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Julius Caesar Summary and Study Guide

Summary Biography, Timeline, and Study Questions on Gaius Julius Caesar

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Julius Caesar Profile

Julius Caesar Profile

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Julius Caesar may have been the greatest man of all times. His birth date was July 12/13, probably in the year 100 B.C., although it may have been in 102 B.C. Caesar died March 15, 44 B.C., which date is known as the Ides of March.

By age 39/40, Julius Caesar had been a widower, divorce, governor (propraetor) of Further Spain, captured by pirates, hailed imperator by adoring troops, quaestor, aedile, consul, named to an important priesthood, and elected pontifex maximus (although he may not have been installed) -- a lifelong honor usually reserved for the end of a man's career. What was left for his remaining 16/17 years? That for which Julius Caesar was most well known: the Triumvirate, military victories in Gaul, the dictatorship, civil war, and, finally, assassination.

Julius Caesar was a general, a statesman, a lawgiver, an orator, an historian, and a mathematician. His government (with modifications) endured for centuries. He never lost a war. He fixed the calendar. He created the first news sheet, Acta Diurna, which was posted on the forum to let everyone who cared to read it know what the Assembly and Senate were up to. He also instigated an enduring law against extortion.

Caesar vs. the Aristocracy

He traced his ancestry to Romulus, putting him in as aristocratic a position as possible, but his association with his uncle Marius' populism put Julius Caesar in political hot water with many of his social class.

Under the penultimate Roman king, Servius Tullius, the patricians developed as the privileged class. The patricians then took over as the ruling class when the Roman people, who were fed up with kings, drove out Servius Tullius' murderer and successor. This Etruscan king of Rome was referred to as Tarquinius Superbus 'Tarquin the Proud'. With the end of the period of kings, Rome entered into the period of the Roman Republic.

At the start of the Roman Republic, the Roman people were mainly farmers, but between the fall of monarchy and the rise of Julius Caesar, Rome changed dramatically. First it mastered Italy; then it turned its sights to the Carthaginian hold on the Mediterranean, to gain supremacy over which it needed a fighting naval force. Citizen fighters left their fields prey to land speculators, although if all went well, they returned home with ample booty. Rome was building its remarkable empire. Between slaves and the conquered wealth, the hard-working Roman became the luxury-seeking spendthrift. Real work was carried out by slaves. A rural lifestyle gave way to urban sophistication.

Rome Avoided Kings

The governing style that developed as an antidote to monarchy originally included severe limitations on the power of any one individual. But by the time large-scale, enduring wars became the norm, Rome needed powerful leaders whose terms would not end mid-battle. Such men were called dictators. They were supposed to step down after the crisis for which they were appointed, although during the late Republic, Sulla had put his own time limits on his term as dictator. Julius Caesar became dictator for life (literally, perpetual dictator). Note: Although Julius Caesar may have been permanent dictator, he was not the first Roman "emperor".

The conservatives resisted change, seeing the downfall of the Republic in every nuance of reform. Thus Julius Caesar's murder was incorrectly hailed by them as the only way back to the old values. Instead, his murder led to the rise of, first, civil war, and next, the first Roman princeps (from which we get the word 'prince'), whom we refer to as the Emperor Augustus.

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