Timeline of World History: Year by Year from Prehistory to Present Day


  Illustrated History of the World

The Ancient World - ca. 2500 B.C. - 900 A.D.

The Ancient World

ca. 2500 B.C. - 900 A.D.


The Rule of the Generals and Emperial Rome

74 B.C.-192 A.D.


The civil war destroyed the structure of the Roman republic. The seizure of power by the generals Pompey, Caesar, and Antonius prepared the way for the transition to autocratic imperial rule finally accomplished by Augustus. The era of imperial Rome had begun. After the dynasty of Augustus, other dynasties ruled including that of Julius Caesar and Octavian, with the emperors increasingly coming from the provinces of the empire rather than from the city of Rome itself. Diocletian's tetrarchy restored a strong system of government to the late Roman Empire.

Pompey, Caesar, and Crassus

The alliance of the generals Pompey and Caesar with Crassus, the richest man in Rome, ended the Republic. In the ensuing power struggle between Caesar and Pompey, it was Caesar who ultimately triumphed.

After Sulla retired as dictator in 79 B.C., two of his followers tried to seize power.

Gnaeus Pompcius Magnus
(Pompey the Great), as a general under Sulla, had liberated Italy's coasts from pirates.

3 Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus



Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus

Pompey the Great, Latin in full Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (born Sept. 29, 106 bc, Rome—died Sept. 28, 48 bc, Pelusium, Egypt), one of the great statesmen and generals of the late Roman Republic, a triumvir (61–54 bc), the associate and later opponent of Julius Caesar. He was initially called Magnus (the Great) by his troops in Africa (82–81 bc).

Early career
Pompey belonged to the senatorial nobility, although his family first achieved the office of consul only in 141. Fluent in Greek and a lifelong and intimate friend of Greek literati, he must have had the normal education of a young Roman nobleman; but his early experience on the staff of his father, Pompeius Strabo, did much to form his character, develop his military capabilities, and arouse his political ambition. The family possessed lands in Picenum, in eastern Italy, and a numerous body of clients, which Strabo greatly enlarged in the year of his consulship. In a civil war (88–87) between the rival generals Lucius Sulla and Gaius Marius, Strabo defied Sulla and favoured the Marians and a fellow general.

After his father’s death, however, Pompey detached himself from the Marians. A report that he was “missing” in Cinna’s army, when it was embarking for the Balkans to deal with Sulla, led to the lynching of Cinna by his troops (84). Pompey’s part in this mutiny is unclear; he next appears with three legions recruited in Picenum, joining Sulla as an independent ally in the campaign to recover Rome and Italy from the Marians (83). Sulla made ample use of his youthful ally’s military abilities. Pompey married Sulla’s stepdaughter. On Sulla’s orders the Senate gave Pompey the job of recovering Sicily and Africa from the Marians—a task he completed in two lightning campaigns (82–81). Pompey ruthlessly executed Marian leaders who had surrendered to him. To his enemies he was Sulla’s butcher; to the troops he was “Imperator” and “Magnus.” From Africa Pompey demanded that a triumph be given him in Rome; he refused to disband his army and appeared at the gates of Rome, obliging Sulla to yield to his demand. After Sulla’s abdication, Pompey supported the renegade Sullan Marcus Lepidus for the consulship of 78. Once in office Lepidus attempted revolution, and Pompey promptly joined the forces of law and order against him. The rising crushed, however, Pompey refused to disband his army, which he used to bring pressure on the Senate to send him with proconsular power to join Metellus Pius in Spain against the Marian leader Sertorius.

The reconquest of Spain taxed Pompey’s military skill and strained his own and the state’s resources to the utmost. In the end it was he, not Metellus, who imposed on Spain a settlement reflecting and promoting his own political aims. His policy was one of reconciliation and rehabilitation. His personal authority and patronage now covered Spain, southern Gaul, and northern Italy. Unlike Metellus, Pompey took his army back to Italy with him, ostensibly to assist in putting down a slave revolt led by Spartacus, but in reality to secure a triumph and election to the consulship for 70. The nobles whom Sulla had restored to power had proved to be more corrupt and incompetent than ever. Pompey promised reforms at home and abroad. A bargain was struck with his rival Marcus Licinius Crassus (who had actually defeated Spartacus), the two were jointly elected consuls, and Pompey was given another triumph. During their joint consulate, they substantially repealed Sulla’s political reforms by restoring the powers of the tribunes and stripping senators of their monopoly as jurors on standing courts.

Reorganization of the East
Although the nobles were to continue to dominate the consular elections in most years, the real sources of power henceforth lay outside of Italy. Extraordinary commands would have to be created if Rome was to recover control of the sea from pirates. It was Pompey who benefitted most from the restoration of tribunician initiative. After his consulship, he waited in Rome while rival nobles undermined the position of Lucius Licinius Lucullus, who was campaigning against Mithradates in Anatolia, and made halfhearted attempts to deal with the pirates. Finally, in 67, the tribune Aulus Gabinius forced a bill through the popular assembly empowering Pompey to settle the pirate problem.

Pompey was still in the East, resettling pirates as peaceful farmers, when in Rome another tribune, Gaius Manilius, carried through, against weakened opposition, a bill appointing Pompey to the command against Mithradates, with full powers to make war and peace and to organize the whole Roman East (66). Pompey displaced Lucullus and lost no time defeating Mithradates in Asia Minor. After the death of Mithradates in 63, Pompey was free to plan the consolidation of the eastern provinces and frontier kingdoms. For 6,000 talents he set up King Tigranes in Armenia as a friend and ally of Rome—and as his own protégé. Pompey rejected the Parthian king’s request to recognize the Euphrates as the limit of Roman control and extended the Roman chain of protectorates to include Colchis, on the Black Sea, and the states south of the Caucasus. In Anatolia, he created the new provinces of Bithynia-Pontus and Cilicia. He annexed Syria and left Judaea as a dependent, diminished temple state. The organization of the East remains Pompey’s greatest achievement. His sound appreciation of the geographical and political factors involved enabled him to impose an overall settlement that was to form the basis of the defensive frontier system and was to last, with few important changes, for more than 500 years.

Pompey’s power and prestige were at their height in December 62, when he landed at Brundisium (Brindisi) and dismissed the army. His third triumph (61) trumpeted the grandeur of his achievement. The following decade was the period of his ascendancy in Italy, an ascendancy that was to be eroded through Caesar’s growing military power and gradual capture of Pompey’s worldwide clientelae, from the power base Caesar, in turn, created in northern Italy and Gaul. Pompey’s inveterate enemies in Rome were the Optimates, the inner ring of nobles, not Crassus or Caesar, who had merely tried to steal the limelight in Pompey’s absence and to manoeuvre into a better position for bargaining with their former political ally. The nobles meanwhile had gradually reasserted their dominance in Rome and hampered attempts to alleviate the condition of Italy and the Roman populace. Once back in Italy, Pompey avoided siding with popular elements against the Optimates. He was no revolutionary. He wanted all classes to recognize him as first citizen, available for further large-scale services to the state. He had divorced his third wife, Mucia, allegedly for adultery with Caesar, and now proposed to ally himself by marriage to the party of the young senatorial leader Marcus Porcius Cato the Younger. But the nobles were closing their ranks against him, and his offer was rebuffed. Lucullus and others were determined to prevent the en bloc ratification of Pompey’s eastern settlement and to reject his demand for land for his veterans.

The First Triumvirate
Help came only when Caesar returned from his governorship in Spain. Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar formed the unofficial and at first secret “First Triumvirate.” (This was not a legal position, and the term, although convenient, is modern.) It was to become more than a mere election compact. It would strain all the resources of the triumvirs to wrest one consulship from the Optimates; their continued solidarity was essential if they were to secure what Caesar gained for them in 59. Caesar, for his part, wanted a long-term command. Pompey, who now married Caesar’s daughter, Julia, saw Caesar as his necessary instrument. Caesar, once consul, immediately forced through a land bill and, shortly after, another appropriating public lands in Campania. Once he had secured a five-year command in Illyria and Gaul he could be relied on to take off a large proportion of Pompey’s discharged troops and give them further opportunities for profitable employment.

Pompey solved the problem of Rome’s grain supply with his usual efficiency, but the nobles kept up their opposition. The year 56 was a critical one for the triumvirs. The nobles concocted religious impediments to prevent the dispatch of Pompey on a military mission to Egypt, while Publius Clodius contrived to persuade Pompey that Crassus had designs on his life. An attempt was made to suspend Caesar’s law for the distribution of Campanian land.

Alarmed at Pompey’s suspicions and truculence, Crassus set off to meet Caesar at Ravenna, and Caesar in turn came to the limit of his province at Luca to meet Pompey. The Luca conference (56) prepared the ground for the next phase of cooperation: Pompey and Crassus were to secure election to the consulship for 55, for they too wanted five-year commands in the provinces, while Caesar’s command was to be renewed for another five years. The three secured their ends by violence and corruption after a prolonged struggle. Early in 55 Pompey and Crassus were at last elected consuls, with most of the lesser magistracies going to their supporters. Caesar obtained the extension of his command, while Pompey and Crassus received commands in Spain and Syria, respectively. Pompey could stay on in Italy and govern his provinces by deputies. But their cooperation was coming to an end. The death of Julia (54) destroyed the strongest bond between Pompey and Caesar, and Crassus suffered disastrous defeat and death in Mesopotamia. The compact existed no longer; but Pompey as yet showed no inclination to break with Caesar.

Civil war
Meanwhile, from outside the walls of Rome, Pompey watched the anarchy in the city becoming daily more intolerable. He was prepared to wait without committing himself until the Optimates found an alliance with him unavoidable. He refused further offers from Caesar of a marriage alliance. There was talk in Rome as early as 54 of a dictatorship for Pompey. Street violence made it impossible to hold the elections. In January 52 Clodius was killed by armed followers of Titus Annius Milo, whose candidacy for the consulship was being bitterly opposed by both Pompey and Clodius. Now both factions exploded into even greater violence. The senate house was burnt down by the mob. With no senior magistrates in office, the Senate had to call on Pompey to restore order. It was the hour he had waited for. He speedily summoned troops from Italy. The nobles would not have him as dictator; they thought it safer to appoint him sole consul.

Pompey’s legislation of 52 reveals his genuine interest in reform and the duplicity of his conduct towards Caesar. He reformed procedure in the courts and produced a panel of respectable jurors. A severe law against bribery at elections was made retrospective to 70 and, for all Pompey’s protests, was rightly taken by Caesar’s friends as aimed at him. Another useful law enforced a five-year interval between tenure of magistracies in Rome and assumption of provincial commands. But this law and another, which prohibited candidature in absence, effectively destroyed the ground of Caesar’s expectation that he should become designated consul, and so safe from prosecution, before he had to disband his army in Gaul. Several attempts were made in the years 51–50 to recall Caesar before the expiration of his second term in Gaul. They were frustrated by the assertiveness of Caesar’s faction and agents in Rome. Pompey, for all his growing fear and suspicion of Caesar’s ambitions, did not come out openly against Caesar until late in 51, when he suddenly made clear his intentions. He declared that he would not consider the suggestion that Caesar should become designated consul while still in command of his army. His proposals for a compromise date for Caesar’s recall were unacceptable to Caesar, whose sole resource now was to use the wealth he had accumulated in Gaul to buy men who could obstruct his enemies in the Senate. When war came, the Senate was evenly divided between Caesar and Pompey. The consulars were solidly for Pompey, although they saw him simply as the lesser evil. Late in 50 the consul Gaius Marcellus, failing to induce the Senate to declare Caesar a public enemy, visited Pompey with the consuls designate and placed a sword in his hands. Pompey accepted their invitation to raise an army and defend the state. Caesar continued to offer compromise solutions while preparing to strike. On Jan. 7, 49, the Senate finally decreed a state of war. Four days later Caesar crossed the Rubicon.

Pompey’s strategic plan was to abandon Rome and Italy to Caesar and rely on his command of the sea and the resources of the East to starve out the Caesarians in Italy; but he did not have the disciplined loyalty and full cooperation of his Optimate allies, and Caesar’s swift advance southward only just failed to prevent his withdrawal from Italy. Across the Adriatic at Dyrrhachium the wisdom of Pompey’s strategy became clear. Caesar, after a hazardous crossing in pursuit, found himself cut off from his base in Italy by sea and facing superior land forces. Pompey, however, eventually had to abandon his naval blockade of the rest of Caesar’s forces in Brundisium and failed to prevent their crossing to join Caesar. Caesar’s army was repulsed in an assault on Pompey’s camp at Dyrrhachium and, failing a quick decision in the West, Caesar was obliged to move eastwards into Thessaly. Pompey followed and joined forces with the Senate’s army there under Scipio, rendering Caesar’s position untenable. At this juncture, Pompey, under pressure from his Optimate allies, decided for battle, a sensible enough decision if his opponent had not been a commander of genius. Pompey suffered a disastrous defeat on the plain of Pharsalus (48). He fled from his camp as the enemy stormed it and made his way to the coast. His supporters were to rally and involve Caesar in strenuous fighting in Africa, Spain, and the East for three more years; but Pompey did not live to play a part in this struggle. Hurried on by Caesar’s rapid pursuit, he lost contact with his own fleet. He moved on southward to Cilicia, Cyprus, and Egypt. He decided to land at Pelusium and seek the assistance of Ptolemy, his former client. The King marched down to the coast, ostensibly to welcome him; but he and his counsellors had chosen not to risk offending the victorious Caesar. Pompey’s small squadron lay offshore while Pompey, bidding farewell to his wife, Cornelia, complied with an insidious invitation to enter, with several companions, a small boat sent to bring him to land. As he prepared to step ashore he was treacherously struck down and killed (Sept. 28, 48 bc).

Pompey’s name cast a lasting shadow. His end inspired some of Lucan’s finest verses. In the empire he acquired official respectability, and the greatness of his achievement was fully appreciated by the great writers. But there are few clear-headed or unbiased accounts of Pompey by his own contemporaries. Caesar would have his readers believe that he wrote of Pompey more in sorrow than in anger; his propaganda was discreet and subtly damaging to his rival’s reputation. Cicero’s veering, day-to-day judgments of Pompey reveal his inability to see clearly through the distorting medium of his own vanity. The inflated eulogies of Pompey in Cicero’s speeches are punctured by his persistent sniping at him in his letters. Yet he looked up to him for leadership and, in the moment of decision, joined him. But Pompey was neither a revolutionary nor a reactionary, willing to wreck the fabric of the commonwealth for the advantage of self or class. He expected a voluntary acceptance of his primacy but was to discover that the methods he had used to get his commands had permanently alienated the dominant nobility. So year after year he had to play a passive role, covertly intriguing or waiting for successive occasions to arise that would force them to accept his leadership. Some thought his waiting game duplicity, others, sheer political incompetence. He was an ineffective politician, not from incapacity for intrigue or ruthless action but from lack of candour and consistency in speech and action.

As a military leader, Pompey fell short of real greatness, lacking Caesar’s genius, his dynamism and panache, and his geniality in personal relationships. He was circumspect and thorough—the perfect administrator. His vision of empire was no narrower than Caesar’s. Like many a more recent imperialist, he was satisfied with the ideal of efficient and clean-handed administration and justice, and many of his contemporaries believed that he went far to achieve that aim in his own practice. Pompey, the wealthiest man of his age, invested his millions prudently; his landed estates were distributed throughout Italy in manageable units. For all the extravagance of his triumphal shows and the inexcusable heartlessness of the contests in slaughter with which he entertained the populace, he was a plain-living man, friend and admirer of the Stoic Panaetius. His third wife, Mucia, bore him two sons, Gnaeus and Sextus, and a daughter, Pompeia, before he divorced her for infidelity (62). Julia was the wife he loved most dearly; Cornelia outlived him and mourned his death.

Eric William Gray

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Now his political ambition awoke and in 70 B.C. he shared the consulship with Marcus Licinius Crassus, the wealthiest man in Rome. Together they repealed the major part of Sulla's constitution and reestablished the tribunate, which made them very popular in Rome. After Pompey brought eastern Europe up to Asia Minor under Roman control, everyone expected him to claim the dictatorship, but the opposition of the Senate caused him to delay. Instead, Pompey and Crassus sought an ally from within Marius's powerful party of the people.

Marcus Licinius Crassus


Marcus Licinius Crassus

Marcus Licinius Crassus, (born c. 115 bc—died 53), politician who in the last years of the Roman Republic formed the so-called First Triumvirate with Julius Caesar and Pompey to challenge effectively the power of the Senate. His death led to the outbreak of the Civil War between Caesar and Pompey (49–45).

Crassus fled from Rome when Gaius Marius captured the city in 87. As a young officer, he supported Lucius Cornelius Sulla during the civil war (83–82) between Sulla and the followers of Marius, returning to Rome to help Sulla seize power in 82. The hostility between Pompey and Crassus probably originated in Sulla’s clear preference for Pompey. Crassus held the praetorship c. 73, and in 72–71 he put down the slave uprising led by Spartacus, although Pompey managed to take the credit. Crassus and Pompey cooperated to pressure the Senate to elect them to the consulship for 70; once in office they overthrew parts of the Sullan constitution.

During the 60s, while Pompey was scoring military victories abroad, Crassus was building a political following at Rome. He used his great wealth—derived largely from the sale of property confiscated by Sulla—to extend credit to indebted senators. The young Julius Caesar was helped in this fashion in 62. In 65 Crassus served as censor.

In 60 Crassus joined with Pompey and Caesar to form the so-called First Triumvirate. Crassus entered this informal coalition partly to effect passage of laws helpful to his business ventures in Asia. From 58 to 56 he supported efforts to neutralize Pompey’s power. He and Pompey were reconciled at a meeting of the three leaders at Luca, Etruria, in 56, and in the following year they were both again made consuls. As governor of Syria in 54, Crassus attempted to gain military glory by embarking on an unwarranted invasion of Parthia, to the east. He was defeated and killed at the Battle of Carrhae (see Carrhae, Battle of) in southern Anatolia.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

This ally was the general 1, 7 Gaius Julius Caesar.

1 Gaius Julius Caesar

He was Marius's nephew and was married to Cinna's daughter. In order to get the plebeians on his side, Caesar forced the Senate to pass land reforms and purchase state lands for settlers and war veterans. As the First Triumvirate, Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar shared power in 60-59 B.C. and effectively repealed the republican constitution.

They also divided the provinces among themselves: Pompey took Spain, Crassus took Syria, and Caesar took Illyria and 2 Gaul.

When Crassus fell against the Parthians in 53 в.с, Pompey (the only consul for 52 B.C.) and Caesar faced each other in a bid for sole power. Both depended on their loyal armies and financial strength.

Gaius Julius Caesar

7 Gaius Julius Caesar

Caesar was the first to print his own bust on a Roman minted coin.

2 Armor and weapons of Caesar's
army in the Gallic War, 58-51 B.C.


Armor and weapons of Caesar's army

When Pompey's followers attempted to keep Caesar away from Rome so he couldn't campaign for the consulship in 49, Caesar marched out of Gaul with his troops and crossed the 5 Rubicon River to Rome.

Civil war broke out once more, and Pompey was soon forced to flee. Caesar occupied Spain and won the decisive battle at Pharsalus (Thessaly) against Pompey.

Pompey fled to Egypt, where he was 4 assassinated when he arrived on orders of the Egyptian King Ptolemy.

Caesar then 6 entered Rome in 47 B.C. as its undisputed ruler, popular and pardoning most of his rivals.


Map of Italy with Rubicon river

Caesar crossing the Rubicon River

5 Caesar crossing the Rubicon River, 49 B.C.


4 Murder of Pompey

6 Caesar's triumphal procession


Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar , by Lionel Royer.



Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar, in full Gaius Julius Caesar (born July 12/13, 100? bc, Rome [Italy]—died March 15, 44 bc, Rome), celebrated Roman general and statesman, the conqueror of Gaul (58–50 bc), victor in the Civil War of 49–45 bc, and dictator (46–44 bc), who was launching a series of political and social reforms when he was assassinated by a group of nobles in the Senate House on the Ides of March.

Caesar changed the course of the history of the Greco-Roman world decisively and irreversibly. The Greco-Roman society has been extinct for so long that most of the names of its great men mean little to the average, educated modern man. But Caesar’s name, like Alexander’s, is still on people’s lips throughout the Christian and Islamic worlds. Even people who know nothing of Caesar as a historic personality are familiar with his family name as a title signifying a ruler who is in some sense uniquely supreme or paramount—the meaning of Kaiser in German, tsar in the Slavonic languages, and qayṣar in the languages of the Islamic world.

Caesar’s gens (clan) name, Julius (Iulius), is also familiar in the Christian world; for in Caesar’s lifetime the Roman month Quintilis, in which he was born, was renamed “July” in his honour. This name has survived, as has Caesar’s reform of the calendar. The old Roman calendar was inaccurate and manipulated for political purposes. Caesar’s calendar, the Julian calendar, is still partially in force in the Eastern Orthodox Christian countries; and the Gregorian calendar, now in use in the West, is the Julian, slightly corrected by Pope Gregory XIII.

Modern bronze statue of Julius Caesar, Rimini, Italy

Family background and career
Caesar’s gens, the Julii, were patricians—i.e., members of Rome’s original aristocracy, which had coalesced in the 4th century bc with a number of leading plebeian (commoner) families to form the nobility that had been the governing class in Rome since then. By Caesar’s time, the number of surviving patrician gentes was small; and in the gens Julia the Caesares seem to have been the only surviving family. Though some of the most powerful noble families were patrician, patrician blood was no longer a political advantage; it was actually a handicap, since a patrician was debarred from holding the paraconstitutional but powerful office of tribune of the plebs. The Julii Caesares traced their lineage back to the goddess Venus, but the family was not snobbish or conservative-minded. It was also not rich or influential or even distinguished.

A Roman noble won distinction for himself and his family by securing election to a series of public offices, which culminated in the consulship, with the censorship possibly to follow. This was a difficult task for even the ablest and most gifted noble unless he was backed by substantial family wealth and influence. Rome’s victory over Carthage in the Second Punic War (218–201 bc) had made Rome the paramount power in the Mediterranean basin; an influential Roman noble family’s clients (that is, protégés who, in return, gave their patrons their political support) might include kings and even whole nations, besides numerous private individuals. The requirements and the costs of a Roman political career in Caesar’s day were high, and the competition was severe; but the potential profits were of enormous magnitude. One of the perquisites of the praetorship and the consulship was the government of a province, which gave ample opportunity for plunder. The whole Mediterranean world was, in fact, at the mercy of the Roman nobility and of a new class of Roman businessmen, the equites (“knights”), which had grown rich on military contracts and on tax farming.

Military manpower was supplied by the Roman peasantry. This class had been partly dispossessed by an economic revolution following on the devastation caused by the Second Punic War. The Roman governing class had consequently come to be hated and discredited at home and abroad. From 133 bc onward there had been a series of alternate revolutionary and counter-revolutionary paroxysms. It was evident that the misgovernment of the Roman state and the Greco-Roman world by the Roman nobility could not continue indefinitely and it was fairly clear that the most probable alternative was some form of military dictatorship backed by dispossessed Italian peasants who had turned to long-term military service.

The traditional competition among members of the Roman nobility for office and the spoils of office was thus threatening to turn into a desperate race for seizing autocratic power. The Julii Caesares did not seem to be in the running. It was true that Sextus Caesar, who was perhaps the dictator’s uncle, had been one of the consuls for 91 bc; and Lucius Caesar, one of the consuls for 90 bc, was a distant cousin, whose son and namesake was consul for 64 bc. In 90 bc, Rome’s Italian allies had seceded from Rome because of the Roman government’s obstinate refusal to grant them Roman citizenship, and, as consul, Lucius Caesar had introduced emergency legislation for granting citizenship to the citizens of all Italian ally states that had not taken up arms or that had returned to their allegiance.

Whoever had been consul in this critical year would have had to initiate such legislation, whatever his personal political predilections. There is evidence, however, that the Julii Caesares, though patricians, had already committed themselves to the antinobility party. An aunt of the future dictator had married Gaius Marius, a self-made man (novus homo) who had forced his way up to the summit by his military ability and had made the momentous innovation of recruiting his armies from the dispossessed peasants.

The date of Caesar the dictator’s birth has long been disputed. The day was July 12 or 13; the traditional (and perhaps most probable) year is 100 bc; but if this date is correct, Caesar must have held each of his offices two years in advance of the legal minimum age. His father, Gaius Caesar, died when Caesar was but 16; his mother, Aurelia, was a notable woman, and it seems certain that he owed much to her.

In spite of the inadequacy of his resources, Caesar seems to have chosen a political career as a matter of course. From the beginning, he probably privately aimed at winning office, not just for the sake of the honours but in order to achieve the power to put the misgoverned Roman state and Greco-Roman world into better order in accordance with ideas of his own. It is improbable that Caesar deliberately sought monarchical power until after he had crossed the Rubicon in 49 bc, though sufficient power to impose his will, as he was determined to do, proved to mean monarchical power.

In 84 bc Caesar committed himself publicly to the radical side by marrying Cornelia, a daughter of Lucius Cornelius Cinna, a noble who was Marius’ associate in revolution. In 83 bc Lucius Cornelius Sulla returned to Italy from the East and led the successful counter-revolution of 83–82 bc; Sulla then ordered Caesar to divorce Cornelia. Caesar refused and came close to losing not only his property (such as it was) but his life as well. He found it advisable to remove himself from Italy and to do military service, first in the province of Asia and then in Cilicia.

In 78 bc, after Sulla’s death, he returned to Rome and started on his political career in the conventional way, by acting as a prosecuting advocate—of course, in his case, against prominent Sullan counter-revolutionaries. His first target, Gnaeus Cornelius Dolabella, was defended by Quintus Hortensius, the leading advocate of the day, and was acquitted by the extortion-court jury, composed exclusively of senators.

Caesar then went to Rhodes to study oratory under a famous professor, Molon. En route he was captured by pirates (one of the symptoms of the anarchy into which the Roman nobility had allowed the Mediterranean world to fall). Caesar raised his ransom, raised a naval force, captured his captors, and had them crucified—all this as a private individual holding no public office. In 74 bc, when Mithradates VI Eupator, king of Pontus, renewed war on the Romans, Caesar raised a private army to combat him.

In his absence from Rome, Caesar was made a member of the politico-ecclesiastical college of pontifices; and on his return he gained one of the elective military tribuneships. Caesar now worked to undo the Sullan constitution in cooperation with Pompey (Gnaeus Pompeius), who had started his career as a lieutenant of Sulla but had changed sides since Sulla’s death. In 69 or 68 bc Caesar was elected quaestor (the first rung on the Roman political ladder). In the same year his wife, Cornelia, and his aunt Julia, Marius’ widow, died; in public funeral orations in their honour, Caesar found opportunities for praising Cinna and Marius. Caesar afterward married Pompeia, a distant relative of Pompey. Caesar served his quaestorship in the province of Farther Spain (modern Andalusia and Portugal).

Caesar was elected one of the curule aediles for 65 bc, and he celebrated his tenure of this office by unusually lavish expenditure with borrowed money. He was elected pontifex maximus in 63 bc by a political dodge. By now he had become a controversial political figure. After the suppression of Catiline’s conspiracy in 63 bc, Caesar, as well as the millionaire Marcus Licinius Crassus, was accused of complicity. It seems unlikely that either of them had committed himself to Catiline; but Caesar proposed in the Senate a more merciful alternative to the death penalty, which the consul Cicero was asking for the arrested conspirators. In the uproar in the Senate, Caesar’s motion was defeated.

Caesar was elected a praetor for 62 bc. Toward the end of the year of his praetorship, a scandal was caused by Publius Clodius in Caesar’s house at the celebration there of the rites, for women only, of Bona Dea (a Roman deity of fruitfulness, both in the Earth and in women). Caesar consequently divorced Pompeia. He obtained the governorship of Farther Spain for 61–60 bc. His creditors did not let him leave Rome until Crassus had gone bail for a quarter of his debts; but a military expedition beyond the northwest frontier of his province enabled Caesar to win loot for himself as well as for his soldiers, with a balance left over for the treasury. This partial financial recovery enabled him, after his return to Rome in 60 bc, to stand for the consulship for 59 bc.

The first triumvirate and the conquest of GaulThe value of the consulship lay in the lucrative provincial governorship to which it would normally lead. On the eve of the consular elections for 59 bc, the Senate sought to allot to the two future consuls for 59 bc, as their proconsular provinces, the unprofitable supervision of forests and cattle trails in Italy. The Senate also secured by massive bribery the election of an anti-Caesarean, Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus. But they failed to prevent Caesar’s election as the other consul.

Caesar now succeeded in organizing an irresistible coalition of political bosses. Pompey had carried out his mission to put the East in order with notable success, but after his return to Italy and his disbandment of his army in 62 bc, the Senate had thwarted him—particularly by preventing him from securing land allotments for his veterans. Caesar, who had assiduously cultivated Pompey’s friendship, now entered into a secret pact with him. Caesar’s master stroke was to persuade Crassus to join the partnership, the so-called first triumvirate. Crassus—like Pompey, a former lieutenant of Sulla—had been one of the most active of Pompey’s obstructors so far. Only Caesar, on good terms with both, was in a position to reconcile them. Early in 59 bc, Pompey sealed his alliance with Caesar by marrying Caesar’s only child, Julia. Caesar married Calpurnia, daughter of Lucius Piso, who became consul in 58 bc.

As consul, Caesar introduced a bill for the allotment of Roman public lands in Italy, on which the first charge was to be a provision for Pompey’s soldiers. The bill was vetoed by three tribunes of the plebs, and Caesar’s colleague Bibulus announced his intention of preventing the transaction of public business by watching the skies for portents whenever the public assembly was convened. Caesar then cowed the opposition by employing some of Pompey’s veterans to make a riot, and the distribution was carried out. Pompey’s settlement of the East was ratified en bloc by an act negotiated by an agent of Caesar, the tribune of the plebs Publius Vatinius. Caesar himself initiated a noncontroversial and much-needed act for punishing misconduct by governors of provinces.

Another act negotiated by Vatinius gave Caesar Cisalpine Gaul (between the Alps, the Apennines, and the Adriatic) and Illyricum. His tenure was to last until February 28, 54 bc. When the governor-designate of Transalpine Gaul suddenly died, this province, also, was assigned to Caesar at Pompey’s instance. Cisalpine Gaul gave Caesar a military recruiting ground; Transalpine Gaul gave him a springboard for conquests beyond Rome’s northwest frontier.

Between 58 and 50 bc, Caesar conquered the rest of Gaul up to the left bank of the Rhine and subjugated it so effectively that it remained passive under Roman rule throughout the Roman civil wars between 49 and 31 bc. This achievement was all the more amazing in light of the fact that the Romans did not possess any great superiority in military equipment over the north European barbarians. Indeed, the Gallic cavalry was probably superior to the Roman, horseman for horseman. Rome’s military superiority lay in its mastery of strategy, tactics, discipline, and military engineering. In Gaul, Rome also had the advantage of being able to deal separately with dozens of relatively small, independent, and uncooperative states. Caesar conquered these piecemeal, and the concerted attempt made by a number of them in 52 bc to shake off the Roman yoke came too late.

Great though this achievement was, its relative importance in Caesar’s career and in Roman history has been overestimated in Western tradition (as have his brief raids on Britain). In Caesar’s mind his conquest of Gaul was probably carried out only as a means to his ultimate end. He was acquiring the military manpower, the plunder, and the prestige that he needed to secure a free hand for the prosecution of the task of reorganizing the Roman state and the rest of the Greco-Roman world. This final achievement of Caesar’s looms much larger than his conquest of Gaul, when it is viewed in the wider setting of world history and not just in the narrower setting of the Greco-Roman civilization’s present daughter civilization in the West.

In 58 bc Rome’s northwestern frontier, established in 125 bc, ran from the Alps down the left bank of the upper Rhône River to the Pyrenees, skirting the southeastern foot of the Cévennes and including the upper basin of the Garonne River without reaching the Gallic shore of the Atlantic. In 58 bc Caesar intervened beyond this line, first to drive back the Helvetii, who had been migrating westward from their home in what is now central Switzerland. He then crushed Ariovistus, a German soldier of fortune from beyond the Rhine. In 57 bc Caesar subdued the distant and warlike Belgic group of Gallic peoples in the north, while his lieutenant Publius Licinius Crassus subdued what are now the regions of Normandy and Brittany.

In 56 bc the Veneti, in what is now southern Brittany, started a revolt in the northwest that was supported by the still unconquered Morini on the Gallic coast of the Straits of Dover and the Menapii along the south bank of the lower Rhine. Caesar reconquered the Veneti with some difficulty and treated them barbarously. He could not finish off the conquest of the Morini and Menapii before the end of the campaigning season of 56 bc; and in the winter of 56–55 bc the Menapii were temporarily expelled from their home by two immigrant German peoples, the Usipetes and Tencteri. These peoples were exterminated by Caesar in 55 bc. In the same year he bridged the Rhine just below Koblenz to raid Germany on the other side of the river, and then crossed the Channel to raid Britain. In 54 bc he raided Britain again and subdued a serious revolt in northeastern Gaul. In 53 bc he subdued further revolts in Gaul and bridged the Rhine again for a second raid.

The crisis of Caesar’s Gallic war came in 52 bc. The peoples of central Gaul found a national leader in the Arvernian Vercingetorix. They planned to cut off the Roman forces from Caesar, who had been wintering on the other side of the Alps. They even attempted to invade the western end of the old Roman province of Gallia Transalpina. Vercingetorix wanted to avoid pitched battles and sieges and to defeat the Romans by cutting off their supplies—partly by cavalry operations and partly by “scorched earth”—but he could not persuade his countrymen to adopt this painful policy wholeheartedly.

The Bituriges insisted on standing siege in their town Avaricum (Bourges), and Vercingetorix was unable to save it from being taken by storm within one month. Caesar then besieged Vercingetorix in Gergovia near modern Clermont-Ferrand. A Roman attempt to storm Gergovia was repulsed and resulted in heavy Roman losses—the first outright defeat that Caesar had suffered in Gaul. Caesar then defeated an attack on the Roman army on the march and was thus able to besiege Vercingetorix in Alesia, to the northwest of Dijon. Alesia, like Gergovia, was a position of great natural strength, and a large Gallic army came to relieve it; but this army was repulsed and dispersed by Caesar, and Vercingetorix then capitulated.

During the winter of 52–51 bc and the campaigning season of 51 bc, Caesar crushed a number of sporadic further revolts. The most determined of these rebels were the Bellovaci, between the Rivers Seine and Somme, around Beauvais. Another rebel force stood siege in the south in the natural fortress of Uxellodunum (perhaps the Puy d’Issolu on the Dordogne) until its water supply gave out. Caesar had the survivors’ hands cut off. He spent the year 50 bc in organizing the newly conquered territory. After that, he was ready to settle his accounts with his opponents at home.

Antecedents and outcome of the civil war of 49–45 bc During his conquest of Gaul, Caesar had been equally busy in preserving and improving his position at home. He used part of his growing wealth from Gallic loot to hire political agents in Rome.

Meanwhile the cohesion of the triumvirate had been placed under strain. Pompey had soon become restive toward his alarmingly successful ally Caesar, as had Crassus toward his old enemy Pompey. The alliance was patched up in April 56 bc at a conference at Luca (Lucca), just inside Caesar’s province of Cisalpine Gaul. It was arranged that Pompey and Crassus were to be the consuls for 55 bc and were to get laws promulgated prolonging Caesar’s provincial commands for another five years and giving Crassus a five-year term in Syria and Pompey a five-year term in Spain. These laws were duly passed. Crassus was then eliminated by an annihilating defeat at the Parthians’ hands in 53 bc. The marriage link between Pompey and Caesar had been broken by Julia’s death in 54 bc. After this, Pompey irresolutely veered further and further away from Caesar, until, when the breach finally came, Pompey found himself committed to the nobility’s side, though he and the nobility never trusted each other.

The issue was whether there should or should not be an interval between the date at which Caesar was to resign his provincial governorships and, therewith, the command over his armies and the date at which he would enter his proposed second consulship. If there were to be an interval, Caesar would be a private person during that time, vulnerable to attack by his enemies; if prosecuted and convicted, he would be ruined politically and might possibly lose his life. Caesar had to make sure that, until his entry on his second consulship, he should continue to hold at least one province with the military force to guarantee his security.

This issue had already been the object of a series of political manoeuvres and countermanoeuvres at Rome. The dates on which the issue turned are all in doubt. As had been agreed at Luca in 56 bc, Caesar’s commands had been prolonged for five years, apparently until February 28, 49 bc, but this is not certain. In 52 bc, a year in which Pompey was elected sole consul and given a five-year provincial command in Spain, Caesar was allowed by a law sponsored by all 10 tribunes to stand for the consulship in absentia. If he were to stand in 49 bc for the consulship for 48 bc, he would be out of office, and therefore in danger, during the last 10 months of 49 bc. As a safeguard for Caesar against this, there seems to have been an understanding—possibly a private one at Luca in 56 bc between him and Pompey—that the question of a successor to Caesar in his commands should not be raised in the Senate before March 1, 50 bc. This manoeuvre would have ensured that Caesar would retain his commands until the end of 49 bc. However, the question of replacing Caesar was actually raised in the Senate a number of times from 51 bc onward; each time Caesar had the dangerous proposals vetoed by tribunes of the plebs who were his agents—particularly Gaius Scribonius Curio in 50 bc and Mark Antony in 49 bc.

The issue was brought to a head by one of the consuls for 50 bc, Gaius Claudius Marcellus. He obtained resolutions from the Senate that Caesar should lay down his command (presumably at its terminal date) but that Pompey should not lay down his command simultaneously. Curio then obtained on December 1, 50 bc, a resolution (by 370 votes to 22) that both men should lay down their commands simultaneously. Next day Marcellus (without authorization from the Senate) offered the command over all troops in Italy to Pompey, together with the power to raise more; and Pompey accepted. On January 1, 49 bc, the Senate received from Caesar a proposal that he and Pompey should lay down their commands simultaneously. Caesar’s message was peremptory, and the Senate resolved that Caesar should be treated as a public enemy if he did not lay down his command “by a date to be fixed.”

On January 10–11, 49 bc, Caesar led his troops across the little river Rubicon, the boundary between his province of Cisalpine Gaul and Italy proper. He thus committed the first act of war. This was not, however, the heart of the matter. The actual question of substance was whether the misgovernment of the Greco-Roman world by the Roman nobility should be allowed to continue or whether it should be replaced by an autocratic regime. Either alternative would result in a disastrous civil war. The subsequent partial recuperation of the Greco-Roman world under the principate suggests, however, that Caesarism was the lesser evil.

The civil war was a tragedy, for war was not wanted either by Caesar or by Pompey or even by a considerable part of the nobility, while the bulk of the Roman citizen body ardently hoped for the preservation of peace. By this time, however, the three parties that counted politically were all entrapped. Caesar’s success in building up his political power had made the champions of the old regime so implacably hostile to him that he was now faced with a choice between putting himself at his enemies’ mercy or seizing the monopoly of power at which he was accused of aiming. He found that he could not extricate himself from this dilemma by reducing his demands, as he eventually did, to the absolute minimum required for his security. As for Pompey, his growing jealousy of Caesar had led him so far toward the nobility that he could not come to terms with Caesar again without loss of face.

The first bout of the civil war moved swiftly. In 49 bc Caesar drove his opponents out of Italy to the eastern side of the Straits of Otranto. He then crushed Pompey’s army in Spain. Toward the end of 49 bc, he followed Pompey across the Adriatic and retrieved a reverse at Dyrrachium by winning a decisive victory at Pharsalus on August 9, 48 bc. Caesar pursued Pompey from Thessaly to Egypt, where Pompey was murdered by an officer of King Ptolemy. Caesar wintered in Alexandria, fighting with the populace and dallying with Queen Cleopatra. In 47 bc he fought a brief local war in northeastern Anatolia with Pharnaces, king of the Cimmerian Bosporus, who was trying to regain his father Mithradates’ kingdom of Pontus. Caesar’s famous words, Veni, vidi, vici (“I came, I saw, I conquered”), are his own account of this campaign.

Caesar then returned to Rome, but a few months later, now with the title of dictator, he left for Africa, where his opponents had rallied. In 46 he crushed their army at Thapsus and returned to Rome, only to leave in November for Farther Spain to deal with a fresh outbreak of resistance, which he crushed on March 17, 45 bc, at Munda. He then returned to Rome to start putting the Greco-Roman world in order. He had less than a year’s grace for this huge task of reconstruction before his assassination in 44 bc in the Senate House at Rome on March 15 (the Ides of March).

Caesar’s death was partly due to his clemency and impatience, which, in combination, were dangerous for his personal security. Caesar had not hesitated to commit atrocities against “barbarians” when it had suited him, but he was almost consistently magnanimous in his treatment of his defeated Roman opponents. Thus clemency was probably not just a matter of policy. Caesar’s earliest experience in his political career had been Sulla’s implacable persecution of his defeated domestic opponents. Caesar amnestied his opponents wholesale and gave a number of them responsible positions in his new regime. Gaius Cassius Longinus, who was the moving spirit in the plot to murder him, and Marcus Junius Brutus, the symbolic embodiment of Roman republicanism, were both former enemies. “Et tu, Brute” (“You too, Brutus”) was Caesar’s expression of his particular anguish at being stabbed by a man whom he had forgiven, trusted, and loved.

There were, however, also a number of ex-Caesareans among the 60 conspirators. They had been goaded into this volte-face by the increasingly monarchical trend of Caesar’s regime and, perhaps at least as much, by the aristocratic disdain that inhibited Caesar from taking any trouble to sugar the bitter pill. Some stood to lose, rather than to gain, personally by the removal of the autocrat who had made their political fortunes. But even if they were acting on principle, they were blind to the truth that the reign of the Roman nobility was broken beyond recall and that even Caesar might not have been able to overthrow the ancien régime if its destruction had not been long overdue. They also failed to recognize that by making Caesar a martyr they were creating his posthumous political fortune.

If Caesar had not been murdered in 44 bc, he might have lived on for 15 or 20 years. His physical constitution was unusually tough, though in his last years he had several epileptic seizures. What would he have done with this time? The answer can only be guessed from what he did do in the few months available. He found time in the year 46 bc to reform the Roman calendar. In 45 bc he enacted a law laying down a standard pattern for the constitutions of the municipia, which were by this time the units of local self-government in most of the territory inhabited by Roman citizens. In 59 bc Caesar had already resurrected the city of Capua, which the republican Roman regime more than 150 years earlier had deprived of its juridical corporate personality; he now resurrected the other two great cities, Carthage and Corinth, that his predecessors had destroyed. This was only a part of what he did to resettle his discharged soldiers and the urban proletariat of Rome. He was also generous in granting Roman citizenship to aliens. (He had given it to all of Cisalpine Gaul, north of the Po, in 49 bc.) He increased the size of the Senate and made its personnel more representative of the whole Roman citizenry.

At his death, Caesar was on the point of starting out on a new military campaign to avenge and retrieve Crassus’ disastrous defeat in 53 bc by the Parthians. Would Caesar have succeeded in recapturing for the Greco-Roman world the extinct Seleucid monarchy’s lost dominions east of the Euphrates, particularly Babylonia? The fate of Crassus’ army had shown that the terrain in northern Mesopotamia favoured Parthian cavalry against Roman infantry. Would Caesar’s military genius have outweighed this handicap? And would Rome’s hitherto inexhaustible reservoir of military manpower have sufficed for this additional call upon it? Only guesses are possible, for Caesar’s assassination condemned the Romans to another 13 years of civil war, and Rome would never again possess sufficient manpower to conquer and hold Babylonia.

Personality and reputation
Caesar was not and is not lovable. His generosity to defeated opponents, magnanimous though it was, did not win their affection. He won his soldiers’ devotion by the victories that his intellectual ability, applied to warfare, brought them. Yet, though not lovable, Caesar was and is attractive, indeed fascinating. His political achievement required ability, in effect amounting to genius, in several different fields, including administration and generalship besides the minor arts of wire pulling and propaganda.

In all these, Caesar was a supreme virtuoso. But if he had not also been something more than this he would not have been the supremely great man that he undoubtedly was.

Caesar was great beyond—and even in conflict with—the requirements of his political ambition. He showed a human spiritual greatness in his generosity to defeated opponents, which was partly responsible for his assassination. (The merciless Sulla abdicated and died in his bed.)

Another field in which Caesar’s genius went far beyond the requirements of his political ambition was his writings. Of these, his speeches, letters, and pamphlets are lost. Only his accounts (both incomplete and supplemented by other hands) of the Gallic War and the civil war survive. Caesar ranked as a masterly public speaker in an age in which he was in competition first with Hortensius and then with Cicero.

All Caesar’s speeches and writings, lost and extant, apparently served political purposes. He turned his funeral orations for his wife and for his aunt to account, for political propaganda. His accounts of his wars are subtly contrived to make the unsuspecting reader see Caesar’s acts in the light that Caesar chooses. The accounts are written in the form of terse, dry, factual reports that look impersonal and objective, yet every recorded fact has been carefully selected and presented. As for the lost Anticato, a reply to Cicero’s eulogy of Caesar’s dead opponent Marcus Porcius Cato, it is a testimony to Caesar’s political insight that he made the time to write it, in spite of the overwhelming military, administrative, and legislative demands on him. He realized that Cato, in giving his life for his cause (46 bc), had made himself posthumously into a much more potent political force than he had ever been in his lifetime. Caesar was right, from his point of view, to try to put salt on Cato’s tail. He did not succeed, however. For the next 150 years, Cato the martyr continued to be a nuisance, sometimes a menace, to Caesar’s successors.

The mark of Caesar’s genius in his writings is that though they were written for propaganda they are nevertheless of outstanding literary merit. A reader who has seen through their prosaic purpose can ignore it and appreciate them as splendid works of art.

Caesar’s most amazing characteristic is his energy, intellectual and physical. He prepared his seven books on the Gallic War for publication in 51 bc when he still had serious revolts in Gaul on his hands, and he wrote his books on the civil war and his Anticato in the hectic years between 49 and 44 bc. His physical energy was of the same order. For instance, in the winter of 57–56 bc he found time to visit his third province, Illyria, as well as Cisalpine Gaul; and in the interval between his campaigns of 55 and 54 bc he transacted public business in Cisalpine Gaul and went to Illyria to settle accounts with the Pirustae, a turbulent tribe in what is now Albania. In 49 bc he marched, within a single campaigning season, from the Rubicon to Brundisium and from Brundisium to Spain. At Alexandria, probably aged 53, he saved himself from sudden death by his prowess as a swimmer.

Caesar’s physical vitality perhaps partly accounts for his sexual promiscuity, which was out of the ordinary, even by contemporary Greek and Roman standards. It was rumoured that during his first visit to the East he had had homosexual relations with King Nicomedes of Bithynia. The rumour is credible, though not proved, and was repeated throughout Caesar’s life. There is no doubt of Caesar’s heterosexual affairs, many of them with married women. Probably Caesar looked upon these as trivial recreations. Yet he involved himself at least twice in escapades that might have wrecked his career. If he did in fact have an affair with Pompey’s wife, Mucia, he was risking his entente with Pompey. A more notorious, though not quite so hazardous, affair was his liaison with Cleopatra. By dallying with her at Alexandria, he risked losing what he had just won at Pharsalus. By allowing her to visit him in Rome in 46 bc, he flouted public feeling and added to the list of tactless acts that, cumulatively, goaded old comrades and amnestied enemies into assassinating him.

This cool-headed man of genius with an erratic vein of sexual exuberance undoubtedly changed the course of history at the western end of the Old World. By liquidating the scandalous and bankrupt rule of the Roman nobility, he gave the Roman state—and with it the Greco-Roman civilization—a reprieve that lasted for more than 600 years in the East and for more than 400 years in the relatively backward West. Caesar substituted for the Roman oligarchy an autocracy that could never afterward be abolished. If he had not done this when he did it, Rome and the Greco-Roman world might have succumbed, before the beginning of the Christian era, to barbarian invaders in the West and to the Parthian Empire in the East. The prolongation of the life of the Greco-Roman civilization had important historical effects. Under the Roman Empire the Near East was impregnated with Hellenism for six or seven more centuries. But for this the Hellenic element might not have been present in sufficient strength to make its decisive impact on Christianity and Islam. Gaul, too, would have sunk deeper into barbarism when the Franks overran it, if it had not been associated with the civilized Mediterranean world for more than 500 years as a result of Caesar’s conquest.

Caesar’s political achievement was limited. Its effects were confined to the western end of the Old World and were comparatively short-lived by Chinese or ancient Egyptian standards. The Chinese state founded by Shih Huang Ti in the 3rd century bc still stands, and its future may be still greater than its past. Yet, even if Caesar were to prove to have been of lesser stature than this Chinese colossus, he would still remain a giant by comparison with the common run of human beings.

Arnold Joseph Toynbee

Encyclopaedia Britannica



The Rule of Caesar to the Victory of Augustus

Caesar's dictatorship was ended by his assassination. In alliance, Antony and Octavian, Caesar's grand-nephew and heir, forcibly assumed power. Octavian eventually became sole ruler.

9 Julius Caesar, supported by his clients and soldiers, solidified his power and defeated the last supporters of Pompey and the Republic in Africa, Spain, and at sea in 46—45 B.C.

9 Coin from Caesai:
"I came, saw and triumphed"

He then carried out wide-ranging social and legal reforms in the empire. Caesar rejected monarchical titles, but in 44 became dictator for life.

However, some senators who still held republican ideals 13 stabbed Caesar to death while he was on his way to the Senate on March 15 (the "ides" of March), 44 B.C.

13 Murder of Julius Caesar on March 15,44 A.D., painting, 1815


Gaius Cassius Longinus

Marcus Junius Brutus



Gaius Cassius Longinus

Gaius Cassius Longinus, (died 42 bc, near Philippi, Macedonia [now in Greece]), prime mover in the conspiracy to assassinate Julius Caesar in 44 bc.

Little is known of his early life. As a quaestor in 53 bc, Cassius served under Marcus Licinius Crassus and saved the remnants of the Roman army defeated by the Parthians at Carrhae (modern Harran, Turkey). For the next two years he successfully repelled the Parthian attacks on Syria. Cassius became tribune in 49, and the outbreak of the civil war between Caesar and the Optimates in that year saved him from being brought to trial for extortion in Syria. In that war he at first commanded part of the fleet of Caesar’s opponent, Pompey the Great. After Pompey was decisively defeated by Caesar at Pharsalus in Thessaly (48), Cassius was reconciled to Caesar, who made him one of his legates.

In 44 Cassius became praetor peregrinus and was promised the governorship of Syria for the following year. The appointment of his junior, Marcus Junius Brutus, as praetor urbanus deeply offended him, and he became one of the busiest conspirators against Caesar, taking a very active part in the assassination. Forced by popular resentment to withdraw from Rome after the murder, he left Italy for Syria, where he raised a large army and defeated Publius Cornelius Dolabella, to whom the province had been assigned by the Senate. When in 43 the Caesarian leaders Mark Antony, Octavian (later the emperor Augustus), and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate, Cassius and his fellow conspirator, Brutus, combined their armies, crossed the Hellespont, marched through Thrace, and encamped near Philippi in Macedonia. Their intention was to starve out the enemy, but they were forced into an engagement. Brutus was successful against Octavian, but Cassius, defeated by Mark Antony, gave up all for lost and ordered his freedman to slay him. He was lamented by Brutus as “the last of the Romans” and buried at Thasos. (He had married Brutus’ half-sister Junia Tertia, who lived until ad 22.)

Cassius was a man of considerable ability and a good soldier, but in politics he was actuated by vanity and ambition and had an uncontrollable temper and sharp tongue. His portrait in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, though vivid, is scarcely historical.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Marcus Junius Brutus

Marcus Junius Brutus, also called Quintus Caepio Brutus (born probably 85 bc—died 42 bc, near Philippi, Macedonia [now northwestern Greece]), Roman politician, one of the leaders in the conspiracy that assassinated Julius Caesar in 44 bc. Brutus was the son of Marcus Junius Brutus (who was treacherously killed by Pompey the Great in 77) and Servilia (who later became Caesar’s lover). After his adoption by an uncle, Quintus Servilius Caepio, he was commonly called Quintus Caepio Brutus.

Brutus was brought up by another uncle, Cato the Younger, who imbued him with the principles of Stoicism. In the 50s he opposed Pompey’s increasing power, but, upon Caesar’s invasion of Italy in 49, Brutus was reconciled with Pompey and served under him in Greece. When Caesar defeated Pompey at the battle of Pharsalus in 48, Brutus was captured. He was soon pardoned by Caesar, probably as a result of his mother’s influence. Brutus became a member of the senior priesthood of the pontifices and from 47 to 45 governed Cisalpine Gaul (now northern Italy) for Caesar. Caesar appointed him city praetor (a high-ranking magistrate) in 44 with Gaius Cassius Longinus, and he named Brutus and Cassius in advance as consuls for 41. Brutus married Cato’s daughter Porcia after Cato’s death in 46.

Long optimistic about Caesar’s plans, Brutus was shocked when, early in 44, Caesar made himself perpetual dictator and was deified. Always conscious of his descent from Lucius Junius Brutus, who was said to have driven the Etruscan kings from Rome, Brutus joined Cassius and other leading senators in the plot that led to the assassination of Caesar on March 15, 44 bc. Driven from Rome by popular outrage, Brutus and Cassius stayed in Italy until Mark Antony forced them to leave. They went to Greece and then were assigned provinces in the East by the Senate. They gradually seized all of the Roman East, including its armies and treasuries. Having squeezed all the money he could out of Asia, Brutus turned the wealth into Roman gold and silver coins, some (following Caesar’s example) with his own portrait on them. In late 42 he and Cassius met Mark Antony and Octavian (later the emperor Augustus) in two battles at Philippi. Cassius killed himself after being defeated in the first, and Brutus did likewise after being defeated in the second. Mark Antony gave him an honourable burial.

Contrary to the principles he espoused as a Stoic, Brutus was personally arrogant, and he was grasping and cruel in his dealings with those he considered his inferiors, including provincials and the kings of client states. He was admired by Cicero and other Roman aristocrats, and after his death he became a symbol of resistance to tyranny. Shakespeare found in the Parallel Lives of Plutarch the basis for his sympathetic portrayal of the character Brutus in the play Julius Caesar.

Brutus was an eminent orator of the Attic school of public speaking— i.e., he adhered to rhetorical principles based on notions of naturalness in reaction to trends toward excessive displays of emotion (of the Asiatic school)—and he wrote many literary works, all lost. Some of his letters survive among Cicero’s correspondence.

E. Badian

Encyclopaedia Britannica


The Death of Caesar, by Jean-Leon Geérome (1867).
On March 1544 BC, Octavius's adoptive father Julius Caesar was assassinated
by a conspiracy led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus


Death of Caesar, by Vincenzo Camuccini


The Suicide of Brutus


David, The Lictors Bringing Back to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons, 1789



10 Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony), one of Caesar's generals, called for the banishment of the murderers, who fled from Rome.

Then the 19-year-old grand-nephew of Caesar, 11 Octavian, made his claim for the inheritance, and signs of a power struggle appeared.

As Brutus and Cassius, two of Caesar's assassins, had won the entire east of the empire over to their cause, Octavian and Mark Antony entered into an alliance of convenience. Together with the consul Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, they formed the Second Triumvirate, which lasted from 43 to 33 B.C. In 42 they defeated the republicans at Philippi and then divided the provinces among themselves, Antony receiving the East (and, at first, Gaul), Octavian Italy and the West (eventually in-eluding Gaul), and Lepidus North Africa.

Antony's clashes with the Parthians gave Octavian the opportunity to build up his power in Rome. In 33 B.C., he was elected to the consulship, along with one of his followers. In the meantime, Antony had begun an affair with the Ptolemaic queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, to whose charms Caesar had also succumbed. This gave Octavian the excuse to fight Antony, who was married to Octavian's sister. He convinced the Senate that Antony was planning to separate the East from the rest of the Roman Empire. Even Lepidus, who was later compensated with the office of the highest priest (pontifex maximus), joined Octavian's side.

Using Caesar's money, Octavian armed an enormous fleet under the command of his friend 12 Agrippa, who destroyed the fleets of Antony and Cleopatra in 31 B.C. at 8 Actium.

The next year, Octavian occupied Egypt. With this he unified, for the first time, the empire under one man.



10 Marcus Antonius

11 Bust of Octavian ca. 40-50 A.D.

12 Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa




Cleopatra VII

Cleopatra VII, the last Greek ruler of Egypt from 51 B.C. and blessed with legendary beauty, successfully opposed her co-regent and brother Ptolemy XIII with the help of Rome and her lover Julius Caesar.

 After a stay in Rome, she removed Ptolemy XIII and elevated her son by Caesar to co-regent as Ptolemy XV (Cesarion) in 44 B.C. In 41, she became the lover of Mark Antony, who then moved to Alexandria.

Both of them took their lives when Octavian entered Alexandria in 30 B.C., she using the poison of a snake.

see also collection:


8 Antony and Cleopatra after the
battle at Actium


Marcus Antonius

Mark Antony, Latin Marcus Antonius (born 83—died August, 30 bc, Alexandria, Egypt), Roman general under Julius Caesar and later triumvir (43–30 bc), who, with Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, was defeated by Octavian (the future emperor Augustus) in the last of the civil wars that destroyed the Roman Republic.

Early life and career
Mark Antony was the son and grandson of men of the same name. His father was called Creticus because of his military operations in Crete; his grandfather, one of the leading orators of his day, was a consul and censor who was vividly portrayed as a speaker in Cicero’s De oratore (55). After a somewhat dissipated youth, the future triumvir served with distinction in 57–55 as a cavalry commander under Aulus Gabinius in Judaea and Egypt. He then joined the staff of Julius Caesar, to whom he was related on his mother’s side, and served with him for much of the concluding phase of Caesar’s conquest of central and northern Gaul and its aftermath (54–53 and 52–50). In 52 Antony held the office of quaestor, an office of financial administration that gave him a lifetime place in the Senate. In 50 he was elected to the politically influential priesthood of the augurs, defeating Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus.

Civil war and triumvirate
In 49, the year the Civil War broke out between Pompey and Caesar, Antony was tribune of the plebs and vigorously supported Caesar. He fled from Rome to Caesar’s headquarters after receiving threats of violence. Antony fought in the brief Italian campaign that forced Pompey to evacuate the Italian peninsula. After this Caesar left him in charge of Italy during the Spanish campaign. He then joined Caesar in Greece, commanded his left wing in the Battle of Pharsalus, and was sent back as master of the horse (a dictator’s second-in-command) in 48 to keep order in Italy. He failed to do this and was probably removed from his post in 47; he was without employment until 44, when he became consul as colleague and later priest (flamen) of Caesar. As consul and lupercus, one of the celebrants of the festival of the Lupercalia (a fertility festival early in the year), he offered Caesar a diadem—a ribbon signifying royalty—which Caesar, pressured by the citizens’ open distaste for monarchy, refused to accept.

After Caesar’s murder, Antony gained possession of the treasury and of Caesar’s papers, which he used (and perhaps supplemented) to his own advantage. For a time he pursued a moderate policy, but when challenged by the 19-year-old Octavian (later the emperor Augustus), Caesar’s adopted son and heir, he turned against Caesar’s assassins. In June 44 the Senate granted him north and central Gaul and northern Italy as his province for five years. Cicero, however, fiercely attacked him in the Philippic orations between September 44 and April 43, and Octavian joined forces with the consuls in 43. Their combined forces twice defeated Antony, who was besieging Brutus Albinus at Mutina (present-day Modena). Antony managed to withdraw into southern Gaul. The opposing armies broke up after the deaths of both consuls, and Antony was joined by Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Lucius Munatius Plancus with their armies. In early November, Octavian—at this point leading the consular armies—met Antony and Lepidus in Bononia (present-day Bologna). The three entered into a five-year pact, soon ratified by a law, conferring on them a joint autocracy, the triumvirate. More than 200 men were proscribed and (when captured) killed (Cicero was one of them), either because they were enemies of the triumvirs or in order to confiscate their wealth. In 42 Gaius Cassius and Marcus Brutus, defeated in two battles at Philippi (Macedonia) in which Antony distinguished himself as commander, killed themselves and, with these acts, the republican cause.

The triumvirs had agreed to divide the empire, so Antony proceeded to take up the administration of the eastern provinces. He first summoned Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, to Tarsus (southeastern Asia Minor) to answer reports that she had assisted their enemies. She successfully exonerated herself, and Antony spent the winter of 41–40 as her lover at Alexandria, Egypt. In spite of the romantic accounts of ancient authors, however, he made no move to see her again for more than three years, although he greatly increased her territorial possessions during that interval.

Early in 40 Antony’s brother, the consul Lucius Antonius, supported by Antony’s wife, Fulvia, rebelled against Octavian in Italy. Octavian defeated the rebellion, capturing and destroying Perusia (present-day Perugia). Antony had to return to Italy, leaving his general Ventidius to deal with a Parthian invasion of Asia Minor and Syria. After initial skirmishes, Antony and Octavian were reconciled at Brundisium (present-day Brindisi) and, since Fulvia had died in the meantime, Antony married Octavian’s sister, Octavia. The two men divided the empire between them, Octavian taking everything west of Scodra (present-day Shkodër, Alb.) and Antony everything east. Lepidus, who had earlier been confined to Africa, was allowed to keep it. In 39 Antony and Octavian concluded a treaty with Sextus Pompeius (see Pompeius Magnus Pius, Sextus), who controlled the seas and had been blockading Italy.

Antony and Octavia went to Athens, where they were deified; Antony was declared the New Dionysus, mystic god of wine, happiness, and immortality. Antony then organized the East. Ventidius, meanwhile, pushed the Parthians out of Asia Minor in 40 and drove them back beyond the Euphrates River (39–38). Herod—the son of a prominent Palestinian Jewish friend of Rome, Antipater—was set up in Jerusalem as king of Judaea in 37. When Octavian had problems in Italy and the West in 37, Antony met him at Tarentum, supplied him with ships, and agreed to renew the triumvirate for another five years. Lepidus was perhaps not included. In 36 Octavian’s general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa defeated Sextus Pompeius. Then Lepidus and Octavian annexed Africa. Octavia, having been in Rome since 37, was sent to Antony by Octavian in 35. Antony sent her back because she arrived with almost none of the troops Antony had lent Octavian. A long-prepared attack on Parthia in 36 failed, with heavy losses—it was Antony’s first military failure. At this point he turned again to Cleopatra, who had borne him two children and given him full political and financial support.

Alliance with Cleopatra
Religious propaganda declared Cleopatra the New Isis or Aphrodite (mythic goddess of love and beauty) to his New Dionysus, and it is possible (but unlikely) that they contracted an Egyptian marriage; it would not have been valid in Roman law since Romans could not marry foreigners. Apart from their undoubted mutual affection, Cleopatra needed Antony in order to revive the old boundaries of the Ptolemaic kingdom (though her efforts to convince him to give her Herod’s Judaea failed), and Antony needed Egypt as a source of supplies and funds for his planned attack on Parthia. He made Alexandria his headquarters and in 34 celebrated there a successful expedition to Armenia by appearing in a triumphal procession that some Romans were persuaded to view (i.e., through propaganda) as an impious parody of their traditional triumph. A few days later he staged a ceremony at which Cleopatra was pronounced Queen of Kings, and her son and joint monarch Ptolemy XV Caesar (Caesarion, now recognized by Antony as the son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar) was declared King of Kings; the two sons and one daughter that Cleopatra had by this time borne to Antony were also given imposing royal titles. In Rome these moves were depicted by Octavian as involving the transfer of Roman territories into Greek hands. In 33 Octavian began a series of savage political attacks on Antony, which culminated with the production of a document deposited with the Vestal Virgins that was said to be Antony’s will; it left large territories to Cleopatra and her children and provided for his burial in Alexandria.

The triumvirate may have formally ended in late 32, although Antony continued to call himself triumvir on his coins. Both consuls at Rome, however, happened to support Antony, and now, threatened by Octavian, they left for his headquarters, bringing numerous—probably more than 200—Roman senators with them. After Antony had officially divorced Octavia, her brother formally broke off the ties of personal friendship with him and declared war, not against him but against Cleopatra. Antony successively established his headquarters at Ephesus (Selçuk), Athens, and Patras (Pátrai) and marshalled his principal fleet in the gulf of Ambracia (northwestern Greece). More naval detachments occupied a long line of posts along the west coast of Greece. But Octavian’s admiral Agrippa, and then Octavian himself, succeeded in sailing from Italy across the Ionian Sea and effecting landings, and Agrippa captured decisive points on and off the coasts of Macedonia and Greece.

As Antony lost more ground, the morale of his advisers and fighting forces deteriorated, a process aided by Cleopatra’s insistence on being present at his headquarters against the wishes of many of his leading Roman supporters. Most of them gradually left him and were received by Octavian. The decisive battle took place off Actium, outside the Ambracian Gulf, on Sept. 2, 31. When Octavian’s fleet under Agrippa gained the upper hand, Cleopatra broke through with her 60 ships and returned to Alexandria. Antony, having lost the battle and the war, joined her there. When Octavian arrived (summer 30), first Antony and then Cleopatra committed suicide.

Antony was a man of considerable ability and impressive appearance, far more genial than his adversary but not quite equal to Octavian’s exceptional efficiency, energy, and political skill. Nevertheless, he was an outstanding leader of men and a competent general, though, in the end, not such a successful admiral as the experienced Agrippa. As a politician, he was astute enough—aided by a talent for florid oratory—but gradually lost touch with Roman feeling and fatally lacked the cold deliberateness of Octavian. Since the latter proved victorious in his struggle for power, it is his interpretation of events, rather than Antony’s, that has remained lodged in the history books. Cicero had earlier depicted Antony as a drunken, lustful debauchee—though his adulteries may have been less extensive than Octavian’s. More significantly for history, the outcome of the battle off Actium made certain that Octavian’s Roman-Italian policy prevailed throughout the empire, and the Antonian theme of Greco-Roman collaboration was not given a trial until the emperor Constantine captured Byzantium three centuries later.

Michael Grant
E. Badian

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, (born 63 bc?—died March, 12 bc, Campania [Italy]), powerful deputy of Augustus, the first Roman emperor. He was chiefly responsible for the victory over Mark Antony at the Battle of Actium in 31 bc, and during Augustus’ reign he suppressed rebellions, founded colonies, and administered various parts of the Roman Empire. Of modest birth but not a modest man, Agrippa was disliked by the Roman aristocracy. In his own interest he scrupulously maintained a subordinate role in relation to Augustus, but he felt himself inferior to no one else.

Virtually nothing is known of his early life until he is found as the companion of Octavian (the future emperor Augustus) at Apollonia, in Illyria, at the time of Julius Caesar’s murder in 44. Octavian, the adopted son of Caesar, returned with Agrippa to Italy to make his political claim as Caesar’s heir. In 43 Agrippa is thought to have held the office of tribune of the plebs; presumably in this capacity he prosecuted the tyrannicide Cassius, then absent in the East.

In the struggle for power after Julius Caesar’s death, Agrippa served as one of Octavian’s key military commanders. In 41–40 he fought against Mark Antony’s brother Lucius. In 40 he held the post of praetor urbanus (magistrate mainly in charge of administration of justice at Rome) and was a major figure in negotiating a settlement between Octavian and Antony at Brundisium. During the next two years he was away on campaigns in Aquitania and on the Rhine River. When he returned to Italy, he conspicuously refused to celebrate a triumph for his successes in the north, but in 37 he held the office of consul. In the spring of 37 Octavian and Antony came to an agreement at Tarentum, and it must have been then that Antony arranged the marriage of Agrippa to the daughter of Titus Atticus, a wealthy friend of Cicero.

Octavian’s efforts to resist at sea the son of the republican general Gnaeus Pompey, Sextus Pompeius, had not met with success. Agrippa therefore took charge of the operations. He constructed a fine harbour at Puteoli in the Bay of Naples and then won, in 36, two decisive naval victories (at Mylae and Naulochus), ending the threat from Pompeius. For this achievement Agrippa was awarded a golden crown. In 35–34 Octavian waged a vigorous campaign in Dalmatia, and in this Agrippa had a distinguished military role. In 33 Agrippa served as curule aedile (magistrate of public buildings and works) at Rome, even though it was a much lower post than the consulate that he had already held. He used the opportunity to win favour for Octavian by spending his own funds lavishly on building baths, cleaning sewers, and improving the water supply. When Octavian and Antony finally came into direct conflict at the Battle of Actium in 31, Agrippa commanded the fleet and was primarily responsible for Octavian’s victory.

During Octavian’s absence from Rome after Actium, Agrippa managed affairs in the city together with Maecenas, the great patron of poets. In 29–28 Agrippa and Octavian jointly conducted a census and carried out a purge of the Senate; in 28 and 27 Agrippa held the consulate again, both times with Octavian (from 27, Augustus) as his colleague. In 23, a year of constitutional crisis, Augustus fell ill and presented his signet ring to Agrippa, who seemed thus to be designated the emperor’s successor. Agrippa took Augustus’ daughter Julia as his wife after divorcing a niece of Augustus (Marcella the Elder), who had replaced Atticus’ daughter as his wife some four or five years previously.

Agrippa went immediately to Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, from which he administered affairs in the East. The nature of Agrippa’s constitutional power (imperium) at this time is controversial. It has been argued whether the Senate in 23 gave him an imperium greater than that of any other provincial governor in the East (imperium majus). After Augustus’ death Roman historians claimed that Agrippa’s sojourn at Mytilene was a kind of exile as a result of Augustus’ preference for his own nephew Marcellus. This appears implausible. Agrippa was soon back in Rome to act on behalf of the emperor, who himself left for the East in 22. Before Augustus’ return, in 19, Agrippa had left for Gaul and Spain. In Spain he finally subdued the recalcitrant Cantabrians.

Returning to Rome in 18, Agrippa received the power of a tribune (tribunicia potestas), which Augustus also possessed. Perhaps, too, he received an imperium majus, if he had not been granted it in 23. He participated in Augustus’ celebration of the Secular Games at Rome in 17, after which he returned to the East as vicegerent of the emperor. In 15 he accepted an invitation from Herod I the Great to visit Judaea; while in the East, he established colonies of veterans at Berytus and Heliopolis, in Lebanon. He next settled an uprising in the Bosporan kingdom on the Black Sea and set up the cultivated dynast Polemo as king. Herod led a fleet to support Agrippa in the Bosporan affair, and, when it was over, the two traveled together along the coast of western Asia Minor.

In 13 Agrippa’s tribunicia potestas was renewed, and at this time without doubt he received (or had renewed) a grant of imperium majus. Troubles in Pannonia required his presence, but the rigours of the winter of 13–12 caused a fatal illness; he died in March of 12 bc. Augustus delivered a funeral oration in honour of his colleague; a fragment of that oration, in Greek translation, has recently come to light.

Agrippa deserved the honours Augustus heaped upon him. It is conceivable that without Agrippa, Octavian would never have become emperor. Rome remembered him for his generosity in attending to aqueducts, sewers, and baths; and in the mid-20s he completed the celebrated Pantheon. One of Agrippa’s five children by Julia, Agrippina the Elder, was the mother of one emperor (Caligula) and the grandmother of another (Nero). Agrippa’s autobiography is lost, but an extensive geographical commentary that he wrote influenced the extant works of the geographer Strabo and of Pliny the Elder.

G.W. Bowersock

Encyclopaedia Britannica