Julius Caesar
Posted: 20 October 2010 in Military Leaders, Politicians
Tags: caesar, roman empire
Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

Gaius Julius Caesar was born on 13 July 100BC. His father’s name was also Gaius Julius Caesar, and his mother was Aurelia Cotta, whose family had some influence in Roman society.

Caesar’s father died in 85BC, making the 15 year old Caesar head of his family. The following year he married Cornelia, the daughter of Cinna, who was one of the two roman consuls in 84BC. The consul’s were elected annually, and were jointly the head of state. This arrangement changed  after the end of the Roman Republic, and the birth of the Roman Empire.

Early in 81BC, the roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla returned to Rome, after bringing Pontus and Armenia Minor under roman control, and was appointed dictator by the Senate. (A dictator in ancient Rome was somebody with the same absolute power of a modern dictator, but who was appointed for a fixed term by the Roman Senate.) He then proceeded to purge Rome of his enemies, one of whom was Cinna; the latter having previously crossed swords with Sulla. As Cinna’s brother in law, Caesar too would have become a victim of Sulla’s purges, and was forced into hiding. He was saved through the good offices of his mother’s influential family, some of whom were friends of Sulla, and some of whom were amongst the vestal virgins, who wielded considerable influence in the Rome of the time.

Sensing that his presence was not wanted, Caesar left Rome, joined the army, and soon revealed himself to be a talented military strategist. After learning of Sulla’s death in 78BC, Caesar returned to Rome, but not without first being decorated with the Civic Crown, which at the time was the second highest decoration a roman citizen could receive. After his return he employed himself as a legal advocate, and became known for his skill as an orator.

He left Rome with the intention of travelling to Rhodes, there to improve his oratorical skills under the tutelage of Cicero’s former teacher, Apollonius Molon. Whilst crossing the Aegean Sea he was kidnapped by Cilician pirates, who held him hostage and demanded twenty talents of silver for his safe release. Sure that he was worth far more than that, Caesar indignantly told them that they should demand fifty talents. He also promised them that they would pay dearly for kidnapping him. He kept that promise after his release, when he raised a fleet, pursued the pirates, and having caught them, had them crucified.

In 69BC he was elected as a quaestor. Aquaestor was an official principally responsible for financial affairs, and who normally held office for one year. Being elected to this position was also the first rung of the ladder for any aspiring politician in ancient Rome. Following the death of his wife early in 69BC, Caesar left Rome to serve as quaestor in Spain. Whilst there it is said that he encountered a statue of Alexander the Great, and realised that he was now at an age when Alexander had already assembled a great empire, and had the world at his feet. Caesar, on the other hand, had achieved relatively little.

Upon his return to Rome he married pompeia, the granddaughter of Sulla, and in 63BC he was elected as Pontifex Maximus (the chief priest in the official state religion.) Originally a purely religious office, it was one which had gradually acquired some political significance, which is presumably why it was of interest to Caesar.

At this time Caesar was heavily in debt, and he turned for help to Crassus, one of Rome’s richest men. Crassus paid off some of his debts, and guaranteed others. In return he received Caesar’s support when dealing with Pompey, who was one of his political enemies. The next year Caesar was elected praetor. After being quaestor, this was traditionally the next step up the ladder for an ambitious roman politician. The year after he was Governor of Spain, and in 60BC he set out to complete his climb up the greasy pole by standing for election as consul. He was duly elected, along with one Bibulus.

Crassus and Pompey had been at loggerheads since they were joint consuls in 70BC. Caesar realised that with Crassus’s money, and Pompey’s political prestige, the three of them could form a powerful political alliance. He therefore set out to reconcile the two warring political foes, and was successful in his endeavour. As a way of cementing the alliance he married off his daughter to Pompey.
In 58BC Caesar was made proconsul over much of southern Europe, and had four roman legions under his command. During the next seven years he conquered a territory which would today include France, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and much of southern Germany, as well as making two forays into Britain – the second of which was more successful than the first.

In 50BC, The Senate ordered Caesar to lay down his command, and return to Rome. Whilst he had been away political realities had changed BACK in Rome. Crassus had died in 53BC, whilst campaigning in Parthia, and Pompey’s wife had died in childbirth, thereby ending his family ties with Caesar. Additionally, Pompey had been made sole Consul in Rome, and he was now married to the daughter of Scipio – one of Caesar’s political foes.

Famously Caesar declined to obey the order, crossed the Rubicon, and marched on Rome. In spite of having previously boasted that he could easily defeat Caesar’s army, Pompey quickly abandoned Rome, marched south, and crossed the Adriatic into Macedonia – only just avoiding the calamity of having his escape route cut off by the pursuing army. Caesar followed in hot pursuit, and on a couple of occasions came close to defeat. But he eventually forced Pompey to abandon Macedonia and flee into Egypt. He was there murdered by agents of King Ptolemy, who thought it well to remain on good terms with the victorious Caesar. If the young Ptolemy was expecting Caesar’s gratitude, he was to be severely disappointed. Instead Caesar became involved in a civil war between Ptolemy and Cleopatra, and sided with the ultimately victorious Cleopatra. He then spent the next two or three years winning an easy victory in Pontus, and clearing up the remnants of Pompey’s supporters in Egypt.

Following his defeat of Pompey, the Senate appointed him dictator, and showered him with ever more extravagant honours. This sycophancy, and his expanding ego, eventually succeeded in alienating Caesar from erstwhile allies, and on 15 March 44BC he was assassinated.

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