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The Rise of Julius Caesar

Michael Oh

Kathryn Brookes CHW3M-01 Upper Canada College May 24, 2011

Word Count: 2000

By the end of the 2nd century the Roman Republic was the only remaining super power left in the Mediterranean. Under the leadership of many great leaders, the Republic was constantly growing. Of these leaders was Gaius Julius Caesar, born on July 13, 100 B.C. to a patrician family.1 He was a politician and statesman who eventually took supreme power in the Roman Republic and made himself a monarch in every practical respect.2 In 60 B.C. he was elected to consulship for the following year of 59 B.C. Subsequently he was appointed dictator in 46 B.C., which lasted for ten years, and one month prior to his assassination on March 15, 44 B.C. he was appointed dictator for life. The purpose of this essay is to identify and examine the factors that contributed to the rise of Julius Caesar to power as consul and dictator. One factor certainly was his use of the political system to win peoples support, resulting in his electoral victories. Another was his impressive ability to accomplish major military campaigns, including battles of the Gallic War and his civil war against Pompey. The third rationale for Caesars rise to power was his ability to form a major confederacy with the most eminent and influential men in Rome. Lastly his oratory skills allowed him to gain peoples support and sway the Senate; thus providing opportunities he needed to become a great political and military leader. Without a doubt, Julius Caesar was able to effectively use the political system, win major military campaigns, form a revolutionary alliance and captivate the public with his oratory to uplift himself to power. Caesar used the Roman political system to gain the peoples support. Firstly, when he was appointed as curator of the Appian Way in 66 B.C. he initiated huge
1 2

Adrian Goldsworthy, Caesar: Life of a Colossus (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 30. Ibid.,1

expenditures for renovation and improvements to the road systems and its associated structures.3 Since the Appian Way was one of the most important roads leading into Rome, voters travelling into the city recognized what Caesar had done for them. This willingness to spend his own money ultimately contributed to his election to the post of curule aedile for the year 65 B.C.4 As curule aedile Caesar was, aside from other duties, responsible for hosting public entertainment and festivals for seven days, and so he decided to stage gladiatorial games in honour of his father. His entertainments were a great success as the Romans revelled in the shows and games put on for free enjoyment.5 Also, Caesar ordered the Mariuss trophies to be erected in the forum, commemorating his victories over the Cibri and Teutines. A warm response was elicited from the population, aiding his popular election to consul and dictator. Additionally when Caesar was appointed to praetorship in 70 B.C. one of the first things he did to win favour was propose a land reformation, which removed power from the wealthy and distributed it fairly to the poor.6 A commission of twenty elected individuals would oversee the purchase and distribution of land to both Pompeys veteran soldiers and the urban poor. The commissioners were permitted to only purchase land from owners willing to sell, and did so at the value recorded in the most recent census. By law Caesar was prohibited from being a commissioner to ensure no bias or corruption in his legislation proposals. The other consul, Bibulus refused to accept this new land reform, making Caesar gain further popularity within the public. As the people supported Caesar and his land law no senator was willing to oppose him, given the enthusiasm shown by

3 4

Adrian Goldsworthy, Caesar: Life of a Colossus (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 105. Ibid. 5 Ibid., 107 6 Ibid., 167

the public. Altogether Caesars use of the political system to gain the common peoples support was a major factor in his incline to power. Caesars ability to win military campaigns allowed him to gain military glory, respect and influence, leading to his appointment as dictator. Upon the completion of his praetorship, Caesar left Rome to govern Hispania Ulterior, a poorer region in which raiding and banditry were the ways of life.7 This was especially true amongst communities in the mountainous regions who struggled to support themselves via farming. Caesar robustly took these opportunities to attack the mountain communities. His victory marked an important stage in his political career as he was hailed Imperator. This formal acclamation, which entitles a governor to request a triumph on his return to Rome, showed the true support of his soldiers and aided his election to consulship. Furthermore in the Gallic wars, Caesar was victorious against the Helvetti and at Alessia; a result of his brilliant military tactics and strategies. The battle formation that Caesar initiated allowed his soldiers to rely on themselves, rather than on their neighbours, enabling greater flexibility.8 For example against the Helvetti Caesar deployed a cavalry screen of six legions and additional infantry. But as they advanced on the Helvetti, the enemy outflanked the Roman sides. Due to the formation flexibility the rear lines in the legions were able to turn around, allowing his armies to fight on both fronts. The battle against the Helvetti ended with a decisive Roman victory. Similarly at the battle of Alessia, Caesar trapped the Gauls in the village with another smart tactic. He ordered his troops to build trenches and ditches circling eleven miles around Alessia.9 Violent coordinated attacks by Gallic forces on the Roman siege had no effect. It became clear
7 8

Michael Grant, Julius Caesar (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1974), 99. Kate Gilliver, Caesars Gallic Wars (New York: Routledge, 2003), 24. 9 Ibid., 56

that the extraordinary Roman defenses were not going to break, and that the failure of the revolt and starvation for those trapped in Alessia were inevitable.10 Soon after Vercingetoirix, chieftain of the Alessian tribe, surrendered. Therefore due to smart strategies Caesar turned the Gallic War in favour of Rome. Not only did he gain military victory, but Caesar also gained respect from his soldiers. Traditionally, slaves amassed in a campaign were the property of the commanding general, and represented one of the most lucrative sources of income for Caesar.11 As such, his generous distribution of these slaves to his fellow soldiers only further increased their loyalty. Fortunately his great popularity amongst his armies, along with another smart military strategy, became an important factor in his success in the civil war against Pompey. While Pompey deployed his men in three lines with his most veteran legion on the flanks, Caesar deployed his men in three lines, six men deep. With this strategy, he was able to defeat Pompey. As such through his successful campaigns against the Gauls and Pompey, he was able to prove to his men that under his command, victory was ensured. This, along with his generosity, naturally produced strong loyalty, admiration and popularity amongst his men. Due to his brilliant and astute tactics, Julius Caesar was able to propel his armies to victory during the Gallic Wars and the Civil War, aiding his rise to power and gaining respect and wealth. Julius Caesars astounding ability to make alliances with other politicians and military leaders also allowed him to become a successful politician and military leader himself; and in the end rose to become Romes permanent dictator. After receiving a triumph, something that he dreamed of attaining, Caesar sacrificed it immediately to

10 11

Kate Gilliver, Caesars Gallic Wars (New York: Routledge, 2003), 57. Adrian Goldsworthy, Caesar: Life of a Colossus (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 252.

reach consulship.12 For this sacrifice to have been worthwhile, he needed to embark on greater military adventures following the completion of his year of office. However he knew the Senate was not going to give those opportunities and so in order to make this possible he required influential supporters. As such, he partnered with Pompey and Crassus. These two men had been frustrated in the last few years discovering that their wealth and influence were not sufficient to attain everything they wanted.13 Pompey wanted land for his veteran soldiers, and Crassus wanted relief for the tax collectors of Asia.14 While Caesar was very much in need of powerful backers if he was going to gain an important provincial command, Pompey and Crassus wanted a magistrate to introduce and enforce the desired legislation. Each of the men knew that the others would benefit from the arrangement, and were content so long as respective personal aims were achieved. Thus Caesar created a political alliance with them called the First Triumvirate, increasing his political and monetary support. Furthermore Caesars daughter Julia married Pompey, creating a powerful political advantage for both men and a bond holding the First Triumvirate together. Thanks to the alliance, Caesar passed his land reform in the Senate with Crassus and Pompeys support, and gained control over three provinces instead of simply two. Along with his extended province, he was given a special five-year command, which normally should have been only for one year.15 By gaining three provinces and extending his reign to five years he was able to gain the military and political glory he so wished.

12 13

Adrian Goldsworthy, Caesar: Life of a Colossus (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 165. Ibid. 14 Ibid., 166 15 Ibid., 176

Julius Caesars exceptional skill at public speaking was an important factor to his political rise. There were many occurrences where Caesar proved to be one of the best orators of his time. In 77 B.C., Caesar prosecuted Cnaeus Cornelius Dolabella for extortion, and at the trial delivered a speech that greatly impressed onlookers.16 It was so well executed that Cicero, a well-known orator himself, compared Caesar to a famous actor.17 In general, famous actors are usually known to be highly skilled at captivating their audiences and this is exactly what Caesar did. Additionally Cicero is recognized for describing Caesar as one of the best orators of the period. He even suggested that if Caesar had concentrated on oratory he would have been a first-place orator.18 Subsequently during his time as consul, in an attempt to persuade his consular colleague, he stirred up the crowd with his words such that the other senators had no choice but to follow Caesars suit. They were not willing to fight the people and their growing excitement. However not only was Caesar convincing on the political stage in Rome, but also on the battlefields amongst his men. During the Gallic Wars, several soldiers complained that the battle against Ariovistus had not been authorized by the Senate, causing them to risk their lives solely for Caesars personal ambition. In response, he summoned his six legions and spoke to his soldiers saying Anyway, even if no one else follows, I shall set out with just the Tenth Legion, for I have no doubt of its loyalty, and it will act as if it were my own guard.19 In this short quotation, Caesar challenged his centurions pride in themselves and their units. Each unit was determined to not be outshone by the others and as such, asked the senior officers to assure Caesar that there

16 17

Adrian Goldsworthy, Caesar: Life of a Colossus (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 71. Ibid., 173 18 Ibid., 74 19 Ibid., 227

had never been any real question of disobedience. In this example, Caesar demonstrated his ability to say the right things such that others are persuaded to remain loyal to him and his pursuits. Through his oratory skills he was able to captivate the people, garner a reputation as a well-spoken orator and prevent disobedience from his legions, showing his greatness as a political and military leader and convincing orator. Julius Caesar was a man of action and it is for this that he is remembered. His talents were varied and exceptional, ranging from his skill as an orator and writer, as framer of laws and as political operator, to his superb talent as soldier and general. With these he was able to rise to power, using the political system, military campaign victories and the First Triumvirate. Politically Julius Caesar used the system to his advantage, gaining the peoples support; winning his consul election. Through victorious battles in Gaul and defeating Pompey he gained loyalty and respect as a military leader from his soldiers. His strategic alliance with Pompey and Crassus allowed him to gain political support and resources. His exceptional oratory skills provided his powerfully persuasive and captivating hold on Rome and his armies. What had simply been a name of an aristocratic family became effectively as a title symbolizing supreme power. Even to this day Julius Caesar remains one of a few figures from the ancient world whose name commands instant recognition.