General Summary of Roman History, 264BC-14AD

Page 4 of 4 — And thus began the final days of the Roman republic, a time packed with an almost unbelievable amount of political intrigue and sudden reversals.

The 70 BCs were relatively quiet, with a few anti-Sullan revolts being put down by Gnaeius Pompeius - a lieutenant of Sulla's called 'the Great' despite the fact that he was still in his twenties. While Pompey was fighting rebels in Spain, however, a massive slave revolt took place in Rome, with almost 120,000 men flocking to the colors of an escaped gladiator named Spartacus. Into the void stepped Marcus Crassus, the richest man in Rome, and a powerful player in behind-the-scenes politics. Recruiting his own private army, Crassus was able to smash the revolt. Yet even this success left him frustrated, for he had not Pompey's talent for selling his accomplishments to the masses, and his power came almost entirely without glory.

Although he joined forces with Pompey, Crassus' resentment was too great for him to control, and despite running on a ticket with Pompey for the consulship (they both won), he joined forces with the conservative senators who disapproved of Pompey's grandstanding. Their opposition was not enough, however, to prevent the great man from being sent east again - to fight both pirates and the ever-present Mithridates. His success in both these ventures sent his stock with the Roman public soaring to dizzying heights. Something, felt his enemies, had to be done. These political maneuverings were interrupted by yet another attempt at rebellion, this time by a disgruntled politician named Catiline. It was put down by the great orator Cicero, who was consul that year.

Thereafter, a wide variety of Romans, from Cato, bastion of conservatism, to Crassus, ever envious, came together to ensure that Pompey's political career ground to a halt. In doing so, they overlooked the one man in Rome infinitely more dangerous than Pompey: Gaius Julius Caesar. Caesar's stock had also been rising, and in 59 BC he was able to do the impossible by convincing Crassus to ally with him and Pompey, an alliance known as the First Triumvirate. Between the three of them, they were politically invincible. The Triumvirate was able to get Caesar appointed governor of Gaul, where he gathered immense sums of money and glory, while Crassus got what he had always wanted: a military command.

But all good things must come to an end, and neither the Republic nor the Triumvirate were an exception. Crassus took his army to Persia, where he was slaughtered. Meanwhile, Caesar had become the hero of the Roman masses as he carved a swathe of destruction across Gaul, winning victories he exploited to their maximum possible extent. One last time there was a political realignment, as Pompey and the Senate came together against the superhuman Caesar. Ordered to disband his legions and return to Rome, Caesar refused.

The rest, as they say, is history. Caesar crossed the Rubicon river into Italy, his opponents fled from Rome, and after chasing them all over the Mediterranean, Gaius Julius Caesar was appointed dictator for life. He was assassinated the next year, 44 BC, by die-hard defenders of the Republic, but by then it was too late. Caesar's assassins were pursued and killed by his heir Octavian and his lieutenant Marc Antony, the two claimants to his throne. Antony was defeated by his rival a few years later, after even more fighting, and Octavian stood alone amidst the ruins of the Republic. He was to become Augustus Caesar, the first Emperor of Rome.

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