Julius Caesar

Bust of Julius Caesar from the British Museum
Bust of Julius Caesar from the British Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gaius Julius Caesar (c. 100 – 44 BCE)

In the Punic tongue the word caesar means “elephant.” Caesaries also means “thick head of hair.” The surname Caesar was given to the Julian family of patricians¹ at Rome, because one family member once owned an elephant or had a healthy scalp.

After Julius had become the Dictator of Rome, his surname became an honorary title for the next 11 emperors during the age of the Roman Emperors, each emperor being hailed as a new “Caesar.” So we often hear about the “12 Caesars,” which includes Julius.

Julius was an innovative and tough political and military genius who single-handedly broke down the old Roman republic.

When sailing to finish his education at Rhodes, he was held captive by pirates. Paying more than demanded for his release he quickly returned with a ship of his own and crucified the pirates he had recently paid.

The Roman writer Pliny says that he conquered 800 cities, 300 nations and three-million people, which at that time in history was a considerable percentage of the Earth’s population.

Caesar traveled to current day England, where he wrote on the practices of the Druids. A learned scholar and historian, he used his influence to reshape the calendar into one with 365 days and leap years, making the year 365.25 days long. This Julian calendar was largely replaced by the Gregorian calendar, but it’s still used in some countries today.

Commentarii de Bello Gallico, an account writt...
Commentarii de Bello Gallico, an account written by Julius Caesar about his nine years of war in Gaul. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Politically he would be closer to a Democrat (or Liberal) than a Republican (or Conservative). He favored the populares (nobles who worked through and acted for the benefit of the people) over the optimates (nobles who opposed the populares, claiming to represent everyone and not just the poor).

His end came about on the Ides of March (15 March, 44 BCE), the result of a conspiracy hatched by his closest advisers, all of whom stabbed him to death. The killers were lead by Brutus and Cassius. Apparently Caesar resisted the attackers after the first stab wound, but upon seeing his friend Brutus among the group, accepted his grisly fate.

The night before his death Caesar’s wife had vivid and terrible dreams, which perhaps Caesar should have taken into consideration. He was also warned of the plot by Artemidorus in a letter sent to the senate house, which he failed to read.

Italiano: La Morte di Cesare di Vincenzo Camuc...
Italiano: La Morte di Cesare di Vincenzo Camuccini è un quadro che si trova a Roma nella Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the time of his death Caesar had stopped listening to the nobles altogether, a move which they clearly didn’t like. He had virtually ended the old Republic and his overweening confidence, which had taken him so far, ultimately led to his downfall.

His life has been depicted in several films and William Shakespeare wrote the tragic play, Julius Caesar, which looks at the conspiracy leading to his death, especially from the perspective of Brutus. Shakespeare’s Brutus, in fact, gets about four times as many lines as Caesar.

¹ The patricians were a privileged class of Romans who, among other things, dominated politics and the priesthood.


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