Julius Caesar As One Of A Prominent Figures In Rome
Julius Caesar was not only one of the most well-known figures in Rome’s history but was arguably one of the greatest military leaders of all time. From his invasion of Gaul to his triumphant victory in Pompey, Caesar was destined to be the next ruler of Rome. His accomplishments would lead Rome to success and make the people of Rome proud to be under the rule of Caesar. However, Caesar’s success as a general did not translate well to his rise in power. Before Caesar is crowned as the new ruler of Rome, he is killed by his council who he thought admired and respected him and wanted to see him as king. Although it is true that Caesar suffered from health problems such as epilepsy and made questionable decisions according to his council, Caesar did not deserve to be killed. The senators who plotted to kill Caesar and manipulated and deceived the people around him in the hopes of restoring Rome as a successful city, set Rome on a course that would only seal its fate. The reason Caesar’s death was clearly a mistake by the immoral council is shown by the affects his death has on certain characters in the play and on the city of Rome.
Due to the contributions that Caesar gave to both the city and people of Rome, it would hardly be a surprise that he would be the next ruler. For instance, Caesar was idolized and admired by the people of Rome for many reasons; one reason being how Caesar dealt with a widespread debt in Rome caused by a civil war, which resulted in both lenders and borrowers suffering as a result. According to Mary T. Boatwright, Caesar reinstated a previous law that says property sold must be accepted for repayment at its pre-war value. He also reinstated a previous law which forbade the holding of more than 60,000 sesterces in cash by any one person. Caesar later cancelled all interest payments since the beginning of 49 BC, and allowed permitted tenants to pay no rent for one year (Boatwright, Mary, From Village to Empire, Ross 2015). While Caesar’s actions did not quite fix Rome’s debt, his creative thinking and quick decision making helped alleviate the debt in a way that satisfied not only lenders and borrowers, but also showed to the people of Rome of the leadership skills that Caesar possesses for the throne. Another reason that the people of Rome wanted Caesar to become the next ruler of Rome was because of Caesar’s nobleness. As Plutarch talks about Caesar in his battles he says “He succeeded, however, in making his retreat into a strong position, where, when he had mustered and marshaled his men, his horse was brought to him; upon which he said, “When I have won a battle, I will use my horse for the chase, but at present let us go against the enemy.” (Plutarch, Plutarch’s Lives Volume 2, Wilder 2012) While Caesar could have just stayed on his horse and let his men fight for him, he instead decides to stay and fight alongside them, showing how Caesar will stand with his men and help them in the battle regardless of their rank. This would not be the only time Plutarch talks highly of Caesar as later on in his volume, Plutarch describes the actions of Caesar and of his inner conflict as he says “Caesar was born to do great things, and had a passion after honour, and the many noble exploits he had done did not now serve as an inducement to him to sit still and reap the fruit of his past labours, but were incentives and encouragements to go on, and raised in him ideas of still greater actions, and a desire of new glory, as if the present were all spent. It was in fact a sort of emulous struggle with himself, as it had been with another, how he might outdo his past actions by his future.” (Plutarch, Plutarch’s Lives Volume 2, Wilder 2012) Caesar’s inner conflict about his future goals reflects his nobleness because as Caesar continues to pursue more difficult goals, he credits his noble mindset as the main reason for his past achievements. He even convinces himself that this mindset will continue to carry him to achieve goals that make his past achievements seem like minor tasks. While Julius Caesar’s leadership combined with his noble mentality should have made him a clear candidate to become the next ruler of Rome, the counsel however were not convinced of Caesar’s leadership due to his questionable actions and concerning health problems.
The council considered Caesar’s rise to power as a threat to the city of Rome, due to a series of questionable actions by Caesar and his concerning health problems. For example, as Caesar began to write more constitutional reforms, the council interpreted this as a deceitful way for Caesar to overthrow the Roman Republic and to form a monarchy. According to Frank Frost, Caesar limited the terms of governors and then increased the number of Senators in the Senate. Before this law was implemented, Caesar had the power to control the process of how a Senate member could be nominated and now he was able to increase the number of Senators, thereby letting him chose more members of Senate that were loyal to him (Frost, Frank, Roman Political Institutions, Theclassics 2013). It’s reasonable for the council to assume that Caesar’s new reform was a way to keep himself in power, since he now not only had the ability to eliminate any members of the Senate that disagreed with him, but he could now increase the number of Senate members who were more loyal to him. Another way in which the counsel had witnessed a questionable change in Caesar’s actions is shown in Shakespeare’s play when Caesar is asked to grant forgiveness to Cimber for his crime and he responds with “Thy brother by decree is banished… Caesar doth not wrong, nor without cause … But I am as constant as the Northern Star” (3.1.45-60). Caesar’s response to ask for forgiveness clearly shows he does not think that he should forgive anyone since he states that he is never wrong, and the fact that he is being questioned makes him feel quite insulted. Caesar even refers to himself in the third person showing a very peculiar trait not shown by the counsel before. Obviously after seeing this the council would feel that someone who is so arrogant and odd is not fit to become the next ruler of Rome. The counsel not only had to deal with the actions of Caesar, but also had to factor in his health when deciding whether or not he deserves to rule. For example, when Suetonius writes about the complexion of Julius Caesar, he describes Caesar as having “keen black eyes; sound of health, except that towards the end he was subject to sudden fainting fits and to nightmare as well.” (Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Penguin 2016) As Caesar suffered with health problems, it makes sense for the counsel to think that a man like this wouldn’t have the proper mind to lead a civilization and therefore could not be the next ruler of Rome. While Caesar’s actions and health could have been reasonable evidence that the council should assassinate Caesar, in reality, this “evidence” would backfire on the counsel as not only were their reasons to save Rome a devious lie, but Caesar’s death would plague the minds of certain council members and the ones who weren’t plagued by his death suffered the fallout that the city of Rome endured as it transitioned from a republic to a monarchy.
The assassination of Julius Caesar ultimately proved to be unjustified, and this is mostly shown by the effects Julius Caesar’s death would have on certain members of the council. In order to analyze the effects Caesar death had on the council, it’s important to know the effects that social class had in Rome. According to Michael Parenti, the upper class of Rome hated and feared the common people of Rome (who all loved Caesar) and anyone else who wanted to limit the privileges they had. The oligarchs were no exception as they cherished the luxury and wealth that came with being part of such a class and despised the dedicated leaders who took it upon their cause to take their luxuries away and to give it to the lower class (Parenti, Michael, A People’s History of Ancient Rome, The New Press 2003 ). The greed that the council of Rome has makes it difficult to believe that these people wanted to kill Caesar for the benefit of the city and the people. It makes more sense that the council wanted to kill Caesar just so they didn’t have to share their wealth with the lower class. Caesar’s death would specifically torment the minds of council members who were once noble. In Shakespeare play we are introduced to Brutus who, like Caesar, was loved by the people of Rome. Brutus eventually becomes, according to Aristotle, a tragic hero, who is someone that is noble but makes a judgement error that leads to his demise (Aristotle, Poetics, Brill 2012). For Brutus, his judgement error was to join the conspiracy to kill Caesar and not realizing that he was being manipulated by the council in order to kill Caesar due to his power, and not for the benefit of the city or the Roman Republic. This is shown in the play when Brutus is plagued by nightmares about Caesar and his wife says “you suddenly arose and walked about l, Musing and sighing, with your arms cross’. From this quote it is clear to say that Brutus is going mad thinking about Caesar’s death and he can’t seem to convince himself that what he did was honorable. According to Aristotle, Brutus’s bravery and moral codes is what leads him to his judgment error and eventually his death and his death, supposedly, purges the audience of emotions as Brutus never realizes that the council never cared about Rome and the justification of Caesar’s death like he did. Caesar’s death would change the council for the worse as their goal to kill Caesar corrupted the minds of certain council members, and their desire to keep their wealth would backfire as the city of Rome would suffer from the actions of the council.
As the council murdered Julius Caesar in cold blood, they thought that his death would be the end of a new monarchy. However, the counsels plan inevitably failed as not only would they suffer the death of Caesar, but the Roman Republic that they tried to keep together crumbled, as the city of Rome soon became the Roman Empire after a series of civil wars that ensued after Caesar’s death, and the people of Rome would endure the transition of government. The civil wars that Rome would be a part of faced a small glimpse of it in Shakespeare’s play, when Mark Antony tells the people of Rome that Caesar’s death was caused by the council and in their rampage they kill a man named Cinna who has the same name as one of the council members (3.2.28-35). The rampage that Antony creates symbolizes the future of Rome under the Roman Republic without Julius Caesar, as the lack of discipline, control, and respect that the people of Rome show to the council of the Roman Republic and the city makes it clear that the current government of Rome is not fit to lead without Julius Caesar. According to William C. Morey, the council had little to no ideas on how to effectively lead the Roman Republic after the death of Caesar as he states “Whatever may have been their motives, they seem to have taken little thought as to how Rome would be governed after they had killed their tyrant…The only leading man of the senate who had survived the last civil war was Cicero; but Cicero with all his learning and eloquence could not take the place of Caesar.” (Morey, William, Outlines of Roman History, American Book Company). It is clear that the council did not think broadly enough on what they would be able to do to effectively take over and lead the Roman Republic. With the lack of leadership and planning shown by the council, how could the city of Rome continue its prosperity like it did with Julius Caesar. Of course, the lack of leadership skills and dominance shown by the council would lead to the fall of the Roman Republic and to the rise of the Roman Empire led by Julius Caesar’s nephew Octavius. According to Polybius, while the Roman Empire started off well due to the leadership skills of Octavius, there came faults with the rise of the empire, as Polybius states that Rome would suffer a decline in moral and religious values as the empire grew larger (Polybius, The Rise of the Roman Empire, Penguin 2003). While the Roman Empire would not be as bad as the people of Rome originally thought, the lack of moral values that the council imprinted on the city of Rome lingered and had its effect on society as shown by the decline of moral and religious values.
Julius Caesar was one of the most prominent figures in Rome’s history. With his leadership and brilliant military mindset, the Roman Republic could have prospered farther than it ever could have imagined. While he suffered health problems and exhibited questionable actions by the council, his death would ultimately be unjustified as shown by the effects his death had on the minds of certain council, and the already corrupt members of the council would be unable to stop the transition of Rome from a republic to an empire like they had originally wanted. Without the leadership skills and dominance over the people like Julius Caesar had, the council would be unable to lead the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire would take its place instead.
- Boatwright, Mary Taliaferro. The Romans from village to empire. W. Ross MacDonald School Resource Services Library, 2015.
- Plutarch. Plutarch’s Lives Volume 2. Vol. 2, Wilder Publications, 2012.
- Abbott, Frank Frost. History and description of Roman Political Institutions. Theclassics Us, 2013.
- Suetonius, et al. The Twelve Caesars. Penguin Books, 2016.
- Shakespeare, William, et al. Julius Caesar. Cambridge University Press, 2017.
- Parenti, Michael. The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History of Ancient Rome. The New Press, 2003.
- Morey, William C. “Roman History.” Outlines of Roman History, American Book Company, forumromanum.org/history/index.html.
- Polybius, et al. The Rise of the Roman empire. Penguin, 2003