THE cult of the individual in the final decades of the Republic was paramount, leading to competition for power not only between these characters and those who still strove to continue the status quo of res publica Romana, but also between the individuals themselves, sometimes conspiring together, at other times in violent struggle to dominate the state, though, for the greater part, still technically remaining within legal bounds of the electoral processes and the magisterial system. However, the level of aristocratic infighting and feuding which had been the dominating political factor of the 80s had seen, through the Sullan proscriptions, a level of vengeance against those who had taken up position against the dictator which had not yet been experienced at Rome. Those who had benefitted were the allies of Sulla, and many who were willing to stand on the sidelines in the struggles and come in on the winning side and the numbers who had switched sides away from the Marian factio when things began to swing against it. Such speculators were those who were to make up the new principes, without whose support Sulla would fail, hence why he appeared so forgiving of those powerful men who had changed to his side at the last minute, such as the Valerii Flacci, M. Lepidus, L. Phillipus and perhaps the key turncoat, Cn. Pompeius Magnus. These now stood shoulder to shoulder with earlier high ranking citizens who had switched earlier because it profited them personally: Q. Metellus Pius, the Lentuli and M. Licinius Crassus. Unlike the men who had been loyal to Sulla from the start, having fought alongside him in the East, – L. Lucullus, P. Servilius Vatia, Cn. Dollabella, Ap. Claudius Pulcher and the Cottae inter alia – these had switched sides not for their perceived good of the res publica Romana, but for their own profit, or saving their own skins if they had correctly read the post civil strife sentiment. This was not the first time that such defections from one factio to another had occurred, but those who switched read as a ‘who’s who’ of many of the dominant characters in the final decades of the Republic.
The minor protagonists varied, but there were four dominant characters over the last century: Gn. Pompeius Magnus, M. Licinius Crassus, C. Iulius Caesar and the major source for the period, M. Tullius Cicero.
Pompey’s career had begun under Sulla, and his rise was meteoric. The Sullan regime suited Pompey’s character very well and, although he had an overt tendency to ignore the Sullan constitution completely when it suited him, he was a principle defender of the Sullan senate in the face of the challenges from Lepidus and Sertorius. It was Pompey who organised the magnificent funeral for Sulla in 78 BC. Cicero was spending the same decade building up his experience and reputation as orator in the law courts, battling it out with Q. Hortensius and challenging the latter’s dominance in the field of public rhetoric.
Sulla’s death in 78 coincided with the consulship of M. Aemilius Lepidus, a candidate whom Sulla had not been willing to back, but who had, nevertheless, made enough fiscal profit through the proscriptions to win the office with the support of Pompey, though without that of the ex dictator, who had resigned his post in mid 79.(Appian, Bell. Civ., 1.103. The exact date is the subject of long standing controversy.) Whilst he could trace his family back to patrician roots, Lepidus was himself an opportunist (Gruen, The Last Generation of the Roman Republic, California, 1995, pg 12) who had links through marriage to Saturninus and political affiliations with the Marian supporters; it can easily be assumed that he was among those who espoused the popularis cause. In 100, he had been one of the turncoats who had aided in the crushing of the anti Sullans, a pattern which was repeated in the 80s BC when he defected to the Sullan cause outright and made a fortune from the proscriptions as well as gaining a praetorship and a provincial command. The consulship of 78 was not enough for the over ambitious Lepidus, however, and he attempted to block the state funeral for Sulla, further attempting to damn him in the eyes of the Romans (Plutarch, Sulla, 38.1; Pomp. 15.3; Appian, op. cit. 1.105). Though he proved unsuccessful on both accounts, he made overt gestures through propaganda to those who had been excluded in the new Sullan regime by restoring confiscated estates and properties, the re-enfranchising of those deprived of their political rights and, perhaps more significantly, recalling those who had been exiled as well as repealing many of Sulla’s decrees ( Sallust, Hist. 1.77.6, 14; Appian, op. cit. 1.107; Livy, Per. 90). Returning to the popularis mould, he did what every prospective demagogue traditionally (by now) did and passed a lex frumentaria to distribute a grain dole (Licinianus, 34) and delivered, according to Sallust, a truly scathing speech regarding Sulla (Sallust, Hist, 1.55). As Gruen notes,
‘Lepidus could have retained an honored place within the establishment. He evidently sought preeminence.’ (Gruen, op.cit, 1995 pg 13)
In 78, Lepidus and his co consul, Q. Lutatius Catulus, were assigned to put down an uprising in Etruria, though Lepidus made the decision to side with those who had rebelled. The only reaction of the senate was to appoint Lepidus to be governor of Transalpine Gaul for 77 (Dillon and Garland, suggest that this was with the intention of ‘hoping to get him out of the way.’ pg 549). Further, Lepidus had, as consul, refused point blank to restore the tribunician powers when requested in 78, (Sallust, Hist., 1.77.14), yet, in 77 he chose to march on Rome herself, demand a second consulship – he had been recalled for the consular elections – and that the powers of the tribunes be restored. It would seem that the restoration of the tribunate to its constitutional role was something he had intended to use as an act of demagoguery all along, hence explaining his refusal in 78. Interestingly, when he invited Caesar to join his cause, the young C. Iulius refused, ( Suetonius, Julius, 3) suggesting that he may yet not have been ready to nail his colours to such a mast, something which was to prove a wise move. Lepidus’ attempted coup was put down, after an SUC by Pompey and Catulus, finally coming to an end when, after Lepidus’ death on Sardinia and the transfer of what remained of his forces under Perperna had joined with Sertorius in Spain (Appian, Bell. Civ., 1.107, 501-504). Pompey, who refused to disband his army, was sent to Spain to pursue the campaign against Sertorius with imperium for 77 to help Caecilius Metellus Pius who was already there. Though there were problems and setbacks at the start, not least the lack of reinforcements and support sent from Rome, such a concerning situation that Sallust cites Pompey’s letter to the senate (Sallust, Histories, 2.98 ).
The 60s were dominated by Pompeius Magnus (Pompey). He had held the position of Consul in 69 BC, and then spent the period 67-62 in conquering and pacifying the Eastern Mediterranean lands, thereby extending the command of the Republic, and setting up buffer client states between the new Roman frontiers and the only major threat left, the Parthian Empire to the East.
His fās, auctoritās, gloria, laus and personal dignitās could scarce be rivalled by anyone, although Crassus amongst others was doing his best to challenge Pompey’s apparent ultimate authority at Rome – apparent, as Pompey most certainly did not have a monopoly on the Roman political scene. Lucullus and Catulus led a ring of politicians who bore no love for Pompey and their interests continued to be served by a small group of politicians who centred themselves on the figure of Cato. Over this period, many of the major political battles were head to head between these opposing factiones. Crassus showed a particular interest in the lower groups in the Senate, though Caesar was as yet not influential enough to become his principle protégé – Crassus wanted to influence those who were promising enough to be able to wield auctoritās later on, and, in some cases at least, who could be bought by the apparently bottomless coffers at Crassus’ disposal. Outside of direct allegiance to either of the power mongers were the Metelli, Pisones, Cottae, Lepidi and Antonii – all among the greater nobiles families.
Any examination of the consular list for the 60’s shows that Pompey’s great auctoritās, dignitās and military glory seemed to hold little sway with the comitia centuriata, however. There are a consistent number of high-ranking magistrates who numbered amongst Pompey’s inimici. Amongst the most apparent of those who detested Pompey was Q. Hortensius, the most successful orator and rhetorician at Rome until the arrival of M. Tullius Cicero. For the preceding two decades, Hortensius had dominated the courts, and when he held the consulship of 69, he and his fellow consul, Q. Metellus Creticus, were politically particularly united in their hatred of Pompey.
It had been Hortensius who had spoken out against Pompey’s command against the Cilician pirates in 67 (the fact that Metellus Creticus was down to replace Pompey evidently was a major factor in this). Whilst Hortensius and Creticus had a level of arrogance and unbridled ruthlessness, it must be borne in mind that elections at Rome depended more upon familial connections and political amicitiae than anything else – both of these Hortensius and Metellus Creticus possessed in abundance.
The following two years saw the consulship in the hands of Lucius Metellus (brother of Creticus) and then C. Calpurnius Piso – once again, both declared inimici of Pompey. Whilst L. Metellus was of no consequence, simply upholding the family tradition, Piso numbered many of the highest nobiles amongst his amici, including such figures as Lucullus, Hortensius and Bibulus. During his year in office, Piso was totally unintimidated by Pompey and his amici, and did his utmost to confound the great general at every possible turn. The late 60’s again saw power fall into the hands of the anti Pompey faction, all with close associations to Lucullus (the general whom Pompey had replaced in the war against Mithridates of Pontus and Tigranes of Armenia) or Cato. Amongst the most renowned of these was L. Licinius Murena who had served as trusted legate of Lucullus in the wars of the 70s – Murena had not only a distinguished praetorian ancestry, but also a great military career of his own. This, combined with his association with Lucullus, led him to defeat L. Sergius Catilina in the election of 63, with the rather priggish figure of Sulpicius as his running mate.
The consuls of 61 and 60 proved no more friendly towards Pompey. In 61, Pompey must at least have thought that things would go better as one of the consuls, M. Piso, was a friend of Pompey, but M. Valerius Messalla Niger, the co-consul, was a patrician who evidently was not willing to aid Pompey, and a rather unpleasant relationship developed between the two consuls.
In 60, Q. Metellus Celer (who had once been Pompey’s legate and brother-in-law) took every opportunity to obstruct Pompey’s plans both in the east, and his bill to allot land to his veterans.
By 62, Pompey was preparing for his triumphant return to Rome, and he played as high a profile as he could (taking into account his absence from the city) in the consular elections of both 61 and 60. In 62, M. Pupius Piso, Pompey’s trusted lieutenant and long standing friend who had the added advantage of great family dignitās as well as wit and a high level of Greek learning, was dispatched to Rome to stand for consul. It would appear that the elections had been delayed in order that Piso could arrive and stand for the office (physical presence in Rome was a legal requirement). Cato, according to Plutarch, was vehemently against this delay and stood in opposition. Piso won. In 61, L. Afranius, another of Pompey’s protégés was available to stand for office, and, in spite of his humble origins, Pompey and Piso threw their full support behind Afranius. Cato again stood against Pompey’s candidate, and again Pompey won hope at least in Afranius’ victory. It was hope alone, however, because, as we have seen, M. Messalla and Q. Metellus Celer did a very good job of stalemating Pompey’s candidates at every turn.
It would be an extreme over simplification, however, to view these years as ones where candidates stood on either a pro or anti Pompeian ticket. Candidates’ own familial prestige and dignitās as well as their use of their own amici and clientes to counter the aspirations of their inimici were of as great importance as they ever had been. For the Metelli and the Pisones, it was their ancestral lineage (their ‘masks in the cupboard’) which won the election – their standpoint would have been a distant second in consideration in the comitiae when came to the casting of votes.
Noble lineage was one way of cancelling out many sins – C. Antonius, co-consul of M. Tullius Cicero in 63, is exceptional proof of this. His father, M. Antonius, had been one of Rome’s greatest orators. C. Antonius had been a ruthless supporter of Sulla both before and during the proscriptions of 80; he was a renowned exploiter of any provincials with whom he had dealings; he was violent in word as much as deed (and yet totally paranoid); he had in fact been expelled from the Senate for debt and moral turpitude (Q. Cicero, Commentariolum Petitionis, 8, 9). It was his connections with Sulla and his familial history which made him a force to be reckoned with in the political scene of the 60’s.
Another example is the consul of 61 – M. Valerius Messalla who had also been expelled from the Senate, and yet through the courts where he was a highly successful speaker, he not only won the consulship, but eventually the censorship.
It is the election of 64 for the consulship of 63 where we have a plethora of sources – the year that Cicero ran for consul. It is an election of particular significance, however, in that it was the year of the novus homo – the provincial with no great family dignitās – no consular or even senatorial ancestors who defeated the much higher ranking L. Sergius Catalina. It was to be a particularly hard contested election – in a letter to Atticus in 65, Cicero names eight candidates who had declared their candidacy, although when the campaign proper began a year later, four had dropped out. Of the four candidates who dropped out, none could claim any recent consular ancestry if any at all, and three had very humble origins, and as such were deprived of the familial contacts and dignitās which any successful candidate required.
The candidates who did run were all good chances. Catalina had been acquitted on the charge of corruption (repetundae) and he was running a hard campaign. P. Sulpicius Galba made the mistake of putting all his policies out for public scrutiny much too soon. He more or less sank his own chances. Two of the other candidates were very wealthy plebeians – C. Antonius and the later conspirator L. Cassius Longinus. The outsider in the election was Cicero. The higher nobility would have looked on him as little more than some idiot provincial or even a foreigner. To the great families, the iniquilis from Arpinum in the consulship would have brought shame on the office. However, it was not only the great families who were out to confound Cicero – novi homines who had lost out on progression up the cursus honorum at the office of praetor would also have done their best to stop Cicero. Yet Cicero nevertheless came top of the poll with EVERY centuria.
For the Romans, this was explained by the fact that Cicero, despite his lack of ancestral dignitās and consular ancestry, was a well-known and self-declared conservative. He was at least reliable – after all, the alternatives lay in Catilina and Antonius who were a known running pair, and the nobiles knew their revolutionary aspirations – even the novus homo was preferable to a coup d’état.
We must beware, however – it is Sallust who tells us this, and Sallust’s principle aim in his ‘Conspiracy’ is to blacken the name of Catilina and any associated with the man responsible for the, in Sallust’s opinion, ‘greatest threat’ to the Roman republic. True, Cicero had been trying to blacken the names of both Catilina and Antonius (cf In Toga Candida delivered prior to the elections), but we must surely question the effect which such invective would have had on the listeners who would have been used to such speeches in the consular electioneering – hyperbole was an accepted, indeed expected part of contemporary rhetoric. The simple fact that Antonius had managed to put behind him the past and had successfully retaken his place in the senate and been voted in as praetor as well as Catilina’s needing to defend himself from charges of incest and corruption being no great stumbling block to political success – indeed Cicero had been prepared at one point to defend Catilina on the charge of corruption. We must furthermore bear in mind that it was Antonius who came in as consul secundus to Cicero in the election of 64.
Were there deeper reasons for this character assassination (attempted if nothing else)? It is generally accepted that, for part of their political careers at least, the main supporting posts for Antonius and Catilina were M. Licinius Crassus and C. Julius Caesar, both of whom were only interested in thwarting Pompey. Cicero was a well-known supporter and amicus of the great general, and in the election of Antonius and Catilina, Pompey’s ambitions would once again be thwarted. It is, however, only Asconius who overtly writes of this. His source was probably a secret diary written by Cicero which only came to light after the latter’s death in 43 – a secret memoir which is believed to have rivalled the most sleazy of modern day tabloids and caused great scandal on its publication. Again, we must listen to the alarm bells – Catilina and Crassus in many ways stood at opposite ends of the political spectrum, and had Catilina’s conspiracy succeeded, Crassus would surely have been one of those to suffer most greatly in the inevitable subsequent proscriptions. Also, bear in mind that Q. Catulus, whose protégé Catilina was, had been involved in a heated and bitter struggle with Crassus during his censorship the previous year. Likewise, Caesar and Antonius had been involved in litigious conflict ten years earlier over Antonius’ extortion in Greece.
In reality, the truth is more likely that Cicero had been in the public consciousness for twenty years as the most successful lawyer in Rome, and his battle for the greatest contemporary orator with the older Hortensius had brought him to the fore of the public mind. He had won himself many amici in the courts amongst all the influential classes at Rome, and, as is pointed out in the Commentariolum Petitionis, now was the time to reclaim all those favours and debts (CP 16-19). Here, a provincial equestrian background was no liability but rather proved highly advantageous. It brought Cicero lead position in the polls not only from the municipiae, but also from the equites who seem to have viewed him as a favoured son rather than as an upstart. Furthermore, Cicero had spent much of 66 and 65 currying favour with the military blue-eyed boy – Pompeius Magnus. With Pompey’s influence and pressure brought to bear by the generalissimo, Cicero could count on some very influential votes. He also seems to have followed his brother’s advice (the veracity of the Comm. Pet. is hotly disputed, but that is not an argument for here) in being very careful to alienate no group or powerful and influential individual during his campaign. For example, in speaking in support of Pompey’s command against Mithridates, Cicero make sure to heap praise upon L. Lucullus – this led to the support of major power mongers such as the now pro-consular C. Piso and L. Domitius Ahenobarbus. Cicero truly proved himself a consummate politician by being all things to all men and ensuring listeners heard what they wanted to hear without his making a single promise of future favour.
Cicero must, however, have been exceptional in the time and energy put into his campaign. Those who had the ‘masks in the cupboard’ would be able to count on a significant number of votes without all this palaver. They would have been able to be quite open in their dedication to the optimates or the popularis cause – Cicero deftly avoids being either! Despite his own future bravado, this proved enough simply to give his descendants their first mask in the cupboard – Cicero was never a figure of great power in his own right, despite what the reader of his writings might be led to believe.
The 60’s were in some ways the final glory days of the Sullan regime – three consuls (L. Torquatus, C. Antonius and L. Murena) had all been trusted lieutenants of the great dictator. Catilina and P. Sulla (a distant relative) had narrowly missed the position of ultimate authority. Glabrio, Sulla’s son-in-law was consul in 67. Ten further consuls of the period were strongly linked with their predecessors in the 70’s, be those links familial or through strong political ties. Seventeen of the twenty one consuls over this period were of consular stock and both ancient and powerful patrician and plebeian houses were represented amongst their number. Those who lay outside these boundaries were all strongly backed by the great power mongers of the period.
The 60’s was in no way (to the Roman mind at least) a decade which saw any true diminution of the power wielded by the great families – their ancient nobilitās of which they were so proud was untouched.
In 59, with the political backing of both Pompey and Crassus, Caesar was elected consul. This was in many ways the end of the political system which had ruled at Rome for centuries and led to the so-called ‘First Triumvirate’, although it would be a long process – the dignitās and auctoritās of the great patrician families would continue to dominate the consulship for a good while yet. It was the determined Julius Caesar who offered Pompey his greatest chance of pushing through the reforms he needed for his troops to be allocated their land pension, particularly after the ineffectual consulships held by allies of Pompey in 61 and 60. Pompey also held high hopes of his friend L. Lucceius, a man with much inferior claims to the consulship than Caesar, but a man of great wealth – never a disadvantage in the scramble up the cursus honorum. The running pair soon, however, encountered serious obstacles. Remember that for the anti-Pompeian faction, one consul allied to Pompey was problematic – two allies of the generalissimo proved anathema. They instead threw their political might behind M. Calpurnius Bibulus, who was loosely related to the Calpurnii Pisones. With both C. Piso and Cato canvassing strongly for him, and a long-standing antipathy between Caesar and Bibulus, the latter could count on his campaign coffers being regularly replenished by the anti-Pompeian nobiles. Caesar repeated Cicero’s resounding victory in every comitia, but his running mate, Lucceius, came third to the nobiles candidate, Bibulus. For the third election in a row, Pompey’s hopes were dashed by only having one of the consuls in pocket. The unfortunate Lucceius had squandered a fortune in campaigning, only to see Caesar reap the benefits.
Whilst the rift between pro and anti-Pompeian candidates in the 60’s gave the elections a particularly vibrant character, it must not be forgotten that the high political struggles between the various kingmakers would have had limited influence amongst the electorate. It remained the personal glory of a name and the complex system of alliances through amicitiae and patronage which held the sway in the casting of an individual’s vote. Whilst Caesar and Lucceius may have run jointly, this in no way implied a system similar to the ‘ticket’ of President and Vice president in the US elections, and there was definitely no fixed party system such as exists in most modern day European democracies. Rome had an apparently democratic system (Polybius’ third element of the constitution.), but in reality this was little more than a veneer, and it was a small group of oligarchs who could afford the requisite campaigns and who had the contacts and systems of support who were the de facto rulers – no peasant would ever make it onto the cursus honorum, let alone win the curule stool of aedile or the consulship. Campaign promises therefore would appear to count for little in the consular elections at Rome, and a Roman voter would have seen no dichotomy in holding out for both Caesar and Bibulus.
Caesar was, however, able to override Bibulus during the year due to the massive backing he received both from Pompey and from Crassus – the triumvirate managed to stay technically within the rules, but wield pretty much unchallenged power. This, of course, simply helped to elevate Caesar’s kudos when compared with the abject failures of the consulships of M. Piso and Afranius. In subsequent elections, the pro-Pompeian consuls A. Gabinius and L. Calpurnius Piso Caesonius demonstrated the long reach of the triumvirate. Indeed, both Caesar and Caesonius benefited when Caesar married the latter’s daughter in 59. Cicero’s ever more frantic attempts to blacken the characters of both Gabinius and Piso Caesonius proved fruitless; indeed, Cicero was even canvassing for Piso in 59, though later he would regret this. Caesar’s marriage was now proving a very wise move. In 59, Piso and Gabinius were both returned, no surprise at all given the backing they received – indeed, one wonders why other candidates would bother to stand at all! Whilst Piso was most certainly Caesarean in his standing, Gabinius was not even associated with the rising star, but rather was viewed as the leader of the boni.
The collapse of the triumvirate began shortly after this, however. In 58, P. Clodius turned all his venom on Pompey – Gabinius stood firm in his defence of his friend, whereas Piso, who felt no partisanship to Pompey, encouraged the attacks by Clodius, and indeed appears to have shown a certain Schadenfreude in Pompey’s problems. The collapse of the three way domination was now inevitable.
In the electoral campaign of 58, Pompey and Caesar could only find one candidate on whom they could agree – P. Cornelius Lentulus Spinther – a man of impeccable patrician heritage who looked to be a safe, reliable candidate. He was related by blood to a whole plethora of the ruling oligarchs. Pompey viewed Spinther as his own, and Caesar had been using Spinther for years to ensure his promotion to Pontifex Maximus and the proconsular command of Hispania after his praetorship. Through his familial connections and his patrician heritage, Spinther was a prime candidate for cultivation by the now fracturing triumvirate.
Whilst Spinther brought the connections to the aristocracy which the triumvirate required, Q. Metellus Nepos was to prove a disaster. Whilst there had been connections to Pompey in the past through marriage, the Metelli took it as an inexcusable action when Pompey divorced Nepos’ sister, Mucia. Whilst many consuls would have clung desperately to the political clout offered by the triumvirate, the sixteen previous consuls in the family and the glory of the name of Metellus meant that Nepos could easily thumb his nose at the triumvirate whom he, through familial loyalty and piety detested.
Nepos was furthermore a cousin of P. Clodius, and used his consulship to promote the Clodian attacks on Pompey’s friend and ally, T. Annius Milo, at every possible turn. Spinther, now having achieved the position he craved, turned his back on his erstwhile patrons to further his own ambitions. Both Spinther and Nepos worked to deprive Pompey of the campaign to restore Ptolemy Auletes to the Pharaonic crown in 57, and Spinther then pushed through a corn commission for Pompey in the autumn of 57. This was to remove Pompey from the position of campaigning general by tying him up in a minor bureaucratic role at Rome. Meanwhile, Lentulus pulled every string he could to gain the command for himself – unsuccessfully. Nevertheless, the long term aim of depriving Pompey of the command did prove successful – despite their power and influence, the triumvires had to accept that a candidate backed for the consulship would not necessarily prove a lapdog once in office.
56 saw an equal blow to the triumvirs when the two nobiles, Cn. Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus and L. Marcius Philippus, were elected. Marcellinus was a highly intelligent man with a great gift for oratory – and a hatred for the ambitions of the triumvires almost unrivalled in the period. He lambasted Caesar and his allies at every opportunity and made every move possible to crush Pompey’s ambitions in the provinces. Philippus proved rather Marcellinus’ lapdog than any ally of the dynasts. Philippus carried much of the political heavyweight, however – his father had been a celebrated consul and censor a generation back and his family was one of the oldest in Rome. Furthermore, Cato, the eternal thorn in the plans of Pompey and his allies, was Philippus’ son in law. The bipartite attacks on Caesar’s campaign in Gaul, and the perpetual thwarting of all the ambitions and plans of both Pompey and Crassus drove another nail in the triumvirate’s coffin. The conservative electorate was still in no way under the sway of the demagogic militarists who wished to dominate the political arena. These four consuls, all from the highest aristocracy, would have won their elections easily at any point in the preceding century.
Early 56 saw the beginning of the total collapse of the already shaky alliance which made up the triumvirate. In 55, the whole alliance imploded when L. Domitius Ahenobarbus announced his candidature and intention of replacing Caesar at the head of the consular army in Gaul. With Cato as his brother in law and Catulus as his first cousin, and a name which few in the Roman aristocracy could rival, Ahenobarbus would use his clientelae in Gaul and his assumed birth right to a consulship now. In a final throw, Pompey and Crassus both submitted their names for the consulship and Caesar promised to throw his political weight behind their candidature. Even though the three members of the triumvirate had managed to find a solid political basis on which to work in co-operation, however, did not mean that they could be sure of success, and Philippus and Marcellinus used the tag end of their consulship to fight the nominations of Crassus and Pompey tooth and nail. The senate also involved itself in the campaign against the political machinations of the dynasts, but most importantly this attempt to ride rough shod over the Assembly of the People met with stout resistance and anti triumvirate feeling. In 56, the comitia was in no mood to support the joint candidacy. In a final move, the elections were postponed into the next year in the hope that the perceived malign influence of the two standing consuls would have weakened and Pompey and Crassus would therefore be able to take advantage of this. Even so, although some other candidates withdrew, Ahenobarbus remained firm in his candidacy with Cato using every opportunity to block the triumvirate. Caesar it was who eventually tipped the scales by allowing a number of his troops leave, thereby upping the number of votes for the joint consulships and also leaving a veiled threat of a large number of military veterans wandering Rome. It was finally in January 55 that the consulship of Pompey and Crassus took office. This election campaign stands out because of the less than subtle manoeuvrings of the consuls to be, backed by the military threat from Caesar’s army. Their continuing political careers rested on winning the election, and at all costs they had to win, and win personally, as the independence of consuls in the previous years meant that no other candidates could be trusted.
All advantages which swung into the path of the triumvirate were, however, fleeting. Cato and his coterie now portrayed themselves as the wronged party in this. They had a sense of moral outrage which branded the triumvires as little less than tyrants, exercising a level of demagogic rule (which of course would become the norm in the permanent consulships of the Emperors), and the all pervading aroma of revolution would have stuck in the craw of the ultra-conservative voting bodies of the Republican comitiae. As a consequence, the elections of 54 ran their normal course without any manipulation by the Crassus / Pompey combination.
Ahenobarbus revived his candidacy, and this time was not to be denied. On to the scene also bounded the powerful figure of Ap. Claudius Pulcher, who could wield the dual edged sword of family pride and total self-belief. He rallied all the support of clientelae which his family had built up over generations and simply ignored the claims of those below his stature.
The triumvirs did not dare risk further poor will amongst the comitiae and threw their weight behind proper candidates. Pompey vociferously championed the cause of a long-standing follower, T. Ampius Balbus, but to little avail and Ahenobarbus and Ap. Claudius were returned as consuls. Once again the dynasts were to be blocked at every turn. Again the following year, Caesar and Pompey met with poor support for their candidate and once again inimici were returned as consuls. Despite twists and turns in the political alliances, and every ploy being used by both sides, such that the elections of 54 actually took place in 53, yet more inimici took the consular elections. The shaky nature of the coalition which formed the triumvirate was never truly secure enough to ensure a golden age for Caesar, Crassus and Pompey. The history and traditions of the Republican political system proved too powerful a tool for even these three great names.
The delayed elections which caused an eighteen months gap without consuls meant that the government was at best unstable. The new consuls when they took up their posts had to concern themselves with the next set of elections rather than the legislature. T. Annius Milo had been promised a consulship by Pompey since as early as 57. He was renowned for fighting his way through the turbulent politics of the period, and now he wanted Pompey’s backing. To complicate the situation, however, P. Clodius changed his allegiance and came out in support of Pompey. Furthermore, Pompey realised that Milo’s career was on the wane and declined to back Milo – bitterness ensued. Milo asked for Pompey’s backing in 54, only to see the generalissimo throw his weight behind another man completely. Milo instead turned to his other backers, including Cicero. Milo married the daughter of Sulla, a certain Fausta, who was well known for having the morality of an alley cat, though it was for the kudos the name brought that the marriage was contracted. Finally, Milo brought Marcus Cato on board. This was now a serious threat to Pompey. Pompey’s own candidate was the trustworthy P. Plautius Hypsaeus. A third candidate was to prove more bothersome. In the name of Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio Nasica was to be found a who’s who of the highest political families. He was also the head of the powerful Metelli, and was related to most of the great political families even if he did not bear their names. Despite this great pedigree, he was a dull man of the most insipid and bland character with a well-known liking for pornography… As far back as 70, he had been one of the Metelli who had defended Verres in the courts, but otherwise he had climbed the cursus honorum without assistance from the rest of his clan. Despite the fact that a political marriage had offended the Catonians, Metellus Scipio could call on the combined clientelae of the Metelli and the Scipii – few in Rome could have doubted his inevitable success at the polls.
P. Clodius took one look at the alternatives and threw his full might behind Hypsaeus and Metellus Scipio. Milo was not to take this lying down, and soon bribes and fistfights became the norm. The two consuls of 53, already trying to function at a breathless rate, soon lost control. Both were caught up in major riots and felled by stones. This meant that the comitia could not be summoned and hence there was yet another postponement in the elections. In a street battle between the thugs of Milo and Clodius on the 18th January, Clodius was killed. The subsequent riots saw the Curia razed to the ground. There was little choice but to pass senatus ultimum consultum, allowing the Tribunes, the interrex and Pompey as the only available general with pro-consular power (and therefore the right to levy forces to quell the riots) to act. As a final move of vengeance on the disgraced candidates, the senate cancelled the elections of 52 and appointed Pompey as sole consul – his partisans demanded he be made dictator, but the senate was not willing to go that far. Others demanded the recall of Caesar to share imperium with Pompey, but the senate was appalled at such a possibility, and eventually M. Bibulus moved that Pompey be appointed sole consul – Cato acquiesced, realising that this was preferable to the general anarchy which was prevailing, and in March 52, Pompey became sole Consul.