Fall of the Roman Republic 78-31 BC

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First Triumvirate: aims, roles and responsibilities of Caesar, Pompey and Crassus

Past HSC question: 2008
Explain the activities and breakdown of the First Triumvirate.

Past HSC question: 2004
Explain the reasons for the formation and breakdown of the ‘First Triumvirate’.

Past HSC question: 2003
Assess the significance of the career of EITHER Pompey OR Crassus.

Past HSC question: 2002
Account for the formation and breakdown of the ‘First Triumvirate’.

From booklet 1:
pp. 19-20 "The Position of Pompey, Crassus and Caesar in 61-60"

From booklet 2:
pp. 1-4 "The 'First Triumvirate' - the coalition of Pompey, Crassus and Caesar, 60-53"; "Caesar's first consulship, 59"

  • What was the nature of 'First Triumvirate'?
  • What did each of the triumvirs want to achieve?
  • During Caesar's consulship, what laws were passed for the triumvirs to achieve their goals?
  • What methods were used to pass these laws?
  • Who were the main opponents of the Triumvirate?
  • What are some ancient and modern views of the Triumvirate?
  • How did Caesar ensure that "Rome was in safe hands" before he left for Gaul?
  • Why did Caesar have Clodius elected as tribune for 58 BC?
  • What was the significance of Caesar's consulship?

From ancient sources:

"The truth is that the present régime is the most infamous, disgraceful, and uniformly odious to all sorts and classes and ages of men that ever was... These 'popular' politicians have taught even the quiet folk to hiss... My beloved Pompey, to my great sorrow, has been the author of his own downfall."
Cicero, Letter to Atticus, between 7 and 14 July 59, in Selected Letters, p.56

"Caesar was standing for his first consulship. He saw that while Pompey and Crassus were at daggers drawn, he could only make a friend of one of them at the cost of making an enemy of the other. He therefore attempted to bring about a reconciliation between them - an admirable thing in itself and even a patriotic action, but one that was undertaken by Caesar for the wrong motives and with all the skill of a practiced master of intrigue... Certainly Cato's remark is to the point here. When people were saying that the whole state had been overturned by the quarrel which broke out afterwards between Caesar and Pompey, Cato pointed out that they were wrong; they were merely putting the blame on to what had happened last; the first disaster and the worst had been, not the quarrel and split between Caesar and Pompey, but the friendship and harmony that had existed between them."
Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 47

"Meanwhile Pompeius, who had gained great prestige and power from his Mithridatic successes, wanted the senate to confirm the many grants he had made to kings and petty rulers and cities. A number of senators were jealous of this, and particularly Lucullus, Pompeius' predecessor in command against Mithridates, who was obstructing Pompeius and maintaining that he himself was responsible for the defeat of Mithridates because the king had been in a very weak state when he had left him to Pompeius. Lucullus was also being assisted by Crassus. So Pompeius, in his irritation, took Caesar into partnership and swore to help him win the consulship. Caesar at once made peace between him and Crassus. These three, the most powerful men in Rome, then pooled their interests. This coalition was treated in a volume by the Roman writer Varro, who called it 'The Beast with Three Heads'."
Appian, The Civil Wars, 2.9

From modern sources:

"The three men bound themselves by a solemn promise to take no political action of which one of the three disapproved... The strength of the three confederates was quite uneven: Pompey was much stronger than Crassus, and Caesar still a beginner compared with either of them, but as consul the tactical initiative rested with him and, since he was also vastly their superior intellectually and in political skill, the actual leadership fell to him."
Gelzer, Caesar: Politician and Statesman, pp. 68-9