Gaius Julius Caesar

By Archdruid

It would be hard to find a more universally recognized historical figure than Gaius Julius Caesar, and harder still to find one more universally revered. For over two thousand years, Caesar has been recognized as the epitome of political and military genius, and his name lived on well into the twentieth century as a synonym for monarchy in both Germany (Kaiser) and Russia (czar). Great authors and poets have used Caesar and the matters of his life as inspiration - Dante Alighieri's devil has three faces: That Judas who betrayed Christ, and beside this, Caesar's two betrayers, Cassius and Brutus. The question remains, however - Who was this man? What type of person could make such an impression that 2000 years later his name is still spoken by the masses with a certain reverence? Julius Caesar belongs to a certain elite group in modern western culture, alongside the likes of Jesus, Attila, and Alexander, and it will be the purpose of this writing to look beyond the general and statesman and reveal the man who inspires such adulation.

Unfortunately, the sources available for such an examination are relatively cursory - Caesar's Gallic Wars is written in the third person, which speaks of a certain self-importance the likes of which is rarely seen, even in modern times. Most other authors whose works we have access to were writing years after the events in question and Caesar's successors did an excellent job of censoring material criticizing him. Rome was a political deathtrap the likes of which would make most modern politicians quail in fear. To even qualify for the magistracy required an intensely competitive attitude, and almost as soon as you were elected, a dozen others were plotting and scheming to get rid of you for their own benefit. For every Julius Caesar, there were a dozen detractors, and it is a testament to the efficiency of the Emperors that so little criticism of Caesar has indeed survived. Men like Cato, Pompey and Cicero were certainly capable of producing propaganda of their own, but little of it has survived, and as such the story of Caesar is almost exclusively told from his point of view. Despite this apparent bias, we are given a picture by Suetonius and Plutarch of an incredibly charismatic plotter - in short, the quintessential Roman diplomat. Caesar undoubtedly had an ability to inspire loyalty in those around him, particularly those who had nothing to gain by such loyalty - his accomplishments alone indicate this, but such ability of course has its drawbacks.

Caesar truly entered 'the game' relatively late in life - stories abound of his weeping at the mere thought of what Alexander had accomplished by the same age as Caesar was a magistrate in Spain. Plutarch gives us relatively little information about Caesar prior to his rise to prominence, although this may not be intentional - at least the first few sentences, and certainly everything about Caesar's earlier life has been lost from Plutarch's dialogue. Suetonius, on the other hand, distinctly tells us of a number of conspiracies and plots in which Caesar was involved, including the notorious Catalinarian conspiracy. Caesar's leniency in this case does seem peculiar; when examined in conjunction with his later tendency for forgiveness, however, it does not seem so strange. It is a sad fact that a number of Caesar's murderers were men who he had spared from the very same harsh sentence, and given that the Catalinarian conspirators had not wronged him nearly so much as these Senators, it seems quite natural that he would argue for their forgiveness.

It should also be noted that, unlike his dictatorial predecessor Sulla, Caesar acquired his power through entirely legitimate means. Given this information, it would seem that perhaps reports of his conspiratorial nature have been somewhat overstated. It is truly unfortunate that part of Plutarch's biography of Caesar is missing, as it may shed light on whether this undoubtedly great man was a great source of stability or corruption.