Monday, June 13, 2005

Julius Caesar

He is an enigmatic historical force. Caesar was the first and last dictator to rule Rome. His military genius, as displayed in the Gallic Wars (58–50 BC), enabled Rome to extend her empire permanently to the Atlantic seaboard, but his ruthless ambition led to the breakdown of the Republican system of government at home. Never one to allow himself to be blocked by constitutional niceties, in 60 BC he joined with Pompey and Crassus (the so-called First Triumvirate) to protect his interests in the state, and in 49 BC, to avoid being humbled by his enemies at Rome, he led his army across the R Rubicon into Italy and plunged the state into civil war. Victory over the Pompeian forces at Pharsalus (48 BC), Zela (47 BC), Thapsus (46 BC), and Munda (45 BC) left him in sole control at Rome. He did not disguise his absolute power, taking the title ‘Dictator for Life’ in 44 BC, and allowing himself to be paid extravagant honours which suggested he was aiming at regal and even divine status. This was too much for many Republican-minded Romans, and under the leadership of Brutus and Cassius they conspired to murder him. His brief period of power left him with little time to carry through the many reforms, social, economic, and administrative, that he had intended. It was left to his great-nephew and heir, Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus) to reap where he had sown, and also to learn from his mistakes.

I try to deconstruct the myth and the legend...that Julius Caesar was!

Julius Caesar, one of Ancient Rome's most famous individuals, was born into a wealthy family 100 BC - or near to that year. Julius Caesar joined the Roman Army in 81 BC and was the first Roman army commander to invade England which he did in 55 BC and again in 54 BC.

After serving in the Roman Army, Caesar developed an interest in politics. He became a driven man who wanted to get to the highest positions in Roman politics. In 65 BC, Caesar was appointed an 'adele' and put in charge of public entertainment in Rome. This was a very important position as the citizens of Rome expected quality entertainment. It was believed by those who ran Rome that the people could be kept happy and content if they had access to varied and enjoyable entertainment. Caesar took to the post with zeal. He put on games and festivals for the people. As a result, he became very popular with the poor of Rome - a considerable part of the city's population. He also courted the friendship of Rome's richest man, Crassus.

On the way to Rhodes in 75, Caesar was captured by pirates. This famous story reveals, in miniature, the man he was becoming. At the time, the eastern end of the Mediterranean was swarming with pirates; Roman citizens (the higher rank, the better) were tempting prey for ransom. Caesar's ship was captured near Rhodes; he was held captive for 40 days. Sending away his staff to borrow his ransom (50 talents or 12,000 gold pieces which he had insisted his merits warranted), Caesar joked easily with his captors, ordering them about with amused disdain. He "had often smilingly sworn, while still in their power, that he would soon capture and crucify them; and this is exactly what he did." [Suetonius]. As soon as he was released, Caesar begged forces from local officials and, returning, neatly captured all the pirates and arranged for their prompt crucifixion.

In 59 BC, Caesar was appointed a consul and in 58 BC he went to Gaul (France) where he served as governor. He was successful in this position and conquered even more land for the Roman Empire. Caesar was a brilliant general and commanded an army of over 50,000 loyal men. His success at a military level all but guaranteed the loyalty of his soldiers. But he was seen by some as a cruel man solely driven by expanding his own personal power. As a result, he made enemies of important politicians in Rome itself. Some senior army generals, such as Pompey, were also very concerned about Caesar's intentions.

In 49 BC the Senate ordered Caesar to hand over his army to their control. He refused. Instead Caesar advanced on Italy but paused at the line that divided France (Gaul) and Italy - the River Rubicon. Roman law said that a governor was not allowed to leave his province. Caesar ignored this law, crossed the Rubicon and advanced to confront his enemies in Rome. The Senate considered this to be a treasonable offence but there was little they could do. Caesar had a very powerful and experienced army and his opponents were fragmented. Pompey was killed in Egypt in 48 BC. For the next three years he picked off his enemies one by one whether they were in North Africa, the Middle East or Europe.

He served his first campaign in Asia on the personal staff of Marcus Thermus, governor of the province. On being sent by Thermus to Bithynia, to fetch a fleet, he dawdled so long at the court of Nicomedes that he was suspected of improper relations with the king. Caesar's physical vitality perhaps partly accounts for his sexual promiscuity, which was out of the ordinary, even by contemporary Greek and Roman standards. It was rumored that during his first visit to the East he had had homosexual relations with King Nicomedes of Bithynia.

There is no doubt of Caesar's heterosexual affairs, many of them with married women. Probably Caesar looked upon these as trivial recreations. Yet he involved himself at least twice in escapades that might have wrecked his career.

If he did in fact have an affair with Pompey's wife, Mucia, he was risking his entente with Pompey. A more notorious, though not quite so hazardous, affair was his liaison with Cleopatra. By dallying with her at Alexandria, he risked losing what he had just won at Pharsalus. By allowing her to visit him in Rome in 46, he flouted public feeling and added to the list of tactless acts that, cumulatively, goaded old comrades and amnestied enemies into assassinating him.

Caesar served with the Governor of Asia before transferring in 78 to military service with P. Servilius Isauricus in Cilicia. After Sulla's death, he returned to Rome. Thus, in his early 20's, Caesar had won the highest military decoration for personal courage the Roman state could bestow upon a soldier and gained valuable experience in provincial warfare and administration. Politically, he had a leg up on the ladder of Roman success, just now beginning.

Caesar returned to Rome in 45 BC as a dictator. However, he allowed the Senate to continue working - except that he replaced disloyal senators with his own appointments of loyal men. Caesar should have used his position to make powerless those he had removed from the Senate - but he did not. Caesar did not take away their wealth and these men plotted against him.

On MARCH 15, 44 BC, Caesar was murdered by those politicians who feared that he was too obsessed with his own importance. His murder took place at the Senate House in Rome. After his murder, Rome was divided as to whether it was a good thing or not.

Plutarch gives the responsibility for persuading Brutus to turn against Caesar to Cassius, who had a personal animosity against the Dictator and a "peculiar bitterness" against anyone more powerful than he. In addition, Brutus allegedly was pestered, in the last months of Caesar's life, by anonymous appeals calling upon him to rid the state of the tyrant, as his ancestor had done. Cassius had gathered a conglomerate of senators willing to assassinate Caesar but all agreed that the conspiracy could not succeed without the idealistic glamour that Brutus' participation would bring to it; he was the essential man to give the enterprise political legitimacy.

44 On February 15, Caesar appears at the Lupercalia as dictator perpetuus (for life), in the dress of the ancient kings of Rome; refuses the diadem of kingship offered by co-consul Mark Antony, along with the title of king. Announces he will leave Rome for Parthia on March 18. 60 Republicans, led by Brutus and Cassius, join in conspiracy to murder him. On the Ides of March (March 15), attending the Senate for the last time, Caesar is stabbed to death. His last words, to Brutus, in Greek, were "and you too, child?"

Thus curtains came down on the life of one of histroy's most powerful kings!


The Roman Empire included most of what would now be considered Western Europe. The empire was conquered by the Roman Army and a Roman way of life was established in these conquered countries. The main countries conquered were England/Wales (then known as Britannia), Spain (Hispania), France (Gaul or Gallia), Greece (Achaea), the Middle East (Judea) and the North African coastal region.

In Rome’s early years, the state lived in fear of its more powerful neighbour, Carthage. The Carthaginians were great traders in the Mediterranean Sea and as the Romans wanted to expand into this trading zone, a clash was inevitable. In 264 BC, the Romans and the Carthaginians had their first war. In a series of three wars, known as the Punic Wars, the Romans eventually defeated the Carthaginians. However, this took over 100 years to accomplish and the wars eventually ended in 146 BC. In the second Punic War, the Romans lost several important battles – the most famous being against the Carthaginian general Hannibal. However, by 146 BC, the Romans were strong enough to capture the city of Carthage in Northern Africa. Carthage was burned to the ground and all signs of the city were destroyed by the Romans as a sign that the power of the Carthaginians had disappeared forever.

With Carthage defeated, the Romans became the most powerful Mediterranean state. The victory over the Carthaginians gave the Romans all the opportunity they needed to expand their power in the Mediterranean. The more wealthy and powerful the Romans became, the more able they were to further expand their empire.

The Romans were not content with conquering land near to them. They realised that land further away might also have riches in them that would make Rome even more wealthy. Hence their drive to conquer Western Europe. At the height of its power, around AD 150, Rome controlled the greatest empire ever seen in Europe at that time. Many of the conquered nations benefited from Roman rule as the Roman way of life was imposed on those conquered societies. Roman public baths, roads, water supplies, housing etc. all appeared in Western Europe – though many fell into disuse after the Romans retreated back to Rome.

Ironically, the sheer size of the empire, which many marvelled at, was also a major reason for the collapse in the power of the Romans. The Romans had great difficulty in maintaining power in all of their empire and supplying their army was a major problem as their lines of communications were stretched to the limit. The power of the empire rested with the success of the Roman Army. When this success started to weaken, the empire could only start to collapse.

Sameer Bhat