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Fall of consular dignity in middle of 1st century BCE

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Fall of consular dignity in middle of 1st century BCE
Fall of consular dignity in middle of 1st century BCE

In the middle of the 1st century BCE, the Roman republic experienced a real systemic crisis. A perfect example of this is 59 BCE when the consulate was held by Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus (son-in-law of Caton the Younger) and Gaius Julius Caesar.

Although in practice both Romans held the same offices and had the same powers, Caesar dominated the opponent (the representative of the optimates). Caesar from 60 BCE was in close alliance (1st triumvirate) with Marcus Crassus and Pompey the Great – the most powerful citizens of the Roman state. Establishing cooperation between the triumvirs allowed Caesar to bypass Bibulus and his supporters in the legislative process, pushing through numerous laws. The most popular was the agrarian law, against which none of the senators dared to oppose.

Bibulus, however, bravely protested against the actions of the triumvirs, incl. in the case of a law to give the land to Pompey’s veterans returning from the campaign in the east. By delaying the laws, Bibulus forced Caesar to bypass him and pass the resolution to the centurial assembly. Bibulus, however, secured the support of three people’s tribunes who vetoed Caesar’s proposals. However, not for long, as they withdrew from blocking the act under pressure from the triumvirs. Bibulus once again decided to block Caesar and decided that the next days when the assembly was to be held would be a public holiday.

Caesar, however, ignored Bibulus’s decision and set a voting day. At this news, Bibulus and two tribunes blocked the entrance to the Temple of Castor and Pollux, blocking the law. The furious mob rushed to the consul, destroyed his fasces, threw him to the ground, and threw faeces. Shocked, Bibiulus started screaming for the crowd to kill him, but he managed to cast his votes. The law was adopted.

The next day, Bibulus attended the Senate and expressed his regrets about the events of the previous day. It is worth noting that in his opinion the seriousness of the republic suffered as well, because during the attack the fasces (rods) – signs of consular authority – were broken. In March 59 BCE completely dominated and humiliated, Bibulus hid in his house and stopped appearing in public1. His only activity was writing letters that were displayed at the Forum Romanum that criticized Caesar and his actions. One of Bibulus’ favourite themes was reminding Caesar of his love adventure with the king of Bithynia and participation in the Catiline plot. Over time, he decided to oppose Caesar by claiming that “God’s signs” were unfavourable and he could not make a decision about Caesar’s proposed reforms. In this way, he blocked the actions of his rival. The furious Caesar bypassed his opponent’s moves, passing the resolutions immediately to the assembly’s decision (comitia).

He had a similarly unpleasant experience during his time as consul in 58 BCE. Consul Aulus Gabinius, supported Pompey the Great. Aulus and his guards were once attacked and beaten in the street and fasces were destroyed. The aggressor was the supporters of Clodius Pulcher – the leader of the commoners and the actual “ruler” of the streets of Rome, who was then in bad relations with Pompey.

  1. There was talk of "Julius Caesar's consulate" or that the office was held by "Julius and Caesar".
  • Bij i rządź, "Historia Focus", 17.03.2009
  • Broughton, T. Robert S., The Magistrates of the Roman Republic, Vol II, 1952

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