Julius Caeser Gaius Julius Caesar, a patrician and noble, became one of the most powerful men in Ancient Roman history. Caesar was a populare1, and eventually became the people’s hero. His leadership qualities gained him the consulship of 59 B.C., and eventually perpetual dictatorship. Caesar’s acquired power soon became immense, and soon the ruling class began to fear his power. This wealth of power brought back images of the ruthless Roman monarchy, abolished centuries before, in 510 B.C. Caesar presided over the military, politics and religion; it allowed him to virtually control Rome. And, it was eventually Caesar’s power which led to his demise on the Ides Of March in 44BC.
CAESAR’S POWER Caesar gained power in three main areas which dominated Roman life. He acquired power in politics and the government, in religion2, and in the military3. Using his power in these posts, his established a form of rule through which he could control many aspects of Roman life. On July 25th, 46B.C., Julius Caesar secured the office of Dictator4 for ten years. It was here, that Caesar found his power to preside over others, and where he became passionately hated by the Roman ruling class. As dictator, Caesar had secured the power of an absolute ruler.
Earlier that year, he had been given Censorial powers, as the ‘Director Of Public Morals’ (praefectura morum)5. The dictatorship now meant that he had the powers of all the other offices in the Cursus Honorum.6 Caesar wanted to make reforms to improve life in Rome. However, he needed the Senate’s help to pass legislation. The Senate had been one of the main problems for Caesar’s predecessors. They had obstructed the passage of laws which would have benefited the state.
However, Caesar was determined to not be presided over by the Senate. The civil war against Pompey had taken a toll on the Senate. Many of Pompey’s supporters who were Senators, had been killed in battle. In addition, Caesar had increased the number of Senators from five to six hundred, to about nine hundred. To fill the vacant seats, he selected the Senators from a range of places7 and occupations.
The new senators were all supporters of Caesar8, and vastly outnumbered the old senators.9 Effectively, the Senate became nothing more than a puppet of Caesar’s power. As Caesar was dictator, his Imperium power was greater than any of the magistrates, even the consuls. He had gained many rights, as dictator which also allowed him to control the magistrates, and their elections. During Caesar’s rule, elections into office proceeded as normal. However, he had passed legislation which allowed him to control the elections10, whereby his suggestions were always acknowledged. In this manner, many of his colleagues were rewarded with posts as magistrates.
Prior to Caesar, the consuls had been the most respected and powerful of the political magistracies. Now, it had been turned into an insignificant parody of its former use. Cicero makes comment about the way in which Caesar had converted political office into a ‘sad joke’ – “At one o’clock, Caesar announced the election of a consul to serve until 1 January – which was the next morning. So I can inform you that in Canninus’ consulship, nobody had lunch. Still, nothing untoward occurred while he was consul: such was his vigilance that throughout his consulship, he did not sleep a wink!” 11 His further comment, also showed his opinion of what Caesar had turned the political magistracies into: “..you could not help but weep.. there are countless similar instances.12” The dictatorship was the one thing which was constitutional about Caesar’s rule.
However, “in him [Caesar], the awed respect for constitutional niceties with which so many of his fellow Romans were imbued, seems to have been totally lacking.13” And then in February of 44BC, he was named Dictatus Perpetuus. Being dictator for life, now meant that Rome had effectively reverted to absolute control – what the republicans had feared for. His term as dictatus perpetuus also granted him rights which made him invulnerable to constitutional safeguards. Now, the veto of the tribunes14 couldn’t affect his legislation or decisions. One of the safeguards of the constitution of the Republic had been removed15; and thus autocracy became one step closer.
DICTATOR, AUTOCRAT & MONARCH ? Caesar’s control of politics, religion and the military meant that he had become in all, but name, an absolute ruler. Caesar’s opposition now came chiefly from two groups – the aristocratic ruling class, who under Caesar could never gain an office which could challenge him for control of the State; and the republicans who feared the downfall of the Republic, and the re-establishment of the monarchy. The aristocrats were concerned not only with the fact that they could no longer gain powerful office, but also because they didn’t want to be ruled by Caesar’s representatives. Caesar had set a date to leave for a campaign in Spain – 18th March 44 B.C.16. While he was away, two equites; Oppius and Balbus; would have had the right to rule over all officials, Senators and even Consuls in Rome. These men did not have any political background, and to the ruling class, were just another example of how the system of government was turning into a joke. They were further angered, when Caesar appointed several of his associates to the magistracies for the next two years.
Now, the aristocrats not only were deprived of an office which could challenge Caesar, but couldn’t even stand for office for the next two years at all. It became apparent that Caesar was using the government to suit his needs, with no thought to its consequences. However, the discontent had also stemmed from Caesar’s actions prior to this. He had come to dominate the lives of the Roman people, restricting their rights. As Pontifex Maximus, he could ‘engineer’ his religious forecasts and teachings to aid his political standings, and he did on a few occasions.
As the Praefectura Morum, he used his title to pass a law restricting the amount of wealth being carried in public.17 The aristocrats saw these and other laws, as a restriction of their rights. The general reaction is summarised by this comment: “Yet he himself celebrated Liberty on one of his coins; and felt entitled to do so, because the programme he had in mind was peace and security for the Empire.. But what liberty meant to the .. governing class.. was (their) own right to uninhibited freedom of speech.
And of this he was depriving them.” 18 Caesar knew that the Republicans believed rumours about him wanting the throne.19 He also realised the dislike of them towards him: “How can I doubt that I am heartedly disliked, when Cicero sits waiting and cannot visit me at his convenience? Yet if ever there was a good natured man, it was he.. I am perfectly sure that he detests me.” 20 In order to dispel the rumours, he ordered Marc Antony to publicly offer him a diadem, which he would publicly refuse.21Here, he also delivered a speech saying “Non Sum Rex sed Caesar”22. But the show was without real substance – although he was not a monarch, he had the powers of one. To further allay the fears of the republicans, he prosecuted those who called him Rex, and ordered tribunes to remove a diadem placed on his statue.23 But, for the republicans, his actions in manipulating the government into his tool, the imprint of his head on coins,24 and the naming of Octavian25, his grand nephew, as his successor, they were falsely convinced of his latent ‘ambition’ to be king. THE IDES OF MARCH “So it began..
those who had come prepared for the murder all bared their daggers and hemmed Caesar in on every side. Whichever way he turned, he met the blows of daggers and saw the cold steel aimed at his face.. for it had been agreed that they must all take part in the sacrifice, and all flesh themselves with his blood.. Either by chance or because he was pushed there by his murderers, he fell down against the pedestal on which the statue of Pompey stood.” 26.