Caesar’s relationships between prominent Romans and the Senate were a result of the tension between the populares and the optimates: while individuals such as Caesar sought mutually beneficial political alliances to fulfil their own ambitions, the optimates resisted the undermining of the established Republican system of government. Caesar’s political alliances were a method of gain for all involved individuals, however to usurp absolute power, these relationships were necessarily temporary and unstable in nature.
Following the dictatorship of Sulla (82 BC), the Senate were especially wary of the accumulation of power by an individual, causing Caesar’s relationship with the Senate to become increasingly tense as his political and military career progressed. Political alliances were essential for the advancement of Caesar’s career, especially when facing the opposition of the Senate. Caesar’s understanding of the Roman Republican system allowed him to formulate relationships that could be used for his own political gain.
Caesar’s most significant political coalition was ‘The First Triumvirate’, an unofficial alliance that constituted Pompey, Crassus and Caesar, formed in 60BC. Plutarch defines the alliance as the “most potent political force in Rome”. Ostensibly, the alliance was mutually beneficial Caesar’s allies, allowing Pompey to grant land to his veterans and achieve the “ratification of his acts in the provinces across the seas”; and Crassus hoped he might achieve “pre-eminence in the state” due to his powerful alliances (Peterculus).
Goldsworthy’s writings suggest that due to Caesar’s position as the “junior member”, he was able to gain the most benefit from the agreement. In his early career, Caesar ascribed diligently to Sulla’s informal career path, the ‘Cursus Honorum’, requiring Caesar to command significant political influence. His initiation of the Triumvirate served a dual purpose: his association with prominent Romans endowed him with influence and power (Cassus Dio); and more specifically, Caesar recognised this alliance as opportune for gaining consulship and furthermore pro-consulship (Appian).
Caesar’s consulship of 59BC is a pertinent example of how Caesar’s position in the Triumvirate aided in advancing his career rapidly and demonstrates the power and influence of what Varro named the ‘Three-headed monster’. While Pompey’s standing lent Caesar considerable prestige, Crassus served to substitute for Caesar’s financial vulnerability. Another crucial element to building Caesar’s standing was forming a military repute. Goldworthy notes that Caesar “needed military glory to rival Crassus, and especially Pompey”.
In influencing Caesar’s pro-consulship in 58BC, the Triumvirate effectively granted Caesar command of an army and enabled him to establish a successful military career. However, as Caesar became increasingly successful, the relationship between Caesar and Pompey became tense as Caesar demonstrated himself as a potential threat to Pompey’s position. As a result of Caesar’s growing power and Pompey’s growing suspicion, Boak asserts that the bonds between the men were gradually fraying by 56BC.
The death of Julia, Caesar’s daughter and Pompey’s wife, further severed the alliance, as the marital relation between the two was in its infancy symbolic of their loyalty. Boatwright details the renewal of the pact of the Triumvirs in order to resolve the silent struggle, however, the death of Crassus in 53BC effectively negated the agreement of the Triumvirate to the disadvantage of Caesar; Crassus was a powerful ally and with Crassus, Caesar and Pompey had no other significant opposition, worsening their relationship furthermore.
Caesar’s success at Alesia in 52BC empowered Caesar with significant influence and prestige, made his threat to Pompey imminent and in 49BC, rather than capitulate, Caesar faced Pompey and others, effectively ending their past alliance. Gelzer claims that Caesar was “born enemy of the optimates”. Caesar posed an imminent threat to the traditional system of government. Though supposedly being prominently democratic, Rome’s Republican system was greatly beneficial to the aristocratic population, which was comprised largely of Senate members. (The Senate) had gained great power and prestige over many centuries” (Suetonius). Sulla’s dictatorship, following the civil war of 88BC, had demonstrated to the Senate the potential upheaval of this system by assigning absolute power to an individual. This caused the Senate to be highly suspicious of Caesar as his political and military career progressed, fearing Caesar might attempt to emulate Sulla’s rise to power. The Senate’s suspicions of Caesar were evident throughout most of his career, in which he was constantly forced to contend with their resistance of his uprise.
Caesar’s election to pontificate in 73BC demonstrated his popularity among the Roman public; the realisation of Caesar’s potential to use this mass support for his own political agenda caused the Senate to be extremely wary of Caesar (Plutarch). As Caesar contintued with his agenda as Populares, winning support through his roles as Quaestor (68BC), Aedile (65BC) and Pontifex Maximus (63 BC), the senate continued to hinder his pursuit. Caesar’s defence of the Cataline Conspirators (effectively enemies of the State), detailed by Sallust, further confirmed their suspicions of Caesar.
According to Plutarch, Caesar’s attempt to clear himself of any association with the conspirators to the Senate resulted in his supporters surrounding the Senate House, demanding his release. This demonstration of his rapidly expanding popularity made Caesar a significant threat to the Senate; this popularity caused suspicion of Caesar to take precedence over other ambitious and powerful individuals, such as Pompey. The most significant strain on the Caesar’s relationship with the Senate was plethora of bills he introduced during his consulship, which he passed via public support.
This undermining of the Republican system, which traditionally required the Senate’s approval for the passing of bills, positioned Caesar as a direct opposition to the Republic, confirming the Optimates’ suspicions of Caesar. Appian’s writings detail the Senate’s indirect action against Caesar’s consulship, in which “they planned…Bibulus should oppose Caesar’s laws so that (the Senate) should seem to be overcome by force rather than to suffer by their own negligence. ” Significant also to the tense relationship between the Senate and Caesar was his involvement in the Triumvirate, and consequential political and military achievements.
Grant asserts “as [Caesar’s] remote control drew nearer, the plotting began and intensified”, Caesar’s coalition with Pompey and Crassus endowed him with judicial powers, through his consulship, as well as the ability to command his own army and accumulate wealth, through his pro-consulship. His grant of an army was especially troubling, an event which Goldsworthy states the Senate had prevented previously by granting Caesar “the woods and pastures” province in 58BC. By 53 BC Caesar commanded eleven legions and in 49 BC the Senate, believing his threat to be too great, commanded that Caesar disband his army and return to Rome.
Without an official political office, the Senate would effectively be able to persecute Caesar for past illegal activities during his consulship. Maintaining a mirage of dignitas was crucial for Caesar (Judge), resulting in Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon, sparking the initiation of a civil war. Caesar’s rise to permanent dictatorship following his success in this war resulted in his assassination in 44BC, led prominently by members of Senate. Baldson asserts that the optimates responsible “believed…republicanism could still be saved”.
Caesar’s relationship with prominent Romans and the Senate was dictated by the political power struggle between the populares and the optimates. Caesar’s understanding manipulation of the Roman political system allowed him to utilise beneficial political alliances with the powerful and influential individuals, Pompey and Crassus, in order to realise his ambitions and progress. However this tense relationship with the Senate provided strong resistance to Caesar’s progression, eventually leading to his assassination. These relationships effectively determined the outcomes of Caesar’s career.