Pompey and Julius Caesar: Violence in Rome

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Roman History

Violence had always been a part of Ancient Rome. From its origins in the early Roman Republic, wars against other colonies were common. Later on, violence became a part of Roman political life. While many Romans in the senate had a military past, the level of violence increased within the senate, as many politicians had different views from one another and their ideas often clashed. This violence was at its highest during the period of 133 to 43 B.C, a time where dictatorship had re-emerged. It was during this period that imperium, or the power to command, became a fundamental structure of the Roman provincial command. This imperium led several men to struggle for power and fame, especially Pompey and Caesar, both of whom had an interesting relationship with Lucius Cornelius Sulla (Plutarch. Roman Lives 175-216). Pompey and Caesar’s relationships with Sulla resulted in opposing political practices, which led to the eruption of several civil wars in Rome during the period of 133 to 43 B.C., making violence an endemic part of Roman political life.

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After Sulla had failed to get the senate onto its feet, two men rose up to the challenge (216). They were Pompeius Magnus and Iulius Caesar. While both men held consulship several times, and use the popular assembly to do so, they shared very few similarities beyond that. The differences begin with their relationships with Sulla, who became dictator of Rome in 82 B.C. (Plu, Lives. Sulla. 34). Initially, Pompey and Sulla had a great relationship. Pompey had long supported Sulla and had a great deal of respect for him (Plu, Lives. Pompey. 6). In 83 B.C., Pompey created a private army to support Sulla and defeated the armies of Brutus, Gaul, and Carbo. (Pompey. 7-8). Sulla was so impressed by Pompey that he persuaded him to divorce his wife and marry his stepdaughter, Aemelia, so that Pompey could be a part of his family (Pompey. 9). However, as time passed, and Pompey became more successful, their relationship changed. Pompey’s fame and success stemming from his triumph in Africa angered and worried Sulla, who had ignored Pompey in his will, despite wanting him to be part of his family (Pompey. 14-15). Caesar’s relationship with the dictator was very different from the start. Caesar was the nephew of Marius, whom Sulla hated and feared that Caesar had the potential to be just like Marius (Plu, Lives. Caesar. 1). This hatred led to Caesar fleeing Rome to hide from Sulla’s troops and he did not return until Sulla’s power began to decline (Caesar. 1-3). It is ironic that Sulla feared Caesar would be like Marius, because Caesar turned out to be more like Sulla. Caesar, like Sulla, not only brought back dictatorship to the Roman Republic, but also exercised king like powers while dictator. The difference in relationships was reflected in both Pompey and Caesar’s political careers.

While both Pompey and Caesar were powerful military men, their conflict that led to the civil wars began as a political battle. Before Pompey was elected consul, many feared that he would head for a Sullan constitution through armed force and autocracy, but he promised to relinquish the army he commanded through several victories after celebrating a second triumph (Plu, Lives. Pompey. 21-22). Pompey had a great deal of influence among the common people and his military triumphs against the pirates gave him a great deal of power (Pompey. 22-30). However, this frightened many aristocrats because a bill had passed that would allow Pompey control over the war against kings Mithridates and Tigranes, which meant that the Roman Empire would be placed in the hands of one man (Pompey 30). So, while Pompey had promised to avoid a Sullan like dictatorship over the Roman Empire, his powers had almost equalled the power that Sulla had after conquering the city by force (Pompey 30). While Pompey had gained his influential political position legitimately, he used his status to bend the rules to bend the rules for other people (Pompey 31-46). This increased their power while decreasing his and the effectiveness of his power was the reason that Caesar was able to challenge him (Pompey 46).

There were two political groups in Rome: the Sullan party and the Marian party, had been so discouraged and divided that they held almost no political prominence (Plu, Lives. Caesar 6). While the Sullan party was very powerful, Caesar wished to reinvigorate the Marian party and was elected pontifex maximus after the death of Metellus (Caesar 6-8). It was after this that Caesar left for Spain, where he not only conquered the Callici and the Lustiani, but also established peace between the communities, which enhanced his prestige (Caesar 12). When Caesar returned to Rome, he was a candidate for his first consulship and won (Plu, Lives. Pompey 47). Immediately after, he began to court the favour of the poor by bringing up new laws for grants of land and began an alliance with Pompey through his marriage to Caesar’s daughter, Julia (Pompey 49). After their divorce, Pompey and Caesar began their fallout (Plu, Lives. Caesar 23). The Roman people began to think more highly of Caesar than Pompey (Caesar 18). After many military victories against common enemies by both Pompey and Caesar and the death of Crassus in Parthia, tensions were raised between the two and the civil wars began (Caesar 28).

From the start Caesar’s goal was to bring down Pompey (Caesar 28). After realizing this, Pompey attempted to discredit Caesar by not only recalling his troops from the Gallic Wars, but making those soldiers lie about Caesar (Caesar 29). The hatred between the two led to the violent civil wars. Caesar had launched a surprise attack on Ariminum and seized the town (Caesar 32). Pompey, who was already terrified of Caesar and his growing power, had been criticized by many for being responsible for building up Caesar’s power (Caesar 34). While Pompey’s troops outnumbered Caesar’s, Caesar was able to gain control of Ital after just six days, while Pompey retreated during every battle (Caesar 35-36). Part of the downfall of Pompey was due to the fact that members of his army refused to listen to him. Majority of his allies were aristocrats and acted as independent commanders instead of following Pompey’s orders. Caesar, on the other hand, led a cohesive unit across the Roman Empire and his troops easily defeated Pompey (Caesar 46). It was after this that Caesar became the sole dictator over Rome, as there was no one left to oppose him.

The violence that plagued Rome during the years of 133 to 43 B.C. were a direct result of political affairs. While violence was evident throughout the entire century, the bulk of it occurred near the end, where Sulla led his dictatorship through force. His beliefs rubbed off on a young Pompey, who quickly rose in the political and military ranks. Opposite to him was Caesar, who was hated by Sulla and also rose to prominence swiftly. It was only a matter of time before the two would face off against each other for ultimate power in Rome, which culminated during the civil wars.

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