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Julius Caesar


Disciplines > Warfare > Military commanders > Julius Caesar

Whatever it takes | Managing the troops | Military conquests | Back in Rome | The awful end | Critical factors | See also


Julius Caesar (~100BC - 44BC) grew up in one of Rome's oldest aristocratic families, yet always sought higher position. He broke off and engagement to marry into a higher-ranked family and then married higher again twice more (after widowhood and divorce). He would also grovel before ordinary people if he thought it would help his cause.

Whatever it takes

He was interested in politics from an early age, thought this led to imprisonment, from which he escaped to join the army at the age of 19, where he soon won praise for his courage.

His army success led to higher postings and he found his way back into politics where he bribed and wheedled his way up the hierarchy. He borrowed money for his bribes and hence was often in debt. Nevertheless, this gained him steadily more power and Plutarch said of him: 'He gained so much upon the people, that everyone was eager to find out new offices and new honors for him in return for his munificence.'

One clever trick was that he got to be chief priest, which made him sacrosanct and free from persecution.

He studied rhetoric to develop his skill in oratory, and Cicero later said of him: 'Do you know any man who, even if he has concentrated on the art of oratory to the exclusion of everything else, can speak better than

He supported popular themes to build wider support. And at 43 he got elected Consul, where he did a lot support public needs. Then became Governor of a northern province and hence commander of its military forces.

Managing the troops

He made public show of respect for his troops and said of himself 'No condemnation could be too severe if Caesar did not hold the lives of his soldiers dearer than his own.'
He encouraged his troops to embellish their own weapons, which made them proud and and also stand out.

He won respect from his men and at a time when generals were leading from the rear. Suetonius said of him: 'He always led his army, more often on foot than in the saddle.' At 41, Caesar was a most skilful swordsman and horseman, and showed surprising powers of endurance.

Although he was fair with his men, he was also brutal in punishment. Suetonius said: 'He judged his men by their fighting record, not by their morals or social position. Though turning a blind eye to much of their misbehavior, and never laying down any fixed scale of penalties, he
allowed no deserter or mutineer to escape severe punishment.'

He did not show fear and was good at communicating this to the troops.  In battle, he was courageous, ferocious and merciless.

Military conquest

After pushing a few boundaries he decided he liked it and kept going into Gaul (France and Belgium), who were generally feared by Romans after Gaul had sacked Rome 300 years earlier. The key was steady movement, defeating or allying one tribe at a time. It took nine years and a lot of fighting. His ruthless subjugation made it take longer than perhaps otherwise.

He attacked Britain, a distant land across the sea, primarily in order to impress people back in Rome.

Back in Rome

Like his hero Alexander the Great, he wrote his own history and used it as personal propaganda.

At 51, however, he turned his attention back to Rome itself. As he was not offered high title, he decided to take it by force. He ousted his old ally Pompey who fled to Egypt, where he was killed by Ptolemy XII.

Caesar made his mistress, Ptolemy's sister Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. After more foreign battles he had to beat off Pompey's sons.

Rome offered him dictatorship and he accepted, and for once, he showed clemency to those who had opposed him. Yet dissent rumbled on as he brought Cleopatra and their son to Rome.

He did much to improve living conditions of the Romans and built huge monuments and works. He also changed the year from 355 to 365 days and added the month of July (after his name).

The awful end

At 55 he was assassinated, stabbed 23 times by fellow senators. Even then, he was brave to the end, and when offered a bodyguard, he said, 'It is better to die once than live always in fear of death.'

With the death of Caesar, the republic had ended and from now on emperors ruled Rome. It was also the beginning of the end as Rome turned in on itself, enjoying local hedonism rather than distant conquest and rule.

Critical factors

  • He was courageous to the end.
  • In many ways he was fair with troops.
  • In battle, he led from the front and gained the respect of his troops.
  • He was ruthless with those who opposed him.
  • He wrote his own history.
  • He studied oratory and became very good at it.
  • He did whatever it took to succeed.

See also

Military commanders: Alexander the Great


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