Julius Caesar Biography


Julius Caesar, born in 100 B.C. and assassinated March 15, 44 B.C., held almost every position of importance in the Roman government during his lifetime. Among his positions, for example, were: Quaestor in Spain, where he settled both his own and Spain's financial problems (68 B.C.), Aedile (65 B.C.), Pontifex Maximus (63 B.C.), Praetor (62 B.C.), Governor of Further Spain (61 B.C.), member of the Triumvirate with Crassus and Pompey (60 B.C.), Consul and Governor of Cisapline Gaul, Province, and Illyricum (59 B.C.), Dictator (for eleven days, 49 B.C.), Consul, Dictator, and Imperator for life, Consul for the next ten years, then Dictator and Praefectus Morum for life (45 B.C.).

After the formation of the Triumvirate, Caesar spent seven years, from 58 to 51 B.C. fighting in Gaul, Germany, and Britain. During that time, however, the Triumvirate disintegrated. Pompey bad married Caesar's daughter, Julia, and after her death (53 B.C.), Caesar's relation-ship with Pompey was weakened considerably. Also, Crassus was killed while fighting the Parthians (53 B.C.), and there remained only the violent rivalry between Caesar and Pompey. Pompey was leader of the senatorial party, but Caesar was immensely popular with the populace. And, to complicate the feud further, the Senate was afraid of Caesar; it so feared Caesar, in fact, that it tried to persuade him to disband his army. Caesar agreed to do so, but only if Pompey would also give up his. The Senate then responded with an order (illegal) that Caesar must disband his army. But the wily general defied the order and marched across the Rubicon (49 B.C.), and began a civil war that ended when he defeated Pompey on the plains of Parsalus (48 B.C.). After that battle, Caesar warred in Egypt, consorted with Cleopatra, and finally returned to Rome as dictator.

Concerning his Commentaries, in all probability Caesar wrote the accounts on the Gallic War in 52 and 51 B.C., meaning of course that they were published at a particularly opportune time. After Crassus' death (53 B.C.), Caesar was enmeshed in the political struggles that ended in his absolute power, and the image of him revealed by the Commentaries — soldier, statesman, ruler — surely did much to insure the popularity he needed to win. But, though this text may have been prepared for popular consumption, it is still a historical document of major importance, for it was based on Caesar's own notes and battle reports and, in addition, it has been studied for centuries by students of literature and students of war. Both groups have profited by that study.

The secrets of Caesar's great success — speed, supply lines, shrewd military tactics as opposed to brute strength and slaughter — are obvious to anyone who reads the Commentaries. And at the core of his success, probably, is celeritas. Caesar always traveled with amazing rapidity and his store of time saved frequently saved the battle. However, there is another kind of speed that is equally important: often he would make his decisions, act quickly, and gain the advantage of any opportunity that presented itself. An army does not accelerate by simply having its soldiers in good physical condition — there are other matters just as important. One of the themes regularly repeated in the Gallic Wars is the precaution Caesar took to maintain his food supply (and the precautions he took to restrict the enemy's), for he knew that unless supply lines were maintained, his soldiers' bravery and skill would mean nothing.

Caesar's brilliance as a tactician also made a large contribution to his military successes. Notice while reading the Gallic Wars that he usually keeps units in reserve to assist Romans in difficulty or to take advantage of an unexpected opportunity. When he is faced by larger forces, common in most of the major battles, he deliberately maneuvers his troops into a dominating field so that the enemy's larger numbers are less efficient. Also, he often moves his army so that he has to fight only one group of the enemy forces at a time; besides this shrewd maneuvering, Caesar never attacks foolishly and always protects his rear.