1902 Encyclopedia > Rome > Ancient Roman History - The Period of the Revolutions, 146-149 B.C. - (c) Dictatorship of Caesar; the Second Triumvirate; etc.

(Part 8)



Period III: The Period of the Revolutions, 146-49 B.C.

(c) Dictatorship of Caesar; the Second Triumvirate; etc.

Dictatorship of Caesar (48-44 B.C.)

The task which Caesar had to perform was no easy one. It came upon him suddenly; for there is no sufficient reason to believe that Caesar had long premeditated revolution, or that he had previously aspired to anything more than such a position as that which Pompey had already won, a position unrepublican indeed, but accepted by republicans as inevitable. War was forced upon him as the alternative to political suicide, but success in war brought the responsibilities of nearly absolute power, and Coesar's genius must be held to have shown itself in the masterly fashion in which he grasped the situation, rather than in the supposed sagacity with which he is said to have foreseen and prepared for it. In so far as he failed, his failure was mainly due to the fact that his tenure of power was too short for the work which he was required to perform. From the very first moment when Pompey's ignominious retreat left him master of Italy, he made it clear that he was neither a second Sulla nor even the reckless anarchist which many believed him to be. The Roman and Italian public were first startled by the masterly rapidity and energy of his movements, and then agreeably surprised by his lenity and moderation. No proscriptions or confiscations followed his victories, and all his acts evinced an unmistakable desire to effect a sober and reasonable settlement of the pressing questions of the hour; of this, and of his almost superhuman energy, the long list of measures he carried out or planned is sufficient proof. The "children of the proscribed" were at length restored to their rights, and with them many of the refugees vvho had found shelter in Caesar's camp during the two or three years immediately preceding the war; but the extreme men among his supporters soon realized that their hopes of "novae tabulae" and grants of land were illusory. In allotting lands to his veterans, Caesar carefully avoided any disturbance of existing owners and occupiers,11 and the mode in which he dealt with the economic crisis produced by the war seems to have satisfied all reasonable men.12 It had been a common charge against Caesar in former days that he paid excessive court to the populace of Rome, and now that he was master he still dazzled and delighted them by the splendour of the spectacles he provided, and by the liberality of his largesses. But he was no indiscriminate flatterer of the mob. The popular clubs and guilds which had helped to organize the anarchy of the last few years were dissolved.13 A strict inquiry was made into the distribution of the monthly doles of corn, and the number of recipients was reduced by one half;14 finally, the position of the courts of justice was raised by the abolition of the popular element among the judices.15 Nor did Caesar shrink from the attempt, in which so many had failed before him, to mitigate the twin evils which were ruining the prosperity of Italy,—the concentration of a pauper population in the towns, and the denudation and desolation of the country districts. His strong hand carried out the scheme so often proposed by the popular leaders since the days of Gaius Gracchus, the colonization of Carthage and Corinth. Allotments of land on a large scale were made in Italy; decaying towns were reinforced by fresh drafts of settlers; on the large estates and cattle farms the owners were required to find employment for a certain amount of free labour; and a slight and temporary stimulus was given to Italian industry by the reimposition of harbour dues upon foreign goods.1 To these measures must be added his schemes for the draining of the Fucine Lake and the Pomptine Marshes, for a new road across the Apennines, and for turning the course of the Tiber. It is true that these vigorous efforts to revive the agrarian prosperity of Italy were made along the old lines laid down eighty years before by the Gracchi, and that their final success was no greater than that of preceding efforts in the same direction, but they are a proof of the spirit in which Caesar understood the responsibilities of absolute power, and their failure was due to causes which no legislation could remove. The reform of the calendar, which has been described elsewhere, completes a record of administrative reform which entitles Caesar to the praise of having governed well, whatever may be thought of the validity of his title to govern at all. But how did Caesar deal with what was after all the greatest problem which he was called upon to solve, the establishment of a satisfactory government for the empire 1 One point indeed was already settled—the necessity, if the empire was to hold together at all, of placing the army, the provinces, and the control of the foreign policy in more vigorous hands than those of a number of changing magistrates independent of each other, and only very imperfectly controlled by the senate at home. Some centralization of the executive authority was indispensable, and this part of his work Caesar thoroughly performed. From the moment when he seized the moneys in the treasury on his first entry into Rome down to the day of his death he recognized no other authority but his throughout the empire. He alone directed the policy of Rome in foreign affairs; the legions were led, and the provinces governed, not by independent magistrates, but by his "legates;" and the title "imperator" which he adopted was intended to express the absolute and unlimited nature of the "imperium" he claimed, as distinct from the limited spheres of authority possessed by republican magistrates. In so centralizing the executive authority over the empire at large, Caesar was but developing the policy implied in the Gabinian and Manilian laws, and the precedent he established was closely followed by his successors. It was otherwise with the more difficult question of the form under which this new executive authority should be exercised and the relation it should hold to the republican constitution. We must be content to remain in ignorance of the precise shape which Caesar intended ultimately to give to the new system. The theory that he contemplated a revival of the old Roman kingship is supported by little more than the popular gossip of the day, and the form under which he actually wielded his authority can hardly have been regarded by so sagacious a statesman as more than a provisional arrangement. This form was that of the dictatorship; and in favour of the choice it might have been urged that the dictatorship was the office naturally marked out by republican tradition as the one best suited to carry the state safely through a serious crisis, that the powers it conveyed were wide, that it was as dictator that Sulla had reorganized the state, and that a dictatorship had been spoken of as the readiest means of legalizing Pompey's protectorate of the republic in 53—52. The choice nevertheless was a bad one. It was associated with those very Sullan traditions from which Caesar was most anxious to sever himself; it implied necessarily the suspension for the time of all constitutional government; and, lastly, the dictatorship as held by Caesar could not even plead that it conformed to the old rules and traditions of the office. There was indeed a precedent in Sulla's case for a dictator " reipublicae constituendae causa," but Caesar was not only appointed in an unusual manner, but appointed for an unprecedentedly long period, and the " perpetual dictatorship" granted him after his crowning victory at Munda (45) was a contradiction in terms and a repudiation of constitutional government which excited the bitterest animosity. The dictatorship served well enough for the time to give some appearance of legality to Caesar's autocratic authority, but it was not—even, it is probable, in his own eyes—a satisfactory solution of the problem.

A second question, hardly less important than the establishment and legalization of a strong central executive authority over the army and the provinces, was that of the position to be assigned to the old constitution, by the side of this new power. So far as Caesar himself was concerned, the answer was for the time sufficiently clear. The old constitution was not formally abrogated. The senate met and deliberated; the assembly passed laws and elected magistrates; there were still consuls, praetors, oediles, quaestors, and tribunes; and Caesar himself, like his successors, professed to hold his authority by the will of the people. But senate, assembly, and magistrates were all alike subordinated to the paramount authority of the dictator; and this subordination was, in appearance at least, more direct and complete under the rule of Caesar than under that of Augustus. Caesar was by nature as impatient as Augustus was tolerant of established forms; and, dazzled by the splendour of his career of victory and by his ubiquitous energy and versatility, the Roman public, high and low, prostrated themselves before him and heaped honours upon him with a reckless profusion which made the existence of any authority by the side of his own an absurdity. Hence under Cassar the old constitution was repeatedly disregarded, or suspended in a way which contrasted unfavourably with the more respectful attitude assumed by Augustus. For months together Rome was left without any regular magistrates, and was governed like a subject town by Caesar's prefects. At another time a tribune was seen exercising authority outside the city bounds and invested with the "imperium " of a praetor.12 At the elections, candidates appeared before the people backed by a written recommendation from the dictator, which was equivalent to a command.1 Finally, the senate itself was transformed out of all likeness to its former self by the raising of its numbers to 900, and by the admission of old soldiers, sons of freedmen, and even " semi-barbarous Gauls." But, though Caesar's high-handed conduct in this respect was not imitated by his immediate successors, yet the main lines of their policy were laid down by him. These were (1) the municipalization of the old republican constitution, and (2) its subor-dination to the paramount authority of the master of the legions and the provinces. In the first case he only carried further a change already in progress. Of late years the senate had been rapidly losing its hold over the empire at large. Even the ordinary proconsuls were virtually independent potentates, ruling their provinces as they chose, and disposing absolutely of legions which recognized no authority but theirs. The consuls and praetors of each year had since 81 been stationed in Rome, and immersed in purely municipal business; and, lastly, since the enfranchisement of Italy, the comitia, though still recognized as the ultimate source of all authority, had become little more than assemblies of the city populace, and their claim to represent the true Roman people was indignantly questioned, even by republicans like Cicero. The concentration in Caesar's hands of all authority out-side Rome completely and finally severed all real connection between the old institutions of the republic of Rome and the government of the Roman empire. And, though Augustus and Tiberius elevated the senate to a place beside themselves in this government, its share of the work was a subordinate one, and it never again directed the policy of the state; while, from the time of Caesar onwards, the old magistracies are merely municipal offices, with a steadily diminishing authority, even in the city, and the comitia retain no other prerogative of imperial importance but that of formally confirming the ruler of the empire in the possession of an authority which is already his. But the institutions of the republic not merely became, what they had originally been, the local institutions of the city of Rome; they were also subordinated even within these narrow limits to the paramount authority of the man who held in his hands the army and the provinces. And here Cassar's policy was closely followed by his successors. Autocratic abroad, at home he was the chief magistrate of the commonwealth; and this position was marked, in his case as in that of those who followed him, by a combination in his person of various powers, and by a general right of precedence which left no limits to his authority but such as he chose to impose upon himself. During the greater part of his reign he was consul as well as dictator.8 In 48, after his victory at Pharsalia, he was given the " tribunicia potestas " for life, and after his second success at Thapsus the "praefectura morum" for three years. As chief magistrate he convenes and presides in the senate, nominates candidates, conducts elections, carries laws in the assembly, and administers justice in court. Finally, as a reminder that the chief magistrate of Rome was also the autocratic ruler of the empire, he wore even in Rome the laurel wreath and triumphal dress, and carried the sceptre of the victorious imperator.7

Nor are we without some clue as to the policy which Caesar had sketched out for himself in the administration of the empire, the government of which he had centralized in his own hands. The much-needed work of rectifying the frontiers he was forced, by his premature death, to leave to other hands, but our authorities agree in attributing to him the design of extending the rule of Rome to its natural geographical limits 8—to the Euphrates and the Caucasus on the east, to the Danube and the Bhine or possibly the Elbe on the north, and to the ocean on the west. Within the frontiers he anticipated Augustus in lightening the financial burdens of the provincials,9 and in establishing a stricter control over the provincial governors,10 while he went beyond him in his desire to consolidate the empire by extending the Roman franchise and admitting provincials to a share in the government.12 He completed the Romanization of Italy by his enfranchisement of the Transpadane Gauls,13 and by establishing throughout the peninsula a uniform system of municipal government, which under his successors was gradually extended to the provinces.14

Attempted Restoration of the Republic (44-43 B.C.)

On the eve of his departure for the East, to avenge the death of Crassus and humble the power of Parthia, Caesar fell a victim to the wounded pride of the republican nobles ; and between the day of his death (March 15, 44) and that on which Octavian defeated Antony at Actium (September 2, 31) lies a dreary period of anarchy and bloodshed.16

For a moment, in spite of the menacing attitude of Caesar's self-constituted representative Antony, it seemed to one man at least as if the restoration of republican government was possible. With indefatigable energy Cicero strove to enlist the senate, the people, and above all the provincial governors in support of the old constitution. But, though his eloquence now and again carried all before it in senate house and forum, it was powerless to alter the course of events. By the beginning of 43 civil war had recommenced; in the autumn Antony was already threatening an invasion of Italy at the head of seventeen legions.

The Second Triumvirate (43-28 B.C.)

Towards the end of October Antony and his ally Lepidus coalesced with the young Octavian, who had been recently elected consul at the age of twenty, in spite of senatorial opposition; and the coalition was legalized by the creation of the extraordinary commission for the "reorganization of the commonwealth" known as the "second triumvirate."16 It was appointed for a period of five years, and was continued in 37 for five years more.17 The rule of the triumvirs was inaugurated in the Sullan fashion, and, in marked contrast to the lenity shown by Caesar, by a proscription, foremost among the victims of which was Cicero himself.18 In the next year the defeat of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi, by the combined forces of Octavian and Antony, destroyed the last hopes of the republican party.19 In 40 a threatened rupture between the two victors was avoided by the treaty concluded at Brundusium. Antony married Octavian's sister Octavia, and took command of the eastern half of the empire; Octavian appropriated Italy and the West; while Lepidus was forced to content himself with Africa. For the next twelve years, while Antony was indulging in dreams of founding for himself and Cleopatra an empire in the East, and shocking Roman feeling by his wild excesses and his affectation of oriental magnificence, Octavian was patiently consolidating his power. Of his only two rivals, Lepidus his fellow triumvir was in 36 ejected from Africa and banished to Circeii, while Sextus Pompeius, who had since his defeat at Munda maintained a semi-piratical ascendency in the western Mediterranean, was decisively defeated in the same year, and his death in 35 left Octavian sole master of the West. The inevitable trial of strength between himself and Antony was not long delayed. In 32 Antony inflicted one more outrage upon Roman feeling, and openly challenged the hostility of Octavian by divorcing Octavia in favour of the beautiful and daring Egyptian princess, with whom, as the heiress of the Ptolemies, he aspired to share the empire of the Eastern world. By a decree of the senate Antony was declared deposed from his command, and war was declared against Queen Cleopatra. On September 2, 31, was fought the battle of Actium. Octavian's victory was complete. Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide (30), and the Eastern provinces submitted in 29. Octavian returned to Rome to celebrate his triumph and mark the end of the long-continued anarchy by closing the temple of Janus ; at the end of the next year he formally laid down the extraordinary powers he had held since 43, and a regular government was established.


[766-7 766-15 missing here]

Plut., Caes., 58 ; Suet., 44 ; Dio, xliii. 51.
See CALENDAR, vol. iv. pp. 666-7; Mommsen, R. G., iii. 550 ; and Fischer, Rom. Zeittafeln, 292 sq.
Plut., 35. 6 Dio, xliii. 47.
6 Suet., 40; Dio, xliii. 44. For this use of the title "imperator,"
see Mommsen, R. G., iii. 466, and note.
, 7 See Mommsen, iii. 467, and Eanke, Weltgeschichte, ii. 319 sq.
According to Appian, ii. 110, and Plutarch, Cws., 64, the title "rex"
was only to be used abroad in the East, as likely to strengthen
Caesar's position against the Parthians.
Zumpt, Stud. Rom., 241; Suet., 76. 12 Cic. Ad Att., x. 8a.

1 Suet., 41, "Caesar dictator . . . commendo vobis ilium et ilium, ut vestro suffragio suam dignitatem teneant."
2 Suet., 41, 76 ; Dio, xliii. 47.
3 Watson, op. cit., App. x.; Zumpt, Stud. Rom., loc. cit.; Suet., 76, " tertium et quartum consulatum titulo tenus gessit."
4 Dio, xlii. 20. 5
5 Dio, xliii. 14 ; Suet., 76.
6 Suet., 43, "jus laboriosissime ac severissime dixit."
7 App., ii. 106 ; Dio, xliii. 43.
Suet., 42; Cic. AdAtt., xiv. 12.
12 Suet., 76. 13 Dio, xli. 36 ; Tac, Ann., xi. 24.
14 Lex Julia municipalis ; Wordsworth, Fragments of Early Latin,, pp. 213, 464 ; Mommsen, R. G., iii. 524. LexRubria; Wordsworth, pp. 212, 463.
15 For this period see Merivale, Romans under the Empire, vol. iii.; Lange, Rom. Alterth., iii. 476 sq.; Ranke, Weltgeschiehte, ii. 336 sq.; Watson, Cicero's Letters, Introd. to Part v.
19 The triumvirate was formally constituted in Rome (Nov. 27) by a plebiscitum ; App., iv. 7 ; Dio, xlvi. 50-56, xivii. 2 ; Livy, Epit., cxx. "ut mviri reipublicae eonstituendae per quinquennium essent."
17 Dio, xlviii. 54 ; App., v. 93. For the date, cf. Fischer, Rom, Zeittafeln, 352, 353.
18 Livy, Epit., cxx.; App., iv. 7; and art. CICERO.
19 Dio, xlvii. 35-49 ; App., iv. 87-138.

Veil., ii. 76 ; Dio, xlviii. 28 ; App., v. 65.
'2 For Antony's policy and schemes in the East, see Ranke, Weltgeschichte, ii. 381-385 ; Merivale, Romans under the Umpire, vol. iii. chap. 27 ; Lange, Rom. Alterth., iii. 573 sq.
s Suet., Octav., 17 ; Dio, 1. 1-8 ; Plutarch, Anton., 53.
Dio, li. 1 ; Zonaras, 10, 30.
He celebrated his triumph on August 6, 7, 8 ; Dio, li. 20 ; Livy, Epit., cxxxiii. For the closing of the temple of Janus, see Livy, i. 19 ; Veil., ii. 38 ; Suet., Oct., 22.

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