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Julius Caesar

The First Triumvirate

Having served in Farther Spain as proconsul in 61 B.C., he returned to Rome in 60 B.C., ambitious for the consulate. Against senatorial opposition he achieved a brilliant stroke—he organized a coalition, known as the First Triumvirate, made up of Pompey, commander in chief of the army; Marcus Licinius Crassus, the wealthiest man in Rome (see Crassus, family); and Caesar himself. Pompey and Crassus were jealous of each other, but Caesar by force of personality kept the arrangement going.

In 59 B.C. he married Calpurnia. In the same year, as consul, he secured the passage of an agrarian law providing Campanian lands for 20,000 poor citizens and veterans, in spite of the opposition of his senatorial colleague, Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus. Caesar also won the support of the wealthy equites by getting a reduction for them in their tax contracts in Asia. This made him the guiding power in a coalition between people and plutocrats.

He was assigned the rule of Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul and Illyricum with four legions for five years (58 B.C.–54 B.C.). The differences between Pompey and Crassus grew, and Caesar again moved (56 B.C.) to patch up matters, arriving at an agreement that both Pompey and Crassus should be consuls in 55 B.C. and that their proconsular provinces should be Spain and Syria, respectively. From this arrangement he drew an extension of his command in Gaul to 49 B.C. In the years 58 B.C. to 49 B.C. he firmly established his reputation in the Gallic Wars.

In 55 B.C., Caesar made explorations into Britain, and in 54 B.C. he defeated the Britons, led by Cassivellaunus. Caesar met his most serious opposition in Gaul from Vercingetorix, whom he defeated in Alesia in 52 B.C. By the end of the wars Caesar had reduced all Gaul to Roman control. These campaigns proved him one of the greatest commanders of all time. In them he revealed his consummate military genius, characterized by quick, sure judgment and indomitable energy. The campaigns also developed the personal devotion of the legions to Caesar. His personal interest in the men (he is reputed to have known them all by name) and his willingness to undergo every hardship made him the idol of the army—a significant element in his later career.

In 54 B.C. occurred the death of Caesar's daughter Julia, Pompey's wife since 59 B.C. She had been the principal personal tie between the two men. During the years Caesar was in Gaul, Pompey had been gradually leaning more and more toward the senatorial party. The tribunate of Clodius (58 B.C.) had aggravated conditions in Rome, and Caesar's military successes had aroused Pompey's jealousy. Crassus' death (53 B.C.) in Parthia ended the First Triumvirate and set Pompey and Caesar against each other.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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