Julius Caesar, Hero or Villain? Caesar’s Rise to Power

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Julius Caesar, Hero or Villain?

Caesar’s Rise to Power

Caesar was a brilliant commander and led his soldiers to many victories against the Germans. He added all the lands west of the Rhine River (now Belgium and France) to the territory of Rome. He wrote about these battles in popular diaries called "Commentaries," which were great propaganda pieces to show to the people what a good soldier he was. Caesar also dealt well with the Gauls (French). He treated them leniently and his good sense made them trust him and remain loyal. His soldiers and the people loved him and wanted Pompey overthrown and Caesar to be their leader.

Caesar’s Personality

Caesar emerged as one of the leading political and social personalities of Rome. Cultivated, charming, and handsome, vain about his appearance, he made his love affairs the talk of Roman society. Caesar was famous for his hospitality and was often heavily in debt. His leadership was especially noted for its lavish displays and games.

Caesar was also very popular with the people because his family had for many years supported democratic causes and as magistrate he had lavished money on public games and works project which employed common people.

Caesar’s Rule, 49 BC

After he defeated General Pompey, Caesar returned to Rome as its master, his authority having surpassed that of the Senate. He adopted the old Roman position of dictator. However, what had been traditionally a 6-month emergency position, he turned into an office of increasing duration.

He became king in all but name. He had his name stamped on coins, had his statue put in the temple and wore royal purple. He took power from the Senate and made the magistrates his appointees. But, he did not punish his enemies in the government by sending them from Rome as most earlier leaders had done.

Social reforms

Julius Caesar enacted many reforms to improve the economy. He limited the grain ration to those actually in need so that the capital city would not continue as a magnet for idle mobs.

He established Roman colonies by giving land to the soldiers and landless peasants in Carthage and Corinth (Greece). He made a law which limited the number of slaves estates could employ so that the poor free people would have more work.

In the provinces (land conquered by Rome) he appointed new governors and made them strictly accountable so they would no longer simply plunder the people of all their wealth. He reduced taxes and made collections more fair. He allowed the people in Sicily, Spain and Gaul to become Roman citizens so they could participate in the central government as well as their local governments.

Was Caesar Too Ambitious?

There has been much debate about what political role Caesar planned for himself. He certainly regarded the old oligarchic government as inadequate and desired to replace it with some form of rule by a single leader. Significantly, just before his death, Caesar was appointed dictator for life. About the same time, he began issuing coins with his own portrait on them, a practice unparalleled in Rome up to that time.

In Rome, Caesar was planning major projects and reforms. Public works, such as a new, massive basilica (court house) in the old forum complex, were progressing. Even more grandiose schemes, like the draining of the Pontine marshes [to create more farmland], were planned. New colonies were under way, including settlements in Carthage and Corinth. Among his reforms was the reordering of the inadequate Roman calendar.

However, Caesar's restless temperament was not satisfied by administration and legislation at Rome. He was preparing equally extensive military campaigns. Trouble was brewing in Dacia across the Danube, and the Parthians had not been punished for the destruction of Crassus' (Caesar’s former ally) army.

Hero or Villian? You Decide.

Two ancient biographies of Caesar survive: one by the Greek moralist Plutarch in his biographical collection Lives and the other by the Roman courtier and bureaucrat Suetonius in his The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Caesar speaks for himself in Commentaries on the Gallic War and Commentaries on the Civil Wars.


Retrieved online from Schools of California Online Resources for Education, http://score.rims.k12.ca.us/score_lessons/caesar_rome/handout.html and from http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Julius_Caesar.aspx on Oct. 10, 2015.

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