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Julius Caesar - Hero or Hitler?
Hero or Hitler?
Gaius Julius Caesar is perhaps the most renowned of all historical figures (aside from religious figures such as Jesus Christ). Caesar was a world leader, supreme general, brilliant lawyer, one of the most successful politicians of all time, acclaimed author and a man who took important women, including royalty, to his bed (Queen Cleopatra).
He was an incredibly gifted man, a genius. He has been worshiped through the ages as a hero, a true achiever and inspirational military man. He is celebrated in classic literature (Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar"), Hollywood movies and even the names of kings and emperors (Kaiser, Tsar).
However, it was his act in crossing the Rubicon on 10 January 49 BCE to secure his own glory and everlasting fame that caused civil and later, world war, resulting in the deaths of untold numbers. Was he a great hero or a self-serving uncaring despot, responsible for much death and horror?
Fierce general. Skilled orator. Savvy politician. This is Julius Caesar, one of the world’s greatest leaders and ruler of the Roman Empire. His ascent to power is filled with sacrifice, murder and betrayal. With the beautiful Cleopatra on one arm and a sword in the other, Caesar seized control of a vast territory, winning legions of followers, making enemies and creating history, before falling at the hands of Brutus, his most trusted ally.
Meier, Holland and Goldsworthy
According to Christian Meier, author of the staggering work "Caesar, A Biography " (Harper Collins, 1982, translated from the German by McLintockon and published in New York in 1995) Caesar's motivations were personal, he espoused no great cause. Meier says this because he cannot find any evidence that Caesar tried to deliberately reform the Republic with an 'ideal Republic' in mind when he came to power. Meier argues that any attempt to found a "new order " would require patience, empathy and great forbearance along with many concessions and a large amount of "quiet sedulous activity ". Meier simply states that Caesar was not this type of man. To my mind, the qualities described by Meier seem to be more characteristic of Augustus, who did have a 'new order' clearly in mind. Meier does not dispute Caesar's "brilliance and superiority" but does make the comparison of Caesar to Hitler in terms of them both being men who launched wars of conquest for their own sake.
Tom Holland, author of "Rubicon, the Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic " (Little, Brown, Great Britain, 2003) argues that while Caesar was aware than in crossing the Rubicon he would plunge the ancient world into war (and "shuddered at the prospect ") he could not have anticipated the full consequences of his decision.
Adrian Goldsworthy, author of "Caesar, Life of a Colossus " (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2006), expresses the view that while it is undoubted that Caesar was a great man, it is difficult to say he was a good man. Goldsworthy opines that while Caesar was kind, generous "inclined to forget grudges and turn enemies into friends " he was nonetheless "utterly ruthless ".
Gaius Julius Caesar
Military and Political Genius
Caesar, born July 13 100 BCE, grew up in a time of civil war. His young life was filled with examples of the heights to which personal power could take a man in Rome. In Caesar's youth, Sulla held the dictatorship. Marius, Caesar's uncle, was another example of how far a man could go with military might on his side. Caesar learned from these men and distinguished himself as a soldier and politician, even as a relatively young man. When he was older, Caesar conquered Gaul in less than a decade. He conquered more than 800 Gaulish cities and 300 Gaulish tribes. Caesar invaded Britain, going further than any other Roman general before him. Caesar eventually became "Dictator for Life", something no other Roman man had ever achieved.
Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar
Best Selling Caesar DVD
This award-winning series takes a fascinating look at the public and private lives of six key men who ruled the Roman Empire. Starting with Julius Caesar, the series charts the rise and fall of Roman power over 600 years through the lives of six of the most charismatic leaders in world history including Julius Caesar.
Clemency and Ruthlessness
Caesar is said to have been extremely clement as a general rule. Unlike other tyrannical figures he did not kill his enemies as a matter of course. He is said to have wept when he discovered that Pompey had been beheaded in Egypt. However, clement as he was, he was responsible for the deaths of more than a million people in the Gallic War. Caesar is said to have defeated 3 million men, killed a third of them, and sold another third into slavery.
A particularly horrific episode is the cutting off of the hands of the men of the Gaulish town of Uxellodunum (modern Dordogne). Caesar, desperate to quell ongoing Gaulish rebellion, conquered the town (belonging to the Cadurci tribe) and ordered that all who had borne arms were to have both hands cut off. He did this after the men had surrendered to him. He spared their lives and mulitlated them in order to send a message to other rebellious Gauls. In other episodes, women and children were slaughtered at Avaricum by the soldiers of Caesar and more massacres took place at Usipetes and Tencteri during the Gaulish war.
Part 1 of BBC Production on Caesar
The Fall of the Roman Republic
Many attribute the fall of the Roman Republic to Caesar's drive for pre-eminence and personal glory. I believe the Republic fell due to a multiplicity of factors including inherent problems within the Roman constitution and changes to the traditional military structure. In the late Republic, many great men (including Marius, Sulla, and Pompey) and many not so great men (Cinna, Carbo and the like) were able to take control because of the failures in the system of government. The system and the (aristocratic) Roman culture actually channelled men towards becoming generals and tyrants and Julius Caesar was ultimately the most successful of these warlord type figures.
How many died in Caesar's wars?
It is impossible to say how many people died as a result of Caesar's decision to cross the Rubicon and march on Rome on 10 January 49 BCE. It is said he agonised over the decision and was conscious of the damage he might cause. As a result of his decision that night, war in Italy followed. After the Senate under Pompey fled Rome for Greece, was in Greece followed (Pharsalus) and spread to Africa, Spain and the East, in short, to the reaches of the Republic.
Caesar achieved his aims and won everlasting fame and acclaim, but at what cost?
What do I think? Well, to me Caesar is an incredibly fascinating figure. I am not sure if he should be seen as a hero or not. I personally cannot not see him as a Hitler even though I accept he was responsible for the death and enslavement of countless people. I think this is because of the particular horror that the evocation of Hitler has for me personally. Hitler is relatively proximate to my life now and Caesar was alive more than 2000 years ago. The horror Hitler caused resulted in the mass post-war migration that ultimately led to my grandparents coming to this country from Europe. I am well aware of the effects that Hitler had from my reading around the extermination of European Jewry, Gypsies, disabled people and political activists. Caesar did none of these things, he did not target particular minority groups. Like many other men of his times, he simply exterminated those who stood in his way without fear or favour. He also practiced clemency for the most part, against the norm for his time. So I cannot see him as a Hitler. I see him as an intensely practical man of his times who single mindedly achieved his aims and who, on occasion, employed ruthless measures.