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1 - The triumviral period


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

Christopher Pelling
University College, Oxford
Alan K. Bowman
University of Oxford
Edward Champlin
Princeton University, New Jersey
Andrew Lintott
University of Oxford
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On 27 November 43, the Lex Titia initiated the period of absolute rule at Rome. Antony, Lepidus and Octavian were charged with ‘restoring the state’, triumviri rei publicae constituendae: but they were empowered to make or annul laws without consulting Senate or people, to exercise jurisdiction without any right of appeal, and to nominate magistrates of their choice; and they carved the world into three portions, Cisalpine and Further Gaul for Antony, Narbonensis and Spain for Lepidus, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica for Octavian. In effect, the three were rulers. Soon there would be two, then one; the Republic was already dead.

Not that, at the time, the permanence of the change could be clear. As Tacitus brings out in the first sentence of the Annals, the roots of absolute power were firmly grounded in the Republic itself: there had been phases of despotism before – Sulla and Caesar, and in some ways Pompey too – and they had passed; the cause of Brutus and Cassius in the East was not at all hopeless. But what was clear was that history and politics had changed, and were changing still. The triumviral period was to be one of the great men feeling their way, unclear how far (for instance) a legion's loyalty could simply be bought, whether the propertied classes or the discontented poor of Rome and Italy could be harnessed as a genuine source of strength, how influential the old families and their patronage remained.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1996

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