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Roman triumvirates

In ancient Rome, the term “triumvirate” (from the word trium viri – “three men”) referred to a college of three officials elected to perform certain tasks. Two such meetings have gone down in the history of Rome. Both took place during the so-called crisis of the Roman republic and decided on the division of power between influential politicians. In fact, they were agreements without the senate, which lost its prerogatives.

First triumvirate

Second triumvirate

Pompey the Great, Marcus Crassus, Julius Caesar (60 BCE)

Mark Antony, Marcus Lepidus, Gaius Octavian (43 BCE)

First triumvirate

Three influential politicians: Pompey, Crassus and Caesar entered the first triumvirate.

In 70 BCE, the relationship between Marcus Licinnius Crassus and Gnaeus Pompey – politicians with enormous influence – began to deteriorate significantly. This was due to the fact that they both took over consulates and constituted the most important conglomerate in the Roman Republic. Despite some earlier winning initiatives, including on restoring the rights of the tribunes of people (dictator Sulla deprived this office of all rights except for ius auxiliandi – the right to object to the orders of officials), both Crassus and Pompey began to become increasingly hostile to each other. The situation was aggravated by the fact that they both held the same office and competed for influence.

During this time, Gaius Julius Caesar tried to match the power of both Crassus and Pompey. To this end, among others he conducted a winning campaign in Spain, where he captured large areas of Rome for Rome. Successes sharpened Caesar’s appetite, who began to apply for the office of consul. Unexpectedly, however, his candidacy was blocked by Marcus Porcius Cato in 61 BCE. Then an ambitious leader began to seek a broader agreement with the two strongest people of Rome. With Crassus – the richest citizen of Rome – Caesar had been in an alliance since 65 BCE, when he supported his proposal to subordinate Egypt to Rome. He became involved with Pompey through his daughter Julia, whose hand was given to him. Caesar’s powerful alliance gave him a chance to realize his plans. Crassus owned an enormous fortune and guaranteed the support of the Ecuite layer, while Pompey had numerous contacts in the Senate and the army. The agreement was officially concluded 60 BCE, and a year later Caesar took the consul’s longed-for position (59 BCE).

The triumvirate was kept secret from the Senate until Caesar’s proposal for agrarian reform was blocked by the highest legislative body in Rome. Caesar then decided to make a speech to the people’s assembly, which indirectly disclosed the agreement of Caesar, Crassus and Pompey. The Caesar Act passed, and the demagogic Publius Klodius Pulcher was appointed a tribune of the people. In this way, Cicero and Caton the Younger, who were hostile to the triumvirs, hostile and removed for some time from the political scene.

It was already known in Rome that there were three politicians ruled by whom no one would dare to oppose. The Senate was empty, but Caesar did not bother passing new laws. One of them was granting him five years of governorship in Pre-Alpine Gaul and Illyria with the border on the Rubikon River and Gaul Narbonne. Especially the latter tempted Caesar with the opportunities to carry out war campaigns he needed so much and also to gain money.

In 56 BCE, the bonds between the triumvirs loosened. Caesar decided to invite both Romans to a secret meeting in Lucca (modern city), where they were to jointly adopt a further strategy. This meeting de facto renewed the alliance. It was agreed that Pompey and Crassus would receive the consulate for 55 BCE They pledged to extend Caesar’s command in Gaul for 5 years when they took office. At the end of his consulate, Crassus received wealth from Syria, which he wanted to use to conquer the Party. Pompey, in turn, had Spain in his hands in absentia.

The Alliance allowed the three politicians to prevail completely on the political scene in Rome, but it turned out that it could not be permanent. This was due to the fact that Pompey still hated Crassus, and Caesar was jealous of successes in Gaul. To make matters worse, in 53 BCE, the Battle of Carrhae saw the spectacular defeat of the Romans and the death of one of the triumvirs – Crassus. This event eventually crossed out the “alliance of three”. Pompey, who was in Rome and managed Spain through his subordinates, gradually “moved away” from Caesar. This was evidenced by his marriage to the daughter of Scipio Metellus Nazyka, a patrician representative and the old part of the Senate. In 52 BCE Pompey became a single consul and began to engage in politics, which indirectly hit Caesar hard. This turn of events provoked Caesar to cross the Rubicon in 49 BCE and start a long civil war.

The issue of the first triumvirate is interpreted in various ways by modern historians, but it is most often assumed that Pompey, who had a large political base, and Crassus, with an equally large financial base, had a dominant position in this political conspiracy, while Caesar, because of his popularity among the people and the army, he was only the executor of their decision.

Second triumvirate

Mark Antony, Marcus Lepidus and Gaius Octavian founded the second triumvirate, targeted at Caesar’s assassins.

After the assassination of Caesar Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, the main initiators of the assassination had to flee to the East to organize an armed force against the consul Mark Antony</b > who gained the influence of Caesar’s supporters.
At that time, Octavian himself unexpectedly appeared on the political scene, who in Brundisium won the support of Caesar’s troops stationed there, previously supposed to take part in the war with the Party. In addition, he demanded that some of the money accumulated in the city be spent for him during the war. With their help, he was able to win the favor of many other veterans of the Caesar’s legions. During the march on Rome, in Campania, many other soldiers came to his side. Under his command, the young and inexperienced Octavian already had 3,000 loyal veterans, for whom he paid 500 denarii.

Gaius Octavian, despite his young age, forced the Senate to receive the position of a co-opted consul (consul suffectus) for 43 BCE He accompanied Marcus Atonius and Marcus Lepidus in upper Italy. In October 43 BCE, all three met in Bononia (today’s Bologna) to sort out the situation in Rome after the death of Gaius Julius Caesar and punish his killers. Established the Lex Titia the second-ever triumvirate named Triumviri Rei Publicae Constituendae Consulari Potestate (“College of Three for Ordering the State”). Unlike the First Triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey and Crassus, this was formally concluded. As a result of this agreement, the consuls and the Senate were marginalized, the future death of the republican system was signaled, and the full power of Lepidus, Antony and Octavius ​​was emphasized. The agreement was valid for a period of five years.

Territories of the Roman Republic owned by triumvirs and their opponents in 43 BCE
Author: ColdEel | Creative license Commons Attribution - Under the same conditions 3.0.

As a result of the agreement, Lepidus was confirmed to have both Spanish provinces, along with Gaul Narbo. Antony kept Gaul under his rule, Octavius, Africa, Sicily and Sardinia. In practice, however, both islands were under the control of Pompey’s son, Sextus Pompey, who was the leader of the “Pompeians”. In fact, Antony and Lepidus had the strongest positions, but the subsequent handing over of the seven legions of Lepidus to Octavius ​​and Antony to defeat Brutus and Cassius’s army automatically pushed him backwards. Caesar’s killers had all the eastern territories of the Republic in their possession. After the defeat of opponents of Octavius ​​and Antony, the lands of Lepidus were to become a place of retreat for “republicans”.

In order to fill the treasury, the triumvirs decided to carry out proscriptions, which consisted in entering out of the list of outlawed political opponents and, consequently, depriving them of their property and condemning them to exile. The target was, of course, Caesar’s opponents, including Cicero, who opposed Caesar and ridiculed Antony in the Philippines ; Marcus Fawonius, supporter of Caton the Younger and opponent of triumvirs; or Caesar’s legate – Quintus Tulius Cicero, Cicero’s younger brother.

Since February 1, 42 BCE, Caesar was counted among the gods as Divus Iulius, the young Octavian could have been entitled Divi filiis, or “Son of God.” At the beginning of the same year, Antony and Octavian sent 28 legions by sea to Greece, the “fortress” of Brutus and Cassius. There, in two battles of Philippi in Macedonia, in October 42 BCE the combined forces of Antony and Octavian they won. Their rivals, seeing no chance to defeat their opponents in the war, decided to commit suicide. Their fate was divided by the majority of Caesar’s opponents, only few managed to escape to Sicily, finding shelter with Sextus Pompey.
Unexpected news from Rome that Lepidus had an alliance with Sextus led to the establishment of a new division of the empire, to the detriment of Lepidus. Spain, taken from him, was assigned to Octavian, while he himself could stop Africa if he could get rid of the charges of betrayal, which he did.

After the victory over Caesar’s killers, Octavian returned to Italy, while Mark Antony went east and formed an alliance with the queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII. Octavian came to Italy at the beginning of the year 41 BCE From the very beginning things were not going his way. The constant attacks of Sextus, who prevented the supply of grain from Africa, only deepened public dissatisfaction. The opportunity arose decided to take advantage of the brother of Mark Antony, Lucius. Against Octavian, he stirred up his own troops, and armed gangs robbed and stole. Unfavorable information also came from Gaul, where forces of about 15 legions were stationed, whose commanders obeyed only Antony. Octavian, without waiting for further developments, left Rome to prepare for the trial with Lucius. His absence did not last long, and at the first information about the impending army of Octavian, Lucius fled towards Perusia. The dispute ended only at the beginning of February 40 BCE, when the inhabitants of the besieged Perusia decided to give to Octavian’s grace. Only the city council was imprisoned and then beheaded at the altar of the divine Julius. Lucius himself became the governor of Spain. Of the many senators who were hiding behind the city walls, only a few were sentenced to death, but the city was spent on loot winners.

As soon as Mark Antony learned about Octavian’s problems with Lucius, he hurried to Italy, where he besieged Brundizjum. When it seemed that the civil war would be unleashed again, the leaders of the hostile armies decided once again to talk in Brundizjum in September 40 BCE After a few days they ended with an agreement under which Octavian stopped the western provinces, Antony the whole east, while Lepidus Africa. Italia obtained the status of a neutral province from which both Octavian and Antony could enlist their armies. The alliance was cemented by the announcement of an engagement between Antony and Octavian’s sister, Octavia.

Roman Republic after the agreement in Brundisium (39 BCE).
Author: Borsanova | Under a Creative Commons Attribution license - Under the same conditions 3.0.

The problems encountered in Italy related to Sextus Pompey led to the meeting at Cape Misenum in the Bay of Naples in the summer of 39 BCE Sextus, Octavian and Antony, where the state was once again divided. Sextus was awarded Sardinia, Sicily, Corsica and Peloponnese for a 5-year governorship, with the proviso that after this period, Sextus was entitled to the office of consul and 70 million sesterions, as compensation for the property lost by his father. To strengthen the alliance, earlier in 40 BCE Octavian married Skrybonia, with whom he had a daughter, Julia. In 39 BCE there was a divorce at the request of Octavian who needed the political connections of the Livians and Claudius. To this end, he married Livia . Their marriage lasted over fifty years and was characterized by mutual loyalty and respect. However, he was childless, their only child was born dead.

The system, however, did not last long and thanks to Octavian himself, who not only gave away Sextus to Sardinia, he appropriated it himself, the war resumed in the summer of 38 BCE The first two battles at Kume and in the Strait of Messina ended with the defeat of Octavian. However, Octavian, who set up a new fleet, did not break down. In 37 BCE Octavian’s meals summoned by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, who had been in Gaul until now, appeared in Rome. Around the same time Antoni’s reinforcements arrived in Italy. Soon, Octavian met with Antony in Taranto (37 BCE), where the two men decided to dissolve the alliance with Sextus and assured mutual assistance in their battles.

Octavian’s offensive began in July 36 BCE at Tauromenium, where he lost almost the entire fleet and barely escaped himself. After all, the losses were quickly replenished and another battle fought on September 3, 36 BCE in the bay of Naulochus, ended with the great defeat of Sextus, who escaped to Messana under the cover of night. Sicily came under the control of Lepidus and Octavian, and eventually fell into the hands of Octavian.

In 36 BCE, Octavian drew Lepidus’ army to his side, who was deprived of all influence. He also lost all offices except for the position of high priest (Pontifex Maximus). Only two triumvirs remained on the stage.
At that time, in the east, Mark Antony waged an unsuccessful war with the Parthians. The failed struggles in the east were fully compensated, however, by the successes of Octavian, who conquered Panonia in 35 BCE to successfully complete the mission in Dalmatia the following year. In addition, Antony married the queen of Egypt Cleopatra VII and divorced Octavian’s sister, Octavia. Since then, the triumvirs broke up with each other and began to pursue increasingly aggressive politics.
Octavian, having enormous influence in Rome, persuaded the vestals to give him the will of Antony, which showed that he wrote some eastern provinces to his children and Cleopatra, including Caesarion, the son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. In addition, the Senate officially deprived Antony of consular power at the end of 32 BCE and declared war on the regime of Cleopatra. These facts led to the outbreak of another civil war .

Octavian managed to collect about 250 ships, as well as 8 legions and 12,000 rides. Antony’s forces were definitely more impressive. Antony’s war fleet had 500 ships, which were much larger than those at Octavian’s disposal. In addition, he was subject to a total of 30 legions, but at his direct disposal in Greece, which he chose as his headquarters, there were only 19 of them, which supplemented the 12,000-strong troop.

Octavian was the first to act. He quickly took Korkyra and then landed on the shores of Epirus. Antony did not react at all to Octavian’s move. In addition, many of Antony’s soldiers deserted to Octavian’s camp.
The decisive decision between the chiefs was on September 2, 31 BCE, in the naval battle of Actium. Octavian’s forces were led by Marcus Agrippa. Ultimately, Octavian won, despite the enemy’s advantage. After winning the battle of Akjcum, he went to Athens, from where in 30 BCE he was forced to briefly return to Italy to alleviate the rebellions of Antony’s soldiers, and then head towards Alexandria. Antony and Cleopatra fled to Alexandria immediately after the battle, where they planned to continue the war. However, when Octavian’s army appeared under Alexandria and Antony’s forces began to give up, Mark And Cleopatra committed suicide, seeing no chance of escape.

The question was what about the young son of Caesar – Caesarion. Octavian asked the philosopher Arejos if he had the right to kill Caesarion. The philosopher paraphrasing Homer said: “It’s not good when there are too many Caesars in the world.” He ordered him to strangle him at the end of August 30 BCE He gave the other children of Antony and Cleopatra to Octavia. That same year, Egypt became a Roman province, and Octavian assumed all power over the Roman Empire.


  • Bringmann Klaus, Historia Republiki Rzymskiej: Od początków do czasów Augusta, 2010
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Cesarz August, Warszawa 1973
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Gajusz Juliusz Cezar, Warszawa 1972
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Kronika starożytnego Rzymu, Warszawa, 1994

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