Alea iacta 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. note Gaius Julius Caesar 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 (paterfamilias) and, within a year, the teenaged Flamen Dialisnote , for which he had to break off his engagement to a plebeian girl and marry Cornelia, the daughter of four-time consul, the populare Lucius Cornelius Cinna, who at that time was allied with Caesar's uncle Marius in a nasty factional fight with the Optimate-backed Sullans. Marius had died a year or so before Caesar becoming priest, but he did approve his nephew's nomination, though historians note that there is next to no evidence of any other connection or bond Caesar might have had with "The Third Founder of Rome". When Sulla returned and took over Rome, driving Cinna, Quintus Sertorius and others away (where they would eventually die ignominiously) he unleashed a round of proscriptions in the capital. Anyone whose name was featured in the notices (which is what proscriptions means) was an Outlaw, denied rights and protections, their properties could be seized by the state, and their children and family were permanently barred from political office. This happened, unsurprisingly, to many of Cinna's associates and extended network. Sulla also tried to control and insinuate himself into political life by controlling and regulating the lives of others. He demanded that Julius divorce his wife Cornelia (daughter of the disgraced Cinna) and marry into his circle as a test of loyalty. Caesar refused to do so, and courageously (and some might say foolishly) defied the dictator. Sulla removed Caesar from the priesthood of Flamen Dialis, and Caesar actually went on the run as a Noble Fugitive, living hand to mouth in the wild before being caught by Sulla's soldiers. He would almost certainly have died, had it not been for his mother Aurelia, who appealed to the Vestal Virgins and other friends to leverage Sulla into sparing him. Sulla agreed but not before gritting his teeth, and saying, apocryphally, "In this Caesar, I see many Mariuses"note . After being stripped of his post as Flamen Dialis, Caesar was now able to seek a career in the army that would not have been open had it not been for Sulla. Caesar entered the army and wisely stayed out of the capital, returning only after Sulla's death (one year after he surrendered the dictatorship, and then serving a term after that as Consul). One of Sulla's restrictions, possibly ordered as a joke, only allowed him to ride a donkey into battle. Somehow, he still went on to attain distinction, winning the Civic Crown (equivalent of a medal) in a siege, which entitled him to automatic entry into the Senatenote . 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 the plebian district of Subura. 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.) He also had several problems with moneylenders, taking many big loans and having trouble repaying them. During this time, he ended up in the debt of Marcus Licinus Crassus, future triumvir and richest man in Rome (much of his wealth having been plunder acquired during Sulla's proscriptions). 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 Populares, a faction of a loose coalition of group that traced its legacy to the doomed Gracchi brothers and their policies of distributing land and grain to help the plight of the urban poor, the disenfranchised provinces and provide regular pay for the army whose low-level soldiers were from the same class as the Roman proletarii. Some of them were sincere reformers, others were ambitious careerists and opportunists, eager financiers interested in a system that allowed them more room to maximize gains from trade with Rome's colonies. These policies were opposed on principle and by instinct by the Optimates, the conservative faction devoted to the civic order of Rome and its city-state foundations and who had formerly suppressed the Gracchi and supported Sulla. Caesar was far less radical and considerably more moderate than earlier populares, he would be able to hang out with firebrands but also get on well with the richest and most snobbish aristocrats, which often confused his friends and his enemies. He spoke for clemency during the Catiline conspiracy, which invited suspicion on his motives by Cato the Younger and Cicero. 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.) The guy who ruined his marriage, Clodius Pulcher, became one of his associates, and more or less was the attack dog of the Populares, leading many street gangs across Rome, against rival street gangs put forth by Optimates. Caesar's third wife and future widow was Calpurnia, also of patrician stock. He was nonetheless a famous ladies man, and among his mistresses was Servilia, the half-sister of his Arch-Enemy Cato the Younger and the mother of Marcus Junius Brutus. Plutarch was one among many historians to suppose that Brutus could have been Caesar's illegitimate son but historians point out that Caesar was 15 when Brutus was born and since this was before his nomination as Flamen Dialis and marriage to Cornelia, when he was still low on the totem pole, it's highly unlikely. 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 creditors, 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 by which they would mutually enrich and benefit each other with governorships while nominating clients in various posts as tribunes and consuls, to safeguard legislation that benefited them. Both Crassus and Pompey were former supporters of Sulla and had profited from the dictator's proscriptions, judicial murder and purges. At the time, Caesar was the least powerful - a forty-year old politician whose only achievement was winning a few elections, compared to Pompey, a self-proclaimed military prodigy who expanded Rome into Judea, followed by Crassus, who suppressed the Spartacus Rebellion. 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 that both helped themselves and benefited 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. Simultaneously, 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. Caesar's only option was to surrender his career and become an exile, or risk dishonor, infamy and the future of Ancient Rome. He chose the latter and marched on Rome, using as an excuse the mistreatment of the tribunes of the people who had presented his case to the Senate, by crossing the Rubicon, the border of Italy where Roman armies are supposed to disband. Considering that Sulla had crossed the Pomerium (the boundary of Rome beyond which the army was not supposed to enter) twice and was rewarded by the Optimates with absolute power, Caesar undoubtedly saw his own actions of a comparatively milder nature. He campaigned through Italy, winning support along the way from many provincial nobles who were not big fans of the snooty Romans, while the Optimates banked everything on Pompey. Caesar eventually took the city unchallenged, even 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. Pompey fled to Egypt where he died in ignoble circumstances, likewise Caesar's Arch-Enemy in the Senate, Cato the Younger committed suicide. While many Pompeyan remnants were hunted down, Caesar made a policy of sparing prominent backers of Pompey, and guarantees (which he honoured) that there would be no more proscriptions in reprisal in the manner of earlier Optimate-Populare dust-offs. Among the people Caesar gave clemency to are Brutus and Cassius. As dictator he chased Pompey to Egypt, where Caesar was horrified at his enemy and ex-Son-in-Law's fate. Citing a treaty by the old Ptolemaic King that made Egypt a client of Rome, Caesar saw fit to interfere in an ongoing civil war in favor of Cleopatra VII Philopator. They became lovers until his death and she claimed him as the father of her son Caesarion. During the Civil War in Egypt, Caesar's forces accidentally sparked a fire that burnt the Library of Alexandria. On the plus side, while hanging out with Egyptian astronomers, Caesar finally formulated an improvement on the cumbersome Roman calendar based on lunar cycles. This became the Julian Calendar, which after modification by Pope Gregory, is the calendar that has become the international standard. In his five year dictatorship, Caesar was actually only in Rome for some five months and spent most of his time in the provinces, reforming and improving administration in places like Roman Athens. Rome in the meantime was administered, badly, by Mark Antony as Consul. Caesar's only intervention, and the only real tiff between him and Antony, led to him sending the latter out of town for a while. He made plans for all kinds of ambitious projects based on his experiences in Egypt, this included a modern bureaucracy as well as an institution of census and other reforms, as well as public works and architectural policies that Octavian later instituted 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, and Caesar restricted violence and denial of quarter to non-Roman barbarians like the Gauls (who were Acceptable Targets). He began a series of reforms to alleviate the plight of the poor, built many famous buildings, while also reviving an old project of Gaius Gracchus, the rebuilding of Carthage, together with Corinth, both destroyed and famously salted a century before. Near his final months, he planned an invasion of the Parthian empire. The prospect of a Caesarian success against the Parthians who had repelled all earlier Roman campaigns made many senators panicked. While Caesar was moving at a far more moderate pace with his reforms to the liking of fellow populares, and irritated others for his refusal of proscription as well as making cutbacks on the grain dole. But this only made it harder, in the eyes of the optimates to deny consensual support to reform and rebuild Rome to a permanent populare. A military victory in Parthia would simply reinforce that. There was also a suspicion that Caesar wanted to be King (which led Caesar and Antony to stage public ceremonies of the former ostentatiously denying a diadem, either in sincerity, in jest or an audience preview to test an actual play for the Crown, no one knows). This was further reinforced by his relationship with the Eastern foreign Queen of Egypt, who had also given birth to his son, Caesarion and who moreover was living in Rome in the weeks leading to Caesar's death. By law, Caesarion was not Caesar's heir and had no Roman rights but obviously it would benefit Cleopatra immensely if the Roman-Ptolemaic offspring did get recognition, support and patronage in Rome. This mix of fear, conservative paranoia, genuine constitutional concerns, xenophobia, and misogyny, led to the most famous and momentous of all assassinations in the Ancient World. Caesar was killed in 44 BC by a group of rebellious senators, led by Brutus, being stabbed 23 times in the senate. The Assassination was clumsy and amateurish, and some of the Senators stabbed and hurt each other when rushing up to Caesar. He was armed with a stylus (a sharp Roman pen, that Gracchian supporters used to defend themselves when they charged and killed Gaius) but was absolutely unprepared for what happened. The Assassins brandished a total of 27 wounds which given that up to 60 people are said ambushed him, is not a particularly good batting average. The line Et Tu, Brute? is from Shakespeare. Plutarch states that Caesar on seeing Brutus blurted out, "Kai su, teknon (You too, my son)?" either in sadness or in anger that in the end, even Brutus who he had spared and given a governorship in Gaul as a sign of good faith, had betrayed him. 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. The conspirators called themselves the "Liberators" and hoped that Caesar's death would resolve the cycle of Civil War and restore the Republic under the Optimate hegemony. The small matter of Caesar's great personal popularity and the mobilization by his supporters dispelled this notion, and the conspirators were chased out of Rome, leading to decades of civil war, with Caesar's faction led by his general Marc Antony, his appointed heir, Octavian with support from Cleopatra. They eventually won, while his nephew Augustus eventually pulled a coup on his fellow conspirators and learning from his Uncle's failures, used a combination of proscriptions and savvy political engineering to permanently transform The Republic into The Empire. Caesar was initially supposed to be buried in the Roman Forum near his daughter Julia, but the crowd as a display of popularity, cremated him in public, throwing furniture, desk and other articles on top of his corpse as a tribute (similar to Clodius Pulcher's funeral which burnt down the old Senate house) and lighting a large bonfire. 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 even by opponents like Cicero, who in his Philippi told Mark Antony that he was no Caesar. When he died he was either about to take personal power as the dictator, or possibly reform the Republic to accommodate its new responsibilities and peacefully and moderately end the spiral of factional wars that had gone on for a hundred years at that point. It it is one of the great What Ifs of history as to what he would have done. The impact and importance of his legacy in Western civilization are indisputably immense: for the next two thousand years after his death, rulers would invoke and wear his name as a title and honorific. He was a man driven mainly by personal ambition (It was basically the Roman way, at least if you were an aristocrat, but it was a handy putdown by enemies who wanted to prove they weren't), 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 the Roman Republic, though his admirers feel that by that point Rome was a republic 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, and could and would go to extreme lengths to get revenge. The debate, then, is largely if his many accomplishments can justify or condone his misdeeds and personal failings. Whether he was merely an above-average adventurer who came ahead of rivals and opponents who were no better than him, or the last true Roman who could have truly reformed the Republic's obsolete institutions and brutally murderous political culture. Likewise, whether there is continuity between him and his nephew Augustus. There is no evidence of him planning to become a dictator prior to the civil war or of attempting to institutionalize 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 and it was probably a consequence of his brief break with Antony and perhaps a temporary stopgap. He clearly did not expect to be assassinated, and Cleopatra and Caesarion were in Rome, so it might have been a temporary thing until he could work legal status for the latter. Augustus in time defeated Antony and murdered Caesarion ("Two caesars is one too many!") so the former clearly saw the latter as a threat. Recommended reading: Caesar: The Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy and The Roman Revolution by Sir Ronald Syme.
Works by Gaius Julius Caesar with their own pages:
Tropes as portrayed in fiction:
- Famous Last Words: "Και σύ, τέκνον;" (Kai su, teknon?), "You, too, my son?" to Brutus in Greek. Supposedly. Suetonius and Dio mention rumors that his last words were in Greek, but deny them. Instead they claim that he said nothing and died.
- And popularly from Shakespeare, we get Et tu, Brute? ("You too, Brutus?").
- The "You too" line is now thought not to be a question the way Shakespeare spun it, but more along the lines of "May the same thing happen to you."
- Historical-Domain Character: Caesar is so over-represented in fiction (Shakespeare, Asterix and you name it) and so often invoked that many people are amazed that he was an actual person, with some, especially in non-Western countries, raised to believe that he was a mythical figure like Zeus or Jupiter.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: In works like Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome where Caesar is shown as a Crusading Lawyer populare turned military adventurer and conqueror. He's also shown as a likable, if somewhat arrogant but generous man in the first acts of Shakespeare's play, showing some amount of fatherly concern for Brutus. Rex Harrison's Julius in Cleopatra is likewise a nice old man delighted to father a son with Cleopatra in his older years.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: It changes across the years depending on the political and social development of society, which obviously looks back at Rome through prism of later political developments and changes:
- Works which show him as a conqueror and focus on his atrocities in Gaul, as well as those which focus on his enemies like Cato or Cicero, will cast Caesar in this role. He appears as a kind of Affably Evil Noble Demon Greater-Scope Villain in Astérix where he's kind of a Doctor Doom-like love to hate antagonist who sometimes plots against the good guys but sometimes teams up with them.
- During The Enlightenment, the likes of Voltaire and others glorified Brutus as a true Republican and painted Caesar as a tyrant. In the 19th Century, John Wilkes Booth compared Caesar to Lincoln, albeit seeing the latter as "a greater tyrant". He, like other Southerners, identified with the optimate cause of Cato and Brutus and saw Caesar/Lincoln as a dangerous reformer. In the 20th Century, the likes of Orson Welles and Bertolt Brecht painted him as a proto-fascist Dictator in their theatrical productions. Depending on time and place, Caesar can be a radical/revolutionary and a power-mad tyrant.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: Roman historians themselves argued that Caesar might have been Brutus' biological father. Brutus' mother Servilia was one of his mistresses. And his last lines "You too, son" has been interpreted as a Deathbed Confession. Likewise, some point out that Caesar gave specific orders in the Battle of Pharsalus to spare Brutus, which is an unusual level of personal concern for a senator who was otherwise indistinguishable (and considered a rather cruel Loan Shark even by a snob like Cicero).
- School Study Media: If you take Latin, you WILL read Caesar. There's no avoiding it. Repeat after me, "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres..."
- Signature Line: Probably the the most famous Latin lines of all : Veni vidi vici, Alea acta est, Et Tu Brute. And he actually did say two out of three of them. It's so proverbial that people use it without translation.
- Third-Person Person: He's often portrayed speaking like this, probably because he wrote Commentaries in the third person.
- Unreliable Narrator: His first-hand account on the Gaul war, De Bello Gallico, understandably glosses over his least brilliant moments such as the unreliable Gaul allied cavalry, the first Briton campaign, his punitive expedition to Germany, Gergovia etc, sometimes applying the Leeroy Jenkins, strategic victory / Tactical Withdrawal perspective. The trend is continued in the follow-up books about the civil war but it's believed those weren't actually written by Caesar.
Caesar in fiction
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Anime and Manga
- In Girls und Panzer, Takako Suzuki cosplays as, and answers to, "Caesar," making references to Caesar's life and Roman history, like her three teammates in Turtle Team do with their respective historical figures.
- In Astérix, Caesar is the main antagonist (always portrayed as an Anti-Villain, due to being based on his image in the school-taught Commentaries). In the movies, he's been portrayed by Gottfried John, director Alain Chabat, Alain Delon, and Fabrice Luchini (the first is German, the other three French).
- Appears very often in Alix, as the main character works for him.
- In the 1953 film adaptation of Julius Caesar, he's played by Louis Calhern.
- A young Julius Caesar, and a highly fictionalized one, is played by John Gavin in Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus.
- Old Caesar is likely to pop up in any version of the life of Cleopatra. Played by Warren William in the 1934 Cleopatra (with Cleo played by Claudette Colbert) and played by Rex Harrison in the better-known 1963 film Cleopatra (Cleo played by Elizabeth Taylor).
- He's played by Klaus Maria Brandauer in Druids.
- Kenneth Williams portrayed him in Carry On Cleo.
- He's a central character in Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series.
- Conn Iggulden's Emperor series details a Very Loosely Based on a True Story version of Julius' life and conquests, from childhood all the way to death. Despite the obvious implications of Adaptation Decay, he actually averts this with some very detailed research notes in the appendices of each book and explaining his decisions to eliminate, change, or combine certain figures for the sake of a good story.
- He appears in Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series.
- He appears in John Maddox Roberts' SPQR series.
- He's mentioned in I, Claudius, although he has been dead for about 20 years when the story begins.
- In the Susan Howatch novel The Rich Are Different, the story of Julius Caesar is retold in a 1920's Wall Street setting.
- Caesar is a very important character in Ben Kane's series The Forgotten Legion.
- He plays a major role in The Salvation War, as the leader of "New Rome" in human-liberated Hell.
- He appears in Robert Harris's Imperium trilogy of novels focusing on the life of Cicero. His depiction here is of a sinister and power-hungry man (albeit still charming and courteous) serving as the de-facto Big Bad for most of the story, although this may be because the trilogy is told exclusively from the perspective of Tiro, the slave and close personal friend of Cicero, who would be more inclined than most to view Caesar in a negative light.
- Played by Timothy Dalton in the Cleopatra mini-series.
- The first season of the HBO series Rome is about Caesar's rise and fall. He's portrayed by Ciaran Hinds.
- Caesar is a regular character in Spartacus: War of the Damned, where he fights in the army of Marcus Crassus against Spartacus' slave uprising. He's introduced as a low-ranking politician with a famous name, as well as a cunning soldier, favors Anything That Moves, and a rival both of Crassus' son, Tiberius and the rebel Gannicus. Which was unfortunate for them.
- He's played by Jeremy Sisto in the 2002 miniseries Julius Caesar.
- Karl Urban played Caesar in a recurring role on Xena: Warrior Princess and a one-off episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Having been Xena's one time ally, and lover, his betrayal (and crucifixion) of her led to Xena's warlord days, the time of her life which she spent the series atoning for. Notably, Xena was the leader of the pirates who ransomed him.
- William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar is about Caesar's assassination and its aftermath. Caesar is the title character, but not the protagonist; he appears in only three scenes.
- George Bernard Shaw's play, Caesar and Cleopatra depicts Caesar's time in Egypt and his relationship with Cleopatra. In the 1945 film adaptation, he's played by Claude Rains.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! features the Monarchs, a series of powerful cards based on the Emperors of Rome. The most powerful, Caius, appears to be derived from Gaius himself.
- The last missions of the Roman campaign in Empire Earth: Art of Conquest were about his rise to power.
- Edward "Caesar" Sallow from Fallout: New Vegas modeled his band of tribes after the Roman Legions after reading the Commentarii and fancied himself as great a man as Gaius Julius Caesar was.
- In Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, the Scrolls of Romulus chronicle Brutus' plan to assassinate Caesar, with the equipment and knowledge provided to carry out the assassination provided by a Piece of Eden hidden in a First Civilization bunker underneath Rome.
- Caesar is the Ultimate Persona of Akihiko Sanada in Persona 3 and serves as his used Persona in Persona 4: Arena
- He is the leader of the Roman civilization in the Civilization series of games, though he's notably absent in the fifth one (where he is replaced by Augustus, and in the sixth by Trajan).
- Appears as a summonable Servant in Fate/Grand Order and a member of the Saber class, and is depicted as, for some reason a lazy, sarcastic fat guy. That being said, his stout build hides a deceptively high strength and speed; and under his lazy attitude and weird speech patterns, he's actually a brilliant thinker and highly charismatic leader, complete with C-rank Charisma and EX-rank Incitement (effectively meaning he's impossibly good at speeches) skills.