Fall of the Roman Republic 78-31 BC

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Caesar and Pompey: political competition and responsibility for outbreak of the Civil War 49-45 BC

Past HSC question: 2006
Explain the outbreak of the Civil War (49–45 BC) between Pompey and Caesar.

Past HSC question: 2003
Explain the outbreak of civil war in 49 BC.

from Booklet 2:

Refer to the notes you have made on Political manoeuvres by the optimates and Pompey (pp14-15 - You did this in the "Significance of military and political career of Pompey" dot point).
  • Summarise the events which led to the beginning of the Civil War.

p.21-3 His motives for crossing the Rubicon
Summarise and comment on the reasons given by Suetonius for Caesar's crossing the Rubicon:
  • Protecting the sacrosanctity of the tribunes
  • The need for money
  • To defend his honour
  • For power

p.23 Responsibility for the war
  • What was the significance of crossing the Rubicon?
  • What responsibility is borne by Caesar, Pompey and the optimates for starting the war?

For the course of the Civil War, read pages 23-26 and answer the questions in each of the six sections.

from Modern Sources:

"If the technical responsibility for war rested on the shoulders of Caesar, it was clearly neither desired by him (witness his negotiations), not by Pompey (witness his vacillations), nor by the vast majority of senators (witness their vote of 1 December), and still less by the vast bulk of the population of Italy who showed no enthusiasm to rise in defence of the constitution. Caesar himself perhaps put his finger on the point when, surveying the Optimate dead on the battle-field of Pharsalus, he exclaimed, 'Hoc voluerunt'. It was the small Optimate clique, the twenty-two senators who voted against disarmament, that forced the issue. Caesar had been compelled either to resort to force or go to Rome as a private citizen which would lead at least to political extinction and possibly to physical danger. The Optimate rump claimed to represent legitimate authority against a traitor, but their violation of the tribunician veto mocked their claims to legality. The hands of the none of the leaders were spotless: behind them all gleamed the corrupting influence of power. No real principles were at stake. That was the tragedy. It was a struggle for personal power, prestige and honour, without regard for the libertas of others. Caesar frankly admitted that 'his dignitas had ever been dearer to him than life itself'. Of Pompey it was written: 'occultior non melior'."
H.H. Scullard, From the Gracchi to Nero, p.127

This comes from Tacitus, Histories, 2.38, and is a comparison of Pompey with Sulla. It means something like, 'no better but more secretive', i.e., that Pompey was just as bad as Sulla but hid his desire for absolute power better. (GGGGG)

"It was the oligarchy of Sulla, manifest and menacing in its last bid for power, serried but insecure. Pompeius was playing a double game. He hoped to employ the leading nobiles to destroy Caesar, whether it came to war or not, in either way gaining the mastery. They were not duped - they knew Pompeius: but they fancied that Pompeius, weakened by the loss of his ally and of popular support, would be in their power at last, amenable to guidance or to be discarded if recalcitrant."
Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution, p.45

"Caesar strove to avert any resort to open war. Both before and after the outbreak of hostilities he sought to negotiate with Pompeius. Had Pompeius listened and consented to an interview, their old amicitia might have been repaired... Further, the proconsul's proposals as conveyed to the senate were moderate and may not be dismissed as mere manoeuvres for position or for time to bring up his armies. Caesar knew how small was the party willing to provoke a war. As an artful motion of a Caesarian tribune had revealed, an overwhelming majority in the Senate, nearly four hundred against twenty-two, wished both dynasts to lay down their extraordinary commands. A rash and factious minority prevailed...
In the last resort, his rank, prestige and honour, summed up in the Latin word dignitas, were all at stake... Sooner than surrender it, Caesar appealed to arms...
Caesar refused to join the long roll of Pompeius' victims, to be superseded like Lucullus, to be discarded and disgraced as had been Gabinius, the governor of Syria. If he gave way now, it was the end...
By invoking constitutional sanctions against Caesar, a small faction misrepresented the true wishes of a vast majority in the Senate, in Rome, and in Italy."
Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution, p.47-9

"This was a curious situation: the man whom the majority of the citizens regarded with antipathy, distrust and fear was less intent upon war, far more decisively and seriously in favour of peace, than those who opposed him and had the sympathies of this very majority on their side...
On Cato's side was the work of centuries... he and his followers were in duty bound to preserve the republic they had inherited from their forefathers... And they knew that they must triumph now or never, if they wanted to thwart Caesar's unscrupulous and destructive power or indeed an autocracy...
On the other hand, Caesar could not simply surrender to his opponents after all he had achieved...
Moreover, those caught between these extremes were too weak. And it was ultimately this weakness that expressed itself in their indecisiveness. They were for Pompey, yet they acted for Caesar by being in favour of peace... Not wishing to take up a position on the side where they belonged, they succeeded in making this side all the more inflexible."
Christian Meier, Caesar: a Biography, pp.346-7

"When someone said that, supposing Caesar were to march on Rome, it was not clear with what forces the city could be defended, Pompey merely smiled and, speaking with the utmost calm, told him that there was no need to be at all concerned. 'Anywhere in Italy,' he said, 'I have only to stamp my foot upon the ground, and there will rise up armies of infantry and armies of cavalry.'"
Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 57

It didn't quite happen this way, as Plutarch records:
"But when Pompey began to recruit troops, some refused to obey the orders for calling up, and those who did come in came reluctantly and without any enthusiasm... Favonius... told Pompey to stamp his foot on the ground and produce the promised armies."
Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 59, 60