Like many state senators, we are not senators

The behavior of the senators in the 50s B.C.



1. Beginning

2. The Senate

3. The triumvirate

4. Caesar's Consulate

5. Caesar's governorship

6. After Luca's conference

7. The application to hand Caesar over to the Germanic peoples

8. The year 54. A chance for the opposition?

9. The end of the Triple Alliance

10. The year 51

11. Until the outbreak of the

Civil war





The fifties BC BC represent a period of crisis in Rome, at the end of which the traditional state order disappears in civil war. The aristocratically ruled Roman republic is going under. The fifties are particularly interesting because at the beginning the senatorial rule in Rome can be seen as very stable, ten years later, however, there is a civil war between Caesar and the defenders of the old order. Caesar emerged victorious from this war and changed the state order significantly. From the rule of an upper class the sole rule of one of its descendants arose. The aim of the present work is to investigate the behavior of the senators in the said period. The focus here is on those senators who stand up for a strong Senate party, representatives of the traditional order, the party of the Optimates. The actions of their political opponents and the reactions of the senators are to be considered in chronological order. The question arises, what options did the senators have in order to be able to react to the threat to their rule? What action did you actually take? Did these measures have the desired effect? As it is well known that the civil war is at the end of this decade, it should be clarified why the senatorial policy has obviously failed. What influence did the senatorial contribution have on domestic political events? How did their measures contribute to the radicalization of the political struggle with their opponents and thus to the destabilization of the republic? With what political means was politics made and prevented? Who were the most important representatives who opposed Caesar and the triumvirate? These questions will be investigated in the following.

1. Beginning

The Senate debate on the punishment of the Catilinarian conspirators represented the first confrontation between the two most important characters in Roman politics in the coming years. On the one hand, Cato, who was more than anyone else to defend the traditional order, and on the other, Caesar, who too like no other who worked to change them. Furthermore, the state of the Senate at that time can be read at that meeting: Apparently united in the fight against the conspirators and determined to take tough action. So the first consular questioned demands the ultima poena and all other senators agree until the questioning reaches the designated Praetor Caesar. Although he spoke out in favor of the Senate's right to impose any punishment appropriate to it, the latter knows how to cast doubts about the correctness of the death penalty. He achieved something amazing. All the senators who were questioned about his convincing speech now, without exception, voted against the death penalty. This meant that all of the lower-ranking senators suddenly voted against the opinion of the otherwise opinion-forming consulars. The Roman Senate as a whole was evidently not so united and determined. This in turn was recognized by the designated tribune of the people, Marcus Porcius Cato, who for his part now vigorously opposed the changeable behavior of the Senate, spoke out in favor of a definitive and symbolic punishment of the conspirators and thus clashed with Caesar. Only the Consul Cicero was able to avoid an escalation1.

The matter was saved for the time being: Cato succeeded in changing the mood again, and the conspirators were executed. This enabled the Senate to demonstrate its power and for many of its contemporaries this was seen as a deterrent. A coup cannot be made, the Senate is in control. Even then, it will not have escaped the critical observer that this appearance was deceptive. The weakness of the Senate, the internal disagreement, as well as the increasing domination of everyday political life by a few individuals should from now on be formative for the next few years, the final years of the republic. Caesar and Cato in particular represent opposing poles to one another, representing two possible ways out of the crisis of the republic. Both coming from respected families, they are representatives of the Roman tradition, but in completely different ways.

2. The Senate

When the Senate is mentioned below as a political grouping whose aim is to defend the old state order against the new rulers, this essentially refers to the optimates, the consulars, the supreme gentlemen in the Senate. At no time was the entire Senate, i.e. all of its members, a closed party that defended itself against the disempowerment of the Senate as an institution. Only a small part belonged to the group of optimates. The bulk of the lower-ranking senators could occasionally be won over for their goals, but often also for those of the opponents. In the Senate there were always supporters of Pompey and Caesar, some of whom also held very high offices, insofar as they would fit into the classic image of their opponents. Supporters could be won not least through enormous bribery. The term optimates is difficult to define, generally designates the senatorial nobility of Rome. For the period considered in this work, the contrast to the populars will not be discussed2. The members of the nobility come from the most distinguished families, whose ancestors already held high offices, and who were themselves mostly consulars or who aspired to them. “The usual thing was that with the Consulate an ultimate goal had been achieved inasmuch as the Consulares henceforth acted in the Senate , principes ´ took the top rank, whose opinion was asked in each case by the chairman of the meeting and whose occasionally contradicting views were decided by the following ranks by approval or rejection "3. Through this system a certain equality among the colonels was achieved. Defending this system was the declared aim of most members of the upper class, their names we will get to know below. Their opponents, however, were also members of the upper class, such as Caesar, who came from a patrician family, or one of Pompey's followers, the consular Gabinius. The basis for cooperation was often political and personal amicitia, as well as extensive family ties within the upper class4.

3. The triumvirate

It is difficult to determine an exact time for the beginning of the end of the republic. Caesar's consulate is particularly suitable for this. Even before his application, the Senate was so concerned about a Consul Caesar that it decided to assign highly unattractive provinces to the next Consul5. Caesar, who was granted a triumph by the Senate for his successes during the governorship in Spain, asked for permission to submit his application for candidacy for the consulate for the year 59 in absentia. He would have been within the sacred city limits, the pomerium, have to apply, only that would have extinguished his entitlement to the triumphal procession, since he would lose his command if this border were crossed. Caesar now had to choose between the most honorable triumphal procession and applying for the consulate. He would be allowed to do both with a simple special permit from the Senate, but Cato in particular succeeded in preventing this by delaying the vote with a permanent speech until no further resolution could be passed. Caesar was determined enough not to let himself be thrown out of his mind, renounced the triumph and applied for the consulate of the year 59. Here one can already observe a first means with which, in this case Cato tries to keep the upper hand : the permanent speech6. It seemed inevitable that a majority in the Senate would be ready to grant Caesar the exemption. Why not, one might think, after all, he was also granted a triumph. In order to achieve a decision in the interests of the Senate Party, which now did not include the majority of the senators, Cato used his talent and extended his speech to the entire rest of the session. It was not to be interrupted and each session was broken off at sunset. “The chairman [of a Senate meeting] cannot interrupt the speaker, call him to the point or to order, or deny him the floor. It is so to say a constitutional right of the member not to speak on the matter "7. Not only did he succeed in delaying the debate, but he even achieved the decision he wanted. Because of the fixed application deadline, it was not possible to debate forever about a special permit for Caesar. On this matter we already see the disagreement within the Senate, insofar as a majority in the Senate does not necessarily conform with the Senate Party, the representatives of a strong traditional Senate policy. Chr. Meier states about this situation: "It is strange that the majority of the Senate was ready to adopt the" forests and meadows "as provinces, but not to reject Caesar's application for dispensation"8. Even if Caesar's decision to forego the triumphal procession may have surprised some and may not have been Cato's desired goal, we still have a successful example of how the further progress was forced through the means of continuous speech. Cato will try to repeat this success again in the future.

Another reaction of the Optimates was the appointment of one of their representatives to the elections, M. Calpurnius Bibulus. In fact, Caesar and Bibulus also became the two consuls. It was obvious that certain circles within the Senate were not sympathetic to Caesar, simply because of the obstacles to applying for candidacy9. Strengthened by the success in the suppression of the Catilinarian conspiracy, the Senate was just as willing to show what is probably the most powerful man in Rome, Pompey, where his limits lie. Pompey was equipped with large commanders and, after a number of military successes, had made numerous changes that were now to be approved by the Senate. Only the Senate did not do him a favor, but wanted to take a close look at every single innovation. Furthermore Pompey was forced to provide his veterans with land and here too the Senate was not ready to approve the necessary land distributions, not least because of Cato and Crassus10. However, M. Licinius Crassus could not hope for the Senate's concession either. The allegedly richest man in Rome represented the interests of the tax farmers in Asia, who demanded compensation from the state for their shortfalls in income in the provinces. The Senate could also behave strongly towards Crassus and did not have to make any concessions. Cato in particular managed to prevent corresponding resolutions through his tried and tested tactics and was able to win over the fathers in the Senate, the consulars, in particular. These three men, Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus, could each do little on their own against the Optimates in the Senate, but together they were powerful enough to try. Since this is exactly what Caesar recognized, he was able to ally himself with the others before the beginning of his consulate and bind them to himself by representing their interests during his year in office. The so-called First Triumvirate was created. At this point, the beginning of the end of the republic is often identified. This raises the question of whether the Optimates have not already made a decisive mistake. R. Fehrle states: “The relative ease with which Cato and his group were able to discipline Pompey seduced them to misunderstand the requirements of the situation [...] He [Cato] believed himself to be short of his goal and tried his To continue politics where he should have given in "11. Was the Senate really strong enough to mess with three of the most powerful men in Rome? Chr. Meier also asks: “With the weakness of the Senate, didn't you need all the help you could get? Didn't the danger to the res publica suggest an alliance with him [Pompey]? "12. However, Cato's prevention techniques worked very successfully up to this point. The dangers that he sensed could thus be held back in the best possible way. In his view, he wasn't doing anything wrong. On the other hand, Pompey was not an opponent of the Senate by design; an ally with him would have strengthened the Senate. In Cato's stubborn field of vision, however, one could not fit an overpowering Pompey into the traditional structure of the Roman aristocracy13.

4. Caesar's Consulate

Right at the beginning of his year in office, Caesar began one of his greatest tasks, acquiring land for Pompey's veterans. To this end, he introduced an agricultural law, according to which land owned by the municipality, except for the Campanian fields, should be divided up, and additional land should be purchased and also distributed. At first he was responding to his part of the triumviral agreements. Furthermore, if implemented successfully, it was able to increase its own popularity by promising land to thousands of the impoverished urban population14. On the optimistic side, a further strengthening of Pompey was out of the question, because that would have meant the settlement of veterans, but they could not bring forward correct arguments against the law. It was agreed not to let the triumvirs get away with anything and so Cato and the consul Bibulus, brought into play by the Optimates, behaved stubbornly15. The Optimates "... were only prepared to oppose Caesar with the constitutionally available means of obstruction, and were determined to use these means against him"16. When Caesar now proposes his law for deliberation, he encounters a relatively closed front of optimistic senators who were not prepared to grant him the appearance of legality by not even discussing his proposed law17. But Caesar pushed for a vote and also called on Cato to express his opinion. Thereupon he agreed to his tried and tested long-term speech in order to delay the matter. According to Chr. Meier, this even seems to suggest that a majority was quite ready to speak out in favor of Caesar's proposal18. Here Caesar had Cato carried away to prison by an official19 and thereby outraged the Senate, including those senators who were not among the Optimates. One even said to Caesar: "I would rather be with Cato in prison than with you here"20. In this case, too, the long-term speech seems to promise success, so the impetuous consul had to revoke his order due to the protests in the Senate. But Caesar reacted differently to Cato's provocation than he suspected and whether he had previously hoped for the goodwill of the Senate is more than questionable. The right of a senator not to be interrupted when making a speech is no longer respected here. L. de Libero also sees a tightening of the purpose of a long-term speech in general; in those years it no longer served only to delay decisions, but to confront: “It perverted, essentially under the influence of Catos' agitations [...] to one Means of combat of absolute negation ... "21. Since the Senate obviously did not want to work with him, Caesar ignored this and addressed the people directly22. Caesar questioned his fellow consul Bibulus again about the law in front of the people, but the latter merely stated that he rejected the law without, however, presenting any substantive objections. Caesar to the people: "You will get the law if this man [Bibulus] wants it", Bibulus replied, "You will not get this law in the current year, even if you all want it"23. This statement shows very well the perplexed and stubborn attitude of the optimates, as well as the usual disregard of the people. The people were now on Caesar's side. Bibulus had no choice but to forbid the holding of comitia by observing the sky. This wasn't a big surprise, however. In the following, Caesar secured Pompey's assistance24, his veterans and armed followers of Caesar secured the vote on the Farm Law on the following day in their favor. The optimates agreed to send Bibulus, Cato and three tribunes to a vote in order to prevent the enforcement of the law, which was actually already invalid through Bibulus' obnuntiation, through intercession25. But here the peaceful constitutional means of prevention came to an end. The Bibulus lictors and even the consul himself were assaulted26, the actually unassailable tribune of the people were injured and finally Cato was carried off the square."Caesar had triumphed over his opponents, but he had to buy this victory by placing himself outside the legal order"27. Suddenly the power of the Senate was gone. Bibulus calls in the Senate because of the completely intolerable act of violence, but there was no way to achieve anything. The cassation of the law by the Senate lacked the legal basis. Since the intercession could not be carried out, the law was in effect. The decision of one senatus consultum ultimum Against Caesar it was just as unthinkable: “In some cases, people probably shied away from destroying the bourgeois existence of a man who, as a member of the nobility [...] was at least connected to his peers; Above all, however, such a resolution by the Senate, which at the same time would have been a declaration of war on Pompey, would have provoked civil war given the existing power relations "28. The Senate was powerless. There was nothing to be done. Caesar even had the senators swear by the new law and even Cato was finally forced to take an oath on it29. On the optimistic side, one now staged one's own inability to act30. Since the law was no longer valid, politics was boycotted. Bibulus resigned from office for the remainder of the year. Also Cato, for whom it was a duty not to miss a Senate meeting31, like all the other Optimates, stayed away from the Senate.


1 See: Meier, Christian, Caesar, Berlin 1982, pp. 212-222.

2 Strasburger, Hermann, RE XVIII, 1, pp. 773-798.

3 Gelzer, Matthias, Cicero and Caesar, Wiesbaden 1968, p. 17.

4 Gruen, Erich, The Last Generation of the Roman Republic, Berkeley 1974, p. 47ff; P. 102ff; P. 162ff.

5 Suet. Caes. 19th

6 Cf. Libero, Loretana de, Obstruktion. Political Practices in the Senate and in the People's Assembly of the outgoing Roman Republic (70-49 BC), Stuttgart 1992, pp. 15ff.

7 Mommsen, Theodor, Römisches Staatsrecht 3/2, Darmstadt 1963, p. 939.

8 Meier, Caesar, p. 232f.

9 See Döbler, Christine, Political Agitation and Public in the late Republic, Frankfurt a.M. 1999, p. 317.

10 Gruen, p. 86.

11 Fehrle, Rudolf, Cato Uticensis, Darmstadt 1983, p.134.

12 Meier, Caesar, p.240.

13 See Meier, Christian, Res publica amissa. A study on the constitution and history of the late Roman Republic, Frankfurt a.M 1988, p. 292.

14 Dio 38, 1, 1-5.

15 See Gruen, p. 92.

16 Fehrle, p. 120.

17 Ibid., P. 121.

18 Meier, Caesar, p. 260.

19 Suet. Caes. 20th

20 Dio 38, 3, 2.

21 Libero, p. 18f.

22 Dio 38, 3, 3.

23 Dio 38, 4, 3.

24 Dio 38, 5, 4.

25 Dio 38, 6, 1-4.

26 Suet. Caes. 20th

27 Fehrle, p. 124.

28 Ibid., P. 124f.

29 Dio 38, 7, 1-2.

30 Meier, Caesar, p. 264.

31 Plut. Cat. min. 19. “He was the first to go to the Senate, the last to go [...] He never goes away when a Senate meeting has been scheduled [He] made it his duty to put all other activities on hold during a Senate meeting . "

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