Author Topic: Caesar Tyrant, or Savior?  (Read 4107 times)

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Giuliano Taverna

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Caesar Tyrant, or Savior?
« on: August 07, 2009, 09:29:26 pm »
Gaius Iulius Caesar is one of the most controversial figures in History. Common lore holds that Caesar was a tyrant; the first emperor in a civilization that went from a noble republic to a vicious empire. However one must remember that modern interpretations have been dyed by centuries of political bias and misinformation. Just as Rome has been unfairly reviled by history, so too has Caesar, the quintessential roman been unfairly treated by the fickle minds of the populous. So was Caesar a tyrant or a savior?
First off, what is a tyrant? Modern history has offered innumerable examples of tyranny, I think however a suitable example can be found in the person of Adolf Hitler. Adolf Hitler exemplifies the tyrant, he was brutal, power-hungry, mentally unstable, and completely and irrevocably evil. He, (Hitler) stared a war that ruined whole swaths of the world, brought chaos and misery to his homeland, and his neighbors. Hitler murdered untold innocents for his own twisted reasons. Furthermore Hitler completely abolished representative government and ruled with an iron fist, persecuting anyone who would speak against him. Hitler was tyranny personified.
What is a savior? Again we have many examples to chose from, but I have elected to go with a figure dear to all Americans, George Washington. George Washington exemplifies all the qualities of a just leader. George Washington was only brutal when he needed to be, sought glory but not at the expense of his virtue and that of his country. He, (Washington) was of sane and sound mind, and can be generally regarded as having a good character. He, (Washington) wagged a war for the cause of his people, which established a nation that would one day become the sole global superpower. He, (Washington) brought destruction only to those who were against him, and brought peace and prosperity to all his allies, (except the French.) Washington was responsible for deaths, as is any leader, but those who died, (ether by the hand of Washington of on the order of Washington), died for the cause of liberty and because of their attacks on the senate and the people of the united colonies. Furthermore Washington completely abolished non representative government and ruled only by virtue of the will of the people and of the senate, which represents the people. He persecuted anyone who would put at risk the safety of the nation and the freedoms which it represented, protecting the ability of all citizens to speak their mind, even if it was in rebuke of him. Washington was Savior personified, the polar opposite of Hitler.
Now what is Caesar? To grapple this we must first know the man. Born Gaius Iulius Caesar on July 13, 100BC into the patrician family Iulia, which according to legend descended from Iulius son of Aeneas the Trojan hero, who was himself the son of Venus the god of love. This noble roman of supposedly divine blood, found his family on hard times. Overshadowed by more prominent families, the gens Iulia was an obscure patrician family in a republic on the decline.
The republic was in tumult, when Caesar was just 9 years old the social war broke out when the allied states of Italy demanded full Roman citizenship and attempted to seize it by force. The senate was already at this time divided between the Optimates and the Populares, the premiere generals, (both related to Caesar either by marriage or blood) were on separate camps.
Gaius Marius, the uncle of Caesar was a Populares, meaning in favor of the people, the popularizes advocated empowering the plebian class and extending roman citizenship to all of Rome's people, first among them the allied Italians, who were the most loyal and culturally assimilated people in the empire. They also were against slavery as it took the jobs of the plebes and attempted to instate a form of welfare, called the grain dole.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix, the future husband of Mamercus Aemilius Lepidus Livianus, mother of Pompeia, second wife of Julius Caesar, was an Optimate meaning “The best of men” or “The good men” were a conservative faction that advocated limiting public assembly and extending the powers of the senate. They often worried that allowing the people to have too much power would enable a general to march on Rome and be made a new king, which was a self fulfilling prophecy.
After the social war was concluded, which resulted in bloody reprisals for the revolting tribes and a new law proposed by Lucius Iulius Caesar the 3rd. The Lex Iulia which ordered full roman citizenship to all Latin and Italian communities who had not participated in the war against Rome.
Mithridates VI of Pontus threatened to launch a massive invasion of Roman provinces in Asia minor. The two victorious generals, (and in-laws) Gaius Marius and Luscious Cornelius Sulla both competed for prominence in the war. At first Sulla was given command, but as soon as he had left the city it was revoked and given to Marius, Sulla then marched on Rome and sent Marius into exile. Marius responded by putting together a makeshift army of his Populare supporters and seizing Rome while Sulla was on campaign, he then declared Sulla an enemy of the state, he died in early in 86 BC but his supporters remained in power. After Sulla defeated Mithridates, he quickly moved to defeat the Populare faction. He reclaimed Rome, exhumed the body of Marius and threw it into the Tiber river. He, (Sulla) was named dictator for life and handed out bloody reprisals against his political opponents, Caesar being the nephew of Marius was stripped of his inheritance, priesthoods, and forced into hiding.
This propelled Caesar to join the army, it also affirmed his loyalties to the Populare faction which would eventually motivate him to overthrow the increasingly corrupt and tyrannical senate. Caesar rose through the ranks, growing in popularity, and influence.
He would soon become embroiled in the conflict that would secure his reputation as one of histories greatest generals, the Gallic war. In the Commentarii de Bello Gallico Caesar give a first hand account of all the details of his conquest and denotes considerable detail, to both the political and cultural realities of Gaul, and how he used these factors to ensure victory.
In his war, he, (Caesar) demonstrates his honestly and political tact time and time again, his dealing with the Aeduian Divitiacus and his brother Dumnorix are a perfect example of this, the former was a loyal allies and the later was conspiring to unite the whole of Gaul in revolt against Caesar. In passages 1:16-1:18 of the Gallic war, Caesar discovers this fact and deals with it, without damaging his alliance to the Aedui or putting the war at risk. He also affirms his motives with fair dealings and generous peace terms, in passages 1:27-1:30 he send the Helvetii back to their territory, thus preserving the status quo in favor of Rome and of the Gaul's excluding the Helvetii, who neither gained nor lost anything, except the ability to wage war.
He, (Caesar) won great renown in Gaul and marched his army back to Rome. fearing his growing influence, and sensing that Caesar intended to use his influence, (and his army) to force his Populare reforms, they, (certain influential men in the senate) ordered him to disband his army and end his consulship early, technically illegal seeing as how both the Tribunes of the Plebes and most of the senate had ruled in favor of Caesar. Roman politics it must be said are bloody. In all likelihood Caesar if he had complied with the senate's request would have been murdered on his return to Rome. Caesar sensing the danger wrote that he would disband his army, if Pompey, (another roman general which the senate had given command of an army to defend against Caesar) would disband his. The senate, (acting in such as way as to confirm the idea that they had no intention of letting Caesar live) refused. Caesar marched on Rome, knowing full well the populous and most of the senate and all of the army, (excluding the men under Pompey) were in favor of him and thus he had only to march to his prize.
Caesar marched on Rome, declared Pompey an enemy of the state and quickly moved to secure his flank against Pompey's supporters in Spain, before following him to Greece were he had assembled an army. After some initial defeats, Caesar decisively defeated Pompey, and then pursued him to Egypt, (were he was assassinated on the order of the Macedonian Pharaoh, Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator.) After the civil war had ended, Caesar was haled by the people in a triumph. He, (Caesar) was named dictator for life, and began to institute some of his reforms, for one he invented the Julian Calendar, (which is almost exactly the same as the modern calendar we use today), he increased the number of members in the senate from 600-900, mostly new senators were from provinces and not from Rome, thus bringing in new ideas and breaking some of the elitism that had plagued the senate. Caesar also refined roman law, and stared a colonization effort to spread roman culture and to reward his legions in retirement. He, (Caesar) was turning Rome from a city state into a modern nation. In Plutarch, life of Caesar, he, (Plutarch a Greek author and statesmen) says the following.
"Caesar carried out his reforms in the traditional manner, in the centuriate and tribal assemblies, the senate and through edicts. He rarely tampered with the traditions of the Republic; only in his concepts of citizenship and the provinces did his visionary genius truly seem to appear.
Despite this moderation, people were more and more beginning to speak of Caesar the Tyrant or Caesar the King, though no grounds for such thoughts were visible in his reforms." Plutarch
Unfortunately one of Caesars mistakes was being too lenient with his enemies, unlike Sulla he did not have his enemies killed and gave them amnesty, he was assassinated by conspirators, (the same men he spared) on march 15, 44 BC.
In later years his heir and nephew, Gaius Octavian would defeat all of Caesar former opponent's and all pretenders to his legacy, and be proclaimed Caesar Augustus. He, (Augustus) would institute Caesar remaining reforms, rebuild the forum and a great portion of the city, in his own words "I found Rome a city of brick, and left it a City of marble." He established order and ushered in the golden age of the Roman empire starting the famed Pax Romana that lasted Centuries.
In all his life Caesar demonstrates two things, the first was talent that was quite possibly only exceeded my his ambition. The second was that he was a visionary who growing up in a corrupt and chaotic republic, saw that reforms had to be enforced if Rome was to survive and thrive. His legacy is the roman empire, which was born with the reign of Augustus in the year 27 BC and lasted until 1453 when Constantinople, (Nova Roma) the new imperial capital built on order of emperor Constantine the Great, fell to the Ottoman Turks. So ultimately we must judge, who was Caesar more like? Adolf Hitler, (the tyrant) or Gorge Washington, (the savior?)
Caesar was brutal, but not when unnecessary, Caesar was ambitious, but not in such a way as to compromise his beliefs, virtues, and those of the senate, (excluding the corrupt element.) Caesar was sane, as he acted with calculated reason in everything he did. Caesar had many good notions, (the rites of the people, the virtues of the republic, and the importance of order) so he was not evil. Furthermore he, (Caesar) did not actually attack any nation. Caesar was drawn into the Gallic war to defend his allies against attack, and he was forced into the civil war to defend his life and end corruption. In his wake he left the seeds of order and reform that would cement his legacy, (at least in roman eyes) as the savior of the republic and a living god. Indeed after his death the senate which was also the governing body of the roman religion as well as the state, voted to deify Caesar as a god, (the pagan concept of deification being closer to the modern concept of sainthood rather than signifying omnipotence.) So if the Romans the people who knew Caesar and lived with him, thought we was a hero, a god, and a savior. Who are we, more than 2000 years after his death, to judge him an unworthy tyrant?
Caesar was not a tyrant, his impact on Rome was beneficial, and through Rome, the western world as a whole. We can look at Caesar as an example of how far one man can go, if he has ambition, discipline, and the vision to shape history; and ultimately how even the greatest among us can fall before our time. I my find fault with some of the things that Caesar did; but of the man himself, I am not ashamed to express ungrudging admiration.
"It is the duty of a good shepherd to shear his sheep, not to skin them." Tiberius Caesar

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