Julius Caesar was a Roman general who conquered vast areas of land in the region of Gaul. This significantly expanded the Roman Empire and accelerated the diffusion of Roman culture, into western Europe. Caesar also launched a coup against the failing Senate, and after a civil war set himself up as sole ruler and dictator. Caesar’s dictatorship and cult of personality moved Rome from a republic to an autocratic state. He was murdered by senators on the Edes of March. He was succeeded by his adopted son Augustus Caesar who consolidated the gains of his father.
“Veni, Vidi, Vici.”
“I came, I saw, I conquered.”
– Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was born into a noble family with a long pedigree of serving the Roman Republic. He gained a good education, but when he was 16 his father died, and it left Caesar in a difficult position due to an ongoing civil war which made his family a target. His inheritance was stripped from Caesar, leaving him with little money. He worked as an advocate and became known for his powerful oratory.
In 59 BC, Caesar was elected Consul to the Roman Senate, where he proposed a law to redistribute lands to the poor. However, this was opposed by many other senators. Instead, he was given command over Roman armies in northern Italy, southern France and southeastern Europe. Over the next seven years, Caesar led his armies to conquer large areas of Europe. It included modern-day France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and as far north as Britain. Despite, facing forces with greater numbers of men, the superior military capabilities and tactics of the Romans enabled Caesar to make a dramatic expansion of the Roman Empire. The historian Plutarch claimed that Caesar’s army fought over 3 million men, of which 1 million were killed, and approximately 800 cities were destroyed in the campaign. He is widely regarded as a pre-eminent military genius.
Caesar’s exploits made him popular with his soldiers and ordinary people back in Rome. However, his popularity only made his political enemies more nervous about Caesar and in 50 BC the Senate, led by Pompey, ordered Caesar to disband his army and return to Rome. Caesar had good reason to fear he would be tried and executed, but with the support of his soldiers and public opinion, he ignored the summons and returned to Rome with his army in tow. On 10 January 49 BC, he crossed the Rubicon river with one legion. As he crossed the river, he is said to have remarked. “The die is cast.”
Caesar then pursued and defeated armies loyal to Pompey. This allowed him to return in triumph to Rome, where he was re-elected to a second consulship.
Caesar pursued Pompey to Egypt, where Pompey was killed and Caesar formed an alliance with Cleopatra in an Egyptian civil war. With Caesar’s help, Cleopatra emerged victorious and she was installed as ruler of Egypt. Caesar and Cleopatra had an affair and produced a son Caesarian out of wedlock. Cleopatra visited Caesar in Rome.
Caesar gradually increased his power until he was proclaimed dictator for life. At the time, the Roman Empire was beset with corruption, fratricidal conflict and gross inequality. Caesar saw that Republican government was not working and he felt the only way to restore strong, stable government was through centralisation of power and authority in a strong leader. Although Caesar defeated supporters of Pompey in conflict, he was not as ruthless with political opponents as he might have done. He created many new loyal senators, but some old aristocratic senators remained.
As leader, Caesar tried to introduce many reforms into the Roman Empire, such as introducing a new calendar based on the Egyptian model of the sun, rather than the old system based on the moon. The Julian calendar began on 1 January 45 BC and is the basis for the modern western calendar. He also passed laws to redistribute power and wealth towards a greater section of society. He also sought to bring the Italian provinces into a more cohesive national unit. Caesar offered Roman citizenship to a greater scope of people. He published coins with his own image on. Despite ambitious plans to create a new constitution, he never enacted it.
Despite Caesar’s power and popularity with the public, Senators were concerned that Caesar was heading towards a totalitarian state where the Senate would be completely abolished and they would lose increasing amounts of wealth and land due to Caesar’s policy of redistribution. Meeting in secret, senators, such as Gaius Cassius Longinus, Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, and Marcus Junius Brutus decided to murder Caesar while he was in the Senate as only senators were allowed there.
In the days leading up to the assassination, Caesar had received warnings his life was in danger, but in keeping with his personal outlook on life, he dismissed threats of his personal safety and ignored any extra measures for safety.
On 15 March 44 BC, the senators hid knives in their cloaks and then attacked Caesar on the steps of the Senate. His final words are disputed, but Caesar is said to have expressed surprise the senators turned on him. In his famous play, Shakespeare offered a fictional account with the famed words “Et Tu Brutus, then fall Caesar” Caesar died from multiple knife wounds.
In the aftermath of Caesar’s death, the Roman republic hastened to its demise – contrary to the aims of the conspirators. There was widespread mourning amongst the poorer sections of society for the loss of Caesar and the conspirators fled. Caesar had named his adoptive son Octavian as his heir. This led to a civil war between Mark Anthony and Octavian for control. Octavian prevailed and took the name, Caesar Augustus. Augustus went on to complete many of his father’s plans.
Julius Caesar became a powerful symbol of earthly power. He was by all accounts a charismatic figure, brilliant orator, powerful writer and someone who connected with ordinary people. He has a supreme self-confidence in his own abilities. His life and attitude is often summed up in his own words:
Veni, Vidi, Vici.
“I came, I saw, I conquered.”
Caesar became a title imbued with almost god-like significance. The German Kaiser and Tzar in Russia are derived from Caesar.
He married three times. Cornelia (84–69 BC; her death) Pompeia (67–61 BC; divorced) Calpurnia (59–44 BC; his death)
He only had one child born in wedlock – Julia with his first wife Cornelia. Julia was renowned for her beauty and virtue.
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Biography of Julius Caesar”, Oxford, UK www.biographyonline.net, Published: 22 June 2019.
Caesar – by Adrian Goldsworthy (Authat Amazon
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