Julius Caesar although born into a wealthy political family, lost everything when his father joined the wrong side of a civil war in Rome between political factions attempting to gain power. No longer having any opportunities he joined the army. His first major battle was in Greece in 81 B.C. and he found that he was a natural at fighting. He was faster with his sword than most men, he was quick on his feet, and he had amazing endurance. Battles didn’t last just a few minutes and if a soldier’s arm got tired or he couldn’t keep a grip on his sword for long periods of time, he was in danger. Caesar worked his way up the ranks and by the time he was 29, he was becoming a hero in Rome.
Life was good for Roman citizens, then out of nowhere a slave named Spartacus freed himself and many other gladiators. With their skills, they kept freeing more and more parts of the Roman Empire (the southern part of Italy), and were headed for Rome with a vengeance. Their goal was to end slavery. Rome sent a war monger and wealthy politician by the name of Marcus Crassus to stop Spartacus not realizing that he had already built an army 100,000 strong. Most of these soldiers were slaves who had been freed and the gladiators taught them how to fight.
Caesar was busy fighting to build the Roman Republic (it wasn’t an empire yet), when he heard that Crassus was losing the fight against Spartacus and his army; they were just 200 miles from Rome. He immediately went to Crassus’ headquarters to see what was happening. Even though Caesar was Crassus' inferior, he let Caesar devise a plan to beat Spartacus because what he was doing wasn’t working. It had reached the point where Crassus was going to retreat and then regroup further down the road.
Caesar divided the army into two groups to surround Spartacus’ men and they launched a surprise attack before dawn, and it worked as they slaughtered Spartacus’ army. They wanted to prove that Spartacus was dead, but they never found his body. To Caesar's disgust, Crassus ordered his men to crucify 1,000 of Spartacus' soldiers along a road leading to Rome in order to send a message to anyone who dared to revolt.
Crassus was looking forward to returning in victory and given the highest office in the land as the "Consul," which held the most power in the Senate; there was no dictator or ruler at this time in history. But, there was a military general by the name of Pompey, who wanted the powerful position as well. For over ten years no one held the position because the two most powerful men in Rome, Crassus because he was the wealthiest, and Pompey because he controlled most of the army, were constantly fighting over who would get the position. None of the Senators were willing to make the decision in fear they'd choose the wrong leader and lose their power and influence through some form of retribution from the one not chosen.
Caesar also wanted power and he devised a plan where he promised both leaders that if they helped make him Consul, that he would push both of their agendas through the Senate. Pompey didn't trust him to follow through on his promise, so Caesar offered him his daughters' hand in marriage as a sign of good faith. Crassus wanted more money through Senate appropriations for various business projects (basically being awarded contracts), and promised to share his wealth between himself, Pompey, and Caesar. Pompey also wanted land guarantees outside of Rome for himself and many of the soldiers who fought for him. At this point the three of them pretty much controlled the Roman Republic.
They made it happen and Caesar was made Consul, but he soon realized the Senate wasn't easily manipulated. Crassus and Pompey were livid that Caesar wasn't' delivering on his promises so Caesar hired street thugs to attack members of the Senate who weren't supporting him.
Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey, were willing to take advantage of the citizens of Rome which seems to always have been the way of politicians. Members of the Senate were the wealthiest citizens of Rome. From the beginning of mankind, it has always been about influence, money, and power. For Caesar, it was all three and he became extremely wealthy building a palace and throwing lavish parties. Not everyone was happy about his success as they were jealous and to add fuel to the fire, Caesar got outed for sleeping with other influential men's wives. Most of the Senate at this point hated Caesar.
Seeing that Caesar was quickly losing favor with very influential people on the Senate, Crassus and Pompey decided they'd help take him out of the role as Consul. They had already gotten what they wanted out of him and if they could send him away to become a governor in a distant province, they wouldn't have to give him his cut of the money they had been bringing in. When they told Caesar what they were going to do, he went ballistic. They didn't realize that they messed with the wrong person as Caesar was one of the most ambitious men the world had ever seen; they just didn't know it. They also didn't know that Caesar had one of the most brilliant political consultants in Rome, her name was Servilia and she was the wife of a very influential man in Rome. Historians consider her one of the greatest backchannel politicians in Roman history.
Servilia gave Caesar advice that what he should do is except the offer of being governor and then choose the northern province to rule which had around 25,000 soldiers there to protect the Roman Republic from being attacked by the Gaul's. The Gaul's controlled a large territory that included what are present day Belgium and France but there was no ruler instead there were tribes all over the land who often fought each other. They were vicious fighters and many of the Roman soldiers were afraid of them, so Rome never attempted to conquer their territory but instead kept many soldiers on the northern border to stop any invasion attempts. They were in a protection mode when it came to the Gaul’s, not a conquering mode.
Caesar planned on invading Gaul without Senate approval. His military campaign was extraordinary. He began sending word back to Rome as to his conquests, and he used the third person so that it would look like someone else had written the glorious things about him. Romans started hearing stories about Caesar's amazing accomplishments and he became a legend, not to the politicians, but to the everyday citizens of Rome. The Senators along with Crassus and Pompey were outraged that he went to war without their approval and they became worried that Caesar was gaining too much power and influence with the citizens.
A scary thought began swirling in their minds that even more soldiers would join Caesar. They were right, Caesar was increasing the size of his army because soldiers benefited financially when they increased territory and after about three years, Caesar had moved into what is now Britain and Germany. No one had expanded the territory like Caesar. The commanders of Caesar’s army knew they'd have the opportunity for governorships in these new territories. Those who were politically motivated knew they'd gain influence in Rome being on the winning side of a war and guess who showed up to join Caesar? Marc Antony (a Roman noble and great soldier), who would later become a huge factor in Rome’s history.
Crassus became so worried about Caesar heading to Rome with his large army and going after him personally, that he received sponsorship from the Senate to put together an army to invade parts of Asia. He needed a winning military campaign to maintain his power in Rome, which most of the Senate was fine with, as it was a case of anybody but Caesar. He also knew that he might need to use his army to defeat Caesar should Caesar choose to invade Rome.
Once again, the Senate provided funding understanding that Pompey's army would be their protection in Rome which had millions of habitants. Crassus was quickly defeated and lost 20,000 soldiers in his attempt to invade Asia and he was captured and tortured to death. With Crassus dead, Pompey was given the title of Consul and began building a good relationship with the Senate.
After hearing news about Pompey being made Consul, Caesar was more committed than ever to making his military campaign successful so that he could gain Roman citizen’s favor and take over from Pompey.
Nearly six years after beginning his conquests, he had one last major battle in 56 B.C., as Gaul's from all over their massive land came together to kill the Roman soldiers. They had gathered around 250,000 men while Caesar had around 100,000. Their goal was to attack the Romans in the front and from behind, but Caesar outsmarted them again and again, and in four days and after 100,000 men were killed, he was victorious, once again reinforcing that he was the greatest military commander in Rome’s history.
While on his way back to Rome, he sent a group of soldiers ahead with some of the gold and silver that they had seized during their conquests and were told to share them with Rome’s citizens. They were elated and began having celebrations in Caesar's honor even though he hadn't made it back yet. Pompey and the Senate were in horror at what was happening and were gravely concerned what would happen to them when Caesar returned, so they made the decision to arrest him when he arrived and try him for starting a war without their consent. They would then strip Caesar of his military command and exile him. Servilia got word to Caesar as to what was happening and the unfortunate news that his only child died giving birth. He had already lost his wife to illness after 15 years of marriage. So Caesar does the unthinkable, and decides to use his troops to invade Rome and take power so a civil war began.
In a remarkable move, Pompey and most of the Senators left Rome to regroup in Greece. The goal was to put together an army much larger than Caesar's and then return to Rome to regain power. While they were away, Rome erupted in chaos since there was no real authority. Crime went through the roof and gangs took over major parts of the city. Pompey and the Senators were hated for what they did to the city.
Pompey and the Senators knew that Caesar would move right into Rome and take over, but Caesar was too smart for that. He knew what they'd try to do so he didn't immediately march on Rome and instead went after Pompey trying to reach him and his troops before they boarded ships to Greece, but they just missed them. Knowing he would be in trouble if Pompey had the chance to build a larger army, which would easily take about a year to recruit and train effectively, Caesar once again did the unthinkable and built ships to take the fight to Pompey. The feat he pulled in building enough ships to move 22,000 soldiers to Greece, was amazing.
Pompey was shocked when Caesar's army showed up in Greece, but he felt relatively secure because he had already assembled an army twice the size of Caesar's. In all, it took around a year after Pompey moved to Greece, that he and Caesar finally went to battle. The winner would have the power to take the Roman Republic from one ruled by the Senate, to an official Roman Empire run by a dictator.
Even having greater numbers by far, many of Pompey's soldiers were scared to death of Caesar's army because of their amazing feats conquering so many lands. They had years of training through numerous battles whereas many of Pompey's men only had months to prepare for the fight. Caesar’s men were disciplined. They had already worked through their fears on the battlefield. Add to this that Caesar was a heroic general and he had an amazing military commander at his side, Marc Antony.
Pompey thought these strengths wouldn't be an issue as he was going to throw twice as many men at Caesar than what he had. He immediately went on the offensive sending almost all his soldiers and the cavalry at one time to overwhelm them, but the experience of Caesar's men helped them mow Pompey's troops down, so they began retreating. By the time the battle is over, around 15,000 of Pompey's soldiers were killed and 20,000 were taken prisoner.
Pompey got away and sailed to Egypt, an ally of the Roman Republic. His goal was to convince the king, who was a 14-year-old boy, to provide military support and money to help him stop a rebellion; he didn’t mention the truth of what he was facing. The king and his advisors knew that Pompey was lying because they already heard about Caesar’s accomplishments in expanding the country of Rome and that he had defeated Pompey in Greece. The king had Pompey beheaded for lying to him hoping it would ingratiate him to Caesar. He had problems of his own as he and his sister, Cleopatra, were vying for power in a civil war. He knew with Caesar’s help, he’d win.
When Caesar arrived with his army thinking he was going to track down Pompey, he was summoned by the king and was told what they did to Pompey. Instead of being happy about it, Caesar was mad that an ally would do this to one of Rome's military commanders. The king asked for Caesar's help to defeat his sister, and Caesar refused saying he needed to get back to Rome. This made the king angry and they placed Caesar under house arrest until he agreed to help. Days went by and he refused to give in knowing that he might eventually be killed.
Then one day the men who had been guarding him were killed and Cleopatra walked into his room. She was of course astonishingly beautiful and highly intelligent. She explained to Caesar what was happening with the power struggle and convinced him to join her cause, so they combined forces and defeated her brother. While trying to escape, the boy king drowned in the Nile River. From this point forward, Cleopatra's power was tied to Rome and she and Caesar quickly became lovers.
Caesar initially thought he'd remain in Egypt and become king while Cleopatra would be queen, but he got a letter that Rome was on the brink of collapse. Besides there being no form of law, food was running out as well. Marc Antony hadn't travelled with Caesar to Egypt as he was instead sent to get Rome to get things under control, but he failed. He wasn't a politician, he was a warrior, he didn't have a clue how to run the government. Twelve years after being forced out of Rome, Caesar returned with hopes of becoming ruler.
He didn't know for sure after being away for so long, if he'd have the clout he once had, but he did. The people were elated that he was back, and they were outraged at their living conditions believing Caesar would help them. Knowing he had the support of the people, Caesar called an emergency meeting in the Senate, which included the senators who had betrayed him and went to Greece along with Pompey. He laid out some of his strategies to get the Republic back in order which included demanding that they give him the role of dictator with a ten-year term in office. They certainly didn't want to do this, it turned Rome into an Empire rather than a Republic, but at least they'd be able to stay in office and maintain their prestige.
By not having to play politics with every issue to get senate approval, Caesar was able to make his own decisions on policy changes some of which were unconstitutional. The first thing he did was fix their food distribution system, sourcing products from other countries and moving them quickly into the city. This alone made Caesar a hero once again. He got rid of some of the corruption in the senate where people were using their jobs for personal gain at the expense of Roman citizens. Caesar took these corrupt politicians down and the people were elated; Caesar was looked upon as truly a man of the people to the dismay of the Senate. They were outraged at Caesar's power and the more power he gained the less they had. Many of them thought about murdering Caesar but they were afraid to try.
Caesar did so many amazing things as ruler that I can't possibly list them all, but besides making sure Roman citizens were well fed he gave them work so they could earn money. A large percentage of Rome's able-bodied workers were unemployed so instead of just giving them money through welfare, Caesar authorized numerous construction projects including building a new harbor, educational facilities/libraries, and temples. This meant a significant amount of money left the government coffers (which the Senate hated), and instead went directly to the people.
This will sound strange, but when Caesar took over as dictator there was no effective time-management system. People didn't know what month it was, day it was, or time it was. It was pretty much, let's meet on the 3rd day or on the 8th night, which wasn't a good long-term solution especially if you were meeting two months out as you'd have to pay close attention and count the days for yourself and then hope the other person did the same so you could meet on the same day. This was a problem that Caesar experienced with his army as coordinating time and places were difficult, so Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar which is still being used to this day. It helped provide a sense of order to the Roman Empire. Many good things were happening but at the same time Caesar was not only experiencing debilitating headaches but also seizures; of which he tried to keep the Senate from knowing.
With all the good things Caesar was doing, the Senate was losing more and more power. They were losing respect in the city. Caesar walked into the Senate and told them what they were going to do, there was no voting. The power brokers in the Senate began looking for a way to take Caesar out while still maintaining stability in the empire.
Besides having his health problems, a huge scandal occurred when Cleopatra arrived in Rome with his son. Caesar was shocked and so was everyone else. Cleopatra got in his ear that he should be king of the Roman Empire and Egypt, with her as queen. He figured with having a son he could have a legacy and dynasty. To head down this path, he forced the Senate in making him the permanent dictator versus having a ten-year term. He’d work on getting the king title later. He had statues made of him just like Pharaoh’s did in Egypt and this upset a lot of people. His ego was getting the best of him. Feeling a shift in public opinion he did what he did best and decided to take an army to Asia (Parthia), to bring riches back to the Roman citizens, ingratiating himself once again and making it easier to proclaim himself as king.
Brutus, who was the son of Servilia, the brilliant female politician who helped Caesar rise to fame, was a close ally of Caesar’s. He was also a senator. When Caesar told him his plans to invade Asia, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and he immediately met with leaders of the Senate to tell them Caesar’s plan. They didn’t want to increase the empire it was already too much of a challenge to control and they didn’t want to spend the money on a war. At this point they had had enough and waited for Caesar to show up for a special meeting where he was going to share his plan, and several Senators including Brutus, stabbed him to death (there were 23 stab wounds).
The citizens were shocked about the murder and wanted heads to roll. Two men attempted to become dictator and that is Brutus and Marc Antony. Both men put together armies and a civil war began. Brutus was defeated and killed himself before Antony’s soldiers could get to him. Thinking that he pretty much had to walk into Rome and take command, he soon realized that he had no support and began to worry that he too would be killed so he snuck off for Egypt and married Cleopatra in a power play. The Senate agreed that they should quickly go to war with Egypt so that Antony and Cleopatra couldn’t get an army together to attack Rome. The Egyptian army was overwhelmed by the Roman soldiers and before being captured, Antony and Cleopatra committed a double suicide. Caesar’s son who fled with Antony was also killed.
Rome was in terrible shape for several years without the leadership of Caesar. Law and order ceased to exist, so gangs took over. Food supplies got worse and Rome’s infrastructure deteriorated. After years of chaos, Octavian arrived on the scene and was made emperor. He ruled for 40 years and he was extremely effective. Octavian’s story is amazing as well, but I’ll leave it for another day.