A Painfully Brief Life Of Caesar
By far one of the most outstanding politicians and generals of the Roman age, Julius Caesar brought about the shift from Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. As an orator, he was recognized by Cicero himself. As a general he brought Roman control to Gaul, he subdued the German tribes for a generation, he marched on and into Rome with a single legion, and marched in triumphant. Through his own civil war, driven by his narcissism, Julius Caesar created an Empire.
Like all men, great and small, Gaius Julius Caesar was born and raised in the fashion of his own culture. Born on the 13th of July, 100 B.C.E., to a moderately successful patrician aristocrat and a plebian mother, his father did hold the praetorship he never attained the highest seat of consulship. This alone was not particularly impressive compared to the lineage of many other leading Romans of this period. Both arrogant of his intellect and vain about his appearance to the extreme, the young Caesar always strived to outdo the accomplishments of his father. (Encyclopedia of World Biography)
The political climate of Caesar’s youth was tremulous, a civil war brewing between one aristocratic party favoring, of course, aristocratic rule, and another calling for more power being shared with the larger plebian base. Marius, leading this popular party, was a relative of Caesar’s through marriage, and then Caesar himself cemented his alliance through marriage to the daughter of Marius’ ally Cinna, Cornelia. When Sulla marched his armies in to Rome in 88 B.C.E., he ordered the divorce of Caesar and his wife. Refusing, and thereby endangering his life and yet unrealized career, Caesar entered the Roman Army and as he did he entered into a period of hiding. As a young officer, he served and was decorated with high military honors for his bravery in Asia Minor. (Plutarch, EoWB)
Upon Sulla’s death in 77 (78) B.C.E., Caesar finally deemed it safe to return to Rome. Then to perfect his study of rhetoric, he traveled to Rhodes to enter under the tutelage of Apollonius Molon, Cicero’s own instructor. On the way across the Aegean Sea, the ship he was traveling on was attacked and he as a member of an aristocratic family was taken for a ransom of 50 golden talents. Upon his release, the young Roman officer was granted his first chance to sate his overwhelming ego. (Science and Its Times) He immediately raised a fleet, then pursued and captured the pirates that had held him hostage. His period of study on Rhodes was short, as he was soon recalled to military duty in Asia.
From this point his career, shifted his focus from serving Rome to ruling it. Caesar was elected as tribune in both 73 and 71 B.C.E., later serving as elected quaestor (financial officer) in Farther Spain (Hispania) in 69. After being granted his request for an early discharge from his duties in the Roman army, he entered politics in the capital. As an aedile, he was an official in charge of maintaining both the public order and public buildings within the city. In 59, he was elected co-consul with Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus. He courted the rivals Crassus and Pompey, careful to closely ally himself with neither for fear of losing the other, he convinced both to ally with him to form what became the First Triumvirate. Already friends with Crassus himself, Caesar married his daughter Julia off to Pompey to solidify their alliance. (Plutarch)
As the Roman territories were split into three regions, one for each member of the Triumvirate, Caesar took two provinces in Gaul. With only four legions under his command, Caesar began to expand his borders into the unconquered territories. In 55, he repelled a German incursion of Gaul, and later he led the first invasions of Britain to deter the raiding of Celts in northern Gaul by their cousins on the island.
While the death of his daughter Julia in 54 B.C.E. due to complications in childbirth caused the Triumvirate to falter, it entered its death throws with the death of Crassus in 53 in a failed invasion of Parthia. As sole consul of Rome as an emergency measure, Pompey decided to break completely with Caesar by promising co-consulship and marrying daughter of the latter’s rival. Continuing his conquests to the north, in September of 52 Caesar finally conquered the united tribes of Gaul.
In 50 B.C.E., jealous and afraid of Caesar’s military successes in the north, Pompey had the Senate order the general’s return to Rome without his armies as a private citizen so that he could be prosecuted for insubordination and treason for his actions in the conquest of Gaul. He obliged them—in a way—by leading only one of his legions across the Rubicon River. Not knowing that he was bringing just the one legion, Pompey declared that “Rome cannot be defended” and fled the city with the consuls. (Caesar, 7-12)
Upon crossing the Rubicon, Caesar declared a civil war based on opposing egos, and although he offered to lay down arms if Pompey would does the same. Caesar claimed his equality to Pompey, while Pompey saw himself as having no equal. When Pompey fled to Greece with his fleet after avoiding Caesar’s armies at Brundisium, Caesar made an astonishing 27 day conquest of Hispania, defeating Pompey’s armies there. (Caesar, 30-36) Returning to Rome, he declared himself dictator but held the position only the eleven days it took him to be elected consul. Within days of his election, he set out with a fleet of his own to end the threat that Pompey posed. (Plutarch)
Facing either an invasion of Rome with his overwhelming naval power or facing Caesar in a single decisive land battle, Pompey opted for the latter, and although he forced Caesar’s retreat, thinking it a trap, Pompey lost his nerve and as a result his army was routed at Pharsalus. Fleeing from Caesar’s forces to Egypt, he was finally murdered by a servant on the order of King Ptolemy XIII. Pursuing the Pompeian armies to Alexandria, Caesar then entered into the conflict between King Ptolemy and his queen, co-regent, and sister Cleopatra. Siding with Cleopatra because of the murder of Pompey, he defeated Ptolemy’s forces and installed the queen as ruler in 48 B.C.E. (Plutarch)
Marching then to and through Syria, Caesar made short work of Pharnaces II a former proxy-king of Pompey’s in 47. After this victory, which secured his hold on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Caesar coined the phrase “Veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered”) in a letter after the battle. Moving quickly, in the early months of 46, he eliminated the remnants of Pompey’s forces in Africa that had rallied under the general Cato. Finally he led a second assault on Hispania, having been betrayed by his former second in command from the Gallic Wars, Titus Labienus, who chose to assist Pompey’s sons in their bid to overthrow Caesar. (Plutarch, Caesar, EoWB)
In the aftermath of Caesar’s Civil War, was elected consul twice more in 46 and 45 B.C.E. while still holding the one-year term of dictator for the consecutive ninth time. After this, he had the Senate declare him “dictator for life”, although he only held the position until his assassination. As dictator, while Caesar never formally declared himself a king or a god. His ego though, did not stop him from having his face stamped on the denarius, the standard Roman coinage, a place reserved for images of Rome’s pantheon. (Plutarch, EoWB)
On 15 March 44 B.C.E., a plot formed by 60 Senators and other influential Roman citizens to assassinate Caesar. Led by his former friend Marcus Junius Brutus, Julius Caesar was asked listen to a petition that would return power to the Senate. The trap was sprung when upon being handed the petition, he was attacked. Stabbed 23 times, he died on the steps of a portico adjacent to the Senate Chambers. “Sic semper tyrannis!” is attributed to Brutus at the assassination, “Thus always to tyrants”. It was only after five more civil wars than order was restored to Rome. (Plutarch)
With the life of the Caesar, the Republic was over, and with his death was born the Empire. At 55 years old, Julius Gaius Caesar had changed the world forever. His was the empire most powerful Empire in the West for another four centuries, and after that it was the most emulated, its name or image evoked by the Franks, British, Germans, and the United States. In about 2050 years, there hasn’t been another quite like Julius Caesar, and I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing.
“Gaius Julius Caesar” Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2ed. 17 vols. Gale Research, 1998.
Reproduced: Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Michigan: ThomsonGale, 2008.
“Gaius Julius Caesar.” Science and Its Times Vol. 1 2000 B.C.-700 A.D. Gale, Group 2001.
The Civil War, Julius Caesar. Ney York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Parallel Lives: Caesar, Plutarch.