Julius Caesar facts

Gaius Julius Caesar
Consul and Dictator of the Roman Republic
Giulio-cesare-enhanced 1-800x1450.jpg
Bust of Julius Caesar
Reign October 49 BC –
15 March 44 BC (as dictator and/or consul)
Full name Gaius Julius Caesar
Born July 100 BC
Birthplace Rome
Died 15 March 44 BC
Place of death Theatre of Pompey, Rome
Consort Cornelia Cinna minor 84–68 BC
Pompeia 68–63 BC
Calpurnia Pisonis 59–44 BC
Children Julia Caesaris 85/84–54 BC
Caesarion 47–30 BC
Augustus 63 BC–AD 14 (grand-nephew, posthumously adopted as Caesar's son in 44 BC)
Royal House Julio-Claudian
Father Gaius Julius Caesar (proconsul of Asia, 90s BC)
Mother Aurelia Cotta

Gaius Julius Caesar (July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC) was a military commander, politician and author at the end of the Roman Republic.

Caesar became a member of the First Triumvirate and when that broke up he fought a civil war against Pompey the Great. Winning the war, Caesar became Dictator for life of the Roman Republic. He was assassinated by his enemies in Rome. He played a critical role in the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. He is also known as an author of Latin prose.

Caesar is considered by many historians to be one of the greatest military commanders in history. His name was adopted as a synonym for "Emperor"; the title "Caesar" was used throughout the Roman Empire, giving rise to modern names and titles such as Kaiser or Tsar. He has frequently appeared in literary and artistic works, and his political philosophy, known as Caesarism inspired politicians into the modern era.

Early life and career

Sulla Glyptothek Munich 309
Dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla stripped Caesar of the priesthood

Julius Caesar was born in Italy around 16 July 100 BC. The exact date is not known. He was born Gaius Julius Caesarius. At sixteen he was the head of his family, and soon came under threat as Lucius Cornelius Sulla became dictator.

Sulla set about purging Rome of his enemies. Hundreds were killed or exiled, and Caesar was on the list. His mother's family pleaded for his life; Sulla reluctantly gave in, but stripped Caesar of his inheritance. From then on, lack of money was one of the main problems in his life. Caesar joined the army, and left Rome. He only returned after Sulla's death in 78 BC.

On the way across the Aegean Sea, Caesar was kidnapped by pirates and held prisoner. He maintained an attitude of superiority throughout his captivity. When the pirates thought to demand a ransom of twenty talents of silver, he insisted they ask for fifty. After the ransom was paid, Caesar raised a fleet, pursued and captured the pirates, and imprisoned them. He had them crucified on his own authority, as he had promised while in captivity—a promise the pirates had taken as a joke. He was soon called back into military action.

Cornelia Cinnae
Cornelia (c. 97 – c. 69 BC) was the first wife of Caesar and the mother of his only daughter Julia

On his return to Rome he was elected military tribune, a first step in a political career. He was elected quaestor for 69 BC. His wife Cornelia died that year. After her funeral, Caesar went to serve his quaestorship in Spain. On his return in 67 BC, he married Pompeia (a grand-daughter of Sulla), whom he later divorced. In 63 BC he ran for election to the post of Pontifex Maximus, high priest of the Roman state religion. He ran against two powerful senators; there were accusations of bribery by all sides. Caesar won comfortably, despite his opponents' greater experience and standing.

Caesar was appointed to govern Roman Spain. In Spain he conquered two local tribes, was hailed as imperator by his troops, and completed his governorship in high esteem. Though he was due a 'triumph' in Rome, he also wanted to stand for Consul, the most senior magistracy in the Republic. Faced with the choice between a triumph and the consulship, Caesar chose the consulship. After election, he was a consul in 59 BC.

The First Triumvirate

Pompey the Great
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, usually known in English as Pompey or Pompey the Great, was a military and political leader of the late Roman Republic

Caesar took power with Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great) and Marcus Licinius Crassus. These three men ruled Rome and were called the Triumvirate.

Caesar was the go-between for Crassus and Pompey. They had been at odds for years, but Caesar tried to reconcile them. Between the three of them, they had enough money and political influence to control public business. This informal alliance, known as the First Triumvirate (rule of three men), was cemented by the marriage of Pompey to Caesar's daughter Julia. Caesar also married again, this time to Calpurnia, who was the daughter of another powerful senator.

Caesar's Gallic War

With the agreement of his partners, Caesar became the governor of Gallia (Gaul). Gaul is the area which is today's Northern Italy, Switzerland, and France.

Caesar was the commander of the Roman legions during the Gallic War. The war was fought on the side of Rome's Gallic clients against the Germans, who wanted to invade Gaul. It was also to extend Rome's control of Gaul. Caesar's conquest of Gaul extended Rome's territory to the North Sea. In 55 BC he conducted the first Roman invasion of Britain. Caesar wrote about this eight-year war in his book De Bello Gallico ('About the Gallic Wars'). This book, written in Latin, is an important historical account.

These achievements gave him great military power, and threatened to eclipse Pompey. The balance of power was further upset by the death of Crassus in 53 BC.

Caesar's civil war

Marcus Antonius marble bust in the Vatican Museums
Marcus Antonius (14 January 83 BC – 1 August 30 BC), commonly known in as Mark Antony or Marc Antony, was a Roman politician and general

In 50 BC, the Senate, led by Pompey, ordered Caesar to disband his army and return to Rome because his term as governor had finished. Caesar thought he would be prosecuted if he entered Rome without the immunity enjoyed by a magistrate. Pompey accused Caesar of insubordination and treason.

Caesar and his army approached Rome and crossed the Rubicon, a shallow river in north-east Italy, in 49 BC. It was the point beyond which no army was supposed to go. The river marked the boundary between Cisalpine Gaul to the north, and Italy proper to the south. Crossing the Rubicon caused a civil war. Pompey, the lawful Consul, and his friends, fled from Rome as Caesar's army approached.

Pompey managed to escape before Caesar could capture him. Caesar decided to head for Spain, while leaving Italy under the control of Mark Antony. Caesar made an astonishing 27-day route-march to Spain, where he defeated Pompey's lieutenants. He then returned east, to challenge Pompey in Greece. There, in July 48 BC, at Dyrrhachium Caesar barely avoided a catastrophic defeat. He then decisively defeated Pompey, at the Battle of Pharsalus later that year.

Dictator at last

Caesarion
Caesarion, son of Cleopatra and Caesar. From the exhibit, "Unravel the Mystery," at the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, PA

In Rome, Caesar was appointed Dictator, with Mark Antony as his Master of the Horse (second in command). Caesar presided over his own election to a second consulship and then, after eleven days, resigned this dictatorship.

Late in 48 BC, he was appointed dictator again, with a term of one year. Caesar then pursued Pompey to Egypt, where Pompey was soon murdered. Caesar then became involved in an Egyptian civil war between the child pharaoh and his sister, wife, and co-regent queen, Cleopatra. Perhaps as a result of the pharaoh's role in Pompey's murder, Caesar sided with Cleopatra. Caesar defeated the pharaoh's forces in 47 BC and installed Cleopatra as ruler.

Caesar and Cleopatra celebrated their victory with a triumphant procession on the Nile in the spring of 47 B.C. The royal barge was accompanied by 400 additional ships, introducing Caesar to the luxurious lifestyle of the Egyptian pharaohs. Caesar and Cleopatra never married; Roman Law only recognized marriages between two Roman citizens. Caesar continued his relationship with Cleopatra, which lasted 14 years. Cleopatra visited Rome on more than one occasion, staying in Caesar's villa, outside Rome across the River Tiber.

Cleopatra VII statue fragment, 69-30 BC - Royal Ontario Museum - DSC09761
Cleopatra VII statue fragment, 69-30 BC - Royal Ontario Museum

In 46 BC, Caesar defeated Cato and the remnants of Pompey's supporters in Africa. He was then appointed dictator for ten years. In two years he made numerous changes in Roman administration to improve the Republic. Many of these changes were meant to improve the lives of ordinary people. In February of 44 BC, one month before his assassination, he was appointed Dictator for life.

The most important change, however, was his reform of the calendar. The calendar was then regulated by the movement of the moon, and this had left it in a mess. Caesar replaced this calendar with the Egyptian calendar, which was regulated by the sun. He set the length of the year to 365.25 days by adding an intercalary/leap day at the end of February every fourth year.

To bring the calendar into alignment with the seasons, he decreed that three extra months be inserted into 46 BC (the ordinary intercalary month at the end of February, and two extra months after November). Thus, the Julian calendar opened on 1 January 45 BC. This calendar is almost identical to the current Western calendar.

Assassination

Karl Theodor von Piloty Murder of Caesar 1865
Assassination of Caesar

On the Ides of March (15 March) of 44 BC, Caesar was due to appear at a session of the Senate. Mark Antony, fearing the worst, went to head Caesar off. The plotters expected this, and arranged for someone to intercept him.

According to Eutropius, around sixty or more men participated in the assassination. The dictator's last words are not known with certainty. The version best known in the English-speaking world is the Latin phrase Et tu, Brute? ('You too, Brutus?'). In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, this is the first half of the line: "Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar". Caesar's dead body lay where it fell on the Senate floor for nearly three hours before other officials arrived to remove it.

Brutus and the Ghost of Caesar 1802
Brutus and the Ghost of Caesar

Brutus and his companions then marched to the Capitol while crying out to their beloved city: "People of Rome, we are once again free!". They were met with silence, as the citizens of Rome had locked themselves inside their houses as soon as the rumour of what had taken place had begun to spread. He has been mentioned in many, many movies.

Caesar's body was cremated, and on the site of his cremation, the Temple of Caesar was erected a few years later (at the east side of the main square of the Roman Forum). Only its altar now remains. A life-size wax statue of Caesar was later erected in the forum. A crowd who had gathered there started a fire, which badly damaged the forum and neighbouring buildings. In the ensuing chaos, Mark Antony, Octavian (later Augustus Caesar), and others fought a series of five civil wars, which would end in the formation of the Roman Empire.

Julius Caesar had been preparing to invade Parthia, the Caucasus, and Scythia, and then march back to Germania through Eastern Europe. These plans were halted by his assassination. His successors did attempt the conquests of Parthia and Germania, but without lasting results.

Memoirs

Commentarii de Bello Gallico
Commentarii de Bello Gallico, an account written by Julius Caesar about his nine years of war in Gaul
  • The Commentarii de Bello Gallico, usually known in English as The Gallic Wars, seven books each covering one year of his campaigns in Gaul and southern Britain in the 50s BC, with the eighth book written by Aulus Hirtius on the last two years.
  • The Commentarii de Bello Civili (The Civil War), events of the Civil War from Caesar's perspective, until immediately after Pompey's death in Egypt.

Other works historically have been attributed to Caesar, but their authorship is in doubt:

  • De Bello Alexandrino (On the Alexandrine War), campaign in Alexandria;
  • De Bello Africo (On the African War), campaigns in North Africa; and
  • De Bello Hispaniensi (On the Hispanic War), campaigns in the Iberian Peninsula.

These narratives were written and published annually during or just after the actual campaigns, as a sort of "dispatches from the front." They were important in shaping Caesar's public image and enhancing his reputation when he was away from Rome for long periods. They may have been presented as public readings. As a model of clear and direct Latin style, The Gallic Wars traditionally has been studied by first- or second-year Latin students.

Legacy

The Forum of Caesar (built near the Forum Romanum in Rome in 46 BC) and the Temple of Venus Genetrix, Imperial Forums, Rome (21101482544)
The Forum of Caesar built in Rome in 46 BC)

The texts written by Caesar, an autobiography of the most important events of his public life, are the most complete primary source for the reconstruction of his biography. Many rulers in history became interested in the historiography of Caesar. Napoleon III wrote the scholarly work Histoire de Jules César, which was not finished. Charles VIII ordered a monk to prepare a translation of the Gallic Wars in 1480. Charles V ordered a topographic study in France, to place in Gallic Wars in context; which created forty high-quality maps of the conflict.

The contemporary Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent catalogued the surviving editions of the Commentaries, and translated them to Turkish language. Henry IV and Louis XIII of France translated the first two commentaries and the last two respectively; Louis XIV re-translated the first one afterwards.

Julius Caesar is seen as the main example of Caesarism, a form of political rule led by a charismatic strongman whose rule is based upon a cult of personality, whose rationale is the need to rule by force, establishing a violent social order, and being a regime involving prominence of the military in the government. Other people in history, such as the French Napoleon Bonaparte and the Italian Benito Mussolini, have defined themselves as Caesarists. Bonaparte did not focus only on Caesar's military career but also on his relation with the masses, a predecessor to populism.

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