Alea jacta est! translation
— Caesar, Crossing the RubiconThe most famous Roman in history. Brilliant general, orator, politician and writer. Had nothing to do with the salad or the surgical procedure.Gaius was born in the month his successor would rename after him, July (then called Quintilis), in the year 100 BC, to a minor aristocratic family that nonetheless traced its line back to the foundation of Rome, as well as the goddess Venus and the hero Aeneas. Caesar's father died when he was 16 and Caesar thus became head of the household and, within a year, the teenaged Flamen Dialisnote , for which he had to break off his engagement to a plebian girl and marry Cornelia, the daughter of four-time consul Lucius Cinna. His family connections made Caesar a target of the dictator Sulla, who forced him to spend much of his inheritance in elaborate ceremonies, as well as removing his priesthood at the pleas of his mother Aurelia and others, and had toyed with having Caesar killed when he refused to divorce his wife Cinilla after one of Sulla's proscriptions stripped her of her noble status.Abandoning the post of Flamen Dialis caused him to lose his position in the Senate, but enabled him to join the Military, which he did. However one of Sulla's restrictions, possibly ordered as a joke, only allowed him to ride a donkey into battle. Despite these setbacks, he went on to win glory for himself by winning the Civic Crown in a siege, which entitled him to automatic entry into the Senate (ironically, one of Sulla's reforms- in fact, Caesar couldn't have joined the army either if Sulla hadn't stripped him of his priesthood)note . He also, during this time, was sent on a mission to Bithynia to secure the help of King Nicomedes, but his lengthy stay at court sprouted (probably false) rumours in Rome that the two were having a homosexual relationship, rumours that were to dog Caesar throughout his career.Caesar returned shortly before Sulla's death, during which time the dictator rescinded his order only allowing Caesar to ride a donkey, and gave him a present of a warhorse with toes instead of normal hooves. He was to ride this horse and its descendants into battle for the rest of his career. Despite these positive gains, his fortune was depleted, and he had to survive on a fairly low budget, and moved to a modest house in a plebian district. Henceforth he would have several problem with moneylenders, taking many big loans and having trouble repaying them. He took up legal advocacy (like most aspiring politicians of the time) and became famous for his oratory and ruthlessness in the courts. Shortly after he sought to improve his oratory further and sought out Cicero's teacher Appollonius in Rhodes. On the way, he was captured by pirates, and infamously acted high-handedly with his captors, demanding they ask for a higher ransom and promising to hunt them down and kill them all once he was freed. The pirates thought he was joking (they were wrong).After his return to Rome, he was elected military tribunenote , and quaestor in 69 BC. That year, his first wife died. He served his quaestorship in Hispania, where he reportedly wept at a statue of Alexander the Great, realizing his achievements at the same age were rather less impressive. He married Sulla's granddaughter Pompeia later on and worked to undermine the regime the dead dictator set up, possibly being involved in two aborted coups. (Ironically, he was following in Sulla's footsteps in this regard, as the late dictator had done exactly the same to the previous Roman regime.)His real climb to power began in 63 BC. After arranging and presiding over a show trial of an elderly senator, probably just to show that he could (the defence had to fake an invasion to prevent the death penalty being passed, and Caesar seemingly chose to let the matter dropnote ), he got himself elected Pontifex Maximus - chief priest of Rome - a huge gamble that would have ruined him if he failed, as he poured all his money into his campaign, whereas while in office he could not be prosecuted for his debts. As he told his mother before going to the polls, he would return as Pontifex Maximus or not at all.By this point he had become a major player in the Popularist faction, which included many figures who publicly supported the plight of the poor but privately just wanted to advance their own careers, and was probably involved in the Catiline conspiracy, though he avoided prosecution. He ruthlessly divorced Pompeia after a sex scandal at his house; she was not involved, but he said that "The Chief Priest's wife must be above suspicion," which is usually taken to mean he didn't want this to hinder his career. (At the time, this was normal Roman behavior.)Soon after, he became governor of Spain, where he - completely without sanction from Rome - began attacking Roman allies and annexing their land, expanding the Republic throughout modern Spain. Again, he was partly motivated by the need to pay off his debtors, sending them loot to ease off his pressure.At this point, he allied with arch-rivals Crassus and Pompey, forming the First Triumvirate with himself as Consul, or head of state for a year, really a three-man dictatorship. Pompey, a military leader, was without doubt the most powerful in the Triumvirate, followed by the famously wealthy Crassus. At the time, Caesar was the least powerful - a forty-year old politician whose only achievement was winning a few elections. Caesar shared the Consulship with Bibulus, whose ineffective attempts to oppose the Triumvirs' agenda led to their term being jokingly called the Year of Julius and Caesar (Romans referred to a year by the Consuls' names). After establishing their authority and passing agrarian reform laws at least allegedly designed to help the poor, Caesar again went on military campaign as governor of Cis-and Transalpine Gaul and Illyria, conquering most of Gaul (France) and entering Germania across several years of campaigning, with a failed attempt to grab Britannia. While there his daughter Julia - Pompey's (very) young wife - died of illness.Crassus had died on the campaign against the Parthians, and the Optimate (or Conservative) faction, allied with Pompey, ordered Caesar to disband his army and declared his governorship over, at the same time refusing to allow him to stand for a second consulship. They then declared him an enemy of the state. He marched on Rome, using as an excuse the mistreatment of the tribunes of the people who had presented his case to the Senate. He crossed the Rubicon, the border of Italy where Roman armies are supposed to disband (uttering the page quote), and took the city unchallenged; though he had only one legion, his enemies did not trust the newly-recruited troops raised in their defence and fled. This started the Roman Civil War, and after gathering the rest of his forces from Hispania, Caesar eventually fought and defeated Pompey at Pharsalus in 48 BC, despite being vastly outnumbered.Caesar became dictator (a Consul with emergency powers) in Rome and chased Pompey to Egypt, where to Caesar's horror the Egyptians had had him murdered and presented Caesar with his head. In response he allied with Princess Cleopatra and overthrew the Pharaoh, her younger brother, putting her on the throne as a Roman ally. They were lovers until his death and she claimed him as the father of her son Caesarion. Caesar began defeating his remaining enemies, including the Optimate leader Cato who committed suicide - to which Caesar remarked that he would have let him live. As this was Cato, however, that's probably why he killed himself in the first place, and given how little the two liked each other, it's plausible Caesar was mocking him.In his absence, the Senate bestowed unto Caesar a series of honours, partly because he was so merciful - unlike Sulla, almost none of his enemies were proscribed, indeed most were pardoned (his behavior in Gaul was...less so, being extremely brutal to tribes who put up too much resistance). He began a series of reforms to alleviate the plight of the poor, overhauled the Roman calendar, and built many famous buildings. He also revived an old project of Gaius Gracchus, the rebuilding of Carthage, together with Corinth, both destroyed and famously salted a century before.Caesar was assassinated in spectacular fashion in 44 BC by a group of rebellious senators, including his young friend Brutus, being stabbed 23 times in the senate; though all told the senate brandished a total of 27 wounds. The line Et Tu, Brute? is from Shakespeare, and he never said it, though he does appear to have expressed shock once he saw Brutus was one of his killers (Also, historically what ever he mumbled was likely in Greek). The exact site of Caesar's death, in a touch of historical irony, was right under the statue of his old friend and rival Pompey. This was followed by decades of civil war, mainly between his general Marc Antony and his appointed heir, Octavian. The latter won, and The Republic became The Empire.Caesar is a controversial figure and historians to this day are divided about him. The Republic he overthrew was extremely corrupt and increasingly ineffective, while he provided strong, stable and popular leadership. He was merciful to his (Roman) enemies and widely respected for his many talents. When he died he was either about to take personal power as the dictator, or possibly ensure reform efforts after denying the crown several times note ; it is one of the great What Ifs of history as to what he would have done.Yet, despite this, he was a man driven mainly by personal ambition (though he was far from the only Roman like this; on the contrary, it was basically the Roman way, at least if you were an aristocrat), and was perfectly capable of ruthlessness to get what he wanted. His campaigns were extremely brutal, possibly claiming as many as a million lives in total, with much rampant looting and slave trading. He is usually regarded by his critics as the man principally responsible for the death of democracy in Rome, though his admirers feel that Roman democracy was by that point in name only, and that Caesar did more for the common man of Rome than anyone else who could plausibly have taken power would have. He was also known to be very vain about his personal appearance, was notoriously promiscuous before, during and after his marriages, and could and would go to extreme lengths to get revenge.The debate, then, is largely about whether his personal failings - and boy were there many - outweigh his many accomplishments, and whether or not his quest for greatness ultimately saved Rome from a corrupt aristocracy....or doomed it to centuries of tyranny. It is noteworthy that there is no evidence of him planning to become a dictator prior to the civil war or of attempting to institutionalise despotism (that was more Augustus's thing). He named Octavian (later known as Augustus) as his heir, but he didn't specifically entitle him to inherit the dictatorship. It seems more probable that he thought that his dictatorship was a personal special position and Octavian was the heir to his property and name (along with, of course, the prestige of name) only.Recommended reading: Caesar: The Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy.
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