Who was Julius Caesar? Information on Julius Caesar biography, life story, military and political career.
Julius Caesar; (100-44 b. c.), one of the most famous men of antiquity, who was dictator of Rome, a renowned general, and man of letters. Gaius Julius Caesar was born on July 12, 100 b. c. His family, the gens Julia, was ancient and patrician, but at the time of his birth it was only beginning to reemerge as an influential family in Roman politics. Caesar’s aunt Julia married Marius, the successful general and leader of the Popularis party. Caesar’s anti-Senatorial attitude was at least partially the result of his relationship to Marius.
In 84 b. c. the Marian faction appointed the young Caesar as Flamen Dialis, a priest of Jupiter. Somewhat later Caesar strengthened his attachment to the Marians by marrying Cornelia, the daughter of Cinna (the leader of the popular party after Marius’ death in 86). When the Roman general Sulla returned from the east and defeated the Marians, he ordered Caesar to divorce his wife. But Caesar refused, and Sulla confiscated his property and deprived him of his priesthood. Caesar’s life was spared only when his friends interceded with Sulla on his behalf. But Sulla was still skeptical and is reported to have said, “In this Caesar there is more than one Marius.”
Because Caesar could not feel safe in Rome while Sulla was alive, he went in 81 to the province of Asia. Later he served under the proconsul of Cilicia, but in 78, after he heard of Sulla’s death, he returned to Rome. In Rome he sought popularity through his oratory in the law courts; and finally, to improve his oratory, he left Rome again in 75 and went to Rhodes to study under the famous rhetorician Apollonius Molon.
Nothing of great historical significance happened to him after that until his election to the quaestorship in 69 (for the year 68). He served in Farther Spain. In 66, Caesar ran for the aedileship, and his campaign was financed by one of the richest and most powerful men in Rome, Crassus. As aedile, Caesar was responsible for supervising the public gaınes, and with Crassus’ money he sponsored spectacular contests to gain the favor of the populace. In 63 he was elected pontifex maximus. Then, in 62, he became praetor. In 61, Caesar became propraetor of Farther Spain, and after some military expeditions he returned to Rome to celebrate a triumph and run for the consulship.
The First Triumvirate.
This was the great turning point in his career. According to Roman law a general had to stay outside the city until the day of his triumph, but a candidate for the consulship had to present himself before the magistrates in the city. Caesar asked permission to stand for the consulship while remaining outside Rome so that he could celebrate his triumph. The Senate refused. Caesar then gave up his triumph to seek the consulship, but he was now alienated from the Senate. He began to negotiate with Pompey the Great, who was seeking land for his veterans and ratification of the arrangements he had made in the east after his successful campaign against Mithridates. The Senate had also alienated Pompey by refusing his requests. Crassus, who had recently been rebuffed by the Senate, joined Caesar and Pompey. The three formed an unofRcial political coalition, called the First Triumvirate, and decided to control Roman politics. Pompey could provide the soldiers and Crassus the money, and Caesar had popularity.
In 59, Caesar became consul with Bibulus, an ineffective colleague. He proposed a land bill for Pompey’s veterans, and when the Senate refused to act on it, he took it directly to the people in the Tribal Assembly. Three tribunes vetoed it, and Bibulus declared the omens unfavorable, but with the support of Pompey and Crassus, Caesar called in some troops and the bill was passed. In addition, Caesar secured the ratification of Pompey’s arrangements in the east. Then he rewarded Crassus by supporting a bill that Crassus desired. To cement the triumvirate, Pompey married Caesar’s daughter, Julia.
Caesar was determined to do something for himself. By the terms of the Lex Vatinia de Caesaris provincia he secured as his proconsular provinces Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum; his proconsulship was to last for five years. After this law was passed, the governor of Transalpine Gaul died, and that province was added to Caesar’s other two. The acquisition of these provinces was of great advantage to Caesar. It gave him an opportunity to recruit and train an army, and he would be in an ideal location to march on Rome whenever he wished. Until this time he had had only popularity; henceforth he had popularity and armed might.
The Gallic Wars.
For the next eight years (58-51) Caesar was occupied by the Gallic Wars, although he was always in close contact with developments in Rome. When Caesar became proconsul of Transalpine Gaul, the province included only southern Gaul. But Gallic tribes soon asked him to intervene to protect them against other tribes, and at the end of 58 he set up winter quarters in northeastern Gaul. In 57 what are now northern France and Belgium fell to the Roman troops. The tribes along the Atlantic coast were conquered in 56, and in 55 and 54 Caesar campaigned in Germany and Britain. Gaul had not been completely pacified, but Caesar’s army seemed everywhere victorious.
However, in 52 the tribes of central Gaul rose in revolt under Vercingetorix. This was the most serious challenge Caesar ever faced in Gaul. Finally he cornered Vercingetorix in Alesia, where the Gallic chieftain ultimately surrendered. By 51, except for occasional local rebellions, the conquest of Gaul was complete. Caesar’s army was highly trained and well disciplined and fanatically loyal to him. His military exploits, particularly the invasion of Britain, made him even more popular with the people.
The Dissolution of the Triumvirate.
Meanwhile İn Rome political events of great magnitude were taking place. The First Triumvirate was falling apart because of the quarrels of Pompey and Crassus. There was rioting in the city, and members of the Senate were beginning to attack Caesar. Therefore, in 56 he called a meeting of the First Triumvirate in the city of Luca (now Lucca) in his own province of Cisalpine Gaul. The triumvirs met secretly, patched up the Triumvirate, and made certain decisions that were to determine the fate of the Roman republic.
It was agreed that Pompey and Crassus should be consuls in 55, and afterward Pompey was to receive the two Spains as his provinces, while Crassus would get Syria. Each of them received his provincial commands for a five-year period. Caesar’s own commands were extended for five years (until March 1, 50). Pompey was given the privilege of remaining in Italy and governing his Spanish provinces through legates.
At this point the First Triumvirate seemed to be strong again. But the appearance was deceptive. In 54, Julia, Pompey’s wife and Caesar’s daughter, died, and one real bond between the two men was lost. In the following year Crassus was killed at the Battle of Carrhae, djıring his attempted invasion of the Parthian Enıpire. Only Caesar and Pompey remained, and the senators at Rome immediately began to drive a wedge between them.
Because of rioting in the city it was impossible to hold the consular elections for the year 52. The Senate, which preferred Pompey to Caesar, secured a sole consulship for Pompey and gave him extraordinary powers to protect the city. At this time Julius Caesar was concerned about a eonstitutional matter: his command in Gaul was coming to an end, and he did not want to lay it down to become a private citizen. If he did so, he would be liable to prosecution in the eourts for any illegal acts he had eommitted as a magistrate, but as long as he held public office he could not be sued. He wanted to be elected to a second consulship while he was stili proconsul of Gaul. However the holding of both offices was illegal.
Although Pompey was moving more and more into an alliance with the senatorial faction, he was not prepared to break with Caesar. Thus, in 52 he sponsored a bill that permitted Caesar to run for the consulship in absentia. This did not, however, give Caesar the right to retain his proconsular command until he became consul, so the senators sought to force him out of Gaul before his second consulship. At the same time Caesar tried to prolong his command until after the elections of 49, and Pompey neither gave his support to this scheme nor denied it.
The consuls of the year 51 opposed Caesar’s request for an extension, and two anti-Caesarean consuls were elected for 50. Caesar’s opponents insisted that he lay down his command, and his partisans replied that he would be willing to do so if Pompey did the same. Pompey refused, and the Romans began to prepare for civil war. In December 50, Caesar was bitterly attacked in the Senate, and he moved with some of his legions close to the border of Italy. To avoid war, Caesar made one last offer to lay down his command if Pompey would also. This was again refused, and on January 10, Caesar crossed the Rubicon, the river that separated his province from Italy, and the Civil War began. Caesar is reputed to have said, “The die is cast.”
Caesar moved with lightning rapidity down the east coast of Italy. He took Picenum and Corfinium while Pompey withdrew with his entire force to Brundisium and sailed to Greece. Almost overnight, Caesar became the master of Italy. But he was by no means in an enviable position. Pompey controlled Spain on one side of Italy and secured a stable base in Greece on the other side. In addition he had control of the sea. Caesar was virtually surrounded.
He decided to strike first at Pompeian forces in Spain. After a short but difRcult campaign he was successful and finally could begin plans to defeat Pompey in Greece. Early in 48 he sailed across the Adriatic and faced Pompey at Dyrrhachium. But Pompey cut off his supplies, and after several difficult weeks Caesar was forced to break away and head east toward Thessaly, where he could feed his army.
Pompey followed and camped opposite Caesar at Pharsalus. In the battle that followed, Caesar was victorious, and Pompey fled to Egypt, where he was murdered by the Egyptians. Caesar arrived three days later to find Egypt in political chaos. The young Ptolemy XIII and his advisers were quarreling with his sister Cleopatra. Ptolemy’s advisers tumed against Caesar and besieged him in the palace quarters of Alexandria during the winter of 48-47. Caesar championed Cleopatra’s cause, and when his reinforcements arrived, he defeated Ptolemy. Cleopatra became the real raler of Egypt. Caesar lingered with her for a while, obviously enchanted by her charms, but eventually he had to leave for Asia Minor where Pharnaces, the son of Mithridates, was in revolt. Caesar defeated him within fîve days; this victory was the occasion for his famous “Veni, vidi, vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”).
The Consolidation of Victory.
In the sununer of 47, Caesar was able to return to Italy. By that time the remnants of the Pompeian forces were gathering in North Africa, and Caesar decided to put them down. He sent his own men over during the winter of 47-46, and defeated the Pompeians at the Battle of Thapsus. It was after this battle that Cato the Younger, the spokesman of senatorial conservatives, committed suicide. But Caesar’s task was not yet over. Some of the Pompeians escaped to Spain, and Caesar, after returning to Italy, set out in pursuit. In 45, at the Battle of Munda, he eliminated them. He had now become the sole ruler of Rome.
Throughout this period and in the few months remaining to him after his final vietory over the Pompeian forces, despite his preoccupation with warfare he effected numerous reforms in Rome and Italy. In 46 he reformed the Roman calendar; the Julian calendar is still the basis of our calendar today. To ease economic burdens, he remitted approximately one quarter of the principal of debts, and later all of the interest that had accrued since the beginning of the Civil War. He cut the number of citizens eligible for the gram dole from 320,000 to 150,000. He inaugurated a building program and passed laws to regulate traffic and open spaces and to provide for the upkeep of roads. The system of taxation in some of the provinces was reformed, and Roman citizenship was generously bestowed on many provinces. Colonies were founded for his veterans and the surplus population of the city.
Actually, at this time, Caesar was planning another major military campaign. The Roman defeat at the Battle of Carrhae had never been avenged, and Caesar hoped to conquer the Parthian Empire. In 44 he planned to march east, and he began recruiting an army for that purpose, but on the Ides of March (March 15), he was assassinated in the Senate.
It is impossible to understand why Caesar was assassinated without first reviewing his position in govemment. When he erossed the Rubicon he had been merely the outlawed governor of several provinces. After his initial victories he was appointed dictator in 49. He held the office for only 11 days, long enough to supervise the consular elections for 48, in which he was elected himself. Then he was named dictator again for one year beginning in October 48. When his term expired, he was elected to his third consulship (for the year 46). In the spring of 46, after the Battle of Thapsus, he was praefectus morum, which gave him censorial powers for three years, and dictator again for 10 years. He was also elected consul for 45.
After the Battle of Munda (45) many further honors were voted to him. He was given the title Liberator and elected to his fifth consulship (for 44). Early in 44 he received the dictatorship for life. His name was given to a month of the year (our July), and he was called Parens Patriae. His statue appeared in various places in the city, and a temple was erected to his clemEney. Some people tried to hail him as king, and this trend toward monarchical power led to his assassination. The senators could not tolerate any man who made such a show of his power.
Historians are divided on the question of whether Caesar intended to be king, but it is irrelevant. He definitely intended to act like a king, and that was unacceptable to the aristocratic senators. The members of the conspiracy, led by Brutus and Cassius, stabbed him to death at a meeting of the Senate on the Ides (15) of March, 44 b. c.