Julius Caesar: The Compleat Man.

By David Trumbull COPYRIGHT, 2006

"So the Empire might have remained, and so one would think it naturally would have remained, a Mediterranean thing, but for that capital experiment which has determined all future history--Julius Csar's conquest of Gaul...

It was this experiment--the Roman Conquest of Gaul--and its success which opened the ancient and immemorial culture of the Mediterranean to the world."

Hilaire Belloc, Europe and the Faith

According to Suetonius (The Twelve Caesars) Caius Julius Caesar lost his father at age 15. Plutarch's narrative, which is thought to have lost its opening chapter, lacks an account of the dictator's early boyhood, and opens with the teenager, the nephew of Marius the great rival of the tyrant Sylla, already attracting attention as a threat to Sylla. Early on Caesar showed the passion for distinction that marked his entire life. He remarked to friends that he would rather be the first man in an obscure village in Gaul than second man in grand and glorious Rome. And when, in Spain in his mid thirties, Caesar read a biography of Alexander the Great, he wept at the thought of how little he had accomplished compared to the Macedonian. (Life of Caesar, 11-12).

Like Alexander, Caesar will be a conqueror and empire-builder. In battles, such as at Alesia where, outnumbered five to one, he simultaneously defeated two Gallic armies, one in the town, besieged by Caesar, the other behind him, besieging Caesar; he took as a trophy the Gallic king Vercingetorix; and finally subdued Gaul as a Roman province, Caesar proved a military leader worthy of his uncle Marius the great commander. But to his native talent for leadership and the organization he inherited from Marius, Caesar added what Marius lacked, a liberal education in philosophy and rhetoric. Thus equipped Caesar was ready to take his place as a leader of men not only on the battlefield but in the Roman forum and senate house.

Sylla's power being now on the decline, Caesar's friends advised him to return to Rome, but he went to Rhodes, and entered himself in the school of Apollonius, Molon's son, a famous rhetorician, one who had the reputation of a worthy man, and had Cicero for one of his scholars. Caesar is said to have been admirably fitted by nature to make a great statesman and orator, and to have taken such pains to improve his genius this way, that without dispute he might challenge the second place. --Life of Caesar, 3

As public speaker and writer of persuasive prose, Caesar was second only to Cicero among the men of his generation. But Cicero was no military leader, just as Marius was no deep thinker or civic leader. In Caesar, military command and political strategy combine. His victories on the field were followed by election to high office not merely chronologically, but as Caesar had planned, as an integration of the martial and civic virtues in one compleat man. Indeed, we know in detail of Caesar's victory at Alesia, and his other victories in Gaul, from Caesar's own Commentaries. And even while campaigning, Caesar constantly was sending dispatches back to Rome in, perhaps, the first ever military public relations campaign.

As, under Caesar, the government of Rome began to resolve first on a few and finally one man, the place for orators and political theorists such as Cicero grew smaller. Indeed, as the Republic collapsed, Cicero spent much of his public career lending his talents to one or another of the various strong men who sought legitimacy through Cicero's skillful use of rhetoric. Caesar, having mastered that art himself, passed over Cicero and, for his first triumvirate enlisted Pompey and Crassus. This trio of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus ruled Rome for from 60 to 54 B.C. Caesar's choice of co-rulers demonstrated his foresight and resourcefulness.

Pompey, known as the The Great because of his early military and policing successes, was, as an ally, less of a threat to Caesar than he would be as an open rival, at least in the early rise of Caesar. But Caesar would be first, not one of three. And Caesar saw, from the beginning that a grand struggle between these two for domination of Rome was inevitable. Therefore he planned for the conflict while Pompey did not. Caesar's bonuses to his soldiers and promises of lands for them to retire to after the wars cemented them to him. His mild and lenient treatment, even of opponents whose lives he spared, and the reasonableness of his request for nothing more than the honors conferred on Pompey, were shrewd propaganda. After the death of Crassus, as the struggle between Pompey and Caesar escalated, Pompey was advanced to sole ruler of Rome, while Caesar was outlawed. But when Caesar marched on Rome the unprepared and uncomprehending Pompey fled with most of the senate. Caesar, officially enemy of Rome, illegally brought his armies into the city and then pursued, engaged, and defeated the legally constituted government-in-exile and came off as the savior, not enemy, of Rome. In a moving scene at the beginning of the 1960s Hollywood motion picture Cleopatra, Caesar surveys the many Roman dead slain at the battle at Pharsalia in 48 B.C., and declares, convincingly, "'Twas Pompey wanted it so; not I." And so history remembers it for in this case the victory literally wrote the history.

The third triumvir, Crassus, was never a political rival for Caesar. The low nasty money-grubbing character of Crassus alienated him from the people's affection and from any serious chance at a successful public course of honor. And his military judgment was faulty. In fact, later, after serving Caesar's purpose as sometime ally, Crassus, goaded on by the wily Caesar, set forth on a disastrous expedition to Parthia where he and a huge Roman force were annihilated in 53 B.C. What Caesar saw in Crassus was money. Not money to enrich himself, as Crassus had done, but money for what it could do. Caesar observed, as others had not, that in the corruption of the late Republic, the traditional course to leadership --military success recognized in a triumph followed by stump speeches calculated to get the conquering hero elected to a consulship, had to be augmented with bribes for votes. It was Crassus' money that Caesar used to buy those votes. He also went deeply into debt buying today's honors with tomorrow's money.

He was so profuse in his expenses, that before he had any public employment, he was in debt thirteen hundred talents, and many thought that by incurring such expense to be popular, he changed a solid good for what would prove but short and uncertain return; but in truth he was purchasing what was of the greatest value at an inconsiderable rate. --Life of Caesar, 5

Early in this life, Plutarch presents Caesar's advantageous use of money. After bribing his way to freedom from Sylla's henchmen, the boy Caesar flees Sylla only to be captured by pirates. Again, in a pattern that will recur in Caesar's life, he uses money to good advantage. When the pirates demand 20 talents ransom he jokes that they must not know who he is, else they would have asked for more. Ransomed, released, and then returned with reinforcements, he makes good on another boast, one the pirates also mistook for a joke, that he would see them all hanged (Life of Caesar, 1-2).

In the episode with the pirates, Caesar gives early evidence that, as Plutarch write:

Caesar was born to do great things, and had a passion after honor, and the many noble exploits he had done did not now serve as an inducement to him to sit still and reap the fruit of his past labors, but were incentives and encouragments to go on, and raised in him ideas of still greater actions, and a desire of new glory, as if the present were all spent. --Life of Caesar, 58

It was a passion unlimited by fear of death, of which Caesar famously said that it was "better to suffer death once, than always to live in fear of it."

Death came to Caesar, as we all know, at the hands of assassins on the Ides of March, 44 B.C. The first blow was struck by Vile Casca; the final blow by Marcus Brutus who was as a son to Caesar and whose life Caesar had spared after the battle of Pharsalia. The death of Caesar did not restore the ancient Republic. Nor, indeed, did the conspirators evidence any forethought for the organization of Rome and her empire after dispatching Caesar. Caesar's blood proved the seed of bloody civil war and Rome knew no internal peace until another Caesar, Octavian Augustus, restored order and ended all hopes for revival of the traditional liberty of Roman citizens to govern themselves through freely elected officers. But thanks to the bold vision of Julius Caesar, Roman order spread to Gaul and Britain and created the Western World.

Here Ends Trumbull's Summary of the Life of Julius Caesar.