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The beginning of the end of the leaders who were not noble to the citizens and disobeyed the Republic which came when the brothers Gracchi challenged the traditional constitutional order in the 130s and 120s BC. Though members of the aristocracy themselves, they sought to parcel out public land to the dispossessed Italian peasant farmers. Other measures followed, but many senators feared the Gracchi's policy and both brothers met violent deaths. The next champion of the people was the great general Gaius Marius; he departed from established practice by recruiting his soldiers not only from landed citizens but from landless citizens, including the growing urban proletariat. These were people who when the wars were over, looked to their commander for a more permanent reward in the shape of land of their own. Thus the situation developed where commanders and their armies banded together in pursuit of political objectives, the commanders seeking power and the soldiers rewards.
The temporary ascendancy achieved by Marius was eclipsed by that of Sulla in the 80s BC. Sulla marched on Rome after his command of the Roman invasion force that was to invade Pontus was transferred to Sulla's rival Marius. Leaving Rome damaged and terrorized, Sulla retook command of the Eastern army and after placing loyal puppets to the consul he marched for the conquest of Pontus. When Sulla returned to Rome, there was opposition to his rule by those loyal to Marius and his followers. Sulla, with the aid of a young Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great) and Marcus Licinius Crassus, quelled the political opposition and had himself made dictator of Rome. Sulla was a staunch proponent of aristocratic privilege, and his short-lived monarchy saw the repeal of pro-popular legislation and condemnation, usually without trial, of thousands of his enemies to violent deaths and exile.
After Sulla's death, republican rule was more or less restored under Pompey the Great. Despite his popularity, he was faced with two astute political opponents: the immensely wealthy Crassus and Julius Caesar. Rather than coming to blows, the three men reached a political accommodation now known as the First Triumvirate. Caesar was awarded governor of two Gallic provinces (what is now France). He embarked on a campaign of conquest, the Gallic War, which resulted in a huge accession of new territory and vast wealth not to mention an extremely battle hardened army after eight years of fighting the Gauls. Crassus, jealous of Caesar's successes, embarked on a campaign in Parthia, where he was defeated and killed in the Battle of Carrhae. In 50 BC Caesar was recalled to Rome to disband his legions and was put on trial for his war crimes. Caesar, not able to accept this insult after his fantastic conquest, crossed the Rubicon with his loyal Roman legions in 49 BC. Caesar was considered an enemy and traitor of Rome, and he was now matched against the Senate, led by Pompey the Great. This led to a violent Civil War between Caesar and the Republic. The senators and Pompey were no match for Caesar and his veteran legions and this culminated in the Battle of Pharsalus, where Caesar, although outnumbered, destroyed Pompey's legions. Pompey, who had fled to Egypt, was murdered and beheaded.
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