Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

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Julius Caesar was born in 100 BC. His family was one of the most important in Rome. Like most young men of noble birth Caesar became an officer in the Roman Army.

Suetonius wrote: "Caesar was a most skilled swordsman and horseman... If Caesar's troops gave ground he would often rally them in person, catching individual soldiers by the throat and forcing them round to face the enemy again... He fixed the daily pay of the soldiers at double what it had been... and gave each man a Gallic slave."

His career nearly came to an end when at the age of twenty-five he was captured by pirates. Instead of killing him they demanded a ransom. His family paid the money and he was released. Caesar was furious that he should be humiliated in this way and with some friends he managed to find the pirates and had them all crucified. Later he boasted that he had warned the pirates that if they let him go he would have them killed.

Caesar had political ambitions and when he was elected aedile in 65 BC he spent a fortune providing gladiatorial contests for the Roman public. He was now deeply in debt but it helped him become a well known figure, and in 59 BC he was elected consul.

Once in power he brought in a new bill that provided land for old soldiers. When the Senate refused to pass the measure Caesar took the bill to the Public Assembly. This action gained him the support of the army and the people of Rome. It also created a lot of powerful enemies in the Senate, especially when he resorted to employing men to beat up senators who disagreed with him.

At the end of his term as consul, Caesar became commander of the Roman Army in Narbonese Gaul. The Gauls were excellent cavalrymen and on occasions capable of defeating the Romans. However, the Gauls were made up of a collection of smaller tribes who found it difficult to work together.

Caesar was confident that in the long term, his well-organised forces would be able to defeat the Gauls that controlled central and northern Europe. First he defeated the Helvetii that inhabit present day Switzerland. He followed this with victories over the Gauls that lived in northern Europe. After reaching the English Channel in 55 BC Caesar decided to invade Britain.

Caesar's military campaign made him very rich. The wealth that he had plundered from northern Europe had changed him from a man deeply in debt into a multi-millionaire.

To make sure everybody knew about his military victories, Caesar wrote a book about his campaigns and had it published in Rome. The Senate became concerned about his growing popularity. To prevent Caesar from gaining power they appointed another famous Roman soldier, Pompey, to take control of the country. The Senate then passed a motion insisting that Caesar should retire from office.

Caesar reacted by ordering his men to march on Rome. At Corfinium, in 48 BC Caesar defeated troops loyal to the Senate. When news reached Rome of Caesar's victory, his enemies fled. Velleius reported: "Caesar, victorious over all his enemies, returned to Rome, and pardoned all who had borne arms against him, an act of generosity almost beyond belief. He entertained the city with the magnificent spectacle of a gladiatorial show, a sham battle of cavalry, infantry, and even mounted elephants."

Pompey decided to retreat to Macedonia, where he knew he could rely on the loyalty of his troops. However, Caesar's troops, highly experienced after their campaigns against the Gauls, were vastly superior to Pompey's soldiers who had not fought for twelve years. After a series of defeats, Pompey escaped to Egypt.

Frightened that Caesar would now invade Egypt, Ptolemy XIII arranged the execution of Pompey on 28th September. The head of Pompey was sent to Caesar to prove he was not being protected by the Egyptians. When Caesar arrived in Alexandria two days later, Ptolemy presented him with Pompey's severed head. Caesar was appalled by this act of violence against a leading Roman citizen. Caesar reacted by seizing the Egyptian capital.

At first he intended to demand a large sum of money in return for leaving the country. However, while in Egypt, Caesar met Cleopatra, the country's twenty-one-year-old queen. Caesar, who was now fifty-two and had already been married three times before, fell deeply in love with Cleopatra. After defeating King Ptolemy XIII, Caesar restored Cleopatra to her throne, with another younger brother Ptolemy XIV as new co-ruler.

On 23 June 47 BC Cleopatra gave birth to a child, Ptolemy Caesar (nicknamed "Caesarion"). Cleopatra claimed that Caesar was the father and wished him to name the boy his heir, but Caesar refused, choosing his grandnephew Octavian instead.

When Caesar returned to Rome he appointed 300 of his supporters as members of the Senate. Although the Senate and Public Assembly still met, it was Caesar who now made all the important decisions. By 44 BC Caesar was powerful enough to declare himself dictator for life. Although in the past Roman leaders had become dictators in times of crisis, no one had taken this much power.

A whole range of magnificent buildings named after Caesar and his family were erected. Hundreds of sculptures of Caesar, most of them made by captured Greek artists, were distributed throughout the Roman Empire. Some of the statues claimed that Caesar was now a God. Caesar also became the first living man to appear on a Roman coin. Even the month of the year that he was born, Quintilis, was renamed July in his honour.

Caesar began wearing long red boots. As the ancient kings used to wear similar boots, rumours began to spread that Caesar planned to make himself king. Caesar denied these charges but the Roman people, who had a strong dislike of the kingship system, began to worry about the way Caesar was dominating political life.

Cleopatra, Ptolemy XIV and Caesarion visited Rome in summer 46 BC. They stayed in one of Caesars country houses. Members of the Senate disapproved of the relationship between Cleopatra and Caesar, partly because he was already married to Calpurnia Pisonis. Others objected to the fact that she was a foreigner. Cicero disliked her for moral reasons: "Her (Cleopatra) way of walking... her clothes, her free way of talking, her embraces and kisses, her beach-parties and dinner-parties, all show her to be a tart."

Later Plutarch attempted to explain why some men found her attractive: "Her actual beauty, it is said, was not in itself remarkable... but the attraction of her person, joining with the charm of her conversation... was something bewitching. It was a pleasure merely to hear the sound of her voice, with which, like an instrument of many strings, she could pass from one language to another, so that there were few of the nations that she needed an interpreter... which was all the more surprising because most of her predecessors, scarcely gave themselves the trouble to acquire the Egyptian tongue."

Caesar attempted to gain the full support of the people by declaring his intention to lead a military campaign against the Parthians. However, many had doubts about the wisdom of trying to increase the size of the Roman Empire. They believed it would be better to concentrate on organising what they already had.

Rumours began to spread that Caesar planned to make himself king. Plutarch wrote: "What made Caesar hated was his passion to be king." Caesar denied these charges but the Roman people, who had a strong dislike of the kingship system, began to worry about the way Caesar made all the decisions. Even his friends complained that he was no longer willing to listen to advice. Finally, a group of senators decided to kill Caesar.

Even some of Caesar's closest friends were concerned about his unwillingness to listen to advice. Eventually, a group of 60 men, including Marcus Brutus, rumoured to be one of Caesar's illegitimate sons, decided to assassinate Caesar.

Plans were made to carry out the assassination in the Senate just three days before he was due to leave for Parthia. When Caesar arrived at the Senate a group of senators gathered round him. Publius Servilius Casca stabbed him from behind. Caesar looked round for help but now the rest of the group pulled out their daggers. One of the first men Caesar saw was Brutus and was reported to have declared, "You too, my son." Caesar knew it was useless to resist and pulled his toga over his head and waited for the final blows to arrive.

Afterwards Cicero commented: "Caesar subjected the Roman people to oppression... Is there anyone, except Antony who did not wish for his death or who disapproved of what was done?... Some didn't know of the plot, some lacked courage, others the opportunity. None lacked the will."

Do you know of a man who... can speak better than Caesar? Or anyone who makes so many witty remarks?

Caesar was a most skillful swordsman and horseman, and showed surprising powers of endurance. He always led his army, more often on foot than in the saddle, went bareheaded in sun and rain alike, and could travel for long distances at incredible speed... If Caesar's troops gave ground he would often rally them in person, catching individual fugitives by the throat and forcing them round to face the enemy again... He always addressed his soldiers not with "My men", but with "Comrades" ... which put them into a better humour. He fixed the daily pay of the regular soldiers at double what it had been and occasionally gave each man a slave.

What made Caesar hated was his passion to be king.

Then came Caesar... who conquered all kingdoms and even seized islands beyond our world.

Caesar's character was a combination of genius, memory, thoroughness, culture, intellect and industry.

History proves that by practising cruelty you earn nothing but hatred. Nobody has ever achieved a lasting victory by such means.

There was also a great crowd of women and children in the German camp... They began to flee in all directions, and were hunted down by the cavalry which I sent out for the purpose... A large number were killed, and the rest plunged into the water and perished, overcome by the force of the current in their terror-stricken and exhausted state.

As the sailor avoids the rock, so should you (the historian) avoid the word that is obsolete or rare.

Caesar saw that his clemency was so well known that no one would think him a cruel man if for once he took severe measures. So he decided to deter all others by making an example of the defenders of Uxellodunum. All who had borne arms had their hands cut off and were then let go, so that everyone might see what punishment was meted out to evildoers.

Caesar, victorious over all his enemies, returned to Rome, and pardoned all who had borne arms against him, an act of generosity almost beyond belief. He entertained the city with the magnificent spectacle of a gladiatorial show, a sham battle of cavalry, infantry, and even mounted elephants.

When his friends advised him to have a guard, and several offered their services, he would not hear of it; but said it was better to suffer death once than always to live in fear of it.

It was about ten o'clock when he set off for the senate. As he went, someone handed him a note containing details of the plot against his life, but he merely added it to the bundle of papers in his left hand... As soon as Caesar took `his seat the conspirators crowded around him as if to pay their respects... Cimber caught hold of his shoulders. "This is violence!" Caesar cried, and at that moment one of the Casca brothers slipped behind him and with a sweep of his dagger stabbed him just below the throat... he was leaping away when another dagger caught him in the breast. Twenty-three dagger thrusts went home as he stood there.

Caesar subjected the Roman people to oppression... Some didn't know of the plot, some lacked courage,

others the opportunity. None lacked the will.


1. Study source 2. How does this source help to explain why Julius Caesar was a successful


2. Why did Julius Caesar become such an important figure in the Roman Empire between 58 BC and 51 BC?

3. Who ruled Rome between 50 BC and 44 BC, the Senate or Julius Caesar?

4. Julius Caesar was aware of the importance of self-promotion. What methods did Julius Caesar use to spread information about himself?

6. Read about Cicero. Show how this information helps to explain the views expressed by Cicero in sources 1, 5 and 13.

7. How do sources 3, 11 and 13 help to explain why Caesar was killed?

Julius Caesar - History

102/100 BCE: Gaius Julius 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.

c. 85 BCE: His father died, and a few years later he was betrothed and possibly married to a wealthy young woman, Cossutia. This betrothal/marriage was soon broken off, and at age 18 he married Cornelia, the daughter of a prominent member of the Popular faction she later bore him his only legitimate child, a daughter, Julia. When the Optimate dictator, Sulla, was in power, he ordered Caesar to divorce her when Caesar refused, Sulla proscribed him (listed him among those to be executed), and Caesar went into hiding. Caesar's influential friends and relatives eventually got him a pardon.

c. 79 BCE: Caesar, on the staff of a military legate, was awarded the civic crown (oak leaves) for saving the life of a citizen in battle. 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 a orator/lawyer (throughout his life he was known as an eloquent speaker) and a life as an elegant man-about-town.

75 BCE: While sailing to Greece for further study, Caesar was kidnapped 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. 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. He did just that, with the help of volunteers, as a warning to other pirates, but he first cut their throats to lessen their suffering because they had treated him well.

72 BCE: Caesar was elected military tribune. (Note that Pompey and Crassus were the consuls for 70 BCE.)

69 BCE: 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).

68/67 BCE: Caesar was elected quaestor and obtained a seat in the Senate he married Pompeia, a granddaughter of Sulla. Caesar supported Gnaeus Pompey and helped him get an extraordinary generalship against the Mediterranean pirates, later extended to command of the war against King Mithridates in Asia Minor.

65 BCE: He was elected curule aedile 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.

63 BCE: Caesar spent heavily in a successful effort to get elected pontifex maximus (chief priest) in 62 he was elected praetor. 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. In 61 he was sent to the province of Further Spain as propraetor.

60 BCE: He returned from Spain and joined with Pompey and Crassus in a loose coalition called by modern historians “The First Triumvirate” and by his enemies at the time “the three-headed monster.” 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 get elected to the consulship.

59 BCE: 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.

58 BCE: 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. 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 (see this map of Caesar's Gallic campaigns).

56 BCE: Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus met in Caesar's province to renew their coalition, since Pompey had been increasingly moving toward the Optimate faction. Pompey and Crassus were to be consuls again, and Caesar's command in Gaul was extended until 49 BCE.

54 BCE: Caesar led a three-month expedition to Britain (the was the first Roman crossing of the English Channel), but he did not establish a permanent base there. Meanwhile, Caesar's coalition with Pompey was increasingly strained, especially after Julia died in childbirth in 54. In the following year, Crassus received command of the armies of the East but was defeated and killed by the Parthians.

52 BCE: Rioting in Rome led to Pompey's extra-legal election as “consul without a colleague.” 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.

51 BCE: 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.

49 BCE: Caesar tried to maintain his position legally, but when he was pushed to the limit he led his armies across the Rubicon River (the border of his province), which was automatic civil war. Pompey's legions were in Spain, so he and the Senate retreated to Brundisium and from there sailed to the East. Caesar quickly advanced to Rome, set up a rump Senate and had himself declared dictator. Throughout his campaign, Caesar practiced—and widely publicized—his policy of clemency (he would put no one to death and confiscate no property). 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.” After a remarkably short campaign, he returned to Rome and was elected consul, thus (relatively) legalizing his position.

48 BCE: 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. 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, 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.

October 2, 48 BCE: Caesar, with no more than 4,000 legionaries, landed in Alexandria he 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 had herself smuggled 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-educated. 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 accidently consumed in the flames.

drawing of Caesar with general's cloak see also this statue

February, 47 BCE: After 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.

March, 47 BCE: Caesar had sent for reinforcements, 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.

June 23, 47 BCE: Caesar left Alexandria, having 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.

August, 47 BCE: After leaving Alexandria, Caesar swept through Asia Minor to settle the disturbances there. On August 1, he met and immediately overcame Pharnaces, a rebellious king he later publicized the rapidity of this victory with the slogan veni, vidi, vici (“I came, I saw, I overcame”).

October, 47 BCE: Caesar arrived back in Rome and settled the problems caused by the mismanagement of Antony. 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.

coin issued by Caesar depicting military trophy

July 25, 46 BCE: 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.

April, 45 BCE: 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.

October, 45 BCE: 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.

February, 44 BCE: 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.

March 15, 44 BCE: 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. Click here for some assessments of Caesar by modern historians.

6b. Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar's military might, political savvy, and diplomatic genius made him supremely popular among the Roman citizenry.

The first conspirator greeted Caesar, then plunged a knife into his neck. Other stabbers followed suit. One by one, several members of the Senate took turns stabbing Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.E.), the dictator of the entire Roman Empire.

Stunned that even his good friend Brutus was in on the plot, Caesar choked out his final words: "'kai su, teknon?" ("You too, my child?").

On the steps of the Senate, the most powerful man in the ancient world died in a pool of his own blood.

About "Et tu, Brute?"

Roman soldiers' appearance changed very little over the centuries. The army of Julius Caesar looked very similar to the soldiers in this 2nd-century B.C.E. carving.

In William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, the title character manages to utter "Et tu, Brute?" ("and you, Brutus?") as he is slain. This is not historically accurate.

According to the 1st century C.E. Roman historian Suetonius, Julius Caesar spoke mainly Greek and not Latin, as was the case with most patricians at the time. In his history about the life of Julius Caesar, Suetonius writes that as the assassins plunged their daggers into the dictator, Caesar saw Brutus and spoke the Greek phrase kai su, teknon, meaning "you too, my child."

There is still debate whether or not it was shouted in shock or said as a warning. On one hand, Caesar may have been amazed to find a close friend like Brutus trying to kill him on the other hand, he may have meant that Brutus would pay for his crime in the future for this treachery. Either way, the words were Greek, so leave "Et tu, Brute" for Shakespeare.

Roman coins celebrated Caesar's military victories in Gaul (present-day France).

Long before Julius Caesar became dictator (from 47-44 B.C.E.) and was subsequently murdered, the Roman Republic had entered a state of rapid decline. The rich had become wealthier and more powerful as a result of Rome's many military successes.

Meanwhile, life for the average Roman seemed to be getting worse. Attempts to reform the situation by two brothers, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, were met with opposition that eventually resulted in their deaths.

Julius Caesar led his Roman legions as far north as Britain in 55 B.C.E. He and his army may have seen this view upon landing at Deal Beach.
In this 19th-century painting by Abel de Pujol, Caesar leaves his wife on the Ides of March, the day of his murder.

A Revolting Development

Spartacus (109-71 B.C.E.) was a captured soldier who was sold into slavery to be a gladiator. But he escaped his captors and formed an army of rebel slaves. Against great odds, Spartacus's slave army defeated two Roman battalions.

Spartacus wanted to leave Italy, but his army and supporters of the slave revolt urged him to attack Rome. A Roman army led by Crassus finally defeated Spartacus and his men.

Over 5,000 men from Spartacus's army were crucified along Rome's main road, the Appian Way, as a warning to other slaves not to revolt.

Finally, a new practice developed in which the army was paid with gold and land. Soldiers no longer fought for the good of the Republic but fought instead for tangible rewards. Gradually, soldiers became more loyal to the generals who could pay them than to the Roman Republic itself. It was within this changing atmosphere that military leaders such as Julius Caesar were able to seize control of and put an end to the Roman Republic.

Julius Caesar was a man of many talents. Born into the patrician class, Caesar was intelligent, educated, and cultivated. An excellent speaker, he possessed a sharp sense of humor, charm, and personality. All of these traits combined helped make him a skilled politician.

Moreover, Caesar was a military genius. His many successful military campaigns gained him broad support and popularity among the common people. Caesar also won the undying loyalty of his soldiers, who supplied him with the necessary muscle to seize power.

Julius Caesar began his rise to power in 60 B.C.E. by forging an alliance with another general, Pompey, and a wealthy patrician, Crassus. Together, these three men assumed control of the Roman Republic, and Caesar was thrust into the position of consul. Historians have since dubbed the period of rule by these three men the First Triumvirate.

Over time, however, the triumvirate broke down. Crassus was killed in battle, and Pompey began entertaining ideas of ruling without the dangerously popular Caesar. While Caesar was fighting in Gaul (modern-day France), Pompey and the Senate ordered Caesar to return to Rome without his army. But when Caesar crossed the Rubicon River in northern Italy, he brought his army with him in defiance of the senate's order. This fateful decision led to a civil war. Caesar defeated Pompey's forces and entered Rome in 46 B.C.E., triumphant and unchallenged.

Upon his return, Caesar made himself dictator and absolute ruler of Rome and its territories. During his rule, he enacted several reforms. Caesar founded many colonies in newly conquered territories and provided land and opportunity for poor Romans who chose to migrate there. He reduced the number of slaves and opened citizenship up to people living in the provinces. Finally, he created a new calendar named the Julian calendar. This very calendar, with a few minor adjustments, is the same one used around the world today.

Caesar’s Political Career

Julius Caesar served as Hispanian governer

When Sulla died in 78 BCE, Caesar felt that it was now safe return to Rome. He settled temporally at Rhodes, where he studied philosophy. On his trip across the Aegean Sea, Caesar was taken hostage by pirates who insisted for a set fee of twenty talents of silver. However, Caesar convinced the pirates to increase his ransom fee to 50 talents of silver of which his captors agreed to. The ransom was paid and Caesar was set free. He retaliated by organizing a naval force to capture the pirates, who were eventually executed.

When Caesar returned to Rome, and due to financial constraints, he opted to settle in Subura, a lower-class suburb of Rome. In Rome, Caesar made his first stride into politics. He was elected to the military tribune and in 69 BCE, he was elected as quaestor, where he served in the Roman region of Spain. Caesar’s wife Cornelia kicked the bucket that same year. Cornelia’s funeral was held. Shortly after, Caesar left for Spain. Between 61 and 60 BCE he served as a governor of the Hispania Ulterior (the Roman territory of Spain).

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar was a Roman general and politician who named himself dictator of the Roman Empire, a rule that lasted less than one year before he was famously assassinated by political rivals in 44 B.C.

Anthropology, Archaeology, Social Studies, World History

General Julius Caesar

Gaius Julius Caesar was a crafty military leader who rose through the ranks of the Roman Republic, ultimately declaring himself dictator for life and shaking the foundations of Rome itself.

Photograph by Albert Moldvay, National Geographic

Julius Caesar was a Roman general and politician who named himself dictator of the Roman Empire, a rule that lasted less than one year before he was famously assassinated by political rivals in 44 B.C.

Caesar was born on July 12 or 13 in 100 B.C. to a noble family. During his youth, the Roman Republic was in chaos. Seizing the opportunity, Caesar advanced in the political system and briefly became governor of Spain, a Roman province.

Returning to Rome, he formed political alliances that helped him become governor of Gaul, an area that included what is now France and Belgium. His Roman troops conquered Gallic tribes by exploiting tribal rivalries. Throughout his eight-year governorship, he increased his military power and, more importantly, acquired plunder from Gaul. When his rivals in Rome demanded he return as a private citizen, he used these riches to support his army and marched them across the Rubicon River, crossing from Gaul into Italy. This sparked a civil war between Caesar&rsquos forces and forces of his chief rival for power, Pompey, from which Caesar emerged victorious.

Returning to Italy, Caesar consolidated his power and made himself dictator. He wielded his power to enlarge the senate, created needed government reforms, and decreased Rome&rsquos debt. At the same time, he sponsored the building of the Forum Iulium and rebuilt two city-states, Carthage and Corinth. He also granted citizenship to foreigners living within the Roman Republic.

In 44 B.C., Caesar declared himself dictator for life. His increasing power and great ambition agitated many senators who feared Caesar aspired to be king. Only a month after Caesar&rsquos declaration, a group of senators, among them Marcus Junius Brutus, Caesar&rsquos second choice as heir, and Gaius Cassius Longinus assassinated Caesar in fear of his absolute power.

Gaius Julius Caesar was a crafty military leader who rose through the ranks of the Roman Republic, ultimately declaring himself dictator for life and shaking the foundations of Rome itself.

The History Of Julius Caesar

Caesar was born into a very well-to-do and established family of the ruling class known as gens Julia, or of Iulus. Iulus was the son of the Trojan prince Aeneas, who was believed to be a direct descendant of the goddess Venus. The Julia family firmly believed that they were relatives of the gods.

After some time, a particular group of Julii would come along that adopted the last name Caesar to denote that they were not only descendants of Venus, but also an ancient human prophet born via Caesarian section. It was this particular sect of Julii that the most famous Caesar would originate from.

Before Caesar’s father, also named Gaius Julius Caesar, the Julii Caesars had almost no ties to politics or global influence of any kind. His father governed a small Roman province of Asiana known as Phrygia, which is now present-day Turkey and Greece.

Caesar’s aunt Julia would also go on to marry one of the most influential figures of the Roman Republic, further cementing the family’s ties to the most powerful ruling class of Rome.

Little is known about Caesar before the age of 16, but it is at this age that he would be forced into a heated civil war inside his family that would forever change him and his eventual path in life. It was at this time that his father died suddenly — leaving the young teen to face off in the middle of a bloody war between his aunt’s husband, Gaius Marius, and his most prominent rival, Lucius Cornelius Sulla.

During these battles, Caesar would be given the title of the high priest of Jupiter and would go on to marry the daughter of his uncle’s ally Lucius Cornelius Cinna, known as Cornelia.

This couple would not last long, however, as once Sulla won the bloody war of the two families, one of his first actions was to strip Caesar of his newly earned title, all of his family’s inheritance, and his marriage with Cornelia.

The Rise Of Julius Caesar

With every piece of his existence now torn away from him, Caesar would be forced to flee Rome and would go on to join the army. Caesar’s accomplishments as a soldier would lead to a quick rise through the ranks and all of the success that came with it.

During his time of rebirth as a staunch war hero, Sulla would die, allowing Caesar safe passage to return back to his native Rome.

Upon his return, Caesar would be given the political position of tribune, a step below the Senate. He would go on to show off his political prowess, and just how he climbed the ranks of the military — he would do the same politically. He would not be finished climbing the military ranks, however.

With each successful victory and annexation, came more and more new titles until he reached the status of imperator, a title reserved to the most successful and influential military figures. He would go on to parlay this military achievement with the high political rank of consul, a position he would hold along with dictator of Rome.

During his rise to power, Caesar made several enemies along the way. Whether it be in the form of political corruption or military acts that otherwise would have been war crimes, Caesar stepped on many along his journey to supreme power.

Despite his methods for reaching power, he did, in fact, do great things in the terms of reform for Rome at the expense of the increasingly depleted Senate. He would go on to tear away any and all power that the all-powerful Senate once had, leaving members of the once-ruling class as nothing but figureheads.

The Plan To Assassinate Julius Caesar

The deterioration of the Senate under Caesar’s rule left the members of the governing body with the overthrow of the dictator as the only means of restoring their power.

Led by Brutus, the senators would develop an assassination plot so precise and intricate, that Caesar had no idea what would eventually happen to him. Brutus and his group of co-conspirators would go on to call themselves the Liberators, as they truly believed killing Caesar was the only way to restore balance to the Senate.

The conspirators would never meet together in public. Instead, they would travel to each other’s homes a few members at a time. They discussed whether to carry out the assassination during a popular gladiator performance, at the route of Caesar’s favorite walking trail known as the Sacred Way, or while he sat at the Senate. The Liberators would agree on the orchestrated killing with the Senate present during the Ides of March.

The Ides of March was a day for settling all debts both financially and socially. The conspirators set up a gladiator battle on this day and begged Caesar to join as all of the Senate would be in attendance.

Almost everyone who had political stature who was in attendance would know of the impending assassination. Even the performing gladiators, hired by Brutus would work as a support system for the Senate just in case something did not go as plan. Luckily for the Senate and gladiators, everything would go on to work according to plan, for the most part at least.

Caesar was very late and well past the predetermined start of the gladiator battle. Due to his heavy involvement in the conspiracy and his close and trusted relationship with Caesar, Brutus was appointed as the one to go fetch him and bring him to his eventual demise.

At the same time as Brutus’ departure to find Caesar and bring him to the Theatre of Pompey, the site of the gladiator battle, Mark Antony, a firm supporter of Caesar learned of the plot.

The Senate knew that they had to get to Caesar before Antony could reach him and warn him of his impending assassination. The Senate would successfully head off Antony and cause him to flee Rome, bringing an end to the only possibility of Caesar’s survival.

The Assassination Of Julius Caesar

Brutus successful intercepted Caesar and convinced him to attend as not to let down the people of Rome and the Senate to which he wanted to repair his torn relationship with.

Caesar would be met at the Theatre by a man who demanded that his exiled brother be granted re-entry into Rome. Several members of the Senate would surround the two men and demand the reinstatement of the exiled man. What appeared to Caesar as an ordinary demand of political nature would actually be the encirclement that would ensure his death.

One member of the Senate known as Cimber would be the first to put his hands-on Caesar. While Cimber held him in position and tore off his toga, another member of the conspiracy, Senator Casca, would unsheathe his dagger, striking Caesar in the throat. A horrified Caesar tried to escape the circle of men to no avail.

In total, almost 60 men would surround the once all-powerful ruler, leaving him with no means of escape. When all was said and done, Caesar would succumb to his injuries of an astonishing 23 stab wounds.

Upon autopsy investigation, it was proven that just the second stab would have been enough to kill Caesar, but the subsequent 21 stabbings would go on to show just how hated Caesar was.

Before his last breath, Caesar would let out his final sentence, “Et tu, Brute?” Which translated to, “even you, Brutus.” Caesar could not believe that his most trusted friend was involved in the plot to take his life. The assassination of Julius Caesar would mark the beginning of the end of the Republic and launched the rise of Imperial Rome.

The Curious Sex Life of Julius Caesar

T oday, Julius Caesar has an image of a stoic leader, founder of the Roman Empire, and a general who conquered barbaric Gauls. However, the less known fact is Caesar had a very lively sex life. So lively that even his Legions would sing songs about it during long marches. In his youth, Caesar was famous for cross-dressing and playing the role of a woman in a relationship with other men.

Known to Romans more as penetrated than penetrator, sexually speaking Caesar was both. As a young man, he spent a lot of time the court of King Nicomedes IV in Bithynia, modern-day Turkey, and this fact alone fueled rumors which followed Caesar for his entire life.

Even his most loyal legionaries were chanting:

Caesar might have conquered the Gauls but Nicomedes conquered him.

In Roman times sexual relationships between two men were acceptable, however, being in a submissive role in such a relationship was damaging to the reputation of the masculine leader of legions.

Indeed, this was the only “stain” on Caesar's image of the tireless seducer. It was said no woman, no wife, and no daughter was safe before Caesar.

Caesar was notoriously famous for seducing wives of his allies and using sex with aristocratic women to improve his political status. He also spent an enormous amount of money, often public money, on the number of prostitutes.

Caesar was given the nickname “bad adulterer”.

During one of Caesar’s triumphs, his soldiers were singing:

Men of Rome, watch out for your wives,We’re bringing the bald adulterer home.In Gaul he f*cked his way through a fortune. Which he borrowed here in Rome.

Julius Caesar was a tall man (most Romans were not) and had a fashion sense. In his younger years, he was considered a handsome man. It is said he had a good sense of humor (even at his own expense). All that contributed him to being a ladies’ man.

He married three times, yet this hasn’t stopped Caesar from taking the number of mistresses. His wives were:

  • Cornelia. They married due to political reasons. She gave birth to Julia, Caesar’s only legitimate child. She died in 69 BC.
  • Pompeia. Caesar divorced her after a scandal in which Publius Clodius Pulcher, dressed as a woman, was found at the ceremony to the Bona Dea at which no men were permitted. Caesar famously said that his wife “must be above suspicion.”
  • Calpurnia. Calpurnia stayed devoted to him despite Caesar’s numerous mistresses, which included Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. She told him about her dream of his assassination.

In Roman times the definition of marriage wasn’t to stay loyal to your spouse. It was allowed to have sex with other women and men as long as it wasn’t humiliating to Roman society and carried out in a discreet manner.

Caesar’s most famous mistress was indeed the Queen of Egypt — Cleopatra. Legend of Cleopatra being wrapped in huge carpet and smuggled to Caesar past her brother’s guards is well-known.

Cleopatra and Caesar had a son together- Caesarian, meaning “Little Caesar”. It is widely believed affair between Cleopatra and Caesar was a one-night stand.

Cleopatra and Caesar were never married since it was against Roman law.

On one occasion when Caesar was speaking in the Senate, a messenger slipped him a note. His sworn enemy, senator Cato the Younger, interrupted the speech, demanding Caesar to read the letter aloud.

Cato believed the letter would contain evidence of Caesar’s involvement in the notorious Second Catilinarian conspiracy (exposed by Cicero in 63 BC).

Caesar tried several times to let him off the hook but to no avail. In the end, he had to read aloud the content of the note in front of the whole senate.

It was a love note from Servilia, his mistress, and half-sister of Cato. She was proclaiming her fervent lust for Caesar in very explicit terms. Cato was made a fool in front of the entire Senate.

Servilia’s son Marcus Brutus was Caesar’s favorite. Despite rumors, Brutus wasn’t Caesar’s son since he was born when Caesar was only fifteen years old.

Marcus Brutus was treated very well by Caesar. Even when he sided with Caesar's opponent Pompey, Caesar ordered his men no harm should come to Brutus.

During the assassination of Julius Caesar in the Roman Senate in 44 BC, Caesar was fighting back his attackers, but when he saw Marcus Brutus approaching, he stopped fighting and said: “You too, my child?”.

This is a significant difference to widely adopted “Et Tu Brute?” translating to “And you Brutus?” and might hint Caesar treated Brutus as if he was Caesar’s son.

The Roman society promoted sexuality. Prostitution was legal and public. Houses had “pornographic” paintings. No moral punishment was directed at men who enjoyed sex with other women and men, even if they were of inferior status, as long as their actions weren’t deemed as excesses.

Sex with men was not regarded as demeaning to man’s masculinity if the man took the active and not the receptive role.

Julius Caesar - History

Interestingly enough, the Shakespearean play of Julius Caesar has accurate events based on Julius Caesar's actual historical background:

-Caesar's victorious return back to Rome after defeating Pompey: is the first scene of the play, and an actual historical event as well

-The offering of the Crown: In the play, this is in Act 1 Scene 2. Antony offers Caesar the crown thrice, and thrice Caesar refused. In Caesar's actual history, Antony offers him a diadem, the symbol of the Hellenistic monarchs, but Caesar refuses, saying the only King of the Romans is Jupiter. (At this time period, Christianity did not yet exist.)

-The Ides of March: Caesar dies on the Ides of March both in real life and in the play, but it is not confirmed whether he was actually warned beforehand about his death by a soothsayer as in the play.

-The Conspiracy: The conspiracy was indeed led by Brutus and Cassius both in real life and in the play, but in real life there were about 60 other conspirators while in the play there were 10. Also, the personal relationships between the conspirators may not be accurate to the one depicted in the play, but this cannot be confirmed.

-Octavius and Antony: It is true in both that in the end, Octavius comes into power mainly due to the help of Antony. The fact that the conspirators did not kill Antony was an actual blunder made in real life.

-Et tu, Brute?: It is not confirmed whether this is actually said in real life, but legend has it that Caesar says to Brutus, "You, too, my son?" in Greek, right before he died. The famous quotation is most likely based on this legend, that may or may not be true.

Julius Caesar at War

For several days, Julius Caesar had watched the army of his fellow Roman but bitter enemy Pompey (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus) forming near Pharsalus in the central region of Roman-ruled Greece. Pompey’s 50,000-man army greatly outnumbered Caesar’s 20,000 soldiers yet Caesar’s troops were seasoned veterans of the years-long, hard-fought campaigns that had conquered Gaul (modern-day France) and greatly expanded Roman-ruled territory.

Under Caesar’s charismatic leadership, these war-hardened legionaries had often won battles while fighting greatly outnumbered by fierce Gallic warriors. At Pharsalus, however, Caesar’s soldiers confronted other disciplined Roman legionaries in a battle certain to decide the outcome of a brutal civil war.

The roots of this conflict reached back to 50 B.C., when the Roman Senate, feeling threatened by Caesar’s popularity with the Roman people in the wake of his Gallic conquests, ordered Caesar to disband his army in Gaul and return to Rome to face prosecution for several claimed offenses. Instead, Caesar marched from Gaul with the XIII Legion. In January 49 B.C., he led his legion across the shallow Rubicon River and entered Italy – a virtual declaration of war against the Roman Republic. Led by Pompey and his optimates (conservative supporters), the Senate fled Rome, first to Brundisium in southern Italy and then across the Adriatic Sea to Rome’s Greek provinces.

Unopposed, Caesar marched triumphantly into Rome, where he was declared dictator but he had still to defeat the optimate force. He pursued Pompey and was almost conquered in July 48 B.C. at Dyrrhachium (in modern-day Albania). Surviving that near defeat, Caesar marched inland and at Pharsalus again met Pompey and his army.

The tactical advantages seemed greatly in Pompey’s favor. Caesar’s army was almost out of supplies and had no clear line of retreat, while Pompey’s soldiers held the high ground, were far more numerous and better supplied. Caesar knew that the imminent battle was his last chance, warning his men that if they lost at Pharsalus they would be at Pompey’s mercy and probably slaughtered. It was August 9, 48 B.C.

Caesar’s fate – and that of the Roman Republic – hung in the balance as the Battle of Pharsalus began in earnest.


Gaius Julius Caesar was born in July 100 B.C. into a patrician family that claimed to be descended from Julus, son of the Trojan prince Aeneas, who in turn was the supposed son of the goddess Venus. Caesar’s father, also named Gaius Julius Caesar, had served Rome as the city’s praetor (military or civilian commander) and as proconsul (governor) to Asia, while his mother, Aurelia Cotta, came from an influential Roman family.

From 82 to 80 B.C., Lucius Cornelius Sulla made himself dictator of Rome and purged the city of his political enemies. Sulla’s victims included Caesar’s uncle, the general and seven-time consul Gaius Marius. Because of Caesar’s relationship with Marius, Sulla stripped Caesar of his inheritance and his wife’s dowry, forcing him to flee Rome and join the Roman army in Asia Minor. Intervention by the family of Caesar’s mother and Rome’s Vestal Virgins lifted the threat against Caesar but it was not until he heard of Sulla’s death in 78 B.C. that he returned to Rome, where he practiced as a lawyer and polished the oratorical skills that served him well for the rest of his life.

Years later, Cicero, himself a famous orator, asked: “Do you know any man who, even if he has concentrated on the art of oratory to the exclusion of all else, can speak better than Caesar?”

Caesar later served as questor (a treasury and legal official) in the Roman province of Hispania Ulterior (Further Spain), where he led military expeditions against the native tribes and in 59 B.C. became a Roman consul, the city’s highest elected official. Following his year as consul, Caesar engineered his appointment as proconsul of Cisalpine Gaul (the region between the Alps, the Apennines and the Adriatic Sea) and Transalpine Gaul (present-day Switzerland and Alpine France). Although the proconsular term of office normally was one year, Caesar was able to secure his post in Gaul for an unprecedented five years, a term later increased to 10 years.

Caesar had absolute authority within these two Gallic provinces, and the Senate entrusted him with four legions to enforce his authority. He also was authorized to levy additional legions and auxiliary forces as needed.


For most of the next decade, Caesar worked to pacify the unruly Gallic tribes and make Gaul a Roman province. He cleverly exploited the tribes’ endemic factionalism, made allies by showing mercy to the tribes he defeated, and bribed others with the fruits of Roman civilization – and when necessary, he waged war against them.

At the time, Roman legions were noted for their tactical flexibility, disciplined fighting, ability to adapt to changing circumstances and superb organization but “what ultimately made the Romans unbeatable,” one historian wrote, was “the Roman genius for fighting as a unit.” To this proven mix, Caesar added his charisma, daring and ability to inspire.

Before Caesar had even left Rome to take up his duties in Gaul, he received word that the Helvetii tribe had begun migrating west toward the Atlantic coast, burning their villages behind them. They were moving to escape harassment by Germanic tribes and to seek plunder of their own, something that was missing in their mountainous homeland. To help their plans, they made alliances with the Sequani, the Aedui (Roman clients) and two other Gallic tribes. The Romans rightly feared that the Helvetii would pillage other tribes as they migrated, and that once settled in southwest Gaul they would pose a threat to Roman territory. Moreover, the Germanic tribes likely would move into the abandoned Helvetii homeland, posing another threat to Roman interests.

Caesar moved quickly into Gaul, creating auxiliary units as he went. When he reached the town of Geneva, near the planned route of the Helvetii, he began destruction of a bridge over the Rhone River in territory belonging to a Roman client tribe, the Allobroges. Caesar, who throughout his military career relied heavily on his engineers, then began fortifying his position behind the river with a 16-foot-high rampart and a parallel trench lined with ballistae (large missile weapons). He warned the Helvetii that any attempt to cross the river would be opposed.

Caesar then hurried to Cisalpine Gaul, where he took command of three legions and enrolled two new ones, the XI and XII. At the head of these five legions, he passed through the Alps, crossing the territories of several hostile tribes and fighting some skirmishes en route.

Meanwhile, the Helvetii had begun pillaging the land of tribes aligned with Rome. Turning to aid the Roman-allied tribes, Caesar met the Helvetii as they were crossing the River Arar (modern-day Saône River, in eastern France). When he reached the river, three-fourths of the Helvetii force had already crossed. He routed those remaining on his side of the Arar, killing many of them and driving the rest into the woods. He then built a bridge over the river and pursued the main Helvetii force for two weeks until a lack of supplies caused him to end the chase.

In a quick reversal, the fleeing Helvetii suddenly turned and began to pursue the Romans, harassing their rear guard. Caesar chose to stop and fight at a hill near a Gallic oppidum (fortified city) at Bibracte. He sent his cavalry to delay the enemy and placed four legions in the traditional Roman three-line formation partway up the hill. He stationed himself at the hill’s summit with two other legions, his auxiliaries and his baggage train. About midday, the Helvetii force, said to be tens of thousands of experienced warriors, appeared and stood facing the smaller and far less combat-experienced Roman force. Bibracte was the first great battle of Caesar’s military career.

Caesar sent away his horse – a signal to his troops that he would stand with them. Then, rather than use the high ground for a defensive stand, he moved forward against the Helvetii. His legionaries first threw their iron-pointed, long-shanked pila (javelins), which stuck firmly in the Helvetii warriors’ wooden shields, weighing them down (the pila could not be easily removed since their thin shanks usually bent upon impact). Soon, many of the warriors found themselves all but helpless to lift their now heavily laden shields. They simply cast them aside and prepared to meet the Roman assault without them.

Caesar’s legionaries drew their gladii (short swords) and attacked the disadvantaged tribesmen, breaking the enemy’s line and forcing the Helvetii back almost to their baggage train. While this happened, the Boii and Tulingi, Helvetii allies who had been held in reserve, joined the battle by hitting Caesar’s right flank. When the Helvetii saw their allies attack, they returned to the battle. This forced the Romans to divide their already outnumbered force to fight the Helvetii to their front and the enemy reserves to their side. The battle turned into a desperate fight for survival that continued into the twilight hours.

Finally, Caesar’s legions were able to collapse the Helvetii defense, with some of the tribesmen escaping to the north and others making a last stand at the Helvetii baggage train, which was soon overwhelmed. Due to his many wounded and the need to bury his dead, Caesar had to wait three days before he could pursue the fleeing Helvetii, but he finally caught them. They surrendered and begged for mercy. In what would become his trademark, Caesar spared the Helvetii survivors and ordered them to return to their original homeland. He gave them grain to eat and seed to begin a crop, but he insisted on hostages to insure their obedience.

In the Gallic camp, Caesar found records indicating that more than 300,000 Helvetii men, women and children had begun the trek west. Less than a third survived to make their return. “The contest [was] long and vigorously carried on,” Caesar wrote in his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars.

Caesar next pacified the Suebi, a Germanic tribe, killing most of the 120,000-man force sent against him. Then in 57 B.C., he marched with eight legions, archers and cavalry against the Belgae (who occupied an area roughly comprising modern-day Belgium) after they attacked a tribe allied with Rome. “[The Belgae] never gave up even when there was no hope of victory,” Caesar wrote. He met them at the River Sabis (today’s Sambre), where he almost lost the battle that raged along its shore. He only was able to turn the conflict when he commandeered a shield from a soldier and personally rallied his legions, forming a large defensive square to protect his wounded and calling for reinforcements. Caesar’s use of projectile weapons (such as ballistae) along with archers and peltasts enabled him to turn the battle in his favor.

Caesar followed this victory with a series of punitive raids against tribes along the Atlantic seaboard that had assembled an anti-Roman confederacy, and he fought a combined land-sea campaign against the Veneti. In 55 B.C., Caesar repelled an incursion into Gaul by two Germanic tribes, and followed that by building a bridge across the Rhine. He led a show of force into Germanic territory before returning across the Rhine and dismantling the bridge.

That same year, Caesar launched an amphibious campaign that took his forces to Britain. However, the campaign nearly ended in disaster when bad weather wrecked much of his fleet and the sight of massed British chariots caused confusion among his men. He withdrew from Britain but returned in 54 B.C. with a much larger force that successfully defeated the powerful Catuvellauni, whom he forced to pay tribute to Rome.

Most of 53 B.C. was spent in a punitive campaign against the Eburones and their allies, who were said to have been all but exterminated by the Romans. “There was such a passion among the Gauls for liberty,” Caesar wrote, “that [nothing] could hold them back from throwing themselves with all their heart and soul into the fight for freedom.”

However, a larger and more serious uprising erupted in 52 B.C. involving the Arverni and allied tribes led by the Arverni chief Vercingetorix. The fighting began when another Gallic tribe, the Carnutes, slaughtered a group of Romans who had settled in what they considered their territory. Vercingetorix, a young nobleman, raised an army, made alliances with several other tribes and seized control of what was developing as an all-out revolt against Roman authority. He also fomented an outbreak of tribes along the Mediterranean, forcing Caesar to turn his attention to the south.

Caught on the wrong side of the mountains from Vercingetorix when winter hit, Caesar crossed the “impassable” Massif Central with a small force of infantry and cavalry to link up with two of his legions quartered near the southern edge of Arvenni territory. In his Commentaries, he remarked, “No single traveler had ever crossed [these mountains] in winter.”

The Romans pursued Vercingetorix and captured Avaricum (modern Bourges, in central France), the capital city of the allied Bituriges, killing the entire population. But at Gergovia, Vercingetorix defeated Caesar, inflicting heavy losses including 46 veteran centurions (commanders of an 80-100 man unit in a Roman legion). Yet Vercingetorix also suffered serious losses and after losing another minor engagement to Caesar was forced to seek refuge in the hilltop city of Alesia (near modern-day Dijon, France).


The Aedui, a tribe Caesar had saved from Germanic deprecation, had turned against him, joining the revolt and capturing his supplies and Roman base at Soissons. But by moving to Alesia, Vercingetorix had played to his enemy’s strength – Caesar was a master of siege warfare. One historian wrote: “Caesar, next to Alexander, was the outstanding director of siege operations of the ancient world.” Caesar proved that claim at the siege of Alesia.

In September 52 B.C., Caesar arrived at Alesia and laid siege to a combined Gallic force that may have numbered 80,000 warriors, four times greater than Caesar’s force. Knowing the city was immune to direct attack and again relying on his engineers, Caesar began construction of an encircling set of fortifications (circumvallation) around Alesia. Approximately 10 miles of 12-foot-high palisades were built in about three weeks. On the Alesia side of this rampart, two 15-foot-wide ditches were dug, with the one nearest the fortification filled with water from surrounding rivers. Sharpened stakes were jammed into the ground near the wall, and guard towers were erected every 80 feet. Caesar then ordered the construction of a second line of fortifications facing outward (contravallation), enclosing his army between it and the inner set of fortifications. The second wall, designed to protect the Roman besiegers from attacks from outside the city, was the same as the first in design but included four cavalry camps.

Vercingetorix’s cavalry unsuccessfully raided the construction several times, but his men were unable to stop the work. Enough of the Gallic horsemen escaped, however, to ride for help.

On October 2, Vercingetorix’s Gauls launched a massive attack from inside the Roman fortifications while a relief army hit the Romans from outside. Caesar personally rode along the perimeter inspiring his legionaries as the two-sided battle raged. He was finally able to counterattack and managed to push back Vercingetorix’s men. He then took 13 cavalry cohorts (about 6,000 men) to attack the relief army, forcing it to retreat. The day’s fighting was over.

Inside Alesia, Vercingetorix gave his men a day’s rest before again throwing their might against the Roman wall with scaling ladders and grappling hooks. Again the Gauls were beaten back. Caesar’s enemy, however, had one last card to play.

Vercingetorix moved a large part of his force by night to a weak spot in the northwest portion of the Roman fortifications that Caesar had tried to conceal the area featured natural obstructions where a continuous wall could not be built. In the morning, Vercingetorix sent a diversionary attack against the wall to the south and then struck the Roman weak spot with men he had hidden there and remnants of the relief force. Again, Caesar personally rode to the spot to rally his troops and his inspired legionaries were able to beat back the Gallic attack.

Facing starvation and plummeting morale inside Alesia, Vercingetorix was forced to surrender. The next day he presented his arms to Caesar, ending the siege in a Roman victory.

The city’s garrison was taken prisoner, as were the survivors of the relief army. All were either sold into slavery or given as booty to Caesar’s legionaries, except for the members of the Aedui and Arverni tribes. The latter were freed to secure their tribes’ alliance with Rome. Vercingetorix was taken to Rome, where he was held for six years before being put on display during Caesar’s 46 B.C. triumph celebration – and then executed by strangulation.

The siege of Alesia, which Caesar recounted in his Commentaries, is considered one of his greatest military achievements as well as being a classic example of successful siege warfare.

Alesia marked the end of organized resistance to Rome in Gaul, which became a Roman province. Caesar’s next campaign, however, was against his fellow Romans.


On August 9, 48 B.C., nearly four years after Caesar won Gaul with his victory at Alesia, he stood surveying Pompey’s much larger army at Pharsalus in Roman-ruled central Greece. The outcome of the bitter civil war that began with Caesar’s January 49 B.C. crossing of the Rubicon River with his XIII Legion in defiance of the Pompey-led Senate’s order would be decided by this day’s battle.

For the past several days, Pompey had brought his more numerous troops to the field, and Caesar had formed his smaller army against them. Although several brief cavalry engagements had been fought, the mass of the two armies had only stood and glared at one another. Finally, however, on August 9 Pompey and his army seemed ready to fight – and with a glance Caesar realized what his enemy was planning. Pompey’s infantry would hold Caesar’s opposing infantry in place while the Pompeian cavalry swept around the end of the Roman line in an outflanking maneuver.

Caesar responded by thinning the traditional Roman three-line infantry formation and creating a fourth line hidden behind the other three. Then he ordered his legionaries to charge.

When the 20,000 seasoned veterans of Caesar’s infantry line charged, Pompey’s 50,000 infantrymen held their positions awaiting the collision. This allowed Caesar’s soldiers to have, as one historian wrote, “the impetus of the charge inspire them with courage.” Caesar’s men threw their pila, pulled their gladii and crashed into the Pompeian shield wall. As Caesar had foreseen, when the lines collided Pompey loosed his 7,000 cavalrymen at the end of the Roman line. The Pompeian cavalry quickly overwhelmed the outnumbered Caesarian horse but then ran into Caesar’s favorite legion, the X, which Caesar had purposely stationed at the end of the line to meet the enemy cavalry.

The X’s men, rather than hurl their pila at the cavalry attack and then chop at the horses’ legs with their gladii (the traditional Roman defense against a cavalry attack), stabbed at the faces and eyes of the horsemen with their pila as Caesar had drilled them to do. The charging cavalry, meeting this unexpected and terrifying menace, pulled up short and then panicked. Caesar’s cavalry and the six cohorts that made up his hidden fourth line then rushed forward to outflank Pompey’s left and worked their way behind his lines to attack from the rear. Caesar sent in his yet uncommitted third line to reinforce the fatigued troops, and Pompey’s remaining soldiers fled the field. Caesar’s men then focused on Pompey’s camp.

Pompey gathered his family, loaded as much gold as he could, threw off his general’s cloak and fled. Seven cohorts of Pompey-allied Thracians and other auxiliaries defended the camp as best they could but were unable to fend off Caesar’s legionaries.

According to figures claimed at the time, when the day was over 15,000 of Pompey’s men were killed and another 20,000 were captured, while Caesar lost only 200 men. Later and more reliable estimates judge that Caesar lost about 1,200 soldiers and 30 centurions, while Pompey’s losses totaled about 6,000. After the battle, 180 stands of colors and nine eagle standards were brought to Caesar as trophies of his victory.

Pompey fled to Egypt, where he was assassinated on the order of Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII. Pompey’s two sons, Gnaeus and Sextus, and their supporters tried to continue the civil war, but the effort was futile.

Caesar spent the next few years “mopping up” remnants of the Pompeian faction and then returned to Rome and was reaffirmed as Rome’s dictator. He later went to Egypt, where he became involved in the Egyptian civil war and installed Cleopatra on Egypt’s throne. Caesar then went to the Middle East, where he annihilated the king of Pontus.

Julius Caesar ruled Rome as unquestioned dictator until his assassination March 15, 44 B.C.

Historians have praised Caesar for his innovative military tactics, his use of skilled military engineers and his natural gifts as a military leader. Yet he was aware of the role that luck played in his victories. “In all of life,” Caesar wrote, “but especially in war, the greatest power belongs to fortune.”

Caesar also knew, as all great generals know, “if fortune doesn’t go your way, sometimes you have to bend it to your will.” And bend it he did.

Chuck Lyonsis a retired newspaper editor and a freelance writer who has written extensively on historical subjects. His work has appeared in numerous national and international periodicals. Lyons resides in Rochester, N.Y., with his wife, Brenda, and a beagle named Gus.

Originally published in the July 2013 issue of Armchair General.

Gaius Julius Caesar: Conquest of Gaul

Gaius Julius Caesar (13 July 100 - 15 March 44 BCE), Roman statesman, general, author, famous for the conquest of Gaul (modern France and Belgium) and his subsequent coup d'état. He changed the Roman republic into a monarchy and laid the foundations of a truly Mediterranean empire.

The Conquest of Gaul (58-54)

Gaul as a whole consisted of a multitude of states of different ethnic origin. In the late Iron Age, their different cultures had started to resemble each other, largely by processes of trade and exchange. The Greeks and Romans called all these nations Celts or Gauls. In the fourth century, Gallic warriors had settled along the Po and had invaded Central Italy (even capturing Rome in July 387). Most people in Italy were afraid of new Gallic invasions.

In the second century, mass migrations from Germanic tribes had started, for reasons that remain unclear to us. (Climatological changes are sometimes mentioned, but the evidence is contradictory.) Marius had defeated some of their tribes, the Teutones and the Cimbri, but in Caesar's days it was probably not a gross exaggeration to say that the states of Gaul would have to become Roman or would be overrun by Germans, who would proceed to attack Italy. If the Romans were afraid of the Gauls, they were terrified of the Germans.

Originally, it was not Caesar's intention to attack Gaul, but Romania, which was rich in precious metals. In the spring of 58 BCE, Caesar's legions were already in the eastern parts of his province: the Seventh, the Eighth, the Ninth and especially the Tenth, which was called 'the knights' and was very dear to Caesar.

However, the migration of the Helvetians, a coalition of tribes in modern Switzerland, forced him to think about at least one or two campaigns in the north. The Helvetians had migrate to the south-west of France and had to cross through Roman territories. This was unacceptable to any Roman governor.

For Caesar, it was a golden opportunity to impress the Senate and People's Assembly. Besides, there were reports about Germans that were attacking the Aedui, a Gallic tribe in the valley of the Saône that was allied to Rome. A victory over the Germans would place him on the same rank as his uncle Marius. This is exactly what happened.

Caesar's military base was the valley of the lower Rhône, which had been Roman from 123 onwards. However, his legions were still in the eastern part of his province. Therefore, in March 58, Caesar destroyed the bridge at Geneva and blocked the road along the Rhône, which served to slow down the Helvetian advance. This action gave Caesar sufficient time to lead his army across the Alps and to recruit two extra legions (Eleven and Twelve). The Helvetians now choose to leave their country in the neighborhood of modern Basel, but when they wanted to cross the Saône in July, Caesar was ready to defeat them, and he defeated them again in August in the neighborhood of the capital of the Aedui, Bibracte.

After these victories, some Gauls asked Caesar to help them pushing back the Suebians, a Germanic tribe that had crossed the Rhine and settled in Alsace. Again, Caesar was victorious - the battle took place in September in the neighborhood of modern Colmar - and winter quarters were built near the battle field, in modern Besançon.

Caesar ought to have taken his armies back to the south letting them stay at Besançon was a deliberate provocation. But Caesar had by now changed his mind: he now set out to conquer all of Gaul. After his successes, it seemed easy. And he was not blind to trade: the Rhône-Saône-Rhine corridor was the most important trade route in pre-industrial Europe, with amber and slaves being among the most important commodities. He could open new markets for the Mediterranean traders a taste for Roman luxuries had already started in the Gallic states along the Rhône and Saône. British tin was traditionally transported along the rivers Garonne and Seine: an additional bonus.

/> A Gallic chieftain on one of Caesar's coins

In Caesar's propaganda, this was a preventive war. He spent the winter in Cisalpine Gaul, having an eye on the city of Rome and giving instructions to Piso. And he wrote the first part of his Commentary on the war in Gaul, which had two purposes: he could boast about his successes, and he could explain why he had to attack the rest of Gaul. It was successful: no Roman ever asked if it was really necessary to conquer these vast territories.

The Gallic tribes were aware of the danger. During the winter, the northern tribes, which are usually called Belgians, formed an anti-Roman coalition. This was exactly what Caesar needed: now he had an extra excuse to conquer all states in Gaul.

/> The southern (Roman) half of the battlefield of the Aisne

In the spring of 57 BCE, he raised two legions (Thirteen and Fourteen), and together with the other troops, he surprised the Belgian nation of the Remi, who lived in modern Reims. His presence prevented the Remi from taking part in the Belgian attack on the Romans, and as it turned out, they even sided with Caesar. As a result, the other Belgians decided to attack a Remian town that was situated on the boards of the river Aisne. Caesar, however, defeated the coalition.

Aftere this, he proceeded along an ancient road to the Belgian Nervians, who lived west of the river Schelde in what is now called Flanders. In the battle of the Sabis, they were annihilated: according to Caesar's exaggerated report, barely 500 of their army of 60,000 survived. Along the Meuse, the Romans inflicted comparable losses upon the Aduatuci the entire tribe was sold as slaves (go here for Caesar's own version of the story.)

During the same year, a smaller Roman army had gone to the west of modern France and demanded subjection of the nations in Normandy and Brittany. Its commander was Marcus Licinius Crassus, the son of the triumvir.

After his Belgian campaign, Caesar's army went south too winter quarters were established along the Loire. Meanwhile, in Rome, public thanksgiving lasting fifteen days were decreed by the Senate. No one had been granted this honor before.

Now that all Gaul had at least nominally submitted to Rome, Caesar spent the winter in Illyricum, but when he had crossed the Alps, the Gauls from Brittany rose against the Romans (56 BCE). Caesar ordered ships to be built, and spent some time in Italy, where he met Pompey and Crassus in Lucca (April 56 text): the triumvirs decided to continue their conspiracy against the Roman republic and agreed that Caesar's generalship in Gaul would be prolonged until 50, December 31. This was an extraordinary command, and Caesar's fellow-conspirators demanded in return Caesar's support to be consuls in the next year, 55. Caesar agreed, and having secured his position, he crossed the Alps and in the summer, in the Bay of Quiberon, a naval battle took place, in which the Bretons were defeated. Caesar's colonels took charge of mopping up expeditions along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

/> Model of Caesar's bridge across the Rhine

Next year, 55 BCE, Caesar accomplished two feats that must have shaken his Italian audience with excitement. The first action of that year, however, seemed to point in another direction. Two tribes from the area across the Rhine, the Usipetes and the Tencteri, crossed the Rhine and were attacked by the Caesar's troops during an armistice: many women and children were killed. When this genocide became known in Rome, the leader of the conservatives, Cato the Younger, exclaimed that Caesar, the general of eight legions, was to be handed over to the Germans. A very practical suggestion.

/> Coin of Caesar, showing a British chariot

After this incident, Caesar was forced to divert the Senate's attention to other subjects. First, his engineers bridged the Rhine, and the legions crossed into the country across the river, showing the Germans that the Romans were invincible (text). Actually, the destruction of the Germanic towns was little short of terrorism. Having impressed the Germans, the Gauls, and the Senate, Caesar turned to the west, where a large fleet was ready to carry Caesar's armies to Britain, where a short campaign took place. Although the Britons were backward and still retained the primitive social system of chiefdoms (i.e., there were no states), the Senate was duly impressed by the general who had reached the mythological edges of the earth. The consuls in Rome, Crassus and Pompey, were compelled to decree a thanksgiving of twenty days.

/> Coin of Caesar, showing a trophee and two Gallic captives

In 54 BCE, Caesar invaded Britain again. He defeated the chief of a British tribe, Cassivellaunus, in a battle near modern London and crossed the Thames. Caesar took a fortress near St. Albans and received tribute. Some scientific experiments were carried out in Essex: from measurements with a water clock, Caesar's explorators learned that the nights in Britain were shorter than on the continent. After this expedition, winter quarters were build among the Belgians.

Watch the video: The Life of Julius Caesar - The Rise and Fall of a Roman Colossus - See U in History