Julius Caesar

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Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE) - his full name was Gaius Julius Caesar - was a Roman general, politician, and historian. The English pronunciation of his name is JOO-liers SEE-zer, IPA: /'dʒuː lɪ əs 'siː zər/: see also Pronunciation of Latin proper names. The adjective from Julius is Julian; and the adjective from Caesar is Caesarean or Caesarian - both pronounced in the same way with the stress on the second syllable - see-ZAI-riern, IPA: /siː 'zɛə rɪ ən/. For more, see Cæsarean - Cæsarian - Cesarean - Cesarian.

Julius Caesar lived during the final turbulent decades of the Roman Republic. During these years the Republic's oligarchic constitution, under which power ultimately lay in the hands of an aristocratic Senate, was increasingly under threat from powerful generals at the head of large victorious armies, not least among them Caesar himself. Caesar's assassination in 44 led to a period of civil war which ended only in 27 when his great nephew and heir, Octavian, became the first emperor, taking the name Augustus.

Caesar himself came from an aristocratic Roman family, and first achieved significant power in 60 when after military successes in Spain he formed an alliance - usually referred to as the First Triumvirate - with two other great generals, Pompey and Crassus. In 59 he was granted the consulship - the highest political office under the Republic - and, for the following years, the governorship of three provinces - Transalpine Gaul (Southeast France), Cisalpine Gaul (Northern Italy) and Illyricum (the Balkan territory more recently called Yugoslavia) - together with command of a large army. Caesar remained with his army virtually throughout the years 58-52, conducting successful campaigns which resulted in the conquest of the whole of France and involved two brief military expeditions across the English Channel to Britain. Caesar renewed his alliance with Pompey and Crassus in 55, but in 53 Crassus was killed and in 50 Pompey decided to ally himself with Caesar's enemies in the Senate. The next few years were dominated by civil war. Caesar defeated Pompey's forces in 48 at the battle of Pharsalus in Northern Greece, after which Pompey fled to Egypt where he was assassinated; but the civil war did not end until 45 when Caesar defeated an army led by Pompey's sons in the south of Spain.

With the final defeat of Pompey's forces Caesar's military power was unchallengeable. In 46 he was given a dictatorship for ten years, and in 44 a dictatorship for life. (Under the Republican constitution the dictatorship was envisaged as a short term appointment - to be held for, at most, six months - for dealing with a specific crisis or emergency.) Caesar used his unparalleled power to good effect, initiating a number of much-needed reforms - e.g., he took steps to resolve the long-standing problem of debt in Italy, commissioned various programmes of public works , and introduced a new calendar. But despite this, and notwithstanding his refusal to accept the title of rex (king), many members of the Senate found his virtually monarchical power intolerable, and on the Ides (15th) of March Caesar was assassinated by a group of conspirators led by Brutus and Cassius. Two years after his death, in 42, he was accorded divine status by the Senate - a practice which was followed in the case of the first emperor, Augustus, and nearly all the non-Christian rulers of the Roman Empire.

Caesar is the author of two historical works. De Bello Gallico (On the Gallic War) is a record of his military activities in Gaul in 58-52, while De Bello Civili (On the Civil War) deals with his campaigns against Pompey's armies between 49 and 45. Both works are written in a straightforward, succinct style, without any literary embellishment, and give admirably clear - though, unsurprisingly, not always unbiassed - accounts of the events with which they are concerned. They are sometimes referred to as Caesar's Commentarii (i.e., Notebooks, Records, or Journals). Commentarii were in Caesar's time a new literary form in the Roman world, having their (non-literary) origins in the minutes of official bodies and the records and accounts of commercial enterprises. Caesar's Commentarii set an example which was followed by many of the Roman emperors, who wrote, or had others write, official histories of their reigns.