Julius Caesar
Roman statesman and general

~102 BC - 44 BC

Although he was born into the Julian gens, one of the oldest patrician families in Rome, Caesar was always a member of the democratic or popular party.

In 82 BC, SULLA proscribed Caesar, who fled from Rome (81 BC). On Sulla's death, Caesar returned (78 BC) to Rome and began his political career as a member of the popular party. In 69 BC he helped POMPEY to obtain the supreme command for the war in the East. Caesar returned to Rome from Spain in 68 BC and continued to support the enactment of popular measures and to prosecute senatorial extortionists.

In 63 BC, as pontifex maximus, he undertook the reform of the calendar with the help of Sosigenes; the result was one of his greatest contributions to history, the Julian CALENDAR. In 60 BC he organized a coalition, known as the First Triumvirate, made up of Pompey, commander in chief of the army; Marcus Licinius Crassus, the wealthiest person in Rome; and Caesar himself.

Lat. Gallia, ancient name for the land S and W of the Rhine, W of the Alps, and N of the Pyrenees. The name was extended by the Romans to include N Italy and is derived from its settlers of the 4th and 3d cent. BC-invading CELTS, called Gauls by the Romans. Julius CAESAR conquered Gaul in the GALLIC WARS (58-51 BC). He is the best ancient source on Gaul, and he has immortalized its three ethnic divisions: Aquitania in the S, Gaul proper (central France), and Belgica in the N. Gaul was rapidly Romanized.

In the years 58 to 49 BC he firmly established his reputation in the GALLIC WARS. Caesar made explorations into Britain in 55 and 54 B.C. and defeated the Britons. By the end of the wars Caesar had reduced all Gaul to Roman control. These campaigns proved him one of the greatest military commanders of all time and also developed the personal devotion of the Roman legions to Caesar.

Crassus's death (53 BC) ended the First Triumvirate and set Pompey and Caesar at odds. In 50 BC the senate ordered Caesar to disband his army, but two tribunes faithful to Caesar, Marc ANTONY and Quintus Cassius Longinus, vetoed the bill. They fled to Caesar, who assembled his army and got the support of the soldiers against the senate.

On Jan. 19, 49 BC, Caesar crossed the Rubicon, the stream bounding his province, to enter Italy, and civil war began. His march to Rome was a triumphal progress.

At Pharsala in 48 BC, Caesar defeated Pompey who fled to Egypt where he was killed. Caesar, having pursued Pompey to Egypt, remained there for some time living with CLEOPATRA and establishing her firmly on the Egyptian throne.

On his return to Rome, he set about reforming the living conditions of the people by passing AGRARIAN LAWS and by improving housing accommodations.

In 44 BC he became dictator for life. His dictatorial powers had aroused great resentment in his enemies, but when a conspiracy was formed against him, it was made up of his friends and protégés, among them Cimber, Casca, Cassius, and Marcus Junius Brutus.

On March 15 (the Ides of March), 44 BC, he was stabbed to death in the senate house. His will left everything to his 18-year-old grandnephew Octavian (later AUGUSTUS). Caesar made the Roman Empire possible by uniting the state after a century of disorder, by establishing an autocracy in place of the oligarchy, and by pacifying Italy and the provinces.

He has always been one of the most controversial characters of history, either considered the defender of the rights of the people against an oligarchy or regarded as an ambitious demagogue who forced his way to power and destroyed the republic. That he was gifted and versatile there can be little doubt. His commentaries on the Gallic Wars (seven books) and on the civil war (three books) are literary masterpieces as well as classic military documents. He was married three times: to Cornelia, to Pompeia, and to CALPURNIA.

SOURCE: Encyclopedia Britannica
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