Skip to main content

Gaius Julius Caesar

Gaius Julius Caesar

Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.) was a Roman general and politician who overthrew the Roman Republic and established the rule of the emperors.

At the time of Julius Caesar's birth the political, social, economic, and moral problems created by the acquisition of a Mediterranean empire in the 3d and 2d centuries B.C. began to challenge the Roman Republic. The senatorial oligarchy that ruled Rome was proving inadequate to deal with these new challenges. It could not control the armies and the generals and was unwilling to listen to the pleas of the Italian allies for equal citizenship and of the provinces for justice. The system also had no real answers for the growth of an urban proletariat and the mass importation of slaves. Caesar saw these inadequacies of the Senate and used the problems and dilemmas of the period to create his own supreme political and military power.

Caesar was born on July 13, 100 B.C. His father had been only a moderate political success, attaining the praetorship but not the consulship. Caesar's mother came from plebeian stock. The family could claim a long, if not overly distinguished, history. It was a patrician family on his father's side and therefore one of the founders of Rome and was entitled to certain traditional privileges and offices. However, in comparison with many other leading Roman families it had produced few distinguished people.

Early Training

Caesar received the classic, rhetorically grounded education of a young Roman at Rome and in Rhodes. He was considered one of the most cultured and literate of Romans by such an expert as Cicero himself. Caesar followed the traditional Roman practice of conducting some prosecutions in order to gain political attention. He served as a young officer in Asia Minor and was quaestor (financial official) in Farther Spain (69 B.C.).

Caesar first rose to political prominence in the internal struggles that followed the revolt of Rome's allies—the "Social Wars"—after Rome refused to grant them full citizenship in 90. Caesar's family was related to the revolt's leader, Gaius Marius, and joined his faction. Caesar married Cornelia, the daughter of Cinna, one of the leading Marians, and was nominated for the priesthood of flamen dialis. However, Marius died, and his followers were defeated by the Roman general Sulla. Caesar was spared in the proscriptions that followed the victory of Sulla, even though he refused to divorce Cornelia, to whom he remained married until her death in 69.

First Political and Military Successes

In the following years Caesar emerged as one of the leading political and social personalities of Rome. Cultivated, charming, and handsome, vain about his appearance, he made his love affairs the talk of Roman society. He recognized the urban proletariat as one of the major sources of political power and cultivated this group assiduously. He maintained Marian connections, and in 65 B.C., when he was aedile, he restored the triumphal monuments of Marius that had been dismantled under Sulla. Caesar was famous for his hospitality and was often heavily in debt. His aedileship was especially noted for its lavish displays and games.

Caesar's first really important electoral success was his election as pontifex maximus in 63 B.C. This was regarded as the chief religious office in Rome and had important political possibilities.

Caesar was elected praetor for 62 B.C. and served his propraetorship in Farther Spain. For over a century Spain had provided Roman governors the opportunity for a triumph. Caesar was quick to take advantage of the situation by waging a successful campaign against some native tribes in Lusitania. His political enemies accused him of provoking the war—he would not have been the first Roman governor in Spain who had done so—but he was nevertheless awarded the right of a triumph for his victory.

First Triumvirate

In the meantime a political crisis was developing in Rome. Pompey had returned from the East after having eliminated Mithridates and made major political settlements. He was having difficulty persuading the Senate to ratify these settlements and provide compensation for his veterans. Caesar at the same time was setting his sights on the consulship for the year 59 B.C. He returned from Spain in 60 B.C. and waived his right of triumph in order to campaign for election. He won, together with a representative of the senatorial oligarchy, Bibulus. The Senate immediately moved to block his hopes of future political power by voting as his postconsular area of responsibility the care of the woodlands of the Roman state, a command with no possibilities for military glory. Caesar, desiring more glamorous political and military opportunities, saw that he would need allies to circumvent his senatorial opponents.

Out of the specific problems of two of Rome's great men and the general ambition of the third grew the political alliance known as the First Triumvirate. Pompey brought wealth and military might, Crassus wealth and important political connections, and Caesar the key office of consul along with the brains and skill of a master political infighter. Caesar was to obtain the necessary settlements for Pompey and was in turn to receive a choice province. The alliance was further cemented in 58 B.C. by the marriage of Caesar's only daughter, Julia, to Pompey.

Caesar showed soon after his election that he intended to ignore Bibulus, his weak consular colleague, by using the political and religious machinery to advance Pompey's requests. Caesar's land bills indicated an intelligent effort to solve the problem of Rome's urban proletariat by returning people to the land. Pompey's veterans were settled on their own land allotments; and Caesar received as a reward the governorship of the provinces of Cisalpine Gaul, Illyricum, and Transalpine Gaul for a period of 5 years after his consulship.

Proconsul in Gaul

At the time Caesar took command, Roman control in Gaul was limited to the southern coast, the area known as Gallia Narbonensis. However, Rome had political relations with tribes beyond the actual border of the province. Caesar quickly took advantage of these connections and the shifting power position in Gaul to extend the sphere of Roman control. At the request of the Aedui, a tribe friendly to Rome, Caesar prevented the Helvetii from migrating across Gaul and then defeated Ariovistus, a German chieftain, who was building his own political power among the Sequani, a rival tribe to the Aedui. From there, Caesar extended Roman arms north with military victories over the Belgi (57 B.C.) and the Venetic tribes on the north coast of Gaul (56).

Meanwhile political strains had appeared in the alliance of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. Caesar's 5-year command was coming to a close, and political enemies were demanding his recall to make him explain his often high-handed actions in Gaul in provoking war with the native tribes. Crassus had been viewing with jealousy the power base that Caesar was building in Gaul and desired his own military command.

The three men met at the northern Italian city of Luca in April 56 B.C. and recemented their political ties. Caesar received a 5-year extension of his command. Pompey and Crassus were to have another consulship, after which Crassus would assume the important post of governor of Syria and Pompey would receive the governorship of Spain.

Revolt in Gaul

Caesar turned his energies to Gaul again. He decided to undertake an expedition against Britain, whose tribes maintained close contacts with Gaul. These expeditions in 55 B.C. and 54 B.C. were probably not a complete success for Caesar, but they aroused great enthusiasm at Rome. For the first time Roman arms had advanced over the sea to conquer strange, new peoples.

Caesar probably thought that his main task of conquest was complete. However, in 52 B.C. Gaul arose in widespread rebellion against Caesar under Vercingetorix, a nobleman of the tribe of the Arverni. Caesar's power base was threatened.

At the same time the political situation in Rome was equally chaotic. The tribune Clodius had been murdered, and his death was followed by great civic disorder. Pompey was called upon to assume the post of sole consul for 52 B.C. Caesar had crossed the Alps to watch more closely the changing conditions in Rome, and when the news of the Gallic revolt reached him, he recrossed the Alps, still partly blocked by winter, and rallied his divided army. He won a striking victory by capturing the Gallic town of Avaricum but was repulsed when he tried to storm the Arvernian stronghold of Gergovia. This defeat added Rome's old allies, the Aedui, to the forces of Vercingetorix. However, Vercingetorix made the mistake of taking refuge in the fortress of Alesia, where Caesar brought to bear the best of Roman siege techniques. A relieving army of Gauls was defeated, and Vercingetorix was forced to surrender. He was carried to Rome, where he graced Caesar's triumph in 46 B.C.

Dissolution of the Triumvirate

Caesar's long absence from Rome had partially weakened his political power. He naturally kept numerous contacts in Rome through agents and through extensive correspondence. Profits from his conquests were used for building projects to impress the people and for personal loans to leading figures such as Cicero in order to win their allegiance. Caesar's conquests were well publicized; his Commentaries, which described the campaigns in a controlled, matter-of-fact, third-person style, circulated among the reading public at Rome. Recent scholarship has emphasized the propaganda aspects of the Commentaries, even claiming that Caesar seriously distorted facts to justify his actions. Certainly, Caesar sought to place his conquests in the best possible light, stressing their basically defensive nature and the importance of defending friends and allies of Rome against traditional Roman enemies. He had made extensive additions to the Roman Empire (about 640,000 square miles) at the expense of peoples who had long been enemies of Rome.

Pompey, on the other hand, had remained in Rome and strengthened his political position by appearing as a savior in a time of chaos. Other tensions in the alliance were Julia's death in 54 B.C., which removed an important bond between the two men; and the death of Crassus in 53 B.C., which left Pompey and Caesar in a confrontation of power.

Caesar's second term as governor ended in 50 B.C. His enemies were awaiting the day when he lost the immunity of an official position and could be prosecuted for various actions during his consulship and proconsulship. This was the traditional republican method of breaking a political opponent by securing his condemnation and exile. Caesar countered this by requesting to stand for the consulship for the year 49 B.C. in absentia, thus moving directly from proconsulship to consulship without being exposed to the vulnerability of a private citizen.

Civil War

In 52 B.C. the bill allowing Caesar to run for consul in absentia was passed, but its effect was vitiated by a decree of the Senate which would have forced Caesar to yield his provinces to a successor before he was elected consul. The majority of the senators wanted peace but were pushed along by a determined minority who wanted to destroy Caesar. Pompey was caught in a dilemma. He did not want civil war, but he also did not want to yield his prime position in the state. Finally Caesar's opponents in the Senate won. A decree was passed in January 49 B.C. demanding that Caesar yield his province and return to Rome as a private citizen to stand for the consulship.

The proconsul now had two choices. He could bow to the will of the Senate and be destroyed politically, or he could provoke civil war. Caesar chose the latter course and led his troops over the Rubicon, the small river that divided Cisalpine Gaul from the Roman heartland. At the beginning the greater power seemed to rest with Pompey and the Senate. Most men of prestige, such as Cato and Cicero, joined Pompey's cause. Pompey had connections with the provinces and princes of the Roman East, where he could draw enormous resources. Furthermore, he was defending the cause of the Senate and the established order at Rome.

However, Caesar had at his command a tough and experienced army, as well as an extensive following in Italy. Most of all, he was fighting for his own interests alone and did not have to face the divisions of interest, opinion, and leadership that plagued Pompey.

Pompey quickly decided to abandon Italy to Caesar and fell back to the East. Caesar secured his position in Italy and Gaul and then defeated Pompey at Pharsalus on Aug. 9, 48 B.C. Pompey fled to Egypt and was killed by the young pharaoh, Ptolemy. Although his rival was eliminated, much work remained to be done to make Caesar's position secure.

Caesar followed Pompey to Egypt and became involved in the dynastic struggle of the house of Ptolemy.

Caesar supported Cleopatra, but caught in Alexandria without sufficient troops, he was nearly destroyed before reinforcements could arrive. The main result of this sojourn was the affair that developed between Caesar and Cleopatra, which ultimately resulted in a son, Caesarion.

Caesar still had numerous unconquered enemies in Africa and Spain. Turning first to Africa, on April 6, 46 B.C., at Thapsus he crushed a republican army led by Cato the Younger, his old and bitter enemy. Cato retreated to Utica, where he committed suicide rather than surrender to Caesar. Caesar moved into Spain and on March 17, 45 B.C., defeated the sons of Pompey at Munda.

Consolidation of the Empire

Meanwhile Caesar had to define his political position in Rome. He adopted a policy of special clemency toward his former enemies and rewarded political opponents with public office. For himself he adopted the old Roman position of dictator. However, what had been traditionally a 6-month emergency magistracy he turned into an office of increasing duration.

There has been much debate about what political role Caesar planned for himself. He certainly regarded the old oligarchic government as inadequate and desired to replace it with some form of rule by a single leader. Significantly, just before his death, Caesar was appointed dictator for life. About the same time, he began issuing coins with his own portrait on them, a practice unparalleled in Rome up to that time.

Caesar was planning major projects and reforms. Public works, such as a new, massive basilica in the old forum complex, were progressing. Even more grandiose schemes, like the draining of the Pontine marshes, were planned. New colonial foundations were under way, including settlements in Carthage and Corinth, both destroyed by the Romans in 146 B.C. Among his reforms was the reordering of the inadequate Roman calendar.

However, Caesar's restless temperament was not satisfied by administration and legislation at Rome. He was preparing equally extensive military campaigns. Trouble was brewing in Dacia across the Danube, and the Parthians had not been punished for the destruction of Crassus' army.

Death and Legacy

In Rome dissatisfaction was growing among the senatorial aristocrats over the increasingly permanent nature of the rule of Caesar. A conspiracy was formed aimed at eliminating Caesar and restoring the government to the Senate. The conspirators hoped that, with Caesar's death, government would be restored to its old republican form and all of the factors that had produced a Caesar would disappear. The conspiracy progressed with Caesar either ignorant of it or not recognizing the warning signs. On the Ides of March (March 15), 44 B.C., he was stabbed to death in the Senate house of Pompey by a group of men that included old friends and comrades-in-arms.

With Caesar's murder Rome plunged into 13 years of civil war. Caesar remained for some a symbol of tyranny, and for others the heritable founder of the Roman Empire whose ghost has haunted Europe ever since. For all, he is a figure of genius and audacity equaled by few in history.

Further Reading

Two ancient biographies of Caesar survive: one by the Greek moralist Plutarch in his Lives and the other by the Roman courtier and bureaucrat Suetonius in his The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Caesar speaks for himself in Commentaries on the Gallic War and Commentaries on the Civil Wars. For a vivid account of the politics of the period, with Caesar playing a major role, nothing surpasses the letters of Cicero.

The best modern biography of Caesar is Matthias Gelzer, Caesar: Politician and Statesman (1921; trans. 1968). Michael Grant, Julius Caesar (1969), is a detailed survey of Caesar's career. Other biographies include John Buchan, Julius Caesar (1932), and Alfred L. Duggan, Julius Caesar: A Great Life in Brief (1955; new ed. 1966). For an understanding of how Caesar operated in the politics of his time see Lily Ross Taylor, Party Politics in the Age of Caesar (1949). Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution (1939; rev. ed. 1952), places Caesar in the political developments of the 1st century B.C. F. E. Adcock discusses Caesar's literary achievements in Caesar as Man of Letters (1956). T. Rice Holmes, Caesar's Conquest of Gaul (1899; 2d ed. 1911), is still the fullest commentary in English on Caesar's Gallic War. For general historical background see T. Rice Holmes, The Roman Republic and the Founder of the Empire (3 vols., 1923), and A. H. McDonald, Republican Rome (1966). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Gaius Julius Caesar." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Feb. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Gaius Julius Caesar." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gaius-julius-caesar

"Gaius Julius Caesar." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved February 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gaius-julius-caesar

Caesar, Julius

Julius Caesar (Caius Julius Caesar), 100? BC–44 BC, Roman statesman and general.

Rise to Power

Although he was born into the Julian gens, one of the oldest patrician families in Rome, Caesar was always a member of the democratic or popular party. He benefited from the patronage of his uncle by marriage, Caius Marius. In 82 BC, when Caesar refused to obey Sulla's order to divorce Cornelia, the wealthy daughter of Lucius Cornelius Cinna, he was proscribed and subsequently fled from Rome (81 BC).

On Sulla's death, Caesar returned (78 BC) and began his political career. He quickly gained popularity with his party and a reputation for oratory. In 74 BC he went into Asia to repulse a Cappadocian army. Upon his return, he agitated for reform of the government on popular lines and helped to advance the position of Pompey, the virtual head of the popular party. Caesar was made military tribune before 70 BC and was quaestor in Farther Spain in 69 BC; he helped Pompey to obtain the supreme command for the war in the East. He returned to Rome in 68 BC, and in Pompey's absence was becoming the recognized head of the popular party. His praise of Marius and Cinna made him popular with the people, but earned him the hatred of the senate.

In 63 BC he was elected pontifex maximus [high priest], allegedly by heavy bribes. His later reform of the calendar with the help of Sosigenes, was one of his greatest contributions to history. In Dec., 63 BC, Caesar advocated mercy for Catiline and the conspirators, thereby increasing the enmity of the senatorial party and its leaders, Cato the Younger and Quintus Lutatius Catulus (see Catulus, family). In 62 BC, Clodius and Caesar's second wife, Pompeia, were involved in a scandal concerning the violation of the secret rites of Bona Dea, and Caesar obtained a divorce, saying, "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion."

The First Triumvirate

Having served in Farther Spain as proconsul in 61 BC, he returned to Rome in 60 BC, ambitious for the consulate. Against senatorial opposition he achieved a brilliant stroke—he organized a coalition, known as the First Triumvirate, made up of Pompey, commander in chief of the army; Marcus Licinius Crassus, the wealthiest man in Rome (see Crassus, family); and Caesar himself. Pompey and Crassus were jealous of each other, but Caesar by force of personality kept the arrangement going.

In 59 BC he married Calpurnia. In the same year, as consul, he secured the passage of an agrarian law providing Campanian lands for 20,000 poor citizens and veterans, in spite of the opposition of his senatorial colleague, Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus. Caesar also won the support of the wealthy equites by getting a reduction for them in their tax contracts in Asia. This made him the guiding power in a coalition between people and plutocrats.

He was assigned the rule of Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul and Illyricum with four legions for five years (58 BC–54 BC). The differences between Pompey and Crassus grew, and Caesar again moved (56 BC) to patch up matters, arriving at an agreement that both Pompey and Crassus should be consuls in 55 BC and that their proconsular provinces should be Spain and Syria, respectively. From this arrangement he drew an extension of his command in Gaul to 49 BC In the years 58 BC to 49 BC he firmly established his reputation in the Gallic Wars.

In 55 BC, Caesar made explorations into Britain, and in 54 BC he defeated the Britons, led by Cassivellaunus. Caesar met his most serious opposition in Gaul from Vercingetorix, whom he defeated in Alesia in 52 BC By the end of the wars Caesar had reduced all Gaul to Roman control. These campaigns proved him one of the greatest commanders of all time. In them he revealed his consummate military genius, characterized by quick, sure judgment and indomitable energy. The campaigns also developed the personal devotion of the legions to Caesar. His personal interest in the men (he is reputed to have known them all by name) and his willingness to undergo every hardship made him the idol of the army—a significant element in his later career.

In 54 BC occurred the death of Caesar's daughter Julia, Pompey's wife since 59 BC She had been the principal personal tie between the two men. During the years Caesar was in Gaul, Pompey had been gradually leaning more and more toward the senatorial party. The tribunate of Clodius (58 BC) had aggravated conditions in Rome, and Caesar's military successes had aroused Pompey's jealousy. Crassus' death (53 BC) in Parthia ended the First Triumvirate and set Pompey and Caesar against each other.

Civil War

After the First Triumvirate ended, the senate supported Pompey, who became sole consul in 52 BC Meanwhile, Caesar had become a military hero as well as a champion of the people. The senate feared him and wanted him to give up his army, knowing that he hoped to be consul when his term in Gaul expired. In Dec., 50 BC, Caesar wrote the senate that he would give up his army if Pompey would give up his. The senate heard the letter with fury and demanded that Caesar disband his army at once or be declared an enemy of the people—an illegal bill, for Caesar was entitled to keep his army until his term was up.

Two tribunes faithful to Caesar, Marc Antony and Quintus Cassius Longinus (see under Cassius) vetoed the bill and were quickly expelled from the senate. They fled to Caesar, who assembled his army and asked for the support of the soldiers against the senate. The army called for action, and on Jan. 19, 49 BC, Caesar with the words "Iacta alea est" [the die is cast] crossed the Rubicon, the stream bounding his province, to enter Italy. Civil war had begun.

Caesar's march to Rome was a triumphal progress. The senate fled to Capua. Caesar proceeded to Brundisium, where he besieged Pompey until Pompey fled (Mar., 49 BC) with his fleet to Greece. Caesar set out at once for Spain, which Pompey's legates were holding, and pacified that province. Returning to Rome, Caesar held the dictatorship for 11 days in early December, long enough to get himself elected consul, and then set out for Greece in pursuit of Pompey.

Caesar collected at Brundisium a small army and fleet—so small, in fact, that Bibulus, waiting with a much larger fleet to prevent his crossing to Epirus, did not yet bother to watch him—and slipped across the strait. He met Pompey at Dyrrhachium but was forced to fall back and begin a long retreat southward, with Pompey in pursuit. Near Pharsalus, Caesar camped in a very strategic location. Pompey, who had a far larger army, attacked Caesar but was routed (48 BC) and fled to Egypt, where he was killed.

Caesar, having pursued Pompey to Egypt, remained there for some time, living with Cleopatra, taking her part against her brother and husband Ptolemy XIII, and establishing her firmly on the throne. From Egypt he went to Syria and Pontus, where he defeated (47 BC) Pharnaces II with such ease that he reported his victory in the words "Veni, vidi, vici" [I came, I saw, I conquered]. In the same year he personally put down a mutiny of his army and then set out for Africa, where the followers of Pompey had fled, to end their opposition led by Cato.

Dictatorship and Death

On his return to Rome, where he was now tribune of the people and dictator, he had four great triumphs and pardoned all his enemies. He set about reforming the living conditions of the people by passing agrarian laws and by improving housing accommodations. He also drew up the elaborate plans (which Augustus later used) for consolidating the empire and establishing it securely. In the winter of 46 BC–45 BC he was in Spain putting down the last of the senatorial party under Gaeus Pompeius, the son of Pompey. He returned to Rome in Sept., 45 BC, and was elected to his fifth consulship in 44 BC In the same year he became dictator for life and set about planning a campaign against Parthia, the only real menace to Rome's borders.

His dictatorial powers had, however, aroused great resentment, and he was bitterly criticized by his enemies, who accused him of all manner of vices. When a conspiracy was formed against him, however, it was made up of his friends and protégés, among them Cimber, Casca, Cassius, and Marcus Junius Brutus. On Mar. 15 (the Ides of March), 44 BC, he was stabbed to death in the senate house. His will left everything to his 18-year-old grandnephew Octavian (later Augustus).

Legacy

Caesar has always been one of the most controversial characters of history. His admirers have seen in him the defender of the rights of the people against an oligarchy. His detractors have seen him as an ambitious demagogue, who forced his way to dictatorial power and destroyed the republic. That he was gifted and versatile there can be little doubt. He excelled in war, in statesmanship, and in oratory.

His literary works are highly esteemed. Of Caesar's literary works, his commentaries on the Gallic Wars (seven books) and on the civil war (three books) survive. They are masterpieces of clear, beautiful, concise Latin, and they are classic military documents. Caesar wrote poetry, but the only surviving piece is a poem on Terence.

Bibliography

A literary classic on Caesar is Shakespeare's tragedy, Julius Caesar. See biographies by M. Gelzer (tr. 1968, repr. 1985), S. Weinstock (1971), and C. Meier (1996).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Caesar, Julius." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Feb. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Caesar, Julius." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/caesar-julius

"Caesar, Julius." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved February 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/caesar-julius

Caesar, Julius

Julius Caesar

Born: July 12, 100 b.c.e.
Rome
Died: March 15, 44 b.c.e.

Rome
Roman general and politician

J ulius Caesar was a Roman general and politician who overthrew the Roman Republic and established the rule of the emperors. Caesar used the problems and hardships of the period to create his own supreme political and military power. Roman Emperor Julius Caesar is regarded as one of the most powerful and successful leaders in the history of the world. His life and his violent death have been widely celebrated in literature and film.

Young Caesar

Gaius Julius Caesar was born on July 12, 100 b.c.e. to Gaius Caesar and Aurelia. His father had gained moderate political success and the family claimed a long and noble history, which therefore entitled Caesar's family to certain traditional privileges and offices. Caesar received the classic education of a young Roman at Rome and in Rhodes. Cicero (10643 b.c.e.), a Roman statesman and philosopher, considered Caesar one of the most cultured and literate of Romans. Caesar served as a young officer in Asia Minor and was quaestor (financial official) in Farther Spain (69 b.c.e.).

Caesar's first important political success came in 63 b.c.e., when he was elected pontifex maximus, the chief religious office in Rome that carried important political possibilities. Caesar was then elected praetor (an elected Roman official) for 62 b.c.e. and served his propraetorship in Spain. Caesar was quick to take advantage of his power by waging a successful campaign against some native tribes in Lusitania, a Roman province in western Europe. Meanwhile, his political enemies accused him of provoking, or starting, the war.

First Triumvirate

In 59 b.c.e. Caesar won an election to become consul, or an official ruling over foreign lands. The Senate, immediately moving to block his hopes of future political power, assigned him to lands that offered Caesar no possibilities for military glory. Caesar, who desired more glamorous political and military opportunities, saw that he needed allies to overcome his opponents in the Senate.

Caesar soon found the alliance that would become known as the First Triumvirate. He aligned himself with the Roman General Pompey (10648 b.c.e.), who brought wealth and military might, and Crassus (14091 b.c.e.), a powerful Roman politician who brought important political connections. The alliance was further sealed in 58 b.c.e. with the marriage of Caesar's only daughter, Julia, to Pompey.

Revolt in Gaul

Caesar was awarded the governorship of Gaul, a Roman province occupied by several tribes. While Roman control in Gaul was limited, Rome did have political relations with tribes beyond the actual border of the province. Caesar quickly took advantage of these connections and the shifting power position in Gaul to extend the realm of Roman control.

Caesar decided to undertake an expedition against Britain, whose tribes maintained close contacts with Gaul. These expeditions in 55 and 54 b.c.e. created great enthusiasm in Rome, as for the first time Roman arms had advanced overseas to conquer new peoples. Caesar probably thought that his main task of conquest was complete. In 52 b.c.e., however, Gaul rose in widespread rebellion against Caesar under Vercingetorix, a nobleman of the tribe of the Arverni. This revolt greatly threatened Caesar's power base.

At the same time, the political situation in Rome was equally chaotic. The tribune (Roman official) Clodius had been murdered, and his death was followed by great disorder in Rome. Caesar had crossed the Alps to watch the changing conditions in Rome. When the news of revolt in Gaul reached him, he recrossed the Alps and rallied his divided army. Caesar's forces lost several battles to Vercingetorix and the Arverni. Vercingetorix made the mistake of taking refuge in the fortress of Alesia, however. Caesar used the best of Roman siege techniques and encircled the fortress to capture the enemy. Soon Vercingetorix was forced to surrender.

Dissolving the Triumvirate

Caesar's long absence from Rome had partially weakened his political power. At the same time Caesar's conquests were well publicized. His Commentaries, which described the campaigns, circulated among the reading public in Rome. Caesar sought to place his conquests in the best possible light, and the Commentaries stressed the importance of defending the friends and allies of Rome against traditional Roman enemies. He had made vast additions to the Roman Empire (about 640,000 square miles) at the expense of peoples who had long been enemies of Rome.

Pompey, on the other hand, had remained in Rome and strengthened his political position by appearing as a leader in a time of chaos. Other tensions in the alliance came with Julia's death in 54 b.c.e., which removed an important bond between the two men. The death of Crassus in 53 b.c.e. further weakened the relationship between Pompey and Caesar.

Civil war

When Caesar returned to Rome in 50 b.c.e., the Senate looked to put him on trial for acts he committed while acting as consul. Caesar now had two choices: he could bow to the will of the Senate and be destroyed politically, or he could start a civil war. Caesar chose war.

It the beginning the greater power seemed to rest with Pompey and the Senate, as Pompey had powerful resources with which to draw support against Caesar. However, Caesar had at his command a tough, loyal, and experienced army, as well as an extensive following in Italy. Most of all, he was fighting for his own interests alone and did not have to face the divisions of interest, opinion, and leadership that plagued Pompey.

Pompey quickly decided to abandon Italy to Caesar and fell back to the East. Caesar secured his position in Italy and Gaul and then defeated Pompey at Pharsalus on Aug. 9, 48 b.c.e. Pompey fled to Egypt and was killed by the young pharaoh (king) Ptolemy (6347 b.c.e.).

Caesar followed Pompey to Egypt and became involved in the struggle for power in the house of Ptolemy, a family in Egypt that ruled for generations. The main result of his time in Egypt was the affair that developed between Caesar and Cleopatra (5130 b.c.e.), Ptolemy's sister and joint ruler of Egypt. She would later give birth to Caesar's son, Caesarion.

Consolidation of the empire

Although his rival was eliminated, much work remained to make Caesar's position secure. He adopted a policy of special clemency, or mercy, toward his former enemies and rewarded political opponents with public office. For himself he adopted the old Roman position of dictator, a ruler with absolute power.

There has been much debate about what political role Caesar planned for himself. He certainly thought the old government was weak and desired to replace it with some form of rule by a single leader. Just before his death, Caesar was appointed dictator for life. About the same time, he began issuing coins with his portrait on them, something never before practiced in Rome up to that time. Caesar was planning major improvements to transform the capital of the empire he commanded. New colonial foundations were under way, and he reordered the defective Roman calendar.

Death and legacy

In Rome dissatisfaction was growing in the Senate over the increasingly permanent nature of Caesar's rule. A conspiracy (secret plan) was formed to remove Caesar and restore the government to the Senate. The conspirators hoped that, with Caesar's death, government would be restored to its old republican form and all of the factors that had produced Caesar would disappear. The conspiracy progressed with Caesar either ignorant of it or not recognizing the warning signs. On the Ides of March (March 15), 44 b.c.e., he was stabbed to death in the Senate house of Pompey by a group of men that included old friends and allies.

With Caesar's murder, Rome plunged into thirteen years of civil war. Caesar remained for some a symbol of an over-dominant leader, and for others the founder of the Roman Empire whose ghost has haunted Europe ever since. For all, he is a figure of genius and courage equaled by few in history.

For More Information

Gelzer, Matthias. Caesar: Politician and Statesman. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1921. trans., 1968.

Grant, Michael. Julius Caesar. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969.

Nardo, Don. Julius Caesar. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2002.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Caesar, Julius." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Feb. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Caesar, Julius." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/caesar-julius-0

"Caesar, Julius." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved February 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/caesar-julius-0

Caesar, (Gaius) Julius

Caesar, (Gaius) Julius (100–44 bc) Roman general and statesman. A great military commander and brilliant politician, he defeated formidable rivals to become dictator of Rome. After the death of Sulla, Caesar became military tribune. As pontifex maximus, he directed reforms in 63 bc that resulted in the Julian calendar. He formed the First Triumvirate in 60 bc with Pompey and Crassus, instituted agrarian reforms and created a patrician-plebeian alliance. He conquered Gaul for Rome (58–49 bc) and invaded Britain (54 bc). Refusing Senate demands to disband his army, he provoked civil war with Pompey. Caesar defeated Pompey at Pharsalus in 48 bc and pursued him to Egypt, where he made Cleopatra queen. After further victories, he returned to Rome in 45 bc and was received with unprecedented honours, culminating in the title of dictator for life. He introduced popular reforms, but his growing power aroused resentment. He was assassinated in the Senate on March 15 by a conspiracy led by Cassius and Brutus. Caesar bequeathed his wealth and power to his grandnephew, Octavian (later Augustus) who, together with Mark Antony, avenged his murder.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Caesar, (Gaius) Julius." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Feb. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Caesar, (Gaius) Julius." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/caesar-gaius-julius

"Caesar, (Gaius) Julius." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved February 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/caesar-gaius-julius

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar (100–44 bc), Roman general and statesman. He established the First Triumvirate with Pompey and Crassus (60), and became consul in 59, obtaining command of the provinces of Illyricum, Cisalpine Gaul, and Transalpine Gaul. Between 58 and 51 he fought the Gallic Wars, subjugating Transalpine Gaul and defeating Vercingetorix, invading Britain (55–54), and acquiring immense power.

Resentment at this on the part of Pompey and other powerful Romans led to civil war; in 49 bc Caesar crossed the Rubicon into Italy, and next year Pompey was defeated at Pharsalia in Thessaly.

Julius Caesar was made dictator of the Roman Empire and initiated a series of reforms, including the introduction of the Julian calendar; in Egypt he had a brief liaison with Cleopatra. Hostility to Caesar's autocracy culminated in his murder on the Ides (15th) of March in a conspiracy led by Brutus and Cassius.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Julius Caesar." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Feb. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Julius Caesar." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/julius-caesar

"Julius Caesar." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved February 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/julius-caesar

Caesar, Julius

Caesar, Julius. Roman politician and general. Born in 100 bc of a leading patrician family, Caesar rose to be consul in 59 bc. His provincial command included the Roman province of southern Gaul. In a series of brilliant campaigns from 58 to 54 bc he conquered Gaul as far as the Rhine, earning himself glory, money, and a battle-trained army. Late in the campaigning season of 55 bc he invaded Britain with a small force, but retreated when his fleet was wrecked by storms. The following year he returned with a larger army and defeated the tribes of south-eastern Britain under Cassivellaunus, concluding a treaty. For these abortive incursions into a semi-mythical island the Senate voted a longer thanksgiving than for the conquest of Gaul; the expeditions were more for propaganda at home than as a preliminary to conquest.

Alan Simon Esmonde Cleary

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Caesar, Julius." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Feb. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Caesar, Julius." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/caesar-julius

"Caesar, Julius." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved February 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/caesar-julius

Julius Caesar (Handel)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Julius Caesar (Handel)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Feb. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Julius Caesar (Handel)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/julius-caesar-handel

"Julius Caesar (Handel)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved February 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/julius-caesar-handel

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar: see Caesar, Julius.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Julius Caesar." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Feb. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Julius Caesar." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/julius-caesar

"Julius Caesar." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved February 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/julius-caesar

Julius Caesar

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Julius Caesar." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Feb. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Julius Caesar." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/julius-caesar

"Julius Caesar." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved February 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/julius-caesar