The First Triumvirate was a period in the history of Ancient Rome when three men, Julius Caesar, Licinius Crassus and Pompey ruled jointly. Caesar, Pompey and Crassus combined their influence to dominate Rome, but Caesar was able to take absolute power because he controlled the best military assets. One of the causes of this was an income gap that had originated almost two hundred years previously, as a direct result of the Punic Wars. This allowed Caesar, Pompey and Crassus to gain the political influence that was necessary to exercise control over Rome. Julius Caesar himself was able to gain power from the First Triumvirate because as governor of Gaul, he had controlled the majority of viable military assets. This added to the combination of fortunate events that set him among the ranks of the greatest men in history.
The large wealth gap in Rome, exacerbated by the Punic Wars, meant that it was easy for a small group of wealthy people to get vast amounts of power. The Punic Wars, as they are now known, led to Rome’s victory and the destruction of the city of Qart-Hadasht - dubbed “Carthago” by the Romans. While the victory brought Rome great treasures and riches, these spoils went mainly to the patrician leadership class. With the demise of Carthage, Rome also found itself with access to sweeping tracts of land. Just as the physical goods and winnings were accrued by the already-wealthy, these expanses came under the control of those unscrupulous landlords. They used slave labor to produce harvests at prices that simply couldn’t be matched by smaller, less wealthy landowners.
With profits second to none and no taxes to speak of, the lords controlling these latifundia easily expanded and annexed neighboring small farms. While latifundia increased productivity to levels that wouldn’t be reached until the Industrial Revolution, they ended up creating an impoverished urban class of migrants, many of whom were previous small farmers. At the expense of the impoverished urban dwellers, wealthy estate-owners amassed great fortunes and allowed themselves to take control of vast political and military resources.
Rise of Caesar, Crassus and PompeyEdit
Among those remarkably wealthy people were Gaius Julius Caesar, Marcus Licinius Crassus, and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus; there are many theories that point to Crassus being the wealthiest man in history, with his fortunes totalling more than the entire annual budget of the Roman government. Crassus and Pompey had been colleagues in the consulship in 70 B.C., when they had legislated the full restoration of the tribunate of the people. However, since that time, the two men had entertained considerable antipathy for one another, each believing the other to have gone out of his way to increase his own reputation at his colleague's expense. Caesar tried to reconcile the two men, and then combined their clout with his own to have himself elected consul in 59 B.C.; using his existing friendship with Crassus and reassuring Pompey by offering his daughter in marriage. The alliance combined Caesar's enormous popularity, Crassus's fantastic wealth and Pompey's equally spectacular riches and military reputation. Caesar then proceeded to make himself governor of Gaul and Illyricum, renewing his term whenever it expired, which gave him command of four legions, while Crassus and Pompey secured other positions for themselves. The alliance had allowed the Triumvirs to dominate Roman politics completely, but it did not last long due to the ambitions, egos, and jealousies of the three.
End of the TriumvirateEdit
In about 50 B.C., Crassus defied the Senate’s orders and tried to invade Persia without their permission. This decision would mark the beginning of the end for the First Triumvirate, as Crassus was then killed during the Battle of Carrhae, in which a numerically superior Roman force found itself outmaneuvered by Parthian cavalry. With Crassus dead, Caesar’s main friend and ally was gone. Julius Caesar’s military successes in Gaul had already been arousing Pompey’s jealousy, who had begun to distance himself from the man. Having already been elected consul without a colleague in 52 B.C., Pompey took part in the politicking which led to Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon in 49 B.C., starting the Roman Civil War. From the outset, Caesar possessed a clear tactical advantage. As a result of his alliance with Crassus, he was able to grant himself control over the most powerful assets of the Roman military, as well as providing him with a superior tactical position. This goes without mentioning Caesar’s brilliant strategic planning, using experience gained during his Gallic campaigns. Pompey was made commander-in-chief of the war by the Senate, but was defeated by his former ally at Pharsalus. Pompey's subsequent murder in Egypt in an inept political intrigue left Caesar sole master of the Roman world.