Jump to content
UNRV Ancient Roman Empire Forums
  • Time Travel Rome

Vesuvian

Did Julius Caesar deserve to die?

Recommended Posts

Caesar may have bribed his way out, and we touch on that potential in the Nobiles thread, but if the supporters of the Republic did not uphold the laws that they sought to preserve than they were no better than those who wished to destroy those same laws.

 

And how many had died due to Caesar's greed, besides, Caesar tried (and succeeded) in destroy the republic, so why should he benefit from its laws on a fair trial. With rights come responsibilities, when you shirk those responsibilities (such as stepping down after one year as consul) you lose the rights as well. Caesar thought he was above the law, there

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
And how many had died due to Caesar's greed, besides, Caesar tried (and succeeded) in destroy the republic, so why should he benefit from its laws on a fair trial.

 

You're absolutely right: after Caesar took up arms against the republic, he lost the moral right to a trial. I don't think there's any disagreement on that score.

 

If there's any disagreement, maybe it's about the exact point in time dividing when Caesar was merely ambitious but not criminal, when his ambition had led him to actual criminality, and when he had gone beyond mere criminal to total traitor. (Caesar was guilty of so many sins, crimes, and atrocities that it's hard to keep them all straight!) Only in the last case--of taking up arms against Rome itself--did Caesar forfeit his right to trial.

 

Clearly, Caesar's consulship was simply one crime after another. If his consulship included anything legal at all, I can't recall it. Though he deserved to be tried at this point, he was unfortunately immune from prosecution (being consul).

 

Caesar's proconsulship, too, consisted of crimes heaped upon atrocities. He had no authority to linger in Gaul after the defeat of the Helvetii, no authority to cross into Germania, nor any authority to cross into Britain. Indeed, the totality of these Gallic adventures was a violation of the ius fetiale, the most ancient of rules governing the conduct of men at arms. Though he deserved to be tried at this point too (or, acting on a previous precedent, turned over to the Germans), he was unfortunately still immune from prosecution at this point as well (being proconsul).

 

Thus, the first opportunity to try Caesar came at the expiration of this proconsulship, when Caesar was so rich from looting all three parts of Gaul that he could have bribed his way into a peaceful retirement.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

From a libertarian viewpoint, my favorite Tacitus quote is often paraphrased as:

 

"The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws."

 

From Book 3 of The Annals:

 

"Mankind in the earliest age lived for a time without a single vicious impulse, without shame or guilt, and, consequently, without punishment and restraints. Rewards were not needed when everything right was pursued on its own merits; and as men desired nothing against morality, they were debarred from nothing by fear. When however they began to throw off equality, and ambition and violence usurped the place of self-control and modesty, despotisms grew up and became perpetual among many nations. Some from the beginning, or when tired of kings, preferred codes of laws. These were at first simple, while men

Edited by Gaius Octavius

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My whinge about Caesar is not that he was killed, but that he was not killed soon enough. The issue is not simply one related to ancient history. There are those who believe that Caesar's story shows that it is right that a corrupt and failing democracy should be replaced by an efficient and functional military dictatorship. Problem is, even if you start with Caesar, you end with Caligula.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
My whinge about Caesar is not that he was killed, but that he was not killed soon enough. The issue is not simply one related to ancient history. There are those who believe that Caesar's story shows that it is right that a corrupt and failing democracy should be replaced by an efficient and functional military dictatorship. Problem is, even if you start with Caesar, you end with Caligula.

 

An interesting comment Maty. I was under the impression from your book "Sons of Caesar" that you were a bit more sympathetic to the Caesarian legacy. Perhaps you were being objectively 'matter of fact' regarding the events and people at hand. Of course, the focus was on the resulting principate rather than Caesar himself, so perhaps I am simply failing to put the information in the proper context. I think I'll have to give it another go.

 

With that said... it seems generally that the pro Caesar argument is that the Senate was either corrupt or an overbearing oligarchy, or some combination/derivative thereof. What I can't understand about that argument is that the potential for political freedom that the Republic offered, even if we accept that it was often corrupt and institutionally exlusionary, was replaced with a form of government that stripped any potential for that freedom. I can understand that there is a perception that the plebes were the beneficiaries of an increased role in the post Republican system but is it not actually the equites and freedmen who benefited politically more than the Plebes? In any case, however we wish to interpret the benefits or detriments of the monarchy on the individual well-being of the citizen classes, am I to understand that the argument suggests that it is preferable to operate under known tyrannical rule than to face the political risks inherent in the "corrupted" Republican state?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
My whinge about Caesar is not that he was killed, but that he was not killed soon enough. The issue is not simply one related to ancient history. There are those who believe that Caesar's story shows that it is right that a corrupt and failing democracy should be replaced by an efficient and functional military dictatorship. Problem is, even if you start with Caesar, you end with Caligula.

 

1. I believe that the words 'democracy' and 'dictatorship' have a different meaning today than they did in the Roman world.

 

2. Military dictatorships, then and now, are efficient because they are able to rule by fiat. Generally, they are more corrupt than the regimes they supplant.

 

3. The 'problem' with an alleged 'democracy' is that you get a hoover, a reegan, a bush, and another bush.

 

4. The Senate may have been able to govern a city-state, but once the spoils began to accumulate, its greed and contempt was unbounded.

 

5. Perhaps Caesar had the foresight to conquer the Gauls and to visit Britain, thus lengthening the existence of the Empire. (The oligarchs and traders were really the only ones to profit from colonization - then and now.)

 

6. What would you have had Caesar do differently after he took over the reins of government? What, in particular, did he do that was not beneficial to Rome?

 

7. Insofar as government is concerned, what did the Julio-Claudians do that was detrimental to the state?

 

8. Post Caesar, did not the Senate have opportunities to regain the reins of government? Was there one man in the vaunted Senate to so much as wag his tongue?

 

Caesar is the ultimate reason why the Western World looks to Rome as its Mother.

Edited by Gaius Octavius

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have read all the replies to this thread, and most of them make some very good points in a partisan sense, i.e., as either "pro-Caesar" or "anti-Caesar". I take a rather different view of the matter of the late Emperor; and please note that I didn't say "better" or "superior" to anyone else's, just different.

 

I start with the bare facts pertinent to this discussion as we find them in the historical record:

 

1. At a point after the Roman Army ceased to strictly be a "civilian" army, i.e., one that only summoned its membership to active enrollment in the ranks as needed, and transitioned to a nucleus of full time "professional" Regulars, it became necessary to promulgate a law that forbade territorial governors from transgressing the boundaries of their assigned regions. This was for obvious reasons: professional armies, by their very nature before the Treaty of Westphalia, tended to gravitate their deepest loyalties not to the impersonal state that sanctioned and garrisoned them, but to the ranking officer or officers that led them. This was before the historical advent of what we call "nationalism," please keep in mind, so the entire concept of "patriotism" was seen from a psychological viewpoint by the average Roman soldier in a way that would be quite alien to our modern way of understanding that concept.*

 

2. Julius Caesar knowingly, and with what the law would call "malice aforethought," violated that law the second his feet touched dry soil on the wrong side of the bank of that famed (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint, I guess) Rubicon River.

 

None of these facts are in dispute. What is very much in dispute is whether Caesar was justified in breaking this singular law on this singular occasion due to what some courts would call "extraordinary necessity," or simply "necessity."

I think a case can be made that he was so justified, and please remember that, at this point, we are not entertaining the least notion of his possible motives for doing what he did ("power hungry"; "greedy"; etc, etc.): we are simply looking at the bare fact that he did it, and the consequences that immediately flowed from it. The Republic was no longer working; the apparatus of state & bureaucracy that had been erected at a time when Rome was little more than an overgrown city-State--like an ancient New York City with a kick-ass military--was simply no longer functioning, despite numerous cosmetic modifications aimed at keeping the machinery going while preserving its basic antiquarian form. Something was bound to give, and such circumstances in cultures are god-sends to the ambitious like Julius Caesar.

But a case can further be made that it was Rome's tragedy that Caesar was not it's equivalent of Oliver Cromwell: a reforming dictator who fundamentally changed the laws and cultural landscape of his society in a modernizing sense that allowed for constructive progress, who then died after a long rule, and whose culture then reverted to the basic form of it's political existence before him without the actual impediments of all that made the rise of the original revolutionary necessary.

Imagine a Rome revitalized by Caesar's deep-seated reforms, ongoing right up until the time he died of old age, which then reverted to its republican existence in pragmatic recognition that they'd needed a dictator for a time and had found the right one, but now it was time to return to the old traditions within a new framework.

And then, like the British did to Cromwell, Caesar should have been tried posthumously for his very real crime, and properly reviled for the ambition that led to it, regardless of the good that came from it.

Just imagine if Rome had been able to reform itself and then revert to the best of its republican traditions after Caesar's passing! Rome would have inevitably faded anyway, no doubt: that is the way of empires and mighty civilizations. It will eventually be the way of our own. But we might have had a few hundred more years of interesting history to study beyond the calamity of 476 (yes, I'm a purist: Rome recognizably as Rome does not exist for me beyond that point in the historical calendar).

Alas, beyond the bare facts of what we know did happen, it's all "what if?", as some one has already said. But it's fun "what if?", nevertheless.

 

*No, I'm not saying American soldiers are more loyal to their commanders than they are to the Stars & Stripes or their oath to the Constitution of our own United States; different time, different era, different culture. Please, to those tempted: don't weary this discussion with such accusations.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1. I believe that the words 'democracy' and 'dictatorship' have a different meaning today than they did in the Roman world.

Quite right. Democracy was a privilege to the wealthy classes, and the plebs had little recourse to it. After all, you wouldn't want those menials thinking they had a say in things would you? Dictatorship is something more subtle. Tyrants today are no different than tyrants then. Dictatorship for the romans was an ad hoc political post to deal with a problem that the senate couldn't cope with. It was by nature a temporary post, as indeed roman power was intended to be, in order to prevent tyranny.

 

2. Military dictatorships, then and now, are efficient because they are able to rule by fiat. Generally, they are more corrupt than the regimes they supplant.

I think this is false. They seem efficient because the stakes are high and those involved in it have a vested interest in making it appear they are doing their utmost for the regime. However, this is often no more than appearances, and a lot depends on the efficiency, and ruthlessness, of the guy in charge. I agree that such regimes are corruptable because power is strictly defined by the regime and the only way to have more of it than simply being promoted is to buy it.

 

3. The 'problem' with an alleged 'democracy' is that you get a hoover, a reegan, a bush, and another bush.

:thumbsup: But thats a modern perspective from the experience of one democratic state. I dare say though that the romans groaned about certain consuls as we do our leaders. Popularity is a vital component of democracy - a leader can't survive without it unless he changes the regime - and look how far they go to persuade us that they, and they alone, are the answer to all our problems.

 

4. The Senate may have been able to govern a city-state, but once the spoils began to accumulate, its greed and contempt was unbounded.

In a way, but that assumes the senate was a unified organisation. It wasn't. It was a group of ambitious wealthy men and typically people of that class rather like more power and wealth than anyone else. So yes, if the opportunity was there, then it was inevitable that some would go for it and leave their more honourable comrades fleeing for the exit.

 

5. Perhaps Caesar had the foresight to conquer the Gauls and to visit Britain, thus lengthening the existence of the Empire. (The oligarchs and traders were really the only ones to profit from colonization - then and now.)

I don't see that. Its true that Gaul and Britannia were regions with resources the romans found useful, but gaul was invaded for military glory and the political kudos of it. Brittannia was initially invaded to prevent support for a gaulish rebellion and again for the political kudos. During the augustan reforms colonisation became a foreign policy all of its own. Remote or backwater areas were given little 'capital' cities, little rome's, a sort of politico-economic franchise, each vying for attention and reward by development, and a crucial pillar in the empires success in its early years. It was after all the failure of this policy in germanica, thanks to Arminius, that prevented rome from colonising northern europe.

 

6. What would you have had Caesar do differently after he took over the reins of government? What, in particular, did he do that was not beneficial to Rome?

He let his ego get the better of him. In these situations judgement becomes flawed. Although Caesar was enormously popular with the masses he'd upset a lot of colleagues. He was after all a king by any other name. He'd already had

marc antony perform a false coronation in an attempt to forestall criticism in this regard, but he accumulated permanent power. This was against a primary concept of republican culture, that power was given temporarily. He was too powerful, and an obstacle to political success for others. Really it was inevitable that he would be killed (or subject to attempted assassinations at least). In many respects Caesar was good for Rome for no other reason than his success made the civil wars end - but the lack of formal succession once the oligarchial democracy was laid aside left the state open to further conflict when the daggers came out.

 

7. Insofar as government is concerned, what did the Julio-Claudians do that was detrimental to the state?

To begin with, they did a lot of good. Augustus 'found Rome in brick, and left it in marble'. The empire was becoming consolidated and it was only the varian disaster that prevented large scale expansion early on. The problem was that this peace and prosperity bred a series of rulers who wanted to enjoy it instead of performing duty. Rebublican sentiment was subverted by easy living.

 

8. Post Caesar, did not the Senate have opportunities to regain the reins of government? Was there one man in the vaunted Senate to so much as wag his tongue?

No, because the senate was too divided and too willing to stand behind one of the major factions vying for power. Many were playing it safe, running with the crowd, supporting the major players with armies at their disposal. Without such backing, I doubt any senator was likely to stand in the senate and get enough applause for republican sentiments. It was all getting a bit too dangerous.

 

Caesar is the ultimate reason why the Western World looks to Rome as its Mother.
No, I disagree. Whilst caesar is an enormous legend in his own right, our culture, and even more that of america, is based on republican ideals and law rather than those of dictatorships and autocratic power. People looked back and admired what rome was, at least the more glorious side of it, and in any case cultural inheritance is a strong factor in demographics. It really is amazing just how long traditions and opinions persist. It was if you like an era that was seen as a golden age of wealth and glory that many leaders have sought to emulate for their own ends. There's something buried very deep in our subconcious that gives Rome this powerful aura.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Salve, amici!

 

From a pragmatic standpoint, if we admit there is more than enough evidence that Caesar was no fool, he was killed purely because of his overconfidence, which itself could have been a manifestation of megalomania. Sulla, Octavian and even Lepidus (and many of their fellows) did much bigger crimes and killed much more people, and they died quietly on their beds. They were simply more careful.

 

The original topic was if Caesar deserved to die. "Deserve" implies an ethical concept, more specifically retributive justice. Did he commit a crime? Juridically, hardly disputable; maiestas to begin with. But it was basically a political crime. During civil wars and periods of political instability, political crimes tend to be prosecutable only if you are on the losers' side. Then, your subjective considerations about the criminal nature of Caesar's acts and the proportionality of the correspondent punishment depend mostly on your political convictions. The same is appliable to most revolutions and coups d'etat, from the first Brutus to Robespierre, from Cromwell to Washington.

 

From a purely utilitarian standpoint, the Liberatores operation was clearly a failure; the Roman Republic didn't reemerge, its enemies were not redeemed nor deterred, the political class was not rehabilitated.

That is another reason to consider that Caesar's contribution to the demise of the Republic has been highly overrated. If the republican system were still even a fraction of what Polybius had depicted, the Roman Republic couldn't have been so definitely annihilated by one man's caprice. In any case, Octavius

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Salve, amici!

 

From a pragmatic standpoint, if we admit there is more than enough evidence that Caesar was no fool, he was killed purely because of his overconfidence, which itself could have been a manifestation of megalomania. Sulla, Octavian and even Lepidus (and many of their fellows) did much bigger crimes and killed much more people, and they died quietly on their beds. They were simply more careful.

 

I'm not sure I'm following the reasoning here. Caesar was surely confident and I'd concur that he was not a fool, though the argument could be made that his blatant disregard of the law made him foolish. Regardless, that's not my point, I'll concur for arguments sake.

 

I'm not sure how Sulla, Octavian or even Lepidus can be seen as being careful. I've never had the impression that Sulla retired because he didn't want to be perceived as a monarch (the antithesis to Caesar's lack of care), but rather simply that he was content with his accomplishments. Sulla's elimination of enemies may be perceived as a form of being careful, but these actions were more in line with accomplishing his agenda than attempting to secure his own safety (imo). I suppose it is difficult to separate the two.

 

Octavian was an enormous risk taker. His entire career is one perilous adventure after another (through the elimination of all rivals of course.) Lepidus too was hardly careful, especially in his attempted coup of Octavian in Sicily. The defeat cowed him, to be certain, but he was never in quite the same comparable position as Caesar either. I'll readily concede that Octavian was far more careful in how he accepted his titles and honors, and it's clear that he was conscious of public perception, but the circumstances were different. He was aware of what happened to Caesar and wished to avoid it. Careful, or simply showing sound judgment? Perhaps both, but without Caesar's assassination any number of alternative behaviors (and obvious outcome) would've been possible.

 

The original topic was if Caesar deserved to die. "Deserve" implies an ethical concept, more specifically retributive justice. Did he commit a crime? Juridically, hardly disputable; maiestas to begin with. But it was basically a political crime. During civil wars and periods of political instability, political crimes tend to be prosecutable only if you are on the losers' side. Then, your subjective considerations about the criminal nature of Caesar's acts and the proportionality of the correspondent punishment depend mostly on your political convictions.

 

True enough, but 'deserve' has less to do with ethics than the anti-Caesarians have argued in this thread and more to do with legality. Treason dictated punishment by death in Roman law, whether any of us agree on whether or not it was deserved, though I understand the philosophical muse regarding "to the victor goes the spoils." Regardless, you gave me an opportunity to quote Clint Eastwood (Will Munney) in "Unforgiven" that I simply couldn't pass up... "Deserve's got nothin to do with it". :)

 

From a purely utilitarian standpoint, the Liberatores operation was clearly a failure; the Roman Republic didn't reemerge, its enemies were not redeemed nor deterred, the political class was not rehabilitated.

That is another reason to consider that Caesar's contribution to the demise of the Republic has been highly overrated. If the republican system were still even a fraction of what Polybius had depicted, the Roman Republic couldn't have been so definitely annihilated by one man's caprice. In any case, Octavius

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Caesar was surely confident and I'd concur that he was not a fool, though the argument could be made that his blatant disregard of the law made him foolish.

I'm not sure how Sulla, Octavian or even Lepidus can be seen as being careful.

 

The same argument could be made for Sulla, Octavius, Washington or the first Brutus that made them seem really stupid.

 

Sulla, Octavius and Lepidus died peacefully, Caesar didn't. At least for Octavius' case, he survived no less than seven recorded conspiracies; Caesar died after the first one. In my book, that made the former three more careful than Caesar (even Lepidus).

 

True enough, but 'deserve' has less to do with ethics than the anti-Caesarians have argued in this thread and more to do with legality. Treason dictated punishment by death in Roman law, whether any of us agree on whether or not it was deserved, though I understand the philosophical muse regarding "to the victor goes the spoils." Regardless, you gave me an opportunity to quote Clint Eastwood (Will Munney) in "Unforgiven" that I simply couldn't pass up... "Deserve's got nothin to do with it". :)

 

I certainly won't argue that the liberators failed miserably. In fact, the failure to secure the city from Antonius played an enormous role in the slaughter to come. Regardless, it was still Caesar who brought the state to this point. Had Caesar not crossed the Rubicon... who knows. One can't overrate the culpability of the man who enabled Antonius and Octavian. Octavian may have ultimately turned the knife, but Caesar certainly opened a horrific wound.

 

"Deserve" get all to do with this topic's title. I didn't select it. Anyway, quoting myself "Did he commit a crime? Juridically, hardly disputable; maiestas to begin with."

 

I'm not sure I'm following your reasoning here. I don't think Caesar's culpability has been overrated. I do think (sic) "that Caesar's contribution to the demise of the Republic has been highly overrated." From Tiberius Gracchus to Tiberius Augustus, there were many contributors. For one (sic) " Octavius

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Perhaps a little light (or heat) might be shed on the subject if the questions: "Did the then Republic deserve to live?" and "Were the murders out for themselves or the Republic?", were addressed.

 

BTW, did the conspirators act 'legally'?

Edited by Gaius Octavius

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Perhaps a little light (or heat) might be shed on the subject if the questions: "Did the then Republic deserve to live?" and "Were the murders out for themselves or the Republic?", were addressed.

 

BTW, did the conspirators act 'legally'?

 

Good questions, indeed. My two cents:

 

- While it is controversial (not for me) the use of the verb "deserve" for individual legal purposes, it surely should be totally inappropriate to describe the fate of a national political system.

 

- Caesar murders' motivations surely varied from case to case, mainly a mixture of ambition, resentment, patriotism and (paradoxically) devotion to the law.

 

- Liberatores acts were criminal, period. But here applies the same rule as with Caesar and others (sic): "... it was basically a political crime. During civil wars and periods of political instability, political crimes tend to be prosecutable only if you are on the losers' side." For a while, Liberatores appeared to be on the winners side.

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.

  • Map of the Roman Empire

×