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49-44 BC - Julius Caesar - Later Life

At length, the rivalry of Caesar and Pompey reached its culmination. Controlled by Pompey, the senate refused Caesar the privilege of standing in absence as candidate for the consulship, and had ordered him to surrender the command of his army in Gaul at the expiration of his term, in March, 49. Realizing that this would place him at the mercy of his enemies Caesar led his armed forces across the Rubicon, a small stream that separated his province from Italy proper, and so began the civil war.

To cross the Rubicon into Italy with a single legion, as Caesar did in 49 BC, seemed the height of rashness. He had behind him only the Gallic provinces and an army of nine legions quartered at different points in the North. His enemies controlled all the rest of the civilized world and the Roman treasury, and had a force far outnumbering his. He was a rebel against a state which had placed itself under the protection of the most experienced general of the time. But in Caesar's camp there was one leader and one plan of campaign only. The counsels of his enemies were divided, and even Pompey's authority was not supreme. Caesar's troops were within striking distance of Italy, and were hardened by years of campaigning in Gaul. Pompey had to rely largely upon levies of new recruits or of veterans long out of service.

The course of events proved the wisdom of Caesar's decision. Advancing quickly from Ravenna along the coast of the Adriatic, he threw the Pompeians at Rome into such a panic that they evacuated the city within a fortnight, and withdrew hastily toward the southeast. Pompey saw that it was useless to make a stand in Italy, and hurrying down tb Brundisium embarked for Epirus just in time to escape being intercepted by his opponent. Caesar felt himself unprepared to follow the enemy at once, and after a few week's stay in Italy, crossed over to Spain, which was held for Pompey by his three lieutenants, Petreius, Afranius, and Varro. By a clever move on Caesar's part, Petreius and Afranius were cut off from their supplies and forced to surrender, and Varro's submission soon followed. Spain had been won within a month and a half of Caesar's arrival in the peninsula.

Then he returned for the real struggle with Pompey. With six legions he made a successful landing at Oricum in Epirus in November, 49 BC, and in April of the following year Mark Antony joined him with four more, but Caesar's legions were depleted by sickness and long campaigns, while Pompey's army had grown to a total of nine legions, supported by a large body of auxiliaries and a strong fleet. Caesar placed his army between Dyrrachium and Pompey's camp, and at once began offensive operations in the hope of blockading him; but the Pompeian forces broke through his lines and inflicted so severe a loss upon him that later, when Caesar advanced into Thessaly, Pompey followed him and was induced by his overconfident advisers to risk a battle at Pharsalus, on August 9, 48 BC. Pompey's horsemen swept down upon Caesar's cavalry, overwhelmed them, and charged Caesar's infantry on the flank, but the tenth legion, supported by cohorts of veterans, which were stationed at this point, stood like a rock. At this moment Caesar threw his reserves into the battle and Pompey's lines broke and retreated in disorder.

Pompey himself, who fled for safety to Egypt, was put to death by order of King Ptolemy, as he was landing at Pelusium. "His remains were buried on the shore," as Appian tells us, "and a small monument was erected over them, on which some one wrote this inscription: 'What a pitiful tomb is here for one who had temples in abundance.'" "Such," says the Roman historian Velleius Paterculus, "was the departure from life of a most excellent and illustrious man, after three consulships and as many triumphs, who had ruled the whole world and had reached a position above which it was not possible to rise."

To Egypt Caesar followed the Pompeians, and remained there, held by the settlement of political affairs and by the charms of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, until the late spring of 47 BC, when he was called to Armenia Minor to check the ambitious projects of Pharnaces, son of the Mithridates who had caused the Romans so much trouble a quarter of a century before. The battle of Zela restored the Roman prestige in that region, and Caesar was free to turn his attention to the massing of the Pompeian forces in Africa. Landing near Hadrumetum, he defeated Scipio the Pompeian leader with his allies at Thapsus, and captured Utica soon after, notwithstanding Cato's vigorous efforts to defend it.

When Cato saw that the city could be held no longer he took his own life. The story of his death has been told by one of Caesar's own followers: "Cato himself arranged everything with the greatest care and commended his children to his proquaestor Lucius Caesar without exciting suspicion, and without showing any change in his bearing and conversation from what they had been aforetime. Then he withdrew, taking with him secretly into his bedchamber a sword upon which he cast himself. He had already fallen, although life was not yet extinct, when a physician and his friends, whose suspicions had been aroused, rushed into his chamber and applied themselves to the bringing together and the binding up of his wound, but Cato with his own hands ruthlessly tore open the wound, and with a resolute heart brought his life to an end."

Cato of Utica, as he was henceforth styled from the scene of his death, was a worthy descendant of his great-grandfather the censor. He may be called the last of the old-time Romans. A man of ostentatious simplicity, of an affected austerity and directness of manner, of the strictest integrity when the Roman state or his fellow-citizens were concerned, but lacking in a sense of justice or mercy toward foreigners, he was still the firm and consistent champion of the republic, and accepted no compromise with the advocates of autocracy. His death was regarded as a dramatic proof of the end of the republic, and created a profound sensation throughout the Roman world, so that even Caesar, notwithstanding the pressure of his further campaigns against the Pompeian forces, took time to reply in his Anti-Cato to the biography of Cato which Cicero wrote, and to defend in it his own political course.

The remnants of the Pompeian forces which had collected in Spain Caesar crushed n 45 BC on the field of Munda, where fell his bitterest foe Labienus, his Gallic lieutenant, the only officer who had deserted him when he crossed into Italy.

From Munda, Caesar returned to Rome to carry out the reforms upon which he had set his heart. The work which Caesar had set himself to do after the battle of Pharsalus [and which was left unfinished at his death], was threefold. He wished to suppress within the limits of Roman territory all armed resistance to a central authority, to establish in Rome a permanent government strong enough to carry out a positive policy in spite of all opposition, and finally to knit together factors in the government.

In 48 the tribunician power was given him for life, and in 44 he was made dictator for life. He probably held the proconsulship permanently, and on several occasions he was regularly elected to the consulship. The dictatorship, consulship, and proconsulship gave him all the positive power which he needed, and the tribunician authority enabled him to hold all other magistrates in check. The magistrates for the immediate future were also brought directly under his control by a measure which allowed him to name all officials for 43, as well as the consuls and tribunes for 42.

He raised the senate to nine hundred in number, and thus robbed it of its exclusive character, and he took care that his own followers should constitute a majority in it. As for the people, they met as before in the comitia, but the selection of candidates for office by Caesar, and the fact that he alone was directly or indirectly the author of all bills laid before the popular assemblies, made the meeting of these bodies largely a matter of form.

The measures which he took to accomplish his third purpose were excellent. He relieved the congestion of Rome by sending out colonies, and by cutting down the list of those who received free supplies of grain. In his admirable Municipal Law he drew up a charter for Italian towns, which gave them their own popular assemblies, senates, magistrates, and courts. Upon the provinces he conferred a great boon by taking into his own hands the appointment of provincial governors. Henceforth provinces ceased to be principalities which were used by officials in filling their pockets or in advancing their political fortunes. Every governor felt his responsibility to a ruler, who would hold him strictly to account. Each province became an integral part of the Roman empire, and its interests received some part of the care, which, under the republic, had been given to Italy only. Under the republic, for it is clear that the republic was now a thing of the past, and that Caesar had really taken into his hands all those powers which in their later natural development gave Augustus and his successors their exalted position.

But while he Caesar was busily engaged in these matters, a plot was forming against his life. The conspirators were actuated by personal and by political motives. Many of them were jealous of Caesar, or, like Cassius, dissatisfied with the recognition which they had received from him. Many members of the senate (for about sixty senators took part in the conspiracy) were aggrieved at the loss of power and prestige which that body had suffered at his hands. Their smouldering discontent was kindled into flame by the new powers and honors conferred on Caesar in the early part of 44 BC, and by the rumors, which were current, that he would be made king and would transfer the seat of government to Alexandria.

The time and place which they selected for the deed were the Ides of March in 44 BC and the senate house. Crowding about him as if presenting a petition, one of their number, Casca, stabbed him with a dagger, the others joined in the assault, and Caesar fell wounded to the death, at the foot of the statue of his great rival Pompey.

In part because of the conspirator's failure to follow up their blow, and in part because of the energy of Mark Antony and other friends of Caesar, the hoped-for restoration of the republic was not realized. For a time it appeared that the dictatorship was to continue, merely transferred from Caesar to Mark Antony. But presently the young Octavian, Caesar's nephew and heir, made his power felt.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:28:32 ZULU