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Gaius Julius Caesar - 100-44 BC

Read a significantly condensed version of Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar

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(100–44 bc), Roman general and statesman, who laid the foundations of the Roman imperial system.

Early Life

Born in Rome on July 12 or 13, 100 BC, Caesar belonged to the prestigious Julian clan; yet from early childhood, he knew controversy. His uncle by marriage was Gaius Marius, leader of the Populares, a party supporting agrarian reform and opposed by the reactionary Optimates, a senatorial faction. Marius was seven times consul (chief magistrate), and in his last year in office, just before his death in 86 BC, he exacted a terrifying toll on the Optimates. He also had Caesar appointed flamendialis, one of an archaic priesthood with no power, identifying him with his uncle's extremist politics. His marriage in 84 BC to Cornelia (d. 68 BC), the daughter of Marius's associate, Cinna, further marked him as a radical. When Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Marius's enemy and leader of the Optimates, became dictator in 82 BC, he issued a list of enemies to be executed. Although Caesar was not harmed, he was ordered to divorce Cornelia. Refusing that order, he found it prudent to leave Rome and did not return until 78 BC, after Sulla's resignation.

Caesar was now 22 years old. Unable to gain office, he left Rome again and went to Rhodes , where he studied rhetoric; he returned to Rome in 73 BC, a persuasive speaker. In 74 BC, while still absent, he had been elected to the pontificate, which was an important college of Roman priests.


In 71 BC Pompey the Great, who had earned his epithet in service under Sulla, returned to Rome , having defeated the rebellious Populares general Sertorius in Spain . At the same time Marcus Licinius Crassus, a rich patrician, suppressed in Italy the slave revolt led by Spartacus. Pompey and Crassus both ran for the consulship—an office held by two men—in 70 BC. Pompey, who by this time had changed sides, was technically ineligible, but with Caesar's help, he won the office. Crassus became the other consul. In 69 BC, Caesar was elected quaestor and in 65 BC curule aedile, gaining great popularity for his lavish gladiatorial games. To pay for these, he borrowed money from Crassus. This united the two men, who also found common cause with Pompey. When Caesar returned to Rome in 60 BC after a year as governor of Spain, he joined forces with Crassus and Pompey in a three-way alliance known as the First Triumvirate; to cement their relationship further, Caesar gave his daughter Julia to Pompey in marriage. Thus backed, Caesar was elected consul for 59 BC despite Optimate hostility, and the year after (58 BC), he was appointed governor of Roman Gaul.

Gallic Wars

At that time, Celtic Gaul, to the north, was still independent, but the Aedui, a tribe of Roman allies, appealed to Caesar for help against another Gallic people, the Helvetii, during the first year of his governorship. Caesar marched into Celtic Gaul with six legions, defeated the Helvetii, and forced them to return to their home area. Next, he crushed Germanic forces under Ariovistus (fl. about 71–58 BC). By 57 BC, following the defeat of the Nervii, Rome was in control of northern Gaul . (A last revolt of the Gauls, led by Vercingetorix, was suppressed in 52 BC.)

Power play

While Caesar was in Gaul , his agents attempted to dominate politics in Rome . This, however, threatened Pompey's position, and it became necessary for the triumvirs to arrange a meeting at Luca in 56 BC, which brought about a temporary reconciliation. It was decided that Caesar would continue in Gaul for another five years, while Pompey and Crassus would both be consuls for 55 BC; after that, each would have proconsular control of provinces. Caesar then went off to raid Britain and put down a revolt in Gaul . Crassus, ever eager for military glory, went to his post in Syria . Provoking a war with the Parthian Empire, he was defeated and killed at Carrhae in 53 BC. This removed the last buffer between Caesar and Pompey; their family ties had been broken by the death of Julia in 54 BC.

Civil War

In 52 BC, with Crassus out of the way, Pompey was made sole consul. Combined with his other powers, this gave him a formidable position. Jealous of his younger rival, he determined to break Caesar's power, an objective that could not be achieved without first depriving him of his command in Gaul . In order to protect himself, Caesar suggested that he and Pompey both lay down their commands simultaneously, but this was rejected; goaded by Pompey, the Senate summarily called upon Caesar to resign his command and disband his army, or else be considered a public enemy. The tribunes, who were Caesar's agents, vetoed this motion, but they were driven out of the Senate chamber. The Senate then entrusted Pompey with providing for the safety of the state. His forces far outnumbered Caesar's, but they were scattered throughout the provinces, and his troops in Italy were not prepared for war. Early in 49 BC, Caesar crossed the Rubicon, a small stream separating his province from Italy , and moved swiftly southward. Pompey fled to Brundisium and from there to Greece . In three months, Caesar was master of all Italy ; his forces then took Spain and the key port of Massilia (Marseille).

In Rome Caesar became dictator until elected consul for 48 BC. At the beginning of that year, he landed in Greece and smashed Pompey's forces at Pharsalus . Pompey escaped to Egypt , where he was assassinated. When Caesar arrived there, he installed Cleopatra, daughter of the late King Ptolemy XI (c. 112–51 BC) as queen. In 47 BC, he pacified Asia Minor and returned to Rome to become dictator again. By the following year, all Optimate forces had been defeated and the Mediterranean world pacified.

Dictatorship and Assassination

The basic prop for Caesar's continuation in power was the dictatorship for life. According to the traditional Republican constitution, this office was only to be held for six months during a dire emergency. That rule, however, had been broken before. Sulla had ruled as dictator for several years, and Caesar now followed suit. In addition, he was made consul for ten years in 45 BC, and he received the sanctity of tribunes, making it illegal to harm him. Caesar also obtained honors to increase his prestige: He wore the robe, crown, and scepter of a triumphant general and used the title imperator. Furthermore, as Pontifex Maximus, he was head of the state religion. Above all, however, he was in total command of the armies, and this remained the backbone of his power.

As a ruler, Caesar instituted various reforms. In the provinces, he eliminated the highly corrupt tax system, sponsored colonies of veterans, and extended Roman citizenship. At home, he reconstituted the courts and increased the number of senators. His reform of the calendar gave Rome a rational means of recording time.

A number of senatorial families, however, felt that Caesar threatened their position, and his honors and powers made them fear that he would become a rex (king), a title they, as Republicans, hated. Accordingly, in 44 BC, an assassination plot was hatched by a group of senators, including Gaius Cassius and Marcus Junius Brutus. On March 15 of that year, when Caesar entered the Senate house, the group killed him.

Personal Life

After Caesar's first wife, Cornelia, died in 68 BC, he married Pompeia, a granddaughter of Sulla. When the mysteries of the Bona Dea, over which she presided, were violated, she was maligned by gossips, and Caesar then divorced her, telling the Senate that Caesar's wife must be above suspicion. His next marriage (59 BC) was to Calpurnia and was politically motivated. Since Caesar had no male heirs, he stipulated in his will that his grandnephew, Octavius, become his successor. It was Octavius who became Rome 's first emperor under the name of Augustus.

Caesar was a gifted writer, with a clear and simple style. His Commentaries, in which he described Gaul and his Gallic campaigns, is a major source of information about the early Celtic and Germanic tribes.


Scholarly opinion of Caesar's accomplishments is divided. Some regard him as an unscrupulous tyrant, with an insatiable lust for power, and blame him for the demise of the Roman Republic . Others, admitting that he could be ruthless, insist that the Republic had already been destroyed. They maintain that to save the Roman world from chaos a new type of government had to be created. In fact, Caesar's reforms did stabilize the Mediterranean world. Among ancient military commanders, he may be second only to Alexander the Great.

  • July 13, 100 BC – Birth in Rome ; Alternatively, July 12, 102 BC
  • 84 BC – First marriage to Cornelia (daughter of L. Cornelius Cinna)
  • 82 BC – Escapes the persecutions led by Sulla
  • 81 - 79 BC – Military service in Asia and Cilicia ; tryst with Nicomedes of Bithynia
  • 75 BC – Captured by Cilician Pirates
  • 73 BC – Elected pontifex
  • 69 BC – Quaestor in Hispania Ulterior; wife Cornelia dies
  • 67 BC – Marries Pompeia
  • 65 BC – Curule aedile (director of the games)
  • 63 BC – Elected pontifex maximus and praetor urbanus; the Cataline conspiracy
  • 62 BC – Divorces Pompeia
  • 61 BC – Becomes proconsul (governor) of Further Spain
  • 60 BC – Elected consul; First Triumvirate
  • 59 BC – Elected consul
  • 58 BC – Defeats the Helvetii and in Gaul
  • 55 BC – Crossing of the Rhine ; Caesar invades Britain
  • 54 BC – Death of Julia (Caesar’s daughter and wife of Pompey)
  • 53 BC – Death of Crassus: end of the First Triumvirate
  • 52 BC – Battle of Alesia; Death of Clodius; Caesar defeats Vercingetorix
  • 49 BC – Crossing of the Rubicon, the civil war starts
  • 48 BC – Death of Pompey in Greece ; made dictator; second time consul
  • 47 BC – Campaign in Egypt ; meets Cleopatra VII
  • 46 BC – Defeats Cato and Metellus Scipio in northern Africa ; third time consul
  • 45 BC –
    • Defeats the last opposition in Hispania
    • Returns to Rome ; fourth time consul
    • Dictator Perpetuus (for life)
  • 44 BC–
    • appointed perpetual dictator
    • February, Refuses the diadem offered by Antony
    • Ides of March (March 15), Assassinated




Gaius Marius serves as Consul. Wars against Teutones in Gaul . Victories of Aquae Sextiae 102; Vercellae, 101. Legislation of Saturninus; rioting in Rome . Marius restores order, 100.


Gaius Julius Caesar born in Rome on July 13. Caesar was born (by Caesarean section according to an unlikely legend) of Aurelia and Gaius Julius Caesar, a praetor. His family had noble, patrician roots, although they were neither rich nor influential in this period. His aunt Julia was the wife of Gaius Marius, leader of the Popular faction.


Tribunate of Drusus, whose plans to satisfy the Italian allies fails; Drusus assassinated. War breaks out with Italian allies; massacre of Romans at Asculum .


The "Social War" against Rome 's Italian allies, demanding greater citizenship rights. The rebellion is crushed by Sulla, Marius, and Pompey Strabo, but the allies eventually received enhanced rights. First campaign of young Pompey, Cicero .


Sulpicius Rufus tribune. Proposal to transfer the Mithridatic command from Sulla to Marius. Sulla marches on Rome with his army; captures the city; repeals legislation and passes laws strengthening the Senate. Marius escapes. Social War ends. Mithridates overruns Asia Minor , massacres many Romans and Italians; joined by Athens .


Cinna and Marius occupy Rome ; massacre of Sulla's supporters. Sulla lands in Greece and besieges Athens . Carbo consul 87-84. The teenage Caesar is chosen for the lifetime dignity of flamen dialis (high priest of Jupiter).


Marius, elected Consul for the seventh time (with Cinna), dies. Sulla takes Athens , defeats Mithridates' armies. Immediately after election as Consul (for the seventh time), Marius dies. Cinna takes control of the Populares against Sulla's faction.


Sulla negotiates Treaty of Dardanus with Mithridates. Settlement of Asia . Caesar becomes officially a man by assuming the toga virilis. His father dies, and a few years later, he is betrothed and possibly married to a wealthy young woman, Cossutia. This betrothal/marriage is soon broken off, and at age 18 he marries Cornelia, the daughter of a prominent member of the Popular faction; she later bears him his only legitimate child, a daughter, Julia. Sulla orders Caesar to divorce her; when Caesar refuses, Sulla proscribes him (lists him among those to be executed), and Caesar goes into hiding. Caesar's influential friends and relatives eventually get him a pardon.


Cinna in power but is later murdered. Caesar weds Cinna's daughter. Carbo remains sole consul.


Lucius Cornelius Sulla, returning from the eastern Mithridatic War, victorious against the Marian party with the aid of Pompey and Crassus. Massive proscriptions follow. Sulla's legislation returns political power to the Senate; tribunician powers limited. Murena begins Second Mithridatic War.


Civil War in Italy ; Sulla victorious at the battle of the Colline Gate. Massive proscriptions, deaths, property confiscations shake the power structure. Sertorius, last major Marian leader, leaves for Spain . Pompey defeats Sulla's opponents in Sicily ; Sulla orders Murena to stop fighting against Mithridates.


Sulla becomes dictator; constitutional settlement, reform of criminal law. Pompey defeats the Marians in Africa ; Sertorius driven from Spain .


Sulla hostile against Caesar; Caesar flees Rome . Sulla persuaded to pardon Caesar, who refuses to divorce Cinna's daughter, Cornelia. Sulla impounds Cornelia's dowry and strips Caesar of office of flamen dialis. Caesar's only child, daughter Julia, is born.


Sulla serves as Consul. Sertorius returns to Spain . Caesar leaves Rome for military service with the governor of Asia . Caesar, on the staff of a military legate, was awarded the corona civica (civic crown of oak leaves for personal heroism) for saving the life of a citizen in battle at the battle of Mytilene. For the rest of his life he will be awarded public honors (such as being able to wear his laurel crown on all public occasions). He is also permitted to sit in the Senate without age restriction. His general sent him on an embassy to Nicomedes, the king of Bithynia , to obtain a fleet of ships; Caesar was successful, but subsequently he became the butt of gossip that he had persuaded the king (a homosexual) only by agreeing to sleep with him. When Sulla died in 78, Caesar returned to Rome and began a career as an orator/lawyer (throughout his life he was known as an eloquent speaker) and a life as an elegant man-about-town.


Sulla resigns dictatorship. Sertorius defeats Metellus Pius in Spain .


Death of Sulla. Lepidus challenges Sulla's constitution. Caesar serves under P. Servilius Isauricus in Cilicia . After Sulla's death, Caesar returns to Rome . He refuses to join Lepidus' insurrection.


Lepidus defeated by Catulus and Pompey, dies in Sardinia . Pompey appointed against Sertorius in Spain . In Rome , Caesar, as advocate, prosecutes the consular Cn. Cornelius Dolabella for extortion while serving as provincial governor.


Attempts to restore powers to tribunes. Sertorius successful against Pompey and Metellus.


Lex Aurelia allows tribunes to hold other offices later. Cicero serves as quaestor in Sicily . Leaving Rome to study rhetoric in Rhodes , Caesar is captured by Cilician pirates and held for ransom; When informed that they intended to ask for 20 talents, he is supposed to have insisted that he was worth at least 50. His 50-talent ransom takes 40 days to raise while he is held captive. He maintained a friendly, joking relationship with the pirates while the money was being raised, but warned them that he would track them down and have them crucified after he was released. Caesar, released, returns and crucifies all the pirates, but he first cut their throats to lessen their suffering because they had treated him well. He then continues on to Rhodes to study under famous rhetorician Apollonius Molon.


Cyrene made a Roman province. Reinforcements sent to Pompey in Spain . Mithridates invades Bithynia ; Lucullus sent against him. On the outbreak of the Mithridatic War, Caesar fights against a royal detachment in Asia province. Returns to Rome . Nicomedes dies, bequeaths Bythinia to Rome .


Tribune Licius Macer agitates for reform Laws deal with grain distribution. Rising of Spartacus at Capua . Lucullus defeats Mithridates on the Rhyndacus. Caesar joins the Pontifical College .


Spartacus continues successfully against Roman efforts to destroy revolt. In Spain , Sertorius assassinated; Pompey settles Spain . Lucullus campaigns against Mithridates in Pontus . M. Antonius unsuccessful against Cretan pirates. Caesar is elected military tribune. (Note that Pompey and Crassus were the consuls for 70 BC.)


Spartacus defeated by Crassus. Pompey returns from Spain . Lucullus defeats Mithridates who flees to Tigranes.


Pompey and Crassus elected as consuls; they continue dismantling provisions of Sullan laws.


Lucullus captures Armenian capital, Tigranocerta. Caesar serves as quaestor under governor of Further Spain. His aunt Julia (wife of Marius) dies; He spoke at the funerals of both his aunt, Julia, and his wife, Cornelia. On both occasions, he emphasized his connections with Marius and the ancient nobility of his family, descended from the first kings on his mother's side and from the gods on his father's (revealing a notable talent for self-dramatization and a conception that there was something exceptional about him). He also honors Marius in his speeches.


Mithridates returns to Pontus .


Caesar marries Pompeia, granddaughter of Sulla. Caesar was elected quaestor and obtained a seat in the Senate; he married Pompeia, a granddaughter of Sulla. Caesar votes for Lex Gabinia, to give Pompey total authority to fight piracy in the eastern Mediterranean ; later extended to command of the war against King Mithridates in Asia Minor.


Pompey destroys piracy in the Mediterranean ; his reputation soars.


First Catilinarian ‘conspiracy.’ Cicero , Caesar speaks in favor of the Lex Manilia, giving Pompey unparalleled powers in command of Roman armies against Mithridates.


Pompey destroys Mithridates, king of Pontus , bringing new territories into the Empire. He completely reorganizes the eastern provinces; his reputation is at its height.


Crassus is censor; works for influence in Spain and Egypt . Pompey campaigns in the Caucasus . Caesar serves as Curule Aedile. He restores Marius' trophies, formerly removed by Sulla, and spent lavishly on games to win popular favor; large loans from Crassus made these expenditures possible. There were rumors that Caesar was having an affair with Gnaeus Pompey's wife, Mucia, as well as with the wives of other prominent men.


Pompey victorious in Syria ; end of Seleucid monarchy. In the elections, Cataline loses to Cicero for the consulship; some sources suggest Caesar supported Cataline.


Consulship of Cicero . Caesar spent heavily in a successful effort to get elected pontifex maximus (chief priest). Birth of Octavian. On December 5, Caesar's significant speech in the Senate against condemning the Catilinarian conspirators to death without trial. Cato accuses Caesar of foreknowledge of the conspiracy but Cicero supports him. Pompey in Damascus , Jerusalem ; end of Hasmonean power. Mithridates dies in the Crimea .


Defeat and death of Catiline at Pistoia . Caesar elected praetor. Clodius profanes the Bona Dea festival with resulting scandal. He divorced Pompeia because of her involvement in a scandal with another man, although the man had been acquitted in the law courts; Caesar is reported to have said, “The wife of Caesar must be above suspicion,” suggesting that he was so exceptional that anyone associated with him had to be free of any hint of scandal. Pompey settles the East (including making Syria a province); returns to Italy and dismisses his army in December.


The Senate opposes Pompey's administrative acts in the East; Pompey holds his Triumph. Trial of Clodius. Caesar proconsul of the province of Further Spain ; victorious campaign against the Lusitani, which permits him to seek a Triumph in Rome . In Gaul , the Allobroges revolt; the Aedui appeal to Rome for help. Crassus negotiates, unsuccessfully, to reduce tax-farming commitments of the Equites in the east.


Caesar returns to Rome ; Cato filibusters to prevent his standing for the consulship in absentia. Foregoing his Triumph, Caesar enters Rome , stands for office, and wins the Consulship with the support of Pompey and Crassus. A loose coalition called by modern historians “The First Triumvirate” and by his enemies at the time “the three-headed monster” is formed. In 62, Pompey had returned victorious from Asia , but had been unable to get the Senate to ratify his arrangements and to grant land to his veteran soldiers because he had disbanded his army on his return and Crassus was blocking his efforts. Caesar persuaded the two men to work together and promised to support their interests if they helped him be elected to the consulship.


Caesar was elected consul against heavy Optimate opposition led by Marcus Porcius Cato, a shrewd and extremely conservative politician. Caesar married his only daughter, Julia, to Pompey to consolidate their alliance; he himself married Calpurnia, the daughter of a leading member of the Popular faction. Caesar pushed Pompey's measures through, helped Crassus' proposals, and got for himself a five-year term as proconsul of Gaul after his consulship was over. However, he used some strong-arm methods in the Assembly and completely cowed his Optimate colleague in the consulship, Bibulus, so that jokers referred to the year as “the consulship of Julius and Caesar” (instead of “the consulship of Caesar and Bibulus”). Caesar was safe from prosecution for such actions as long as he held office, but once he became a private citizen, again he could be prosecuted by his enemies in the Senate.


Tribunate of Publius Clodius. Caesar left Rome for Gaul ; he would not return for 9 years, in the course of which he would conquer most of what is now central Europe , opening up these lands to Mediterranean civilization—a decisive act in world history. Caesar moves against the Helvetii and Ariovistus in the first battles of the Gallic Wars. However, much of the conquest was an act of aggression prompted by personal ambition (not unlike the conquests of Alexander the Great). Fighting in the summers, he would return to Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy ) in the winters and manipulate Roman politics through his supporters. Cicero exiled; Cato sent to Cypress , which is annexed.


Rioting in Rome between Clodius and Milo . Cicero is recalled in September. Pompey concerned with food supply. Caesar campaigns against the Belgii; all northern Gaul apparently pacified.


The Triumvirate in disarray; Cicero attacks the land-reform law Caesar passed during his consulship. Caesar meets with Pompey and Crassus at Lucca in April to renew their coalition , since Pompey had been increasingly moving toward the Optimate faction. Caesar’s term in Gaul to be extended. Pompey and Crassus will stand, again, for the Consulship. Caesar campaigns against rebellious tribes in Brittany and Normandy as well as the Aquitani. Cato returns from Cypress . Caesar's command in Gaul was extended until 49 BC.


Second consulship of Pompey and Crassus; law passed prolonging Caesar's proconsulship for five years with new commands for both Consuls. Caesar campaigns against the Usipetes and Tencteri. First crossing of the Rhine into Germany ; first, historic reconnaissance mission to Britain . Historic thanksgivings voted to Caesar by the Senate.


Pompey remains near Rome , governing Spain through subordinates. Rioting in Rome . Caesar returns to Britain . Caesar led a three-month expedition to Britain (this was the first Roman crossing of the English Channel ), but he did not establish a permanent base there. He spends the winter in Gaul . Ambiorix destroys fifteen cohorts. Winter quarters of the legate Q. Cicero besieged; relieved by Caesar. Labienus campaigns against the Treveri. Meanwhile, Caesar's coalition with Pompey was increasingly strained, especially after Julia, wife of Pompey and Caesar's daughter , died in childbirth. Caesar's mother, Aurelia, also dies.


Continued rioting in Rome ; no consuls can be elected until July. Caesar undertakes punitive expeditions against the rebellious tribes; second Rhine crossing. The Eburones are exterminated; Ambiorix escapes. On June 9, in Mesopotamia , Crassus received command of the armies of the East but was defeated and killed by the Parthians.


In January, Publius Clodius murdered by Milo . Disorder in Rome ; Rioting in Rome led to Pompey's extra-legal election as “consul without a colleague” on February 25. Without Julia and Crassus, there was little to bond Caesar and Pompey together, and Pompey moved to the Optimate faction, since he had always been eager for the favor of the aristocrats. Serves alone until order is restored in August. Caesar negotiates from Ravenna and, by the law, of the ten tribunes, is permitted to stand for the consulship in 49 in absentia. The Gallic confederacy formed under Vercingetorix; Gaul breaks into open rebellion. Caesar captures Avaricum, has to abandon the siege of Vergovia, is victorious in the neighborhood of Dijon , surrounds Vercingetorix in Alesia, and repels the attempt of the combined Celtic levies to relieve him. Vercingetorix surrenders.


The conquest of Gaul effectively completed, Caesar set up an efficient provincial administration to govern the vast territories; he published his history The Gallic Wars. The Optimates in Rome attempted to cut short Caesar's term as governor of Gaul and made it clear that he would be immediately prosecuted if he returned to Rome as a private citizen (Caesar wanted to run for the consulship in absentia so that he could not be prosecuted). Pompey and Caesar were maneuvered into a public split; neither could yield to the other without a loss of honor, dignity, and power. Parthia invades Syria ; Cicero sent as governor to Cilicia . Death of Ptolemy Auletes; Ptolemy XIII marries Cleopatra; joint rulers in Egypt . Caesar completes pacification of Gaul ; surrender of Uxellodunum with mutilation of rebellious prisoners. Caesar begins political reorganization of the province from Nemotocenna ( Arras ). In Rome , Marcellus attempts to prematurely recall Caesar from his command.


In Rome , the Optimates continue their efforts to recall Caesar and bring him to trial. The tribune, C. Curio, prevents the passing of a decree against Caesar by imposition of the tribunician veto. Curio proposes that both Caesar and Pompey disarm; vetoed. Pompey asked by consul Marcellus to save the State (November). In December, Curio's term expires; Antony takes over as Caesar's leading tribune. Pompey refuses to compromise. Civil War looms. Caesar continues to negotiate to avoid losing his Imperium while still running for the Consulship for 48 in absentia.


Caesar tried to maintain his position legally, but on January 7, the Senate decrees that Caesar must dismiss his army by an appointed day and, despite tribunician veto, grants Pompey and the other magistrates’ state authority. In response, Caesar leads his armies across the Rubicon River (the border of his province), which was automatic civil war. Caesar crosses Rubicon during the night of January 10 and, with one legion, begins moving towards Rome . On February 21, Corfinium surrenders with little resistance; Pompey's legions were in Spain , so on March 17, he and the Senate retreated to Brundisium and from there sailed to the East. On August 2, in a bold, unexpected move, Caesar led his legions to Spain , to prevent Pompey's forces from joining him in the East; he allegedly declared, “I am off to meet an army without a leader; when I return, I shall meet a leader without an army.” Pompey's Army in Nearer Spain surrenders to Caesar following battle of Ilerda; the southern Spanish province follows. Massilia surrenders to Caesar after a six-month' siege. Caesar is elected dictator and, during his 11-day term, passes emergency legislation. After a remarkably short campaign, he returned to Rome and was elected consul, thus (relatively) legalizing his position. Throughout his campaign, Caesar practiced—and widely publicized—his policy of clemency (he would put no one to death and confiscate no property).


Caesar gives up the dictatorship, elected to second consulship with Publius Servilius Isauricus. Pompey and the Optimate faction had established a strong position in Greece by this time, and Caesar, in Brundisium, did not have sufficient ships to transport all his legions. He crossed with only about 20,000 men, leaving his chief legate, Mark Antony, in Brundisium to try to bring across the rest of the soldiers. Crossing the Adriatic , he surrounds Pompey at Dyrrhachium in April; Pompey breaks through the siege line in July. Caesar withdraws towards Thessaly . After some rather desperate situations for Caesar, the rest of his forces finally landed, though they were greatly outnumbered by Pompey's men. In the final battle, on the plains of Pharsalus on August 9, it is estimated that Pompey had 46,000 men to Caesar's 21,000. By brilliant generalship, Caesar was victorious, though the toll was great on both sides; Caesar pardoned all Roman citizens who were captured, including Brutus, but Pompey escaped, fleeing to Egypt . On September 28, prior to Caesar's arrival, Pompey is murdered by ministers of the Pharaoh in Egypt .

On October 2, Caesar arrives and occupies Alexandria , where his small force is besieged by Ptolemy's hostile forces. Meets and supports Cleopatra in her quest for rule of Egypt . Caesar, with no more than 4,000 legionaries, was presented, to his professed horror, with the head of Pompey, who had been betrayed by the Egyptians. Caesar demanded that the Egyptians pay him the 40 million sesterces he was owed because of his military support some years earlier for the previous ruler, Ptolemy XII (“The Flute Player”), who had put down a revolt against his rule with Caesar's help. After Ptolemy XII's death, the throne had passed to his oldest children, Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XIII, as joint heirs. When Caesar landed, the eunuch Pothinus and the Egyptian general Achillas, acting on behalf of Ptolemy XIII (at this time about 12 years old), had recently driven Cleopatra (at this time about 20-21 years old) out of Alexandria. Cleopatra smuggled herself into the palace in Alexandria wrapped in a rug (purportedly a gift for Caesar) and enlisted his help in her struggle to control the Egyptian throne. Like all the Ptolemies, Cleopatra was of Macedonian Greek descent; she was highly intelligent and well educate d. Caesar saw her as a useful ally as well as a captivating female, and he supported her right to the throne. Through the treachery of Pothinus and the hostility of the Egyptian people to the Romans, Achillas and an army of 20,000 besieged the palace. Caesar managed to hold the palace itself and the harbor; he had Pothinus executed as a traitor but allowed the young Ptolemy to join the army of Achillas. When he ordered the Egyptian fleet burnt, the great Library of Alexandria was accidentally consumed in the flames.


Caesar again appointed dictator, this time for one year in absentia. Antony , his Master of the Horse, maintains order in Italy . In February, a fter some months under siege, Caesar tried unsuccessfully to capture Pharos, a great lighthouse on an island in the harbor; at one point when cut off from his men he had to jump in the water and swim to safety. Plutarch says that he swam with one hand, using the other to hold some important papers above the water; Suetonius adds that he also towed his purple general's cloak by holding it in his teeth so that it would not be captured by the Egyptians.

In March, Caesar had sent for reinforcements from Asia Minor , two Roman legions and the army of an ally, King Mithridates; when they arrived outside Alexandria he marched out to join them and on March 26 defeated the Egyptian army (Ptolemy XIII died in this battle). Although he had been trapped in the palace for nearly six months and had been unable to exert a major influence on the conduct of the civil war, which was going rather badly without him, Caesar nevertheless remained in Egypt until June, even cruising on the Nile with Cleopatra to the southern boundary of her kingdom. Pharnaces of Bosporus defeats Roman army under Domitius Calvinus in Pontus .

In early June, Caesar leaves Egypt , established Cleopatra as a client ruler in alliance with Rome ; he left three legions under the command of Rufio, as legate, in support of her rule. Either immediately before or soon after he left Egypt , Cleopatra bore a son, whom she named Caesarion, claiming that he was the son of Caesar. He moves against the king of Pontus , Pharnaces II (Mithridates' son).

On August 1, after leaving Alexandria , Caesar swept through Asia Minor to settle the disturbances there. He met and immediately overcame Pharnaces, a rebellious king, at Zela; he later publicized the rapidity of this victory with the slogan veni, vidi, vici (“I came, I saw, I conquered”).

In October, Caesar (dictator) arrives in Rome and settles the problems caused by the mismanagement of Antony ; further legislative reforms including reorganization of debt laws. When he attempted to sail for Africa to face the Optimates (who had regrouped under Cato and allied with King Juba of Numidia ), his legions mutinied and refused to sail. In a brilliant speech, Caesar brought them around totally, and after some difficult battles decisively defeated the Optimates at Thapsus , after which Cato committed suicide rather than be pardoned by Caesar.

On December 28, Caesar and his legions return to the coast of Africa to defeat the remaining Pompeian forces. Since 48, the Optimates have been collecting armies in the African Province .


Caesar elected consul for the third time, serving with Lepidus. On April 6, The two sons of Pompey, Gnaeus and Sextus, led a revolt in Spain ; since Caesar's legates were unable to quell the revolt, Caesar had to go himself, winning a decisive but difficult victory at Munda. Gnaeus Pompey was killed in the battle, but Sextus escaped to become, later, the leader of the Mediterranean pirates. Caesar is victorious at Battle of Thapsus, defeating Scipio and Juba . Suicide of Cato. Caesar completes further legislation including reform of the calendar, adding additional days to this year to bring the solar calendar into alignment.

On July 25, Caesar returns to Rome where he is appointed to his third dictatorship, this time for a ten-year term. The victorious and now unchallenged Caesar arrived back in Rome and celebrated four splendid triumphs (over the Gauls, Egyptians, Pharnaces, and Juba ); he sent for Cleopatra and the year-old Caesarion and established them in a luxurious villa across the Tiber from Rome . In a letter at this time, he listed his political aims as “tranquility for Italy , peace for the provinces, and security for the Empire.” His program for accomplishing these goals—both what he actually achieved and what he planned but did not have time to complete—was sound and farsighted (e.g., resolution of the worst of the debt crisis, resettlement of veterans abroad without dispossessing others, reform of the Roman calendar, regulation of the grain dole, strengthening of the middle class, enlargement of the Senate to 900), but his methods alienated many of the nobles. Holding the position of dictator, Caesar governed autocratically, more in the manner of a general than a politician. Although he nominally used the political structure, he often simply announced his decisions to the Senate and had them entered on the record as senatorial decrees without debate or vote.

In October, Caesar, back in Rome , celebrated a triumph over Gnaeus Pompey, arousing discontent because triumphs were reserved for foreign enemies. By this time Caesar was virtually appointing all major magistrates; for example, when the consul for 45 died on the morning of his last day of office, Caesar appointed a new consul to serve out the term—from 1:00 p.m. to sundown! Caesar was also borrowing some of the customs of the ruler cults of the eastern Hellenistic monarchies; for example, he issued coins with his likeness (note how the portrait on this coin, celebrating his fourth dictatorship, emphasizes his age) and allowed his statues, especially in the provinces, to be adorned like the statues of the gods. Furthermore, the Senate was constantly voting him new honors—the right to wear the laurel wreath and purple and gold toga and sit in a gilded chair at all public functions, inscriptions such as “to the unconquerable god,” etc. When two tribunes, Gaius Marullus and Lucius Flavius, opposed these measures, Caesar had them removed from office and from the Senate.


Caesar serves as his fourth consulship (without a colleague). On March 17, Caesar victorious at Munda; after administrative reforms, he returns to Rome in October. The Senate votes extravagant decrees in his honor, including dictatorship for life and divine worship. Caesar's images begin to appear on coinage. In the fall, Caesar prepares for a campaign in Parthia the next year and makes his will, appointing his great-nephew, Octavian, as his primary heir, allegedly adopting him as his son.


Caesar was named dictator perpetuus. On February 15, at the feast of Lupercalia, Caesar wore his purple garb for the first time in public. At the public festival, Antony offered him a diadem (symbol of the Hellenistic monarchs), but Caesar refused it, saying Jupiter alone is king of the Romans (possibly because he saw the people did not want him to accept the diadem, or possibly because he wanted to end once and for all the speculation that he was trying to become a king). Caesar was preparing to lead a military campaign against the Parthians, who had treacherously killed Crassus and taken the legionary eagles; he was due to leave on March 18. Although Caesar was apparently warned of some personal danger, he nevertheless refused a bodyguard.

60 Republicans, led by Brutus and Cassius, join in conspiracy to murder him. On the Ides of March (March 15), Caesar attended the last meeting of the Senate before his departure, held at its temporary quarters in the portico of the theater built by Pompey the Great (the Curia, located in the Forum and the regular meeting house of the Senate, had been badly burned and was being rebuilt). The sixty conspirators, led by Marcus Junius Brutus, Gaius Cassius Longinus, Decimus Brutus Albinus, and Gaius Trebonius, came to the meeting with daggers concealed in their togas and struck Caesar at least 23 times as he stood at the base of Pompey's statue. Legend has it that Caesar said in Greek to Brutus, “You, too, my child?” After his death, all the senators fled, and three slaves carried his body home to Calpurnia several hours later. For several days there was a political vacuum, for the conspirators apparently had no long-range plan and, in a major blunder, did not immediately kill Mark Antony (apparently by the decision of Brutus). The conspirators had only a band of gladiators to back them up, while Antony had a whole legion, the keys to Caesar's money boxes, and Caesar's will. Antony receives command in Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul . Cicero 's first Phillipic against Antony .


Antony 's siege of Mutina raised; deaths of consuls Hirtius and Pansa. D. Brutus killed in Gaul . Octavian declared consul in August. Triumvirate of Octavian, Antony and Lepidus (November). Proscriptions; death of Cicero . Brutus in Macedonia and Cassius in Syria raising armies.


Julius Caesar deified. Sextus Pompeius controls Sicily . Brutus and Cassius are defeated at Philippi in October; both commit suicide.

Caesar and the Pirates

In 75 BC, Julius Caesar was captured by Cilician pirates, who infested the Mediterranean Sea . The Romans had never sent a navy against them, because the pirates offered the Roman senators slaves, which they needed for their plantations in Italy . Consequently, piracy was common.

In chapter 2 of his “Life of Julius Caesar,” the Greek author Plutarch of Chaeronea (46-c.120) describes what happened when Caesar encountered the pirates.

On the way to the island of Rhodes to study philosophy and oratory (public speaking), Caesar was kidnapped by Cilician pirates in the Mediterranean Sea . When they demanded a ransom of twenty talents, he laughed at them, saying they did not know whom they had captured. Instead, he ordered them to ask for fifty. They accepted, and Caesar sent his followers to various cities to collect the ransom money.

In all he was held for 38 days, and he used the time to write poems and speeches which he read aloud to the pirates. If they failed to admire his work, he would call them illiterate savages to their faces, and would often laughingly threaten to have them all crucified. These pirates were about the most bloodthirsty people in the world at the time, but Caesar treated them so highhandedly that, whenever he wanted to sleep, he would send to them and tell them to stop talking. The pirates grew fond of Caesar and attributed his freedom of speech to a kind of simplicity in his character or boyish playfulness.

However, the ransom arrived from Miletus and, as soon as he had paid it and been set free, he immediately manned some ships and set sail from the harbor of Miletus against the pirates. He found them still there, lying at anchor off the island, and he captured nearly all of them. He took their property as spoils of war and put the men themselves into the prison at Pergamum . He then went in person to [Marcus] Junius, the governor of Asia , thinking it proper that he, as praetor in charge of the province, should see to the punishment of the prisoners. Junius, however, cast longing eyes at the money, which came to a considerable sum, and kept saying that he needed time to look into the case.

Caesar paid no further attention to him. He went to Pergamum , took the pirates out of prison, and crucified the lot of them, just as he had often told them he would do when he was on the island and they imagined that he was joking. However, since they had treated him well, he had their throats cut before they were crucified to lessen their suffering.

Caesar Crosses the Rubicon

On January 7, 49 BC , the Senate demanded Julius Caesar to hand over his ten well-trained legions to a new governor. Caesar heard the news in Ravenna, and knew that he had to make a choice between prosecution and rebellion; preferring the dignity of war over the humiliation of unfriendly politics, Caesar chose to rebel, quoting his favorite poet Menander, 'the die is cast' (alea iacta est).

On January 10 or 11, 49 BC, his army advanced to Rimini , where Caesar could control the passes across the Apennines Mountains . In doing so, he crossed the river Rubico (a.k.a. the Rubicon River ), a river in northern Italy forming part of the boundary between Cisalpine Gaul and Italy . In so doing, he invaded his own country of Italy , which the Senate declared to be an act of civil war.

The Rubicon was a relatively minor waterway in northern Italy . Roman legionaries, slaves, generals, and whoever else might be traveling with a Roman army could easily cross it on foot. However, since ancient times, the Rubicon River had marked the northernmost boundary of Rome , a boundary between Rome and its northern neighbor, Gaul . A Roman general could not go across the boundary while at the head of his army. For such a man to lead his troops in battle gear into the heart of Rome was against one of the oldest laws on the Roman law books. It was treason.

Treason was an offense against the Roman government, against the very heart of Roman society. Treason was punishable by death. Someone who committed treason would inevitably be hunted down by Roman soldiers and dragged to the Roman Senate, where he would be tried, with the very likely outcome of a guilty verdict and a death sentence.

In 49 BC, the frontiers of Rome were expanding. The young general, Julius Caesar, was making quite a name for himself in Gaul , which is mostly what we now call France . Caesar and his army had spent several years of hard fighting defeating the native Celts and Germanic peoples of Gaul , including the Helvetii. Now Caesar ruled the area with an iron fist. Elsewhere in the Republic, Pompey, the other surviving consul of the First Triumvirate (Crassus had been killed in 53 BC), was conquering vast territories in the east and south. At the time that Caesar's army arrived in northern Italy , Pompey and his army were in Spain , relatively far away by ancient transportation standards.

By this time, Pompey and Caesar had grown quite jealous of each other. An attempt at familial reconciliation was made when Caesar's daughter Julia married Pompey. This worked only for a short time, however, because Julia died in childbirth; and, since no blood ties kept the men together anymore, the rivalry intensified. By this time, also, Caesar had become such a favorite of the common people of Rome (who outnumbered the wealthy) that “Caesar” was a well-known name throughout much of the Republic. Pompey, on the other hand, was a master general and favorite of the wealthy and of the Senate, but he considered himself much more than Caesar's equal, both in governmental terms and on the battlefield.

So here was Caesar, staying in Ravenna , and wanting to consolidate his hold on the hearts and minds of the Roman people (and government). He marched his men to the brink of confrontation and then boldly took them across in history. Some historians differ on exactly how the crossing took place. Suetonius, an ancient Roman historian, had this to say:

Coming up with his troops on the banks of the Rubicon, which was the frontier of his province, he halted for a while, and revolving in his mind the importance of the step he meditated, he turned to those about him, saying: 'Still we can retreat! But once let us pass this little bridge, - and nothing is left but to fight it out with arms!'

Even as he hesitated, this incident occurred. A man of strikingly noble mien and graceful aspect appeared nearby, and played upon a pipe. To hear him not merely some shepherds, but soldiers too came flocking from their posts, and amongst them some trumpeters. He snatched a trumpet from one of them and ran to the river with it; then sounding the "Advance!" with a piercing blast he crossed to the other side. At this Caesar cried out, 'Let us go where the omens of the Gods and the crimes of our enemies summon us! THE DIE IS NOW CAST!'

Thus, the historian Suetonius could seem to be arguing, it was not Caesar who initiated the treason; rather, he was responding to a charge made by another of his men. "The die is now cast" could be interpreted to mean that the decision was made for him and that he had only to go along.

No matter the interpretation, the fact remained that Caesar and his army were now in violation of one of the oldest laws of them all, treason. The outcry was immediate in Rome itself, with the Senate calling for Caesar to disband his army and submit to their authority. The call went out to Pompey to come defend his beloved Senate against the intrusion by Caesar. The response by both men was telling: Caesar marched his army into Rome, took over the place, and had a new Senate installed, one that included mostly men favorable to his intentions; Pompey, meanwhile, sailed his army to Greece, there to set up a defensive position and await Caesar's attack.

The result was the epic Battle of Pharsalus, which resulted in a victory by Caesar, the death of Pompey, and the dawning of a new day in Rome .

The Death of Caesar

On 15 March 44 BC , the Roman dictator Julius Caesar was murdered. There are several accounts of this incident, but the most famous and probably most accurate is the one that was written by Caesar's biographer Caius Suetonius Tranquillus (c.70-c.135), who seems to have had access to imperial archives and may have consulted eyewitness accounts.

The following fragment is from Suetonius’ “Lives of the Twelve Caesars” (Caesar 80-82).

In order to avoid giving assent to this proposal the conspirators hastened the execution of their designs. Therefore the plots that had previously been formed separately, often by groups of two or three, were united in a general conspiracy, since even the populace no longer were pleased with present conditions, but both secretly and openly rebelled at his tyranny and cried out for defenders of their liberty. On the admission of foreigners to the Senate, a placard was posted: 'God bless the commonwealth! Let no one consent to point out the House to a newly made Senator.’ The following verses too were repeated everywhere:

The Gauls he dragged in triumph through the town 
Caesar has brought into the Senate house 
And changed their breeches for the purple gown.

When Quintus Maximus, whom he had appointed consul in his place for three months, was entering the theater, and his lictor in the usual manner called attention to his arrival, a general shout was raised: 'He's no Consul!’ After the removal of Caesetius and Marullus from office as tribunes, they were bound to have not a few votes at the next elections of consuls. Some wrote on the base of Lucius Brutus' statue, 'Oh, that you were still alive'; and on that of Caesar himself:

Because he drove from Rome the royal race,
Brutus was first made consul in their place.
This man, because he put the consuls down,
has been rewarded with a royal crown.

More than sixty joined the conspiracy against him, led by Caius Cassius and Decimus and Marcus Junius Brutus. At first, they hesitated whether to form two divisions at the elections in the Field of Mars, so that while some hurled him from the bridge as he summoned the tribes to vote, the rest might wait below and slay him; or to set upon him in the Sacred Way or at the entrance to the theater. When, however, a meeting of the Senate was called for the ides of March in the Hall of Pompey, the senators readily gave that time and place the preference.

Now Caesar's approaching murder was foretold to him by unmistakable signs. A few months before, when the settlers assigned to the colony at Capua by the Julian Law were demolishing some tombs of great antiquity, to build country houses, and plied their work with the greater vigor because as they rummaged about they found a quantity of vases of ancient workmanship, there was discovered in a tomb, which was said to be that of Capys, the founder of Capua, a bronze tablet, inscribed with Greek words and characters to this effect: 'Whenever the bones of Capys shall be discovered, it will come to pass that a descendant of his shall be slain at the hands of his kindred, and presently avenged at heavy cost to Italy.' And let no one think this tale a myth or a lie, for it is vouched for by Cornelius Balbus, an intimate friend of Caesar.

Shortly before his death, as he was told, the herds of horses which he had dedicated to the Rubicon River when he crossed it, and had let loose without a keeper, stubbornly refused to graze and wept copiously. Again, when he was offering sacrifice, the soothsayer Spurinna warned him to beware of danger, which would come no later than the ides of March. On the day before the ides of that month, a little bird called the king-bird flew into the Hall of Pompey with a sprig of laurel, pursued by others of various kinds from the grove hard by, which tore it to pieces in the hall. In fact the very night before his murder he dreamt now that he was flying above the clouds, and now that he was clasping the hand of Jupiter; and his wife Calpurnia thought that the pediment of their house fell, and that her husband was stabbed in her arms; and on a sudden the door of the room flew open of its own accord.

Both for these reasons and because of poor health he hesitated for a long time whether to stay at home and put off what he had planned to do in the Senate. At last, urged by Decimus Brutus not to disappoint the full meeting, who had been waiting for him for some time, he went forth almost at the end of the fifth hour. When a note revealing the plot was handed him by some one on the way, he put it with others which he held in his left hand, intending to read them presently. Then, after many victims had been slain, and he could not get favorable omens, he entered the House in defiance of portents, laughing at Spurinna and calling him a false prophet, because the ides of March were come without bringing him harm. Spurinna replied that they had of a truth come, but they had not gone.

As he took his seat, the conspirators gathered about him as if to pay their respects, and straightway Tillius Cimber, who had assumed the lead, came nearer as though to ask something. When Caesar with a gesture put him off to another time, Cimber caught his toga by both shoulders. As Caesar cried, 'Why, this is violence!’ one of the Casca stabbed him from one side just below the throat. Caesar caught Casca's arm and ran it through with his stylus, but as he tried to leap to his feet, he was stopped by another wound. When he saw that he was beset on every side by drawn daggers, he muffled his head in his robe, and at the same time drew down its lap to his feet with his left hand, in order to fall more decently, with the lower part of his body also covered. And in this wise he was stabbed with three and twenty wounds, uttering not a word, but merely a groan at the first stroke, though some have written that when Marcus Brutus rushed at him, he said in Greek, 'You too, my child?'

All the conspirators made off, and he lay there lifeless for some time, until finally three common slaves put him on a litter and carried him home, with one arm hanging down. Moreover, of so many wounds none, in the opinion of the physician Antistius, would have proved mortal except the second one in the breast. •• Freewalt Family •• Search •• Terms of Use

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