(Richard Abels)

Dates for Military Actions in Second and First Centuries B.C.

200-197 Romans defeat Philip V of Macedon.

196 Flamininus proclaims "Freedom of Greece"

190-189 Romans defeat Antiochus III of Syria

183 Hannibal, Antiochus' military advisor, commits suicide rather than be extradited to Rome

171-168 Aemilius Paullus defeats Perseus of Macedon (battle of Pydna). Macedonia is divided into four republics

167 Rome plunders Epirus; Polybius among 1000 Achaeans deported to Rome.

149-148 Fourth Macedonian War. Macedonia becomes province under praetor.

149-146 Third Punic War. Scipio Aemilianus destroys Carthage.

146 War against Achaean League. Corinth is destroyed. Greece made a

province under administrative authority of governor of Macedonia.

143-133 Numantine war in Spain. End of organized Celtiberian resistance to Rome.

133 Tiberius Gracchus, as plebeian tribune, attempts land redistribution to the poor Roman citizenry (to increase number of citizens eligible for army) and is murdered

123-121 Gaius Gracchus, brother of TG, serves as plebeian tribune and sponsors land reform, state payment for soldiers' clothing and weapons. Supported by poor, some equites, and many Italians. Murdered.

112-104 War against King Jugurtha of Numidia. Marius and Sulla gain distinction.

107 Marius's first consulship.

105-100 War against Teutones and Cimbri. Marius's second through sixth consulships.

91-89 Social War. Rome's Italian clients, angered by Rome's refusal to grant them citizenship, go to war with Rome. Italians become Roman citizens.

88--85, 83, 75-66 Wars against Mithridates, king of Pontus. Expansion of Roman power and influence in Asia Minor.

88 Sulla, consul. Marches on Rome. Marius flees

87-86 Marius and populares in power. Marius's seventh consulate and death

83 Sulla, victorious against Mithridates, returns to Italy and defeats Marians with aid of Crassus and Pompey

82-79 Sulla dictator. Sullan terror in Rome. Optimates in power.

78 Death of Sulla in retirement

82-73 Sertorius, Marian proconsul in Spain, successfully leads native Lusitanians against a series of Sullan generals. Murdered by own men.

73-71 Spartacus slave revolt put down by Crassus and Pompey.

67 Pompey eradicates Mediterranean pirates

66-63 Pompey defeats Mithridates. Organizes eastern frontier into client states and provinces.

63-62 Catiline's conspiracy of disaffected noble debtors, dispossessed, etc.

60 First Triumvirate: political friendship formed by Pompey, Crassus, Caesar

59 Caesar's first consulship.

58-51 Caesar, as proconsul, conquers and pacifies Gaul. Expeditions across Rhine against Germans and to Britain.

53 Crassus defeated and killed by Parthians at Carrhae in east.

52 Vercingetorix leader of unsuccessful Gallic rebellion. Uses scorched earth strategy against Caesar. Caesar takes Alesia by siege; ends revolt.

53-50 Dissolution of friendship between Pompey and Caesar. Optimates support Pompey

49 Caesar, threatened with judicial prosecution, crosses Rubicon into Italy and marches on Rome. Pompey flees to Macedonia. Caesar wins victory Ilerda in Spain.

48 Caesar defeats Pompey at Pharsalus in Greece. Pompey murdered in Egypt. Caesar elected consul for second time, then appointed dictator by Senate.

47 Caesar supports Cleopatra in Egypt. Defeats son of Mithridates in Asia Minor ('I came, I saw, I conquered')

46-44 Caesar appointed dictator for 10 years; defeats Pompeians in Africa and Spain

44 Caesar appointed dictator for life; murdered in Senate on 15 March

43 Second triumvirate: Marcus Antoninus, Lepidus, and Octavian

43 Battle of Philippi; Mark Antony awarded the eastern provinces and Octavian the western provinces.

36 Antony's unsuccesful Parthian campaign; Octavian defeats Sextus Pompeius in naval engagement at Mylae

32-31 Octavian and Agrippa defeat Antony in naval Battle of Actium

27 Octavian given title 'Augustus'; "restores" Republic; beginning of the Roman Empire



In the second and first centuries B.C. Rome employed its military power to extend its authority and power throughout the Mediterranean World. In the process Rome was transformed from a hegemonic Italian city state into an imperial power. The growth of empire had profound social, economic, and military effects upon Rome. The old citizen army of the early and middle Republic, in which landowning citizen-farmers served under elected magistrates and former magistrates, was gradually transformed into a professional military led by ambitious military dynasts. This metamorphosis was assisted by a terrible irony: the Roman citizen-soldiers, the assidui (middling landowning taxpayers), were very nearly destroyed as a class by Rome's success. While the aristocrats who led the armies and served as their generals and officers profitted handsomely from the loot and plunder that attended victory, the ordinary rank and file of the army found itself serving extended tours of six or more consecutive years far from home in an unending series of foreign wars. Since military service was an obligation of citizenship, pay was minimal, and the cost of weapons and military clothing, which was borne by the soldier until 123 B.C., ate up much of that. Even more problematic, among the 'benefits' of victory were the importation of hundreds of thousands of slaves into Italy and the availability of cheap grain from Sicily, which exacerbated the economic problems faced by small farmers since the time of Hannibal's (and the Romans') ravaging of the Italian countryside during the Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.). Soldiers on extended service often came home to find themselves impoverished, their lands taken over by wealthier neighbors willing to pay the taxes on it. The census class of the assidui was shrinking at a time when Rome's wars abroad and need for standing armies in its provinces made greater and greater demands on its citizenry. In short, by establishing Rome as the dominant power in the Mediterranean World, the Roman soldier enriched his generals and the Republic but impoverished himself.

Roman Imperialism in the Middle Republic

The manpower demands of the Second Punic War were extraordinary. P.A. Brunt estimated that during the war one out of every two eligible citizens served in the legions. Even those ineligible because of age or property requirements were often conscripted into the legions or organized into ad hoc legions to guard the city of Rome itself from possible attack by Hannibal. The ravages visited upon Italy in the course of the war were terrible. Italian casualties between 218 and 216 rivalled the worst horrors of Verdun or the Somme. Hannibal's destruction of the countryside coupled with the Romans' own scorched earth policy to deprive Hannibal of fodder and food strained the Italian economy and impoverished many small farmers.

It is therefore remarkable that the successful conclusion of the Second Punic War (201 B.C.) did not bring peace, as the Roman Senate found itself drawn into a series of 'defensive' wars against powerful Hellenistic kingdoms in the east and smaller scale conflicts in the newly obtained provinces of Spain. During the second century B.C. Roman wars spanned the Mediterranean world from Spain to Asia Minor. The result was the the Roman city-state gained an empire and was transformed politically, economically, and militarily in the process.

Why did the Roman senatorial elite chose the course of empire (assuming, of course, that they actually 'chose' a 'course,' which is not at all clear) and why were the small farmers who made up the legions willing to answer the summons to war? The nature of Roman 'imperialism' (or 'expansionism') in the middle and late Republic and the motivations of the Roman elite in engaging in wars of conquest have been subjects of great debate. Two rival explanations have gained adherents among historians. The first, now associated with E. Badian and his students, asserts that the Romans unintentionally and, at times, reluctantly acquired an empire as a result of a policy of self defense and defense of allies. Under this construction, Rome's wars were often protective reaction--or proactive--strikes against perceived potential enemies or the enemies of their friends. The Roman leaders were motivated largely by fear or, more properly, the obligation to preserve the security of Rome. The other view, promoted most strongly by W.V. Harris, is that the Roman elite, driven by lust for profit and glory, consciously sought to conquer and dominate, and economically exploit other peoples. Both schools agree that the bellicose ethos of the Roman aristocracy spurred the Romans to engage in war, and both also posit that the nature of Roman imperialism changed dramatically in the first century B.C., when individual generals such as Pompey, Lucullus, and Caesar conquered territories on their own initiative for personal gain. Neither, moreover, regard the acquisition of an empire as the result of long-term planning and a conscious imperial policy of expansion and annexation. Where Badian and Harris part company is on questions of motivation: the roles played by fear, security, national neurosis, greed, and glory in the Senate's decisions to wage war and annex territories in the second and early first century.

The haphazard manner in which the Roman Senate dealt with the conquered territories lends support to the 'empire by accident' theory. Failing to develop specific administrative institutions to govern their conquered territories, they designated them as 'provinces.' A provincia was any sphere of public authority assigned to a magistrate. Territorial 'provinces' were regions under the imperium (supreme military and judicial authority) of praetors and outgoing consuls who served, essentially, as military commanders of Roman armies. Unlike Rome's 'friends' and clients, provinces were charged with paying taxes, and the main responsiblity of a Roman governor was to keep order and make sure the designated tribute was paid. In matters of routine governance, economics, and law, the native elites continued to rule their localities without undue interference from Roman officials except when it came to paying taxes or on matters immediately affecting the interests of the Roman State. (Some provinces, such as Spain and Gaul, were conglomerations of small, largely independent cities and tribes united only by their common obligations to Rome.)

The authority of a governor in his province was extensive, and the opportunities available to predatory governors and their staffs to enrich themselves at the expense of their provincial subjects were myriad. (A favorite ploy was to threaten towns with the billeting of soldiers during the winter unless they bought an exemption.) Though the Romans created in 149 B.C. a permanent standing court to try charges of extortion and malfeasance against provincial administrators, such investigations--which were rarely successful--could only begin after the governor's term of office was up. No one until Augustus, apparently, supervised governors while they served.

Though Badian downplays it, his thesis is consistant with the manner in which contemporary historians of the late Republic and early Empire tended to portray Rome's rise to empire (though what Badian attributes to 'historical forces' the ancients ascribed to 'divine providence'). For Livy and other ancient writers Rome acquired its empire through a series of defensive 'just' wars fought either in self defense or in fulfillment of obligations to allies. The Romans thus obtained their empire justly as the result of divine providence and in consequence of their virtue and fides. Whether or not this interpretation is historically accurate, it clearly reflects the Romans' own imperial ideology. The Roman reluctance to admit aggression was so ingrained that it became fossilized in the very ritual by which the Romans declared war in the Republic, the so-called 'fetial' law. This ritual, which extends back into the early Republic, was a necessary prelude to the initiation of hostilities. It involved a formal accusation by Roman priests of wrongdoing on the part of the prospective enemy, and a castigation of that foe for their failure to remedy the injury they had committed against the Roman people.

One might be forgiven some skepticism regarding the fetial law and the protestations of Livy et al.. The Romans of the middle and late Republic were hardly Quakers; their ethos celebrated manliness and strength, not passivity and resignation. How then does one make sense of the Roman 'just war' doctrine? It is important here to recognize that the fetial law was a religious ceremony. Its audience was the gods, both of Rome and of Rome's enemies. The Romans were a conservative and cautious people. They were also intensely religious, and believed that the gods favored order, justice, and the welfare of the Roman state. The three were intimately connected in the minds of the Romans. To wage a patently aggressive war against an unoffending enemy was to offend against divine justice and to risk the loss of divine favor. Wars were to be undertaken prudently, and a just cause was an essential prerequisite for a prudential war. Whether or not the Roman elite of the late Republic really believed this, their traditions and conventions compelled them to present their wars as 'just' and defensive. Even C. Julius Caesar, who brutally and efficiently conquered the tribes of Gaul in a matter of a few years and undoubtedly regarded the 'fetial' law as a quaint nicety, wrote about his conquests as if they were the unintended result of his defense of Roman territory and friends, thus underscoring to his audience, the Roman elite, that he was a 'traditional' Roman, manly, pious, and duty-bound to Rome.

Caesar's explanation of his conquest of Gaul is almost certainly disingenuous. Even his contemporaries understood that the reality behind the traditional rhetoric was an aggressive campaign of conquest undertaken to swell the coffers and increase the 'dignity' of an ambitious general. For Badian Caesar represents the 'new imperialists,' the men of an age in which the traditional political and social restraints on imperial acquisition had disappeared. William Harris also admits that Caesar's imperialism was of a new sort, but not so much in its rapacity as in its individualism. As mentioned above, Harris and his adherents believe that the Romans consciously created an empire in the second century B.C. and did so in large measure out of the desire for economic gain. What makes this view so attractive is how well it accords with the notoriously bellicose, competitive, and aggressive character of the Roman aristocracy. The Roman elite culture glorified war and awarded prestige on the basis of military success; the latter made good sense since the higher magistrates of the Republic, the two consuls and the praetors, were also its generals. The idea of a Rome driven to war by fear contrasts starkly with the Roman aristocratic ethos of virtus, 'manly valor,' and gloria.

Nor were the Romans shy about profitting from their military ventures, as the flood of slaves and Hellenistic art into Italy in the second century B.C. well attests. War, for the Romans of the middle and late Republic, was a lucrative affair. From the fourth century B.C. to the first, Roman generals and their troops regarded warfare as an opportunity for personal profit as well as a duty to the state. If the Romans wished to be seen as reluctant warriors valiantly defending themselves and their friends against the depredations of others, modern students cannot help but be struck by how many vulnerable and wealthy enemies the Romans were 'forced' to face. Their 'restless desire for defensible borders' led them into a series of very profitable wars, and some of the aggressors whom they punished, notably the unfortunate Carthaginians of the Third Punic War, appear in hindsight to have been more victim than would-be victimizer. Harris regards Rome's pious justifications for going to war as masks for their true motivations, greed and glory. Regardless of historical merit, Harris' cynical, Machtpolitik interpretation of Roman expansion may strike students of modern European and American history as more 'reasonable'--certainly more familiar--than Badian's depiction of reluctant imperialists.

To debate the true motivations of long dead Romans is probably a futile endeavor. We cannot even determine whether the speeches in the Senate recorded by Livy, Appian, and other later historians actually captured the sentiments of the time or reflected the values of the authors' audiences. What one can say is that the very structures of Roman internal politics and the ethos of the elite classes helped propel the Romans to war and conquest. The Roman Republican aristocracy of the second and first centuries B.C. was a ferociously competitive society in which young males were judged on the basis of their demonstrated 'manliness' (virtus) as manifested through the glory they won through service to the state, especially in war. The connection between civil political office and military service was so close that, by tradition, a Roman noble could not stand for even the lowest magistracy, the quaestorship, before he had proved his worthiness for office by serving in ten military campaigns. Glory and a reputation for 'manliness' brought one prestige (dignitas), and prestige was essential political capital. The measure of a 'noble' was his resume: the offices to which he was elected and the deeds he accomplished while holding these magistracies. His competition, moreover, was not only with his contemporaries among the male Roman aristocracy--and because Roman offices were age specific, this competition among males of the same age continued throughout one's adult life--but with his own forbears, whose dignitas he inherited and hoped to surpass.

Roman consuls and praetors had only a single year to translate their office into glory and prestige. This meant that each consul had a stake in going to war. The desire of every Roman commander was to achieve a military victory of such recognized consequence that he would be awarded the honor of a 'triumph,' that elaborate Roman 'ticker-tape' parade that was the culmination of a military career. Whether or not the Roman 'state' entered its wars reluctantly, its military commanders (and probably the rank and file of its legions, who may well have been motivated by similar ideas of glory and dignity) did not.

Ironically, the very competitive character of the Roman aristocracy may have provided a check at times upon the consuls' aggressiveness. In the middle Republic, at any rate, the Senate rather than the two consuls determined whether Rome would go to war. (The popular assembly was charged with the legal right to declare war, but in practice in the second century B.C. the Senate would debate and decide the issue and then present its recommendations for the approval of the assembly. Rarely did the 'people' demur.) Given the personal rivalries among members of the senatorial class, the great men of the Senate had little incentive to award ambitious consuls opportunities to acquire greater prestige and wealth. Rome's decision to undertake a war may, generally, have had less to do with the personal ambitions of the commanders than with a consensus among the governing elite that war was either necessary, obligatory, or in the best interests of 'Rome' (i.e., the elite as a whole). The amount of support a consul could expect in the Senate also was based upon his personal prestige and friendships, and the sense that he had earned his 'turn at bat.'

The Roman institution of clientage, especially as it applied to diplomatic relations, also indirectly promoted wars. The social cement that bound together the various families of Rome was the patron/client relationship. The Roman Republic was a hierarchical society in which the weak were expected to submit to the strong. The strong, however, were also expected to protect and aid those who had so submitted, thus demonstating their true superiority. This was the essence of clientage. Roman aristocrats walked through the streets of the City surrounded by an entourage of clients, the visible manifestation of their dignitas. Their mutual obligations, their 'good faith' (fides), bound them to further each other's interests.

The institution of clientage underlies and explains much about early Roman imperialism. Rome's 'conquest' of Italy in the fourth century B.C. involved a great deal of territorial acquisition, but had much more to do with the establishment of a hegemony. Rome rarely conquered and annexed states. Rather, the Romans defeated, pillaged, punished, and then made 'friends' out of their former allies. Often individual Roman nobles or families became the 'patrons' of foreign cities or communities. This transformation of enemies into clients became the policy that Rome pursued in its wars with the cultured Hellenistic east. It was only when the Romans engaged those whom they considered 'barbarians' or when their more sophisticated clients proved to lack fides that they eschewed clientage in favor of more direct means of control and suppression.

Rome's patronage of its network of clients led to--or at least was the excuse for--many of the wars that Rome fought in the middle and late Republic. To attack a client or 'friend' of Rome was to dishonor--and threaten--Rome herself. Furthermore, since Rome did not impose tribute upon her allies and friends, her position of dominance could only be demonstrated during war, at which time all of her clients were obliged to support her with troops. War, in other words, manifested Rome's prestige. It also gave Rome and her clients common cause, which in itself reinforced the hegemony.

Finally, whether or not the Roman elite of the early and mid second century B.C. waged war and annexed territories for economic reasons, one cannot gainsay that war did prove profitable, not only to the generals and senatorial class but to the equestrian order, whose tax-farmers and financiers were among the primary beneficiaries of Rome's network of provinces and client states. By the first century B.C.-- and certainly after the dictatorship of Sulla--economic determinants played a major role in Roman wars of conquest. Caesar's conquest of Gaul and Pompey's wars in the east were motivated not only by a desire to benefit Rome and to win triumphs, but by the need to acquire the enormous sums of money necessary to compete successfully in Roman politics during the last years of the Republic. By this time, Roman imperialism may have had less to do with the corporate judgment of the senators than with the ambitions of individual military dynasts.

The Dilectus

The Roman legions of the early and middle Republic were conceived as citizen levies, not unlike the hoplite armies of Classical Greece. The fundamental principle in this 'timocratic system' (a political system in which privileges and responsibilities are allotted according to one's social prestige and status) was that the 'higher one's census qualifications the greater one's military obligations and the wider one's political rights' (Gabba 20). Throughout the Republic command of the military rested in the hands of the very richest citizens, the senatorial families (nobiles) and the 'knights' (equestrian order). The bulk of the citizenry deemed 'capable of bearing arms' (a phrase referring to the economic capacity to bear the expense of infantry service) were divided into five census classes based upon property. (A sixth group, the capite censi or proletarii, were considered too poor either to pay taxes or to serve in the army. They were enrolled by head count rather than name and their military obligation was acquitted through naval service, as in Classical Athens. ) Polybius, writing about the year 160 B.C., described fully how the dilectus, the levy of legionaries, was supposed to be conducted in the middle of the second century B.C. According to Polybius, once the two consuls had been elected, they jointly appointed 24 military tribunes, ten senior officers with at least ten years experience and fourteen junior officers with at least five years of military service. The tribunes were then appointed to the four consular legions. The newly elected consuls would announce to the popular assembly the day on which all citizens of military age (those between 17 and 46) were to muster on the Capitoline Hill in Rome for the dilectus. (Citizens living outside the city also mustered for regional recruitment, and messages were sent to the magistrates of allied cities and tribes stating the number of infantry and cavalry required from them for that year's service). On the appointed day, assidui of military age gathered in their respective 'tribes' (political units based on geography rather than common descent) and were then divvied up by the tribunes of the four legions on the basis of desirable physical qualities and experience. Groups of four were presented to the tribunes, who rotated the order of their picks in order to achieve equity among the legions, until each legion's infantry complement of 4200 was filled. (Cavalrymen were selected separately by the censors on the basis of property. Each legion was allotted 300 cavalrymen divided into ten units of thirty known as 'turmae'.) The result was similar to a giant playground pickup game.

The newly enrolled conscripts were then paraded by their officers, required to swear an oath, and formally enrolled in their legions. One man was selected by each tribune to give the oath in full, and the others then swore to do the same as the first man. The oath, which appears to have remained substantially the same throughout the Middle and Late Republic, was to obey one's officers and to carry out their orders to the best of one's ability. One might note that the oath was not to Rome or its 'constitution' (whatever that might have meant) but to their officers, which was eminently practical and concrete. As long as officers and troops saw themselves as fulfilling obligations of citizenship, moreover, an oath of this sort was not dangerous to the State. In the last generations of the Republic, however, the personal oath to the commander reinforced the sense that the Roman legions were gradually becoming the personal clientelas of their generals rather than the armed forces of the res publica.

After the oath was given the tribunes announced a day and place for the mustering of each legion. The recruits were then allowed to return to their homes. When they reassembled by legion on the appointed day, the conscripts were divided according to age, experience, and, to a lesser extent, wealth into four classes: the lightly-armed velites, who served as skirmishers; the hastati and principes, who, armed with oval shield, two javelins, short sword, and body armor formed the two main lines of the legion; and the veteran triarii, who carried thrusting spears and formed a defensive third line. The recruits were assigned to their individual maniples and swore to assemble again at a specified time and place with proper weapons and armor. They were then sent home once more. At the designated time and place, the two legions of a consul would muster along with their complement of allied troops. The new legionaries would begin their military training by learning how to set up a marching camp, one of the most basic activities of legionaries in the field.

In the second century B.C. a Roman citizen was required to serve for up to 16 years before he reached the age of 46. Ordinarily, he would be called upon for no more than six consecutive years of service (the normal tour of duty for the legions stationed in Spain). In the earliest Republic the cost of service was to borne entirely by the conscript. By the time of the Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.), however, each legionary received a small stipend, 120 denarii (=480 asses) a year, to help defray the cost of his equipment, clothing, and food, and by the middle of the second century B.C. the State had begun to issue weapons and clothing to those legionaries who could not afford to supply them, deducting from their pay a modest sum of money that failed to cover the cost of the weapons but which symbolized, nonetheless, the expectation that Roman soldiers were expected to serve their fatherland at their own expense. The payment of the soldiers and the issuing of weapons reflect a gradual transformation of the Roman army from a citizen militia into a standing army with a professional ethos.

Manpower Demands and the Decay of the Assidui

The First and Second Punic Wars proved a turning point in Roman military history. Not only did Rome's victory make her the dominant power in the western Mediterranean and left her with her first 'provinces' (a provincia was a sphere of command entrusted to a Roman magistrate; by extension it was a territory under the control of a Roman commander), it also made unprecedented demands upon Rome's military manpower. During the Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.) half of all adult male citizens served in the Roman army for an average of seven years. At the height of the conflict, between 214 and 203, the Romans fielded 20 legions (the normal forces had consisted of four legions), as well as raising ad hoc legions of the old and unfit to defend the city of Rome itself. Since there were only about 100,000 assidui of military age, the Senate needed to expand the pool of those eligible for military service. They did so by the emergency procedure of enrolling the proletarii and by permanently lowering the property requirements to belong to the assidui from 11,000 to 4,000 asses (1100 to 400 denarii), which entailed the possession of no more than a few acres of arable land. This swelled the number of assidui--the census of 130 B.C. recorded 319,000 registered citizens in all. The 'proletarianization' of the assidui had begun.

Rome's victory over Carthage did not bring her peace or alleviate her manpower needs. Wars in Cisalpine Gaul, Spain, Greece, and Asia Minor meant that thousands of Roman citizens spent years far from home fighting wars or defending the Roman provinces. In much of the first half of the second century B.C. the Roman military required the service of nearly 40,000 citizens each year. Troops assigned to the permanent garrisons in the Spanish provinces could expect six consecutive years of service before they were eligible for dismissal. Those called to serve in wars in Greece and the east would be enrolled for the duration of the campaign.

Though the wars in the east enriched many Roman legionaries, the prospect of long term absence from farms and families made military service less popular among the mass of assidui. What exacerbated this disaffection was the economic plight of the class. Plunder undoubtedly enriched some soldiers and their family. The Roman state acquired so much wealth from its wars in Greece that in 167 B.C. they were able to dispense with personal taxes, which also must have benefited the assidui . On the other hand, conquest and empire also brought more dubious 'benefits.' One such was hundreds of thousands of slaves, who became the main labor force on the vast estates (latifundia) of the wealthy. By the middle of the first century B.C. the number of slaves in Italy may have numbered as many as 3,000,000 (as compared with 4,000,000 free men and women). Another was the acquisition of fertile provinces that could supply cheap grain, which encouraged the wealthy to abandon cereal cultivation in favor of vino- and oleoculture and, especially, sheep raising.

In such an economy small landowners found it difficult to compete economically. The proletarii were pressed even more directly by the competition offered by slave labor. The economic distress of the lower classes is especially ironic in light of the enormous wealth that flowed into Rome from booty and taxation. By 74 B.C. the Roman treasury collected 50 million denarii a year (enough to pay the wages of 400,000 troops). After Pompey's settlement of the east (62 B.C.) this sum swelled to 135 million. State revenues of this magnitude allowed the Roman elite to engage in massive programs of public works, which undoubtedly meant jobs for many. It also permitted Gaius Gracchus in 123 B.C. to introduce state subsidies for grain distribution and the establishment of colonies. And along with this 'bread' also came 'circuses,' as the wealth was translated by magistrates into public games and spectacles. Much of the riches, however, went into the pockets of generals and governors, who became fabulously wealthy. They used this wealth to purchase art, luxuries, land, and slaves, and to support armies of clients. The Roman elite of the first century B.C. had the means to live on a scale that would have appalled that early second century B.C. paragon of austerity Cato the Censor. This new found wealth, moreover, upped the ante in the game of politics. To win a consulship could mean the acquisition of a fortune, but to win an election now would also cost a fortune.

Little of this wealth seems to have trickled down to the assidui. Instead, the class that made up the rank and file of the Roman army saw its economic condition steadily decay. Soldiers returned after years of service abroad only to confront financial ruin. Many found their family farms had been bought by wealthy neighbors, adding even more acreage to their already extensive latifundia. The numbers of assidui apparently declined between 159 B.C. and 130 B.C.. When they began to rise again in 124 B.C. the change was probably due to the effects of the Gracchan land reform and, perhaps, to a new lowering of the property qualification. P.A. Brunt, citing St. Augustine's dictum that without justice kingdoms are but nothing more than robbery on a large scale, observed that the Romans practised theft on the largest scale yet known: "they robbed their subjects abroad, so that they could better rob their fellow-countrymen" (Brunt 40).

The more far-sighted among the Roman nobility recognized that the crisis of the assidui was also a crisis for the Republic. Rome's armies depended upon this class for its troops. How could Rome continue to field armies for war and to maintain garrisons in the provinces given the shrinking pool of those eligible for military service? Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus provided one solution, a solution the failure of which helped fragment the elite and push the Republic into social conflict and, eventually, civil war.

The Problem of Spain

The backdrop for the tribunate of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, which arguably began the descent of the Roman Republic into a century of social unrest and civil war, is Rome's longstanding attempt to pacify the provinces of Farther and Hither Spain. In the second century B.C. the Roman elite pursued a dual foreign policy of seeking political hegemony in the 'civilized' Hellenistic east (in practical terms this meant creating client states and manipulating public opinion); in the 'barbarian' west, especially in Spain, the Romans showed their contempt for the natives by treating them with brutality and violence.

Part of the problem was that the Celtiberian tribesmen failed to understand Roman fides. The Roman practice of defeating an enemy and then making peace with them, transforming them from foe into client, failed miserably in Spain. The tribes that the Romans confronted apparently did not understand this process. They spoke a different 'cultural language,' which made them appear to the Romans treacherous and perfidious. Tribes would rise up, be defeated, agree to a treaty, and then break the treaty and rise up again. The result was nearly constant, fluctuating conflicts, which gave Roman praetors opportunities to win triumphs but which also frustrated Roman magistrates and made the lives of Roman troops unfortunate enough to be assigned to Spain wretched. One Roman praetor of Farther Spain, the notorious Servius Sulpicius Galba, in 150 B.C. shocked the sensibilities of his peers by ostentatiously violating Roman fides. Having devastated the lands of Lusitania, Galba received a embassy that sought peace on the basis of the former treaty that the Lusitanians had entered into with Galba's predecessor Atilius. They claimed that they had been forced to violate the treaty because of poverty. Galba, feigning sympathy, promised the Lusitanians good lands to settle upon if they surrendered. When they came to Galba, he divided them into three groups and moved each to a separate plain. Then, as a prelude to bringing them to their new homes, he told them as friends to lay down their arms. When they had done so he surrounded them with a ditch and sent in soldiers with swords who slew them all, while they lamented and invoked the names of the gods and the pledges which they had received. In like manner he hastened to the second and third divisions and destroyed them while they were still ignorant of the fate of the first. Thus he avenged treachery with treachery, imitating barbarians in a way unworthy of a Roman. (Appian, Roman History, vi. x. 59-60, in Lewis and Reinhold 195)

Galba's barbarity appalled many senators, and he was even brought to trial because of this act, but he was never punished for it, either legally or socially.

Rome's military problems in Spain were due in part to the discontent of the two (later 4) legions stationed there throughout the second century B.C.. If fides was one casualty of war, the vaunted Roman military discipline so praised by Polybius was another. Separated from their homes for six year tours in a region in which low level conflict was frequent (and unpredictable) and booty scarce, the conscripted assidui became sullen and even mutinous. Resistance to the dilectus for Spain grew and was exacerbated by a series of military reversals suffered by Roman commanders in the early 130s. When the Senate dispatched the hero of the Third Punic War, the consul Scipio Aemilianus, to Spain in 134 B.C., Scipio chose to bring with him legions composed largely of volunteers, many of whom were his own clients, rather than more disgruntled conscripts.

The Spanish problem was to continue into the first century B.C., and Spain was to grant opportunities for military glory to both Pompey and Caesar. But the greatest impact that the low intensity wars in Spain had upon the Roman Republic was indirect. For it was his experiences in Spain that convinced Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus sometime between 137 and 133 B.C. that something had to be done to augment the numbers of assidui and to improve the conditions of this class.

The Gracchi: Land Reform as a Solution to the Recruitment Crisis

Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (163-133 B.C.) and his brother Gaius (153-121 B.C.) were unlikely social revolutionaries. They were the maternal grandsons of the great Scipio Africanus, the man who defeated Hannibal. Their father's family was also distinguished. In short, the Gracchi belonged to the highest stratum of the Roman elite. Tiberius's early career was in the military, and he served with distinction in Africa and as quaestor (paymaster) in Spain during the disastrous campaign against the Numantines in 137. Tiberius' father, the elder Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, had been one of the more successful Roman governors in Spain. His military victories in 179 and his reorganization of provincial taxation had pacified the region until the outbreak of hostilities with the Lusitanians in Farther Spain and the Numantines in Nearer Spain in 154. The younger Tiberius' tenure in Spain was less successful. He shared in the humiliation of his commander, Caius Hostilius Mancinus, who had been defeated so decisively by the Numantines that he had been compelled to surrender and agree to an unfavorable treaty subsequently renounced by the Senate as unworthy of a Roman. But whereas Mancinus bore the disgrace of his defeat--he was handed over to the Numantines by the Senate as part of their repudiation of his actions--Tiberius managed to escape with his reputation intact, in part because of his family connections.

Tiberius's experiences with the disaffected Roman troops in Spain and his observation on his journey to Spain that much of Etruria was given over to huge estates (latifundia) of the rich worked by teams of slaves impressed upon him the gravity of the crisis faced by the assidui. He became convinced that the welfare of Rome depended upon rehabilitating the assidui and reducing the numbers of slaves in Italy. (Tiberius was undoubtedly influenced in this by the bloody slave revolt in Sicily that was then raging for several years.) In effect, Tiberius had analyzed the crisis of Roman military recruitment and had concluded that the solution was to increase the number of assidui. He intended to do so by redistributing Rome's public lands in Italy, the legacy of her rise to hegemony in the fifth through third centuries, to poor citizens, thus raising them from capite censi to assidui.

To effect his plan Tiberius stood for election for the office of tribune of the plebeians in 133 B.C.. The ten tribunes of the plebeians possessed enormous authority and potential power. They not only presided over the popular assembly but served as the spokesmen of the plebeians, a group that included the vast majority of all Roman citizens. (By 133 B.C. there were only a handful of patrician families left.) The tribunes presented bills to the assembly and had the authority to veto the actions and punishments of Roman magistrates, including consuls. The check upon their power, however, was that any one of the ten tribunes could veto the actions of his colleagues. Their importance to the 'people' was such that the assembly took a vow to avenge any injuries done to them; their persons were to be sacrosanct.

The tribunate may have represented the 'people,' but those who held the offices were drawn from the highest nobility. The 'struggle of the Orders' had ended more than a century before with the victory of the plebeians; what this meant was that wealthy plebeian families could and did enter the senatorial class and become 'nobles.' The distinction between the few patrician noble families and the plebeian nobles had become less and less meaningful. In the hierarchical society of Republican Rome, it is not surprising that the men chosen to be the tribunes of the plebeians came from among the most distinguished families in Rome.

Tiberius saw the assembly with its legislative power as a vehicle for his reform. He proposed to introduce legislation in the assembly to distribute public land to the poor in allotments of 30 iugera (about 20 acres) stocked with cattle and seed. This entailed enforcing the old law against any individual holding more than 500 iugera (about 350 acres) of public land. The problem was that by 133 the vast majority of public land had long been in the hands of the nobles, who regarded the holdings as their own property. Many had even built villas, and some even family tombs, on the 'leased' land. Tiberius's proposal to limit such holdings to 500 iugera (plus an additional 250 iugera for each son) meant a massive confiscation. The outraged noble proprietors regarded it as legalized robbery.

The nobles had two aces in their hand, a compliant tribune named Octavius who was willing to veto the bill, and the custom of bringing all bills before the Senate for its approval. Tiberius trumped both. He had the assembly impeach Octavius, a maneuver of dubious legality, and then had his bill voted on without vetting it before the Senate, an outright affront to the 'Conscript Fathers.' The plebeian assembly established a land commission to survey holdings of public land to begin the redistribution. The only problem now remaining was to find the money to fund the reform. The plots would be worthless without stock, and stock required expenditures of cash. The Senate, however, controlled the state treasury. Tiberius overcame this through a stroke of luck and a bold disregard for political convention and custom. Attalus III of the wealthy kingdom of Pergamum in Asia Minor had recently died leaving Rome heir to his kingdom. Tiberius had the assembly pass a bill that allowed the commission to use the revenues from Pergamum, now organized into the new province of 'Asia,' to fund the land redistribution. This was an unprecedented attack on senatorial privilege and control over foreign policy and finances.

Tiberius's enemies accused him of aiming to establish a personal tyranny and made it clear that they would bring charges against him as soon as his term of office was up. He responded by standing for reelection, which itself was of doubtful constitutionality. The election was to be held in the Fall at the time of the harvest, which meant that Tiberius' most ardent supporters would be occupied in the fields and unable to vote. Tiberius turned to the urban proletariat for support, which made the landed rich even more nervous. Finally, the Chief Pontiff, Scipio Nasica, Tiberius's cousin, gathered together a mob of senators and their clients and attacked Tiberius and his supporters. Tiberius was clubbed to death and his mutilated body dumped into the Tiber River. The Senate subsequently legitimized the violence by declaring Tiberius ex post facto a revolutionary and traitor.

The Gracchan land commission survived the death of its inventor, but its attempt to identify public lands held illegally proceeded very slowly, due to the complexity of the problem. Nor did Tiberius' murder eradicate his following. Ten years after Tiberius's death his younger brother Gaius attempted to push forward the reforms begun by his brother. The problem of military recruitment probably also motivated Gaius, though, as with his brother, it is difficult to ascertain whether he used the issue to advance his personal ambitions or was truly concerned with Rome's welfare--or both. Gaius's reform program was more extensive than Tiberius's had been. As tribune of the plebeians in 123 and 122 he reached out to the urban masses as well as to the rural workers who formed the backbone of his brother's support. He also attempted to forge an alliance between the lower classes and the equestrian order, the census group deemed to possess sufficient property to serve in the Roman cavalry, the class from which Rome's bankers, traders, and publicans came. The result was a hodge-podge of proposals that included the creation of colonies of citizens in Italy and, for the first time, overseas (a colony actually was briefly established on the site of Carthage), public distribution of grain subsidized by the state treasury, a prohibition against deducting the cost of clothing and weapons from a legionary's pay (which did not long survive Gaius' death), a proposal to extend citizenship to Italian allies (the defeat of which led to the so-called 'Social War' in 91 B.C.), the placing of tax collection in the hands of publicans, members of the Equestrian Order who paid the state a flat sum of money in return for the right to collect--and pocket--provincial taxes, and the replacement of senators with equites on courts charged with trying cases of extortion and abuse of power by provincial governors. (The last two bills not only enriched the 'knights' but stripped provincials of some of the meager protection that they had previously enjoyed against the extortions of their Roman superiors.)

Gaius failed to be reelected tribune in 121 B.C., the result, according to Plutarch, of false returns and, perhaps, the disaffection of the City's proletariat with the proposal to extend citizenship to the Italians. The new tribunes acted in cooperation with the consul Opimius to negate a number of Gaius' bills, including the one to establish a colony at Carthage. Gaius and his followers resorted to a show of force, which led the Senate to issue a 'last decree' directing the consul Opimius to secure the safety of the state by any means possible. Gaius tried to flee, but was caught and killed, his head brought to Opimius on the tip of a spear. Three thousand of his supporters were also killed. The Gracchan reforms thus came to a violent end. The problem of military recruitment remained.

Marius and his 'Mules'

How successful were the land distributions of the Gracchi? Between 130 and 124 the number of registered citizens (adult, taxpaying males) in Rome increased from 319,000 to 395,000. This, however, may have had been the result of a change in the property qualification for the assidui. Sometime before 107 B.C. the property required for the status of assiduus was dropped once again, this time from 4000 asses to 1,500 asses (400 to 150 denarii), which was only slightly higher than the annual pay of a legionary. This was a very modest sum: in Cicero's day (ca. 60 B.C.) a skilled slave could earn three quarters of a denarii for a day's work. Those who qualified may well have possessed little more than a cottage and garden. The line of demarcation between the true proletarii (the word literally means those who offer nothing to the state except children) and the 'proletarianized' assidui of the late second and early first centuries B.C. was indistinct. The poverty of the rank and file is reflected in the abandonment of the notion that individual soldiers were obliged to equip themselves. By the end of the second century B.C. Roman legionaries were mainly equipped by the State at public expense.

The formal opening of the legions to volunteers from the proletariat was attributed in ancient times to Gaius Marius (157-86 B.C.). The historical context for Marius' reform of the levy was the Jugurthine War (111-105) in northern Africa. Jugurtha, the grandson of Rome's Numidian ally in the Second Punic War King Masinissa, had managed to outmaneuver his cousins and unite the kingdom in defiance of the wishes of the Roman Senate, which, spooked perhaps by visions of a new Carthage, much preferred a divided and more controllable Numidia. Jugurtha made the error of sanctioning the killing of some Italian traders in 112, which gave the Senate a casus belli. Jugurtha proved successful in the early years of the war. Sallust, a supporter of Julius Caesar whose anti-senatorial bias makes him less than trustworthy, claims that Rome's military efforts came to naught because of Jugurtha's ability to bribe Roman generals and key senators. In 109 B.C. Rome experienced the humiliation of having an entire army defeated and its troops forced to pass under the yoke, a shameful ritual of submission. The Senate responded by dispatching to Africa the consul Q. Caecilius Metellus, who systematically began to build fortifications and secure territory in eastern Numidia. Jugurtha, resorting to guerilla warfare, proved elusive, and Metellus' slow and cautious approach became unpopular in Rome. This gave Gaius Marius, one of Metellus' officers, who came from an equestrian rather than noble family, the opportunity to run for his first consulship (107 B.C.). Marius used his lack of 'nobility' to his advantage during the election campaign, presenting himself as a professional soldier in contrast to his effete opponents. He declared that, if elected, he would bring the war to a swift and victorious conclusion.

Marius' election displeased the Senate, who viewed him as a demagogue. When Marius asked permission to raise more troops, the Senate responded by authorizing a supplemental dilectus. Political considerations were undoubtedly involved, as Marius' senatorial opponents knew that a second round of conscriptions would alienate Marius's supporters among the small property owners. Marius, however, evaded the problem by calling for volunteers from all citizens, including the propertyless proletarii or capite censi.

Sallust and Plutarch, among other ancient historians, regarded this opening of the legions to landless citizens as a disastrous innovation that helped destroy the Republic. Marius, it is often argued, altered the nature of the army, transforming it from a citizen militia into a mercenary, professional force, willing to follow its generals even against the State. This, however, is an oversimplification of a complex process. Marius, indeed, did nothing new. In times of crisis, notably after the disaster at Cannae, the capite censi had long been allowed--or compelled--to serve. Volunteers, moreover, were always welcomed, especially given the growing unpopularity of conscription. By calling for volunteers among the proletarii, Marius was merely taking the next logical step in the proletarianization of the legions begun more than a century before with the first reduction in property qualification for military service. And given the failure of the Gracchi to restore the assidui, it was inevitable that all property qualifications would eventually have had to have been discarded.

Perhaps more significant than the presence of proletariat soldiers in Marius' army was Marius's securing grants of land in Africa for his veterans in 103. This was the action of a patron for his clients, and the notion that a Roman army could be the clientela of its general was ominous--at least in retrospect. But, again, there is some question whether Marius, or other 'populares,' was really responsible for this act of generosity. Certainly, later generals--Sulla, Pompey, and Caesar--would play the role of patron, and by the death of Caesar in 44 B.C. veteran soldiers had come to expect generous pensions and land grants upon the completion of their service.

Marius proved to be an outstanding general. As promised, he defeated Jugurtha, though it took him two years to do so. (Ironically, Marius was as systematic and cautious as his former superior Metellus. Caution and planning marked all of Marius's military campaigns.) Marius' victory in Africa made him the hero of the day, and when a large Roman army was annihilated on the Rhone at Arausio (Orange) in 105 by the Cimbri and Teutones, German tribes migrating in search of land, the Roman people turned again to Marius. In defiance of convention, which mandated a ten-year hiatus between consulships, Marius was elected consul for the second time in three years. He was to be reelected in each of the following four years, a testimony not only to Marius' prestige with the electorate but also to Roman fear of the German barbarians.  

Transformation of the Army in the Late Republic

Throughout the centuries of the Roman Republic, the military reflected the organization and values of the society at large. The Republic was an intensely hierarchical society, and this was duly reflected in its armed forces. The officer corps was drawn from a small elite based on wealth and status, while the rank and file came from the lower classes of the citizenry. (The despised Navy was manned by the proletarii and foreigners.) An ordinary legionary, ca. 100 B.C., might aspire to achieve the rank of centurion after 15 to 20 years of service. As important as a centurion was--and in his role as a company commander he is closer to a Marine captain than to the NCOs with whom he is often compared--he did not participate in devising policy, strategy, or tactics--unless he was the primus pilus, chief centurion--or lead the legions. These roles were the province of the 'nobles' and equestrians, who were destined from youth to command. As odd as it may seem, in the armies of Scipio Africanus, Marius, and Caesar, centurions who could boast two or more decades of experience in war would technically be under the command of young 'noble' tribunes in their late teens or early twenties. In every legionary's kit there may have been a centurion's vinewood staff but certainly not a marshal's baton.

As society changed, so did the legions. As we have seen, by the beginning of the first century, the acquisition of empire had effected enormous changes in Roman society, enriching the 'nobles' and equestrian order beyond the imagination of their forebears, while impoverishing the small farmer and swelling the mass of urban and rural day laborers. The result had been the gradual 'proletarianization' and professionialization of the legions. In addition, the rank and file of the army increasingly in the second and first centuries came from rural small holders and laborers from the Italian countryside. Citizens of this sort had little opportunity to participate in the popular assemblies; their political rights were more theoretical than real. The ideal of the citizen soldier was becoming more and more divorced from reality. The political consequences that this process had for Rome in the first century B.C. were profound.

The growth of empire transformed not only the army but the nature of politics in Rome. The influx of enormous wealth and the creation of large, restless mobs of urban poor made the electoral process in the first century B.C. costlier and more susceptible to violence. Elections literally cost fortunes that could only be recouped by the profits of military commands or governorships. Loss of an election could mean staggering debt and ruin. The stakes of politics had been raised at a time when the legions had become more tied to their generals who recruited, led, and rewarded them than to the concept of the res public. As Ronald Syme observed, "The soldiers, now recruited from the poorest classes in Italy, were ceasing to feel allegiance to the State; military service was for livelihood, or from constraint, not a natural and normal part of a citizen's duty. ... The general had to be a politician, for his legionaries were a host of clients, looking to their leader for spoil in war and estates in Italy when their campaigns were over." Given the insanely competitive nature of the society and the premium placed by the elite on their 'dignity,' one might think that it was only a matter of time before some 'noble' general realized that the command of legions was political capital. Ironically, the first commander to do so was a highly conservative, even reactionary noble who claimed that he was only acting to preserve the Republic, L. Cornelius Sulla.

The Practice of Politics

To understand the role that the military played in the 'Fall of the Republic,' we must first consider the formal constitution and its relationship to the actual workings of politics in Rome in the first century B.C. Polybius, a Greek noble hostage writing around 160 B.C., praised Rome to his Greek audience for its 'mixed' constitution. Influenced by Greek political philosophy, Polybius described a political system which combined elements of monarchy (the two annually elected consuls), oligarchy (the Senate), and democracy (the four popular assemblies). For Polybius, as for Cicero writing a century later, the Senate was the central institution of government in the Roman Republic. The preeminent dignity of the Senate was so thoroughly accepted that SPQR (senatus populusque Romanus, the 'Senate and the people of Rome') was the standard expression for the sovereign authority of the res publica. What is odd about all this is that the Senate possessed few formal, delineated powers. While the Roman consuls and praetors possessed imperium, which meant that they had the authority to lead armies and punish citizens, and the 'people' in their assemblies enacted law and elected magistrates, the Senate disbursed public monies for extraordinary expenditures, negotiated with foreign diplomats, and advised the consuls. Why then did Polybius and Cicero place it at the center of the Roman constitution? As strange as it may seem, the real power of the Senate derived from its role as an advisory body. Rarely would consuls undertake policies or the assembly enact a law without the advice and approval of the Senate.

To understand why we must consider the nature of Roman society and its value system in the Late Republic. Hierarchy and tradition were key elements in the Roman value system. In the Middle and Late Republic, the worth of a man and his place in the social hierarchy were established by a combination of birth and achievement. Together they gave a man his dignitas, his public prestige, and his auctoritas, his personal authority. The amount of 'dignity' that one could accumulate was defined in large measure by the class into which one was born. Wealth, dignity, and power were the birth-right of the 'nobles' and, to a lesser extent, the 'equestrians.' How much of each they achieved was based upon the competition among their age-cohort. For Roman nobles this competition was deadly serious. As Julius Caesar is said to have commented, his dignity was more precious to him than his very life. In this, as in much else, Caesar was expressing the traditional values of his class.

Men of dignity and authority were owed deference by those below them on the social ladder. This sense of hierarchy and subordination was greatly reinforced by the social institution of patronage that connected the highest strata of Roman society with the lowest in a network of patronage and service. The Senate represented the repository of the combined dignitas of the State. It comprised the three hundred (after 81 B.C., the six hundred) best Romans, the men whose names headed each census. The minimum qualifications for this life-long tenure were ten military campaigns, thirty years of age, and election to the office of quaestor (the lowest of the magistracies that made up the cursus honorum). As with society as a whole, the Senate was hierarchical in its workings. A new senator or one who had not advanced beyond the office of quaestor or aedile would only speak on the rarest of occasions, and then at the behest of a superior. The chief senators (principes), who led the debates, had achieved their 'authority' and dignity as consuls and praetors. These were men who had enjoyed imperium and who might, one day, possess it again. Conversely, the sitting consuls had come from the ranks of the Senate and were destined to return to that body after their term of office. Little wonder that they would be reluctant to flout the wishes of that body; a man was a consul for a year and a senator for life.

Given the hierarchical and tradition-bound nature of Roman society, it is not surprising that the Roman 'people' in their assemblies also usually deferred to the senators. When the Gracchi attempted to enhance the prestige of the plebeian assembly at the expense of the Senate, they paid for their presumption with their lives. The individual power of senators, moreover, was greatly enhanced by the institution of patronage. By the Late Republic great men such as Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar, as well as their lesser known senatorial colleagues, the Caecilii Metelli, Domitii Ahenobarbi, Scipiones, and their ilk, boasted virtual armies of clients among their rural tenants and in the urban mob. And since patronage was a network of loyalty and service, in which one's own clients would have clients, the bonds of deference extended, at least indirectly, from the 'first men' (principes) down to the day laborers who made up the despised urban 'mob.' The influence of individual senators radiated out from Rome. The clientelas of many, especially those whose main estates lay distant from Rome, had a distinctly rural cast, filled with tenants and lesser landowning neighbors. The very greatest men were patrons not only to lesser Roman citizens but to whole cities, towns, and communities within the empire. Thus invisible bonds of subordination connected the entire society. The Senate, in short, spoke for Rome because its members had the 'dignity' and 'authority' to do so. Sovereignty may have belong to the SPQR, senatus populusque romanus, but the 'People' had to be guided by their Conscript Fathers. The power of the Senate reflected the truly oligarchical nature of Roman politics.

The Senate's true strength rested in the consensus of the Optimates ('the best'), the ruling fifty or so families who claimed the status of 'nobles' and who dominated elections for the consulship. This consensus, however, was beginning to breakdown in the last decades of the second century B.C.. The Gracchi had come from one of the most prestigious families in Rome and yet had turned upon their own class, stirring up the 'people' against their betters. 'Populares,' such as the Gracchi, may have challenged basic assumptions about the locus of sovereignty within the state, but the real threat to senatorial privilege and authority came from social, economic, and military changes that were transforming the practice of politics. The unity of the Roman elite all but disintegrated as the stakes and rewards of office became greater and greater. Along with 'dignitas' and 'auctoritas' the resources necessary to win power in Rome were cash, clients, and, increasingly, armed force. Marius's ascent to the consulship reflected the new clout of the equestrian order, enhanced by their economic exploitation of the resources of empire. Even the 'people' became political players. The 'great' found it necessary to court the masses, as demonstrations of public generosity (if not prodigality) in the forms of games and feasts became a regular element of electoral campaigning. Armies of street thugs and clients turned elections into bloodbaths. Roman armies now no longer menaced only the enemies of Rome but Rome itself (though this had less to do with the decisions of the rank and file than with those of their leaders). The Gracchi were only a hint of what was to come at the hands of men less honorable than they--and far more dangerous.

Marius and Sulla

The election of the 'new man' Gaius Marius as consul in 107 B.C. and his consecutive consulships in 104 to 101 challenged the authority of the closeknit ruling aristocracy and hinted at a breakdown in the ordinary processes of politics. Though a great general and a wealthy landowner, Marius was still only an equestrian by birth. Marius was what the Romans called a 'new man,' the first of his family to achieve the distinction of a consulship. 'New men' were rare but not unheard of; Cato the Censor (234-149 B.C.), that very epitome of traditional Roman values, had been one, but he had risen to prominence the proper way, through the patronage of a great noble who recognized his personal merit. Marius had not. If anything, he had shown ingratitude to his social and military superior, Q. Caecilius Metellus Numidicus, intriguing behind his back to rob him both of credit for achievements and command of his army. Marius, rather than showing proper deference, had played upon the growing popular suspicion of the pride and corruption of the nobility. In turn, the 'savior of Rome' was himself suspect to the older and more established element, who found his appeal to the popular assembly dangerous and destabilizing. Like the Gracchi, Marius was seen as a 'popularis,' one who regarded the authority of the Roman 'people' in their assemblies as superior to that of the Senate. This may be granting Marius too much credit for a political ideology. Whatever his opponents might have thought, Marius was not another Tiberius Gracchus. What motivated him was neither principle nor idea, but an apparently insatiable desire to enhance his personal prestige--in this, at any rate, Marius was 'traditional.' As consul, he made an excellent general--and little else.

Marius' six elections to the consulship in the course of a decade must have been profoundly disturbing to the elite. (Consider the Republican reaction to FDR's unprecedented four terms in the Presidency.) The constitutional guards that preserved the competition among peers and limited the possibility of an individual or a family becoming too dominant were breaking down. The discontent of men such as Sulla and their hostility toward Marius found its roots here.

Equally disturbing was Marius's route to office. He had been elected consul because of his military talent rather than his 'auctoritas.' In this he was the father of a new breed of consuls, who led their armies in the name of Rome but whose legions often became extensions of their own ambitions. One reason for the advent of these military dynasts was the ubiquity of war in the first century, much of which took place upon Italian soil. Between 90 and 80 B.C. some 250,000-300,000 Italians served as soldiers. After 78 B.C. the totals of men under arms averaged in excess of 90,000, reaching the neighborhood of perhaps 600,000 (more than half of whom were non-Italians) by the end of the Civil Wars that destroyed the Republic. The Italian agrarian economy was devastated by these wars. Not only were crops and goods plundered--the Spartacus slave rebellion (74-71), which took 10 legions to suppress, was particularly destructive--but the billeting of soldiers and forced requisition of supplies impoverished thousands of peasants unlucky enough to hold land in the path of an army's advance. Italian society became saturated with violence. Poverty bred crime. In the late Republic brigandage made travel through the countryside without an armed entourage risky, and by the 70s B.C. elections in Rome were constantly attended by street violence, as a new generation of politicians such as Publius Clodius and his rival Titus Annius Milo campaigned by raising armies of street thugs. (When Milo killed Clodius in 52 B.C. the former had with him a retinue of 300, some of whom were gladiators, while the former was attended by a mere few dozen.)

The oddly named 'Social War' (from the Latin socii, allies), which ravaged Italy between 91 B.C. and 89 B.C., introduced this new bellicose era. One of the most contentious legacies of Gaius Sempronius Gracchus was his plan to extend citizenship to Rome's Italian alllies. There were a number of good reasons for doing so, not the least being that the allies, upon whom the Romans depended militarily, clamored for political rights. After all, they fought in Rome's wars and followed its consuls without ever having a say in policy or a vote in elections. In 91 B.C., following the murder of a tribune, M. Livius Drusus, who had resurrected Gaius' proposal, the allies rose in revolt. For the next two years Rome fought its allies in a bitter and highly destructive conflict that at its height involved more than 250,000 combatants. As in the Second Punic War, Rome was forced to call upon the proletarii for their legions, and even turned to freedmen to garrison Rome. The devastation wrought by the conflict was enormous, perhaps even more ruinous to the Italian economy than Hannibal's campaigns had been. The economic after effects of the war lingered for a decade or more. The number of dead was also stunning. And after two years of fighting the Romans managed to win only by granting citizenship to all Italian cities and peoples who were willing to support her. Rome won the war but lost the issue. By 89 B.C. Roman citizenship had been extended to most Italians--though the senators attempted to save the situation by enrolling the new citizens in a few 'tribes' that could always be outvoted. The result for the military was the disappearance of allied legions, as the Italians were now conscripted into the regular legions. The specialized military roles once played by allies, especially the cavalry, were now assumed by 'auxiliary' troops raised from the provinces.

While the war in Italy was raging, Mithridates, the king of Pontus in Asia Minor, was provoked into a war by the Roman governors of the province of Asia (formerly the kingdom of Pergamum). Mithridates, who was to plague Rome for a generation, apparently conceived of himself as a Hellenistic liberator of the east from Roman domination. He consequently inaugurated his attack upon Roman Asia by inciting a widespread massacre of Roman and Italian businessmen throughout the east. According to the sources, in a single day some 80,000 Italian merchants, businessmen, and publicans--whose usurous loans and ruthless business practices made them distinctly unpopular with the locals--were killed. This was the sort of provocation that the Senate, regardless of its views about expansion, could not ignore.

Among Rome's heroes in the Social War was Marius's former quaestor, Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138-78 B.C.). While the elderly Marius was finding little opportunity for glory leading armies in northern Italy, his former quaestor in the Jugurthine War was winning great victories in the south. Marius and Sulla despised each other, in part because of class resentments. Sulla was the scion of an old patrician family that had fallen upon hard times, both politically and economically; Marius, of course, was a 'new man' from a wealthy equestrian family from the Italian countryside. Their personalities also clashed; Marius the dour disciplinarian found little to admire in his lax, congenial subordinate. Their twenty years difference in age added an element of generational struggle to their rivalry. What the declasse noble and the 'new man' had in common was political ambition, a burning ambition for dignitas, and an almost pathologically vengeful nature. Marius, though he appreciated Sulla's military abilities, had done his best to deprive him of credit for his achievements in the African campaign, which included the actual capture of Jugurtha. (Sulla responded by having a signet ring made up depicting Jugurtha's surrender to him.) Over the next decade Marius in one way or another blocked Sulla's advance. The Social War had changed all that. Now Sulla had the limelight and the aged Marius resented it. In 88 B.C. Sulla was rewarded for his actions in the Social War by being elected to the consulship. It was a propitious time for the consulship. Rome needed to send an army against Mithridates and Sulla was their man. This was a truly plum opportunity for Sulla. Mithridates was fabulously wealthy, and the general who defeated him would gain incredible riches, a key consideration for Sulla, a man who grew up under modest circumstances and had learned to appreciate luxury. The war, moreover, was popular. The massacre of the Italians provided good propaganda; even more to the point, the legions raised to fight Mithridates knew that booty and loot lay in their future. Sulla's reputation of being a soldier's general, always desirous of the welfare of his men, also made it easy to recruit. During the 'Social War' he had won the affection of his troops by relaxing discipline when he could and by permitting them free rein in looting cities that they took. Consequently, Sulla had little difficulty raising six legions, which he assembled in camp at Capua. Then, incredibly, Marius, sixty nine years old and decidedly given to fat, came forward to claim the command. Supported by a tribune of the plebs, Marius appealed to the popular assembly, which stripped Sulla of command and replaced him with the old hero. The senators who protested the proceedings were violently driven out of the forum. When the news reached Sulla, he addressed his 35,000 soldiers, informing them about the events that had transpired in Rome and suggesting that Marius would raise his own troops for the campaign, thus depriving them of their chance for wealth. The soldiers began to cry out that Sulla should march on Rome; Sulla acceded to their demand.

Sulla's army took the City, setting fire to some buildings along his route; Marius, now outlawed, fled to Africa. After Sulla restored the Senate and annulled the assembly's transfer of command, he departed with his army to the east, where he conducted a highly successful campaign against Mithridates. In his absense, Marius and his supporters, notably Lucius Cinna, returned to Rome and regained control of the city. Marius was elected to his seventh and final consulship in 86 B.C. and celebrated his victory by massacring Sulla's friends and supporters, many of whom died at the hands of Marius's notorious personal bodyguard of 4,000 runaway slaves. Soon after Marius was elected to his unprecedented seventh consulship, he died, leaving Cinna in control of Rome and the 'popular' faction.

Sulla, having taken Athens by siege and having defeated Mithridates' forces in a series of battles in Greece, negotiated a treaty to end the war, and returned with his troops to Rome in 83 B.C. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Sulla's battle hardened forces routed their opponents. Among the local magnates who turned out in support of Sulla was a young noble of rural ancestry named Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo (106-48 B.C.), Pompey the Great as he was renamed by Sulla, who managed to raise three full legions from among his clients and tenants. Another was the young noble M. Licinius Crassus, who was to gain the reputation of being the wealthiest man in Rome. The third and most famous of the future triumvirs, Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.), was still only in his late teens and on the other side of the political fence, a member of the 'populares' faction related to both Marius and Cinna by marriage.

Sulla's victory in Italy left him in charge of Rome. Appointed 'dictator' by a grateful Senate, Sulla began to clean house. His purpose was to restore the power and dignity of the Senate by abolishing the institutions of government that had eroded senatorial authority (notably the veto power of the tribunate), by reemphasizing the ancient oligarchical traditions and customs, and by killing as many of the 'popular' faction as possible. Sulla, on the morning after his troops took Rome, summoned the Senate to attend him in the Temple of Bellona on the Campus Martius. While he reassured them that he had come to restore the commonwealth, his speech was interrupted by loud screams and wailing erupting from the neighboring Villa Publica, a large public enclosure ordinarily reserved for the business of the censors. The senators were obviously startled and distracted by the sounds, but Sulla, "continuing his speech with a calm and unconcerned countenance, bade them listen to what he had to say, and not busy themselves with what was doing out of doors; he had given directions for the chastisement of a few offenders" (Plutarch, Life of Sulla). The 'few offenders' numbered six thousand. But these were mere soldiers taken during the previous day's fighting. Sulla's security lay in exterminating their betters. Soon the heads of the two elected consuls, one of whom was Marius's son, decorated the Rostra in Rome. An additional eighty senators and sixteen hundred 'moneybags,' equestrian entrepreneurs who had profitted from Marius's confiscations, were promptly singled out for death and a bounty offered for their heads. In this unstable, violent climate individuals, claiming to be adherents of Sulla, seized the opportunity to settle scores with their enemies. To protect the innocent and to allay their fears--or so he told the Senate--Sulla decided that he would regularize the criminal prosecutions by having the names of the condemned posted on a daily basis in the Forum. The lives and property of those so 'proscribed' were declared forfeit. Their killers were to be commended--and rewarded handsomely with a 48,000 sesterces bounty--for their patriotism. Fear and uncertainty took possession of Rome. Anyone who received a proscribed person, whether father, son, or brother, would share in his fate. Since the victims of the Sullan terror were often men of substance--some charged that wealth rather than treason was the true crime of many--Sulla and the State profitted greatly from the confiscations, as the property of the 'traitors' was auctioned off. If Sulla was merciless to his enemies, he was also generous to his friends.

Thousands perished in the six month 'Sullan Terror.' (The nineteen year old Julius Caesar only survived because of his lack of prominence and his family connections.) Finally, in 79 B.C. Sulla announced that he had completed his work, and retired to a private life of luxury and dissipation. Ancient authors were struck by Sulla's extremes: he oscillated between fits of enormous energy and periods of indolence and debauchery. He was dead within a year.

Sulla's career, even more than Marius', was an indication of the dangerous transformation that was occuring in the Roman army. Sulla had marched on Rome in 88 B.C. and again in 83 B.C. ostensibly to defend the Senate and to overturn the 'illegal' acts of the assembly and the Marian usurpers. The bloodbath he directed between 83 and 79 B.C. was meant to restore the Senate to its old position of authority. In other words, Sulla thought of himself as a traditional Roman defending ancient institutions and mores. But his actions, especially his march on Rome in 88 B.C., defined him as something quite different and new. As one historian commented, to restore the Republic, "Sulla decimated the knights, muzzled the tribunate, and curbed the consuls. But even Sulla could not abolish his own example and preclude a successor to his domination" (Syme 17). Sulla, in short, had discovered the secret of the Republic: "that powers and laws lay not in the laws and traditions of the Republic as administered by the slow, difficult and uncertain consensus of the Senate and the popular assemblies, but in a loyal army made up of men whose experience in war and devotion to their commander had been forged in an extended provincial command, of men who were eager for farms and retirement, men ready to conquer Rome and kill Romans for their general and their price" (Spann 46). Ironically, Sulla's true heir and star pupil was to be the popularis Gaius Julius Caesar.

Sulla's troops had followed him not because he was a defender of the old order, but because he was their general and patron. Similarly, Marius had managed to obtain power one last time in 86 B.C. because of the support of veterans of his armies whom the Senate, at his urging, had settled in military colonies in Italy and Africa. Upon seizing power, Sulla emulated Marius on a large scale: he is said to have settled 120,000 soldiers in various colonies in Italy, granting each modest plots of land. He did this not to 'rehabilitate the assidui'; recruitment of the legions no longer depended upon this class. Rather, Sulla settled his veterans in communities in order to have a ready reserve upon which he could call. He obtained the land by expropriating property from Marian settlers and their neighbors. The large estates that he confiscated from his wealthy enemies went to his favored lieutenants and political supporters. The most prominent of these were two young nobles, Pompey and Crassus, both of whom led forces in support of Sulla raised from among their own clients. 'No man is truly wealthy,' Crassus is supposed to have said, 'who cannot raise a legion from among his clients.'

A new age of violence had been introduced into Roman politics. Sulla had tried to make the world safe for the Senate, but had, instead, introduced the age of the military dynasts.

The Age of the Dynasts: Pompey the Great and the First Triumvirate

The history of Rome between the death of Sulla in 78 B.C. and the establishment of the Principate by Augustus in 27 B.C., is one of political violence and instability at home, and tremendous military success abroad. The senatorially dominated government established by Sulla survived the dictator by about twenty years. From 78 B.C. until 60 B.C. power was largely in the hands of the Roman Optimates, the old line nobility who had been favored by Sulla. Despite the occasional conspiracy and attempted coup d'etat during these years, the Sullan constitution held firm. Members of the great houses of the Caecilii Metelli and the Claudii swapped magistracies and commands among themselves, while young nobles of distinguished ancestry such as Marcus Porcius Cato ostentatiously championed the values of bygone days. Ironically, the most eloquent spokesmen for this Republic of birth, dignity, and wealth, was a 'new man,' Cicero, an equestrian by birth, who used his great eloquence to celebrate the virtues of a class conspicuously lacking in any.

Standing a bit apart from the inner group of oligarchs were two of Sulla's chief military lieutenants, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Marcus Licinius Crassus. The latter had the right pedigree, but his desire for wealth and power marked him out as something of a shady character. He won some glory fighting for Sulla and was to gain even more by defeating the formidable Spartacus (though Pompey was to steal some of the credit), but Crassus' real claim to fame was his wealth. Purportedly the richest man in Rome, he had profitted greatly from the confiscations under Sulla. He also made a fortune running a private fire brigade--and by buying up for a pittance burnt properties. He had great political influence among the equestrian order, whose business ventures he bankrolled, and with impoverished senators, to whom he lent money on easy terms. But Crassus seems to have grown disastisfied with possessing mere wealth. He was openly envious of Pompey's triumphs and, like others of his class, he wanted the opportunity to enhance his dignitas through a glorious military command.

If Crassus was a byword for wealth, Pompey's name became synonymous with military success. He did not come from an ancient Roman clan, but belonged instead to the elite of the Italian countryside and may even have been of non-Latin stock. His father, Cn. Pompeius Strabo, was a 'new man,' the first of his family to have held the consulship. He possessed large estates in the region of Picenum, where he used his influence to enrich himself and his family and earned for himself a reputation for treachery and brutality. Pompey's own public career was highly eccentric. He came to prominence in 83 B.C. when, at the age of 23, he raised and led three legions in support of Sulla, drawn from his father's clients and tenants. Sulla immediately recognized his military gifts and dispatched him first to Sicily and then to Africa to mop up the Marian supporters in those provinces. Pompey's brutality in these campaigns against other Romans gained him the nickname 'the Boy Butcher' (Adolescentulus Carnifex) from his detractors and the cognomen Magnus (the 'Great,' which he used in place of Strabo) from an impressed Sulla. These were the first of a series of 'private' commands--imperium without magistracy--that Pompey held. Because of his obvious military talent, he was entrusted by the Senate with major military commands while he was still in his twenties, before he was even officially eligible to stand for the lowest of the major public offices, quaestor. In fact, the very first magistracy that Pompey held was the consulship, to which he was elected in 70 B.C., when he was still six years shy of the minimum age of 42. Sulla may have established a cursus honorum, but, as in so many other things, Pompey's dignitas superseded custom--or even the constitution. The ambition and success of Sulla's young supporter made him a threat to the restored oligarchy that the Old Dictator had shed so much blood to establish.

Pompey's military commands spanned the Mediterranean World. He won distinction in Africa; Spain, where in 72 B.C. he brought to ground the great Marian general Sertorius, who had been leading a Celtiberian army in a guerilla war against the Sullans for nine years; and Italy, where he had the good fortune of encountering and destroying a remnant of Spartacus's army in 71 B.C. . After his turbulent consulship with Crassus in 70 B.C., he was chosen in 67 B.C. for an extraordinary three year command to sweep the Mediterranean of the Cilician pirate fleets that had almost assumed the status of an independent state. Given imperium over the entire Mediterranean Sea and its coastline up to 50 miles inland, superseding the imperium of local governors, Pompey was authorized to raise a fleet of 500 ships and recruit 125,000 men, and assigned the necessary funds to pay for a three year campaign. As it turned out, he did not need all of these resources. It took him only a matter of months to eradicate the pirate fleets and take control of their havens. He began by systematically sweeping the western Mediterranean of pirates, deploying 13 naval squadrons on station to do so. This phase of the operation took only 40 days. Next Pompey turned to the main pirate bases in the East, which he took in detail. Rather than crucify the 20,000 pirates he captured, he showed clemency and settled them in colonies scattered throughout the Mediterranean littoral. This was undoubtedly calculated clemency intended to induce fugitives to surrender rather than fight.

Though the War against the Pirates was perhaps Pompey's greatest military accomplishment, his defeat of Mithridates in 66-63 B.C. and subsequent "Settlement of the East" brought him to the apex of his fame and prestige. His success in the East had been largely assured by the victories of his great predecessor, Lucullus, whose independent actions had made him suspect in the Senate. Pompey, nonetheless, got credit for closing the chapter on Mithridates' embarrassingly resilient career of opposition to Rome. He followed his victory by marching through Asia Minor and the Near East organizing the Hellenistic kingdoms of the region into tribute-paying client states--accepting all the while the personal clientage of individual rulers. He corruptly enriched himself in doing so, but Pompey's 'Settlement of the East' was a work of military and political genius. Pompey established a defensible and relatively low-cost eastern frontier.

A great general and a man of true administrative talents, Pompey, nevertheless, was an outsider in the world of the old Roman aristocracy. The chief men of the Senate used his military skills and honored him with triumphs and the most important military appointments, but they never fully accepted him as one of their own. He always remained, in their eyes, a soldier (some would say a useful butcher) rather than a real gentleman. Pompey, for his part, mistrusted the 'Conscript Fathers.' They had failed to support him adequately in his campaign against Sertorius in Spain, had opposed his command against the pirates, had refused to grant his veterans land, and had begrudged him even his well deserved triumphs. On the other hand, Pompey, the landed grandee from Picenium, had even less affinity for the urban mob or poor rural laborers. As the son of a 'new man,' he was anxious about preserving his 'dignity.' Old line nobles such as Caesar or Clodius, confident in their innate superiority, could indulge in familiarity with the lowborn; not Pompey. Without any true ideology to guide him, Pompey swung back and forth uncertainly between the Optimates and the Populares, always desirous of the former's approval, always on guard against expressions of their contempt. As consul in 70 B.C. he and his colleague, Crassus, overturned much of the Sullan revolution by restoring the veto power of tribunes. But in doing this Pompey probably was motivated less by 'popular' sentiments than by pique at the Senate's lack of support for his Spanish campaign and irregular candidacy for consul. A decade later, Pompey joined forces with Crassus and Caesar to seize control of the Roman State. A decade after that, he was once again the darling of the senatorial class, as the spectre of Caesar loomed menacingly from Gaul. Pompey's political swings were less a matter of his doing than of his treatment by the Optimates. When in their favor, he was their reliable general; when spurned, he turned against them. Like Caesar, Pompey had traditional 'noble' aspirations; he did not seek to overturn the Republic as much as to dominate it as the 'First Citizen.' But he was less expert than his colleague in the politics of manipulation. Whereas Caesar was a great politician who excelled as a general, Pompey was a great general.

All politics was personal to the small circle of men who monopolized the political process. One supported the candidacies and actions of friends and kinsmen, and opposed the advancement of enemies. Political alliances were termed 'friendships' (amicitia) and sealed with marriages. Mutual service and support, rather than affection, lay at the heart of such alliances. In 61 B.C. Pompey, angered by the Senate's reluctance to ratify his treaties in the East and to provide lands for his veterans, joined two other powerful 'outsiders,' his erstwhile rival, the wealthy Crassus, and Crassus's protege, the ambitious young Caesar, in a pledge of 'friendship.' This was the first 'triumvirate.' Each triumvir had his goals and ambitions. Caesar, who had been denied a triumph for his military victories in Spain, sought election to the consulship in 60 B.C. and a province with potential for his proconsulship. Pompey, for his part, wanted his decisions in the East ratified, his veterans settled, and his 'auctoritas' recognized. And Crassus, who had briefly tasted military glory in the campaign against the Spartacus slave revolt, aimed at a major military command that would bring him the dignitas that he craved. With Pompey's reputation and military clientela, Crassus's wealth and influence among the financiers and indebted senators, and Caesar's oratorical skills and ability to manipulate the urban mob, the triumvirate was able to obtain everything it aimed for. In 60 B.C. the fragility of the Republic was exposed. The traditional oligarchs were no match for this new breed of military dynasts.

Caesar's Conquest of Gaul

Like Sulla, C. Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.) belonged to an ancient and distinguished Roman clan that had fallen behind in the competition for political office and prestige. The Julii, however, made up in pretensions what they lacked in recent achievements, tracing their ancestry back to the goddess Venus and her son, the Trojan refugee Aeneas, as well as to his descendants, Romulus and Remus. Politically, Caesar had been aligned with the Marian party in his youth, having been related to both Marius and Cinna through marriage. He survived the Sullan terror in part because of his youth and lack of prominence, though he showed courage in refusing to repudiate his family relations or their popular politics. In 63 B.C., when he obtained his first political office, Pontifex Maximus, chief priest, by bribery and appeals to the populace, he was best known for his extravagant debts, reputation for lax personal morals, and his extraordinary oratorical skills--he was considered, along with Cicero, to be the finest orator of his day--which gained him a popular following. Caesar had the ability to mingle easily with both the 'best men' in Rome and the masses, as well as an uncanny sense of what needed to be done and the boldness to take risks and act decisively.

The characteristics that carried Caesar to political prominence also served to make him the greatest Roman general of his day--much to the surprise of his contemporaries. Even after his military successes as praetor in Spain in 61 B.C., Caesar was still thought of by the elite as a demogogue with lavish tastes and extravagant debts, whose most famous conquests were the wives of his senatorial colleagues. Unlike Pompey, whose entire adulthood was spent leading troops, Caesar was a latecomer to war. He was thirty-nine years old before he achieved his first command. Few of his contemporaries could have imagined that within three years Caesar would begin a military career that would eclipse Pompey's, a military career that would culminate, in fact, with the defeat and death of his former friend and rival.

After a turbulent consulship in which he advanced the interest of the 'popular' faction through agrarian legislation that provided some 50,000 allotments for veterans and proletarians, and in which he all but negated his optimate colleague, Bibulus, Caesar obtained through the good offices of Pompey and Crassus imperium over the important provinces of Cisalpine Gaul (Italy north of the Po River) and Illyricum (modern day Serbia and Croatia) for his proconsulship. Almost as an afterthought, he was also given the province of Transalpine Gaul, a region extending over what is now southern France. This was a far cry from what the Senate had proposed for him: control over Italy's cattle-tracks, pastoral uplands, and forests--which was not as ludicrous as it might seem at first, since these were the haunts of the brigands who were then ravaging Italy. We ought not to credit the Senate with statesmanship, though, in their proposed 'provincia' for Caesar; their main purpose was to saddle him with a province that lacked an army or an excuse for raising one.

Cisalpline Gaul and Illyria were quite different matters. The former was among the most important recruiting areas in Italy. The latter was an open opportunity for military adventure. As matters turned out, however, Caesar was to find his opportunity for glory and wealth not in Illyricum but in Transalpine Gaul. In this, Caesar chose wisely. In the early fourth century Gauls had invaded Rome and sacked the City itself. This old historical memory was refreshed by the Gallic aid given to Hannibal during his invasion of Italy and by the fierce fighting that had taken place when the Romans had secured the Po River Valley in the early second century. Though not an immediate threat, the Gauls, like the Germans, had a name that aroused fear and antipathy in Rome.

Caesar himself, who was a master of the Latin language, wrote commentaries of his campaigns in Gaul. These were intended largely as political propaganda, to keep his name current in Rome and to squelch any rumors about the illicit character of his activities as proconsul. The commentaries are as interesting for what they leave out--any reference, for example, to the enormous personal wealth that Caesar gained through his conquests--as they are for what they tell us. The character of 'Caesar' himself (always referred to in the third person) is that of a traditional Roman magistrate and commander, intent upon protecting the interests of Rome and her friends, personally brave, and always concerned with the welfare of his men. The Roman legionaries, and especially the centurions, are praised for their courage and discipline, obvious reflections upon the quality of their commander. The Gauls are portrayed as brave fighters but unreliable, superstitious, impetuous, and given to outbursts of anger and despair--a barbarous and almost childlike people.

Caesar presented himself as driven by duty to Rome. His conquest of 'Gaul,' a region consisting of dozens of large tribal confederations and hundreds of lesser independent political units, is a microcosm of the whole question of Roman imperialism. Some historians, notably Sherwin-White, accept Caesar's presentation of his motives on face value, arguing that he never planned to conquer all of Gaul. His aggressive defense of his province and allies, rather than any conscious design, led him into one campaign after another, until all of the potentially hostile forces in the region had been reduced to submission. Moreover, like Pompey in the East, Caesar did not annex territory to be ruled directly from Rome but created instead a network of client states, many of which were placed under the supervision of Rome's special 'friends,' the Aedui, the Remi, and the Arverni.

That Caesar did not assume his proconsulship with the intention of conquering all of 'Gaul' is certain. Indeed, Caesar may be credited with the invention of 'Gaul' through his writings and conquests, which provided a unity and cohesion to tribes only loosely connected by language and culture. But Caesar's military activities were anything but 'accidental.' For him the proconsular command represented an opportunity to obtain the political capital, i.e. cash and glory, necessary to achieve his goal to be recognized as the 'First Citizen' in Rome. No threat to the Province or to Rome's allies was too petty to serve as an excuse for war. Nor were the economic benefits of the campaigns incidental. Caesar, despite his occasional dramatic gestures of mercy, was among the most brutal and rapacious of conquerors. Though the popular image of the Gauls, shaped in large measure by Caesar, is that of primitive barbarians (ironically, adopted even by the 'pro-Gallic' comic strip 'Asterix'), many of the tribes that Caesar subdued had well developed political and cultural institutions, and--most importantly to Caesar--prosperous economies based on markets, coinage, and commodity production. Even in Rome the Gauls were well known for their craftsmenship and leather goods. 'Gaul,' moreover, was dotted with towns, as reflected by the numerous sieges in which Caesar engaged. Plutarch, who based himself on Caesar's own estimates, reports that Caesar took over 800 towns during his campaigns. The surplus wealth of the Gallic tribes was such that their temples were brimming with gold votive offerings, melted down and pocketed by Caesar. The wealth that Caesar acquired as proconsul was such that he was able to double the wages of his legionaries, make his legates, tribunes, and even centurions wealthy men, build magnificent public works in Rome and its provinces, and lavish enormous bribes and gifts upon political friends and allies. Plutarch reports that when Caesar brought home all the gold that he had taken from Gallic temples, the price of the metal among Roman speculators dropped precipitously by a fourth. Glory, greed, political advantage, and even duty to the State spurred Caesar on.

Even amidst his military campaigning, politics was never far from Caesar's thoughts. His dispatches to the Senate ensured that he would be accorded proper credit for his great victories. The Senate responded as Caesar had hoped, with an extended period of Thanksgiving, enhancing Caesar's dignitas and future political prospects. A few influential Optimates, however, began to mutter about wars undertaken for personal profit and glory without the approval of the Senate. Caesar himself returned to Cisalpine Gaul in the winter of 57/56 to look after his interests in Italy. The alliance with Crassus and Pompey had become somewhat shaky, so in April of 56 he met with his fellow Triumvirs at Lucca to renew their friendship. Caesar's command in Gaul was to be be extended a further five years, bringing it down to 50, while Pompey and Crassus were to be consuls in the following year, with the former receiving Spain as his province, and the latter Syria.

By 51 B.C. the conquest was complete and Gaul reduced to the status of a province in all but name. Caesar could even afford to hand over two legions to Pompey as his contribution to a forthcoming campaign against the Parthians. Plutarch, probably basing himself upon Caesar's own claims, estimates that Caesar had taken 800 towns, subdued 300 states, fought 3 million men, killing a million and enslaving another. Though the numbers are probably inflated, they reflect the magnitude of Caesar's accomplishment. They also remind us of the brutality with which he suppressed the Gauls. Some of Caesar's campaigns were almost genocidal. In avenging the ambush of Sabinus's 15 cohorts by the Eburones, Caesar waged a war of annihilation. Though Caesar has been praised by his admirers for imposing a modest 10 million denarii a year tribute upon the conquered territories, one might question whether these devastated lands could have borne much more, especially given how thoroughly Caesar and his troops had pillaged them. The personal wealth that Caesar won through his military ventures was enormous; he emerged from the Gallic Wars wealthier than Pompey or even the late Crassus.

Caesar's Military Leadership and Art of War

Caesar's military achievement in Gaul cannot be exaggerated. In less than a decade he doubled the size of the Roman empire, subduing a population numbering in the millions with an army that never exceeded 50,000 men. He was able to accomplish this because he understood how to exploit to its fullest the abilities of the highly disciplined and well trained Roman army of the Late Republic. No Roman general of the Republic made better use of the army's engineering capabilities and speed of movement. And along with his strategic sense and analytical abilities, Caesar possessed a charisma that inspired his men to obey and follow him, eventually even to Rome itself.

Caesar in Gaul applied to the practice of war the qualities that had made him a successful politician. In both venues Caesar demonstrated an extraordinary ability to evaluate fully--and quickly--the possible consequences of strategic and tactical decisions. Once he had made up his mind, he would act with speed and decision. Decisive movement was key to many of Caesar's victories. Like Scipio Africanus, Caesar had a habit of surprising his enemies and placing them at a disadvantage with lightning strikes that they had thought logistically impossible. Caesar was also a master of strategy. In war, as in politics, Caesar's policy was to 'divide and conquer.' He subdued the tribes of Gaul piecemeal, exploiting local rivalries and internal political conflict to the fullest. In doing so he demonstrated an uncanny ability to know when to employ terror and when to be generous. Caesar was a good patron; his 'friends' could expect rewards commesurate with their service. If the Aeduii served Caesar by providing him with a pretext for wars and with auxiliaries and supplies, they benefitted from their clientage both materially and politically. They shared in the fruits of his conquest, emerging from the wars as preeminent among the Gallic tribes.

Establishing 'friendships' was an essential element in Caesar's art of war. His entire logistical system depended upon it. Until he finally faced a general uprising in 52 B.C., Caesar's campaigns were always preceded by confirmations of 'friendship' with allied tribes, whose support he relied upon for his cavalry and grain supplies. As bold as Caesar was, he was always careful to secure grain and establish supply depots before beginning campaigns. Much of Caesar's diplomacy was dictated by logistical needs. The importance of Aeduan grain was such that Caesar was willing to turn a blind eye to their breach of fides during the Vercingetorix uprising. Forgiveness here had less to do with mercy or the memory of past service, than with a calculation of the tonnage of grain needed to feed his troops as they prepared to lay siege to Alesia.

Caesar's approach to command was well suited to this age of patron-generals and client-armies. In every respect, he was a 'soldier's general.' As a politician Caesar had learned the art of manipulating the masses, which he translated to the military arena. His eloquence, based on a blunt, straight-forward style, and willingness to deal in a familiar fashion with social inferiors--while maintaining his dignitas--had been key to his success as a 'popular' political leader. He employed the same techniques in leading his troops. Without relaxing discipline or tolerating insubordination, Caesar mingled among, chatted comfortably, and even joked with his legionaries (especially those of his favorite legion, the Tenth). Though he demanded unquestioning obedience and would reprimand his subordinates--especially centurions--if they presumed to 'to inquire or conjecture where he was leading them, or to what object" (Caesar I.40), he would often follow the reprimand with an explanation of his strategy. Secure in his own superior dignitas and auctoritas, he was remarkably egalitarian when it came to his troops, judging "his men by their fighting record, not by their morals or social position, treating all with equal severity and equal indulgence" (Suetonius, sect. 65). His habit of addressing the troops as 'my fellow soldiers' emphasized that he was one of them and that his interests included their welfare. Once when faced with discontent among the ranks, Caesar was able to shame his troops into obedience by calling them 'citizens' rather than 'comrades in arms.'

Between campaigns, Caesar relaxed discipline in the ranks. He tolerated jokes and humorous songs at his expense--the marching cadences sung during his triumph in 46 B.C. were particularly scurilous--and often turned a blind eye to minor infractions. On campaign, however, he was a firm disciplinarian and required unquestioning obedience. He drilled and marched his men constantly, so that they would be prepared to advance and fight on a moment's notice. "He never gave forewarning of a march or a battle, but kept his troops always on the alert for a sudden order to go wherever he directed. Often he made them turn out when there was no need at all, especially in wet weather or on public festival days" (Suetonius, sect. 66). As a result, Caesar was able to rely upon his legions to do what was required of them, whether it involved constructing a major bridge over the Rhine, clearing snow-clogged mountain passes, marching twenty or more miles a day, or engaging an enemy that outnumbered them two to one.

Caesar won the affection and respect of his troops by sharing fully in their hardships. He asked of them nothing that he himself was not willing to do. Though not a warrior in the mode of Alexander and Richard the Lionheart, Caesar, nonetheless, exemplified Roman virtus, the quality of manliness so prized by aristocratic and commoner alike. According to Suetonius,

Caesar was a most skilful swordsman and horseman, and showed surprising powers of endurance. He always led his army, more often on foot than in the saddle, went bareheaded in sun and rain alike, and could travel for long distances at incredible speed, taking very little baggage. ... and often arrived at his destination before the messengers whom he had sent ahead to announce his approach. (Caesar, sect. 57)

Caesar's eloquence and personal bravery proved critical to the morale of his troops, and morale was even more important in the bloody hand-to-hand shock warfare of the ancient world than it is today. Though hardly reckless, he never hesitated to expose himself to danger if he thought it necessary. Realizing the impact that his physical presence had on morale, he took to wearing a scarlet cloak in battle so that he would be conspicuous to friend and foe alike. At the siege of Alesia when the Roman troops were fighting on two fronts against an enemy that greatly outnumbered them, Caesar rushed along the front lines, showing himself to his men and exhorting them to fight on. Years later in Spain, at the battle of Munda, he halted a retreat by throwing off his helmet and charging the enemy, daring his men to follow him.

Along with his personal talents, Caesar possessed an additional attribute then deemed critical to military success: good luck. That he, like Sulla and Pompey, was felix, blessed with good fortune, greatly enhanced his ability to lead. "I would rather be lucky than good," may seem to be the motto of the mediocre, and certainly today to describe a general as lucky to have won a campaign is to denigrate his achievements. Not so in first century B.C. Rome. Caesar shared with his men a fervent belief in the secret working of fortuna. "Luck," he wrote in his Commentaries on the Civil Wars (III.73, 4-6), is the sovereign power in all things, but especially in war." This belief underlies Caesar's famous remark about dice when crossing the Rubicon. It also led him to adopt felicitas as his battle cry. Caesar himself was skeptical about the gods and the role they played in human affairs. To the more conventionally pious, however, Caesar's luck was providential; it indicated that he enjoyed divine favor, an idea that he himself fostered by emphasizing the divine origins of his clan.

Caesar was not only a well liked commander, but a successful one with a reputation for generosity. An army composed largely of poor rural laborers who served in hopes of economic security found in Caesar a leader well suited to the times. Each successful campaign brought the ordinary soldier loot and gifts from their commander. Loot was the compensation for the hardships of battle and siege. As a reward for their bravery and determination at Alesia, Caesar gave each of his men a prisoner of war, whom he could either sell or keep as a personal slave--this was in addition to all the loot that the soldiers were able to scoop up on their own. (Apparently, standard operating procedure for the Roman military was to release the troops from military discipline when a city was taken: when resistance ended, rape and pillage began.) As generous as Pompey had been to his men--at the conclusion of the Mithridatic War he had distributed among them 400,000,000 sesterces, a total exceeding the annual revenues Rome then drew from ten provinces--, Caesar was even more lavish. Not only did he double the annual wages of the legionary in 50 B.C., but at the triumph in 46 B.C. honoring his victory in the Civil War he bestowed upon each of his veterans 20,000 sesterces, a sum equal to more than twenty years of (doubled) wages. Caesar's officers all became wealthy men, and many of his centurions received rewards sufficient to raise them into the equestrian order. Reciprocity lay at the heart of the Roman ethos. Do ut des: Caesar gave with the expectation that he would receive. At the outbreak of the Civil War with Pompey, according to Suetonius, "every centurion in every legion volunteered to equip a cavalryman from his savings; and every ordinary soldier unanimously offered to serve under him without pay or rations, pooling their money so that nobody would go short" (Suetonius, sect 68). If Caesar proved a good patron to his soldiers, his troops showed themselves equally 'faithful' clients.

The Civil War

While Caesar was putting down rebellions in Gaul, the political climate in Rome was disintegrating. In the 50s bribery and street violence became the staples of political campaigns. Given the turbulence and corruption, the regular mechanisms for even holding an election broke down: the years 55, 53, 52 all began without consuls in office. Caesar himself contributed to the problem by funding thugs like Clodius to look after his political interests in his absence. In fact, in the summer of 54 B.C. two of Caesar's candidates for consul were caught redhanded bribing the two seated consuls (presumably with Gallic cash) to help them win the election. Cicero grew so despairing at the state of affairs that he lamented in a letter to his brother, "There really is no republic in existence."

The triumvirate, which had held together longer than anyone expected, had began to fray as well, due to the mutual suspicion between the dynasts. Caesar's 'friendship' with Pompey was based on neither affection nor admiration. Recognizing the fragility of their 'friendship,' Caesar had given his daughter in marriage to Pompey in order to create personal and familial bonds. Julia's death in childbirth in 54 B.C. was not only a personal tragedy for both men, but removed the strongest bond uniting the two. What remained was mutual convenience, and it was becoming clear that Caesar's success in Gaul was not at all convenient for Pompey. The other foundation of the triumvirate was mutual fear and suspicion: an alliance of three men meant that no one of them could gain decisive advantage over his two partners.

The death of Crassus in 53 B.C. all but guaranteed the final rupture of the alliance between Pompey and Caesar. In 54 B.C. Crassus finally got his heart's desire. As proconsular governor of Syria, he had at last the opportunity for a military command and a chance for glory. On his own initiative and without even a pretense of provocation, Crassus invaded Parthia with his seven legions. How the Senate would have responded to Crassus' show of contempt for their authority in foreign affairs is unknown, for Crassus did not live long enough to face their reproaches. His legions were totally destroyed by heavy Parthian cavalry and mounted archers in a running battle fought near Carrhae (modern Harran). Twenty thousand Romans were killed, including Crassus' son Publius, Caesar's former legate, and another 10,000 enslaved. (In a skirmish preceding the main battle, Publius learned the fatal lesson that deploying on the high ground has significant drawbacks when facing a force of archers.) Crassus' head was displayed to dramatic effect at the Armenian court during a performance of Euripides' Bacchae, given in honor of the Parthian king's triumph. To the shame of Rome, the Parthians seized and kept the legionary standards as momentos of their victory.

Then there were two. As long as Crassus was alive, Pompey needed Caesar's friendship to balance Crassus' wealth, connections, and cunning. Caesar had been very much a junior partner when the alliance had been formed. Pompey may have been threatened by Crassus but certainly not by Caesar. How could he be? Caesar's accomplishments in 61 B.C. were nothing compared to Pompey's, and his boasts about the dignitas of the Julian clan rang hollow when compared with Pompey's earned auctoritas. Gaul had changed all that. While Pompey lingered in Rome, Caesar was winning victories and sending back to the City reports of military success, money for the building of public works, and exotic slaves. Pompey grew jealous. With Crassus' and Julia's death neither political need nor personal tie remained to undergird the 'friendship.'

Although the tiny group of Optimates who led the Senate still regarded Pompey with suspicion, they feared Caesar even more. The endemic political violence in Rome, moreover, had become so pronounced that the Senate could no longer ignore it. The tribune Clodius, a Claudius who had decided to make his mark as a popular leader, ruled the streets as the master of a mob of thugs. A sometime ally of Caesar, Clodius helped make Roman elections eventful. In November of 56, for example, his followers had attempted to beat Cicero to death, and when they failed in that endeavor, they proceeded to burn down the house of Titus Annius Milo, a rival aristocratic gang leader. Matters became so unsettled that in 54 consular elections were delayed for about a half a year. The election of magistrates were similarly held up in 52, the year that Milo, who was one of the candidates for consul, killed Clodius, who was standing for praetor. Clodius' angry supporters carried his body into the Curia, the meeting place of the Senate, piled up tables and benches into a funeral pyre, and set fire to it. Whether by intention or not, the entire building caught fire and burnt to the ground, a fitting symbol for the conduct of politics in the last years of the Republic.

The Senate declared a state of emergency and turned to Pompey. Though proconsul for the Two Spains, Pompey had conveniently contrived to remain in residence in Rome, supervising his province from afar. As the Man of the Hour, Pompey hoped to be named dictator, but had to settle with the office of consul without colleague. His charge was to restore order, which he did by force. What Pompey's ultimate goals were is not at all clear, then or now. The burning question was whether he would abandon Caesar in favor of the Optimates No one knew the answer, perhaps not even Pompey himself. On the one hand, Pompey had finally achieved the full recognition of his auctoritas so long denied him by the Optimates. On the other hand, he was clever enough to realize that the threat of Caesar was precisely what made him acceptable to Cato and his crowd. On the urging of the Senate he demanded a legion from Caesar, ostensibly to prepare for a campaign in Syria, and asked for the return of a second, which he had loaned to Caesar during the great Gallic rebellion. Caesar acceded graciously to the requests, showering his soon to be former legionaries with gifts to show his gratitude for their service, and promptly began to recruit a legion from the native Gauls, a serious breach of custom that dictated that only Roman citizens could be legionaries. The two legions Caesar turned over were retained under Pompey's command in Italy.

Caesar faced a dilemma. His only safety from legal prosecution by his enemies was to win the consulship for 49 B.C., which he was certain to do. But the law forbade any commander from standing for office while still in command of his troops. To register his candidacy, Caesar would have to resign his command and return to Rome. A proposal by his friends in Rome, led by the tribunes Marcus Antoninus and Q. Cassius, to exempt him from this law was defeated by his enemies. On 7 January the Senate, having declared Caesar contumacious, removed his province from him and gave it to one of his Optimate enemies. When the tribunes tried to veto the decree, they were attacked and fled to the safety of Caesar's camp.

Caesar until the very last minute attempted to negotiate with his political opponents and to avoid a final break with Pompey. But all of his proposals were rejected. What was at stake, as far as Caesar was concerned, was more than his life, it was his dignitas. Even if the law forbade one to stand for office while still in command, Caesar's service to the Republic had earned him preferential treatment. The refusal of his enemies to give it was a sign of their implacable hostility. Caesar had to choose between marching on Rome a la Sulla or meekly turning himself in for prosecution and face certain exile, if not death.

Pompey also had a choice: to stand with the Optimates and the constitution or with Caesar. The consitutional issue was a convenient excuse but not a real consideration. Pompey's whole career had been one long exception to the Sullan constitution. The Optimates played upon his vanity, and Caesar's victories piqued the great man's envy. Even if Caesar acknowledged Pompey's primacy, the populace would not. In the final analysis, Pompey's sense of dignitas even more than duty led him to oppose his fellow triumvir. As Lucan observed, Caesar could admit no superior and Pompey no equal.

Caesar, with only the XIIIth legion and some Gallic and German auxiliaries at his disposal, acted. Claiming to be defending the sanctity of the tribunate, he crossed the Rubicon river, the small creek in northeastern Italy that marked the boundary between his province of Cisalpine Gaul and Italy, quoting the comic poet Menander, 'The die is cast." For a Roman commander to bring his legions into Italy was an act of treason. Caesar risked the charge and marched on Rome as Sulla had done a generation before. He gained support as he marched. Though his Optimate opponents liked to present him as a second Catalina, appealing only to desperate debtors and degenerates, Caesar enjoyed support from men of substance--much to the disgust of Cicero--as well as the poor. (His most trusted legate, Labienus, however, deserted him for Pompey, since he was a longtime client and neighbor of Pompey in Picenum.) Pompey, who had contemptuously responded to concerns about Caesar's forces with the comment, 'All I have to do is stamp my foot and armies of foot and horse will appear,' decided that it would be more strategically advantageous to retreat to Greece than to gamble everything upon a battle in Italy. Caesar's attempt to intercept Pompey failed, and Pompey embarked with the two former Caesarian legions. Caesar was now master of Italy, but he still faced the forces of a general who had never been defeated in battle.

Pompey's decision to abandon Rome to Caesar drew criticism and even provoked derisive comments about his courage. It was, however, militarily astute. Pompey, as patron of numerous eastern cities and client rulers, had enormous monetary and military resources available to him. He was also proconsul of Spain with four legions in those two provinces. He had a fleet, men, money, and control of the entire empire outside of Italy, Illyricum, and the Two Gauls. Caesar's triumph, Pompey calculated, would be brief.

Pompey had underestimated Caesar. Caesar moved first to retake his former province of Spain from Pompey's officers, and then turned eastward against Pompey himself. The decisive battle occurred in 48 B.C. at Pharsalus in Thessaly, Greece, pitting two veteran Roman armies against one another. (Among the legions facing Caesar were the two he had given to Pompey. Military discipline prevailed over any lingering sentiment they may have had for their former commander.) Despite being outnumbered, Caesar led his battle hardened veterans to victory against Pompey, countering his enemy's superiority of numbers with a brilliant use of a tactical reserve of 8 cohorts that drove off Pompey's inexperienced cavalry, who fled before the thrusts of their javelins, and then rolled up the enemy's left flank. Pompey escaped to Egypt, but was murdered by his former client, Ptolemy XIII, who hoped thereby to win Caesar's favor.

Caesar followed Pompey to Egypt. Announcing himself disgusted with Ptolemy's breach of fides, he helped the king's sister Cleopatra overcome her brothers and achieve sole rule, and entered into a liaison with her that resulted in the birth of a son. Meanwhile, Caesar began to mop up what remained of the Optimate opposition. Pharnaces, the son of Mithridates, had hoped to recover some of the power and glory of his father by supporting Pompey. Caesar invaded Pontus and destroyed Pharnaces' army in a lightning campaign, which he described to a friend in Rome with three words: veni, vidi, vici, 'I came, I saw, I conquered.'

Returning to Italy, he planned a new 'last' campaign, this one against the Pompeian stronghold in North Africa. He first had to deal with a serious mutiny by two veteran legions, who, clamoring for their promised bonuses, marched on Rome. Caesar brought the mutineers to heel by shaming them into submission. The African campaign was brought to a swift and successful conclusion. Two incidents, however, marred Caesar's victory. Cato the Younger, the moral leader of the Optimate faction, faced with the intolerable prospect of clemency from a man whom he despised, chose to commit suicide rather than live under Caesar's 'tyranny.' The accusation of 'tyranny' by the 'Man of Virtue' was to hang over Caesar like a sword of Damocles. The victory at Thapsus also had its dark side. The battle had begun against his commands when a trumpeter on the right wing sounded the advance without orders. The centurions were unable to restrain their men from surging forward, and Caesar, making the best of a bad situation, yelled "Good luck," and charged the enemy line on his horse. After the battle the troops refused to grant quarter, despite Caesar's entreaties to spare the captives. They even attacked some aristocrats in Caesar's own following, accusing them of sympathy with the enemy. Caesar could do little. He chose to ignore the breach of discipline and to hand out the cash bonuses he had promised and the decorations that the soldiers had won through their bravery.

After levying an enormous war indemnity upon the local African oligarchs, Caesar returned in triumph (literally) to Rome. His series of four triumphs, which celebrated his victories in Gaul, Pontus, and Africa over the foreign enemies of Rome (triumphs were not granted for killing fellow Romans), were dazzling pageants: riding in a chariot drawn by four white horses, an honor previously accorded only to the legendary hero Camillus, Caesar led the parade through the streets of Rome, followed by soldiers and slaves bearing trophies and models symbolizing his conquests and wagonloads of booty worth 1.5 millions sesterces as well as gold crowns weighing 20,414 pounds. (Caesar's 17 year old grandnephew was accorded the honor, usually reserved for sons, of walking behind the triumphator's chariot.) He followed this with spectacles designed to impress the populace: a naval battle on the Tiber that involved 4,000 rowers and 1,000 soldiers, games and displays of exotic beasts, a public feast in which thousands of citizens dined upon lampreys and fine wine. At festivities' end Caesar dedicated a magnificent marble temple to his divine ancestor Venus Genetrix, goddess of peace and prosperity, set within an entirely new forum. The Senate honored the victor of the civil wars with the office of dictator for 10 years to complement his election earlier that year to his third consulship. To reflect his unprecedented authority and dignitas, Caesar was accorded an escort of 72 lictors, honored with a statue of him standing on a globe in the Capitoline Temple to Jupiter, and granted the privilege of sitting among the consuls in the Senate, even when he did not hold that office, along with the right to speak first in all senatorial debates.

The Optimate forces had the resilience of a hydra. Caesar had been striking off heads for four years, and yet one still remained. The local aristocrats in Spain, alienated by the harsh treatment they received from Caesar's governor, now offered asylum to the sons of Pompey. The Pompeian forces in Spain were formidable, some 13 legions in all. Caesar acted quickly. He marched to Spain with a smaller, though better, army, and confronted the Optimates. The decisive battle took place at Munda in 45 B.C. The Pompeians, 50,000 strong, had deployed on high ground with their front protected by a stream and marsh, and awaited Caesar's approach. Caesar recognized the dangers of the situation and ordered his troops to halt. As at Thapsus, his orders were ignored by his impatient troops. The battle was won by the hard fighting of Caesar's troops, especially the veterans of the Xth legion. The outcome of the battle hung in the balance late into the day. Caesar, at one point, had to rally his troops by throwing off his helmet, grabbing a shield, and charging along his battle line yelling at his men, 'Don't you feel shame in handing me over to these boys?" The battle finally turned on an accident. Labienus, Caesar's former legate and present enemy, was in command of the Pompeian horse. Seeing a contingent of Caesarians make for the Pompeian camp, Labienus ordered his men to intercept them. (He may have actually been attempting a flanking move; the sources are divided on what happened.) The Pompeian legionaries, however, saw believed that Labienus's cavalry was in retreat. Panic broke out in the ranks, followed by a disorderly flight--and massacre. Caesar's troops killed without restraint, building ramparts of corpses and displaying heads on swordpoints all along the siegeworks. The town of Munda fell shortly, followed by another massacre.

The resistance had ended and Caesar was now truly First Man in Rome. He had enjoyed during the Civil Wars the consulate for three consecutive years. He now began to restore order in Rome with an ambitious program of administrative and economic reforms and public works, and enhanced his political control by raising the number of quaestors to 40 and of praetors to 16, and by appointing 400 new senators, in the process raising the total from 600 to 900. Many of the new Senators were non-Roman Italians, bringing to fruition the process of Italian enfranchisement that had begun with the Social Wars; all were men of substance and partisans of Caesar. Caesar in power proved less a revolutionary than feared. The men he selected to be consul with him were all of senatorial rank. He also fulfilled his promises to his veteran troops. His centurions became wealthy men, while even the ordinary soldiers retired as men of substance, enriched by generous gifts of land and cash.

In January 44 B.C. a 'grateful' Senate appointed Caesar dictator for life--an unheard of honor--and ordained that an oath of allegiance be taken in his name. He had won, game, set, and match. A few months late, on the Ides (15th) of March, he was assassinated while attending the Senate.

The Second Triumvirate

If Marcus Brutus and the other Liberators believed that by killing Caesar they could restore the Sullan constitution, they had seriously deluded themselves. Led by idealistic motives, they had resolved against a new reign of terror and had left alive Caesar's main supporters, including the surviving consul Marcus Antoninus (Mark Antony)--Cicero, who knew how to bluster as well as fawn, lamented that 'they had not invited him to the banquet; then there would have been no left-overs.' Antony, waiting upon events, coolly persuaded the Senate to ratify Caesar's acts as dictator, but took no immediate steps against the killers. His public reading of Caesar's will, however, inflamed the mob, who upon hearing of Caesar's generous bequests to them, carried the dead dictator's body into the Forum and burnt it. The Liberators, who seem to have had not planned anything beyond the assassination, fled Rome. Antony was poised to inherit Caesar's position.

That he did not was the result of an eighteen year old boy, Gaius Octavius, Caesar's grandnephew, who had been named in Caesar's will as his adopted son. Taking the name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, Octavian threw in with the Senate, now led by Cicero, to defeat Antony's armies in northern Italy in the battle. Though Octavian lacked auctoritas, he possessed the magic name 'Caesar,' which in itself had been enough to convince two of Antony's legions to declare for him out of their fides for his adoptive father.

The Senate's approval had been useful to Octavian in countering Antony's claims to be Caesar's heir, but he was not fooled by it. He knew their true opinion--he had heard of Cicero's comment that the boy was to be praised, raised up, and then lifted off--and was thirsting for revenge upon his adoptive father's killers, who had now gained control over the provinces and legions of the east. When the Senate refused to consider him for consul, Octavian marched with 8 legions on Rome, and 'persuaded' the senators of the merits of his candidacy. Octavian met with the two other Caesarian leaders Antony and M. Aemilius Lepidus, Caesar's former Master of the Horse and now governor of Gaul of Nearer Spain. The three made a formal agreement, subsequently ratified by the popular assembly, to share supreme authority for five years so that they could 'restore the Republic to order.' The triumvirs became the government of Rome. A savage new round of proscriptions began, which claimed, in all, the lives of 130 senators, including Lepidus's own brother, an uncle of Antony, and Cicero.

When their control over Italy was complete, the triumvirs turned eastward to confront the 19 legions of the Liberators. Octavian and Antony transported 28 of their 43 legions across the Adriatic, while Lepidus remained behind to guard Italy. Because of Octavian's illness, Antony assumed command and pushed eastward to gain control over the grain fields of Macedonia and Thessaly. (The naval activities of Pompey's son, Sextus Pompeius, and a drought in Egypt effectively denied the triumvirate army from securing supplies from the sea.) At Philippi, on the border of Macedonia and Thrace, in 42 B.C. the two armies met. Antony took the offensive, and after both armies constructed a series of causeways through the marshes in an attempt to outflank one another, the forces finally clashed. Antony won a skirmish against Cassius' forces, leading Cassius to commit suicide. The main army of the Liberators, however, remained intact under the command of Brutus. Brutus was reluctant to engage again in open combat, perhaps aware that his enemies were finding increasingly difficult to supply themselves. But if Antony and Octavian's troops were suffering from hunger, Brutus's were falling prey to morale and discipline problems due to inaction. Finally, Brutus's subordinate commanders pressured him into battle. Philippi was fought almost like an old fashioned hoplite battle, with the two forces massed against one another and clashing head on, though with swords rather than spears. The triumvirate forces proved superior in the end. Brutus committed suicide, and Antony and Octavian integrated the surviving enemy troops into their own forces. Caesar had been avenged. The only question now was how to divide up the spoils. Octavian received Italy and the western provinces from Spain to Illyricum; Antony was invested with the eastern provinces and given the charge to avenge the defeat of Crassus at Carrhae in a full scale Parthian War; Lepidus, who was suspected of having collaborated with Sextus Pompeius in depriving the triumvirate army of supplies, was awarded only the province of Africa.

Octavian immediately fulfilled promises made to his veteran troops before the Philippi campaign, pensioning off some 40,000 troops with allotments of 25 acres of land taken from the holdings of 18 Italian cities earmarked on account of their prosperity. The anger of the dispossessed afforded Antony's brother Lucius, one of the two elected consuls for 41 B.C., an excuse to challenge Octavian. After he briefly seized Rome, Lucius was beaten back to Perugia where he was starved into submission. Unwilling to risk a break with Antony yet, Octavian magnimously pardoned Lucius and released him to join his brother.

Octavian now turned to the problem of Sextus Pompeius, whose fleet controlled not only much of the western Mediterranean but also Sicily, Corsica, and Achaea, which had been awarded to him as a province by treaty. Octavian met this danger to Italy's grain supplies by placing his old friend Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa in command of a large fleet. Agrippa justified Octavian's confidence by defeating Pompey's son at Mylae in 36 B.C., while Lepidus's legions took Sicily. Lepidus, however, overreached himself by claiming Sicily as his due. When he unwisely threatened Octavian with his legions, Octavian strode into Lepidus's camp and claimed the loyalty his troops as Caesar's heir. Caesar's name worked its magic. Lepidus, deserted by his army, begged for mercy and meekly went into exile.

In the east Antony enjoyed considerably less success against the Parthians. After an initial victory by one of his lieutenants, Antony himself met defeat in Armenia (36 B.C.), losing perhaps a quarter of his army, but recovered sufficiently that within two years he was able to annex Armenia (briefly) as a buffer zone against the Parthians. Antony desperately needed troops for his expeditions and asked Octavius for 20,000 legionaries from Italy, still the great reservoir of military recruitment. Octavian promised and delayed, until Antony in a fit of anger publicly renounced his marriage to Octavian's sister in favor of Cleopatra, who had already borne him three sons. He even honored the Egyptian queen by having the captured Armenian king pay homage to her during his triumph in 34 B.C., and angered the senators by acknowledging Egypt's extensive ancient boundaries. Meanwhile, the remnants of the Pompeian party and the old Republican nobles congregated around Antony, seeing in him less a threat to what remained of the Republic than Octavian. In 33 B.C. the two dynasts began a war of words for the hearts and minds of the Roman people. Antony denounced Octavian for having excluded him from the Italian recruiting fields, for having broken fides with Lepidus, and having usurped the name of Caesar's son, which ought to have gone to the dictator's natural son by Cleopatra. Octavian replied with an emotional racial appeal against an ambitious Egyptian queen who had enslaved a degenerate Roman general. Octavian's cause was undermined by his loss of triumvirate powers in January 31. The term of office granted to him by the assembly had run out and Octavian, always careful about appearances, resigned his imperium and retired from Rome as a private citizen. He did so in order to raise a following. He returned to Rome backed by armed power, summoned the Senate on the basis of his auctoritas, and standing between the two elected consuls defended his policies and denounced Antony. He then dismissed the Senate and ordered them to meet again on a day he appointed. The two consuls along with a third of the Senate fled to Antony in protest of Octavian's high handed treatment of them. Octavian replaced the fugitive consuls with two nobles upon whom he could rely. He was now ruling Rome without office or imperium through 'authority' and military threat. Given the dubious legality of his position, Octavian responded with an appeal to the Roman people as a whole. His campaign for support in Italy culminated in a plebiscite in which the people freely swore personal allegiance to him. As he put it many years later in his official "List of Accomplishments' (Res Gestae): "All Italy of its own accord swore an oath of allegiance to me and chose me as its leader in the war which I won at Actium."

Antony responded to Octavian's actions by formally divorcing his sister, a public humiliation that signalled the end of all ties of 'friendship' between the two. With 30 legions and 200 heavy warships at his disposal, Antony felt confidant of a trial of strength. Octavian, speaking for the Roman people, declared Antony stripped of his office as triumvir and of all imperium, and announced a war against the 'aggressions' of the treacherous Egyptian queen.

Octavian took the offensive. Entrusting command of his fleet of 400 light ships to Agrippa, he sailed to confront Antony off the western coast of Greece at Actium. Antony's attempt to lure Octavian into a land battle ended up with his troops blockaded and facing starvation, disease, and massive desertion. On 2 September 31 B.C. he embarked with his fleet, whether to run with it to Egypt or to fight is uncertain. Whatever his intentions, Agrippa forced a naval encounter. At a crucial juncture of the battle, Cleopatra and her ships broke through the Roman lines and fled, perhaps to save the treasure stored in her vessels. Antony with about 40 ships followed. The rest of his naval forces began to disintegrate, and soon surrendered. Octavian followed the fugitives to Egypt. With no hope of resisting Octavian, Antony committed suicide. Octavian captured Cleopatra. Facing the humiliation of being displayed in a triumph, she managed to kill herself.

Within a decade of Philippi the triumvirate had dissolved and the Roman world had been plunged once more in civil war. Now peace was restored. Octavian was sole master of the Roman world. He was now truly Caesar's heir.


Octavian had followed up his victory at Actium by touring the East and receiving the submission of Antony's erstwhile client kings. In 29 B.C. he returned to Rome to enjoy a three day triumph that rivalled Caesar's.

A grateful (and docile) Senate ordered the closing of the Temple of Janus, symbolizing that the entire Roman world was now finally at peace. Octavian took a more pragmatic action to ensure the continuation of peaceful conditions. He discharged by his own account some 300,000 soldiers, pensioning them off with a donative and settling them on their own land in military colonies in Italy, Sicily, and the provinces. The military establishment of the empire was now reduced to a manageable 28 legions, enough force to garrison the provinces and wage foreign wars.

While Octavian could not equal his famous adoptive father in personal glory or military achievements, he was more than his equal in political intelligence. He understood that Caesar had been killed because he had enjoyed his power too blatantly and had been too covetous of public dignities and offices. Octavian's experiences in 32 B.C. had shown him that one did not need a magistracy to possess auctoritas and exercise power. So in 27 B.C., in his seventh consulship, he did what Caesar could never bring himself to do. He resigned his offices and reported to the Senate that having restored the Republic as he had promised, he would now retire to private life, content with the dignity of being princeps, the First Citizen. Octavian played Cincinnatus to effect. As he knew they would, the Senators begged him not to desert the Republic. After much pleading, he agreed to continue as proconsul of a massive province, Gaul, Spain, and Syria, which possessed between them 20 of the remaining 28 legions. (He possessed, in addition, the fabulously wealthy province of Egypt, which he claimed as his own as heir to Caesar.) The grateful Senate voted him its highest honor--the name 'Augustus,' the 'revered one,' 'expressing veneration of more than mortal due' (Syme 314, quoting Dio Casius).

In subsequent years the Senate would augment Augustus's powers and authority by granting him an extensive imperium without magistracy. He would thus enjoy the powers and dignity of a consul and a tribune without depriving other worthy senators of the honor of possessing these offices. To these powers Augustus added unparalleled auctoritas, wealth that permitted him to feed the poor and to be the patron of all, and control over the army. Elections were held without violence, as senators vied for office and dignitas under Augustus's watchful eye. When Augustus wished, he might endorse a candidate, which ensured his success. Governors continued to be appointed to the provinces, but they were now answerable for their activities to Augustus. The organization of the Roman armies also remained, on the surface, little changed, but their substance had been transformed. The transformation of a citizen army into a standing, professional, stipendiary army was now complete. The army had become a profession. The facade of a Republic, glossy like the new marble buildings with which Augustus graced his new imperial Rome, masked a new system of government, a Principate. Augustus' "Restoration of the Republic" in 27 B.C. marks the beginning of the Roman Empire.


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