Gaius Iulius Caesar (100 B.C. - 44 B.C.)
Julius Caesar was born into a patrician family who had fallen on hard times. His father (C. Julius Caesar, who died when young Caesar was only 15) never rose higher than the rank of praetor, although his mother Aurelia was the daughter of Aurelius Cotta, who was consul during the first Mithradatic war. More importantly to the young Caesar was the marriage of his paternal aunt, Julia, to Gaius Marius, in 115 B.C.; Marius' politics would influence Caesar to abandon the senatorial, patrician politics of his father's family to court the popularis or people's party.
Early career (87 B.C. - 63 B.C.)
Caesar's political career began early; at the tender age of 13 (87 B.C., during the consulship of Cinna and Marius), Caesar was nominated for the position of High Priest of Jupiter. It is unclear as to whether he actually served in this position, though; Marius and Cinna were soon slain by the armies of Marius' former protegé and now bitter rival, Sulla. As an act of defiance, Caesar married Cornelia, daughter of Cinna, in 84 B.C. and refused to divorce her, despite Sulla's orders. Bribing his way out of attempted assasinations, Caesar left his wife and family in Rome, and decamped to Asia Minor, to serve in Marcus Thermus' military campaign there. Having acquitted himself honorably there, earning the civic crown during his service, Caesar moved to Cilicia in 78 B.C. to continue his military service under P. Servilius Isauricus, and after Sulla's death, he returned to Rome.
Having earned a reputation for being a great and courageous general, Caesar began work as an advocate, earning much popular support for his successful prosecutions of prominent Romans for corruption; indeed, soon his reputation as an orator was second only to Marcus Tullius Cicero himself. In 75 B.C., Caesar went to Rhodes, to study rhetoric. On his way there, he was captured and held to ransom by pirates; while waiting for his servants to return with the ransom, Caesar kept calm, and often joked that he would avenge himself by capturing and crucifying his captors. Once the ransom had been delivered and he had been released, Caesar raised a small army with the support of the local governors and authorities, captured the pirates, and, as promised, crucified them all.
In 73 B.C, Caesar returned to Rome, and was elected to the College of Pontiffs; from then on, Rome was alight with rumours of his way with the ladies, with the wives of many of his rivals (including Cato, Cicero, and Pompey) romantically linked to Caesar. In 72 B.C., Caesar was made a military tribune, the first popularly elected post he was to achieve, and in 69 B.C. he served as a quaestor in Spain, following the death of his wife, who left him with a daughter, Julia.
When he returned to Rome, Caesar surprised everybody by choosing Pompeia, daughter of Quintus Pompey and granddaughter of Sulla, as his new bride; and having served his time as quaestor, he was now entitled to sit on the Senate, where he supported both the Lex Gabinia and the Lex Manilia, laws which extended Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus' powers, firstly in his war on pirates in the Mediterranean, and secondly in the third Mithradatic war. During this period, he also achieved the offices of curator of the Via Appia, and curule aedile, two posts mainly concerned with urban maintenance and improvement, as well as the provision of gladiatorial games for the plebs. Caesar went deep into debt to ensure his continuing popularity, paying for huge rebuilding projects and spectacular games, featuring over 600 gladiators in silver armour, in honor of his father.
Ascending the Cursus Honorum (63 B.C. - 59 B.C.)
In 63 B.C., Caesar won another important office - that of Pontifex Maximus, stunning the older patricians who had expected to be elected by polling more votes than all the other candidates combined. This life-long position would help Caesar ease his debts. Before the year was out, Caesar became embroiled in arguments with Cicero and Cato, following the Catiline Conspiracy - Cato and Cicero both called for the conspirators to be put to death, whereas Caesar rightly argued that this would go against the constitution of the Republic. Despite Caesar winning the argument, Cato still managed to have them executed, and Caesar was briefly dogged by rumours suggesting that he himself was part of the conspiracy. The following year, Caesar was serving as urban praetor when he became caught up in another great scandal - a young patrician, Publius Clodius, was found to have been present at the Bona Dea festival, disguised as a woman. Men were strictly forbidden to attend the festival, which was held annually at the Pontifex Maximus's house - that is, Caesar's house. It was rumoured that Clodius was present because he was having an affair with Pompeia - and so, regardless of the truth of this rumour, Caesar divorced her, claiming that his wife and household should be above suspicion.
Caesar spent most of 61 B.C. consolidating his military reputation as a propraetor in Spain, defeating the Lusitanians. On his return, at the age of 39, he was now in a position to seek out the highest office in the Republic - that of Consul. For some time, he had been supportive both of Gn. Pompeius Magnus (or Pompey the Great), as well as Marcus Licinius Crassus. Both these politicians and generals needed a friend in high office, but neither were powerful enough to achieve this office themselves; but they both agreed to support Caesar, and so in 59 B.C., Caesar was elected consul, together with Bibulus, who had served with Caesar as curule aedile back in 65 B.C., and was less than impressed with his partner in office. At this stage, most of the patricians and the Senate were openly hostile towards Caesar, and Bibulus, an old patrician, declared that the omens for the year were unfavourable, and spent most of the year at home, in an effort to invalidate any legislation Caesar might attempt - as, constitutionally, both consuls had to be in agreement over any major reforms. Caesar, however, completely ignored this, and had his decisions ratified by bypassing the senate and going straight to the Popular Assembly. He provided the land that Pompey had promised his veterans, and reduced the tax burden on Asia, which pleased Crassus. Bibulus was so anonymous during the year's term that many referred to "the consulship of Gaius Julius and Julius Caesar", rather than Bibulus and Caesar.
Also in 59 B.C., Caesar married for the final time, to Calpurnia, daughter of Lucius Calpurnius Piso; he also had his own daughter, Julia, marry the much older Pompey, to further bind him to Caesar. With his partners' backing, Caesar gained proconsular authority in Illyricum and Transalpine Gaul, valid for five years; when the governor of Transalpine Gaul died before Caesar left Rome, he added that title to his list, too. Although, at 40, he had achieved a great deal of honour in Rome, his career was only getting started now.
De Bello Gallico (59 B.C. - 50 B.C.)
Although Caesar's job was supposedly only to govern the Gallic provinces, which consisted of the south and east of modern France, as well as what is now Switzerland, he wished to extend the Republic, and found excuses to wage war on the Gauls. Between 58 and 55 B.C., he conquered most of Gaul, including what are now Belgium and the Netherlands, winning victory after victory and impressing the entire Roman world with his courage and tactical know-how, as well as visiting the then near mythological island of Britannia (i.e. Great Britain). In 55 B.C., when his term as proconsul was coming to an end, Caesar met up with the rest of the so-called Triumvirate, Crassus and Pompey, at Luca, near the Italian border, and hammered out a five-year extension to his term, at the same time granting lucrative governing positions to his allies. However, while he was away in Gaul, Pompey was drifting further away from him, and closer to the patrician senate. In 54 B.C., Julia died in childbirth, severing the final link between Caesar and Pompey, and the following year the triumvirate was dissolved completely when Crassus died.
In 52 B.C., while Rome was unsettled by the murder of Publius Clodius, unrest flared again in Gaul; most of the Gauls had been subdued, but now a bold general, Vercingetorix, led them against Caesar. Caesar spent the next eighteen months fighting a series of battles, including a rare defeat at Gergovia, before accepting Vercingetorix' surrender at Alesia, an event with which all Asterix fans should be familiar. In 52 B.C., despite the unrest in Gaul, Caesar began to publish his "war diary", De Bello Gallico, which ran to seven volumes, and was praised as a great work even by his enemy Cicero. While Caesar was fighting in Gaul, his enemies in Rome were continually plotting his downfall; but the tribune C. Curio, who had been a client of Caesar's, used his power of veto to block Cato, Bibulus and the consul Marcellus from recalling Caesar from Gaul, strip him of his powers and put him on trial.
Caesar knew that when his second proconsular term ended, he would be open to charges of illegality and corruption for his reign as consul and proconsul, and
so he needed to step straight into the office of consul to avoid this. He applied to stand in the 49 B.C. consular elections in absentia, which had been granted by many before, but his request was blocked by the Senate. Meanwhile, Curio insisted that if Caesar, who was considered an enemy of the state, should have to give up his legions, than so should Pompey, who was by now allied with the senate, and the main military leader against Caesar. Pompey seemed to cooperate with this, and offered to return one of the legions he had been granted - but the legion he chose was one that he had "loaned" to Caesar. So Caesar effectively lost two legions to the patricians when Pompey's legion returned to Rome.
De Bello Civili (50 B.C. - 48 B.C.)
Towards the end of 50 B.C., matters were coming to a head; Caesar moved his base of operations closer to Rome, to Ravenna, ostensibly to try cases. Curio suggested that both Caesar and Pompey should stand down and give up their armies; the Senate agreed with this, but were ignored by the consul, Marcellus, who offered Pompey command of Rome's armies to defend them against any threat from Caesar. At the end of the year, Curio's term as tribune was up, but he was replaced by Marcus Antonius, one of Caesar's most trusted deputies. He continued to veto any moves against Caesar, but eventually, in January of 49 B.C., the Senate started to ignore them. Antonius, together with Curio, abandoned Rome to join Caesar, who now knew that he had to either give up all his power, or start a civil war; uttering the famous words "alea iacta est", Caesar led one legion across the Rubicon into Italy, defying the Senate, and starting a bloody civil war.
Caesar left most of his forces in southern Gaul, bringing only a single legion across the Rubicon with him, to see how Pompey would react; he justified his actions to his troops, who were personally loyal to him, by saying that the corrupt Senate were jealous of his accomplishments and attacking his dignitas, that quality of self-worth, pride and piety that was of the utmost importance to a Roman man. Caesar took most of northern Italy peacefully, as city after city capitulated to him. Pompey and the Senatorial forces took fright, and left Rome, foolishly leaving the treasury behind them. Pompey decided that Asia would be the most advantageous place to make his stand, as Caesar's legions were concentrated in the western parts of the Republic. Having taken charge of the treasury, Caesar left Mark Anthony and Lepidus in charge at home; he followed Pompey to Brundisium, but was unable to prevent them from crossing the Adriatic to the Balkans. Returning to Rome, Caesar surprisingly pardoned any enemies he had left there, giving them leave to either join him, or join Pompey's forces in the Balkans. Then, he went to Spain to fight what forces Pompey had left there, fearing that they would attack his rear if he went east against Pompey and the Senate's main force.
It took Caesar less than a year to put things in order in the western part of the Republic; he quickly took Massilia (Marseilles), an important port which had declared in Pompey's favour, and defeated the Spanish legions; then he returned to Rome, where he was elected consul and then dictator by the depleted Senate. As dictator, he provided grain for the citizens, pushed through legislation to reduce debt, by obliging creditors to accept land in payment at pre-war prices, and extended the Roman franchise to northern Italy and parts of Gaul. Once things were sorted out in Rome, Caesar set aside the dictatorship, and left for Brundisium, in pursuit of Pompey.
Following Pompey's flight, there were not many ships available to Caesar; he managed to transport 15,000 legionaries and 6,700 cavalry troops across the Adriatic in Januray 48 B.C., but Bibulus, in charge of the Navy patrolling the sea, delayed the remainder of Caesar's troops, under Mark Anthony, for three months. This left Caesar at a disadvantage, and so he sued for peace; Pompey, however, withdrew to the city of Dyrrhachium, and waited there, ignoring Caesar's overtures. As soon as his entire force was available, Caesar laid siege to Dyrrhachium unsuccessfully; Pompey had plenty of supplies coming in by sea, whereas Caesar's resources were stretched to their limits.
After Pompey's army broke out of Dyrrhachium, Caesar retreated south to Thessaly; and in August of 48 B.C., the two armies met on the fields of Pharsalus. Caesar was outnumbered by about a quarter, but his troops were undaunted; also, Pompey's forces were overconfident, and many of his generals spent their time before the battle wondering what offices Pompey would bestow upon them after disposing of Caesar. Caesar predicted Pompey's battle plan, and hid forces in reserve; he countered Pompey's cavalry with cohorts of infantry, who put the horsemen to flight, and then he brought his reserves into play, to completely outflank Pompey's massed army. Many of the leaders of Pompey's army fled, and on the following day, the remainder of the army surrendered to Caesar, who was quick to pardon his adversaries.
After his defeat, Pompey fled to Egypt, where he was assassinated on the order of the pharaoh, Ptolemy XIII. On his arrival in Alexandria in October 48 B.C., Caesar was presented with the severed head of his opponent. By all accounts, Caesar was moved to tears at this sight, but no doubt he was relieved by the unfortunate demise of his main rival. Due to the importance of Egypt as a supplier of grain to Rome, Caesar stayed there for a while, and became infatuated with Cleopatra, Ptolemy's elder sister; Caesar became involved in a Civil war there, as the two siblings fought for the Egyptian throne. Caesar declared himself in favour of Cleopatra, and found himself besieged by the king's forces in Alexandria. The siege continued until March of 47 B.C., when forces loyal to Caesar arrived from Asia Minor, and Caesar soon defeated Ptolemy and installed Cleopatra as queen of Egypt. He then left to deal with the various princes and kings of Asia Minor who had supported Pompey; soon afterwards, Cleopatra gave birth to a son she claimed was Caesar's, and named him Caesarion.
The Aftermath - Mopping Up After A Civil War (47 B.C. - 44 B.C.)
Following the confusion of the civil war, many Asian monarchs decided to take advantage of the situation and enlarge their own kingdoms; however, Caesar swiftly dealt with them, and pardoned most, including Gaius Cassius and Marcus Junius Brutus, son of his old mistress, Servilia. After a lightning victory in Zela, Caesar laconically reported back to the Senate "Veni, vidi, vici". Having secured Asia, Caesar returned to Rome, and gathered his strength for a final war on the Republican forces in North Africa. Appointing Mark Anthony as Magister Equitum to take care of the city, Caesar brought his troops to Utica in modern Morocco, where the senatorial armies, under Scipio and Labienus, had allied themselves with King Juba of Numidia. As soon as he had enough troops, Caesar crushed their armies at Thapsus, putting an end to his opposition in North Africa. When Cato heard of this defeat, he commited suicide, so as not to have to surrender to or be defeated by Caesar. Almost all the senatorial leaders were rounded up, apart from Pompey's sons, Gnaeus and Sextus, who fled to Spain.
In July of 46 B.C., Caesar returned to Rome to host a huge quadruple triumphal parade. He rebuilt many of the old temples and fora, and enlarged the Senate, due to the large amount of new citizens he had created by extending the Roman franchise. He also took a census, and went about providing for the poor; by founding colonies abroad, he provided land for both combat veterans and the poor; he also ruled that the rich farmers should hire at least one third of their workers from the ranks of free men, as opposed to only using slaves. He also disbanded some of the guilds, which had previously given rise to power-hungry demagogues such as Clodius and Milo, reduced the terms of propraetors and proconsuls, and withdrew tax collectors from some of the provinces, allowing the provinces to organise their own tax collection.
In November of 46 B.C., Caesar decided it was high time he dealt with Pompey's sons, who were making a nuisance of themselves in Spain. In the final battle at Munda, on the 17th March, 45 B.C., Caesar snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, and soundly crushed the Pompeys' armies, leaving Sextus to flee with a small band of followers. This was to be Caesar's final battle. Caesar remained in Spain for some time afterwards to reorganise the province's administration and found new colonies there; in May, his grandnephew, Octavian, joined his staff there, and in June, Caesar left Spain, stopping off through Gaul and Italy to found yet more colonies. In September, Caesar produced his will, naming Octavian as his heir, successor and adopted son.
Back in Rome, Caesar was showered with honours; too many honours, in fact. Although he had shown great clemency to his many enemies, and they seemed grateful to him, they were secretly jealous of him, and sickened by the sycophancy shown him. On the ides of March, 44 B.C., Caesar was assassinated by a group of assailants in the Forum of Pompey. Led by Brutus and Cassius, the gang stabbed Caesar 23 times, and left him to bleed to death under a statue of his arch-nemesis, Pompey. It was a sudden, although in some ways fitting, end to the life of one of history's greatest generals and politicians. He had always said that he would prefer a sudden violent death, a soldier's death, to wasting away of old age. See The Death Of Julius Caesar for a more detailed discussion.
Julius Caesar - General, Advocate, Politician and Author
As a general, Caesar has few equals; only his role model, Alexander the Great, stands comparison with him. Pompey was the only contemporary general worthy of comparison; and he cut his teeth in Asia Minor, fighting petty kings and princes. According to the historian Suetonius, after his victory in Zela, Caesar "commented drily on Pompey's good fortune in having built up his reputation for generalship by victories over such poor stuff as this". that remark may have been somewhat unfair to his rival, but the fact remains that Pompey failed to take advantage of his greater numbers at Pharsalus, and was soundly beaten in the only open battle he fought against Caesar.
Apart from being a tactical genius, and being able to predict his enemies' tactics, Caesar's main virtue as a general was his charisma, and ability to command the loyalty of his men. Instead of trying to order his army by fear, he earned their respect. Having started from near the bottom, Caesar worked his way up in the army, and could therefore empathise more with his men. His clemency towards his defeated enemies also earned him respect, as well as his generosity towards his victorious men.
Caesar's career as an advocate is quite strongly linked with his politics. As a politician, he courted the favour of the plebs, and the Popular assembly, whereas the more traditional politicians of the day tended to favour the Patricians in general, and specifically the Senate. Caesar was wont to stand up against rich, corrupt, greedy patricians, and defend the "common man". He was highly praised as an orator, but, unlike his contemporary, Cicero, very few of his speeches have been preserved in writing. Of course, Caesar used his oratorial skills, as well as his political power, to serve his own ends; he spoke out strongly in favour of extending Pompey's powers during the war on pircay, and the third war against King Mithradates, when he was trying to get on Pompey's good side; he also used his offices as curule aedile and curator of the Via Appia to ingratiate himself with the plebs, and when his first wife, Cornelia, daughter of Cinna, died, he held a laudatio in her honour - something that was unheard of, for a woman - and in his eulogy, praised Marius and Cinna, which greatly pleased the people.
Caesar was also probably one of the greatest prose writers of his time. His major works, De Bello Gallico and De Bello Civilis, were very straightforward and unadorned accounts of the facts, without the somewhat tedious moralising of Titus Livius, or the exciting invention of Sallust; and grammatically, he does without some of the more esoteric constructions that Livy was so fond of. De Bello Gallico is written mainly in the third person, and was based on the reports Caesar would periodically send back to the Senate. De Bello Civili was slightly more self-serving, however; with no-one to answer to now, Caesar could write what he wanted to; but as a piece of propaganda, it is still a valuable historical document.
References and Further Reading:
Julius Caesar: The Last Dictator - A biography.
A translation of Plutarch's The Life Of Caesar.
Another biography of Caesar.
A nice site about the Roman Civil War.
- Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars.
- The Sunday Times magazine of the 9th March, 2003.
Thanks to The Debutante
for proofreading, typo-spotting, correcting inaccuracies and reparenting. Cheers.
Just a few comments for Big Alba:
- Caesar didn't "banish" Bibulus in 59 B.C. - Bibulus attempted to stop Caesar passing any legislation by sulking at home, but Caesar had his laws ratified by the Popular Assembly; an unorthodox move, but not strictly speaking illegal.
- As the Rubicon crosses Italy about three-quarters of the way up the peninsula, it would be physically impossible to cross it to get to Spain. Especially from the north. As I mentioned above, Caesar crossed the Rubicon to enter northern Italy, took most of the countryside peacefully, and then marched on Rome; when Pompey and the Senate fled east, Caesar then went west, to crush Pompey's supporters in France and Spain.
- The last dictator before Sulla was Q. Fabius Maximus "Cunctator", during the second punic war in 217 B.C. OK, that was just before the Hellenic conquest. But Marius held comparable power when he was consul seven times between 107 - 86 B.C., and he was a de facto dictator when he died of old age. There is also nothing to suggest that Sulla would not have held on to the dictatorship for longer if he had not also died - he had already been dictator for two years, whereas by law, the term of a dictatorship was six months.
- The reason Caesar didn't accept the title of King was because of the ancient Roman phobia for kings - see The Death Of Julius Caesar for details. And Imperator was a commonly used Latin equivalent of "general" or field marshal (as suggested by Byzantine), although in the days of the empire it became more synonymous with "emperor".
- Since Mark Anthony's fall from grace during the civil war, and since Caesar started bringing his grand-nephew around with him during the period of reorganisation in Spain, it should have been pretty obvious to anyone paying attention that he was going to be name Octavian as his heir.
- "Octavian was his way of insuring that autocracy would carry on without him" - An autocracy where a ruler decides his own successor? That sure smells like monarchy to me...! Caesar knew that some form of one man rule was inevitable now that the Senate's powers had been weakened, and that the legions preffered to follow personality rather than senatorial authority; Octavian was to be the next ruler of Rome, as Caesar's heir, and that's monarchy in all but name, as far as I'm concerned.