Historical Figures: Julius Caesar

He is an historical icon, his name known the world over. Despite dying in 44BC, this politician, general and, eventually, dictator, lead Rome's transition from republic to empire (although he was never emperor himself) and continues to elicit debate among historians and lay-people alike.

Caesar

He is an historical icon, his name known the world over. Despite dying in 44BC, this politician, general and, eventually, dictator, lead Rome's transition from republic to empire (although he was never emperor himself) and continues to elicit debate among historians and lay-people alike.

Hail Caesar!

Campaigns such as the 8 year long mission to capture Gaul mean opinions of Caesar range from seeing him as a warrior second in greatness only to Alexander the Great to dismissing him as power-mad genocidal murderer.

Onwards and upwards

This was a man who set out to better himself from a very young age. Born Gaius Julius Caesar to a modest aristocratic family in 100BC, he soon realised how corrupt Roman politics had become and throughout his life, married women from distinguished families to gain influence and played on his own family origins to win popular support. Massive bribery also served Caesar well and it was this which secured him the politically important office of Pontifex Maximus in 63BC and marked the beginning of his influence in Roman politics.

Marble Bust of Caesar

Marble Bust of Caesar

Caesar's salad days

In 60BC Caesar's career took him to Spain where, aged 41, he discovered a talent for military command he himself hadn't known he possessed. It was this which lead to the period where Caesar's life changed forever. After becoming governor of Gaul, he was to stay for eight years, adding the whole of modern France and Belgium to the Roman Empire, and making Rome safe from the possibility of Gallic invasions. But the territory he won was also systematically destroyed. It is estimated Caesar killed a million people, took another million hostage and destroyed hundreds of settlements.

Hail Caesar!

Hail Caesar!

Friends, Romans, Countrymen!

In addition to his military prowess, Caesar was also a gifted writer, poet, and scholar, as well as an incredibly talented orator, rivalling the Roman statesman Cicero. Indeed, Cicero himself noted '"Do you know any man who, even if he has concentrated on the art of oratory to the exclusion of all else, can speak better than Caesar?" As for his writing, we can still marvel at his own war commentaries such as the "De Bello Gallico" (Gallic Wars) where JC, of course, proclaims himself a hero throughout.

He came, he saw, he got murdered

By 44BC, Caesar had positioned himself as undisputed master of Rome and made himself dictator - for life. According to the traditional Republican constitution, however, this office was only to be held for six months during a dire emergency and many powerful Republican Roman families felt that Caesar threatened their position - that he might even make himself a rex (king). As a result, an assassination plot was hatched by a group of senators, including Gaius Cassius and Marcus Junius Brutus and on 15th (The Ides of) March, when Caesar entered the Senate house, the group stabbed him to death.

Not just a salad

Caesar's impressive legacy lives on today:

  • Those famous words "I came, I saw, I conquered." are still oft-quoted and relate to his quick military victory against the king of Pontus in Asia Minor in 47 BC.

  • He was the first Roman leader to issue coinage bearing his own likeness.

  • He decided to use a solar measure of time that became known as the Julian calendar; a system now the basis of the modern calendar.

  • He changed the name of the month Quintilis to Julius (July), after himself.

  • After his death, his name was adopted as a title by all Roman emperors - and even the titles Kaiser and Czar derive from the name Caesar.

But finally, we must note how the historian Suetonius did notice a chink in the Caesar armour...

He was embarrassed by his baldness, which was a frequent subject of jokes on the part of his opponents; so much so that he used to comb his straggling locks forward from the back, and of all honours heaped upon him by senate and people, the one he most appreciated was to be able to wear a wreath at all times...