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The Rise of Julius Caesar
From Republic to Empire: Sequencing Chart
From 264 to 146 BCE, the Romans fought three wars against Carthage, known as the
Punic Wars. The two great powers fought for control of strategic islands throughout the
Mediterranean region. Rome eventually destroyed Carthage and took control of its
lands. After its success against Carthage, the Roman Republic continued to expand
by conquering new lands. These new lands were organized into provinces and put
under the control of local governors.
This focus on expansion led to negative effects on the city of Rome and its surrounding
areas. Agriculture in the provinces was more successful than in the areas surrounding
Rome. Local farmers lost business to the competition from the new provinces, which
contributed to a widening gap in wealth between the commoners and the elite
members of society. This led to growing unrest in the Republic.
During this time, Gaius Julius Caesar (100–44 BCE) was born into a wealthy family.
“Caesar” was actually a family name used by those in Gaius Julius’s line. The term was
eventually adopted as an imperial title, and continued to be used even when the crown
passed on to other families. Today, when people speak about Caesar, however, they
are usually referring to Julius Caesar. For clarity, that is how the term will be used in
this lesson.
Dictator for Life
Under the influence of Pompey, who had powerful connections in Rome, the Senate
commanded Caesar to give up command of his army and return to Rome alone.
Caesar agreed only on the condition that Pompey would also give up command of his
army. When the Senate refused Caesar’s request, he ignored their order, and in 49
BCE he led his army across the Rubicon River into Italy to fight Pompey and his army.
By ignoring the Senate and crossing the Rubicon River, Caesar was seen as having
committed an act of war. Because of this, many historians see Caesar’s crossing of the
Rubicon as the end of the Roman Republic. The expression “crossing the Rubicon” is
used to this day to mean reaching a point of no return. Caesar pursued Pompey’s army
through Greece and Spain, where Caesar defeated them. He then crossed the
Adriatic Sea to face Pompey himself at Pharsalus in 48 BCE. Ultimately, Caesar
triumphed and Pompey fled to Egypt, where he was killed in September of that year.
With Pompey out of the way, Caesar continued his conquests by traveling to Egypt to
claim it for Rome. At the time, Egypt was ruled by Cleopatra. Cleopatra was the last
ruler of the Macedonian dynasty, which had been established by Ptolemy, a Greek
general under Alexander the Great. Ptolemy had established himself as the ruler
of Egypt after the death of Alexander. Caesar’s conquest of Egypt further expanded
the territory ofRome and increased Caesar’s reputation.
After the successful campaign in Egypt, Caesar returned to Rome in triumph. He was
very generous toward the commoners in Rome, which made him very popular. Caesar
was declared dictator for life instead of the normal term of six months. Dictators were
given ultimate power over the government, which is why terms were usually limited.
Caesar named himself Imperator, the Roman word for emperor. This made many
Senators uneasy.
The Ides of March
The rise of Caesar made some members of the Roman Senate fear he was gaining too
much power. They wanted Rome to remain a republic, and they thought that Caesar
was trying to establish himself as a monarch, or king. If that happened, each leader
would pass the crown to his heir instead of being elected. This would mean the crown
would stay in a single family line, creating a dynasty, and the Senate would lose much
of their power.
One group of Senators believed that they could restore the Republic if they
assassinated, or killed, Caesar. This group was led by the senator Gaius Cassius
Longinus, a general in the Roman army, and Marcus Junius Brutus. Brutus had been a
supporter of Pompey, but after Pompey’s defeat at Pharsalus, Caesar
pardoned Brutusto make him the governor of Gaul.
According to legend, Caesar was warned about the attack by a soothsayer, or fortune
teller, who told him to be careful on the Ides of March (March 15). His wife Calpurnia
had dreams of disasters, such as the house collapsing. Because of these omens, as
well as his poor health, Caesar thought about staying home on March 15.
Unfortunately for him, he decided against this, in part because Brutus advised him not
to believe in the omens.
As Caesar entered the senate-house, the Senators took out the knives hidden under
their togas and stabbed Caesar 35 times until he fell dead on the senate-house floor.
Following his murder in 44 BCE, Rome fell into a period of chaos.