Julius Caesar: Rome’s Greatest General



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Julius Caesar: Rome’s Greatest General

Gaius Julius Caesar, better known as Julius Caesar, was born into a famous patrician family in 102 BCE. Married by age 18 (85 BCE), Caesar became a famous speaker and lawyer by age 27 (76 BCE), and later obtained a seat in the senate (67 BCE). Eventually, Caesar would be appointed consul (president).


75 BCE: While sailing to Greece for further study, Caesar was kidnapped by Cilician pirates and held for ransom. When informed that they intended to ask for 20 talents of gold, he is supposed to have insisted that he was worth at least 50. He maintained a friendly, joking relationship with the pirates while the money was being raised, but warned them that he would track them down and have them crucified after he was released. He did just that, with the help of volunteers, as a warning to other pirates. Because they had treated him so well, he cut their throats to lessen their suffering.

62 BCE: Caesar was elected praetor (general), and he was sent to the province of Further Spain for two years. When he returned in 60 BCE, he joined two other Senators, Pompey and Crassus, in a loose coalition called by modern historians “The First Triumvirate” and by his enemies at the time “the three-headed monster.” Caesar persuaded the two men to work together and promised to support their interests if they helped him get elected to the consulship.


58 BCE: Caesar became Consul in 59 BCE, leaving Rome for Gaul (modern-day France) a year later. He was gone for 9 years, during which he would conquer most of what is now central Europe, opening up these lands to Mediterranean civilization—a decisive act in world history. However, much of the conquest was an act of aggression prompted by personal ambition (similar to the conquests of Alexander the Great). Fighting in the summers, he would return to Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy) in the winters and manipulate Roman politics through his supporters.


51 BCE: The conquest of Gaul effectively completed, Caesar became governor of Gaul and made it clear that he would be immediately prosecuted if he returned to Rome as a private citizen. With Crassus dead from war, Pompey and Caesar split from their alliance because neither could yield to the other without a loss of honor, dignity, and power.


49 BCE: Caesar tried to maintain his position legally, but when he was pushed to the limit he led his armies across the Rubicon River (the border of his province) into Rome. This was automatic civil war, as Roman law prevented governors from commanding troops outside of their province. Caesar quickly advanced to Rome, and had himself declared dictator. Throughout his campaign, Caesar practiced his policy of clemency (he would put no one to death and confiscate no property). In the final battle between Caesar and Pompey, Caesar's 21,000 troops defeat a force double its size. Caesar pardoned all Roman citizens who were captured, including Brutus, but Pompey escaped, to Egypt.

October 2, 48 BCE: Caesar and 4000 troops land in Egypt. When he came ashore, he was presented with the head of Pompey, who had been betrayed by the Egyptians.
44 BCE: Caesar was named dictator perpetuus (dictator for life) four years later. At the public festival, Antony offered him a diadem (symbol of kings), but Caesar refused it, saying Jupiter alone is king of the Romans. Caesar was preparing to lead a military campaign against the Parthians to avenge Crassus, due to leave on March 18. Although Caesar was apparently warned of some personal danger, he nevertheless refused a bodyguard. He appeared before the senate on March 15, and was assassinated by 60 senators who carried daggers under their cloaks. Caesar was stabbed at least 23 times, and fell at the statue of Pompey.
Assignment: Choose five GOOD words to describe Caesar and explain why you chose them.

The Emperors of Pax Romana

During the five centuries of its existence, the Roman Empire (27 BCE–476 CE) was ruled by famous as well as infamous leaders. After his uncle Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 BCE, Octavian became Rome's first emperor (Augustus, 27 BCE-14 CE) by defeating the combined militaries of Caesar’s general Mark Antony and the Egyptian empress Cleopatra, at the Battle of Actium. Upon his return to Rome in 27 BCE, he took his uncle’s title and ruled as dictator, holding veto power over the senate and creating a permanent army. The rule of Augustus began a time known as the Pax Romana, a period of peace from 27 BCE to 180 CE. This peace allowed the arts, literature, education, and commerce to flourish, and Rome to expand its empire. Rather than be called Dictator like his uncle, Augustus called himself emperor and allowed the senate to continue under his influence in order to appear less like an absolute ruler.

The second emperor of Rome was Augustus's adopted son Tiberius (14-37 CE). Tiberius was a good administrator, but his economic measures made him unpopular with senators, who plotted his downfall. Tiberius's nephew Caligula (37-41 CE) ascended the throne upon Tiberius's death. After a short period of rule, Caligula became ill. Thereafter he demonstrated the erratic (unusual) behavior for which he is infamous, which made many modern historians believe he was insane. After Caligula was murdered in 41 CE, Claudius, another nephew of Tiberius, took the throne. Claudius (41-54 CE) expanded the borders of the Roman Empire to include half of Britain. Scholars believe that, like Caligula, Claudius was murdered. Claudius's demise made way for Nero, Claudius's adopted son, to ascend the throne. Nero (54-68 CE) ruled wisely for a time, focusing much of his attention on diplomacy, trade, and increasing the cultural capital of the Empire. But after 59 CE, he became ruthless. He persecuted Christians, ordered the murder of many Romans, and spent tax money to support his lavish (luxurious) lifestyle. When the Roman Senate turned against him in the year 68, Nero committed suicide.

While the early Roman Empire suffered under despotic (harsh) rulers, later leaders were more moderate. Trajan (98-117 CE) ruled the empire for nineteen years, expanding its territory through military campaigns and constructing roads, bridges, and buildings. Hadrian, Trajan’s adopted son, became emperor from 117-138 CE. Hadrian continued the building projects of his father, while consolidating the Roman Empire with walls, defensive forts, and other protections. When Marcus Aurelius (161-180 CE) became emperor, he brought a wealth of experience in ruling. Under his leadership the Romans defeated Germanic and Syrian invaders. Also a Stoic philosopher (advocate of the view that humans should not be ruled by emotion), Marcus Aurelius tried to lessen the effects of famine and plague on the empire, lowered taxes, tried to improve the treatment of slaves, and founded schools, orphanages, and hospitals. Despite making these positive contributions, Marcus Aurelius harshly persecuted Christians.

-For the Emperors of Pax Romana reading, students will list the eight emperors, the dates they ruled, and list 2-3 accomplishments or notable facts about their reign as emperor.

-After listing the accomplishments, students will answer these two questions:



  1. Based on your reading of the text, do you think the Julio-Claudian emperors were good or bad? Explain why.

  2. Why do you think the later emperors (Trajan through Marcus Aurelius) were called the “Good Emperors”?


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