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How did the 1st Triumvirate contribute to the fall of the Roman Republic?

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The First Triumvirate between Gaius Julius Caesar, Gnaius Pompeius Magnus (Pompey) and Marcus Licinius Crassus contributed to the fall of the Roman Republic by undermining the Senate, which was unable to effectively deal with an expanding and diverse empire. This was affected by the triumvirate appealing directly to popular assemblies, because their alliance conflicted directly with the conservative Optimates, who refused to change with Rome’s expansion. Though ultimately because each triumvir, being an ambitious general and politician was clambering for the same place; to be top man of Rome. The very inception of the Triumvirate, and the resulting power swing it created was the beginning of the end for the Republic.

By 60BC each Pompey, Caesar and Crassus had been dismissed by the Senate. Upon Pompey’s return to Italy in 62BC he sought to secure senatorial approval of his reorganisation of the eastern Mediterranean, however unliked by the optimates, under the leadership of Metellus Creticus and Cato, they stalled on this legislation and refused on granting his troops bonuses for their services. Caesar, finally returned from Spain, could not as a commander, enter the city to stand for election as a consul. “He asked the Senate permission to stand in absentia (run for election without being in Rome). Though there were precedents, the Senate refused.” Caesar abandoning his triumph was forced to enter Rome as an ordinary candidate. Crassus, supporting a request from his tax-gatherers that the Senate should adjust a bad bargain, made while contracting for his companies in Asia, was also rebuffed by the optimates. The uncompromising refusal to meet their demands naturally drove the three men together, so late in 60BC Caesar organised a secret political alliance (amicitia) with Pompey and Crassus.

The first act of the new alliance was to use their great sphere of influence to get Caesar elected as consul in 59BC. In return Caesar, introduced a bill into the Senate to give land in Italy to Pompey’s soldiers. “Refused point blank to even discuss the matter” , Caesar referred it to the Tribal assembly. Still faced with opposition from Bibulus (Caesar’s co-consul) he “lost patience with his enemies, brought in a detachment of Pompey’s veterans, chasing them out of the Assembly”. He was then able to pass the bill, procuring the land allotment for Pompey’s veterans, ratifying his settlement of the East and giving Crassus his tax concession. If not already undermining the Senate, Caesar passed further bills redistributing land to the poor and gaining popular support, thus taking power directly from the Senate. After his year a consul, Caesar was appointed the proconsular command of Cisalpine Gaul and Illyria, but “fearing the commons would insist” , the Senate added Transalpine Gaul to his jurisdiction.

Caesar’s absence in Gaul, gaining fame and fortune for himself, left the triumvirate seriously damaging Rome and itself. In 58BC, after Caesar’s departure, his nomination for tribune, Clodius, began to work in his patron’s interests by gaining popular support for Caesar through corn laws. He even “organised armed gangs to terrorise the enemies of the triumvirs” and had Cicero (a leading politician) and Cato (a leading optimate) exiled. However, in 57BC, Clodius had his gangs attack Pompey’s house. As a result, the very threat to the Roman Republic began to have its own internal trouble, and Pompey organised his own gangs, under Milo. Defeating Clodius, Pompey persisted with his counter attack, organising the return of Cicero, as a direct attack on Caesar. In return, the Senate gave control of the corn supply to Pompey, while at the same time beginning to quarrel with Crassus.

Alarmed by the division within the triumvirate, Caesar, in 56BC, met with Crassus, and after a short delay Pompey, in Luca. The three men realigned, “backed by armed force (completely loyal to their general, relying on him for payments, booty and land), by the urban populace and by many of the Equites, imposed their will upon the State and destroyed the power of the Senate” , by again using their influence, this time to elect Crassus and Pompey as Consul’s of 55BC. Once in power, Crassus and Pompey extended Caesar’s time as governor of Gaul, and then chose for themselves long-term governorships, (Crassus in Syria and Pompey in Spain). However, at the end of 55BC, Pompey did not leave for Spain, instead remaining as the only Triumvir in Rome, while Caesar and Crassus took the heads of powerful armies.

In 53BC envious of Caesar and Pompey’s military victories, Crassus gathered an army and marched on Parthia. Unable to cope with the enemy’s tactics, the Roman army was slaughtered and Crassus himself killed. This and the addition of the death of Julia (Caesar’s daughter and Pompey’s wife – the strongest personal link between the two) in 54BC effectively ended the triumvirate and in doing so “became the turning point in the history of the Free State and the ultimate origin of the Roman civil war of 49BC”.

Soon after riots began in Rome between Clodius and Milo, so violent that in 52BC the Senate appointed Pompey as sole consul, who immediately, following the precedent set by Sulla upon gaining personal power, brought soldiers of his legions into the City, restoring order. In doing so the Senate had officially given Pompey, all the powers of a dictator. Following this, the Senate passed laws stating, ‘a consul had to wait 5 years after his office before he could receive a govern ship’, the second that ‘all candidates for office had to canvass personally in Rome’ . Finally the Senate granted Pompey a further 5 years command in Spain, with no similar concession to Caesar, who took this turn of events, as “his enemies were out to get him”. After this attack by the Senate, Caesar tried to get his govern ship extended, however this was rejected and Pompey did nothing to intervene.

At this point, to defend him in the Senate, Caesar hired Curio, who proposed a joint disarmament (both Caesar and Pompey’s govern ships would expire at the same time). “Pompey was outraged and sided with the optimates. On 7 January 49BC, the senatus consultum ultimum was invoked giving control of the Republic to Pompey”. “In Pompey the optimate senators saw someone who would guard them against Caesars ambition, keep themselves in power and at the same time be a safe and controllable force” . During his time of undermining the Senate with the triumvirate, “the populus, to whom Pompey was had become a popular hero, did still more to reinforce his illusion that he was in command of Rome.

The adulation that Caesar received from his troops was no illusion: he was a leader that inspired true respect” , and so on 10 January Caesar “came to the river (it is called the Rubicon) which forms he frontier between Cisalpine Gaul and the rest of Italy…. And for a long time he weighed matters up silently in his own mind…. ‘Let the die be cast’ he said, and with these words he crossed the river”. The conflict that resulted between Caesar and Pompey’s forces spread across the length of the Empire. “The state and the constitution ware now at the mercy of dynasts, principes, who strove for potentia and dignitas (personal power, honour).”

On top of the conflicts between the triumvirs, the reluctance of the optimates to give up any power and privileges, especially when it would be given to the plebeians, as was proposed by Caesar and the triumvirate caused social and political pressures to build up. Aided by Rome’s constant expansion, numbers of these new territories bought under control by Pompey and Caesar, enhanced Rome beyond the control of the Senate and traditional constitution. Values like the patron/client system became outdated yet remained as if they could still hold the forces of Rome together, and were the very way that ambitious generals like Caesar and Pompey could quickly rise to self power.

As can be seen, the very rise and indeed collapse of the first triumvirate contributed to the fall of the Roman Republic. Caesar, Pompey and Crassus, by undermining and destroying the power of the Senate for the attainment of their own goals, as populares, bypassed traditional methods of Roman politics which were already under pressure from the failings of a system which had become outdated in governing such a continually expanding region. These conflicts with the optimates and the internal conflict within the triumvirate resulted in the failure of Rome to uphold the Republic. These factors had only one possible result. First there were three, then two and finally there was only Caesar.

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