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Julius Caesar

Updated on March 12, 2012

Julius Caesar was one of the most remarkable men in any period of history. He was a highly successful general. As a strategist and tactician he fell short of greatness, but he made up for that with speed and boldness as well as courage. His ability as a statesman did not have the opportunity to develop, but all signs indicate that he was extremely sensitive to social and economic problems and was also bold enough to attempt new solutions. As a politician, however, he became too overbearing. The poet Lucan compared him to a bolt of lightning, saying, "Nothing may stand against it, either during that furious progress through the clouds, or when it bursts against the earth and at once recomposes its scattered fires."

Caesar is important not only as a statesman and a general, but also as a man of letters. His Commentaries on the Gallic and Civil wars are still widely read today. They were written in a very clear and direct prose style famous for its affected objectivity. In them Caesar referred to himself as "he" or as "Caesar," but not as "I". The simplicity and directness of their style have made the Commentaries popular with teachers of beginning Latin classes. In the field of oratory he was regarded as second only to Cicero.

Caesar was married three times. His first wife was Cornelia, the daughter of Cinna, leader of the Marian faction in the mid-80's B.C. The marriage was a political one, but he seems to have been truly devoted to her. They had one child, a daughter, Julia (who later married Pompey the Great). Cornelia died in 69, and not long afterward Caesar married Pompeia, a granddaughter of Sulla. In 62 he divorced her because of a scandal. In that year the religious festival of the Bona Dea was celebrated in Caesar's house under the direction of his wife. It was a ceremony open only to women, but Clodius, Pompeia's lover, dressed himself in woman's clothing and went into Caesar's house, where he was discovered. The sacrilege shook Rome, and Clodius was brought to trial, but he was acquitted through generous bribery. Caesar, however, divorced his wife, saying, "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion". He married his third wife, Calpurnia, in 58 and remained with her until his assassination.

Caesar was generally regarded as very much a ladies' man. He had many illicit affairs. One of the best known was with Servilia, the mother of Brutus; but by far the most notorious was his affair with Cleopatra, by whom he had an illegitimate son, Caesarion. His reputation as a rake was so widespread that his own soldiers sang this line while celebrating the Gallic triumph: "Men of Rome, guard your wives... the bad adulterer is coming." He also had a reputation for homosexuality and once was called "every woman's man and every man's woman."

Caesar had no direct male heirs, so in his will he adopted his grandnephew Octavius, much to the chagrin of Mark Antony. Octavius had accompanied Caesar to Spain and at the time of the assassination was in Illyricum, waiting to go with the dictator on the Parthian campaign.

We know something about Caesar s personal appearance. According to Suetonius he was tall and had a fair complexion. His eyes were black. A vain man, he was greatly troubled by his baldness and combed what hair he had forward over his head to conceal it. He apparently was quite happy to wear the laurel wreath for this reason. He was regarded as a fashionable dresser. His health was excellent except for infrequent attacks of epilepsy.

Image in Public Domain
Image in Public Domain

Evaluation

All in all, Caesar was an imposing figure. He made a profound impression on his contemporaries, and every subsequent age has found excitement and fascination in the man. Opinions about him are quite divided. Some see him as a power-hungry, self-seeking politician, others as a brilliant statesman. Perhaps the most famous scholarly treatment of him is that of the great German historian Theodor Mommsen, who in his History of Rome presented Caesar as a superman, the political genius of the late Roman republic. In the 20th century, however, scholars have tended to direct more attention to his heir and successor, Emperor Augustus. But Caesar's place in English literature is far more secure than that of Augustus, owing to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra.

The name "Caesar" soon became a title. Originally it was simply a family name of the Julian clan, but because of Julius Caesar's success and that of his immediate successors the name became magic. The first five Roman emperors (from Augustus through Nero) used it as a family name. When the Julio-Claudian dynasty died with Nero, succeeding emperors retained the nomenclature. The emperors themselves were always called Augustus, but as time went by it became fashionable to give the name "Caesar" to the heir designate. When the Roman Empire declined and fell, the title "Caesar" lived on even into the 20th century. The German "kaiser" and the Russian "czar" are both derived from "Caesar."

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    • BakerRambles profile image

      BakerRambles 6 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      Wanted to say this is an awesome read, very informative.

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