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Life and Times of Julius Caesar

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Life and Times of Julius Caesar


By Gabby Nowack and Moira Whalen





Who was Julius Caesar?


     Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman politician who lived from 100 B.C. to 44 B.C. In his life, he conquered the Roman province of Gaul, established himself as a powerful political presence, improved Rome, and established a legacy that exists even today. This great man lived in extraordinary times, filled with political and social upheaval. In our wiki, you will find information about Caesar, the times he lived in, and how they affected him. Enjoy!



Early Life 


     Caesar was born into the Julii family with the full name Gaius Julius Caesar.  Historians are not 100% positive of the birth date of Julius Caesar, but he was most likely born on July (known as Quintilis before Julius modified the months in the calender) 12th or 13th in the year of 100 or 102 B.C. His family was influential and well-connected in Ancient Rome; at the time of his birth, Gaius Marius was a hero and the leader of the 

Populares Party who had recently saved the Roman Republic and was well known and respected in Rome. He was also married to Caesar's aunt, Julia. While Caesar was still young, Marius lost most of his popularity, but in 92 BC, Caesar's father became praetor (a magistrate who was in charge of administration of justice).


     Around this time, the Social War began. The Italian revolt was caused by the belief that they had     gotten fewer benefits than they deserved in the Roman Empire. The war was ended through the efforts of the leadership of Lucius Cornelius Sulla.  He became dictator of Rome, and Marius, a political opponent of his, fled the country.  When Sulla went to Asia Minor a few years later to serve as a general in the First Mithridatic War after being appointed so by the Senate,  Marius went as well. Sulla later marched on Rome, beginning the First Civil War. Sulla next had to return to Asia and Marius fled to Africa. While Sulla was gone, Marius returned to Rome, dying of natural causes a few days after killing his enemies and seizing the consulship. 



     After his uncle's death, Caesar was in danger because Marius' power did not protect him against political enemies anymore. This was a problem because Sulla was back, and had had himself appointed dictator; he made it his mission to exterminate the Populares Party, of which Caesar's family was a part of. Many were killed and the People's Assembly had many of its rights taken away. However, Sulla decided to take pity on Caesar because he was so young and told him if he divorced his wife, his life would be spared (for more information, see Marriages).  Caesar refused and fled the country to begin his career in Asia Minor.  




Caesar's Family Tree A Bust of Lucius Cornelius Sulla



Early Career / Rise to Power


     From 81 to 79, Caesar served in the military as a member of the personal staff of Marcus Minucius Thermus in Asia and Servilius Isauricus in Cicilia. Caesar was sent on a diplomatic mission to King Nicomedes IV of Bithynia to secure his fleet's alliance, but spent so long there that it was rumored he had a love affair with the homosexual Nicodemes to get the naval help. Later, during the siege of Miletus, Caesar scored a decoration for bravery (called a corona civica). During his return from the war, he was captured by Cicilian pirates and forced to pay a ransom of 25 talents. Next, Caesar returned to Italy and became a criminal lawyer, staying far away from politics. In 75, Caesar went to Rhodes for further education, and was again captured by pirates, who asked for the usual ransom. This time, however, Caesar insisted that this amount be doubled and promised to punish his captors. After the ransom was paid, Caesar took control of some ships, defeated the pirates and had them crucified. Kindly, he cut their throats before the crucifixion so that they wouldn't suffer, because they had treated him well.


     After this interruption, he continued his education, which didn't last long because Mithridates of Pontus (in Anatolia) attacked Asia Minor again in 74. Caesar took the initiative of getting an army together and defending a few towns, giving the Roman commander, Lucullus, an opportunity to get the army on track and start the war. Caesar returned to Rome in 73 and was hailed as a hero. Now, his career in politics could begin.


     In 68, Caesar’s widowed aunt, Julia, died. In a funeral speech, he praised her (also dead) husband, Marius, thus securing his inheritance and gaining political prestige. Also in 68, Caesar was quaestor (a public official who is in charge of the treasury of the state and army) and served in Baetica, a province in Hispania. While in Hispania, Caesar compared himself to Alexander the Great, revealing his political ambitions and high self-esteem. After his return from Hispania in 65, Caesar was elected aedile (an official in charge of public maintenance and festivals; holding this position showed that you had ambitions for higher positions). He organized grand events to make sure that the Romans would remember his name. In this way he could control their votes in the People's Assembly. Also in 65 he was accused of participating in a plot, orchestrated by a rebel leader Catalina, to murder the consuls, but he was not convicted. Two years later, in 63, Caesar was elected pontifex maximus (high priest). This position gave him more power than ever, and he used this power to try to fight the death sentences given to Catalina and his followers, who had attempted a second rebellion. This opposition both exemplifies Caesar’s Popularist leanings and suggests that he might have known more about these rebellious plots than he was letting on (note - for more information about Caesar's political positions and many others in Ancient Rome, follow this link - Government and Politics of the Roman Empire).


     Caesar was next elected praetor, showing his popularity with the masses and worrying the optimates, who tried to spread rumors about his marriage and the scandal-ridden ceremony of fertility (see Marriages for more information). The only way for Caesar to rise above these rumors was for him to divorce his wife, Pompeia. To add to these troubles, Caesar was deeply in debt, having paid a considerable amount to get out of the ceremony scandal and having backed his own election and assorted festivals. However, Marcus Licinius Crassus (a soon-to-be Triumvirate member and the richest man in Rome) paid Caesar’s debts in hopes of using Caesar to further his own political career, and Caesar moved on to be the governor of Baetica. This governorship in 61 marks an important turning point in Caesar’s career, because before his behavior had been normal for an ambitious senator, but was now often criminal and only excusable by his positions of power.      

     Caesar's Spanish War foreshadowed the Gallic Wars; there was some unrest in Baetica, and while pretending to restore order, Caesar captured and raided several towns, attacked the entire west coast, and looted the silver mines of Gallaecia. Caesar returned to Rome a rich man, being able to pay for an election for consulate or the right to enter the city with his army in an official procession (triumphus). The triumphus would make him more popular, but the consulship was necessary because Caesar was likely to be prosecuted as a war criminal and the only way to stop a law suit was to hold an office. He couldn't have both the triumphus and the consulate, because the day of the elections had been announced, and Caesar couldn't be up for the running unless he was a private citizen. So, he had to give up his triumphus in order to keep his consulship intact.


After winning the consulship, Caesar encountered problems with his fellow consul, Bibulus, and many records show evidence of their mutual dislike and disagreements. Caesar was the more powerful and recognized of the two, and thus the citizens of Rome joked that instead of having the consuls Caesar and Bibulus, they had the consuls Julius and Caesar. Some conservative senators were determined to stop Caesar's rise to power, and they tried to hold him back from regaining the consulship next year. Recognizing that he had to find a way around these political opponents, Caesar thus formed the First Triumvirate.  






     After his father passed away, Caesar almost became married for the first time to Cossutia, a member of the wealthy Equestian family. However, he broke off the engagement. Instead, at the age of 18, he married Cornelia, the 13-year-old daughter of Cinna.  Cinna was a member of the Populares Party, and was loyal to one of Caesar’s relatives, Marius.  Caesar and Cornelia had Caesar’s only legitimate child, Julia.  Julia would later on marry one of Caesar’s allies, Pompey.  However, when Sulla became dictator, he had many of his enemies executed, one of these being Marius, Caesar’s uncle.  Sulla showed mercy to Caesar, and instead of executing him ordered him to divorce Cornelia because she was Marius’s daughter.  Sulla wanted him to do this in order to see if Caesar would be loyal to the new regime.  Possibly facing banishment or death, Caesar still refused to follow Sulla’s orders, and instead fled the country and did not return until Sulla died.


     Cornelia later died in 68/67 B.C. Soon after the death of Cornelia, Caesar married his second wife Pompeia, who was the granddaughter of Sulla and a cousin of Pompey.  However, this marriage ended in a divorce because of a scandal during the rituals of the Bona Dea, a worshipping of women to the god of virginity where men could not be present.  It was said that a man snuck into the worshipping one day dressed as a woman and Caesar’s mother caught him.  Rumors said that Pompeia helped him do this.  In order to keep his good reputation, Caesar divorced Pompeia.  Then in 59 B.C. he married his third, and last, wife Calpurnia.  They had no children, and Calpurnia never remarried after Caesar’s death.


Caesar and Calpurnia in a film of his life Calpurnia, Caesar's last wife



First Triumvirate



     Triumvirate is defined as a group of three powerful or notable people or things existing in relationship to each other. During Caesar's time, such things existed, but Caesar's triumvirate was both unofficial and different. Described by a Roman historian as "a conspiracy against the state [of Rome] by its three leading citizens", this definition seems to be unchallenged. Caesar used his unofficial triumvirate to reach higher power than ever before. 



     Caesar's desire for power led him to form the First Triumvirate in 60 BC.  He wanted to be elected counsel, but he knew that many of his fellow Senators were conservative and opposed to this. To bypass their obstruction of his goal, he joined forces with Marcus Licinius Crassus and General Pompey. All three of these men had ulterior motives for being in the Triumvirate; Caesar's yearning for power, as mentioned above was the driving force behind the union. Crassus was the richest man in Rome who had conquered Spartacus years before and wanted a bigger political career. Pompey, upon returning from conquering the Seleucid Empire and Judea, discovered that the Senate would not support his continuing goals of organizing the Near East. Both men saw how they could benefit from creating the Triumvirate and ignoring the Senate, and thus joined forces with Caesar. The Triumvirate was also bound by marriage, as Pompey married Caesar's daughter Julia and Caesar married Crassus' friends' daughter, Calpernia. This only made the Triumvirate stronger.



     After the formation of the Triumvirate, Caesar was elected counsel in 59 B.C.  With Caesar as consul, one of the first things the First Triumvirate did was securing a law that provided Campainian lands for many poor citizen and veterans, although the Senate did not want to do this.  He then won the support of the wealthy and influential army veterans by reducing their tax contracts. Thus he won the support of the wealthy and the regular citizens of Rome.  Upon becoming counsel, and being backed by Pompey and Cassius,  in 58 B.C. he was given governing power over the three Roman provinces (Cisalpine Gaul, Transalpine Gaul, and Illyricum) for five years (58-54 B.C.).


A map showing the provinces of Cisalpine Gaul, Transalpine Gaul, and Illyricum. Marcus Licinius Crassus General Pompey





     Caesar never intended to conquer all of Gaul, as he eventually did. He was assigned the rule of part of the province (northern Italy and southern France, see map above) in 59 B.C., but he soon desired to control all of Gaul. Caesar was out with his troops, called the Knights, intending to conquer Rumania, when a certain incident changed his mind. The Helvetians, a combination of tribes in modern Switzerland, had migrated through an area of Roman territory in order to get to get to an area of south-west France. To Caesar, and supposedly any Roman governor, this was not acceptable. Besides being unacceptable, Caesar also saw this situation as a chance to impress the Senate and People's Assembly in Rome.  Accomplishing this feat would put him at the same level of power as the peak of his uncle Marius.



     Caesar then started his conquest, and in his second year decided to conquest the whole country. First he set out to fight off the Hevetians.  Caesar cut off the bridge that they used to get to France. When they approached it on their migration, Caesar's troops were able to catch up and defeat them in battle. The next action Caesar took, was complying with the requests of some of the Gallics to get the Germans off of a section of their land.  Caesar easily chased them off, and took control over that small region called Alsace. 



     Now taking over the rest of Gaul seemed easy to Caesar.  Instead of letting his troops go back, he still kept up the conquest.  He spent the winter of 58 B.C. in Cisalpine Gaul, and wrote the first installment of his Commentary on War in Gaul.  During this time, a group of northern Gallic tribes became aware of the danger, and formed a anti-Roman unit.  Caesar soon heard about this coalition, and in the spring of 57 B.C. he marched his troops to the country Remi. This country had planned to join the Gallic coalition, but Caesar's invasion prevented them.  Surprisingly, many of them sided with Caesar.  In rebellion, the anti-Roman unit decided to attack a Roman town on the Aisne River.


     However, Caesar defended the town and a little up the Ancient Road, he attacked the anti-Roman unit.  In this battle, the battle of the Sabis, they were annihilated.  It is said that out of the group of over 60,000 of the enemy, only 500 survived.  Similar annihilations by the Romans also occurred along the Meuse, a river that flows through northeastern France. At another time during the year, Crassus's son, Marcus Licinius Crassus, led a Roman army and demanded suppression of nations in Normandy and Brittany.  At the end of these Gallic Wars, all of Gaul had submitted to Rome. 








     In 56 B.C. Caesar returned to Italy, and met with Pompey and Crassus. In their attempt to still defy the Senate, Caesar was given another six years of control over Gaul. Since this was such a big command that was given to Caesar, the other two triumvirs, Pompey and Crassus, demanded that they be made counsels in the following year; Caesar agreed. In 55 B.C. Caesar explored Britain, and later defeated the Britons. In 54 B.C. he returned to Britain, where he defeated Cassivellaunus, the chief of the Britions. He also seized a fortress near St. Albans, and got tribute from them.  Meanwhile, Crassus was given command in Syria. When he provoked a war with the Parhian Empire, he was defeated and killed in at Carrhae in 53 B.C. This broke the the First Triumvirate, and the tie between Caesar and Pompey. The family bond had also been broken in 54 B.C. when Julia, Pompey's wife and Caesar's daughter, died. This laid the foundation for the Civil Wars and the fight for power.


Civil Wars 


     After Crassus' death, Pompey was the head and only consul; combined with his other powers in Rome, this gave him a very intense position. He became jealous of Caesar and made it his goal to get rid of him. Pompey first tried to do this by stripping Caesar of his army. He asked Caesar to return to Rome unarmed, but Caesar would not agree. Trying to protect himself, Caesar agreed to go without his army only if Pompey did the same. This suggestion was rejected, and instead the Senate tried to get him to come by ordering him to give up his army and command, or become an enemy of Rome. The officials of the Senate who vetoed this motion (because they were supporters of Caesar) were removed from the Senate. The Senate then gave power to Pompey to protect Rome. Pompey did have more troops than Caesar, but they were spread out over many of the Areas controlled by Rome. In 49 B.C. Caesar decided to march his troops into Italy, across the Rubicon river, breaking an Italian law, in order to try and persuade the Senate to settle a negotiation with Pompey. However, Pompey refused to meet with Caesar, and fled to Brundisium, then to Greece.  The Civil Wars had begun. 




     Caesar then went to Spain where he fought in a battle and won the key port Massalia, and on his way back to Rome he picked up more troops.  Once back in Rome, he became dictator for 11 days, then was elected consul. While Pompey was in Greece, he had gathered up an army; his plan was to attack Caesar in Italy.  Caesar feared this, and sent the majority of his legions to Brundisium. In 48 B.C. Caesar's navy was defeated. Caesar, unable to move east, remained in Dyrrahachium with Pompey for half a year where they built large fortresses facing each other. Caesar's united army was  defeated, and Caesar was forced to retreat. With Pompey on his pursuit, Caesar decide to camp near Pharsalus in Greece. He knew that he would have a better chance of defeating Pompey in this strategic location. Pompey eventually attacked Caesar's army. Although Pompey's army was much larger, Caesar's men were more experienced. Pompey was routed, his troops were sent to defend Syria, and Pompey fled to Egypt.




War in Alexandria and Cleopatra


     On October 2, 48 B.C., Caesar landed in Alexandria with about 4,000 Roman soldiers with him.  However, once he got there, he was presented with the head of Pompey.  After Pompey had fled there, he was killed by the Egyptians who were displeased with him. Pompey had been betrayed by the Egyptians after he entered their country unwanted. Although Pompey and Caesar had been brought apart from civil wars, Caesar was still very upset by this act. He offered to help any of the friends of Pompey's that had been captured and arrested by the ruler of Egypt, Ptolemy XII.


     Caesar then demanded that the Egyptians pay up the 40 million sesterces that they owed him for his military support in previous years for militarily supporting their ruler, Ptolemy XII. Caesar had helped Ptolemy XII start a revolt in Egypt. However, after Ptolemy XII’s death, his power went into the hands of his two children Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XIII, who was about 8 years younger than Cleopatra. When Caesar arrived, Ptolemy XII was about twelve years old, and Cleopatra had recently been sent out of Alexandria by General Achilles and regent Pothinus. Nevertheless, she snuck herself back into the city and into the hands of Caesar, by having one of her friends, Apollodorus, carry her in a sack to where Caesar was staying. There she asked for Caesar's help in taking the throne from her brother. Her sneaky, and clever, method of getting to Caesar is said to be one of the first things about her that captivated Caesar's interest.  Over time and as he came to know her better, he was taken over by her charm, and even more so by her intelligence and wit. He agreed to help her take back the throne, and later arranged for her to be forgiven, and given half the throne to share with her brother.


     While at a banquet to celebrate this event of reconciliation, Caesar was told by one of his nosy servants that he had overheard the General Achilles and regent Pothinus were plotting against him.  After he heard this, he had a guard go around the celebration and had Pothinus killed.  Achilles unfortunately escaped to the camp and started a big war against Caesar.  This war was especially difficult for Caesar because it was in Achilles' hometown, and they had a far greater number of soldiers than Caesar. The other side tried to defeat Caesar first by blocking canals, attempting to block off water supplies, and by setting fire to the ships in his docks.  Eventually the enemy approached him from all sides, and he was forced to jump from his boat and swim to safety.  However after this incident, things went uphill.  The king, Ptolemy XIII joined the enemy side, and Caesar defeated him in the next battle.  Many of the enemy soldiers fell at this battle as well.  As Caesar then set off for Syria, Cleopatra became queen of Alexandria, and she shortly afterwards had Caesar’s son, who was called Caesarion by the people of Alexandria (note - for more great information about Cleopatra, please follow this link , or see the slideshow on this page - Roman Women and Cleopatra).





Dictatorship / Death


     When Caesar returned to Rome from Africa, he pardoned all of his enemies and set himself up as a happy tribune. With four great victories under his belt, he set upon improving the people of Rome’s living conditions and farming capabilities. He succeeded in making plans for the improvement of the empire and in putting down a small revolution in Spain in the winter of 46 and 45. Upon his return to Rome, he was elected to the consulship for the fifth time. At this point, he established himself as “dictator for life” and organized a campaign against the country of Parthia, the only major threat to Rome. As dictator he set out to reform much of the country. First he ordered the  rebuilding of  some cities, such as Carthage and Corinth, and the founding of new towns. These newly reformed cities would be offered to the poor to provide a new, and better, life. Next he tried to relieve the debt that were mainly caused by the Civil Wars. Radical reformers expected complete cancellation, but Caesar set up a different system to pay the debts. This method wiped out at least one fourth of the debt. Caesar also set up many public works programs in Italy including the most famous, Forum of Caesar, which was a kind of shopping complex in the center of Rome. However, one of his most important policies was his granting partial Roman citizenship to regions that had been subjected by Rome.


     Meanwhile, his dictatorship had caused him to be the brunt of bitter criticism from his enemies and the subject of a plot to kill him led by his friends. Caesar was killed on March 15th (the Ides of March), 44 B.C. in the senate house by his friends and protégés, including Casca, Cassius and Brutus. He left everything to his grand-nephew Octavian. Mark Antony gave a very moving speech over his body, then it was burned in the forum (note - for more information about the conspirators, follow this link - Historical Views of Brutus, Cassius, and Antony).






     Although Caesar is dead, his legacy lives on. An accomplished writer, his historical accounts have proved invaluable to thousands. A gifted politician, his political positions have been inspirational and educational to millions. A powerful military presence, his conquests have affected the lives of all who have lived after him. This great man will surely never be forgotten.



Quotes by Caesar


- "Iacta alea est" - meaning "The die is cast."  said as he was crossing the Rubicon River.


- "Veni, vidi, vici" - meaning "I came, I saw, I conquered."  said after a battle where he defeated Pharmaces II.





Cheilik, Michael S. "Julius Caesar". Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. April 30, 2009. <http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761578066/julius_caesar.html>


"Julius Caesar" BBC History. April 8, 2009. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/caesar_julius.shtml>



"Julius Caesar." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. 14 Apr. 2009 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.




Lendering, Jona. “Gaius Julius Caesar” Livius.org. April 25, 2009. <http://www.livius.org/caa-can/caesar/caesar00.html>



McManus, Barbara F. “Julius Caesar: Historical Background” Vroma.com. November, 2001. April 15, 2009. <http://www.vroma.org/~bmcmanus/caesar.html>



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