Julius Caesar & the First Triumvirate

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

What was the First Triumvirate? More importantly, who were the men behind this Roman political force? In this lesson, you will learn about the motives and actions of Julius Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey.

What Is a Triumvirate?

Before you learn about the First Triumvirate, it's a good idea to understand what the word 'triumvirate' means in the first place. A triumvirate is a group of three people that work together to increase their power and control a government. A good way to remember that a triumvirate includes three people is to look at the first part of the word. The prefix tri-means three, like a tricycle that has three wheels.

The Men behind the First Triumvirate

Throughout history, especially Roman history, there are many examples of triumvirates, but one of the most famous is called the First Triumvirate made up of Marcus Licinius Crassus, Pompey, and Julius Caesar. Just like Liam Neeson in 'Taken', each of these men brought a particular set of skills to the table. Crassus was the richest man in Rome. Pompey was an accomplished and decorated general. Julius Caesar was the power-hungry brains behind the operation.

Forming the First Triumvirate

What brought these three very different men together to form a political alliance? Let's start with Pompey. He was very popular with the Roman people because of his military service. He was a victor in the Mithridatic Wars and was given credit for his role in the Spartacus revolt. Oddly enough, Pompey was not actually the reason for Roman success in the Spartacus revolt. In fact, it was Crassus who had made a Roman win possible, but Pompey was at the right place at the right time and took all of the glory from Crassus. Have you ever worked on a group project with a classmate where you did most of the work, but your classmate got the same grade or took credit for what you did? This is the same concept, but on a much bigger level. Pompey and Crassus couldn't stand each other.

Crassus
Crassus

So why would these two men enter into an alliance with each other? The answer: an insatiable thirst for power and Julius Caesar. Caesar was the glue that held the group together. After the Mithridatic Wars, Pompey came back to Rome as a private citizen with two simple requests. He wanted to give land for his veterans to settle on and he wanted the Roman Senate to approve the settlement of one of Rome's eastern territories. The Senate refused both of these requests. Crassus was already super rich and had a lot of sway in Rome, but working with Pompey and Caesar would make sure that he got everything he wanted when he wanted.

Pompey
Pompey

Meanwhile, Caesar had next to no wealth. All he had was his name and his reputation. Caesar needed Crassus and Pompey to support him politically to consolidate his power and accomplish what he wanted in Rome. Caesar and Crassus already had a political relationship; Crassus had supported Caesar earlier in his career for the position of Pontifex Maximus. To form a stronger bond with Pompey, Caesar married his only daughter Julia to him. Around 60 B.C., the First Triumvirate was formed, and the three men would take the Roman world by storm.

Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar

Accomplishments of the First Triumvirate

The same year the First Triumvirate was formed, Caesar was elected as a consul of Rome. This was a huge deal for two reasons: the triumvirate had taken a seat away from the aristocratic Optimate party and the three men were now in a position to take what they wanted. With Crassus and Pompey in the Senate, Caesar was able to pass Pompey's land requests. The land would then be overseen by both Crassus and Pompey. Before Caesar left his consulship, he managed to secure control of two major provinces in Rome, Cisalpine Gaul (present-day France) and Illyricum, for five years after he left office. This did not sit well with other members of the Senate and Romans began to question the motives of the First Triumvirate. They found it very suspicious that three very different men who didn't necessarily get along would work so closely together in government.

After Caesar assumed control of Gaul and Illyricum, the three men worked together to get Crassus and Pompey elected as the two consuls who would control Rome in 55 B.C. As consuls, Crassus and Pompey extended Caesar's role in the provinces for another five years AND made sure that they would have their own provinces for five years after they left office. The First Triumvirate effectively controlled all of Rome.

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