Julius Caesar

Imperator and Dictator 61 - 44 B. C.

"I came, I saw, I conquered!"

These words express the incredibly strong will
and no-nonsense attitude of one of history's
most famous men. Julius Caesar was
courageous and quick-witted. He was also very
good with people. But most of all, he was a
gambler who knew how to calculate the odds. Willing to stake everything he had,
including his life on a chance to win big in the game of politics and war, he was very
sure of himself even to the point of being arrogant on occasion. The story is told how
he was captured by pirates while still a young man only twenty-two years old. They
planned to ransom him for twenty talents of gold but he explained that he was worth
much more. The pirates agreed and increased his ransom to fifty talents. While he
was their prisoner, he would read to them from books of Roman and Greek
literature. When they showed nothing but scorn for him and his books, Caesar
promised to hunt them all down and put them to death after he was ransomed. The
pirates should have killed him right there instead of laughing at him as if he were a
little banty rooster strutting about making threats. Julius Caesar made good on his
promises, though. After he was released, Caesar borrowed a ship from the governor
of a nearby island and hunted down his captors. After defeating them, he crucified
the whole band, leaving them to die of thirst hanging naked on crosses in the hot
Mediterranean sun.

Julius Caesar's most famous accomplishments include the conquest of Gaul and the
invasion of Britain. The continuous pattern of civil war that had plagued the Roman
Republic continued during the time of Julius Caesar, and he was a major player in
the struggles for power. He defeated his major rival Cnaeus Pompey in 48 B.C. at
the Battle of Pharsalus. Because he continued to concentrate so much power in his
own hands that traditionally belonged to the Senate, Caesar faced steadily growing
opposition from the senators of Rome. Many of them believed that he would put an
end to the Republic and that he was a threat to all that Roman traditions held dear. A
band of conspirators succeeded in assassinating him in 44 B.C., but his memory
remained extremely popular amongst the common people of Rome. This paved the
way for his adopted relative Octavian to gain power and become the first Roman
emperor.

After Caesar's death, there was a curious mixed reaction amongst the Roman people.
Traditionally, Romand abhorred and detested the idea of kingship, and anyone who
gave the impression of supporting a monarchy or aspiring to rule as king became
extremely unpopular. This is an attitude that went way back to the founding of the
Republic. Since Julius Caesar was a dictator, he alienated those citizens with strong
traditional republican views. On the other hand, Caesar was an extremely popular
man, especially amongst the army, the people, and his veterans. It is a curious twist
of Roman psychology (not altogether absent in our own society) that the people
probably were glad that Caesar was safely dead but wanted to honor and grieve for
their fallen hero!

Although it might seem to us that
dragging a corpse to the Forum and
burning it would be a sign that the
person is hated and despised, this was
actually a way of greatly honoring the
deceased. The funeral pyre and public
funeral was the accepted way to bury
great men. After Caesar's death, Marc
Antony gave a speech that has become
famous in history. "We have come
not to bury Caesar, but to honor him...",
it began. In a show of public grief, the
Roman people dragged Caesar's corpse
to the Forum and burned it, showing the
ultimate respect for the man. It is
probably no accident that this speech
also made Antony extremely popular as a friend of the dead Caesar.

The image at above left shows the a very elaborate funeral pyre for an emperor on
the reverse of a sestertius of Antoninus Pius. Although Caesar's funeral was
probably hastily and impulsively carried out by the citizens, this image shows what
the Romans considered to be a funeral worthy of a great man. The body was laid in
state on the top floor. The pyre is constructed of wood and was usually three stories
high. A cage on top held doves, which were released just before the pyre was
lighted. Their flight symbolized