Government and Politics

The Roman Republic


The Roman general and statesman Julius Caesar (100–44 B.C.) was stabbed to death in the senate house by a group of men, including some of his former friends, who viewed him as an ambitious tyrant and a threat to the Roman Republic. The date of the assassination, March 15, fell into relatively common usage thanks to William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Julius Caesar (written in the late 1590s), which has a soothsayer warning the Roman general to “Beware the ides of March.” After Caesar’s death in 44 B.C., a triumvirate was formed to rule Rome, with Lepidus, Octavian (who would in 27 B.C. become Augustus, the Roman Empire’s first ruler), and Marc Antony sharing power. It was Marc Antony (c. 83–30 B.C.), of “Antony and Cleopatra” fame, who aroused the mobs against Caesar’s conspirators, driving them out of Rome.

The events illustrate the controversy about Julius Caesar: While some clearly viewed him as a demagogue who forced his way into power, others considered the patrician-born Caesar a man of noble character who defended the rights of the people in an oligarchic state—where the government was controlled by a few people who had only their own interests in mind. This divided opinion has followed Caesar throughout history.

While opinion is still divided on what kind of a ruler Caesar was, there can be no denying his contributions—both to Rome (which would soon emerge as the Roman Empire) and to modern civilization. In his battles, Caesar brought the provinces of Italy under control and defeated his former co-ruler, Pompey the Great (who had, along with Caesar and Crassus, formed the first triumvirate), effectively ending the oligarchy that had ruled Rome. In so doing, he had succeeded in ending the disorder that had plagued Rome for decades and laid the groundwork for the formation of the empire under his grandnephew Augustus in 27 B.C. While Caesar was in office, he planned and carried out several reforms, not the least of which was the implementation of the Julian calendar, which he introduced in 46 B.C. The Gregorian calendar we use today evolved from it.

Caesar also left a legacy of literature: He penned a total of 10 books on his battles in Gaul (c. 58–50 B.C.) and on the civil war, which he had more or less started in 49 B.C. These clear commentaries are still considered masterpieces of military history.


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