[trahy-uhm-ver-it, -vuh-reyt]
Triumvirate, in ancient Rome, ruling board or commission of three men. Triumvirates were common in the Roman republic. The First Triumvirate was the alliance of Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Marcus Licinius Crassus formed in 60 B.C. This was not strictly a triumvirate, since the alliance had no official sanction. The three men were able to control Rome, and the alliance aided Caesar's rise to power by giving him the opportunity to pursue the Gallic Wars. The Second Triumvirate was legally established as the tresviri rei publicae constituendae [triumvirate for reestablishing the public welfare] in 43 B.C. for five years; it was renewed in 37 B.C. The members were Octavian (Augustus), Marc Antony, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (d. 13 B.C.). This group was granted enormous power by the senate. Lepidus was deposed in 36 B.C., and Antony was defeated at Actium in 31 B.C., leaving Octavian at the head of the Roman Empire.

The term triumvirate (from Latin, "of three men") is commonly used to describe a political regime dominated by three powerful individuals. The arrangement can be formal or informal, and though the three are usually equal on paper, in reality this is rarely the case. The term can also be used to describe a state with three different military leaders who all claim to be the sole leader of the state.

Roman Triumvirates

  • Twice in the late pre-Principate period of the Roman republic, political power shifted from the formal magistrates and Senate to three ambitious men, who thus constituted a transitional government, known as triumviratus, each time only to break up again in civil war:
    • What modern scholars call the First Triumvirate was an informal political alliance of two rival generals, Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great representing the popular viz. senatorial party, with the extremely wealthy businessman Marcus Licinius Crassus. This fell apart after the death of Crassus, and the two other triumvirs fought a civil war, during which Pompey was killed and Caesar established his sole rule as perpetual dictator.
    • The Second Triumvirate was a formal governing body, consisting of Octavian and Mark Antony, the rivals for real power, and third wheel Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Lepidus was sidelined early on in the triumvirate, and Antony was eliminated in a civil war, leaving Octavian as the sole leader.
  • In various municipalities, also under the Principate, the chief magistracy was a college of three, styled triumviri.

Chinese Triumvirates

One of the most notable triumvirates formed in the history of China was by the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) statesmen Huo Guang (d. 68 BC), Jin Midi (d. 86 BC), and Shangguan Jie, following the death of Emperor Wu of Han (r. 141–87 BC) and the installation of the child emperor Zhao. Despite the Three Excellencies—including the Chancellor, Imperial Secretary, and irregularly the Grand Commandant—representing the most senior ministerial positions of state, this triumvirate was supported by the economic technocrat and Imperial Secretary Sang Hongyang (d. 80 BC), their political lackey. The acting Chancellor Tian Qianqiu was also easily swayed by the decisions of the triumvirate.

The Three Excellencies existed in Western Han (202 BC – 9 AD) as the Chancellor, Imperial Secretary, and Grand Commandant, but the Chancellor was viewed as senior to the Imperial Secretary while the post of Grand Commandant was vacant for most of the dynasty. After Emperor Guangwu established the Eastern Han (25–220 AD), the Grand Commandant was made a permanent official while the Minister over the Masses replaced the Chancellor and the Minister of Works replaced the Imperial Secretary. Unlike the three high officials in Western Han when the Chancellor was senior to all, these new three senior officials had equal censorial and advisory powers. When a young or weak-minded emperor ascended to the throne, these Three Excellencies could dominate the affairs of state. There were also other types of triumvirates during the Eastern Han; for example, at the onset of the reign of Emperor Ling of Han (r. 168–189), the General-in-Chief Dou Wu (d. 168), the Grand Tutor Chen Fan (d. 168), and another prominent statesman Hu Guang (91–172) formed a triumvirate nominally in charge of the Privy Secretariat, when in fact it was a regent triumvirate overseeing the affairs of state and Emperor Ling.

Modern Triumvirates

The title was revived a few times for (short-lived) three-headed political 'magistratures' in post-feudal times.

Ironically, when the French revolutionaries turned to several Roman Magistrature names for their new institutions, the three-headed collective Head of State was bizarrely named Consulat, a term in use for two-headed magistratures since Antiquity; furthermore it included a "First Consul" who was not an equal, but the de facto solo head of state and government- a tyrannical position Napoleon Bonaparte chose to convert openly into the First French Empire.

Prior to Napoleon and during the Terror Robespierre, Louis de Saint-Just, and Couthon, as members of the governing Committee of Public Safety, were purported by some to have formed an unofficial triumvirate. Although officially all members of the committee shared equal power the three men's friendship and close ideological base led their detractors to declaim them as 'triumvirs' which was used against them in the coup of 9 Thermidor

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google has referred to himself, along with founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin as part of a triumvirate, stating, "This triumvirate has made an informal deal to stick together for at least 20 years".

Modern Italy

In the Roman Republic (1849), the title of two sets of three joint chiefs of state in the year 1849:

Modern Greece

New World

Other 'Triumvirates'

The word has been used as a term of convenience, though not an official title, for other groups of three in a similar position :

In fiction

  • Commonwealth Triumvirate in Andromeda describes the leading arrangement of the All Systems Commonwealth. Controlled by 3 triumvirs, Tri-Jema, Tri-Lorn and Tri-Ortiz, who was replaced by her sister [etymologically absurd: a woman as 'man'], Tri-Camille
  • Triumvirate of the Robotech Masters in fictional Robotech series.
  • The Advocacy of the War of the Worlds TV series, three aliens who made up a triumvirate to guide and counsel the lower classes.
  • In the television series The Pretender, a shadowy council, called the Triumvirate, headquartered in Africa, were apparently the powers that be of the mysterious Centre and were concerned about a prophecy involving Jarod.
  • In the DC Universe, specifically in the series of Etrigan the Demon, the Triumvirate rule Hell.
  • In Orson Scott Card's Ender Series a triumvirate of the Strategos, the Polemarch, and the Hegemon are rulers to some extent.
  • In Alastair Reynolds's Revelation Space series the lighthugger Nostalgia for Infinity is commanded by a Triumvirate of Ultranauts in lieu of the ship's incapacitated Captain.
  • In the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Series by Laurell K. Hamilton, Anita Blake forms a triumvirate between herself (a necromancer/animator), Jean-Claude (a master vampire) and Richard (a werewolf). There are three other triumvirates in the series. One in The Killing Dance consisting of Sabin, Cassandra and Dominic and the other in Burnt Offerings consisting of Padma, Thomas and Gideon.Anita also forms a triumvirate with Nathaniel and Damian.
  • In the video game Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, the three Genma (demon) leaders, Claudius the Chancellor, Rosencrantz the Scientist and Ophelia the Priestess formed what was known as the Triumvirate. Throughout the game they worked together to resurrect the Genma God of Light, Fortinbras.
  • In The Star Wars Expanded Universe, there have been several notable Triumvirates, including the Sith Triumvirate of Darths Traya, Nihilus, and Sion, and the Imperial Triumvirate of Moff Disra, Major Tierce, and Flim.
  • In Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, the episode Codename Europa features the Triumvirate of Europe.
  • In the video game Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider: Anniversary Natla, Qualopec and Tihocan form the trumvirate of the Atlantis.
  • In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series of graphic novels hell is ruled by a triumvirate of Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Azazel (although this appears to be a new occurrence as Dream seems shocked when he is informed of this.) Etrigan appears here as Dream's guide in Hell.
  • In the Halo novel series and video games, the Prophets of Truth, Mercy and Regret (ruling heads of the Covenant) are considered a triumvirate.

See also


Sources and references

  • Beck, Mansvelt. (1986). "The Fall of Han," in The Cambridge History of China: Volume I: the Ch'in and Han Empires, 221 B.C. – A.D. 220. Edited by Denis Twitchett and Michael Loewe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521243270.
  • Loewe, Michael. (1986). "The Former Han Dynasty," in The Cambridge History of China: Volume I: the Ch'in and Han Empires, 221 B.C. – A.D. 220, 103–222. Edited by Denis Twitchett and Michael Loewe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521243270.
  • Etymology on line
  • World Statesmen here Greece - see under each present country

External links

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