Friday, August 3, 2007

Gaius Julius Caesar (c 100 BCE-44 BCE)

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It is the right of war for conquerors to treat those whom they have conquered according to their pleasure.


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Gaius Julius Caesar, born Rome, (probably) 100 BC, died March 15, 44 BC, was a Roman military leader and dictator. His military conquest of Gaul extended the Roman Empire to the Atlantic, an achievement whose consequences are visible to this day. His establishment of a government under the Triumvirate (see below) brought the Roman Republic to an end. He later became Dictator for Life and began many reforms in Roman society and government, work that was cut short by his assassination. Many of these reforms were later implemented by Augustus Caesar. Caesar's military achievements are known to us in detail from his own written accounts.

Julius Caesar was born to a well known and ancient patrician family (Gens Julia) which supposedly traced its ancestry to Julus, the son of the Trojan prince Aeneas, who according to myth was the son of Venus. At the height of his power in 45 BC Caesar began building a temple to Venus Genetrix at Rome, signifying his link to the goddess. Caesar's family was not rich by the standards of the Roman nobility, and no member of his family had achieved any prominence in recent memory. His paternal aunt Julia married Marius, the leader of the Populares against the influence of the Optimates. Also, Caesar married Cornelia, daughter of Lucius Cornelius Cinna in 84 BC. This family relationship, with political involvements, caused Caesar great trouble during the dictatorship of Sulla, who ordered him to divorce in 82 BC; Caesar refused and prudently left Rome for military service in Asia and Cilicia. He was back in 78 BC, when Sulla died, and began his political career as a prosecuting advocate. e traveled to Rhodes, for his philosophical studies, and was kidnapped by pirates. He convinced his captors to raise his ransom, which increased his prestige in Rome. After he was ransomed, he organised a naval force, captured the pirates and put them to death by crucifixion.

Having held the positions of quaestor in Spain (69 BC), Caesar was elected curule aedile in 65 BC, pontifex maximus in 63 BC, and praetor in 62 BC. If it is true that he was implicated in the Catiline conspiracy, it did him no lasting damage. Caesar had already been in the service of the general, Pompey, with whom he would later share power. Following the death of his wife Cornelia (68 BC), he married Pompeia, a relative of Pompey, only to divorce her in 62 BC after a scandal. In 61 BC, Caesar served as governor of the province of Hispania Ulterior, and in 60 BC he was elected consul.

Caesar's cursus honorum. In 59 B.C., the year of his consulate, Caesar entered into a strategic alliance with two other leading politicians, Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. Crassus was the richest man in Rome; Pompey was the most successful general. Caesar brought to the alliance his political popularity and drive. Pompey married Caesar's daughter Julia. This unofficial alliance is called by historians the First Triumvirate, or "Three-man Arrangement". The Triumvirate meant the end of the Roman Republic. Other events in succession included the following: Consul, governor of Gaul and Spain 59 BC; Proconsul in Gaul, 58 BC-49 BC; Defeats Helvetii 58 BC; Defeats Belgic confederacy and Nervii, 57 BC; Defeats Veneti, 56 BC; Invasion of Britain 55 BC; Defeats union of Gauls 52 BC.

Crassus having died in 53 BC, a rift developed between Caesar and Pompey. Called upon by the senate in 50 BC to disband his army, Caesar refused and civil war broke out. Caesar crossed the Rubicon on January 7, 49 BC (iacta alea est - meaning that "the die is cast") and entered Rome, where he was appointed dictator. Having finally defeated Pompey at Pharsalus, Greece, in 48 BC, he was given a five-year term as consul, whilst Pompey fled to Egypt, where he was murdered by an officer of King Ptolemy XIII of Egypt. Not content with the advantage he had gained, Caesar went on to Egypt, where he involved himself in upholding the rule of Cleopatra, who became his mistress. He then proceeded to defeat Pompey's remaining supporters at Tapsus (46 BC) and Munda (45 BC). Given a ten-year term as consul in 46 BC, he was made dictator for life in the following year, and was called "Father of his Country" (Pater Patriae). The month of Quintilis was re-named in his honour, and continues to be known as "July". The question of whether or not Caesar intended to accept the title of King, to settle for the title of Dictator, or even to escape from the question by leaving for the Eastern Mediterranean to fight the Parthian Empire causes scholarly debate. It is certain, however, that his apparent arrogance and ambition brought him great unpopularity and the suspicion of his peers.

Caesar was assassinated in the Roman Senate on the Ides of March of 44 BC, stabbed by a group of conspirators who believed in preserving the republic. Among these was Caesar's adopted son, Marcus Junius Brutus. His famous last words were: Tu quoque, Brute, fili mi! (or Et tu, Brute, meaning "You too, Brutus?"). Legend has it that Caesar's wife Calpurnia (whom he had married in 59 BC) had warned him of a premonition just the night before, but Caesar answered "There's nothing we must fear but fear". After Caesar's death, a power struggle broke out among his great-nephew and adopted son Octavianus, his chief lieutnant Mark Antony and his assassins Brutus and Cassius. Octavianus prevailed and became the first Roman emperor, taking the name Augustus Caesar.

Caesar as historian and writer

Julius Caesar wrote a book (a Commentarius) on his campaigns to subdue the Gauls, The Gallic Wars (De bello Gallico), 58-52 BC. This book's reputation has suffered by being traditionally assigned as a school text to introductory and intermediate Latin students, and therefore not always remembered with affection. On the other hand, a literary classic in an ancient language that can be read by high-school students is a rare thing. On re-reading it in later life, many people can perceive the clarity of syntax and beauty of style of which an early Latin teacher tried to convince them. The style is indeed simple and elegant, essential and not rethorical, dry as a chronicle, yet rich of details.

It has been noted that the book could also serve in Caesar's intentions as an answer to his political oppositors, who discussed the real need of this costly war. Gaul, in reality, would have been in the following centuries a safe barrier against barbarian invasions. The "Gaul" that Caesar refers to, is sometimes all the Gaul except for the Provincia Narbonensis, other times only that territory inhabited by Celts (that Romans called Gauls), from the Channel to Lugdunum (Lyon). Also, the books are valuable for the many geographical and historical facts (Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres...) that can be retrieved from this book, which was also one of the earliest to be written in third person. Caesar vividly describes in the seven books of his Gallic Wars the battles and intrigues that took place in the nine years he spent slaughtering tribal armies that opposed Roman domination.

The name of Caesar

The name Caesar remained in many languages as a synonym and a title of commander, leader; the German kaiser and the russian czar titles are derived from the name Caesar, as were several subsequent Roman emperors. It has to be remembered that Latin classical pronunciation for Caesar sounded like "kai-sahr". The root itself may not be of Latin origin: on the Rosetta Stone there is a hieroglyphic cartouche that has been transcripted as k-e-s-r-s and supposed as related to the Latin sense. More interesting, it has been said that Latin Caesar could be a derivation of the Persian Kasra=Chosroes and its plural form Akasirah (the title of four great dynasties of Persian Kings), through Ahasuerus or Khusrau (Cyrus the Great); eventual relationships with kisri and kasra have been seen as less meaningful, also because mostly referred to later times (Sassanides). Another hypothesis of possible derivation from Xerxes (grandson of Cyrus the Great) has been advanced, but with more doubts. Note: the name Gaius is completely equivalent to Caius, so Caesar's name is found in both forms. [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Gaius Julius Caesar .]

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