The Massacres of the Triumvirate, 1566, by Antoine Caron (Louvre Museum)

A triumvirate (from Latin, "of three men") is a political regime dominated by three powerful individuals, each a triumvir (pl. triumviri). 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.


Roman Triumvirates

Originally, triumviri were special commissions of three men appointed for specific administrative tasks apart from the regular duties of Roman magistrates. The triumviri capitales, for instance, oversaw prisons and executions, along with other functions that, as Andrew Lintott notes, show them to have been "a mixture of police superintendents and justices of the peace."[1] The capitales were first established around 290–287 BC.[2] They were supervised by the praetor urbanus. These triumviri, or the tresviri nocturni,[3] may also have taken some responsibility for fire control.[4]

Three-man commissions were also appointed for purposes such as establishing colonies (triumviri coloniae deducendae) or distributing land.[5] Triumviri mensarii served as public bankers;[6] the full range of their financial functions in 216 BC, when the commission included two men of consular rank, has been the subject of debate.[7] Another form of three-man commission was the tresviri epulones, who were in charge of organizing public feasts on holidays. This commission was created in 196 BC by a tribunician law on behalf of the people, and their number was later increased to seven (septemviri epulones).[8]

In the late Republic, two three-man political alliances are called triumvirates by modern scholars, though only for the second was the term triumviri used at the time to evoke constitutional precedents:

  • The so-called First Triumvirate was an informal political alliance of Julius Caesar, Pompeius Magnus ("Pompey the Great") and Marcus Crassus.[9] The arrangement had no legal status, and its purpose was to consolidate the political power of the three and their supporters against the senatorial elite. After the death of Crassus in 53 BC, the two survivors fought a civil war, during which Pompey was killed and Caesar established his sole rule as perpetual dictator.
  • The Second Triumvirate was recognized as a triumvirate at the time. A Lex Titia formalized the rule of Octavian, Mark Antony, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. The legal language makes reference to the traditional triumviri. This "three-man commission for restoring the constitution of the republic" (triumviri rei publicae constituendae) in fact were given the power to make or annul law without approval from either the Senate or the people; their judicial decisions were not subject to appeal, and they named magistrates at will. Although the constitutional machinery of the Republic was not irrevocably dismantled by the Lex Titia, in the event it never recovered.[10] Lepidus was sidelined early in the triumvirate, and Antony was eliminated in civil war, leaving Octavian the sole leader.

In various municipalities 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 上官桀 (d. 80 BC), 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.[11]

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.[12]

Modern Triumvirates

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

When the French revolutionaries turned to several Roman Magistrature names for their new institutions, the three-headed collective Head of State was 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".[citation needed]

Modern India

In the early days of national struggle and before Gandhi, the Indian National Congress was known to be under Lal-Bal-Pal i.e. Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal and the leading of the three Balgangadhar Tilak often dubbed Lokmanya Tilak.

Modern Israel

Soviet Union

See also List of Troikas in the Soviet Union

Modern Italy

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

Modern Greece

  • After the downfall of the first King of Greece, the Bavarian Otto, on 23 October 1862, and Dimitrios Voulgaris' unsuccessful term (23 October 1862 – 30 January 1863) as president of the Provisional Government, a Triumvirate (30 January–30 October 1863) was established consisting of the same Dimitrios Voulgaris, the renowned Admiral Konstantinos Kanaris and Benizelos Rouphos, which acted as a regency until the arrival of the new monarch, the first "King of the Hellenes", George I.
  • A triumvirate was established to head the Theriso revolt of 1905 in autonomous Crete, consisting of Eleftherios Venizelos (later Prime Minister of Greece) in charge of organisational matters, Konstantinos Foumis in charge of finances and Konstantinos Manos, the former mayor of Chania, in charge of military affairs.
  • A triumvirate was set up during the First World War in September 1916, to head the "Provisional Government of National Defence" in Thessaloniki. It consisted of the popular liberal statesman Eleftherios Venizelos, General Panagiotis Danglis and Admiral Pavlos Koundouriotis. This "Triumvirate of National Defence" functioned as a collective head of government, although effective control was in Venizelos' hands. With the abdication of King Constantine I in June 1917 and the reunification of the country under Venizelos, the triumvirate was dissolved. The Triandria municipality in Thessaloniki is named after this triumvirate.
  • A triumvirate was set up on 13 September 1922 to lead the military revolt against the royalist government in Athens in the aftermath of the Asia Minor Disaster. It was composed of Colonels Nikolaos Plastiras and Stylianos Gonatas, and Commander Dimitrios Fokas. The triumvirate assumed the government of Greece on 15 September, and would control the country until it laid down its powers on 2 January 1924. Plastiras however quickly became the dominant figure among the triumvirate, and was eventually labelled as the "Chief of the Revolution".
  • The Greek People's Liberation Army, active during the Axis Occupation of Greece, had a triadic leadership structure, consisting of the kapetánios ("captain", the unit's leader), the stratiotikós (the military specialist, usually a former Army officer) and the politikós (the political representative of the National Liberation Front).

New World

  • Bandera de la República de Venezuela 1811.svg Venezuela: by decree of the Caracas Junta and ratified in the Federal Constitution of 1811 the executive power was vested in "three individuals" (1810–1812)
  • Dominican Republic The Dominican Republic had two triumvirates, which were essentially three-member juntas:
    • 29 May 1866-22 August 1866 - 1st Triumvirate (in rebellion against Buenaventura Báez from 1 May 1866):
      • Pedro Antonio Pimentel (b. 1830 - d. 1874; formerly one of three 'Generals-in-Chief' 23–24 January 1865)
      • Gregorio Luperón (b. 1839-d. 1897) PA
      • Federico de Jesús García
    • 26 September 1963-25 April 1965 - 2nd Triumvirate :
      • Emilio de los Santos (b. 1903–22 December 1963) (chairman from 29 December 1963, succeeded by Donald Reid Cabral, b. 1923, UCN, new chairman)
      • Manuel Enrique Tavares Espaillat (b. 1929)
      • Ramón Tapia Espinal (b. 1926 - d. 2002)
  •  Mexico (1823–1824) Guadalupe Victoria, Nicolás Bravo and Celestino Negrete.
  • C10-TB6, part of Empress Gray's larger empire, was ruled by a triumvirate consisting of Grace, Sharanya, and Rose (2010–2011)

Commonwealth Realms

Beyond the United Kingdom, fifteen commonwealth realms of Queen Elizabeth II a non-resident yet de jure head of state who is represented by a resident Governor-General who carries out the day to day duties of the Monarch in respect to each realm and as such is defacto head of state, but whose actions are almost always under the advisement of the national Prime Minister who is head of government and who actually exercises the real powers of the crown.

European Union

After the Lisbon Treaty came into force from 1 December 2009:

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

Triumvirates appear in many novels, TV series, films, comics and video games.

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.

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 Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, the episode Codename Europa features the Triumvirate of Europe. The 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, Tri-Camille

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 Halo novel series and video games, the Prophets of Truth, Mercy and Regret (ruling heads of the Covenant) are considered a triumvirate. In Dario Argento's supernatural horror trilogy (The Three Mothers Trilogy), three centuries-old women who are credited with creating witchcraft, are considered a triumvirate. Mater Suspiriorum, Mater Tenebrarum, and Mater Lachrymarum make up the triumvirate of witches who "rule the world".

In the DC Universe, specifically in the series of Etrigan the Demon, the Triumvirate rule Hell. 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. Indeed, in the Hellblazer series, exists another triumvirate, composed of The First, The Second, and The Third of the Fallen, though it has been debated if the Second and Third are Beelzebub and Azazel, as they're truly similar in personalities and appearance. This triumvirate was ursuped from their thrones by the Lucifer triumvirate, being the fallen angel more powerful than the First and his own triumvirate. After, Lucifer's abdication, the First regained power with the two other fallens. This triumvirate is notorious for being particular enemies and hate John Constantine, which tricked them to cure his cancer.

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 video game Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider: Anniversary Natla, Qualopec and Tihocan form the triumvirate of the Atlantis. In the video game The Elder Scrolls III/The Morrowind Prophesies a triumvirate takes place between the three tribes of the Dunmer peoples.

In 1973 the Blues musicians Dr John, Mike Bloomfield and John Hammond collaborated on an album called Triumvirate.

Other triumvirates also appear in the Robotech series, in Orson Scott Card's Ender Series, in Alastair Reynolds's Revelation Space series, in the 1984, 1990 and 1993 Sentai Series Choudenshi Bioman, Chikyuu Sentai Fiveman and Gosei Sentai Dairanger Respectively, and in the Dragonlance Universe. The most powerful super-villains (all three being terrorists who rule countries) in the Duck-Girl or Bon Comics universe, War Pig, Sorcero, and Regent Ruin are called the 'Triumvirate' by their enemies, the super-heroes and Lindalinos.

Triumvirates are commonly used as a form of alliance government in the online nation simulator, Cybernations.

See also


  1. ^ Andrew Lintott, Violence in Republican Rome (Oxford University Press, 1999, 2nd ed.), p. 102 online.
  2. ^ Livy, Periocha 11.
  3. ^ Triumviri or tresviri nocturni may be another name or nickname for the capitales, because their duties often pertained to the streets at night.
  4. ^ John E. Stambaugh, The Ancient Roman City (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), p. 347, note 4 online and p. 348, note 13; O.F. Robinson, Ancient Rome: City Planning and Administration (Routledge, 1994), p. 105 online.
  5. ^ Andrew Lintott, The Constitution of the Roman Republic (Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 12 and 95 online.
  6. ^ Jean Andreau, Banking and Business in the Roman World (Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 115 online.
  7. ^ Rachel Feig Vishnia, State, Society, and Popular Leaders in Mid-Republican Rome, 241-167 B.C. (Routledge, 1996), p. 86ff. online.
  8. ^ Livy 33.42.1; Vishnia, State, Society, and Popular Leaders, p. 171; Fergus Millar, Rome, the Greek World, and the East (University of North Caroline Press, 2002), p. 122 online; Lintott, Constitution, p. 184.
  9. ^ Beck, Roger B.; Linda Black, Larry S. Krieger, Phillip C. Naylor, Dahia Ibo Shabaka, (1999). World History: Patterns of Interaction. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell. ISBN 0-395-87274-X. 
  10. ^ Christopher Pelling, "The Triumviral Period," in The Cambridge Ancient History (Cambridge University Press, 1996, 2nd ed.), vol. 10, p. 1 online.
  11. ^ Loewe (1986), 178.
  12. ^ Beck (1986), 319.
  13. ^ Ladies and gentlemen, your next government, By Amir Oren, Published: 13.01.2009, Haaretz Daily Newspaper
  14. ^ Diplomacy: Endgame politics, By HERB KEINON, Jan 8, 2009, Jerusalem Post
  15. ^ Israel launches PR blitz ahead of Gaza operation, Roni Sofer, Published: 12.21.2008, Ynetnews
  16. ^ Lachman, Seymour & Polner, Robert (2006). Three Men in a Room: The Inside Story of Power and Betrayal in an American Statehouse. New York : New Press.

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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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Triumvirate — Tri*um vi*rate, n. [L. triumviratus: cf. F. triumvirat.] 1. Government by three in coalition or association; the term of such a government. [1913 Webster] 2. A coalition or association of three in office or authority; especially, the union of… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • triumvirate — 1580s, from L. triumviratus, from triumvir (see TRIUMVIR (Cf. triumvir)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • triumvirate — ► NOUN 1) a group of three powerful or notable people or things. 2) (in ancient Rome) a group of three men holding power …   English terms dictionary

  • triumvirate — [trī um′və rit] n. [L triumviratus] 1. the office, functions, or term of a triumvir 2. government by three persons or by a coalition of three parties 3. any association of three in authority 4. any group or set of three …   English World dictionary

  • triumvirate — /truy um veuhr it, veuh rayt /, n. 1. Rom. Hist. the office or magistracy of a triumvir. 2. a government of three officers or magistrates functioning jointly. 3. a coalition of three magistrates or rulers for joint administration. 4. any… …   Universalium

  • triumvirate — [[t]traɪʌ̱mvɪrət[/t]] N SING COLL: oft N of n A triumvirate is a group of three people who work together, especially when they are in charge of something. [FORMAL] ...the triumvirate of women who worked together on the TV dramatisation of the… …   English dictionary

  • triumvirate — UK [traɪˈʌmvərət] / US noun [countable] Word forms triumvirate : singular triumvirate plural triumvirates formal a group of three powerful people, especially people in charge of something …   English dictionary

  • triumvirate — noun Date: 1584 1. a body of triumvirs 2. the office or government of triumvirs 3. a group or association of three …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • triumvirate — noun A group or association of three. Syn: troika …   Wiktionary

  • triumvirate — (Roget s Thesaurus II) noun A group of three individuals: three, threesome, triad, trine, trinity, trio, triple, triune, tri unity, troika. See GROUP …   English dictionary for students

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