Facts about Julius Caesar: between History and Myth

By the time of Julius Caesar in 50 B.C. the Roman Republic was living a time of deep crisis. These were years marked by revolts and political clashes. Murders and violence were the order of the day, and the republican government seemed to have been closer to anarchy than ever before.

Statue of Julius Caesar in Rome
Credits: image by @efrye

Caesar’s personal ambitions

Julius Caesar belonged to one of the most noble families in Rome, the gens Iulia. However, they had lost most of their fortune and were burdened by debts. Caesar’s dream was to give back to his family the lost honor and the power that once belonged to the gens Iulia.

In 65 B.C, Caesar was no longer a boy. He was 32 years old and had already shown his value as a soldier. During these years he was sent to Rome’s provinces in Spain to stop an insurrection. On this occasion, Caesar proved his strength, his value and impressive strategic skills. The military campaign in Spain also had political implications. For Julius Caesar, building his own reputation among the ranks of the army in an empire found on military supremacy was just the first step to acquire a political influence.

His final goal was indeed to become consul, the most prestigious office in Rome. This way, not only he could have achieved great powers, but also the governorate of one province. Caesar’s object of desire became the Gaul, one of the richest provinces of Rome. He knew that he could have made a lot of money out of a victorious campaign in Gaul, and he was eager to escape from his creditors in Rome.

The Run for Office

Willing to do everything it took to reach his goals, Caesar started showing another interesting trait of his personality. Not only he was a great soldier, but he was a leader too, able to reach, involve and persuade the audience. His populist campaign inspired many. Among them there was Brutus, a young man who quickly become Caesar’s favorite.
However, by achieving his goal to conquer the favor of the masses, Caesar soon lost the support of the Roman aristocracy and the of senators, who saw his innovative ideas as a threat to the status quo.

Political Strategy

Caesar knew his weaknesses. He also knew that, notwithstanding the electoral results, the Senate would have still had the power to refuse him the governorship of Gaul. So, how do you win an electoral campaign and the governorship of the richest province of the time without the favor of the nobility and of the senate?

For Julius Caesar the answer was pretty obvious! He needed allies and not just any ally. He turned to two of the most important men in the Roman Republic, Crassus and Pompey Magnus. The first one, Caesar’s longtime friend, was also the richest men in Rome, while Pompey was one of the most popular general at the time.
Thanks to his power of persuasion, Caesar convinced both of them to create an alliance, the first Triumvirate, and to seal the contract he gave his daughter Julia in marriage to Pompey.

Caesar won the consulate and became governor of two Gaul provinces for 5 years. All the three of them had become very powerful. Once he had reached his goals, Caesar left Rome and headed North looking for gold and fame.

Military success in Gaul

During his time in Gaul, Caesar and his army fought against barbarians threatening Rome. In 58 B.C the Romans faced the Helvetians. The enemies were annihilated. By that time, Caesar’s plans have changed. Now he was aiming at expanding the Roman empire and conquering new lands.

Meantime in Rome, Caesar’s expansionist ambitions severely concerned the senators, who tried to convinced Pompey to break the alliance. Although the antagonism between the two of them had grown strongly over the past years, Pompey was more concerned with his personal life. He had married Giulia and was very in love with her. Together they traveled a lot across Italy, and Pompeo started neglecting politics to spend time with his beloved wife.

Caesar’s military successes continued in Gaul. He defeated the barbarians led by Ariovistus and brought the Roman troops up to Britain. He was the first Roman to ever enter those lands. However, the dispatches he sent to Rome only increased the senators rivalry. Also Brutus himself started questioning the real intentions of his mentor and doubting the legitimacy of Caesar’s growing power. By that time Caesar could rely on a trusty army and he was collecting great wealth.

Final Battle

The time had come for the senators to stop Caesar, who in their minds had become the major threat to the status quo and the aristocracy. A series of fortuitous coincidence allowed the Senate to succeed. Crassus, longstanding supporter of Caesar, died during a military campaign. At the same time, Julia, Pompey’s wife, died in childbirth, along with their baby-son. Pompeo was devastated and probably felt like he had nothing to lose. He broke the alliance with Caesar and became the champion of the Roman aristocracy and conservatorism.

In the meantime Caesar’s military successes continued. The Romans had conquered the North of Europe. His last desire was to go back to Rome and see his successes recognized. In 49 B.C. the senators asked Caesar to go back to the capital as a private citizen, which meant he had to give up his army. Caesar knew that by doing so he would have faced a sure death. He was ready to do anything it took, also to invade Rome, if necessary.

Leading his troops, he moved south from Gaul and reached the Rubicone river, which basically marked the border between the provinces and Rome itself. Caesar knew that crossing the border with his troops meant a declaration of war, but he had no choice and did it anyway.
Chaos spread all over Rome. Pompey and the aristocracy knew that Caesar was backed by loyal soldiers, a unified army forged by 10 years of military campaigns. To take time, Pompeo went to Rodi, Greece, to put together a new, more powerful army.
The battle of Pharsalus in 48 B.C. marked the defeat of Pompey’s troops. He fled to Egypt seeking refuge, but he was stopped and betrayed by the king, who beheaded him and sent his head to Caesar.

The Ides of March

In 47 B.C. Caesar had reached an undisputed and absolute supremacy over Rome. He started the reconstruction of the city and funded military campaigns to conquer new colonies. In the middle of the Republican age, Caesar was the first one to foresee the destiny of Rome as a great, real Empire. However, the dictatorship was causing unrest in Rome. Brutus was persuaded by the Senators to stop him and became the champion of the conspiracy that caused Caesar’s assassination.

On 44 B.C, the Ides of March, 40 plotter led by Brutus killed Caesar with 23 knife wounds in the halls of the Theater of Pompeo. His body was then carried to the area known today as the Roman Forum and there it was cremated.