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Julius Caesar › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 28 April 2011
Bust of Julius Caesar (Tataryn77)

Gaius Julius Caesar was born 12 July 100 BCE (though some cite 102 as his birth year). His father, also Gaius Julius Caesar, was a Praetor who governed the province of Asia and his mother, Aurelia Cotta, was of noble birth. Both held to the Populare ideology of Rome which favored democratization of government and more rights for the lower class as opposed to the Optimate factions' claim of the superiority of the nobility and traditional Roman values which favored the upper classes. It should be understood that the Optimate and the Populare were not political parties in conflict with each other but, rather, political ideologies which many people shifted toward and from, regardless of class in society. The concept of appealing to the people for support, rather than seeking approval from the Roman Senate or the other Patricians, would work well for Caesar later in life.


When he was sixteen, his father died and Caesar became the head of the family. Deciding that belonging to the priesthood would bring the most benefit to the family, he managed to have himself nominated as the new High Priest of Jupiter. As a priest not only had to be of patrician stock, but married to a patrician, Caesar broke off his engagement to a plebian girl and married the patrician, Cornelia, daughter of a high profile and influential member of the Populares, Lucius Cinna. When the Roman ruler Sulla declared himself dictator, he began a systematic purge of his enemies and particularly of those who held to the Populare ideology. Caesar was targeted and fled Rome but his sentence was lifted through the intercession of his mother's family. Still, he was stripped of his position as priest and his wife's dowry was confiscated. Left without means of supporting himself or his family, Caesar joined the army.
He proved himself an effective soldier, even being awarded the civic crown for saving a life in battle, and was promoted to the staff of the military legate to Bithynia to secure a fleet of ships. In this, as in his time as a soldier, Caesar was successful and, when Sulla died, he decided to return to Rome and try his luck as an orator (a modern-day lawyer). In this, too, he proved a success and became well known as an eloquent speaker.


In 75 BCE, while sailing to Greece, Caesar was kidnapped by pirates and held for ransom. In keeping with the high opinion he had of himself, it is said that when the pirates told him he would be ransomed for twenty talents, Caesar claimed he was worth at least fifty. While he was held captive by them, Caesar was treated well and consistently maintained a friendly relationship with the pirates. He is said to have repeatedly told them that, upon his release, he would hunt them down and have them crucified for the affront to his family and personal dignity and this threat the pirates understood as a joke. Upon his release, however, Caesar made good on that threat. He had the pirates' throats slit before crucifixion, however, in a show of leniency owing to their easy treatment of him in captivity. This determination of Caesar's, to do exactly what he said he would do, became one of his defining characteristics throughout his life.


Back in Rome, Caesar was elected military tribune and, his wife Cornelia having died, married Pompeia, a wealthy Optimate granddaughter of the Emperor Sulla. Rising now in prominence in Rome, Caesar had enough prestige to effectively support Gnaeus Pompeius (later known as Pompey the Great ) for a generalship. During this time he also became friends with the wealthiest man in Rome, Marcus Licinius Crassus. Crassus, it is thought, helped fund Caesar's bid for election to the position of Chief Priest (Pontifex Maximus) which he won in 63 BCE. In 62 he was elected praetor, divorced Pompeia after a scandal she was implicated in with another man, and sailed for Spain in 61 as Propraetor (governor) of Hispania.
Posthumous bust of Caesar

Posthumous bust of Caesar

In Spain, Caesar defeated the warring rival tribes, brought stability to the region, and won the personal allegiance of his troops through his skill on the battlefield. He was awarded a consulship by the senate. Returning to Rome with high honors, Caesar entered into a business/political agreement with Pompey and Crassus, in 60 BCE, dubbed The First Triumvirate by modern scholars and historians (though no one in ancient Rome used that term). Caesar married Calpurnia, the daughter of a wealthy and powerful Populare senator, and married his daughter Julia to Pompey to further cement their arrangements. The three men together then effectively ruled Rome, Caesar as consul, by pushing through measures favored by Pompey or Crassus in the senate. Caesar proposed legislation for reform of government, opposing Optimate sentiment, and a redistribution of land to the poor, both long-held Populare goals. His initiatives were supported by Crassus' wealth and Pompey's soldiers, thus solidly aligning The First Triumvirate with the Populare faction. As long as Caesar was a public servant he was safe from prosecution by his Optimate enemies for his legal indiscretions but, once his consulship ended, he was sure to be indicted. Further, Caesar was deeply in debt, both financially and politically, to Crassus, and needed to raise both money and his prestige.


Recognizing the wealth to be gained through conquest, Caesar left Rome with his legions and went to Gaul in 58 BCE. He defeated the tribes there just as he had done in Spain and secured the borders of the provinces. When the Germanic tribes seemed threatening to invade, Caesar built a bridge over the Rhine River, marched his legions across in a show of force, then marched them back and had the bridge dismantled. The Germans understood the message and never invaded. He defeated the tribes of the north and twice invaded Britain (Rome's first incursion into the British isles). At the Battle of Alesia, in 52 BCE, Caesar defeated the Gallic leader Vercingetorix and completed the conquest of Gaul. He was now effectively the sovereign of the province of Gaul with all the attendant wealth at his disposal.
Back in Rome, however, The First Triumvirate had disintegrated. Crassus was killed in battle against the Parthians in 54 BCE and, that same year, Julia died in childbirth. Without Caesar's daughter and his financial and political backer tying him to Pompey, the latter aligned himself with the Optimate faction in Rome which he had long favored. Pompey was now the sole military and political power in Rome and had the senate declare Caesar's governorship of Gaul terminated and, further, ordered him to return to Rome as a private citizen. This would mean Caesar could be prosecuted for his actions when he was consul.
Caesar's Campaign against the Belgae

Caesar's Campaign against the Belgae


Rather than returning to Rome as ordered, Caesar crossed the Rubicon River with his legions and marched on the city in 49 BCE. This was considered an act of war as the Rubicon was the border between the province of Gaul and Rome. Pompey, rather than meet Caesar's legions in battle, fled to Spain and then to Greece where he was defeated by Caesar's much smaller force at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BCE. Pompey himself escaped from the battle and went to Egypt where he expected to find friends from his time spent there. News of Caesar's great victory reached Egypt before him, however, and the Egyptians, believing that the gods favored Caesar over Pompey, had Pompey killed as he stepped on shore.
Caesar, arriving in Egypt in pursuit of Pompey, claimed outrage over Pompey's death, proclaimed martial law, and took over the royal palace. According to the historian Durant, he then secretly sent for Cleopatra VII, co-regent with Ptolomey XIII who had been deposed and was in exile, who had herself smuggled through enemy lines rolled up inside a carpet (according to other sources, Cleopatra took the initiative herself, recognizing in Caesar her only hope to regain the throne). Caesar deposed the co-regent, Ptolemy XIII, and aligned himself with Cleopatra, igniting war between Caesar's legions and the Egyptian army.Besieged in the palace by the Egyptians under Achillas, Caesar and Cleopatra held out for six months until reinforcements arrived in March of 47 BCE and the Egyptian army was defeated.
Caesar and Cleopatra seemed to have become lovers shortly after meeting, perhaps even that very night, and he remained in Egypt with her nine months. The historian Suetonius writes, he “often feasted with Cleopatra till daybreak and would have gone through Egypt with her in her royal barge almost to Ethiopia had not his soldiers threatened mutiny.” In 47 BCE, Cleopatra gave birth to a son, Ptolemy Caesar (known as Caesarion) and proclaimed him her heir and successor to the throne.
At this time, Pharnaces, son of Mithridates, fomented rebellion in the east and Caesar rose to crush it. Leaving Cleopatra as ruler in Egypt, Caesar led his legions through Asia Minor, defeating the tribes and subjugating the people there, and then turned his attention to his enemies in Rome. At the battle of Thapsus (near modern Tunisia) Caesar's legions defeated the forces of the Optimate faction in 46 BCE and, in July of that year, he returned to Rome triumphant.
Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar


In Egypt, Cleopatra hoped Caesar would recognize and legitimize Caesarion as his son and heir. Caesar, however, named his grandnephew, Gaius Octavius Thurinus ( Octavian ) heir. He did, however, bring Cleopatra, their son, and her entourage, to Rome and set them up comfortably in a home which he visited frequently, despite the fact that he was already married to Calpurnia. Although the senate seemed incensed by this indiscretion (as the bigamy laws in Rome were strictly enforced) Caesar was granted the title Dictator Perpetuus (dictator for life) in 44 BCE. Contrary to popular belief, he never held the title `emperor'.
He initiated many reforms including further land redistribution among the poor, land reform for veterans which eliminated the need to displace other citizens, as well as political reforms which proved unpopular with the senate. He ruled without regard to the senate, usually simply telling them which laws he wanted passed and how quickly, in an effort to consolidate and increase his own personal power. He reformed the calendar, created a police force, ordered the re-building of Carthage, and abolished the tax system, among many other pieces of legislation (of which quite a few were long-time Populare goals). His time as dictator is generally regarded as a prosperous one for Rome but the senators, and especially those among the Optimate faction, feared he was becoming too powerful and could soon abolish the senate entirely to rule absolutely as a king.


On March 15, 44 BCE, Caesar was assassinated by the senators in the portico of the basilica of Pompey the Great. Among the assassins were Marcus Junius Brutus, Caesar's second choice as heir, and Gaius Cassius Longinus, along with many others (some ancient sources cite as many as sixty assassins). Caesar was stabbed twenty three times and died at the base of Pompey's statue. The assassins, however, made the mistake of neglecting to plan what they would do following Caesar's death and, in so doing, mistakenly allowed Marcus Antonius ( Mark Antony ), Caesar's cousin and right-hand man, to live.Mark Antony turned the tide of Roman popular opinion against the conspirators and, allied with Octavian, defeated the forces of Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BCE.
Mark Antony later allied himself with Cleopatra VIII of Egypt following the victory and, Octavian thought, presented a substantial threat to Rome. In time, the former allies went to war and met in final battle. Cleopatra's and Antony's forces were defeated by Octavian at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE and they killed themselves a year later. Following their deaths, Octavian ordered Cleopatra's son, Caesarion, murdered. After Octavian consolidated his power as the first emperor of Rome, he had Caesar deified and, as his adopted heir, proclaimed himself a son of god and took the name Augustus Caesar, Emperor. In doing so, he initiated the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire.

Antigonus I › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Donald L. Wasson
published on 11 January 2012
Coin of Antigonus I (Unknown Artist)

Antigonus I Monophthalmus ("the One-Eyed") (382 -301 BCE) was one of the successor kings to Alexander the Great, controlling Macedonia and Greece.
When Alexander the Great died in 323 BCE, a debate ensued over his massive kingdom stretching from Greece to India. It was eventually divided among three of his most loyal generals and their families -- Ptolemy I and his descendants (among them Queen Cleopatra ) would rule Egypt ; Seleucos and his family ruled Syria and the Near Eastern provinces, and lastly, the descendants of Antigonus ruled Macedonia and Greece. Although this was the way it ended, it was not how it began. The in-fighting that followed Alexander's death and the battle over his kingdom lasted over thirty years, and one of those who wished to be the successor to the great Alexander was Antigonus the one-eyed.
Antigonus was a Macedonian general and nobleman who served ably under both Alexander the Great and his father Phillip II.After Phillip's death by assassination at the hands of his former bodyguard Pausanias, Alexander decided to follow his father's dream and cross the Hellespont into Anatolia to meet and defeat Darius III and conquer the Persian Empire.Antigonus, at the age of sixty, followed Alexander on this campaign.


After crossing the Hellespont, Alexander marched his troops northward, pausing briefly to give homage to the Homeric heroes, Achilles and the fallen Greeks at Troy. He then moved southward defeating the Persians at the Battle of Granicus in May 334 BCE. Before leaving to eventually meet and defeat Darius III at Issus (November 333 BCE), Alexander left Antigonus as satrap of Phrygia (western Anatolia) with a force of 1500 troops to help defend the satrapy, maintaining a capital at Celanae.He would remain there for the remainder of Alexander's war against the Persians. Antigonus' primary responsibility was to maintain Alexander's lines of supply and communication; however, his stay there did not go smoothly. After Alexander and his massive army moved further south into Syria, the Persians attempted to regain some of the territory they had lost. Antigonus and his army had to defend his domain in Phrygia on three different occasions, winning all three battles. One of these battles was against the Greek mercenary Memnon (loyal to Darius) who had recently been defeated at Granicus.
In 323 BCE Alexander died in Babylon, but just prior to dying, Alexander handed his signet ring to his senior cavalry officer Perdiccas, a possible indication to some that Alexander was naming him as a successor. Periccas immediately brought the other generals together to discuss the future of the empire. Meleager, an infantry leader, was considered (at least in his own mind) to be second in command -- a position he would not remain in for long. Perdiccas had him executed: an indication that a fight over regency of the empire lay ahead. The major question remained: Who was to rule? Perdiccas elected to wait until Roxanne and Alexander's child was born, the son who would become Alexander IV. However, the young Alexander would never rule, as both Roxanne and young Alexander were executed by Antipater ’s son Cassander in 310 BCE, solving the entire inheritance problem.
Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great

The generals finally agreed to divide Alexander's empire in the Partition of Babylon. The partition granted Antigonus the satrapy of Phrygia as well as Pamphylia and Lycia (northwestern Anatolia). Antipater remained as regent of Macedonia while his son, Cassander, received Caria (southwestern Anatolia). Ptolemy remained as regent in Egypt. Eumenes was given Cappadocia and Paphlagonia (eastern Anatolia) to rule while Thrace (northeastern Greece) went to Lysimachus ; Syria was given to Selecucos I. This division, however, was not to remain. There would be twenty more years of war. Alliances came and went, peace was inconsistent and jealousy remained throughout.
The arguments over territory began when Perdiccas became angry at Antigonus because he refused to help Eumenes keep control of his allotted territory. Antigonus wanted to avoid conflict with Periccas so he and his thirteen year old son Demetrius sought refuge in Macedonia, gaining favor of Antipater -- they united against Perdiccus and Eumenes. Eumenes was defeated and imprisoned in 321 BCE. Next, Antigonus allied himself with Antipater, Ptolemy, and Lysimachus against Perdiccas.Perdiccas died by assassination in 321 BCE thus ending the alliance.
Upon the death of his father Antipater in 319 BCE, Cassander was denied the regency of Macedonia; Antipater had believed him too young to oppose the other regents. Instead, he named Polyperchon as the new regent, who allied himself with Eumenes to maintain his regency (even though Eumenes was still imprisoned at the fortress at Nora). The other regents refused to recognize Polyperchon's authority, fearing a threat to their own regency. Eumenes escaped from his imprisonment, however, to aid Polypheron. Antigonus fought Eumenes twice, defeating him both times, with the result that Eumenes' famed Silver Shields, an elite Macedonian regiment, turned him over to Antigonus who summarily had him executed.
In order to gain the regency he felt he deserved, Cassander turned to Antigonus and Lysimachus for help. Antigonus wanted control of Macedonia, so he agreed to the alliance. Cassander gained control of Macedonia forcing Polypheron out. With Eumenes defeated, Antigonus controlled much of the eastern Mediterranean. He and his forces marched into Babylon causing Seleucos to flee to Egypt and form an alliance with Ptolemy. After Antigonus besieged the island city of Tyre, he moved his forces into Syria; however, his advances were stopped by Ptolemy and Seleucos.
Map of the Successor Kingdoms, c. 303 BCE

Map of the Successor Kingdoms, c. 303 BCE

This desire to reunite Alexander's kingdom under his leadership brought Antigonus against the combined forces of Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Cassander, and Seleucos. After Antigonos ’s son Demetrius was defeated by Ptolemy at the Battle of Gaza, Seleucos took back Babylon. With this defeat, a limited peace was declared, lasting from 315 to 311 BCE. The peace agreement left Antigonus in control of all of Asia Minor and Syria. The uneasy peace ended when Antigonus decided to make another move at claiming Macedonia and Greece by extending a peace offering to the Greek city-states granting them self-government and withdrawal of all Macedonian troops.
The historian Diodorus spoke of this extension of a helping hand when he stated in his World History :
All the Greeks should be free, exempt from garrisons, and autonomous. The soldiers carried the motion and Antigonus dispatched messengers in every direction to announce the resolution. He calculated as follows: The Greeks' hopes for freedom would make them willing allies in the war, while the generals and satraps in the eastern satrapies, who suspected Antigonus of seeking to overthrow the kings who had succeeded Alexander, would change their minds and willingly submit to his orders when they saw him clearly taking up the war on their behalf.
While he gained support of the Greek city states, Antigonus incurred the wrath of the others who allied against him: Lysimachus invaded Asia Minor from Thrace, securing the old Greek Ionian cities and Seleucos marched through Mesopotamia and Cappadocia. The wars returned and continued for a number of years.
Seleucus I Nicator

Seleucus I Nicator

Ptolemy, Seleucos, Cassander, and Lysimachus finally combined their forces and met Antigonus in Phrygia in 301 BCE. At the age of 80, Antigonus died in the Battle of Ipsus from the simple throw of a javelin. Demetrius fled back to Macedonia to hopefully secure his rule there. For almost two more decades, he and his son Antigonus Gonata fought for control of Macedonia, eventually gaining control, establishing the Antigonid dynasty.
How can one assess Antigonus? Was he a great general? Plutarch in his Life of Demetrios said:
If Antigonus could only have borne to make some trifling concessions, and if he had shown any moderation in his passion for empire, he might have maintained for himself till his death and left to his son behind him the first place among the kings. But he was of a violent and haughty spirit; and the insulting words as well as actions in which he allowed himself could not be borne by young and powerful princes, and provoked them into combining against him.
Plutarch later stated that as the armies of his enemies came toward him at the Battle of Ipsus, he was confident that Demetrius would still rescue him (Demetrius was engaged elsewhere in the battle). Antigonus remained that way “until he was borne down by a whole multitude of darts, and fell."


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