thinkers like Thucydides, Aristotle, and Polybius knew (and I’m sure
you history majors know), political chaos almost always results in the
the rule of one strong man, either as a monarch or a dictator. By
the 50's BC, the Romans had suffered through 80 years of sporadic civil
war, and it looked like even worse was to come. To many, many
Romans, the rule of one man began to look appealing–provided only that
that man could end the turmoil of Rome’s civil wars. To many
Romans (including to Caesar himself) that man seemed to be Gaius Julius
Caesar, the most capable, most versatile, and most controversial man
Rome ever produced. On the other hand, there were Romans who
dreamed of a return to true Republican government, and to many of these
(including to Caesar himself) that man seemed to be Gaius Julius
Caesar, the most capable, most versatile, and most controversial man
that Rome ever produced. And on the other hand, there were those
who feared that an overly-ambitious man unchecked would plunge Rome
into chaos once again and perhaps destroy forever the Roman
Republic. And there were many who thought that that man was Gaius
Julius Caesar, the most capable, most versatile, and most controversial
man Rome ever produced.
Was Caesar the
man who almost saved the Republic, only to have his life cut short by
assassination? Was Caesar the man who could have averted a decade
of chaos for Rome had only his life not been cut short by his
assassination? Or was Caesar the man who would have destroyed
utterly Republican government had not his life been cut short by his
assassination? And is there somehow a lesson in all this to those
who love American democracy?
For the answer
to these, and other important questions, well...just join us as we
return for the next installment of the all-time greatest reality show,
let’s destroy the Roman Republic. Yes, we’re back: with more
exciting adventure, even bigger prizes, and the return of many of your
all time favorite contestants.
In our last
episode, it at first seemed like we would have three big winners:
Crassus, Pompey and Caesar. In 59 BC, the informal arrangement of
these three men known as the first triumvirate secured for each some
very valuable prizes. And then, the renewal of the triumvirate in 56 BC
won them even more valuable prizes: Crassus and Pompey consulships in
55 and military commands to follow, Caesar, a continuation of his
proconsulship in Gaul. Minor prizes for our sentimental favorite
Cicero as the great orator is recalled to Rome–perhaps to secure more
happy dates for the Roman state. But happy dates were not to
Julia in childbirth, and Crassus lost his life against the
Parthians. And things begin to fall apart in Rome. So bad,
Romans can’t even elect a consul in 54 BC and part of 53! As it’s
time to choose the 52 BC consuls, Clodius and Milo fighting in
the streets; Milo’s thugs kill Clodius, and the senate declares a state
of emergency. They call on Pompey to be sole consul...and now,
once again, he seems like our grand prize winner. He restores
order in Rome, and earns the distinction every Roman senator hoped for:
princeps senatus, the first man of the Roman senate. His new
marriage (into the Metelli family) secured him the support of the
optimate faction. He could count on Cicero’s support as
well. Not bad....
But what of
Caesar, the man in whom Sulla said there were many Marii? Surely
he shouldn’t be counted out of the game...not just yet.
not as strongly positioned as Pompey, but he had many things going for
A. Gifted speaker (Cicero admired him–second greatest in Rome,
though different in style). Won legal cases... perhaps an
important ability. Won some impressive court cases–secured himself
loyalty of some provincials by winning cases for them against corrupt
B. Gifted writer (Gallic Wars–published–Civil Wars–left
unfinished: Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres: simple
style...deceptively simple. Seems like report of facts...talks
about himself in 3rd person: tremendous ability to justify himself.
Civil War–seems to be talking about what a great defender of Republic
he is...quits writing, probably when he realizes he has Roman
government in his clutches and doesn’t need to pretend to be a defender
of the Republic–or, maybe, because of Cleopatra..of whom more later.)
C. Great general
1. Victories in Spain as propraetor
2. Victories in Gaul...very impressive
a. Very disciplined in military matters
b. Moved very quickly
c. Displayed great personal courage–and was able to rally
defeated troops to come back and win
D. Some real supporters in the senate and among the tribunes who
would defend his interests as sometimes great personal risk.
E. Lots of indifferent senators who didn’t really care what
happened so long as their own property was untouched
F. Lots of troops in Gaul, extremely loyal to Caesar personally
and with high personal stake in Caesar’s success.
G. Anything but risk averse. During time of Sulla, married
to a daughter of Cinna whom he refused to divorce. Gave speech in
honor of his aunt Julia (wife of Marius) at her death–and brought out
images of Marius. Very risky! Life was endangered, not only
from Sulla, but when he was captured (captured by pirates is
good). Well...sometimes, perhaps. Willing to take financial
risks as well. Spent an enormous sum of money campaigning for
office, and (if he doesn’t get office) it’s all gone. His whole
H. Knew how to make himself popular. Gladitorial games 320
pairs of gladiators...lavish shows.
I. And, as if this weren’t enough, Caesar had bought himself
plenty of friends in Rome. Appropriating the spoils from his
Gallic conquests gave Caesar the resources to relieve the Tribune Curio
of his thousands of talents in debt. He gave lavish gifts
to others as well.
But Caesar had
some problems too. His conduct as consul in 59 BC had been filled
with illegalities, and his political enemies had good grounds for
bringing accusations against him. He was certainly guilty of
appropriating for himself the fruits of his Gallic victories which,
arguably, belonged to the people as a whole. And, on top of that,
there was even the possibility of being prosecuted for war
crimes. One defeated contingent: he cut of both hands of every
captured soldier. At other times, he was guilty of what amounts
to genocide. More than a million Gauls were killed during his
invasion, and another million sold into slavery. 60% of the
His imperium as
consul and proconsul protected him from prosecution, but any interval
out of office was potentially a disaster. That’s why his
negotiations with Pompey and Crassus made sure they would pass laws
enabling him to run for consul in abstentia and forbidding anyone from
replacing him in Gaul.
But as then end
of Caesar’s proconsulship drew near, Caesar was concerned about the
actual details of his new office, and there were those in the senate
maneuvering against him. Pompey tried a campaign reform proposal,
specifying a gap of five years between one’s magistracy and a
proconsulship or propraetorship. This may or may not have been
aimed at Caesar: clearly designed to stop out-of-control spending by
those who hoped to get money back by pillaging a province or two.
Pompey hesitant to break his alliance with Caesar, but worried about
As things turned
out, Caesar’s opponents began taking action against him; his
supporters, at some risk, vetoing these bills. Maybe a
compromise? Pompey and Caesar could both set aside their
troops? Cicero tried negotiating as well. No luck.
Caesar got permission to run for consul in abstentia, but his request
to retain his proconsular authority until the election was turned
down. Caesar gathered his forces at the Rubicon
river...hesitated...and crossed. 49 BC. The die is cast.
always moving swiftly, approached Rome before Pompey could be
ready. Pompey and other senators headed to Brundisium and got on
board ship for Greece where Pompey could count on raising sufficient
force to confront Caesar. Caesar took over in Rome...made himself
dictator. Raided the Roman treasury...To a tribune who tried to
stop him he said, “If what I have done displeases you;
leave the place. War allows no free talking. When I have
laid down my arms, and made peace, come back and make what speeches you
after Pompey in 48 BC. Suffers and initial defeat at
Dyrrhachium–could have been catastrophic. Caesar said, “the
battle was won for the other side if they had a general who knew how to
win it.” But perhaps the real problem was a reluctance to throw
Roman soldier at Roman soldiers–a reluctance Caesar himself maybe
didn’t have. In any case, Caesar regroups and wins at
Pharsalus. Pompey flees to Egypt, but is betrayed there by
Ptolemy XIII...who was trying to win favor with Caesar so that Caesar
would side with him against his beautiful wife and sister 24 year old
Cleopatra in their dynastic dispute. Caesar, for some
reason, sides with Cleopatra: putting her securely on the throne of
Egypt. And, also, providing her with an heir...their son
Caesarion. Meanwhile Caesar has to move quickly to secure the
eastern provinces of the empire. He wins a quick victory at Zela
(veni, vidi, vici)...and heads back for Rome.
totally secure. He has to defeat King Juba and Cato in N. Africa
at Thapsus (47) and some of the remaining Pompeians at Munda (45
BC). Cato committed suicide at the former, and one of Pompey’s
sons dies in the latter....
back at the ranch, Caesar has got a task for himself at Rome.
Princeps is not quite enough of a kick, I guess, so Caesar needs
more. Consul in 48. Consul again and Dictator for one year
in 47. Consul again and Dictator for 10 years in 46. Consul
again and Dictator for life in 45. He gets the powers of a
censor. Tribunician power. Four trimphs. Imperator.
What more can you be.... King??? Well, that’s what people usually focus
on. But Caesar wanted something more. His image put
alongside that of Romulus in temple of Quirinius. A temple is
built to his clemency and a priest installed to guide the worship.
1. Of the million in Rome, 320,000 receiving free corn.
This cut to 150,000 remainder sent to colonies (80,000).
Also trying to get Rome less congested.
2. Required landowners to hire free herdsman, not slaves.
3. Public works (draining marshes, canal through Corinth isthmus,
4. Debtors and creditors mediated: some debts to be paid, others
5. Regularized local govt.
6. Established overseas colonies.
7. Extended citizenship to Cisalpine Gaul and to others who had
8. Tax relief for distressed provinces.
9. Raised army pay
10. Sosigenes (Julian) calendar
11. Public library
How does one
evaluate a man like this? Some, very favorably. Point to
Caesar’s clemency. Caesar claimed he would have spared Pompey and
Cato. And he was merciful to Cicero and to Pompeians like Brutus
and Cassius, raising them to high office.
He knew how to
handle subordinates. Antony (his magister equituum) replaced by
Lepidus when Antony got out of hand. He quelled an army mutiny by
addressing his soldier as “citizens.”
Experienced. Great diplomat. Great speaker. Great
writer. And, from some points of view, a great lover as
well. Soldiers: Caesar’s in town: look to your wives. Many,
many affairs in addition to the famous one with Cleopatra.
Personal life affects public life, and, if we knew just a bit more
about Caesar’s personal life, we might get an extra insight or two into
his character. One clue: Caesar could handle all sorts of
insults–but one. As a young man, he had had to flee for refuge to
Nicomedes king of Bithynia, and it was widely rumored that Nicomedes
had taken advantage of the good looking young man. Bibulus called
Caesar the “Queen of Bithynia”–and it’s very likely that something
strange was going on.... There is little so devastating to a young
man’s image of his own masculinity than to be sexually assaulted, and
perhaps what we see in Caesar is a never-attending attempt to prove
that he really is a man.
supporters thought he was. Antony calls him (in Shakespeare’s
version) “the noblest man that ever lived in the tide of times.”
And maybe that’s the trouble. “You’re the man” says Antony.
The man. The only man.
senatorial class, Caesar was an enormous problem, as Shakespeare shows
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Brutus and Caesar: what should be in that 'Caesar'?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name;
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well;
Weigh them, it is as heavy; conjure with 'em,
Brutus will start a spirit as soon as Caesar.
Now, in the names of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed,
That he is grown so great? Age, thou art shamed!
Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!
When went there by an age, since the great flood,
But it was famed with more than with one man?
When could they say till now, that talk'd of Rome,
That her wide walls encompass'd but one man?
Now is it Rome indeed and room enough,
When there is in it but one only man. O, you and I have heard our
There was a Brutus once that would have brook'd
The eternal devil to keep his state in Rome
As easily as a king.
All this was too
much for many of the senators to but up with. Sixty of so (a small
portion of the senate really) conspire, so for patriotic reasons,
others perhaps for other reasons. Caesar seemed to be about to
make himself directly a king (Antony presenting him 3 times with a
crown that Caesar refused), but it was obviously just a matter of
time. So conspiracy is joined.
(Shakespeare’s source) shows Caesar ignoring warnings: dreams,
portents, etc. He says there was even a letter warning of the
conspiracy pressed into Caesar’s hand that Caesar didn’t take time to
read. Coward’s die many times before there deaths, the valiant
merely taste of death but once.
Antony. Casca strikes first blow. All strike. Caesar
defends self. Brutus strikes. Et tu Brute. Caesar
Freedom! Tyranny is dead..
But they were
wrong. It was the Republic that was dead.
And if the
senators had been honest with themselves, they might have acknowledged
the truth of Cassius line “The Fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars
but in ourselves.”