Reader's Encyclopedia

Caesar, [Caius] Julius (100 - 44 BC)

Roman general and statesman. After a brilliant early career in politics, where he distinguished himself in oratory, and in generalship, which he displayed in Spain (61 - 60 bc ), Caesar was elected consul in 59. In 60 bc he joined with Pompey and Crassus in the First Triumvirate. After his consulate, as was customary, he was allotted the governorship of a province: his choice was Gaul. From 58 to 49, he pushed back the boundaries of Roman Gaul, until he had conquered all of central Europe from the Rhine to the Pyrenees. In 49 Pompey and the leaders of the Senate, fearing the prestige of Caesar and the strength of his fanatically loyal legions, ordered him to resign his command and return to Rome without his army. This he refused to do: " The die is cast, " he is reported to have said as he led his army across the Rubicon into Italy. Pompey fled, together with many members of the senatorial party, including Cicero and Cato the Younger. Following his opponents to Thessaly, in northern Greece, Caesar defeated them in the battle of Pharsalus (48). In subsequent campaigns, he secured his firm hold on the empire in several ways: he placed Cleopatra on the throne of Egypt (48); he defeated the king of Pontus at the Battle of Zela (47); he crushed the remainder of the senatorial army at Thapsus, in North Africa (46). His return to Rome in the spring of 46 was marked by lavish public festivals. He was hailed as a demigod; the name of the fifth month (Quintilis) in the Roman calendar was changed to Julius (July) in his honor. During the year that followed, Caesar made many reforms in the senatorial system and in the general management of the empire. His most durable reform, however, was his revision of the calendar. With the help of an Alexandrian astronomer, he established the Julian calendar, which, with minor changes, is the one we use today. It went into effect on January 1, 45 bc.

Opposition to Caesar on the part of the aristocratic party was still seething beneath the surface of Roman politics. On March 15, 44 (the ides of March), a group led by Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus assassinated Caesar, thus bringing to a sudden end uncompleted plans for the reorganization of Rome and the empire.

Caesar was one of the foremost orators of his age; only Cicero was esteemed the more persuasive of the two speakers. He also found time to record some of the history that he himself helped to make. His Commentaries on the Gallic War and his Commentaries on the Civil War (45), which latter was unfinished, show him as a clear and vigorous prose stylist.

Even in his lifetime, the name Caesar represented the Roman Imperium. By the time of Jesus -- 75 years later -- it was used to connote civil government. When Diocletian, at the end of the 3rd century, split the empire into East and West, he appointed two Caesars as vice - regents. Through the Middle Ages to the present day, Caesar's name has survived as Kaiser and Tsar or Czar.

Caesar appears in many historical dramas, notably in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and George Bernard Shaw 's Caesar and Cleopatra. In Julius Caesar, Brutus is actually the main interest of the play, while Caesar is drawn as a weakling and a braggart. This characterization has often been criticized as untrue to history.

With the famous words Veni, vidi, vici ( "I came, I saw, I conquered" ) Caesar announced his overthrow of Pharnaces, king of Pontus.

The expression "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion" has its origin in the incident when Caesar divorced his wife Pompeia after her name became linked with Clodius ' s, not because he believed her to be guilty, but because the wife of Caesar must not even be suspected of crime. See Calpurnia.