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Caesar CXXXVII

Ides of March

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"How could someone as so clearly politically astute as Caesar, for lack of a better way of saying it, "not seen this thing coming?"

 

 

He did take at least one precaution - His heir Octavian was safely stashed away in Greece with a friendly legion close at hand. In the end it was this precaution that did for Brutus and Cassius and the other assassins.

Octavius was in Greece for educational purposes, maybe even waiting for a chance to join the projected Parthian expedition; there's no evidence that security was an issue here.

After all, most of Caesar's family (including his Egyptian mistress and his purported son) were perfectly accessible to the Liberatores.

Besides, most of the Roman soldiers in Greece eventually sided with Brutus.

In 44 BC, even under Caesar's dictatorship for life, I'm not aware of any evidence that the senate, the army or anyone else would have even remotely considered the eventuality of the Roman Res Publica being granted to any individual as heirdom; in all likelihood, not even by Caesar himself.

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In 44 BC, even under Caesar's dictatorship for life, I'm not aware of any evidence that the senate, the army or anyone else would have even remotely considered the eventuality of the Roman Res Publica being granted to any individual as heirdom; in all likelihood, not even by Caesar himself.

 

I tend to agree. Had Caesar "seen it coming", why would he have sent Octavian to Greece while still disbanding his own Spanish bodyguard? It seems more likely that Octavian's tour of Greece was similar to the 'grand tour' of most young, wealthy, ambitious nobiles (including Brutus and Cato Uticensis).

 

Indeed, Caesar doesn't seem to have undertaken any precautions for the state in the event of his death -- natural or otherwise. Had Caesar's bald pate been rent open by a turtle falling from the sky (a la Aeschylus), imperium would have still been up for grabs -- with Brutus in Cisalpine Gaul, Octavian with a fortune to buy a private army, and Antony spoiling for the power to get drunk as often as he wished.

 

Speaking of which, can anyone name a dictator that died in office prior to Caesar?

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Speaking of which, can anyone name a dictator that died in office prior to Caesar?

 

 

Q. Hortensius was the first dicatator who died in office, in 287/6 .

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Speaking of which, can anyone name a dictator that died in office prior to Caesar?

 

 

Q. Hortensius was the first dicatator who died in office, in 287/6 .

That was a nice finding.

I suspect MPC was looking for administrative precedents relevant to 44 BC; unfortunately, as far as I'm aware, there are no detailed accounts on Hortensius' aftermath.

In any case, it seems no substitute was appointed, maybe because his legal mission had already finished.

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To add my two cents on the various items that have come up in this thread:

 

As far as Caesar's age goes, personally I go with the "official" year of 100 BCE. As much as biographers like Suetonius did make some factual errors, mucking up his birth year and making him two years younger seems just a little bit unlikely. Someone previously mentioned him needing tohave been the right age to become the flamen Dialis when appointed to the position by Marius. I was under the impression that it was Caesar's not being the right age (13 - 14) that meant he could not take up the office immediatly? (I rely on Gelzer's Caesar: Politician and Statesman as my most reliable source, but I've also read Freeman, Goldsworthy, and Meier's biographies and they are all in agreeance with the year 100). Overall it really seems a matter of finding an explanation for Caesar's ascending to his various ofices two years earlier than was the norm. Caesar was certainly a political genius which manifested itself early on, a winner of the Corona Civica, and (highly likely) an acquaintance of both Pompey and Crassus before he had yet ascended to the Aedileship.

 

I've also read Parenti's book about Caesar, and overall I think it needs a positive word spoken for it. I don't agree with parts of its thesis (it is highly unlikely that Caesar was aiming towards a democracy of any kind - while he championed the cause of the lower orders and did show a penchant for favoring democracies and governments with elected rulers in Gaul and Greece (as Parenti points out, he restored democracy in Athens) I go with Gelzer's view that his ultimate goal was the establishment of an empire that would have needed a strong central government of some kind), but I liked the book for two reasons. First, because it is nice to see some acknowledgement going to Caesar's genuine attempts to improve life for the people. Ambitious Caesar might have been, but my view is that he did have a genuine sympathy for the lower classes and the provincials, and general intention to use his powers as best he could to try and improve his world. Some ambition (lots, actually) was almost certainly present, but he had, I think, alturistic motives as well. Indeed, a fault I find with Parenti's work is that he focuses in entirely upon the population of the city of Rome itself. He aludes to the suffering of the provincials, but ommited much detail about the measures Caesar passed for their benefit (the Lex Julia that he passed during his consulship alone could have consumed an entire chapter). Secondly, because even more than the first it was a breath of fresh air to read some unreservedly critical remarks made about the likes of Cicero, Cato, and Brutus. To use the words of a reviewer of the book, I long ago independently came to the conclusion that these men really were quite despicable characters, and the unending praise with which they are accorded by many causes for me a mixture of irritation and disgust. Caesar might not have been perfect, but by my estimation he was certainly by far the better man.

 

As for the question "How did Caesar not see this coming?", there are a number of answers. Caesar did "see it coming" insofar as he knew that there were plans for an attempt on his life. As early as 46 BCE he had already made a speech to the Senate alluding to a plot against him, which caused Cicero to rise and propose a motion that henceforth the entire Senate should swear a solemn oath to become Caesar's bodyguards, vowing to "shield his life with their own". Nevertheless he dismissed his bodyguards and generally acted as though he couldn't give a damn about a little thing like his personal safety. There were a number of factors, I think, in this. It seems likely to have been yet another part of his extensive reconciliation program - a sign of trust, or something along the lines. Many refer to it as yet one more act of recklessness in an admittedly very reckless life - this was a man, after all, who was fresh from the experience of having "fought for his very life" on the front lines in Spain. Matthias Gelzer takes another tack - Caesar was relying for protection on the intelligence of his opponents. He understood and remarked upon often that if he were to die violently a Civil War even more devastating than the last one would break out (he should have been a prophet). He trusted that his opponents understood this too. Another view is that Caesar may not have understood their (alleged) motives. He couldn't comprehend that others were too blind to see what he himself comprehended through the insight of genius: the Res Publica was dead - a defunct system that had been dying for a long time through self-inflicted wounds that he had dealt the well-deserved mortal blow to through his effective establishment of the Empire (I go with Gelzer's view that Caesar was the one who created the Empire. Augustus simply figured out how to adminsiter it). Perhaps it was a mix of all four or another reason altogether. Either way he did not think that when he went to Pompey's Theatre on that day he would be so treacherously cut down. Still, for all the tragedy of his demise, Gelzer points out that Caesar, at the end of the day was still the victor. The Assasains had only one chance to achieve their goal, and they lost it when they allowed his laws to be ratified and declared legitimate. The measures he had passed through had guarenteed the destruction of the Republic (more on that later if anyone is confused). That too may have been a reason for Caesar's lack of concern: he comprehended that he had already won.

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Matthias Gelzer takes another tack - Caesar was relying for protection on the intelligence of his opponents.

It's evident to me that neither Sulla nor Augustus nor any later Emperor (that I

Edited by sylla

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Did Caesar trust that his life was so indispensable to the republic that his assassination would be unthinkable? Probably. Did he take any precautions so that his death -- whether natural or artificial -- would not upend the state? Not at all. Could any such actions be undertaken? Sure -- by revoking all his own acts, which served only to monopolize power and make the state dependent on the life of a single man. Of course, had the darling of Venus done that, future monarchs -- from the Caesars of ancient Rome to the last Czars and Kaisars of the 19th and 20th centuries -- wouldn't have been named after that tyrant.

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How could someone as so clearly politically astute as Caesar, for lack of a better way of saying it, "not seen this thing coming?"

 

That's an interesting question.

 

Certainly Caesar knew he was hated by some: "Can I have any doubt that I am deeply loathed, when Marcus Tullius has to sit and wait and cannot simply come to see me as he wishes. If ever there were an easy-mannered man, then it is he. Yet I have no doubt that he hates me." Moreover, until early 44, Caesar was constantly attended by a bodyguard of Spanish auxiliaries. Moreover, there were rumors of conspiracy constantly swirling, including one involving Antony.

 

Despite this, Caesar also believed greatly in his own importance in keeping the state from falling into another civil war. According to Suetonius et al, Caesar supposedly claimed that even Brutus was sensible enough not to be impatient for his death. This attitude of Apr

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Matthias Gelzer takes another tack - Caesar was relying for protection on the intelligence of his opponents.

It's evident to me that neither Sulla nor Augustus nor any later Emperor (that I

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Did Caesar trust that his life was so indispensable to the republic that his assassination would be unthinkable? Probably. Did he take any precautions so that his death -- whether natural or artificial -- would not upend the state? Not at all. Could any such actions be undertaken? Sure -- by revoking all his own acts, which served only to monopolize power and make the state dependent on the life of a single man. Of course, had the darling of Venus done that, future monarchs -- from the Caesars of ancient Rome to the last Czars and Kaisars of the 19th and 20th centuries -- wouldn't have been named after that tyrant.

 

I'm sorry, but I think we obviously have a complete and utter disagreeance over the events of the lat years of the Republic.

 

To say that Caesar's act served no more purpose than to "monopolize power and make the state dependent on the life of a single man" (which is a false statement by the way) is to make a mockery of the career of one of the most extraordinary, if not the most extraordinary statesmen in history. Caesar's Statesmanship was exemplified in his recognizing that the Republic was an obsolete system that had to be overthrown, and he did so quite handily. Caesar's various acts succeeded in laying the foundations for the universal Empire that was arguably the greatest achievement the Romans ever established. He recognized that it could not happen overnight, but as a good statesman he got the ball rolling, and got it rolling fast enough that it was unable to be stopped. When Roman historians speak of Emperors like Augustus and Claudius giving consideration to trying to restore the Republic but realizing it could not be restored; had to remain an Empire, this was not necessarily just trying to make these Emperors look good - this was touching upon the truth; that Caesar had ensured the days of city-state rule were over with wide-spread citizenship distribution, the planting of colonies, and a Romanization program. The ball Caesar started rolling gathered momentum, and eventually came to the conclusion that Caesar must have known it would: citizenship granted to all free men in the Empire.

 

Caesar's acts also included no end of measures undertaken to stabilize the empire and Rome itself, as well as attempts to improve the lives of the lower classes, and sensible measures like reforming the Calendar. Other things like his publishing of the affairs of the Senate are noteworthy. He did his best to break the back of the Oligarchy that had dominated Rome, and succeeded quite handily.

 

Caesar can be credited with the creation of the Empire and the death of the Republic, but what cannot be credited to him (and ironically, what almost universally is) is that it would be dominated by one-man rule. The fact is we have no idea how he intended his new world to be governed. His career to me suggests that whatever form of governement he decided upon would have been meritocratic in form, and would likely have taken the form of some sort of autocracy, but would likely have been of a very different form to the one implemented by Augustus. Ultimately of course, we have no way of knowing, as he was tragically murdered (as is the whole point of this thread), and his work was left uncomplete. It was left to Augustus to devise a means to govern what Caesar had created, and Augustus, as said, succeeded in doing so, although as said, it was probably not the solution Caesar would have found.

 

Lastly, I must disagree with you wholly and heartily that Caesar was in any way, shape, or form a tyrant. Sulla was a tyrant. Augustus was arguably a tyrant (though a very subtle tyrant). Caesar was certainly not a tyrant, at least not in the modern sense. He was an absolute ruler, but one who attempted to use his power intelligently and wisely to shape his world for the better, and that to me makes him no tyrant (I use the word "hero"). Quite apart from the measures he took to try and improve life for everyone, his far-sighted reforms, his policies of clemency and reconciliation with his foes, his habit of working fully with the People's Assemblies (even after he became Dictator), I look to the fact that under him none of the traditional rights of Roman Citizens were attacked as they were under later rulers. Freedom of Speech remained fully in place, and this remained constant, even when some pushed this to the limit. Personally I think the incident that personisfies the difference between Caesar and others was Cicero and Brutus both publishing eulogies of Cato commending him, and thus by extension criticizing Caesar. Sulla would have proscribed them both immediatly. Augustus would have artfully brought about an excuse to try and execute/exile them, or would have pressured them into suicide. Caesar instead wrote each of them a letter. Not mentioning the content of the books at all, he instead contented himself with warmly praising Caesar's prose style, and kindly informing Brutus that his grammar was atrocious. To counter the book he composed Anti-Cato, and the fact that it was an all-out literary attack on Cato likely motivated by political necessity should in my opinion detract neither from either the fact that much of the abuse was IMO richly deserved (I despise both Cicero and Brutus as historical beings, but above and beyond both of them I think Cato has recieved far, far more praise than was ever his due) or the fact that this was anything but the reaction of the tyrant.

 

You are correct that future rulers from Caesars to Czars to Kaisers would indeed all borrow Caesar's name. Several Popes would take the title "Julius". Great men ranging from Suleiman the Magnificent (who read Caesar's Commentaries every single to day) to Napoleon Bonaparte (who shared a habit with his adversary Wellington of carrying a copy of the Commentaries with him whenever he went out on campaign) modelled themselves on him. This was because his name became synonymous with power and excellence, and many of these men would later try to immitate him. Of them, in my estimation only Napoleon came close to the greatness of Caesar. And yet the thing about Caesar is that there were many sides to him. Almost anyone can find something to admire about him, as is perhaps best evinced by this statement from Napoleon; foremost among the known admirers of Caesar:

 

"I love reading about Caesar's military career, but hate reading about his political career. He cared far too much about the welfare of the people".

 

A telling statement about both Napoleon and Caesar. People like Napoleon and Frederick the Great admired him as they saw him. But it is not just kings and rulers who must admire Caesar. Alexander Hamilton, a republican to the core, declared that Julius Caesar was the greatest man in history. Today we have Michael Parenti, and he is certainly not alone in seeing Caesar as something far, far more as just another tyrant.

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Seutonius suggests a number of reasons why Caesar, being fully aware of the danger, chose to ignore it. One of those was poor health and if I recall, a documentary of a few years ago suggested that this ill health was of the sort that was robbing him of his dignity. The suggestion was that his condition and the knowledge that he had nothing further to gain rendered him literally careless. I wonder, can anybody recall the documentary? I am very sketchy but simply remember the emphasis put on I think, a digestive disorder.

 

I put little faith myself into those sort of theories about the health of persons of history, ranging from Caesar's epilepsy to the possibility that Henry VIII was brain-damaged.

 

From the descriptions we have from the ancient writers, it comes off quite feasibly that Caesar was simply feeling his years slightly. It really isn't surprising - the man wasn't getting any younger, and had been pushing himself harder than any human really has any right to for the last 16 years, since he began his wars in Gaul. Much as Frederick the Great came back from his wars as "Old Fritz" - aged far beyond his years, and yet he still had it in him to energetically rule for another 20 years or so. There's no real reason to think that Caesar wouldn't have endured for another 15-20 years.

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Caesar's highly unique policy of universal clemency and later his policy of reconciliation are critical to things. Some people argue that it was just a clever ploy to win around opinion in the Civil War, others argue that it was in keeping with his character and was a genuine noble act (I think both). Having won the Civil War he not only pardoned many of his most die-hard opponents, but offered them positions in his government. It was all part of a reaching attempt at unification, not unlike the sort of "Harmony of the Classes" proposed by Cicero, except that in marked contrast to Cicero's hypocrisy, Caesar actually intended to bring benefits to everyone.

Caesar's clemency may have been a bit atypical, but hardly unique; many examples of clemency can be found from Sulla to the last Emperors; if most of them didn't end like Caesar, they must have used their clemency more wisely.

By itself, clemency is a typical tyrannical attribute; the enemies of the state (All the state) were pardoned by Caesar (Only him and just him).

Ergo, Caesar Was the state. He even (sic) "offered them positions in his government ".

Then, the mere existence of any Roman was a gracious gift from Caesar.

As any politician, Caesar promised benefits to anyone; he only required Everything in exchange.

The use of any autocrat's clemency should be determined by careful political calculations; nobleness should not have a place at all. Otherwise, he/she erred his/her job.

Would you explain to me how Gelzer's hypothesis is "completely against all what Caesar ever did either in war or in politics"? I think it is quite the opposite - it is exactly in keeping with the way he conducted politics, and especially in keeping with the way he conducted his wars... As far as relying on their intelligence went... On the contrary to your statement, all of the factors and threads in Caesar's life, and especially his last years, can be seen to point to a conclusion that matches Gelzer's hypothesis.

Intelligence is the capacity to acquire and apply knowledge. My own impression is that Caesar had a good deal of it, and that he always counted on having more than his adversaries; otherwise, he wouldn't have dared to begin any ay single battle or any political step.

... he was counting on their understanding that when he predicted the outbreak of a new Civil War on his death, one even more devastating for Rome, he spoke true. This was because Caesar understood what nobody else apparently did, and what later only Augustus would: that Rome had to be ruled by somebody who could control the army, and that the city-state system that was the Republic was obsolete and had to end, indeed, had been effectively ended...

Apparently, what you and maybe Gelzer count on is the lack of intelligence from absolutely any other Roman of his age; that is, unless your definition for "intelligence" is under the heading of "slavishness" (abjectly submissive) in my dictionary.

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Did Caesar trust that his life was so indispensable to the republic that his assassination would be unthinkable? Probably. Did he take any precautions so that his death -- whether natural or artificial -- would not upend the state? Not at all. Could any such actions be undertaken? Sure -- by revoking all his own acts, which served only to monopolize power and make the state dependent on the life of a single man. Of course, had the darling of Venus done that, future monarchs -- from the Caesars of ancient Rome to the last Czars and Kaisars of the 19th and 20th centuries -- wouldn't have been named after that tyrant.

You're asking a self-made autocrat to renounce his power after all the struggle and risks required for winning it; a most extraordinary course of action that would have in all likelihood actually increased the danger for him. It's hard to find bona fide examples for such conduct; after all, Cincinnatus and the other classic dictators were not true autocrats. Not even the Liberatores themselves renounce to power when they had the chance.

On the other hand, a faked resignation, like that of Sulla (ie, preserving his control over the army) might have been in order; Octavius certainly learned that lesson.

To say that Caesar's act served no more purpose than to "monopolize power and make the state dependent on the life of a single man" (which is a false statement by the way) is to make a mockery of the career of one of the most extraordinary, if not the most extraordinary statesmen in history.

That's actually Gelzer's thesis; that Caesar expected his enemies to be "intelligent" enough to perceive such fact.

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Seutonius suggests a number of reasons why Caesar, being fully aware of the danger, chose to ignore it. One of those was poor health and if I recall, a documentary of a few years ago suggested that this ill health was of the sort that was robbing him of his dignity. The suggestion was that his condition and the knowledge that he had nothing further to gain rendered him literally careless. I wonder, can anybody recall the documentary? I am very sketchy but simply remember the emphasis put on I think, a digestive disorder.

There was an old thread about some books that considered Jesus as a re-edition of Caesar; the books themselves were a mess, but there's an obvious parallel between both figures; they were considered as tragic saviors, for whom we normal mortals should be eternally grateful.

Naturally, they were hardly original; there was a long tradition of tragic literature, inherited mainly from the Greeks; and an even longer Roman attraction for the supernatural omens.

The archetype of the tragic hero (ie, Oedipus) unselfishly accepts his duty (and power) even knowing his terrible fate (by supernatural methods, of course). For him, the power is a painful charge, which he must bear just for the sake of Humanity (or even the whole world).

Both Suetonius and Plutarch relied heavily on tragic and supernatural connotations to increase the dramatic effect of Caesar's death. Besides of being excellent for their marketing, such literary trick must have also pleased their patrons, Caesar's ultimate heirs.

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In Answer to Sylla:

 

Caesar did not end the Republic by concentrating all power in the hands of one man (himself). That did not end the Republic any more than did Sulla's reign. Caesar broke the back of the Republic by what he did with his power: laying the foundations for Rome to truly become an empire, as opposed to a city-state that controlled a lot of territory. The essence of the Republic was it being a system designed to run a city-state, and though Rome now controlled vast territories, for all intents and purposes that was what it remained: a city-state. Until Caesar's ground-breaking distribution of citizenship and planting of colonies. That is Gelzer's thesis.

 

I do not conotate intelligence with "slavishness". On the contrary, it is a term I would have applied to the Boni had they worked with Caesar, rather than against him.

 

Caesar did likely aim for an autocracy (such a government being the only real practical one at hand). But it would, I think have been a gentler one than was eventually imposed.

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