Don’t You Know There’s a War On?

With the last of the assassins taken care of, the Triumvirate got around to the serious business of re-assigning the spoils of war. Antony got the richer Eastern provinces (because he won—not that he rubbed that in or anything) and Southern France. Octavian slunk back to Italy with his tail between his legs with the veterans, but as a consolation prize he was given Spain (and Cisalpine Gaul was merged into Italy because there were just too many Gauls). Lepidus the easily forgotten got Africa and was quite happy with it too. Fortunately, before the triumvirate had time to get bored, a new enemy reared his ugly head: Sextus Pompey.

Sextus Pompey was the youngest son of Pompey the Great (remember him? He got the elephant stuck in the gate.) and grew up fighting the resistance against Caesar. When Caesar died, he was a bit at a loss of who to resist next, but when Octavian stepped up to the plate, he was more than happy to oblige. He got his best armies ready only to have to wait while the triumvirate chased Brutus and Cassius around. Then they were gone and he was ready once again. Only Antony’s brother Lucius decides to cause the Perusine War instead.

The Perusine War happened when Lucius who was a Consul grew tired of the unrest caused by proscriptions, confiscations, and the grain shortage caused by our man, Sextus in Rome. Since Octavian was out losing more battles (and probably getting all the good food which couldn’t make it around Sextus’s blockade) Lucius and Fulvia (Antony’s wife) decided to take matters into their own hands and took over Rome behind Octavian’s back. Besides, they didn’t like him too much anyway. This didn’t work out so well in the end as the troops came back and trapped them in the city of Perusia. In February they ran out of food (which put them right back where they started) and they had to surrender. Showing a masterly understanding of where the true responsibility for the uprising lay, Octavian spared both of their lives, then had the occupants of the city butchered. Furthermore, Lucius was sent to govern Spain—because it worked out real well last time he was left in charge. Fulvia was just exiled, but died a year later which was said to have brought peace between Octavian and Antony. I’m sure she would have been thrilled.

At long last, Sextus Pompey finally got his chance to square off against Octavian. Of course, Octavian’s first act was to marry Scribonia, a relation of Sextus, in the vain hope to just keep the fighting to the usual squabbles at holidays and reunions. While the marriage did provide him with his only child, Julia, it only lasted a year (he divorced her the same day Julia was born). It did, however, lead to the Misenum treaty in 39 BC where Sextus agreed to lift his blockade of Italy in exchange for Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, and the Greek Peloponnesus. He was also promised a future consulship, priesthood, and money.

Somehow, it didn’t take. Octavian and Antony found they could only work together when working against someone else. Besides, they were greedy little bastards. In 38 BC Octavian tried to take back Sicily. He was defeated. In 37 BC he tried again. It didn’t work that time either. And don’t even ask about 36 BC. Octavian was a bit of a slow learner. Fortunately, his best general Agrippa wasn’t and he finally succeeded in defeating Sextus and harrying him around the globe. In 35 BC, Sextus was finally caught by one of Antony’s minions and executed without a trial. It marked the end of an error. From now on, Antony and Octavian would have no one to fight but each other.

One if by Land, Two if by Rubicon

Now by 53 BC the first Triumvirate had broken up, and with one of the members dead, it seemed pretty unlikely they were getting back together for a ten year comeback. Caesar decided to take his act on the road, got as far as Britain before the legion broke down with a flat tire, ate one too many helpings of mushy peas, and marched back to Gaul where they at least knew how to cook. Meanwhile, rioting in Rome caused Pompey to be elected as sole consul, or “Consul without a Colleague.” This was a big departure from the two consul rule developed back in the second post, and some people were afraid all the power would go to Pompey’s head. Other people figured it already had, but since they wanted to be on the winning team, they got behind Pompey and formed a group called the Optimates.

Caesar was none too happy about loss of Consulship (even though he got bored with it in the first place), so he decided to make himself the governor of Gaul. He was surprisingly effective at administration and still found time to write a book, the Gallic Wars. This irked the Optimates back in Rome since they had no free time whatsoever, so they tried to end his governorship while declaring if he came back to Rome he would be prosecuted. (Somehow they failed to see how these aims could be contradictory.)

Neither Caesar nor Pompey were willing to back down, so they went whole hog and declared another civil war. In 49 BC, Caesar decided it was time for a grand gesture, so he led his troops across the Rubicon river, which formed the border of his territory. This was considered an act of treason. According to the historian Suetonius, before he crossed Caesar said, “ālea iacta est,” which roughly translates to, “oh fuck it.” This scared Pompey so much that he ran to Greece, completely forgetting that his legions were in Spain.

Thus Caesar was able to march on Rome, declare himself dictator, and devote the rest of his time to chasing Pompey around the globe. In a final battle at Pharsalus, Caesar defeated Pompey’s army once and for all. Pompey fled to Egypt where his head was unfortunately disconnected from his body by the Pharaoh who had heard all about it and did not want to get on Caesar’s bad side. Caesar then did the remarkably un-Roman thing of pardoning everyone involved in the battle. Included among these were Mark Antony and Brutus, and it doesn’t take a brilliant tactician to see that was not going to end well.

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.

Pompey and Circumstances

Well, all went along peaceful and prosperous for a bit, which was a sure sign to Romans that something needed shaking up. Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey the Great (or in his formative years, Pompey the Sort of Okay) was happy to oblige.

This young upstart joined the military back during the first civil war, and by the time it finished, had already made a name for himself for misappropriation of plunder. Not too keen on exploring life behind bars, Pompey used his brilliant tactical mind to become engaged to the judge’s daughter, Antistia. Somehow, he was rapidly acquitted of all crimes.

Despite his inauspicious beginning, Pompey was actually a darn good general and after a number of victories, managed to impress even the great Sulla himself. In fact, Sulla was so impressed that he insisted Pompey marry his daughter Aemilia Scaura despite the fact that she was already pregnant and married to someone else. Since Antistia had started nagging him about wearing his muddy sandals in the house and never bringing her flowers anymore, Pompey agreed. Besides, it was a good career move. (Later on, Pompey would fall back on this tactic again to marry Caesar’s daughter, Julia.)

Never much of a homebody, Pompey left to go conquer Sicily, securing Rome’s grain supply. Then he marauded down through Africa just for a change of pace. He felt this was pretty impressive, and when he returned home, demanded a Triumph so everybody else could know how impressive this was too. Sulla was less than impressed this time and denied him unless he would disband his legions like the law demanded. Young rebel that he was, Pompey went ahead and did it anyway. He even brought along an elephant which greatly amused the populace when it wouldn’t fit through the city gates. (He should have learned a lesson from Hannibal.)

After that, Pompey went out again to earn a second and third triumph after subduing Hispania, Southern Gaul, Iberia, Albania, Phoenicia, Syria, and the pirates of the Mediterranean. And to finish it all off, he laid siege to Jerusalem and the city fell within three months. This gained him a great deal of popularity except for among the Hispanians, Gauls, Iberians, Albanians, Phoenicians, Syrians, pirates, and Jews. But hey, the man knew his audience and the Romans loved him for it.