Show Summary Details

Page of

 PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, CLASSICS ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 29 March 2017

Iulius Caesar, C. (2), Roman dictator and triumvir, d. 44 BCE

Son of (1) and of Aurelia , born 100 bce (Suet. Iul. 88. 1) on 12 Quintilis, the month soon after his death renamed Iulius by a law passed by the consul M. Antonius (2) , quoted by Macrobius, Sat. 1. 12. 34, which incidentally secures the actual date. Through his aunt Iulia (1) 's marriage to C. Marius(1) he was Marius’ nephew, and he was related to L. Iulius Caesar (1) and to C. Iulius Caesar Strabo Vopiscus . When his father withdrew from Rome (see (1) above), he remained behind, and L. Cornelius Cinna(1) , as consul, gave him his daughter Cornelia in marriage and then appointed him flamen Dialis (see flamines). It was a position of the highest distinction, but because of its ritual restrictions, normally precluded an official career. He probably thought that Caesar would share his father's lack of political ambition. L. Cornelius Sulla Felix , after his victory in the civil war, annulled all of Cinna's measures, including Caesar's appointment. Caesar refused to resign or to divorce his wife, yet Sulla spared his life, probably because he was a fellow Patrician. (Cf. L. Cornelius Scipio Asiagenus, whom he allowed to escape to Massilia, even though he had broken a treaty with him: see Broughton, MRR 3. 71.) Caesar's refusal left the office in abeyance until the time of Augustus, although Caesar soon broke the ritual restrictions for the sake of a career. Not feeling at home in post-Sullan Rome, where he failed to convict two notorious Sullani (though his speeches in the prosecutions laid the foundation of his fame as an orator), he left for Asia, where he spent the greater part of the 70s, pursuing his studies and gaining a reputation as a soldier. He won a victory over a small advance guard of Mithradates VI , and an act of singular bravery won him the corona ciuica, the Roman equivalent of the Victoria Cross. In 73 he was co-opted a Pontifex , largely through his family connections. This appointment restored his dignitas and allowed him to resume what he felt was his proper place in Rome. He was at once elected a military tribune (see tribuni militum ). Staying in Rome, he used the office to support amnesty for the associates of M. Aemilius Lepidus (2) and he won election as quaestor for 69.

Before going to his province of Further Spain, he lost both his aunt Iulia and his wife. He conducted their funerals in the grand aristocratic manner (see nobilitas ), stressing his aunt's (and thus partly his own) descent from kings and gods (Suet. Iul. 6. 1) and, for the first time since Sulla, displaying Marius' imago (see imagines ) and distinctions in public. (He no doubt similarly displayed Cinna's at Cornelia's funeral.) On his return from Spain he found the Latin colonies beyond the Po ( Padus ) vigorously demanding Roman citizenship and supported their agitation, but did nothing to further their cause in Rome. He supported the laws of A. Gabinius (2) and C. Manilius , conferring extraordinary commands on Pompey (clearly a most useful patron), and he married Pompeia, a granddaughter of Sulla. With Pompey overseas, he courted another powerful ex-Sullan, M. Licinius Crassus(1) , Pompey's enemy, joining him in various political schemes in return for financial support, which enabled Caesar to spend large sums as curator of the via Appia and as aedile (65). In 64, in charge of the murder court, he resumed his vendetta against Sulla by offering to receive prosecutions of men who had killed citizens in Sulla's proscription.

In 63 Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius ' death left the chief pontificate vacant, a post normally held by eminent ex-consuls. Although two ( P. Servilius Isauricus , to whom Caesar was bound in loyalty as to his old commander in Cilicia, and Q. Lutatius Catulus(2) ) sought the office, Caesar announced his candidacy and through lavish bribery won the election. This and his election to a praetorship for 62 established him as a man of power and importance. He supported L. Sergius Catilina , who advocated a welcome cancellation of debts, but covered his tracks when Catiline turned to conspiracy. The consul Cicero , who to the end of his days was convinced of Caesar's involvement, had to proclaim his innocence. In his prosecution of C. Rabirius (1) he left the legality of the so-called senatus consultumultimum in doubt, and when Cicero wanted the death penalty under that decree for the conspirators betrayed by the Allobrogan envoys (see allobroges ), Caesar persuaded most senators to vote against it, until a speech by M. Porcius Cato(2) changed their minds.

As praetor he joined the tribune Q. Caecilius Metellus Nepos in agitating for the recall of Pompey against Catiline's forces. Suspended from office, he demonstratively submitted, and the senate, eager to avoid alienating him, reinstated and thanked him. In December, when Pompeia was ex officio in charge of the rites of the Bona Dea , from which men were strictly excluded, P. Clodius Pulcher gained access disguised as a woman—it was said, in order to approach Pompeia in her husband's absence—and was ejected. Caesar, while asserting the innocence of Clodius (a man congenial to him and worth cultivating) and of Pompeia, divorced her, proclaiming that his household must be free even from suspicion. With his consulship approaching, he could now seek a more advantageous marriage.

But first he had to go to his province of Further Spain. His creditors applied for an injunction to stop him from leaving, and he was saved from this unprecedented indignity by Crassus' standing surety for part of his debts: his provincial spoils would cover the rest. He now ‘had to make a bigger profit in one year than Verres had in three’ (Will, see bibliog. below) and, largely neglecting his routine duties, he concentrated on attacking independent tribes. The booty enabled him to clear his debts and pay large sums into the treasury, all without incurring a risk of prosecution. About mid-60 he returned to Rome, was voted a triumph by a co-operative senate, and prepared to claim his consulship. There was a technical obstacle: to announce his candidacy for the consulship he had to enter Rome long before the triumph could be arranged, but that would forfeit his imperium and right to triumph. The senate was ready to give him a dispensation, but his enemy Cato, although only an ex-tribune, arranged to be asked to speak and talked the proposal out. Caesar decided to put power before glory and entered the city.

He now could not afford to lose, so he needed allies and a massive infusion of money. A brilliant stroke secured both. In his absence Pompey and Crassus had failed—partly because each had opposed the other—to obtain what they respectively wanted from the senate: ratification of Pompey's eastern settlement and land for his veterans, and a remission of part of the price offered for the tithe of Asia by the publicani . Caesar, on good terms with both, persuaded them to support his candidacy: he promised to give each what he wanted without harm to the other, provided they refrained from mutual opposition. Pompey now persuaded his wealthy friend L. Lucceius to join Caesar in his canvass: in return for paying the expenses for bribery (no doubt with Crassus' help), he could expect to succeed through Caesar's popularity. But Caesar's enemies, led by the upright Cato, collected a huge bribery fund for Cato's son-in-law M. Calpurnius Bibulus , who secured second place after Caesar.

As consul Caesar appealed to the senate for co-operation in formulating the laws to satisfy his allies. Frustrated by his enemies, he passed them in the assembly by open violence, aided by friendly tribunes (see P. Vatinius ). Bibulus withdrew to his house, announcing that he was stopping all future meetings of the assemblies by watching the sky for omens. This unprecedented step, of doubtful legality, was ignored by Caesar, who satisfied Pompey and Crassus and went on to pass further legislation, inter alia on repetundae and on the publication of senate debates. Pompey and Crassus, satisfied (especially) with his assuming the onus for his methods, now joined him in an open alliance (sometimes erroneously called the ‘First Triumvirate’). Pompey married Iulia (2) and Caesar married Calpurnia (1) , whose father, L. Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus , was made consul 58, with Pompey's aide Gabinius as colleague. For further insurance, Clodius was allowed to become a plebeian and tribune 58. Caesar's reward was a law of Vatinius, giving him Illyricum and Cisalpine Gaul for five years. The senate obligingly added Transalpine Gaul. Early in 58 attempts to prosecute Caesar were averted, and moderates in the senate attempted conciliation by offering to have his legislation re-enacted in proper form. But Caesar refused, since this would admit guilt and impair his dignitas. The breach between him and the senate majority thus became irreparable.

A movement by the Helvetii gave him an unforeseen chance of starting a major war, which after nearly a decade and many vicissitudes led to the conquest of the whole of Gaul (see gallic wars ). It was in Gaul that he acquired the taste and the resources for monarchy and trained the legions that could ‘storm the heavens’ (BHisp. 42. 7). Young Roman aristocrats flocked to him to make their fortunes, vast sums (sometimes made palatable as loans) flowed into the pockets of upper-class Romans and, as gifts, to cities and princes, to support Caesar's ambitions. The depleted treasury received none of the profits and was forced to pay for his legions. In his triumphs of 46 (see below) he displayed 63,000 talents of silver and spent about 20,000 of his own money (together enough to create the fortunes of 5,000 equites ), much of it booty from Gaul. Plutarch, on the basis of Caesar's figures, reports that a million Gauls were killed and another million enslaved. Requisitions of food and punitive devastations completed human, economic, and ecological disaster probably unequalled until the conquest of the Americas.

In Rome Caesar's position remained secure until 56, when his bitter enemy L. Domitius Ahenobarbus(1) , confident of becoming consul 55, promised to recall and prosecute him, and Cicero, back from exile, hoped to detach Pompey from him. Crassus informed him of what was going on, and they summoned Pompey to Luca , where he was persuaded to renew the compact. Pompey and Crassus became consuls 55, receiving Spain and Syria respectively for five years, while Caesar's command was renewed for five years in Gaul; Pompey was to stay near Rome to look after their interests, governing Spain through legati. But the alliance soon disintegrated. Iulia died (54) and Crassus, attacking Parthia , was killed at Carrhae (53) . In 52 Pompey married a daughter of Caesar's enemy Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio and made him his colleague as consul. Caesar now secured legal authorization to stand for a consulship in absence in 49; but the legality of this became doubtful, and his claim that it included the right to retain imperium (hence immunity from prosecution) was denied by his enemies. (The legal position is obscured by partisan distortion.) Pompey was gradually (perhaps reluctantly) forced to co-operate with them, to avoid a consulship by Caesar in 48, which would have left him irreversibly at Caesar's mercy. In 49 Caesar invaded Italy and started a civil war, nominally to defend the rights of tribunes who had been forced to flee to him for protection, but in fact, as he later admitted (Suet. Iul. 30. 4), to escape conviction and exile.

He rapidly overran Italy, where there were no reliable veteran legions to oppose him. As he moved down the peninsula, he kept making specious peace offers, retailed with considerable distortion in book 1 of his Civil War. Ahenobarbus was forced to surrender at Corfinium. He was allowed to depart unharmed and to continue the war against Caesar—the first conspicuous example of Caesar's ‘clemency’, a quality on which he particularly prided himself. (It was of course limited to Roman citizens: see on the victims of his Gallic War above.) Among the honours voted to him in 44 was a temple to Clementia Caesaris. See esp. the coin of (probably) 44, with the legend CLEMENTIAE CAESARIS (RRC 480, no. 21) with Crawford's commentary pp. 494–5, stressing the connection with the title PARENS PATRIAE on coins in the same series and citing the literary sources. (The series ends with a portrait of the consul M. Antonius, who passed the law changing the name of the month Quintilis to Iulius: see above). Syme has pointed out that Caesar's clementia was not a virtue acceptable to Roman aristocrats, for it implies the superiority of the one offering it to the one receiving it.

Pompey, knowing that Italy was untenable, to the chagrin of his aristocratic supporters crossed to Greece, hoping to strangle Italy by encirclement. Caesar broke it by defeating Pompey's legati in a brilliant campaign in Spain and then taking Massalia . In 48 he crossed to Greece, though Pompey controlled the seas, and besieged him at Dyrrhachium . A tactical defeat there turned into de facto strategic victory when Pompey withdrew to Thessaly, where both sides received reinforcements. Persuaded, against his better judgement, to offer battle at Pharsalus , Pompey was decisively defeated, escaped to Egypt and was killed. Caesar, arriving there in pursuit, intervened in a domestic conflict over the kingship and was cut off for months in Alexandria, until extricated by troops from Asia Minor and a Jewish force under Antipater (6) . He spent three more months in Egypt, chiefly with Cleopatra VII , whom he established on the throne and who after his departure bore a son whom she named Ptolemy (1) Caesar . Then, moving rapidly through Syria and Asia Minor, he reorganized the eastern provinces, easily defeated Pharnaces II at Zela, and in September 47 returned to Italy. There he had to settle an army mutiny and serious social unrest, fanned during his absence by M. Caelius Rufus and T. Annius Milo and after their death by P. Cornelius Dolabella(1) .

Meanwhile the republican forces had had time to entrench themselves in Africa, where Metellus Scipio assumed command, aided by Juba (1) I . Caesar landed in December. After an inauspicious beginning he gained the support of Bocchus II and P. Sittius and, deliberately inviting blockade at Thapsus, won a decisive victory that led to the death of most of the republican leaders (including Scipio and Cato). On his return he was voted unprecedented honours and celebrated four splendid triumphs (20 September–1 October 46), nominally over foreign enemies, to mark the end of the wars and the beginning of reconstruction. But Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (2) , soon joined by his brother Sextus Pompeius and T. Labienus(1) , consul for the second time, raised thirteen legions in Spain and secured much native support. In November Caesar hurriedly left Rome to meet the threat. The Pompeians were forced to offer battle at Munda (near Urso ) and were annihilated with the loss of 30,000 men in Caesar's hardest-fought battle. After reorganizing Spain, with massive colonization , he returned to Rome and celebrated a triumph over ‘Spain’.

Caesar was renowned for his love affairs, especially with aristocratic married women. Suetonius (Iul. 50. 1) names four and notes that the only woman he really loved (apart from Cleopatra, treated later) was Servilia . Popular rumour freely embroidered: e.g. that Servilia had prostituted her daughter Iunia Tertia to Caesar for the sake of a reduction in the price of an estate, a rumour that was gleefully exploited by Cicero (Iul. 50. 2). Suetonius indicates that Caesar behaved no differently in Gaul, quoting as evidence the scurrilous verses chanted by his soldiers at his Gallic triumph :

urbani, seruate uxores, moechum caluom adducimus.

aurum in Gallia effutuisti, hic sumpsisti mutuom.

(Men of Rome, look after your wives: we are bringing a bald adulterer with us./You whored away your gold in Gaul and here you have had to borrow.) Suetonius found no details, but the soldiers obviously knew. To be effective, satire must be based on fact. There was a ‘secret history’ of the Gallic War, for Caesar's affairs must have had diplomatic, perhaps even military, consequences. Support for Caesar or opposition to him must at least in part have been affected by the Gallic chieftains whose wives were involved. Not all would necessarily have been outraged. Suetonius cites the parallel of Bogud to show that complaisant husbands might be richly rewarded and would presumably become allied. In Rome, none of the husbands of the four ladies he names became Caesar's enemies as a result of this. Indeed, two were or became Caesar's allies, as Cn. Pompeius Magnus (1) did—after divorcing Mucia .

The other important item of information given to us by the soldiers (although of course satirically distorted) is that Caesar had to borrow money for his lavish spending after his return. His love affairs are unlikely to have been the main expense. Much was used to buy important Roman politicians, who were as venal as they had been at the time of Jugurtha and who knew their price. Young men joined him in Gaul to be inaurati (encased in gold), as Cicero wrote. The only reliable figure we have for what a prominent politician would cost (other amounts are variously reported) is the sum of 1500 talents given to L. Aemilius Paullus(3) , who was notably active on Caesar's behalf as cos. 50. The sum (reported by App. BCiv. 2. 26 and Plut. Pomp. 58.1), at the conventional exchange rate, yields the astonishing figure of 22½ million sesterces. How much, e.g. C. Scribonius Curio(2) received, we do not know; but since the amounts were common knowledge, the figure must have been in the same range, and it changed him during his tribunate (50) from an outspoken enemy into an active supporter. Nor do we know what Paullus’ brother, the later Triumvir M. Aemilius Lepidus(3) was paid for his outstanding service in his praetorship, when he ‘persuaded’ the Senate to initiate a law allowing him, contrary to all constitutional practice, to name Caesar dictator (Caesar, BCiv. 2. 21.5; cf. Plut. Caes. 37.1; hostile reports that there was no authorization are probably false). Caesar's expenses on distributions to soldiers and citizens, for public feasting, and for expropriation of estates were almost unimaginably enormous. (For a summary, see Gnomon 62, 1990, 30–31.) He may also have paid for the initiation of some of his vast building projects, as he had certainly started on the literary ones (Suet. Iul. 44).

A final question, however, must remain unanswered: did he really need the sums he borrowed, or were political motives involved? There was no better way of ensuring that wealthy and important men were interested in his life and success than by making them his creditors.

Caesar had been dictator (briefly), nominally for holding elections, in 49, consul for the second time in 48, and dictator for the second time after Pharsalus; he was consul for the third time and curator morum in 46 and dictator for the third time (designated for ten years ahead, we are told: Cass. Dio 43. 14. 3) after Thapsus; he held his fourth, sole, consulship for nine months and his fourth dictatorship in 45, and was consul for the fifth time and (from about February) dictator perpetuo (see RRC 480/6 ff.) in 44. The specification of his dictatorships after the first is lost in the fasti. Mommsen conjectured rei publicae constituendae. He has been proved right by the discovery of a fragmentary inscription referring to the fourth (and last time-limited) dictatorship, and describing the dictator, with a necessary supplementation, as (dict.) rei publicae constituendae. (See Broughton, MRR 3. 106-8 for discussion of Caesar's consulships and dictatorships, with quotation of the epigraphic fragment, as restored by Gasperini.) How his perpetual dictatorship could be described is beyond conjecture. Whatever it was, it must have seemed to him less offensive, and less dangerous, than the title of rex. The major part of his work of reform came after Thapsus. His most lasting achievement was his reform of the calendar (see calendar, roman), which has in part survived to this day. To improve the administration of the empire, now much too large for the traditional apparatus, he considerably increased the number of senators and magistrates and, in order to maintain their chances of social distinction, the number of priests and (for the first time since the foundation of the Republic) he promoted some distinguished Plebeian families to Patrician status—a practice soon followed by the emperors. Numerous colonies in the provinces helped to relieve poverty and dissatisfaction in Rome and Italy, while some of them, founded on historic sites like Carthage and Corinth, would serve as centres for trade and for strategic control.

However, he had no plans for basic social and constitutional reform. The extraordinary honours heaped upon him by the Senate, nearly all of which he accepted, merely grafted him as an ill-fitting head on to the body of the traditional structure, creating an abyss between him and his fellow nobiles, whose co-operation he needed for the functioning and the survival of the system. When he finally, not long before his death, accepted deification (M. Antonius was designated his flamen), it made the abyss unbridgeable: perhaps, as the sources suggest, the vote, the culmination of the other excessive honours, was supported by his enemies and intended to make his position intolerable, especially since he was openly preparing an ultimate successor to that position. Having no legitimate sons, he had made his great-nephew C. Octavius (see augustus ) a pontifex at the age of sixteen and, although the boy had no military experience, had designated him his magister equitum for the war against Parthia that he was planning. For he came to recognize that he had arrived at an impasse in Rome and, as Gelzer has noted, wanted to escape into what he knew he could do best: a major military command, with Parthia the obvious victim.

What he did not realize was that he had made it impossible for the governing class, and even many men below it, to allow this. They well remembered the disruption and humiliation caused by his temporary absences during the civil wars, when the Senate and magistrates had no power to take major decisions and to deal with constant disorder and violence in Rome and Italy. (Cass. Dio, Bk 42, paints a vivid picture.) Italy was under the inefficient control of a tribune of the plebs (M. Antonius), whom Caesar had appointed pro praetore (see Broughton, MRR 2. 258, 260), and when an embassy from the east was sent to the Senate in the traditional way, it had to be sent on to Caesar in Spain. It was easy to foresee that, with Caesar in Babylon or Ecbatana, Rome and Italy could expect total disintegration. The political class saw that it was essential to prevent his departure. A conspiracy was hastily stitched together, with even some of his friends either participating or standing aside, and on 15 March (the Ides of March) 44 Caesar was assassinated in the Curia (2) . Octavius was too young to be regarded as a danger, and there were some who hoped that with Caesar's person removed, his divine monarchy might turn out to be a temporary interlude in the long history of the Republic.

Caesar was a distinguished orator in the ‘Attic’ manner, believing in ‘analogy’ (on which he wrote a treatise; see analogia, de ) and in the use of ordinary words (Gell NA 1. 10. 4). His speeches, at least some of which were published, and his pamphlet attacking Cato's memory, are lost. Seven books on the Gallic War (an eighth was added by A. Hirtius ) and three on the Civil War survive, written to provide raw material for history and ensure that his point of view would prevail with posterity. Distortion at various points in the Civil War is demonstrated by evidence surviving in Cicero's correspondence. For praise of Caesar's style, see Cicero , Brut.262 (strongly tinged by flattery). For fragments of his speeches see ORF no. 121.

The only contemporary literary sources apart from his own works that survive are Cicero and Sallust 's Catiline. Important inscriptions will be found in ILLRP and coins in RRC. For the contemporary picture of Caesar the basic study is by H. Strasburger: an expanded edition is reprinted in his Studien zur Alten Geschichte, ed. Schmitthenner and Zoepffel (1982), 343 ff. All later historians of the republic naturally deal with Caesar. Appian 's Civil Wars and Cassius Dio's History, largely based on contemporary sources not clearly identifiable, are the most important. Plutarch's Caesar and references in his Lives of Caesar's contemporaries show wide reading of both friendly and hostile sources. Suetonius (Divus Iulius: the first of his biographies of the first twelve emperors) draws on archival as well as literary material.

Caesar's name was used as the title of emperors and princes from Augustus down to the 20th cent. (It supplied, i.a., the Russian ‘Tsar’ and the German ‘Kaiser’.) Criticism of him, as a symbol of contemporary rulers, was discouraged throughout European history by monarchs and their censors. In the 19th cent., T. Mommsen's passionate portrait of Caesar conceived under the influence of the failure of German liberal aspirations in 1848, saw him as the liberator of Rome from oppression by the aristocracy (identified with the Prussian Junker). His long eulogy, in vol. 3 of his Römische Geschichte, concludes: ‘The secret [of Caesar's character] lies in its perfection.’ His history stops before the assassination, which he could not bear to relate. Mommsen's Caesar could not want titular honours as king and god. That view was challenged by E. Meyer (Caesars Monarchie und das Prinzipat des Pompeius (1918)), who, contrasting Caesar with Pompey, whom he regards as foreshadowing Augustus' ‘constitutional monarchy’, sees Caesar—improbably, in view of the contemporary state of Ptolemaic Egypt—as introducing a Ptolemaic divine monarchy (see ptolemy(1) ; egypt, ptolemaic ) over a ‘world empire’ no longer centred in Rome. Developed by J. Carcopino in France, this was vigorously rejected by the British tradition (e.g. Adcock in CAH and Syme in Rom. Rev.), which tended to see Caesar as an English gentleman. Assessments of all studies of Caesar both general and in detail, from about 1914 to 1974, will be found in H. Gesche's excellent Caesar in the series Erträge der Forschung (1976). The most comprehensive biography, listing nearly all the sources and many modern views, is by M. Gelzer (tr. from the corrected 6th edn. as Caesar: Politician and Statesman (1968)). The most ambitious recent treatment is C. Meier's romantic German biography (see Gnomon 1990, 22 ff.); against this, see W. Will, Julius Caesar: Eine Bilanz (1992), with recent bibliog., to which add E. Wistrand, Caesar and Contemporary Society (1979). On his proconsulate in Spain, see R. Schultz, Festschr. Bleicken (2002), 263 ff.Z. Yavetz, Julius Caesar and his Public Image (1983), with an exhaustive collection of his administrative reforms (ch. 3). See now M. Griffin (ed.) A Companion to Julius Caesar (2009).


Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, s.v. “Iulius 131.”Find this resource:

Do you have feedback?