Crassus, and Pompey, and Caesar… oh my!

The First Triumvirate began because three people were pissed at the Senate. Of course, it was very hard to find anyone in Rome who wasn’t pissed at the Senate, but these three decided to do something about it. The first fellow with anger management problems was Pompey. He’d gone out and conquered the Hispanians, Gauls, Iberians, Albanians, Phoenicians, Syrians, etc. but that wasn’t good enough for some people. Afraid that Pompey might decide to add Romans to his list, the Senate refused to recognize any of the treaties or rules he had laid down in Hispania, Gaul, Iberia and so forth. Somehow, this had the opposite effect they had hoped for.

Caesar got to hearing about this and offered Pompey a deal: You help me become Consul and I will help you to continue to do whatever the hell you want.  Oh, and you can marry my daughter in the bargain (he’d heard Pompey had a knack for that). Caesar then turned to his other buddy Crassus who was rich as Midas and wanted to renegotiate taxes so he could become even richer. Oddly enough, the Senate was against that too. So really the Senators could only blame themselves when Caesar was elected Consul in 59 BC.

Pretty soon, Caesar discovered that being Consul was not as exciting as he thought it would be. And the Senate would keep nagging on about the slightest thing. It was enough to make him want to bash heads open. So he grabbed and army, had himself named proconsul, and headed out to Cisalpine Gaul (Northern Italy), Illyricum (the Balkins), and Transalpine Gaul (South France) where he bashed in heads to his heart’s content. (If you ever want to impress someone, tell them which side of the Alps Cisalpine Gaul is on. Or vice versa.)

Of course, eventually he was bound to run out of Cisalpine and/or Transalpine Gauls so Caesar moved north into Gallia Comata (we are near the end of the Gauls, I promise!) and began wreaking havoc there. A few illustrated texts under the name of Asterix and Obelix survive which recount the many perils the Romans faced against the plucky Gauls. In the end, however, Caesar triumphed and left Gaul in such desperate straits that there were no revolts against Roman rule (see Spartacus for a refresher on these). Caesar also cleaned up so much wealth that he was able to pay off all his debts and begin buying other political alliances.

Back in Rome, Pompey and Crassus shared the Consulship, and became increasingly irritated with each other. Soon, they were barely speaking to each other. A situation exacerbated by Crassus going east and getting himself killed by the Parthians in 53 BC.  As Julia, had died in 54 BC (which was the year prior due to the peculiar habit the Romans had of counting backwards as they had not yet discovered years go the other way round) the Triumvirate was breaking up and Caesar was ready to take his act solo.

Caesar: The Salad Days

Now we get to the most famous Roman of them all, or at least the one you’ve been waiting for since this blog began: Caesar. Gaius Julius Caesar was the son of a patrician family that could supposedly trace their line back to the Trojan prince Aeneas, who was the son of the goddess of love, Venus. And yet somehow Caesar wound up a short, rat faced man, going grey at the temples (on some men, this is thought to look distinguished).

Caesar’s early career was fraught with difficulty. Originally the high priest of Jupiter, he was stripped of his position during the civil war for the crime of being related to Marius, and only his mother’s intervention prevented his death at the hands of Sulla. Thinking it best to make himself scarce for a while, Caesar joined the army and left Rome, returning only after Sulla’s demise.

Armed with a high-pitched, querulous voice and terrier-like tenacity, Caesar returned to Rome and became a lawyer. Unlike modern lawyers, his impassioned speeches won him popularity, aided by his prosecution of former governors on charges of corruption. Caesar’s fame as a tough son-of-a-bitch grew when he was captured by pirates in the Mediterranean.  When the pirates tried to ransom him for twenty silver talents, he insisted that he would not allow himself to be released for less than fifty (proving that pride is all well and good, but really should take a back seat to common sense). Once released, Caesar raised a fleet and captured the pirates and crucified them—a promise he had made to them while in captivity. The pirates were not amused.

 Deciding that too many people still liked him,  Caesar decided to move into the next most despised career: politician. Racking up a huge dept, Caesar mysteriously won his election. He later pointed out that the accusations of bribery were completely unwarranted. Although he governed Spain for several years, his debts grew bad enough that Crassus (I told you to remember him!) had to pay off his creditors before they threw Julius in the slammer. Giving his pocket book a breather, Caesar went back to the military, conquered two local tribes (one guess as to what happened to their money), and reformed the laws on regarding debts. Feeling pretty on top of the world, Caesar decided to try for the highest political power in Rome: the consulship.

Unfortunately, a bunch of fuddy-duddies back in Rome were determined that he wouldn’t get it. But Caesar (come on, we all know this guy later declared himself Emperor. He was ballsy.) didn’t like to take no for an answer.

This is Sparta(cus)!

Romans soon discovered that one of the biggest problems of ruling an empire was the tricky business of governing it. The patricians fought for money and politics, but being at the top of the heap, they didn’t want to ruffle too many feathers. The plebes were still pretty happy about being one rung up the social ladder from slaves. The slaves on the other hand… well, let’s just say they’d have rather been anyone else.

Whenever a few too many slaves got to feeling their oats, they decided to try to make this wish a reality, and up would crop a rebellion. These never lasted long, on account of the Romans having all the weapons, but they made for very dramatic movies later on. The largest of these, and the only one to threaten the heartland of Italy, was the Third Servile War, also known as the War of Spartacus or the Gladiator War. (No, it did not star Russell Crowe. That was fictional. I mean, who in their right mind would choose him to leave an empire to?)

Anyway, 78 gladiators, including Spartacus, escaped and quickly turned into a band of 120,000 men, women, and children wandering around Italy. While this looked great from a recruitment standpoint, it was increasingly hard to hide 120,000 men, women, and children in a field in the middle of Italy. Especially considering that slaves were the backbone of the Roman economy. And if there is one thing the Romans won’t stand for, it’s losing money. Miraculously, the merry little band managed to defeat the first few groups sent after them, and armed themselves with the weapons of the fallen. Rome took a dim view of this, so they finally stopped sending small armies. Instead, they sent Crassus.

Marcus Licinius Crassus (remember him—he’ll be important next week) was a general under Sulla, and not a bad choice of commander with Pompey out smashing heads in the East. He gathered a large army before engaging with the rebels. Trapping them between three groups of legions, he ground the rebellion into the dust. It wasn’t pretty, but made Spartacus a very romantic figure. Everyone loves an underdog.

The defeat of the rebels launched Crassus’s career and popularity among the Roman populous. (The slaves were less enthusiastic.) Following Pompey’s lead, Crassus milked it for all it was worth and refused to disband his troops until he got a triumph in Rome. Fortunately, he learned from history and did not bring an elephant.