Julius Caesar 100 b.c.-44 b.c.
(Full name Gaius Julius Caesar) Roman prose writer, general, and dictator.
Widely acknowledged as a military genius, Caesar extended Rome's boundary to the Atlantic by conquering Gaul, prevailed in the Roman civil war, and in 44 b.c. declared himself dictator for life. His war chronicles, hybrids of commentary and history, are classics in military thought: De Bello Gallico (before 46 b.c.; On the Gallic War) and De Bello Civili (c. 44 b.c.; On the Civil War) are praised by critics for their clarity and precision, and are important historically as the only extant record of many significant events. His exactness and economy in his use of words is best known through his description of vanquishing Zela in Asia Minor: “Veni, vidi, vici,” which translates to “I came, I saw, I conquered.” His oratorical skills were superb; it has been said that only Cicero was his superior. Caesar, Rome's most famous general, has also been immortalized through William Shakespeare's tragedy Julius Caesar. In the play Shakespeare has Cassius say of Caesar: “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world / Like a Colossus, and we petty men / Walk under his huge legs and peep about / To find ourselves dishonorable graves.”
Caesar was born in Rome to Gaius Caesar and Aurelia. Although his family were aristocrats, the power of the patricians was no longer an important factor in politics. In 86 b.c. Caesar was appointed to a position of little importance by Gaius Marius, an important member of the popular party with anti-senatorial views. A couple of years later Caesar married Cornelia, the daughter of Lucius Cornelius Cinna, an associate of Marius. Caesar served with the army in Asia from 81 to 78 b.c. before returning to Rome. He unsuccessfully prosecuted two cases, which nevertheless brought him considerable public attention, and then left for Rhodes to study rhetoric with Cicero's teacher. Pirates interfered with his trip to Rhodes and kidnaped Caesar; later, Caesar hunted the pirates down and crucified them. He returned to Rome in 73 b.c., was elected a priest, and then became a senator in 70 b.c. Caesar served as governor of Farther Spain for the year 61 b.c. and then formed the first triumvirate with Crassus and the general Pompey. He was elected consul in 59 b.c., followed by governship of Roman Gaul. From 58 to 51 b.c. Caesar conquered Gallic Gaul, now part of France. Crassus had died in 53 b.c. and Caesar's good relationship with Pompey ended when Pompey was appointed sole consul in 52 b.c. by the senate. Outright civil war began in 49 b.c. when Caesar crossed the Rubicon river, which separated Gaul and Italy. Caesar conquered Italy, then Spain, and chased Pompey to Egypt, where Pompey had already been murdered by the time of Caesar's arrival. Caesar lived with Cleopatra in Alexandria and fought more campaigns against Pompey's supporters. He became elevated to a godlike level by the citizens of Rome and relished his absolute power; he had a broad vision for reform of Rome, but little time to carry out his plans. Shortly after Caesar declared himself emperor for life in 44 b.c., a group of some sixty senators (out of a total of nine hundred) who believed that Caesar was a threat to the republic, conspired to assassinate him. Caesar was attacked while sitting in his chair at the senate. Although he fended off the first attempt to kill him, a group too powerful for one man to fight rushed him and stabbed him twenty-three times. His death did not strengthen the republic, but rather plunged Rome into a civil war that lasted thirteen years and from which it never fully recovered.
Caesar's commentaries on his campaigns are typically divided into two distinct works. Part one comprises De Bello Gallico, which describes Caesar's battles against Gaul, Britain, and Germany. Its first seven books, covering the period from 58 to 52 b.c., one volume per year, were written by Caesar, but the eighth book was written by Hirtius. The second work is De Bello Civili, which describes the war against Pompey. Its three books, covering the years 49 to 48 b.c., were also written by Caesar. The final commentaries on Caesar are composed by others: they include Bellum Alexandrium, Bellum Africum, and Bellum Hispaniense. The last three works leave off at 45 b.c.. Caesar also wrote a book on grammar, a collection of witty sayings and jokes, and some poems. Except for a few lines quoted in the writings of others, these works are no longer extant.
Considerable controversy exists concerning exactly when Caesar wrote De Bello Gallico and when it was first published. If it was written during the years 52 to 51 b.c., as many historians believe, Caesar's motives for writing it would have been vastly different than if had written it years later. As C. E. Stevens and others have indicated, Caesar intended to run for office in 50 b.c.. The work was definitely published by 46 b.c.; if it was published nearer to that date than to 51 b.c., Caesar would have had less reason to distort his record, as scholars point out. This leads to another area of controversy, that of deciding what audience Caesar addressed in his writings. Another matter of interest to critics is one of genre. There has been much debate concerning how best to describe Caesar's work: notes, commentarii, annals, or historia? F. E. Adcock explains how Caesar incorporated elements from all of these genres to create a composite form. Scholars also vigorously discuss the question of how honest Caesar is in the way he describes events. While all agree that no one can be totally objective in describing events in which he himself prominently figures, some critics believe that some of Caesar's interpretations are deliberately misleading. C. E. Stevens accuses Caesar of juggling facts. John H. Collins is inclined to believe Caesar; he thinks some of the problem comes from readers reading too much into Caesar's words. Andreola Rossi, however, points out that Caesar intends his readers to reach the stretched interpretations they sometimes reach. J. P. V. D. Balsdon concludes his study of the problem of Caesar's veracity with no firm conclusion except that extremists on either side of the question are likely wrong. Caesar's lucid writing style has been criticized as being too plain, monotonous, and pedestrian, but this view is now largely being eclipsed. H. C. Gotoff, for example, credits Caesar with employing some interesting variations of Latin grammar. Military historians praise Caesar's study of the large picture of war and are fascinated by his explanation of tactics. Adcock writes regarding the way Caesar describes battles, “it is hard to imagine how better it could be done.”