Julius Caesar

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Julius Caesar and the First Triumvirate

Picture of caesarHaving been elected to form part of the first Triumvirate, Caesar, Crassus and Pompey bargained the share of power between themselves. As part of this bargaining Crassus and Pompey were to assist Caesar in being appointed consul from which position Caesar would then put forward laws benefitting Pompey's soldiers with landholdings. Caesar then succedded in being made governor of Gaul for a period of five years. This gave him the military power he had sought. However he didnít leave without first weakening the power of the senate: Through personal supporters he managed to have Cato sent off as governor of Cyprus and Cicero exiled.

Picture of the siege of AlesiaMap of North West GaulIn Gaul, Caesar was greatly successful and also highly ingenious in his use of engineering to assist the advance of his forces to the furthest limits, to siege cities and cross great rivers in amasingly short time scales. The image which reached Rome was of a cool, calm, commander capable of the most surprising feats. In 55BC Caesar visited Britain just before the onset of winter and in 54BC made a number of tribes in the south of the country submit to him. What was of particular note was the fact that once tribes had been subdued they would be treated fairly and kindly, thus easing their integration into the Roman way of life.

Caesar's War Commentaries The full account of these feats and campaigns is included in a book Caesar himself wrote and called his "commentaries" or "De Bello Gallico".

 By this time Pomey and Crassus had also become consuls and so a fresh redistribution of power amongst the three was bargained: Pompey would govern Spain, Crassus would govern Syria and Caesar would remain in Gaul for a further five years.

The change in destinies could be said to have come about when Crassus was killed in Syria. His death left Pompey and Caesar to share power between them and both were exceedingly ambitious men although Pompey tended to be a little more cautious. Both did their utmost to gain favour in Rome by sending back great wealth and treasure from their conquests.

A further turning point came when, as well as his consulship, Pompey managed to achieve an extension of his mandate in Spain for a further five years. Caesar sought the same but was refused by the Senate. He then sought to be elected consul for a second term so that he might be of equal power to Pompey but was again refused and commanded to return and disband his army. The Tribunes who had put forward Caesar's request were thrust out of the senate.

Just at about this time Caesar's daughter Julia - wife of Pompey died and so there was little to hold the two men together any longer. They fell to opposite political poles with Pompey representing the nobles and conservatism and Caesar standing by the plebeians and change.

Caesar used the ill treatment of the Tribunes who had put forward his request as a political excuse to wage war in defence of the people of Rome. He marched his troops back towards Italy and came to the small river Rubicon which separated Gaul from Italy. Crossing it he is said to have exclaimed "Alea iacta est": The die is cast. All vestige of peace and balance of power promised by the pact of the First Triumvirate had obviously come to an end.

News of Caesar's march towards Rome sent the population into disarray and hiding, but soon word reached their ears of Caesar's kindness even towards those who opposed him. City after city yielded to him without any blows being struck and when he reached Rome he did no repeat the violent errors of Marius and Sulla.

Picture of Caesar and Pompey at Brindisi portMeanwhile Pompey had retreated to Greece whilst a significant part of his armies were still employed in Spain. Caesar tried to blockade him at the port of Brindisi but was too late but in any case he took the opportunity to subdue Pompey's military might in Spain and added it to his own before sailing to Greece and face Pompey. The ensuing battle at Picture of Caesars battle against Pompey at DurazzoDurazzo was in Pompey's favour but unfortunately for him he wasn't successful in taking the opportunity to destroy Caesar. They met for a second time in pitched battle and this time Caesar's acumen won the day as he launched his battle hardened Tenth Legion at Pompey's cavalry which was manned with wealthy young men little used to war. He ordered his men to aim directly at their opponents' faces and sure enough Pompey's cavalry was soon routed. It was the beginning of the end for the great Pompey.

Caesar was kind and merciful towards the vanquished. Many of these were men he knew and respected such as his old friend Marcus Brutus and these same people were later to play a part in his murder.

A picture of the city of Alexandria as it was being taken by CaesarPompey fled to Egypt and Caesar chased after him. On hearing of this the Egyptian boy-king Ptolemy, under guidance of his conniving tutors had Pompey treatcherously killed on the beach and the head delivered to Caesar hoping to ensure Caesar's pleasure and avoiding Pompey's eventual vengeance. However Caesar's intentions had been misunderstood and it is said that he cried on receiving the head of his opponent. Caesar ordered full funeral honours for Pompey and then the punished his murderers. A power struggle ensued at Alexandria as Cleopatra drew Caesar into her quest for the Egyptian throne during which Caesar almost lost his life. His hope had been to execute the will of Ptolemy Auletes: that his eldest daughter and son should be placed on the throne to co-rule as per Egyptian tradition. On Ptolemy's death Caesar chose Cleopatra as co-regent and ruler of Egypt.

Shortly after these events the son of Mithridates attempted insurrection in Asia but Caesar was quick to move and easily defeated him. It was at this occasion that Caesar pronounced his famous words "I came, I saw, I conquered" (veni vidi vici).

A map showing the Roman provinces around 44BC and Caesar's major battle locations.Caesar's last opponents amongst whom was Cato made a last stand in Africa but were also beaten. Cato committed suicide rather than submit to a dictator.

Julius Caesar Naumachia for public naval battle gamesCaesar's return to Rome was an even greater triumph than that of Pompey. Money was distributed amongst the poor, gifts were made and gladiatorial combats and even naval battle games were organised. As in previous occasions Caesar pardoned his most ardent opponents and the senate named him dictator for a full ten years and censor for three. Upon his return from subduing a revolt in Spain he was made dictator for life, was name "Father of the country" (rather like Cicero had been) and last but not least the month of July was named after him!

In the midst of all this glamour Ceasar set to work setting a large number of reforms and laws into motion in a very short period of time. For example the Julian calendar was created; new public buildings were built and libraries were planned to contain vast collections of books. A new acqueduct was built into the city and marshes were drained to create new land for cultivation. Other civil engineering works included a new road across the Apennines, a large artificial harbour, the rebuilding of Carthage and a canal through the isthmus of Corinth.

A digest of Roman laws was compiled to which new laws were added for the treatment of debts and interest. The poor and indigent of the cities were sent to work on farms and land was given to create colonies for his war veterans. A most important reform meant that Roman citizenship was granted to worthy persons of conquered lands.

In effect Caesar was putting into action the public and social reforms for which he stood and which the Gracchi brothers had died for centuries earlier, but many about him could not forgive the way in which he had unlawfully taken power and ended the republican system. And so the stage was set for his murder on the steps of the senate.

Julius Caesar coinThe date was 15th March of 44BC. At an agreed signal a group of his closest friends and their co-conspirators surrounded him at the Senate. To Caesar's surprise his friend and adoptive son Brutus was amongst them. Accounts differ but apparently Julius Caesar covered his face and fell to the ground silent. Tradition would have him utter the words

"Et tu Brute!" or "Tu quoque Brute filii mihi" (Brutus, my son, you too?).

These words suggest that Caesar himself was surprised by the action, convinced that the good he was doing for Rome and the pardons he had granted all his enemies should not deserve this ending. Caesar clearly underestimated the visceral hate the Romans had for Tyrants, Dictators and Kings ever since they had expelled the last king of Rome Tarquin the Proud 500 years earlier (ironically enough by someone who was also called Brutus!).

Brutus then tried to explain to the senate the reasons for the action taken and demanded that the republic must now return. The senate tried to please both sides by bestowing power on Brutus and his companions and by paying great tribute to Caesar by honouring him as a god. Unfortunately this wasn't sufficient to appease the people's anger (remember Caesar had always belonged to the side of the Plebeians).

Caesar's friend Mark Anthony had secured Caesar's private papers amongst which was his will. The will left great legacies to some of those involved in his murder as well as leaving his whole estate and a considerable sum of money to the people of Rome. When Mark Anthony gave his speech from the rostrum from a Roman shipRostrum in the Forum (the one made famous by Shakespeare) and showed the people Caesar's robes with the twenty-three stab wounds, they were furious and sought to do justice themselves. Brutus, Cassius and their companions fled the city in order to regroup. They were later defeated in the battle of Philippi by Julius Caesar's heir, Octavian, who was later known as Emperor Augustus - the first emperor of Rome.

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"Julius Caesar" was written by Giovanni Milani-Santarpia for www.mariamilani.com - Rome apartments