Caesar was now best known as a man of pleasure, celebrated for his debts and his intrigues; in politics he had no force behind Opposition to the Optimates. him save that of the discredited party of the populares, reduced to lending a passive support to Pompey and Crassus. But as soon as the proved incompetence of the senatorial government had brought about the mission of Pompey to the East with the almost unlimited powers conferred on him by the Gabinian and Manilian laws of 67 and 66 B.C. (see Pompey), Caesar plunged into a network of political intrigues which it is no longer possible to unravel. In his public acts he lost no opportunity of upholding the democratic tradition. Already in 68 B.C. he had paraded the bust of Marius at his aunt's funeral; in 65 B.C., as curule aedile, he restored the trophies of Marius to their place on the Capitol; in 64 B.C., as president of the murder commission, he brought three of Sulla's executioners to trial, and in 63 B.C. he caused the ancient procedure of trial by popular assembly to be revived against the murderer of Saturninus. By these means, and by the lavishness of his expenditure on public entertainments as aedile, he acquired such popularity with the plebs that he was elected pontifex maximus in 63 B.C. against such distinguished rivals as Q. Lutatius Catulus and P. Servilius Isauricus. But all this was on the surface.
There can be no doubt that Caesar was cognizant of some at least of the threads of conspiracy which were woven during Pompey's absence in the East. According to one story, the enfants perdus of the revolutionary party - Catiline, Autronius and others - designed to assassinate the consuls on the 1st of January 65, and make Crassus dictator, with Caesar as master of the horse. We are also told that a public proposal was made to confer upon him an extraordinary military command in Egypt, not without a legitimate king and nominally under the protection of Rome. An equally abortive attempt to create a counterpoise to Pompey's power was made by the tribune Rullus at the close of 64 B.C. He proposed to create a land commission with very wide powers, which would in effect have been wielded by Caesar and Crassus. The bill was defeated by Cicero, consul in 63 B.C. In the same year the conspiracy associated with the name of Catiline came to a head. The charge of complicity was freely levelled at Caesar, and indeed was hinted at by Cato in the great debate in the senate. But Caesar, for party reasons, was bound to oppose the execution of the conspirators; while Crassus, who shared in the accusation, was the richest man in Rome and the least likely to further anarchist plots.
Both, however, doubtless knew as much and as little as suited their convenience of the doings of the left wing of their party, which served to aggravate the embarrassments of the government.
As praetor (62 B.C.) Caesar supported proposals in Pompey's favour which brought him into violent collision with the senate. This was a master-stroke of tactics, as Pompey's return was imminent. Thus when Pompey landed in Italy and disbanded his army he found in Caesar a natural ally. After some delay, said to have been caused by the exigencies of his creditors, which were met by a loan of £200,000 from Crassus, Caesar left Rome for his province of Further Spain, where he was able to retrieve his financial position, and to lay the foundations of a military reputation. He returned to Rome in 60 B.C. to find that the senate had sacrificed the support of the capitalists (which Cicero had worked so hard to secure), and had finally alienated Pompey by refusing to ratify his acts and grant lands to his soldiers. Caesar at once approached both Pompey and Crassus, who alike detested the existing system of government but were personally at variance, and succeeded in persuading them to forget their quarrel and join him in a coalition which should put an end to the rule of the oligarchy.
He even made a generous, though unsuccessful, endeavour to enlist the support of Cicero. The so-called First Triumvirate was formed, and constitutional government ceased to exist save in name.
The first prize which fell to Caesar was the consulship, to secure which he forewent the triumph which he had earned in Spain. His colleague was M. Bibulus, who belonged to the straitest sect of the senatorial oligarchy and, together with Coalition with Pompey and Crassus. his party, placed every form of constitutional obstruction in the path of Caesar's legislation. Caesar, however, overrode all opposition, mustering Pompey's veterans to drive his colleague from the forum. Bibulus became a virtual prisoner in his own house, and Caesar placed himself outside the pale of the free republic. Thus the programme of the coalition was carried through. Pompey was satisfied by the ratification of his acts in Asia, and by the assignment of the Campanian state domains to his veterans, the capitalists (with whose interests Crassus was identified) had their bargain for the farming of the Asiatic revenues cancelled, Ptolemy Auletes received the confirmation of his title to the throne of Egypt (for a consideration amounting to £1,500,000), and a fresh act was passed for preventing extortion by provincial governors.
It was now all-important for Caesar to secure practical irresponsibility by obtaining a military command. The senate, Gallic wars. in virtue of its constitutional prerogative, had assigned as the provincia of the consuls of 59 B.C. the supervision of roads and forests in Italy. Caesar secured the passing of a legislative enactment conferring upon himself the government of Cisalpine Gaul and Illyria for five years, and exacted from the terrorized senate the addition of Transalpine Gaul, where, as he well knew, a storm was brewing which threatened to sweep away Roman civilization beyond the Alps. The mutual jealousies of the Gallic tribes had enabled German invaders first to gain a foothold on the left bank of the Rhine, and then to obtain a predominant position in Central Gaul. In 60 B.C. the German king Ariovistus had defeated the Aedui, who were allies of Rome, and had wrested from the Sequani a large portion of their territory. Caesar must have seen that the Germans were preparing to dispute with Rome the mastery of Gaul; but it was necessary to gain time, and in 59 B.C. Ariovistus was inscribed on the roll of the friends of the Roman people.