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Reflecting on the First Three Months of -49: Liveblogging the Fall of the Roman Republic

Summary:
A strongly unconventional high politician faces the expiration of his term of office. He knows that, because of his actions in office, he has enemies. He knows that his adversaries will try and convict him of crimes after he lays down his power. And so he acts. And in four months Caesar is master of the central core of the empire, with an army without a leader—Pompey's legions—to his west in Spain, and a leader without an army—Pompey and the Optimate faction of the Senate—to his east in Greece. I guess the key question for the first four months of the year -49 is: what did the factions anticipate would happen in that year? The Optimates seemed to think that they had Caesar cornered: Either he surrendered his army to Domitius, gave up his imperium, and then submitted to trial,

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Reflecting on the First Three Months of -49: Liveblogging the Fall of the Roman Republic

A strongly unconventional high politician faces the expiration of his term of office. He knows that, because of his actions in office, he has enemies. He knows that his adversaries will try and convict him of crimes after he lays down his power. And so he acts. And in four months Caesar is master of the central core of the empire, with an army without a leader—Pompey's legions—to his west in Spain, and a leader without an army—Pompey and the Optimate faction of the Senate—to his east in Greece.

I guess the key question for the first four months of the year -49 is: what did the factions anticipate would happen in that year? The Optimates seemed to think that they had Caesar cornered: Either he surrendered his army to Domitius, gave up his imperium, and then submitted to trial, conviction, and exile; or he tried to use his Gallic War army against the Senate and was quickly crushed between Pompey’s army in Spain and Pompey’s legions of recalled veterans in Italy.

Cicero appears to have believed that either the Senate surrendered to Cesar and let him become consul, In which case he put Cataline’s conspiracy into action but legally,cancelled debts, and then ruled With the support of his electoral coalition of mountebank ex-debtors and ex-veterans to whom he had given land; or Caesar did not surrender and the Senate called upon Pompey, Who would then crush Cesar militarily but follow up with proscriptions and executions after which he would rule as a second Sulla.

What is not at all clear to me is what Pompey thought would happen. Was he planning to withdraw from Italy and so destroy the clientalege and patronage links of the Optimates, after which he could crush Caesar between his eastern and his Spanish armies and then rule unhindered? “Why do you speak of laws? We carry swords!” Did he just not think that Caesar would dare invade Italy with only one legion, and so get caught with his pants down? Was he surprised by the absence of opposition to Caesar in the towns of Italy, and given Caesar’s popularity—and Pompey’s lack of veteran forces save two legions that had recently been in Caesar’s army—then decide the safer course was retreat to Italy and mobilization?

My guess, reading between the lines of Plutarch, is that Pompey found himself allied with the Senate in January-February of -49, but not in command of anything—as shown by Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus’s behavior at Corfinium, attempting to trap Pompey into fighting alongside him in central Italy. And so he retreated to Greece, where he was in undisputed command.

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Foreshadowing from Gaius Sallustius Crispus https://www.bradford-delong.com/2020/07/foreshadowing-from-gaius-sallustius-crispus-liveblogging-the-fall-of-the-roman-republic.html: A strongly unconventional high politician facing the expiration of his term of office. He knows that there is a very high probability that, because of his actions in office, his adversaries will try and convict him of crimes after he lays down his power. Let us start with some foreshadowing from Gaius Sallustius Crispus...


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Bradford DeLong
J. Bradford DeLong is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was Deputy Assistant US Treasury Secretary during the Clinton Administration, where he was heavily involved in budget and trade negotiations. His role in designing the bailout of Mexico during the 1994 peso crisis placed him at the forefront of Latin America’s transformation into a region of open economies, and cemented his stature as a leading voice in economic-policy debates.

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