Gaius Julius Caesar

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Caesar, Gaius Julius


Born 102 or 100 B.C. in Rome; died there Mar. 15, 44 B.C. Roman statesman, political leader, general, and writer.

Of the patrician Julian clan and related by birth to G. Marius and Cinna, Caesar was compelled during Sulla’s rule to leave Rome for Asia Minor. After Sulla’s death in 78 B.C., Caesar returned to Rome and began his political career with speeches against G. Dolabella and P. Antonius, who had been accused of extortion in the provinces. He became a military tribune in 73 and fought to restore the rights of the tribunes of the people, which had been curtailed by Sulla. He also sought to restore the position of the Marians, who had been persecuted during Sulla’s dictatorship, and even praised the name of Marius. In 68 B.C. he was made a quaestor. After being elected an aedile in 65, Caesar staged expensive spectacles, lavish theatrical shows, gladiatorial combats, and public dinners, winning popularity among wide circles of the Roman citizenry. He was elected a praetor for 72 and later served two years as governor of the Roman province of His-pania Ulterior, where he demonstrated extraordinary administrative and military ability.

In order to strengthen his political position and ensure his election as counsul for 59 B.C., Caesar, by private agreement, entered into an alliance in 60 with the most influential political leaders of the day—Pompey the Great and M. Crassus—to form the First Triumvirate. In 59, while consul, he promulgated several laws designed to strengthen the government and resolve certain social problems. Approximately 20,000 citizens—Pompey’s veterans and fathers with at least three children—received portions of land in Campania; in the interests of the publicans the purchase price of the tax-farming contract in Asia was lowered by one-third. After his consulship, Caesar succeeded in having himself appointed as governor of Cisalpine Gaul and, subsequently, of Narbonensis, with the right to recruit legions and wage war. In the course of his Gallic campaigns of 58–51, Caesar conquered all of Transalpine Gaul from Bélgica to Aquitania. His army was subsequently reduced to ten legions. While in Gaul, Caesar skillfully interfered in the political struggle in Rome.

The death of Crassus in 53 B.C. led to the disintegration of the triumvirate, which was also facilitated by increasingly strained relations between Caesar and Pompey, each of whom was striving for sole power. The hostility between them was complicated by the acute political struggle between the adherents of traditional senatorial, republican rule and those who sought a monarchical government. The republicans were led by Pompey, and Caesar headed the opposition. After smashing Pompey’s troops and political allies at Ilerda (49), Pharsalus (48), Thapsus (46), and Munda (45), Caesar found himself at the head of the Roman state. His power was expressed in the traditional republican forms: he exercised the plenipotentiary powers of a dictator (in 49, 48–46, 45, and from 44 for life), consular power (from 47 for five years and from 44 for ten years), the permanent power of a tribune (from 48) and prefect of morals (from 46), and other plenipotentiary powers. In 44 he became censor for life, and all his decrees were approved in advance by the Senate and the Popular Assembly.

Having concentrated all power in his own hands, Caesar became a de facto monarch, although he retained the republican form of rule. He was awarded the external tokens of monarchical power: a gilded chair, an honorary chariot, special clothing and footwear, and residence on the Palatine Hill. A statue was erected in his honor with the inscription “He is a demigod,” and the days of his victories were proclaimed public holidays. Caesar’s monarchical tendencies provoked powerful opposition among the republican-minded aristocracy and even among some of his own former supporters. A conspiracy of more than 80 persons was organized against him, headed by G. Cassius Longinus and M. J. Brutus. Caesar was killed on the ides of March during a Senate session.

Caesar was a major Roman writer. Two of his major works have survived: the commentaries The Gallic Wars and The Civil War. They are characterized by a clear, well-reasoned composition, unforced narration, precision of language, concrete imagery, and subtle characterizations of individuals and entire peoples (especially the Gauls). The speeches and letters, two pamphlets, several poetical works, and a treatise on grammar have not survived.

Caesar was an outstanding general. His talent as a commander clearly manifested itself in the conquest of Gaul (58–51 B.C.) and the Civil War (49–45 B.C.). As late as the 19th century, military leaders still studied the military arts from Caesar, and A. V. Suvorov and Napoleon considered a knowledge of Caesar’s works essential for every officer.

Caesar’s strategy was characterized by an ability to determine correctly the direction of the main thrust of attack; he used any disagreement in the enemy camp to his own advantage and destroyed the enemy piecemeal, for example, the Helvetii and Suevi in 58 B.C., the Belgae in 57, the Veneti, in 56, the Treveri in 52, and the Arverni in 51. Caesar carried out bold strategic maneuvers in order to resolve strategic problems later faced in defeating the enemy in the Civil War, first in Spain, then in Greece, and later in Africa, Asia, and again in Spain. He skillfully organized rapid marches; for example, while fighting the Suevi in Gaul, Caesar’s army covered approximately 200 km in seven days. He boldly maneuvered against the enemy’s lines of communications (in 49 B.C. in Spain, Caesar gained victory at Ilerda without entering into battle, solely by superiority in maneuvering) and organized joint actions by the army and the navy, such as the naval landing operations in Britain in 55 and 54.

Characteristic of Caesar’s tactics were a detailed study of the enemy and the psychology and capabilities of the enemy generals, a meticulous working out of the battle plan, use of the element of surprise, and a regard for the characteristics of the terrain. To Caesar belongs the credit for creating reserves and working out the principles for using them. “For battle, Caesar usually arranged his army in three lines: four cohorts of each legion stood in the first line, and three cohorts each in the second and third lines. . . . The third line comprised a general reserve for decisive maneuvers against the enemy’s front or flank and for repelling the enemy’s decisive strike” (F. Engels, Izbrannye voen-nye proizvedeniia, 1956, p. 153). In the battle of Pharsalus (48) against Pompey’s superior forces, Caesar, in addition to the main reserve, created a special reserve of six cohorts, which he arranged beyond the right flank perpendicular to the third line of the front and facing the flank. He used it to repulse the enemy’s cavalry and then to counterattack and succeeded in routing the enemy. Caesar extensively used and improved fortifications, constructing roads, bridges, fortified camps, and systems of structures for laying siege to forts. At the siege of Alesia (52 B.C.), Caesar spent 40 days in erecting two powerful, fortified lines around the town and then forced the enemy under siege to surrender.


Bellum Gallicum. Leipzig, 1968.
Commentarii belli civilis. Leipzig, 1969.
In Russian translation:
Zapiski, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1962.


Mashkin, N. A., Printsipat Avgusta. Moscow-Leningrad, 1949.
Utchenko, S. L. Krizis ipadenie rimskoi respubliki. Moscow, 1965.
Utchenko, S. L. Iulii Tsezar’. Moscow, 1976. (Contains bibliography.)
Mommsen, T., Istoriia Rima, vol. 3. Moscow, 1941. (Translated from German.)
Ferrero, G. Velichie i padenie Rima, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1915–16. (Translated from Italian.)
Meyer, E. Caesars Monarchie und das Principal des Pompejus, 2nd ed. Stuttgart-Vienna, 1919.
Fuller, J. Julius Caesar: Man, Soldier, and Tyrant. London, 1965.
Balsdon, J. Julius Caesar: A Political Biography. New York, 1967.

V. I. KUZISHCHIN and R. A. SAVUSHKIN (the art of generalship)

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.