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Gaius Julius Caesar

Bust of Caesar. Antikensammlung, Berlin (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering. Gaius Julius Caesar (13 July 100 - 15 March 44 BCE), Roman statesman, general and author, famous for the conquest of Gaul (modern France and Belgium) and his subsequent coup d'état. He changed the Roman republic into a monarchy and a truly Mediterranean empire.

This is the seventh part of an article which contains a biography and tries to assess Caesar's historical significance. On overview of all articles can be found here.

Youth (100-82)
Early career (81-59)
Caesar's consulship (59)
The conquest of Gaul (58-54)
The reconquest of Gaul (54-51)
The Civil Wars (51-47)
Domestic policy (47-44)
Constitutional problems
Caesar's inheritance (44-27)
Caesar's writings
Map of Numidia and Africa in the age of Caesar. Design Jona Lendering.

Domestic policy (47-44)

The last republicans had regrouped in Africa, and had brought together a large army. Caesar landed with six legions (the veterans of the Fifth, and XXV, XXVI, XXVIII, XXIX, XXX). This was not enough, however: Caesar had to call for help from at least six of the eight legions that had been pensioned off a few months before (VII, VIII, VIIII, X, XIII, XIV). Caesar overcame the republicans at Thapsus in Africa (= modern Tunisia) on April 6, 46 BCE. Their commander Cato committed suicide, because he did not want the dictator to pardon him.

Being on the spot, Caesar annexed some of the territories of the Numidian king Juba (text). The civil wars seemed over, and in September he celebrated four triumphs: he had defeated the Gallic leader Vercingetorix, the Egyptian king Ptolemy, Pharnaces of Pontus, and Juba of Numidia (text).

In 45 BCE, however, Caesar had to suppress a final revolt in Hispania, led by a son of Pompey. In the battle of Munda, Caesar was victorious for the last time (March 17). Again, he had to use the legions that had fought in Gaul: V, VI, X, III and maybe XXVIII.

He returned home in October and showed himself a restless reformer. The Roman mob had received free grain doles and Caesar reduced the number of recipients from 322,000 to 150,000. The poor were offered a new life overseas, where he ordered cities like Carthage and Corinth to be rebuilt and founded new towns, such as Arles and Seville. In Asia Minor and Sicily, he introduced a new system of taxation, which protected the subjects from extortion.

Nine veteran legions were finally disbanded in 45. The soldiers who had been with since the war in Gaul were paid an additional silver talent (21 kg or the equivalent of 26 year's pay). Several legions were constituted as a partial substitute.

Debts were a serious problem, because interest had been sky-high during the Civil War. Caesar disappointed radical reformers (like Marcus Caelius Rufus) who had expected a total cancellation. Caesar decreed, however, that the debtors should satisfy their creditors according to a valuation of their possessions at the price which they had paid for them before the civil war, deducting whatever interest already had been paid. This arrangement wiped out about a fourth part of the debts.

Many public works were carried out in Italy. Most famous is the Forum of Caesar, a kind of shopping complex in the center of Rome. On the old Forum Romanum, the political heart of the empire, Caesar rebuilt the speaker's platform, the court house, and the Senate's building - from now on to be called Curia Julia. (While the Senate's building was under construction, the Senate gathered in the Theater of Pompey, which was outside the city, where Caesar's army could control its meetings.) Marcus Terrentius Varro, the commander of Pompey's army in Córdoba, was appointed head of the new state library. To ensure that Rome would become a center of learning, Caesar conferred privileges to all teachers of the liberal arts.

As a legislator, Caesar prepared standard regulations for the municipal constitutions and proposed a law against extravagance. The Jews -who had helped him during the Egyptian campaign- were protected. He even planned a codification of all existent Civil Law (a project not executed until 438 CE). Remarkable was the reorganization of the calendar: the republican year had counted 355 days, the deficiency made up by randomly adding an extra month. Following the advice of Cleopatra's astronomer, Caesar added four extra months to the year 46, decreeing that from 1 January 45 "our" calendar was to be used (with 365.25 days) (text).

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Bust of Julius Caesar from Priene. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins.
Bust of Julius Caesar from Priene (British Museum)

The empire had been run by a government that had consisted of 600 senators, several magistrates, several governors, and their personal staff. Caesar recognized the need to enlarge the bureaucracy. He enlarged the number of senators from 600 to 900, rose the number of praetores from ten to twelve, the aediles from four to six, and the quaestores from twenty to forty. The last measure granted some justice in provincial taxation, but did not establish a serious professional bureaucracy as yet.

Caesar's most important policy was his lavish granting of citizenship: those who were subjected by the Romans could receive a set of extra civil rights and a small share in the benefits of empire. During the Social War, the Italian allies had received this Roman Citizenship from Caesar's uncle; Caesar extended the privilege first to the Gauls along the Po, and -later- to some Gauls that he had subdued. The inhabitants of many individual towns received the privilege too. To the dismay of the old aristocracy, Caesar even started to recruit new senators from outside Italy.

Part eight    : Overview Caesar
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