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Caesar, Gaius Julius

100 - 44 B.C.E.

Gaius Julius Caesar was born 12 July, 100 BC. He was an only child in a family that traced its lineage back to Iulus, the son of Aeneas. Thus the Julian clan claimes descent from Venus, mother of Aeneas. Caesar had an upbringing similar to other patrician boys of the epoque. His father was often away in military service and his mother, Aurelia, was a stern Roman matron. He studied in the grammatica with such notables as Marcus and Quintus Tullius Cicero. He followed the traditional path of study in rhetoric, oratory, philosophy, literature, Greek and music. After his studies in Rome he traveled to the island of Rhodes to study with the famous orator Molo.

Young Caesar was betrothed to young Cornelia, the daughter of Cinna. Cinna was a member of the Populares party and loyal to Caesar's Uncle Marius. (Marius had married Caesar's Aunt Julia, who was another strong, determined lady.) Caesar married Cornelia when he was 18 and she was 13. Their only child, Julia, would later marry Pompey. Cornelia died in childbirth in 67 BC. Caesar then married Pompeia, a cousin of Pompey. This marriage ended in divorce because of a scandal that occurred during the rites of Bona Dea. Since Caesar was Pontifex Maximus at the time, these rites were conducted in his house by Pompeia and his mother. No men were allowed to be present (and to this day we still do not know what the actual rites were). Clodius disguised himself as a woman and entered the rites, but Caesar's mother discovered him when he failed to disguise his voice. Rumors arose that Pompeia herself had abetted this sacrilege. Caesar divorced her because of these rumors on the grounds that -- as we still say today -- "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion." In 59 BC Caesar married Calpurnia, daughter of Piso. It was she who dreamed of his imminent death just before the fateful Ides of March.

Land ownership was a constant subject of political debate. Small farmers were unable to maintain their property and had to sell their holdings to the large conglomerates (latifundi) run by patricians. There was much heated argument about whether there should be a general redistribution of land. The concern for land reform took on new urgency when Caesar's uncle, Marius, became consul for the first time (he would be consul seven times in all). Until Marius' time, a prospective soldier had to own land and have sufficient funds to find a place in the military because he had to buy his own supplies and necessary gear. Further, when a veteran mustered out he had his own farm and occupation to return to. He would not become an out-of-work soldier, trained to fight and sufficiently skilled to start a rebellion.

But Marius broke with tradition and recruited troops from the "head count"' of Rome, that is, landless plebeians who filled the apartment houses in the Subura and Transtiberim slums of Rome. Since Marius' veterans had no land, he wanted to award them lands within the foreign territories they had conquered. This would increase their loyalty to him and also keep them safely away from Rome. Marius' proposal was a threat to the landed gentry who called themselves the Optimates. They preferred that any spoils of war not reserved as soldiers' bonuses be turned over to Rome for their personal profit. Thus, civil war between the Populares and Optimates arose. (See Republic in the Mores section of the KET Latin II web site for more on the conflict of the Populares and Optimates.)

Caesar's family connections identified him with the Populares party. But Caesar was a very popular man in Rome. He had grown up in Subura, an area filled with people from all different class levels, and thus had learned to be at ease with all social classes. He had personal charisma that drew people to him and his soldiers were extremely loyal. Although Caesar's uncle, Marius, had been chief of the Populares, the Optimate chief, Sulla, as dictator of Rome asked Caesar to join his side. (However, Sulla insisted that Caesar divorce his wife Cornelia because she was the daughter of his opponent in the Populares, and Caesar refused.)

An incident that reveals both his personality and abilities clearly is his capture by pirates. This was not an uncommon experience, since many Romans traveled the seas. Ships were often captured, their cargo stolen, and passengers of sufficient wealth held for ransom. When Caesar learned the amount the pirates were asking for him, he took offense and said he was worth much more. While waiting to be ransomed, he played games with the pirates and laughed and chatted with them. But he also told them he would return and see that every one of them died for taking him prisoner. Once the ransom was paid and he was free, he went to Rhodes to collect a ship and allies. Although he had been blindfolded when originally taken to the pirates' hideaway, he had used all his senses to understand and memorize the way. He was thus able to retrace the route, find the hideaway, and crucify all the pirates as he had promised.

Debt became a problem for many Romans because interest rates had risen during the Civil War. Caesar lessened the amount debtors owed to creditors by assessing the value of their possessions at the same price which they had paid before the war. He further reduced their debt by allowing them to deduct the interest they had already paid. Caesar also rebuilt the rostra, the court house, and the curia on the old forum.

Caesar was considered brilliant, decisive, resourceful, and calm under pressure. He was strict but fair, and his soldiers were very loyal to him. He was also considered overly ambitious, cruel to his enemies, and unscrupulous in politics. Caesar wrote on grammar, astronomy, philosophy, poetry, and the civil war (De Bello Civile) but his best known work is the De Bello Gallico. This book, in which he chronicled the wars between 58 and 52 BC, furnished the western world with insights into the geography of western Europe as well as the economy, government and religions of the peoples living there. His clear and vivid writing continues to serve as a model of Latin grammar and his military descriptions were studied by Napoleon in the Ecole Militaire. Indeed, until after World War I, cadets at West Point Military Academy also studied war with the De Bello Gallico.

Julius Caesar's Rise to Power

(offices on the Cursus Honorum are in bold print)

100 BC Born in Rome 58 BC Proconsul of Gaul, defeated Helvetians
83 BC Married Cornelia, daughter of Cinna 57 BC Conquered the Belgae
81 BC Began military career in war against Mithridates, King of Pontus 56 BC Conquered the Veneti in naval battle
80 BC Awarded corona civica for saving life of colleague 55 BC 1st invasion of Germany, Britain
76 BC Captured by pirates; studied in Rhodes 54 BC 2nd invasion of Britain; death of Julia
74 BC Military tribune 53 BC End of triumvirate
68 BC Quaestor (treasurer) in Spain 52 BC Surrender of Vercingetorix, leader of Gauls
67 BC Death of Cornelia; marriage to Pompeia 49 BC Crossed the Rubicon ("Alea Iacta Est"); Civil war against Pompey
65 BC Aedile (in charge of public works & games) 48 BC Defeated Pompey at Pharsalus in Greece
Consul 2nd time
63 BC Pontifex Maximus 47 BC Battle of Zela, defeated Ptolemy of Egypt, King Pharnaces of Pontus ("Veni Vidi Vici")
62 BC Praetor (judge) 46 BC Consul for 3rd time
61 BC Propraetor in Spain 45 BC Dictator for life
60 BC Formed 1st Triumvirate with Pompey, Crassus 44 BC Assassinated on Ides of March
59 BC Consul with Bibulus; married Calpurnia

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