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Caesar: the first leader of Rome

July 31, 2014 3:33 pm by

As Rome celebrates 2000 years from the death of its first Emperor, Augustus, let’s look back at who reigned before and how the Rome looked that he inherited. So who ran Rome before Augustus? Well, none other than his great-greatuncle, Julius Caesar.

To what do we owe Julius Caesar?

–          The introduction of the Julian calendar

–          William Shakespeare’s play which depicted the Roman dictator’s tragic death and the events that followed

–          The King of Diamonds in a traditional playing pack of cards is meant to represent Julius Caesar

–          If you study Latin or classics, it is highly likely you will be tought some of Caesar’s prose

–          The month of July is named after him: Julius

 

Julius Caesar is a name synonymous with Rome. He is remembered as being the leader and dictator of Rome during its most prosperous reign and Empire. Born in 100 BC, Caesar inherited his name from a prestigious family with ancient pedigree. However, the surname stems from various meanings: some believe it comes from the Latin ‘to cut’; others believe it was due to his predecessor’s thick head of hair, or that he had bright grey eyes; alternatively some say Caesar killed an elephant in battle. Considering Caesar issued coins printed with elephants could mean that he had a soft spot for this large mammal and preferred this definition of his name. Who knows…

In his later life Julius was a Roman general, statesman and Consul – not to mention prolific author of Latin prose (bet you didn’t know that!) After losing his inheritance due to a marriage that went wrong – and a battle of alliances that ‘hit the fan’ – he joined the army and became known for his public speeches, animated gesticulations and high-pitched voice.

By the age of 31 Caesar had fought in numerous wars and his presence was deep rooted in politics and he was soon to revolutionise the Roman Empire and expand its reach. Taking sides with Pompey, he went onto serve in various military roles across the government, including governor of the Roman province of Spain.

A shrewd man, Caesar aligned himself with those he thought could be of benefit; including Crassus – a man who was to bolster Caesar’s financial and political status. Acting as a go-between for Crassus and Pompey, who were bitter rivals, he turned them from enemies into allies and the three of them became known as the powerful First Triumvirate.

It was from then Caesar used this alliance as a springboard to take over the world; so to speak. Caesar’s tactics were pretty simple: take all and leave nothing behind. He charged his troops across the Rhine after building a bridge and proceeded to invade Britain, once he had seized Gaul.

The Triumvirate in later years lost their alliance and after Crassus’ death Caesar went after Pompey and his territory. Since Pompey was supported by nobility, they saw Caesar as a national threat which meant Civil War was inevitable. Despite nobility being against him, his enemies were no match and Caesar swiftly pushed them out of Italy and into Egypt – where he met Cleopatra and fathered a son by her.

Caesar was crowned the ultimate dictator upon his return to Rome and was even hailed Father of his Country. Albeit he used rather forceful tactics, you can’t deny that he didn’t reform his country – he alleviated debt, reformed the Senate and he even monetised coins to bear his face! However he was only to be in rule in Rome for a year before he was assassinated. Although Caesar brought great reform, he was more popular in the middle and lower classes than the Senate itself who thought he was vying for a place to be king – and since Roman’s didn’t desire a monarchic rule, they were suspicious of his behaviour, not to mention put off by his power as dictator to veto the Senate.

As absolute dictator he had his fair share of enemies within the Senate – of whom he was meant to be a part. It was two of his former enemies who conspired against him to plot his death on the Ides of March. Cassius and Brutus were the two convicted – and guilty – of his death and they were mobbed by angry supporters of lower and middle class Romans. After his death, the Roman Republic fell and Caesar became a martyr – later on, the Senate even named him The Divine Julius.

Because of his great-granduncles popularity and esteem, Gaius Octavian later reclaimed victory over his relative’s death and took power in 27BC, under the name Augustus, and later became the first Roman Emperor.

 

Visit the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, as well as the Coliseum, for free with the Roma Pass.

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