Gaius Julius Caesar was born on July 13, 100 BC to a patrician family who claimed descendance from the kings of Alba Longa (the original home of many of Rome's oldest patrician families) and through them to Aeneas of Troy and his mother, the goddess Venus.
Caesar's parents, Gaius Julius Caesar Sr. and Aurelia were both from patrician families. Unlike many Roman nobles who lived in lavish homes on the Palatine, Rome's most fashionable neighborhood, Caesar grew up in his family's insula (apartment house) in the Subura, the city's poorest and most densely populated district. Living in the Subura exposed Young Caesar to people from the far flung corners of the Roman world. As was the custom among young Roman nobleman, Caesar studied rhetoric, history and law and trained in the martial arts.
Caesar began his career in the Roman courts, where he became a successful advocate and a highly respected orator. In 62 BC, he was elected to Rome's second ranking political office, the praetorship. He was elected in suo anno, meaning literally "in his year." In suo anno was a term used to describe men who attained office at the exact age law and custom prescribed. To be elected in suo anno was also a great distinction because it meant a man gained an office on his first attempt.
A group of conservative Roman senators felt Caesar was too ambitious and posed a danger to the republic. They blocked his triumph (official celebration) after his highly successful praetorian military command in Spain. They also conspired to keep him from Rome's highest political office, the consulship. Despite their opposition, Caesar was voted consul in 59 BC in suo anno.
During his consulship, Caesar pushed through a special law giving him a five-year command in Cispine Gaul and Illyricum, the Roman provinces of northern Italy and the lands along the Adriatic coast. Caesar saw this as a great opportunity to expand Rome's empire. At the end of the first five-years, Caesar secured an additional five-year command from the senate to complete the work of pacifying Gaul
In addition to his political skills, Caesar was a brilliant military commander. His campaigns in Gaul during his governorship brought enormous wealth to Rome. His reports to the senate and people of Rome about the campaigns (Caesar's Commentaries) were read widely and gained Caesar considerable public acclaim.
As is often the case, people considered great by contemporaries or historians are also great killers. Reportedly, one million people were killed and another million enslaved in pursuit of Caesar's aims in Gaul.
After a 10 year governorship in Gaul, Caesar planned to return to Rome to stand for his second consulship. The imperium (official authority) he held as Governor of a Roman provence would need to be relinquished before he could enter Rome and present himself as a candidate for the consulship. The same group of senators who opposed Caesar throughout his career were threatening him again. The moment he relinquished his imperium, Caesar would be subject to arrest. His other option was to remain outside Rome's borders and run for the consulship in absentia (an election held in the absence of the candidate himself). This was also blocked by Caesar's enemies in the senate.
Caesar faced two alternatives: he could lay down his imperium and face arrest, conviction and banishment from Rome, or he could drop his demand to be allowed stand for election in absentia, forfeiting his candidacy for consul. For the first time in his life Caesar would not obtain a political office he sought in suo anno, and his honor was sorely offended. On the 10th day of January, 49 BC, facing alternatives he deemed untenable, Caesar made the fateful decision to march on Rome. He and his troops crossed the Rubicon River, and in doing so declared civil war. His enemies in the senate fled the city to marshal their forces in the east, leaving Caesar to enter Rome unopposed. Caesar's legions defeated a large republican army at Pharsalus (in Greece) in 48 BC, republican forces in northern Africa in 46 BC, and his final opposition in Hispania (Spain) in 45 BC.
After Pharsalus, Caesar adopted a policy of clemency. There would be no proscriptions (stripping a man of all his property and often his life) as in previous civil disputes in Rome. Many of his most obdurate opponents were asked to become part of Caesar's reformed Roman government. However, his enemies continued to plot his downfall. Finding they could not defeat the great man in politics or war, they decided to use other means to remove Caesar Dictator from power. On the Ides of March (15th), 44 BC., a group of Senators calling themselves the "liberators" assassinated Caesar in the Senate House. They justified the assassination by saying they were saving the republic from a tyrant and would-be king.
Caesar chose his grand nephew Gaius Octavius as his heir. Octavius ultimately avenged his uncle's death and rose to the pinnacle of Roman power, becoming Augustus Caesar, Rome's first emperor.
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