Julius Caesar – Political Leader
Julius Caesar (100 – 44 BC)
Gaius Julius Caesar was a politician and general of the late Roman republic, who greatly extended the Roman empire before seizing power and making himself dictator at Rome. He is the arguably the best known of the Roman rulers. His actions undermined the republic and paved the way for a system of monarchy headed by emperors (he was not himself a Roman emperor). To illustrate his historical legacy,after his death, his name was adopted as a title by all the Roman emperors, as well as by later monarchs (including the Russian ‘Tsars’ and German ‘Kaisers’). His own accounts of his military campaigns, the Gallic War in seven books and the Civil War in three, survive.
Julius Caesar’s family was socially distinguished: its members were patrician, and claimed descent from Venus and Aeneas. Although not prominent in politics, they were closely connected with the Marian faction in Roman politics – Caesar’s aunt was married to the popular leader Marius, and he himself married Cornelia, the daughter of Cinna (a follower of Marius). Cornelia died in 69 BC, after which Caesar married Sulla’s granddaughter Pompeia, in 67 BC.
Massive bribery with money borrowed from the rich and influential ex-consul Crassus obtained for him the politically important office of Pontifex Maximus in 63. In 62 he divorced Pompeia, in the wake of a scandal that took place at a religious festival at his house. Then in 61-60 he served as governor of the Roman province of Further Spain.
Back in Rome in 60, Caesar made a pact with Pompey and Crassus, who had grievances against the senate and needed a co-operative consul. They used bribery to get him elected consul for 59.
As consul, he used violence to force through legislation favouring Pompey and Crassus and giving himself the governorship of Gaul. He married Calpurnia, whose father Piso was made consul for 58, and Pompey married Julia, daughter of Caesar and Cornelia.
In 58 Caesar went to Gaul, where he was to stay for eight years, adding the whole of modern France and Belgium to the Roman empire, and making Rome safe from the possibility of Gallic invasions (he even made two expeditions to Britain, in 55 and 54).
But the territory he won was also systematically destroyed – in order to increase his personal wealth and glory. Reportedly one million Gauls were killed and another million enslaved in pursuit of this aim.
Caesar was finally able to pay off his debts, although no profits were passed to the Roman treasury. Meanwhile, the ‘triumvirate’ broke up. Julia died in 54, Crassus was killed in Parthia in 53, and Pompey began to side more closely with the senate.
In 50 Caesar’s command expired but, fearing prosecution for his actions in 59, he refused to disarm. Then in 49, considering his dignity violated, he crossed the Rubicon (the stream marking the southern boundary of his province) and invaded Italy.
In the civil war that ensued, he defeated the republican forces in Greece (Pharsalus, 48), north Africa (Thapsus, 46) and Spain (Munda, 45). Pompey, the leader of the republicans, fled to Egypt after the battle of Pharsalus and was murdered on his arrival at Alexandria. Caesar, following him, became involved with Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, and thus found himself embroiled in the internal politics of the Egyptian court.
Left undisputed master of Rome, Caesar made himself consul and dictator. The dictatorship had always been a strictly temporary position, but in 44 Caesar took it for life. He used his power to carry out much-needed reform, relieving debt, enlarging the senate, building the Forum Iulium and revising the calendar.
But his enemies, many of them republicans whom he had spared, objected to his autocracy, and to his suspected aspirations towards kingship and divinity. A diverse group of conspirators – some of them idealistic ‘liberators’, others men with petty grievances – was formed against him, led by Brutus and Cassius. And on 15 (‘the Ides’) March 44, the conspirators stabbed him to death in the senate, shortly before he was due to depart for an unnecessary war against Parthia.
The assassination of Caesar sparked off another 14 years of civil war before his great-nephew and heir, Octavian (the first emperor Augustus), could establish permanent monarchy in a more acceptable form, and resume the work of reform and reconstruction
He was a brilliant military leader and lead many campaigns:
- 58 BC -The Helvetic Campaign
- 57 BC -The Belgic Campaign
- 56 BC -The Venetic Campaign
- 55 BC -The German Campaign
- 54 BC -The British Campaign
Historians place the generalship of Caesar on the level of such geniuses as Alexander the Great, Hannibal, genghis Khan and Napoleon. Although he suffered occasional tactical defeats such as Battle of Gergovia during the Gallic War and The Battle of Dyrrhachium during the Civil War, Caesar’s tactical brilliance was highlighted by such feats as his circumvallation of Alesia during the Gallic War, the rout of Pompey’s numerically superior forces at Pharsalus during the Civil War, and the complete destruction of Pharnaces’ army at Battle of Zela.
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