The conference at Lucca (56 BC)
I guess we all have to wish the G7 well in their attempts to pull together in their conference at Lucca (though in my case I hope that the pulling together will not be too hawkish). It must be said, though, that it isn’t exactly an auspicious place to be holding a ‘unity’ conference. It was exactly where, in 56 BC, Julius Caesar and Crassus and Pompey tried to patch up their alliance (the so-called “Conference of Luca”, spelled in antiquity with one c). The town has one of the longest histories of high profile summits that you could find in the West, and indeed there is a bad Syrian connection.
The back story is simple. The three men had made a deal in 60 BC to work in each others interests in the power politics of Rome in the late Republic (known now as the ‘First Triumvirate’, it wasn’t anything like as official as that sounds). But by 56 the deal was fraying, partly because of Caesar’s increasing clout — thanks to his victories in Gaul.
So the three men met at Lucca (conveniently between Rome and Caesar’s province) to try to patch things up. And so high were the stakes that a couple of hundred of senators trooped up there too, plus no doubt the ancient equivalent of the press corps. A deal was made. Pompey and Crassus were to have the consulship in 55 BC (OK, there were elections, but they were pretty clear that they could pull it off), they were to prolong Caesar’s command in Gaul, and after his consulship Crassus was to become governor of Syria and from there to fight against the Parthians.
And so indeed it happened, for a bit. But things went wrong soon after. Crassus went to fight the Parthians in 53 BC but suffered a major defeat at Carrhae, near the Turkish/Syrian border (Crassus’ severed head was said to have been used as a prop in a Parthian performance of Euripides’ Bacchae). And Caesar and Pompey quickly moved further apart, ending up head to head in civil war in 49 BC.
So bad ancient omens from Lucca, and especially bad Syrian omens. I wonder if our Foreign Secretary is, as I write, regaling fellow delegates with stories of the First Triumvirate and the Battle of Carrhae.
(The other version: http://www.the-tls.co.uk/conference-lucca-56-bc/)