Caesar: The Salad Days

Now we get to the most famous Roman of them all, or at least the one you’ve been waiting for since this blog began: Caesar. Gaius Julius Caesar was the son of a patrician family that could supposedly trace their line back to the Trojan prince Aeneas, who was the son of the goddess of love, Venus. And yet somehow Caesar wound up a short, rat faced man, going grey at the temples (on some men, this is thought to look distinguished).

Caesar’s early career was fraught with difficulty. Originally the high priest of Jupiter, he was stripped of his position during the civil war for the crime of being related to Marius, and only his mother’s intervention prevented his death at the hands of Sulla. Thinking it best to make himself scarce for a while, Caesar joined the army and left Rome, returning only after Sulla’s demise.

Armed with a high-pitched, querulous voice and terrier-like tenacity, Caesar returned to Rome and became a lawyer. Unlike modern lawyers, his impassioned speeches won him popularity, aided by his prosecution of former governors on charges of corruption. Caesar’s fame as a tough son-of-a-bitch grew when he was captured by pirates in the Mediterranean.  When the pirates tried to ransom him for twenty silver talents, he insisted that he would not allow himself to be released for less than fifty (proving that pride is all well and good, but really should take a back seat to common sense). Once released, Caesar raised a fleet and captured the pirates and crucified them—a promise he had made to them while in captivity. The pirates were not amused.

 Deciding that too many people still liked him,  Caesar decided to move into the next most despised career: politician. Racking up a huge dept, Caesar mysteriously won his election. He later pointed out that the accusations of bribery were completely unwarranted. Although he governed Spain for several years, his debts grew bad enough that Crassus (I told you to remember him!) had to pay off his creditors before they threw Julius in the slammer. Giving his pocket book a breather, Caesar went back to the military, conquered two local tribes (one guess as to what happened to their money), and reformed the laws on regarding debts. Feeling pretty on top of the world, Caesar decided to try for the highest political power in Rome: the consulship.

Unfortunately, a bunch of fuddy-duddies back in Rome were determined that he wouldn’t get it. But Caesar (come on, we all know this guy later declared himself Emperor. He was ballsy.) didn’t like to take no for an answer.

The Trouble with Armies

Now by this time you’d expect the Romans to be pretty tired of all this fighting, and the Germanic tribes thought so too. So they snuck into Gaul and the Po valley until they were thicker than rabbits. But the Romans just couldn’t overlook this and quickly decided that something must be done. So the consul, Gaius Marius changed a few laws so that anyone and not just the landholders could be soldiers. Of course, he went on and won the battle since he had righteousness and the gods on his side not to mention more men, but the integrity of the army was lost forever. Now the soldiers were loyal to their commander (and his promise to grant them settlements in the newly conquered areas) rather than the state of Rome, and patriotism was taking a definite down-swing.  

Sulla, who thought he was a pretty good general, thank you very much, quickly became put out with the fame that Marius was generating. Sulla was known for his blazing red hair and two canine teeth he would bare when angry. This would have been great for cartoonists if they weren’t so afraid of him.

Having run out of foreigners, he went after the next best thing: Romans. After seizing Rome and kicking Marius out, he decided that all non-Romans should go too. Marius, of course, was not so fond of this. So they fought it out in the good old-fashioned way, smashing through cities and killing anyone who suggested that perhaps violence wasn’t the answer after all. In time, Sulla came out on top; he had directed Marius’s armies in the first place, and Marius discovered that finding a trusted lieutenant was hard work—apparently the effort of it killed him before Sulla did. Thus ended Rome’s first civil war.