|Caesar, Gaius Julius|
Gaius Julius Caesar (Classical Latin: [ˈɡaː.i.ʊs ˈjuː.lɪ.ʊs ˈkaj.sar], July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC) was a Roman general, statesman, Consul and notable author of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. In 60 BC, Caesar, Crassus and Pompey formed a political alliance that was to dominate Roman politics for several years. Their attempts to amass power through populist tactics were opposed by the conservative elite within the Roman Senate, among them Cato the Younger with the frequent support of Cicero. Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, completed by 51 BC, extended Rome’s territory to the English Channel and the Rhine. Caesar became the first Roman general to cross both when he built a bridge across the Rhine and conducted the first invasion of Britain.
These achievements granted him unmatched military power and threatened to eclipse the standing of Pompey, who had realigned himself with the Senate after the death of Crassus in 53 BC. With the Gallic Wars concluded, the Senate ordered Caesar to lay down his military command and return to Rome. Caesar refused, and marked his defiance in 49 BC by crossing the Rubicon with a legion, leaving his province and illegally entering Roman territory under arms. Civil war resulted, from which he emerged as the unrivaled leader of Rome.
After assuming control of government, Caesar began a program of social and governmental reforms, including the creation of the Julian calendar. He centralised the bureaucracy of the Republic and was eventually proclaimed “dictator in perpetuity”. But the underlying political conflicts had not been resolved, and on the Ides of March (15 March) 44 BC, Caesar was assassinated by a group of senators led by Marcus Junius Brutus. A new series of civil wars broke out, and the constitutional government of the Republic was never restored. Caesar’s adopted heir Octavian, later known as Augustus, rose to sole power, and the era of the Roman Empire began.
Much of Caesar’s life is known from his own accounts of his military campaigns, and from other contemporary sources, mainly the letters and speeches of Cicero and the historical writings of Sallust. The later biographies of Caesar by Suetonius and Plutarch are also major sources. Caesar is deemed to be one of the greatest military commanders of history.
Consulship and military campaigns
In 60 BC, Caesar sought election as consul for 59 BC, along with two other candidates. The election was sordid – even Cato, with his reputation for incorruptibility, is said to have resorted to bribery in favor of one of Caesar’s opponents. Caesar won, along with conservative Marcus Bibulus.
Caesar was already in Crassus‘ political debt, but he also made overtures to Pompey. Pompey and Crassus had been at odds for a decade, so Caesar tried to reconcile them. The three of them had enough money and political influence to control public business. This informal alliance, known as the First Triumvirate (“rule of three men”), was cemented by the marriage of Pompey to Caesar’s daughter Julia. Caesar also married again, this time Calpurnia, who was the daughter of another powerful senator.
Caesar proposed a law for the redistribution of public lands to the poor, a proposal supported by Pompey, by force of arms if need be, and by Crassus, making the triumvirate public. Pompey filled the city with soldiers, a move which intimidated the triumvirate’s opponents. Bibulus attempted to declare the omens unfavorable and thus void the new law, but was driven from the forum by Caesar’s armed supporters. His bodyguards had their ceremonial axes broken, two high magistrates accompanying him were wounded, and he had a bucket of excrement thrown over him. In fear of his life, he retired to his house for the rest of the year, issuing occasional proclamations of bad omens. These attempts to obstruct Caesar’s legislation proved ineffective. Roman satirists ever after referred to the year as “the consulship of Julius and Caesar.”
When Caesar was first elected, the aristocracy tried to limit his future power by allotting the woods and pastures of Italy, rather than the governorship of a province, as his military command duty after his year in office was over. With the help of political allies, Caesar later overturned this, and was instead appointed to govern Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy) and Illyricum (southeastern Europe), with Transalpine Gaul (southern France) later added, giving him command of four legions. The term of his governorship, and thus his immunity from prosecution, was set at five years, rather than the usual one. When his consulship ended, Caesar narrowly avoided prosecution for the irregularities of his year in office, and quickly left for his province.
Conquest of Gaul
Caesar was still deeply in debt, but there was money to be made as a governor, whether by extortion or by military adventurism. Caesar had four legions under his command, two of his provinces bordered on unconquered territory, and parts of Gaul were known to be unstable. Some of Rome’s Gallic allies had been defeated by their rivals at the Battle of Magetobriga, with the help of a contingent of Germanic tribes. The Romans feared these tribes were preparing to migrate south, closer to Italy, and that they had warlike intent. Caesar raised two new legions and defeated these tribes.
In response to Caesar’s earlier activities, the tribes in the north-east began to arm themselves. Caesar treated this as an aggressive move and, after an inconclusive engagement against the united tribes, he conquered the tribes piecemeal. Meanwhile, one of his legions began the conquest of the tribes in the far north (directly opposite Britain). During the spring of 56 BC, the Triumvirs held a conference, as Rome was in turmoil and Caesar’s political alliance was coming undone. The Lucca Conference renewed the First Triumvirate and extended Caesar’s governorship for another five years. The conquest of the north was soon completed, while a few pockets of resistance remained. Caesar now had a secure base from which to launch an invasion of Britain.
In 55 BC, Caesar repelled an incursion into Gaul by two Germanic tribes, and followed it up by building a bridge across the Rhine and making a show of force in Germanic territory, before returning and dismantling the bridge. Late that summer, having subdued two other tribes, he crossed into Britain, claiming that the Britons had aided one of his enemies the previous year possibly the Veneti of Brittany. His intelligence information was poor, and although he gained a beachhead on the coast, he could not advance further, and returned to Gaul for the winter. He returned the following year, better prepared and with a larger force, and achieved more. He advanced inland, and established a few alliances. However, poor harvests led to widespread revolt in Gaul, which forced Caesar to leave Britain for the last time.
While Caesar was in Britain his daughter Julia, Pompey’s wife, had died in childbirth. Caesar tried to re-secure Pompey’s support by offering him his great-niece in marriage, but Pompey declined. In 53 BC Crassus was killed leading a failed invasion of the east. Rome was on the edge of civil war. Pompey was appointed sole consul as an emergency measure, and married the daughter of a political opponent of Caesar. The Triumvirate was dead.
In 52 BC another, larger revolt erupted in Gaul, led by Vercingetorix. Vercingetorix managed to unite the Gallic tribes and proved an astute commander, defeating Caesar in several engagements, but Caesar’s elaborate siege-works at the Battle of Alesia finally forced his surrender. Despite scattered outbreaks of warfare the following year, Gaul was effectively conquered. Plutarch claimed that the army had fought against three million men during the Gallic Wars, of whom one million died, and another million were enslaved. The Romans subjugated 300 tribes and destroyed 800 cities. However, in view of the difficulty in finding accurate counts in the first place, Caesar’s propagandistic purposes, and the common exaggeration of numbers in ancient texts, the stated totals of enemy combatants are likely to be too high.
In 50 BC, the Senate, led by Pompey, ordered Caesar to disband his army and return to Rome because his term as governor had finished. Caesar thought he would be prosecuted if he entered Rome without the immunity enjoyed by a magistrate. Pompey accused Caesar of insubordination and treason. In January 49 BC, Caesar crossed the Rubicon river (the frontier boundary of Italy) with only one legion and ignited civil war. Upon crossing the Rubicon, Caesar, according to Plutarch and Suetonius, is supposed to have quoted the Athenian playwright Menander, in Greek, “the die is cast“.
Erasmus, however, notes that the more accurate translation of the Greek imperative mood would be “alea icta esto” let the die be cast. Pompey and much of the Senate fled to the south, having little confidence in his newly raised troops. Despite greatly outnumbering Caesar, who only had his Thirteenth Legion with him, Pompey did not intend to fight. Caesar pursued Pompey, hoping to capture him before his legions could escape.