So Gaius Gracchus got his friends together to try and stop Opimius blocking his new colony by turning up at the Capitol to protest in force, but a fight broke out between the rival bands of supporters and one of Gaius Gracchus’s men killed one of Opimius’s servants. That gave Opimius the chance to declare Gaius Gracchus an enemy of the state, offering a reward for his capture and persuading the Senate to pass a resolution called Senatus Consultum Ultimum (‘The most extreme Senatorial decree’).

The Senatus Consultum Ultimum decreed that, when a situation was desperate, the Senate had to support magistrates bringing an action against an enemy of the state. That meant consuls could do away with someone like Gaius Gracchus and simply argue they were defending the state, and, of course, the consuls automatically had the support of the Senate.

121 BC: A vintage year

Funnily enough, 121 BC was also remembered for its excellent wines as well as the end of Gaius Gracchus .The summer of 121 BC was especially hot and sunny, producing a celebrated harvest of grapes. Two centuries later men were still drinking wine made that year and singing its praises.

In the riots that followed, hundreds of Gaius Gracchus’s supporters were killed. Gaius Gracchus himself ordered his slave Philocrates to kill him, which he did, though another story has both men being caught and killed by rioters. Thousands more of Gaius Gracchus’s supporters were later executed.

The aftermath of the Gracchi

With Gaius Gracchus out of the way, the Senate could do more or less as it wanted. The Senate was able to call on its new Senatus Consultum Ultimum resolution whenever it needed. Wisely, the Senate allowed most of the Gracchi brothers’ reforms to go ahead, realising that any opposition would incur the fury of the people.

What the Gracchi brothers left to the world was the fact that the days when the people could reform Rome through their tribunes were over. Politicians now divided into two groups. The two groups weren’t political parties as we would understand them; they were more simply ways of thinking:

● Optimates (‘the Best Men'): These were political leaders who pursued their ambitions through the Senate and claimed moral and social superiority based on birth.

● Populares (‘the People's Men'): These were political leaders who tried to work through the people and tribunes and claimed to defend the liberty of the people from the actions of the Optimates.

The identities of the Optimates and the Populares were easily blurred. For example, a noble starting out on his political career could serve as tribune of the plebs and use Populares’ techniques like promising land and voting reforms. In the long run, this made it possible for the nobles, including emperors, to keep control.

Marius the New Man - and More Unrest

Gaius Marius (157-86 BC) had fought at Numantia in Spain (refer to Chapter 13 for more on Numantia). With the support of the Metelli family, one of the top senatorial families in Rome, Gaius Marius came to Rome to try his hand in politics as a novus homo (‘new man’). A novus homo was a person who was able to get power, not by their wealth or birth, but through ability. As a ‘new man’, Gaius Marius was to become the most important military leader at the end of the second century BC.

Marius rose to the top purely because of his own talents. Marius came from a town called Arpinum, south-east of Rome, as did another brilliant new man, the orator Cicero, born in 106 BC. Both men eventually became consuls and made a permanent mark on Rome’s history. Although they both came from affluent backgrounds, they couldn’t rely on the network of support members of old aristocratic families and had to try much harder to get on. Such ambitious and committed self-made men were the shape of things to come. (Head to the section ‘The Gang of Three: The First Triumvirate’, later in this chapter, for details on Cicero’s objections to the triumvirate system.)

Fighting the Jugurthine War

Masinissa’s Numidia came back to haunt Rome. It was Masinissa’s skilful manipulation of Rome’s hysterical fear of Carthage that had led to the Third Punic War (see Chapter 13). By 118 BC, Masinissa was long dead and was so his son Micipsa, who had left Numidia to his two biological sons and an adoptive third son called Jugurtha. Jugurtha killed one of the two other brothers and defied all Roman attempts to impose a settlement between himself and the surviving brother.

So in 111 BC, Rome started the Jugurthine War. It didn’t go well, which was bad news for the nobles, especially in the eyes of the Roman mob - because some senators had also been accused of corruption and accepting bribes. In 109 BC, Quintus Caecilius Metellus, a member of the vastly powerful Caecilii Metelli family whose members held many consulships and military commands, took command in the Jugurthine War. He improved discipline, but the Roman mob wasn’t impressed by the slow progress of the fighting.

Gaius Marius, who was in Africa with Quintus Caecilius Metellus, seized his chance. He raced back to Rome, claiming that Metellus was dragging out the Jugurthine War for the sake of his own glory.

Marius, taking advantage of frustration in Rome at the way the Jugurthine War had not been brought to an end, severely criticised Caecilius Metellus.

By presenting himself as an appropriate alternative, Marius managed to get himself elected as Consul in 107 BC, thus qualifying him to be made Commander in Africa, instead of Caecilius Metellus.

To improve the army, Marius brought in volunteers, rather than unwilling conscripts. He trained the new troops and led a highly successful series of campaigns against Jugurtha, bringing Jugurtha to Rome in 104 BC for execution. Marius became extremely popular in Rome - not surprisingly - and his military success was to have important consequences for Rome’s politics.

Marius's mules

Marius helped start the process of creating the first professional standing army in Rome's history. In 107 BC, he started hiring, training, and equipping volunteers from amongst Romans who were too poor to have the normal property qualifications for military service. It's possible this had happened before, but Marius turned it into a major break with the past. Crucially, his troops were loyal to Marius, their leader, rather than to Rome. Soldiers were now disciplined, mobile, and self-sufficient. Marius improved the organisation of the army by introducing centurions (see Chapter 5). Having professional soldiers meant keeping them busy when there was no fighting, rather than sending them home. Marius used soldiers to build roads and bridges. The soldiers became known as 'Marius's mules'. The professional army was to be the backbone of the future Roman Empire.

The 'Northmen' advance

As soon as Marius returned to Rome, he was promptly appointed to train up and lead another army to fend off a tribal invasion from the north. The Cimbri and Teutones tribes, known collectively as the ‘Northmen’, terrified the average Roman. As a result of this fear, Marius was illegally made Consul five times between 104-100 BC (there was supposed to be a ten-year gap between being consul twice), because it was generally felt that having him in charge was more important than worrying about the law. Marius ended up being the first man to be consul seven times. In 102 and 101 BC, he destroyed the Northmen threat and made himself even more popular.

Suppressing a slave revolt in Sicily

Marius then suppressed a slave revolt in Sicily. Many of the slaves there had been free men, captured by pirates and sold into Roman slavery. In 104 BC, the Senate ordered that the kidnapped men be freed, but slave owners were determined not to lose their expensively purchased labour. The owners, led by the governor of Sicily, prevented the Senate’s order being enforced, so in 103 BC, the kidnapped men seized a chance to escape and start a rebellion, encouraging other slaves to join them. It wasn’t until one of Marius’s armies arrived in 101 BC that the revolt was crushed.

Marius's downfall

Despite his many successes, Marius totally failed to use his position as Consul to reform the Roman state. More concerned with the welfare of his soldiers, he left all the moves for land reform to a tribune named Lucius Appuleius Saturninus. The two men fixed things so that Caecilius Metellus was the only senator to oppose the reforms and forced him into exile.

Saturninus had been placed in charge of Rome’s grain supply in 105 BC. This was a good job for anyone with ambition because doing well meant more votes. But Saturninus was pushed out when the grain price went up thanks to a shortage caused by a slave rebellion in Sicily; instead the job was given to someone with more experience. Saturninus took this as a personal insult and was out to get the nobility from then on. He had himself elected as tribune in 103 BC and used the position to crank up demands for reform.

To begin with, Saturninus was the perfect friend for Marius. Saturninus attracted popular support by reintroducing low-price grain handouts and arranged for land grants for Marius’s veteran soldiers. Saturninus used thugs from the Roman mob to attack anyone who criticised him and made sure of his own re-election as tribune by having a rival murdered.

Unfortunately for Marius, Saturninus’s plans for Marius’s veterans, and the Latin and Italian allies who had also fought for Marius, turned the Roman mob against Saturninus. There was an all-out riot in the Forum of Rome between Saturninus’s supporters and the Roman mob. Saturninus won, but he organised the murder of another political rival called Memmius.

Marius decided enough was enough. The Senate demanded Marius use his powers as Consul to protect the state against Saturninus. Saturninus was trapped on the Capitoline Hill, but a crowd burst in and killed him. Marius was in a no-win situation. He had lost support in the Saturninus Populares camp, but because also Marius wouldn’t let Caecilius Metellus come back from exile, Marius lost any standing with the Optimates.

Marius and the eagle

Marius came up with the idea to get rid of the different standards the legions carried into battle. The emblems represented a variety of real and mythical beasts like wild boars, wolves, and the Minotaur. But Marius wanted the eagle to be the great symbol of Rome's power. He had his way, and from 104 BC each legion carried a standard with a silver eagle into battle. The idea of eagles-only didn't last - the legions later went back to their own symbols as well as that of the eagle.

The Senate overturned all of Saturninus’s legislation that would also have provided for Marius’s veterans. The Senate’s action created a divide between the soldiers and the Senate. From now on, soldiers looked to their generals and not to the Roman state for their future security.

Metellus was allowed back from exile anyway, and Marius had to leave for Asia. Marius was a military genius and a great commander, but he was no politician. But he was far from finished, even though he’d managed to annoy just about everyone.

Fighting Your Friends: The Social War (90-88 BC)

The word for an ally in Latin is socius (allies: socii); the name given to the conflict that now broke out: the Social War. The conflict threatened Rome’s very existence - and was the worst crisis that Rome had had to deal with since Hannibal’s exploits more than a century before.

Wrong-footing the allies

When the Senate overturned Saturninus’s law reforms (refer to the preceding section, ‘Marius’s downfall’), Rome’s Italian allies were bitterly disappointed. The allies had made a great contribution in recent wars, and they deeply resented being excluded from becoming full Roman citizens. Italians who’d gathered in Rome to support Saturninus now looked like serious trouble. Italian resentment was growing, and before long it was bound to explode.

Marcus Livius Drusus, Tribune of the Plebs in 91 BC, started the reform ball rolling again. He had the backing of the Senate, who hoped he would clamp down on the political power of the equestrians. The plan included the following:

● Drusus would restore control of the courts to the Senate and, in return, 300 top equestrians would be made senators.

● In his biggest move, Drusus’s was to give the Italian allies full Roman voting rights. He did this because he realised giving the allies Roman citizenship was inevitable, and Drusus wanted to make sure it was done on the Senate’s terms.

The Senate, equestrians, and the general Roman mob joined forces in total opposition to Drusus’s reform. Even Drusus was alarmed when the cities of the allies started organising ‘committees of action’, and even more so by a plan to assassinate the Consul Lucius Marcius Philippus, one of Drusus’s chief opponents. Drusus warned Philippus, but his good faith gesture did him (Drusus) no good. Philippus had all Drusus’s previous reforms thrown out and had Drusus murdered.

The allies involved in the Social War that followed were mainly from the mountainous areas and were only a small proportion of Rome’s allies - but they were good fighters. These allies organised a confederation. Considering that the allies had been trained and disciplined in warfare the Roman way, they were a deadly prospect.

Extending the franchise and ending the war

The Social War went badly for the Romans to begin with, as they’d been caught off their guard. Despite fielding a massive army, by the end of 90 BC, the Romans decided they had to stop the rebellion spreading. Therefore, they gave the full franchise - that is, Roman citizenship - to loyal allies and to those allies who hadn’t joined in fighting. This move had the desired effect. (One of the Roman commanders, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, also did a great deal to bring the war to an end in 88 BC by fighting with uncompromising ruthlessness. You can read about Sulla in the following section ‘Think the unthinkable: A Roman captures Rome - Sulla’.) In the end, the war was said to have cost Italians more than 300,000 young men.

The upshot of the Social War is that Rome survived, but it was ironic that it had taken the conflict to bring about the franchise extension that had been such a source of unpleasantness and violence in Rome for decades. If what Gaius Gracchus and Drusus had asked for originally had been granted, war could have been avoided.

The outcome of the Social War was that by giving the allies the franchise, Rome in the long run became stronger. But the dogs of war had been let loose. The very same Roman armies created to fight and bring peace would soon tear the Republic apart.

Think the Unthinkable: A Roman Captures Rome - Sulla (88 BC)

Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138-78 BC) had a nickname: Felix (‘Lucky’), and with good reason. But he also went down in history as one of Rome’s greatest villains (see Chapter 24). Because he had fought so well in the Social War, Sulla was in the perfect position to benefit from Marius’s lack of political skills.

Taking Rome and settling Mithridates

Mithridates VI, King of Pontus, without difficulty, had occupied a large part of Asia Minor and Greece, the locals having decided that Mithridates’s lordship was preferable to Rome’s greed and bullying. Sulla was put in command of the army to fight Mithridates, but Marius wanted the job. The Tribune Sulpicius had the command transferred to Marius, with the idea that he, Sulpicius, could use Marius’s support for his reforms. Sulla gave in, but finding that he still had the loyalty of the troops, Sulla decided to gamble everything and marched on Rome.

In 88 BC, Sulla marched on Rome and seized the city - an unbelievably dramatic and illegal act for which he was forever remembered as a criminal. Even his own officers deserted in disgust. Sulla had Sulpicius killed, and Marius then fled Rome and hid out with his veterans. Sulla forced through new laws, using his army’s muscle to put down opposition. The die was cast for the future: Ambitious men and their armies would control Roman politics for the decades to come.

Sulla left Rome, ignoring a summons to stand trial, and fought Mithridates. In 87 BC, the Consul Lucius Cornelius Cinna tried to start reversing Sulla’s legislation. He was expelled from Rome by his colleague, the Consul Gnaeus Octavius, who practically set himself up as sole ruler. So Cinna collected an army of legionaries and Italian allies, and Marius, who came back to Italy to join in. They marched on Rome - bad news for Sulla who was obviously desperate to get back. Sulla forced Mithridates to come to terms with Rome, ignoring the fact that Mithridates had murdered thousands of Romans while conquering Asia. Mithridates became a Roman ally in return for giving up all his conquests in Asia and Greece.

Marius and Cinna fight back

Marius and Cinna marched on Rome where they carried on a reign of terror and murdered many of the aristocrats, including Sulla’s supporters.

During this campaign in 86 BC, Marius died (of natural causes, believe it or not - exhausted, he had a breakdown, started drinking heavily, and got pleurisy). Cinna was left the ruler of Rome. Keen to restore order and end the violence, Cinna promptly gave Roman citizenship to the new Italian citizens in Rome’s 35 tribes and cancelled their debts. This made Cinna very popular, and he was re-elected to the consulship in 86 BC without opposition. Despite the reign of terror that lead up to his rule, Cinna managed to establish peace and stability for a few years, but Sulla was still a danger. Cinna prepared for war against Sulla, but Cinna was murdered by some of his own men in 84 BC.

I'll be back: Sulla comes home

Sulla had little trouble rounding up support from the aristocracy, thanks to Cinna and Marius’s campaign against them. Amongst the aristocrats who joined Sulla were two future big names:

● Marcus Licinius Crassus

● Gnaeus Pompeius (known to history as Pompey)

Sulla needed just one year of fighting to deal with the opposition to his return. Only a force of 70,000 Samnites (for Samnites, see Chapter 11) ended up standing in his way. Close to Rome, in 82 BC, Sulla’s army wiped out the Samnites and butchered and tortured the survivors. Pompey wiped out any support amongst forces in Sicily and Africa who supported Marius, and earned himself the title Magnus (‘the Great’), which was supposed to be one of Sulla’s jokes but the name stuck. By 80 BC, all resistance to Sulla ended.

Dictator of Rome

Sulla was elected Dictator of Rome in 81 BC. He organised the murder of his opponents by declaring them outlaws, putting a price on their heads, and displaying a list of their names. Funnily enough, the idea of the list was to save unnecessary worry for anyone not on it. Imagine what it did to those who were listed - all 500 of them!

Sulla’s main targets were the new breed of financier equestrians, whose wealth came from business and trade, because they’d supported Marius.

Sulla seized these equestrians’ money and gave it to his veterans or his friends. Sulla freed the condemned equestrians’ slaves and hired them as his bodyguards. He also seized land from cities that had supported Marius and gave it to his own soldiers. This last was a smart move on Sulla’s part: Sulla needed to provide for his soldiers in order to stop them turning to crime and being a threat to Sulla’s rule.

Despite his brutality, Sulla knew Rome needed the return of the rule of law and did the following:

● Increased the numbers of the Senate by promoting members of the equestrians in the Italian municipal aristocracy (not the same as the financier equestrians in Rome, whom he hated) to replace the men lost in the fighting. The Senate now numbered 600 and crucially the new members meant much better representation for Italy.

● Restored the Senate’s right to veto legislation passed by the Concilium Plebis Tributum (the Council of Plebs, see Chapter 3), wiping out most of the tribunes’ power at a stroke. That meant that men like Marius could no longer use tribunes to pass laws they had failed to get the Senate to introduce.

● Laid down that the career structure of magistracies held by senators would be strictly fixed by age to prevent overambitious young men reaching high office too early, but their numbers were increased to take into account Rome’s increasing number of provinces (magistrates like quaestors and praetors, see Chapter 3, would serve a year at Rome and then be sent out to a province).

● Gave the Senate the power to select magistrates for posts in provincial government and, at the same time, prohibited them from fighting wars outside the borders of their provinces to stop them trying to seize power and destabilising Rome.

● Increased the number of Roman provinces to ten (in Spain, northern Italy, Africa, Sardinia and Corsica, and Sicily). Naturally, this increased Rome’s wealth and call on resources.

● Left Italy’s civil and political privileges as they were and promised not to revoke any earlier grants of Roman citizenship to Italian cities, except in one or two cases. In practice, many Italian cities started voluntarily remodelling their constitutions on Rome’s anyway. It just showed how influential the Roman system was.

Retiring alive and dying peacefully

Sulla was dictator for three years, which was an incredible violation of the age-old principle of the Roman Republic: that no-one could hold permanent political power. In 79 BC, Sulla resigned, retired to the country and, living up to his name of ‘lucky’, died peacefully the following year, which was a remarkable achievement for him and the age he lived in.

Sulla's man Lucullus

Licinius Lucullus (c. 100-57 BC) was related to both Sulla and the powerful Metelli family. Lucullus had marched on Rome with Sulla and also fought with him in Asia against Mithridates VI, King of Pontus. In 74 BC, Lucullus got his own military command in the East because Mithridates had broken the 88 BC settlement with Sulla and started fighting again. Lucullus's army refused to fight, accusing Lucullus of dragging out the war to get rich. He was recalled and Pompey sent out in his place. Lucullus more or less retired to private life. Apart from obstructing Pompey's settlement of Asia in 62 BC (see Gnaeus Pompeius); Lucullus became notorious for his luxury lifestyle, extravagant gardens in Rome, and famously lavish banquets.

Despite his achievements, Sulla left Rome unsettled because:

● Although Sulla promoted Italian equestrians to the Senate, he only did that as a one-off. He failed to introduce a regular system of bringing in Italians, which would have invigorated the Senate and given it a broader appreciation of Rome’s place in Italy and the world.

● He missed the chance to bring in long-lasting reforms to the Republic, for example, creating permanent representation of Italian cities in the Senate or making it possible to vote in places all round Italy for Rome’s magistrates.

● He left many enemies such as Sertorius, who was leading a revolt in Spain (discussed in the later section ‘Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey)’).

● In the East, Mithridates VI had overturned his settlement with Sulla and gone back to war, which meant a new Roman army had to be sent out to force a new peace. But it took till 62 BC to achieve this.

● Sulla had dramatically shown how a single general could rise to power at the head of an army. They owed their livelihoods and their retirement grants to him and him alone, and were liable to follow other military leaders once he was gone. This was a terrible sign for the future, and it echoed down the decades to come. Any man with an eye on power could see how Sulla had done it and made sure he did the same.

Well, They Started Out As Mates: The Age of the Generals

Instead of the Roman Republic being allowed to recuperate after Sulla’s rule, it was plunged into more warfare. The traditional aristocracy carried on dominating all the senior positions in the Senate and the various magistracies, but spent most of its energies on its own internal quarrels and holding on to its privileges, rather than trying to carry on any reforms. What followed was the Age of the Generals, which brought the Republic to its final dizzying end.

The three generals who defined the shape of Roman history down to the 40s BC were Gnaeus Pompeius, Marcus Licinius Crassus, and Gaius Julius Caesar. They all led armies, jockeyed for power, worked together and against each other depending on the circumstances. And they all had violent deaths.

The time from Sulla down to Octavian (roughly the first 70 years of the first century BC) is sometimes called the Imperatorial Age from the Latin word imperator, meaning a general.

Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey) (106-48 BC)

Pompey was the son of a general called Pompeius Strabo. He fought with great success and bravery under his father, and he was immensely popular for his looks and manner, which did a lot to overcome the fact that he was born an equestrian. He used three legions of his father’s veterans to fight for Sulla against Marius.

Pompey earned his title Magnus (‘the Great’) during the campaign to clear Marius’s supporters out of Africa (see the earlier section ‘I’ll be back: Sulla comes home’). But Pompey’s rise to military and political power had also been achieved in other campaigns:

● The revolt in Spain: In Spain, the Marian Sertorius led a highly successful revolt that involved making a pact with Mithridates VI, King of Pontus; Sertorius followed this by stirring rebellions in southern Gaul; and he even planned an overland invasion of Italy, as Hannibal had done in 218 BC. In 77 BC, the Senate sent Pompey to Spain to finish Sertorius off. Sertorius had been waging a guerrilla war with about 2,600 men, and what was left of a Roman army that had fled Italy, led by Perpenna. Between them, Sertorius and Perpenna held off four Roman armies totalling about 140,000.

The war in Spain came to a rapid end in 73 BC when Sertorius was murdered by Perpenna. Pompey’s settlement of Spain was generous and fair-minded. He even destroyed Sertorius’s archives to prevent a pogrom (an organised persecution) of any of his associates in Rome. Because of this, Pompey’s personal standing and popularity increased.

● The slave war: In about 73 BC a massive slave revolt broke out in Capua and spread across Italy, lasting until 71 BC. The revolt was led by a runaway gladiator called Spartacus. Marcus Licinius Crassus had defeated the slaves, but Pompey raced back from Spain with his army to help hunt down survivors and claim all the credit. That stole Crassus’s thunder, much to Crassus’s fury, and had given Pompey an excuse to bring his army into Italy.

Spartacus and the slave revolt are immortalised in the famous movie made in 1960, starring Kirk Douglas as the hero. See Chapter 2 for more on the revolt, and Chapter 25 for more about Spartacus himself.

● Making an alliance with Crassus: Because of the bad blood between them during the slave war, Marcus Licinius Crassus and Pompey could have gone for each other’s throats, but they were smart enough to realise they would be much more powerful working together. In 70 BC, Crassus and Pompey were made joint consuls and promptly gave back to the tribunes all the powers they had before Sulla was in power. It was

a clever move. Crassus and Pompey depended on their armies for their power, but they knew the Senate hated this and would try to force them to give up their armies. Now the tribunes were restored to power, Crassus and Pompey could appeal to the tribunes for the necessary approval to keep their armies.

● Pompey and the pirates: In 67 BC, Pompey was given supreme command to get rid of the Cilician pirates in the eastern Mediterranean (Cilicia is where southern Turkey is now). Pompey did the job in three months, capturing 20,000 men and 90 ships, as well as huge quantities of treasure. Pompey’s victory made him very popular because it at once cut the price of grain, and grain ships no longer risked piracy.

The Cilician pirates also feature in the movie Spartacus (1960). The pirates help the rebellious slaves by providing transport for the slaves out of Italy. There isn’t a movie about Pompey and the pirates, but the movie Ben Hur (1957), set in the early days of Christianity, starring Charlton Heston as our hero, features a great sea battle between Roman warships manned by shackled slaves, pirate galleys, and shows how the ships tried to ram each other.

● Defeating Mithridates and conquering other lands: In 66 BC, Pompey was ordered to sort out Mithridates VI, King of Pontus. Pompey defeated Mithridates and followed that up by conquering Armenia, Syria, and Judaea. Pompey’s settlement in 62 BC was brilliant: He founded colonies, gave the pirates land so they didn’t need to be pirates, and set up a loyal client king in Judaea.

In 62 BC, Pompey came home and disbanded his army, to everyone’s relief (and surprise). But in return, Pompey wanted land for his veterans and the Senate’s approval of his settlement in the East. Pompey was frustrated by the Senate. In order to get what he wanted, Pompey joined forces with two other ambitious politicians - Marcus Licinius Crassus and Julius Caesar - in an alliance known to history as the First Triumvirate.

Pompey's victories

The victorious Pompey was a legend in his own lifetime and ever afterwards. Pompey had risen to the top through his own talents; he was merely an equestrian when his career started. Pliny the Elder (see Chapter 23) thought Pompey was quite equal to Alexander the Great, but Pliny then went over the top by suggesting Pompey was nearly as successful as the immortal Hercules. After the war in Africa, Pompey was the first equestrian to ride in a triumphal chariot. The chariot was towed by elephants, a sight never seen before in Rome. To commemorate the defeat of the pirates and his Eastern conquests Pompey paraded a costly portrait of himself made in pearls. He was later blamed for making precious stones and pearls fashionable. At the same time Pompey introduced fluorspar (calcium fluoride), translucent ornamental vessels, to Rome, as well as handing out vast sums of money to the state, his commanders, and every one of his soldiers.

Marcus Licinius Crassus (c. 115 to 53 BC)

Marcus Licinius Crassus’s father had defended Rome unsuccessfully against Marius in 87 BC, and Crassus fled to Spain, later reaching Africa before returning to Italy where he joined Sulla in 83 BC. His reward was to make money out of Sulla’s proscriptions against his enemies, even adding an innocent man to the list just to profit from confiscating this man’s estate. Sulla never trusted him again after that, but Crassus could work a crowd and was popular with the Roman people.

After serving as praetor (see Chapter 3 for this magistracy), Crassus was made general of the army sent to defeat Spartacus and the slave revolt of 73-71 BC, in preference to sending out inexperienced consuls. He was victorious, but the way Pompey turned up at the last minute to take all the credit enraged him. Crassus’s career was a constant struggle against Pompey, though they served together in the First Triumvirate (discussed in the later section ‘The Gang of Three: The First Triumvirate’) because he was too powerful to be left out.

The most famous Roman of them all: Julius Caesar

Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) - (see also Chapter 23), is the most famous Roman who has ever lived. Caesar’s family claimed descent from Aeneas’s son Anchises, known also as Iulus. Aeneas’s mother was the goddess Venus; you can see what sort of pedigree Caesar was able to boast about. Caesar backed Marius’s military leaderships and Pompey’s restoration of the tribunes.

How Crassus got rich

Crassus was phenomenally wealthy, and it didn't all come from Sulla's proscriptions. One of the ways he got rich quick was by training up slaves to be builders and architects. When Crassus got news of a house on fire, he'd rush round and offer the owner a knock-down price.

The terrified owner usually sold up, as even a bad price was better than nothing. Crassus then had the fire put out and redeveloped the site for rent. The end result was that after a few years, Crassus owned a huge part of Rome.

Caesar was highly ambitious and extremely intelligent. He was also a brilliant leader and knew how to make himself popular. In 65 BC, Caesar became an aedile (the assistant to a tribune, refer to Chapter 3) and spent a huge amount of money (probably Crassus’s money) on public works and entertainments, such as wild-beast fights and stage plays. Caesar also reinstated the trophies commemorating Marius’s victories in the Jugurthine War and against the Northmen.

Caesar wasn’t averse to underhand tactics. In 63 BC, he bribed his way into becoming Pontifex Maximus (chief priest). In 62 BC, an attempt was made to implicate Caesar in a conspiracy against the state (the Catiline Conspiracy; see the sidebar ‘Marcus Tullius Cicero and the Catiline Conspiracy’ for details), but Cicero proved this was impossible. The accusations against Caesar did him no harm, and Caesar was made governor of Further Spain (nowadays Portugal) in 61 BC.

The Gang of Three: The First Triumvirate (60 BC)

Triumvirate comes from two Latin words: tres (‘three’) and vir (‘man’), and means ‘rule by three men’. By the time of the Second Triumvirate, the triumvirate had become a legal Roman institution. But the First Triumvirate had no legal backing; it was a private deal between three immensely powerful men - Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar - who believed they would be even more powerful if they joined together. However, not everyone was so keen on the idea of the triumvirate, and the most conspicuous was Cicero.

Cicero (106-43 BC), like his famous forbear Marius, was a novus homo (‘new man’). Unlike Marius, Cicero was a man of letters and brilliant orator (refer to Chapter 1 for details of what Cicero wrote). By the 60s BC, Cicero had a brilliant reputation following his success in the trial of Gaius Verres, accused of extortion in his time as governor of Sicily (Chapter 24). Cicero championed Pompey and also exposed the Catiline Conspiracy in 62 BC. Determined to remain politically independent, Cicero refused help from Caesar and fled Rome, returning several years later. Cicero’s greatest wish was that all the various political groups would work together in what he called the Concord of the Orders. Cicero thought the best way forward was for the senators and equestrians to work together. In the end, Cicero had no choice but to accept the union of the First Triumvirate.

Cicero and the Catiline Conspiracy

Lucius Sergius Catilinus was one of Sulla's sidekicks during Sulla's dictatorship. Catilinus stood for Consul in 63 BC, but was defeated by Cicero. The next year Catilinus stood on a ticket to defend anyone who was poor and discontented. Catilinus lost, and Crassus dumped him. Catilinus got together the disaffected and organised a conspiracy to take over the state, hiding out with some landless veterans. Cicero got hold of evidence implicating the conspirators, who were rounded up and executed. Catilinus fled from Rome and was defeated in battle by Cicero's co-consul, Gaius Antonius. Cicero had the remaining conspirators arrested and executed without trial, an arbitrary act that ruined Cicero's reputation. For more about Catilinus, see Chapter 24.

By 60 BC, Pompey, Caesar, and Crassus had each been frustrated in their ambitions, mainly by the Optimates. As usual in Roman politics, aristocratic internal feuds came into play:

● Pompey: The powerful Optimates Metelli family blocked Pompey’s request for land for his veterans. Pompey then had to look for support elsewhere.

The Senate’s rejection of Pompey’s request shows just how personal Roman power politics had become. The Metellis were getting back at Pompey for having divorced his wife Mucia Tertia, a relative of the Metelli.

● Crassus: Despite Crassus achieving great fame in crushing the slave revolt in 71 BC, Pompey’s victories in the East and late arrival to mop up the slaves had totally overshadowed him. Crassus’s ambition involved using his money, connections, and financing any up-and-coming young man. This meant he ‘owned’ lots of politicians, earning him enemies amongst the Optimates. Crassus also came up against the conspirator Catilinus (refer to the sidebar ‘Cicero and the Catiline Conspiracy’ for that story).

● Caesar: Caesar was governor of Further Spain in 61-60 BC, where he defeated various tribes and settled disputes between creditors and debtors. Flushed with success, he set off for Rome in hope of a triumph and being elected as consul. Anyone hoping for a triumph had to wait outside Rome, but by law, a candidate for the consulship had to be in Rome. So Caesar asked to be considered for the consulship in absentia. The Senate turned him down, annoyed by this attempt to bend the law, and said he could only stand for the consulship if he came to Rome in person. So Caesar then came back to Rome.

Caesar returned to Rome and formed the First Triumvirate with Crassus and Pompey. In 59 BC, Caesar was elected consul. In practice, Caesar was also now the leader of the First Triumvirate.

Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey bombarded the Senate with their demands and, after some resistance, got what they wanted. Thanks to Caesar, Pompey got both the land for his veterans and ratification of his settlement at the end of the war with Mithridates VI. Pompey married Caesar’s daughter Julia in 59 BC to bind their alliance. Caesar got the job of Proconsular Governor in Gaul together with an army, though the truth was, Caesar had awarded himself this powerful command. Crassus was sidelined for the moment and had to wait till 55 BC before he had a chance to gain himself a military reputation to rival Caesar and Pompey.

Building his power base: Caesar and the Gallic Wars

Caesar’s governorship of Cisalpine Gaul gave him the best of both worlds.

He was close enough to Rome to be able to remain at the centre of political developments, and he had a major provincial command with an army, which gave Caesar the prospect of conquest.

During a nine-year campaign known to history as the Gallic Wars, Caesar conquered Gaul. The war brought the huge area of Gaul into the Roman Empire, giving Rome an Atlantic and North Sea coastline. Caesar also led two expeditions to Britain (55 and 54 BC). With these exploits, Caesar gained a phenomenal level of personal prestige and box-office popularity. Reaching Britain at all was the stuff of legend, because Britain was popularly believed to be at the ends of the earth.

We know a great deal about Caesar’s campaign in Gaul because he wrote a detailed account, which survives in full. Inevitably biased, because it was written as propaganda, it is still an extraordinary account of a generally highly successful campaign. Discipline, logistics, squabbling amongst the enemy, and the brutal suppression of rebellions against Roman rule, all play their part. There is no doubt, though, that the campaign was utterly ruthless, bloody, and caused colossal suffering to the Gauls - just so Caesar could make himself into a Roman hero. The final engagement against the Gaulish chieftain Vercingetorix came with the legendary siege of Alesia (modern Alise).

Some like it hot

One day, in 62 BC, publius Clodius Pulcher tried to seduce Caesar's wife. Caesar was out because his wife Pompeia was taking part in a women-only celebration of Ceres, also known as the Good Goddess (Bona Dea). Clodius turned up disguised as a female lute player, but when a maid asked him who he was, his voice gave him away. Clodius hid, but was found and taken to court. Clodius declared he had been out of Rome on the day in question, but his former friend Cicero said that wasn't true. Other evidence emerged that Clodius had committed incest with his sisters. Clodius's accusers were bribed and Clodius got off scot-free. The outcome of the case was that Caesar divorced Pompeia, but Caesar refused to give evidence against Clodius. Caesar famously said he had divorced Pompeia not because of the allegation of adultery but because 'Caesar's wife should not only be free from guilt but free from any suspicion of guilt'.

Meanwhile back in Rome . . .

While Caesar was in Gaul and Britain, polishing up his curriculum vitae, tensions were mounting in Rome, where the tribune publius Clodius Pulcher had been left in control. Clodius Pulcher’s actions promoted the vicious personal rivalries that characterised Roman politics at this time and showed how things were becoming more and more out of control. More importantly, Clodius Pulcher’s behaviour gave Pompey an excuse to increase his power in Rome at Caesar’s expense. Clodius Pulcher had

Shamelessly courted the Roman mob with free handouts and kept gangs of thugs on Caesar’s payroll.

Used the doubtful legality of the executions after the Catiline Conspiracy to chase Cicero out of Rome, pursuing a personal vendetta (refer to the sidebar ‘Cicero and the Catiline Conspiracy’).

Deposed the king of Cyprus in order to help himself to the treasury to pay for the free handouts.

Locked Pompey up in his own house. Pompey responded in kind and organised his own gang of thugs and then passed a law which Clodius Pulcher failed to block, allowing Cicero back.

Tried to seduce Caesar’s wife. Clodius Pulcher was discovered, stood trial, and, through bribery and other underhand tricks, got off. (For the intimate details, read the sidebar ‘Some like it hot’.)

Renewing the Triumvirate

By 56 BC, the First Triumvirate agreement between Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar was looking distinctly shaky. Pompey was asserting himself against Clodius Pulcher whose behaviour was out of control, and Crassus took the chance to bring Caesar, still on campaign in Gaul, up to speed with what was going on. A meeting was arranged at Luca (Lucca) in northern Italy to sort out all their differences and guarantee mutual support. Caesar’s command in Gaul was extended, while Crassus took Syria and Pompey took Spain, all positions of enormous power.

Death of Crassus and the crumbling Triumvirate

Crassus was given a prestigious military command in the East to fight the Parthian Empire (roughly equivalent to modern Iran and Iraq). He went out in 55 BC and started off well. But in 53 BC, Crassus was defeated at Carrhae (modern Harran on Turkey’s south-east border with Syria) and was killed trying to escape. The final humiliation came when the Parthians captured Crassus’s legionary standards, not recovered until 20 BC when the Emperor Augustus negotiated their return.

The death of Crassus left Caesar and Pompey in open opposition by upsetting the balance of power. Unfortunately, Caesar’s daughter Julia (Pompey’s wife) had died in 54 BC, removing the only personal link between the two men.

Because of the problems in Rome, the Senate made various moves to recall Caesar from Gaul. In the end, an agreement was reached in which Caesar would get time to finish the war in Gaul, but he would give up control of Rome to Pompey. The problem was that Rome was dissolving into chaos. Gang warfare between supporters of Caesar and Pompey led to street riots, ending up in the burning of the Senate house in 52 BC and the death of Clodius. The Senate’s solution was to give Pompey all the powers of a dictator in order to restore order.

A key turning point came in 52 BC because Pompey had just been awarded the power of imperium (see Chapter 3 for the power it conferred) for another five years. Everything hung on whether Pompey would support demands for Caesar’s recall from Gaul, which would mean Caesar giving up his army and thereby all his power. Since Julia had died in 54 BC, Pompey was free to marry again and instead of marrying another woman in Caesar’s family, he chose one from the Metelli family, cementing his new loyalty to the Optimates. Influenced by the Optimates, he supported demands that Caesar be recalled, and in 50 BC accepted command of the Roman armies in Italy. The balance of power was destroyed, and the Roman world dissolved into civil war, which is the story of the next chapter.

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