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 four 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 one third 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 in order 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 Roman 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; one year for pro-praetors and two years 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 (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 Senate meetings, as was reserved for the acting Consuls, and was given the right to speak first. He was allowed to start every 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 three years, rather than the standard one year. Of more importance, he accepted the dictatorship, granting him near absolute power in both theory and in practice, for a period of ten 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.
Battle of Munda
In Hispania, the sons of Pompey (Gnaeus and Sextus), along with Caesar's former legate Titus Labienus, had continued to resist Caesar's dominance of the Roman world. The loyalty of the local tribes was mixed, but the Republican forces had little difficulty in raising new armies. In total, the Pompeian forces had recruited 13 legions along with an additional 6,000 cavalry and other auxilia. Caesar arrived in Hispania in late November or early December of 46 BC, with 8 legions and 8,000 cavalry of his own. Caesar's arrival was completely unexpected by the enemy, and the surprise gave him an early advantage.
Over the next three months, both sides did what they could to secure various cities and the loyalty of local tribes. Various minor engagements, though brutal and bloody, took place over the winter months with neither side gaining a clear advantage. It was becoming evident that this was the last hope for the Republicans, as both armies willingly executed captives, and Caesar was uncharacteristically harsh. Near the city of Osuna, on the plains of Munda, Caesar's main force and that of Gnaeus Pompey met for an enormous climactic battle.
In March of 45 BC, the two armies faced off with Gnaeus Pompey holding the high ground, and Labienus commanding the cavalry wing. Caesar was forced to march uphill against the strong enemy position, but he was never one to shirk from a chance at open battle. As his army marched to meet Pompey, and the battle was joined, it soon became clear that this would be among the most ferociously fought battles of Caesar's career. Both armies seemed to sense the importance of what would be the final major battle of this long civil war. Neither army was able to gain an advantage, and both sides likely shifted from moments of sheer panic to believing victory was imminent. The exhausting battle was taking its toll and both commanders left their strategic overview positions to join their men in the ranks. Caesar himself later told friends that he had fought many times for victory, but Munda was the first time he had fought for his life. Finally after an epic struggle, Caesar's Legion X began to make the difference.
Positioned on Caesar's right wing, the tenth started to push back Pompey's wing. Pompey countered by moving forces from his more secure right wing to reinforce the precarious position on his left. Caesar, however, pressed his advantage and sent his cavalry hard against Pompey's now weakened right. Dio Cassius adds that Caesar's ally, King Bogud of Mauretania now came up and threatened Pompey's camp. Labienus, in command of Pompey's cavalry, recognized the threat and broke off from the main battle with his cavalry to secure the camp, but this seemed to have dire consequences. Pompey's men seemed to have viewed this as a general retreat by the one man who knew Caesar so well, and panic was the result. To this point, both sides had likely lost about 1,000 men each, a relatively high figure and indicative of the difficult fighting, but the actions of Labienus sent Pompey's army into all out flight. Caesar's army overwhelmed the retreating enemy and was merciless in its zeal to end the war. Up to 30,000 men were slaughtered in the carnage, including Labienus, but Gnaeus Pompey managed to escape. Still, it would turn out to be the final major battle and victory of Caesar's career, and one that effectively ended land-based resistance.
Over the next few months, Caesar mopped up in Hispania and brutally punished the people for their disloyalty. Gnaeus Pompey was later killed and his brother Sextus, who garrisoned Corduba, managed to flee Spain entirely. He would later become a prominent pirate admiral, disrupting sea trade against both Antony and Octavian during the next civil war, but for now, he was reduced to a lucky survivor. During the mop up campaign, Caesar was joined by his nephew Octavian, and the young man probably secured himself as Caesar's heir during this time. He certainly learned a great deal about provincial administration from his now all-powerful uncle. This unopposed power, however, began to have its effects on Caesar. By the time he returned to Rome in September of 45 BC, the rewards and honors heaped on him were irreversibly alienating him from the Senate and Roman elite. Conspiracy began to take root, and the inevitable end was now only a few months away.
Caesar the God
Caesar returned to Italy in September 45 BC, and among his first tasks was to file his will, naming Octavian as his heir. With that out of the way, he returned to Rome approximately October 1. While away, the Senate had already begun heaping honors on Caesar. Whether Caesar started this process through his own supporters, or others did so trying to gain Caesar's favor, is unknown, but the Senate went along with nearly every recommended honor. Even though Caesar didn't proscribe his enemies, and in fact pardoned nearly every one of them, there seemed to be little open resistance to the great conqueror, at least publicly.
Word of Caesar's victory in Spain reached Rome in late April, and games celebrating this event were to be held on April 21. Caesar apparently began to act with little deference towards the Roman state, and his ego began to alienate the Senate. Along with the games, Caesar was honored with the right to wear triumphal clothing, including a purple robe (reminiscent of the Kings) and laurel crown, on all public occasions. A large estate was being built at Rome's expense, and on state property, for Caesar's exclusive use. The title Imperator also became a legal title that he could use before his name for the rest of his life. An ivory statue in the likeness of Caesar was to be carried at all public religious processions.
Another statue of Caesar was placed in the Temple of Quirinus with the inscription "To the Invincible God." Quirinus, to the Roman people, was the deified likeness of the city's founder and first King, Romulus. This act clearly identified Caesar not only on equal terms with the divine, but with the kings as well. More outrageous, and even more clearly identifying Caesar with the kings, was yet a third statue. This statue was erected on the capitol alongside those of the seven Roman Kings, and with that of Lucius Junius Brutus, the man who led the revolt to expel the Kings in the first place. In yet more scandalous behavior, Caesar had coins minted bearing his likeness. This was the first time in Roman history that a living Roman was featured on a coin, clearly placing him above the Roman state, and tradition.
When Caesar actually returned to Rome in October 45 BC, he further irritated the Senate by giving up his fourth Consulship (which he had held without colleague) and placed Quintus Fabius Maximus and Gaius Trebonius as suffect consuls in his stead. The act of giving up the Consulship was not the issue, but completely disregarding the Republican system of election, and performing these actions at his own whim was. He celebrated a fifth triumph, this time to honor his victory in Spain. Much like his triumph in Africa, even the common people were dismayed, knowing that the victory came directly against fellow Roman opposition.
The Senate, despite their frustration, did little to stop Caesar's excesses. In fact, they continued to encourage more honors. A temple to Libertas was to be built in his honor, and he was granted the title 'Liberator'. They elected him Consul for the next 10 consecutive years, and allowed to hold any office he wanted, including those generally reserved for Plebeians, like the Tribune. They also seemed willing to grant Caesar the unprecedented right to be the only Roman to have imperium. In this, Caesar alone would be immune from legal prosecution and would technically have the supreme command of the Legions. There was a seemingly continual flow of honors, and while most sources agree that Caesar likely did little to encourage these, he also accepted them all with little objection.
More honors continued, including the right to appoint half of all magistrates, which were supposed to be elected positions. He also appointed magistrates to all provincial duties, a process previously done by draw of lots or through the approval of the Senate. A tribe of the people's assembly was to be named for him, and his birthday, July 13, was to be recognized as a national holiday. And this after the month of July had already been named in his honor. He began to wear the red shoes previously only worn by the ancient kings, and a temple and priesthood was established and dedicated in honor of his family.
Caesar, however, did have a reform agenda, and took on various subjects and social ills. He passed a law that prohibited citizens between the ages of 20 and 40 from leaving Italy for more than 3 years unless on military assignment. This theoretically would help preserve the continued operation of local farms and businesses, and prevent corruption abroad. If a member of the social elite did harm or killed a member of the lower class, then all the wealth of the perpetrator was to be confiscated. Clearly Caesar, despite his now raging ego, still had the best interest of the state at heart, even if he believed that he was the only one capable of running it. A general cancellation of all debt also greatly relieved the public and helped to endear him even further to the common population.
Additionally, great public works were undertaken. Rome was a city of significant urban sprawl and unimpressive brick architecture which desperately needed a renewal to show it as the capitol of the western world. A new Rostra of marble, along with court houses and marketplaces, were being built. A public library under the great scholar Varro was in the works. The Senate house - the Curia Hostilia - which had been recently repaired, was abandoned for a new marble project to be called the Curia Julia. The Pontine Marshes were drained and filled, and a canal dug in the Corinthian Isthmus to aid in trade. The city pomerium (or sacred boundary) was extended in order to allow for additional growth. Despite these improvements, the enmity between the Senate and Caesar continued to grow, but the Senate did little to argue with Caesar in person. Instead, they continued to heap honors on him, yet blamed him for his excesses.
Caesar the King
At the onset of 44 BC, the honors heaped upon Caesar continued and the subsequent rift between he and the aristocrats deepened. He had been named 'Pater Patriae' (Father of the Country) and 'Dictator Perpetuus' (Dictator for Life). This title even began to show up on coinage bearing Caesar's likeness, clearly placing him above all others in Rome. Some among the population even referred to him as 'Rex' for King, but this Caesar refused to accept, at least publicly. At Caesar's new temple of Venus, a Senatorial delegation went to consult with him, and Caesar refused to stand to honor them upon their arrival. Though the event is clouded by several different versions of the story, it is quite clear that the Senators present were deeply insulted. He attempted to rectify the situation later by exposing his neck to his friends and saying he was ready to offer it to anyone who would deliver a stroke of the sword. This seemed to at least cool the situation, but the damage was done. The seeds of conspiracy continued to grow.
The fear of Caesar becoming King continued when someone placed a diadem (crown) on the statue of Caesar on the Rostra. The tribunes, Gaius Epidius Marcellus and Lucius Caesetius Flavius, removed the diadem and Caesar's reaction was one of displeasure, though he did nothing about it at the time. It is difficult to determine Caesar's exact position on the matter, but it seems quite likely that many public events like this may have been staged to gauge the reaction of the people. This too would begin to build a common perception that Caesar was King even without the title, perhaps making the eventual transition from Republic to monarchy less difficult.
Not long after the incident with the diadem, the same two tribunes had citizens arrested after they called out the title 'Rex' to Caesar as he passed by on the streets of Rome. Now seeing his supporters threatened, Caesar acted harshly. He ordered those arrested to be released, and instead took the tribunes before the Senate and had them stripped of their positions. Caesar had originally used the sanctity of the Tribunes as one reason for the start of the civil war, and now hypocritically revoked their power for his own gain.
At the coming festival of the Lupercalia, the biggest test of the Roman people for their willingness to accept Caesar as King was to take place. On 15 February 44 BC, Caesar sat upon his gilded chair on the Rostra, wearing his purple robe, red shoes and a golden laurel. Armed with the title of Dictator for Life, and with his rather kingly appearance, it seemed the right time to stage a public display. After the race around the pomerium that was a tradition of the festival, Marcus Antonius ran into the forum and was raised to the Rostra by the priests attending the event. Antony produced a diadem and attempted to place it on Caesar's head, saying "the people offer this [the title of King] to you through me." There was, however, little support from the crowd, and Caesar quickly refused, being sure that the diadem didn't touch his head. The crowd roared with approval, but Antony, undeterred attempted to place it on Caesar's head again. Still there was no voice of support from the crowd, and Caesar rose from his chair and refused Antony again, saying, "Jupiter alone is King of the Romans." The crowd wildly endorsed Caesar's actions.
The event, likely staged, may have had two political motivations. First, had the crowd supported Antony, Caesar may very well have accepted, and perhaps the true intention was a simple test of the people. Another theory is that Caesar wanted a massive public event to be able to declare that he didn't want the title, and perhaps mend fences with the Senate. Either way, it was quite clear that the common citizens were not ready for a crowned king.
All the while, Caesar was still planning a campaign into Dacia and then Parthia. The Parthian campaign stood to bring back considerable wealth to Rome, along with the potential return of Crassus' lost standards. Conquest of Parthia would not only further inflate Caesar's legendary status, but may be just the sort of popular agenda that would make the idea of a Roman king acceptable. Caesar planned to leave in April of 44 BC, and the secret opposition that was steadily building had to act fast. Made up mostly of men that Caesar had pardoned already, they knew their only chance to rid Rome of Caesar was to prevent him ever leaving for Parthia.