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Caesar the 'Dictator'

Caesar arrived back in Rome in July of 46 BC, this time with the task of settling both the political and social situations. Though many, like Cicero, tried to persuade Caesar to return the Republic to its previous form of government, Caesar had no intention of giving up his hard fought gains. Caesar knew the turmoil that was present in the provinces due to corruption and weak central authority, and also had lived his entire life through the instability of the Roman social system.

The first order of business, before forcing through various reforms was his long awaited triumphs. These were not only important to honor his own deeds, but to give back to the people for their hardship. The Roman triumph also marked a clear closure to certain events throughout Roman history and would allow Caesar to officially settle some of his legionary veterans. The people too were still nervous despite their love of Caesar. Nobody knew if Caesar would act as Sulla and strip the people of any powers they had, or if he would continue down the popular political course he had always adhered to. His triumphs allowed him to bring the people firmly in as his support base.

The 4 triumphs of Julius Caesar marked his victories over Gaul, Egypt, Pontus and Africa, and were the greatest that Rome had ever seen. Spectacularly elaborate, the celebration lasted 10 full days at the end of September. In the great parade that showcased the spoils and enemy captives, Vercingetorix, who waited for an unprecedented 5 years in a Roman prison to await his death led the procession in chains. (The Romans typically sentenced their criminals very quickly and prisons were not used as they are today). At the end of his journey he was ritually strangled, at the Mamertine as was the custom. In the next triumph, Arsinoe, the younger sister of Cleopatra, led the Egyptian parade. Though the Romans were likely shocked to see a young woman in chains as the lead captive, they were just as likely relieved when Caesar had her released rather than strangled. The next triumphal procession over Pharnaces of Pontus featured a great painting of Pharnaces fleeing the might of Caesar, which expectedly delighted the crowd. In the final procession for Caesar's victory in Africa, many Romans were concerned because of the actual war that occurred between Romans. Though Caesar made the triumph relating to victory over Juba of Numidia, this procession certainly helped taint the opinions of some of the Senatorial elite. The young 4 year old son of Juba sat in for the dead king, as the lead captive of his state, and it was suggested that he thoroughly enjoyed himself. He was described as the happiest captive ever, which might be expected of a 4 year old at such a grand parade. The crowd too, was probably greatly relieved when the child was released in the end.

In the final tabulations, it was estimated that the display of spoils in the processions totaled over 300 million sesterce. This grand total was partially doled out to Caesar's veterans and the population of Rome. His surviving veterans received 5,000 denarii (20,000 sesterce) each, the Centurions received 10,000 and his Tribunes 20,000 denarii each. The citizens of Rome received 300 sesterce each, were treated to a lavish dinner on a grand scale and were additionally given a free grain and oil dole amounting to 10 pecks and 10 pounds respectively. The games, held in the Circus Maximus, were spectacular as well. Over 1,000 gladiators fought in combat, countless animals were slaughtered and the Campus Martius was flooded to provide a mock naval battle. The triumphs of Caesar did much to secure the love of the people, and alleviate their fears, but the Senate would prove to be another story.

Before and after the triumphs, Caesar began to work on the social ills that had plagued Rome since the time of the Gracchi, nearly a century before. He first declared a general pardon for any citizens who had taken up arms against him in the civil war. Though in reality it did little, because there would only be trouble if Caesar pursued his opponents as his predecessors, like Sulla and Marius did; it did alleviate many fears about Caesar's intentions. He performed a census of the city, and was able to reduce the free grain dole of its citizens from 300,000 to 150,000 based on his findings. In order to alleviate any problems this might have caused, Caesar forced large farm owners to hire at least 1/3 of their labor from free citizens rather than slaves, ensuring work for the landless poor. Additionally, new colonies were founded all over the provinces, eventually sending out nearly 80,000 of these same poor to more productive destinations.

In dealing with the social environment of the city, many Greek doctors and teachers were granted full citizenship, likely to encourage education and continued emigration of desired non-Romans. Laws were passed giving guidelines as to financial and social conduct, but these were largely ignored. The private guilds, sort of a pre-cursor to the modern day labor unions, were disbanded as these were the sources for most of the harsh mob violence over the last century. Jury assignments were sent back to the older days of the Republic when only Senators and Equites could serve, clearly showing some favorable positions to the Roman elite.

He next focused on the mismanagement of the provinces. First he limited the terms of provincial governors, 1 year for pro-praetors and 2 for pro-consuls. This hypocritical action would certainly prevent another from amassing the sort of power he had gathered in Gaul. He also appointed governors of known moral scruples, regardless of their abilities in order to ensure the justice of provincial citizens. Tax policies were reformed, removing the hated and corrupt tax-farmers from the system and putting tax collection back in the hands of the provinces themselves. Great building works were commenced and/or finished as well, including a new and grand marble forum bearing his name and a new temple to Venus.

Perhaps the most important reform made by Caesar, at least one that had a far reaching and lasting effect, was the reform of the calendar. On the advice of the Alexandrian scholar Sosigenes, Caesar changed the calendar to add 10 days per year, bringing it in line with the solar cycle, rather than lunar. By adding 67 days to the current year, he brought the calendar to proper alignment with the seasons, and celestial events, such as the winter solstice, would actually occur near the start of winter. Perhaps more importantly, however, Caesar's ego began to come through. He renamed the month of Quintilis to Julius, or July, in honor of himself. This along with new honors that were beginning to be heaped on him began to alienate him from the aristocratic leaders.

One such example was the presence of Cleopatra near Rome. Though not allowed to 'live' within the city limits (no King or Queen were allowed within the city walls, stretching back to the expulsion of the Tarquinian dynasty), she was set up in a villa just outside where she lived in luxury with Caesar's son Caesarion. His preference for a foreign queen versus his own Roman wife certainly did little to endear him to his opposition, and began planting the fearful seeds of Caesar's desire to be King. He was granted the permanent right to sit in a Curule chair for Seante meetings, as was reserved for the acting Consuls, and was given the right to speak first. He was allowed to start ever race in the Circus Maximus, and given a statue on the Capitol facing Jupiter. In the east, predominately in Asia Minor, he had already been included (as early as 48 BC) in the local pantheon and set up as a god to be worshipped. He was granted a form of the Censorship that would last for 3 years, rather than the standard 1 years. Of more importance, he accepted the dictatorship, granting him near absolute power in both theory and in practice, for a period of 10 years.

This was to be just the beginning, however. Caesar had more in store for Rome, and planned a grand expedition against Parthia to recover the lost standards of his old friend Crassus. First though, there was trouble to deal with in Spain. Revolt had been brewing since nearly all the way back to Caesar's first campaign to subdue Pompey's legions. Now the sons of Pompey, Gnaeus and Sextus were eagerly drawing up support from the locals and Caesar's governors were incapable of dealing with it. At some point in late 46 BC, Caesar embarked for Spain in what would turn out to be his last military campaign.

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Did you know?

A Dictator In Roman Law was an appointed individual given exceptional powers in times of crisis.


Caesar the Dictator - Related Topic: Italia


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