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Was Cato Right to See the Amicitia Between Caesar and Pompeius as the First Step Towards Civil War?

By:   •  November 11, 2014  •  Essay  •  1,386 Words (6 Pages)  •  950 Views

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The conflict between Caesar and Pompey in 49BC was brewing long before Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon on January 10th with the famed XIII Legio Gemina. The tension between the pair had been growing since the early 50's with a brief period of reconciliation at Luca in 56BC before coming to the fore again in the late 50's and early 40's. The triumvirate is often seen as a reason behind the conflict as all three of its members lusted for power wealth and prestige. However the constitutional issues that caused the necessity of a Triumvirate, as well as the Optimate's reluctance to change their antiquated ways can also be viewed as contributing factors towards war.

Through the final years of the Roman Republic, corruption and vast opposition made it difficult for much to be achieved in Rome, where the republic was becoming fast outdated and in need of reform. Many before Caesar had attempted this such as the Gracchi and Sulla yet found their bills dismantled or abandoned, revealing how it was difficult to implement change with much success and to last beyond their time in office as longevity was not often achieved. Issues such as this can be seen as leading to the formation of the Triumvirate, something viewed by the three men as necessary in order to achieve their goals in the senate and across Rome. As Populares motives would often find themselves thrown out by the predominately Patrician senate. Caesar and Pompey along with the now dead Crassus, had formed their triumvirate in 60BC paving a period of prosperity for them in Rome, with Caesar gaining the consulship the following year, as well as allowing the passing of the agrarian law which benefited all three triumvirs. All of these were great reasons for the formation of the Triumvirate. This can be supported by the fact that without the Triumvirate Caesar would never have passed his agrarian law amongst his other pro-populares bills which increased the quality of life for the urban and rural poor in Italy. The breakdown of this once powerful friendship supports Plutarch's suggestion of Cato's view that the amicita between Pompey and Caesar was responsible for the outbreak of civil war.

Pompey's personal ambition, as well as the Optimate desire to maintain the status-quo could also be seen as cause for the civil war and it could be argued that this: the falsified and politically motivated ‘friendship' between them had led to the conflict. The pair had begun to grow apart after Pompey's wife Julia, Caesar's daughter had passed away leaving Pompey to take a new Optimate born wife, as well as the fact that Caesar had been away from Rome conducting his Gaelic Campaign, something which was protecting him from the prosecutions he was facing back home. While Caesar was absent the Optimates saw opportunity to drive a wedge between the powerful duo, as it had long been known that Pompey yearned to be an accepted member of the Optimate party and this was exploited by Cato and the fellow patricians in the late 50's. The Optimates greatly feared Caesar's growing power and his immense popularity with the people and viewed him as a danger to the constitution, or to their own self-interest. The idea of the Triumvirate also being disapproved of by the people as well as the Optimates is seen in one of Cicero's letters to Atticus in 59BC where we are told of the peoples booing the three men as the entered the theatre, however this is seemingly Optimate propaganda as The idea of Caesar's being allowed to stand for the consulship in 48BC in absentia typified the power he could still boast amongst the people despite being away from Rome and the senate for 10 years. The Optimates began to bring Pompey into their folds allowing him to fulfil his desires for Optimate inclusion, as seen by his running on a joint ticket with his Optimate co consul Scipio. Furthermore Pompey in the run up to civil war found himself paraded as the face of the republic against the hostis publicus Julius Caesar. In addition to this, Pompey also feared that Caesar's successes would begin to eclipse his own, something which worried him greatly, highlighting his own desire for power in Plutarch's Life of Pompey. During the run up to war in 50 Pompey took an incredibly hard-line attitude towards Caesar and refused to accept any offers of peace, compromise or mutual disarmament. Caesar's desire for peace continued throughout the civil war yet remained ignored by Pompey, Caesar's unwillingness for conflict and his clemency throughout the conflict is clearly seen in Caesar's offers of peace seen in the speeches of Curio and Mark Anthony as well as his letter to his literary agent which survives through a copy sent from Cicero to Atticus in 49BC (SB68) as well as his own works where he admits he had crossed the Rubicon in order to preserve his own honour.


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