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Throughout the annals of time there have been men that have quite literally steered the course of human history, their impact, influence and subsequent contributions to the shaping of mankind have helped bring about the current society that people now enjoy today; one such man who has forever left an indelible mark in humanity’s collective past is Julius Caesar.
General, statesman and politician; Caesar in his lifetime accumulate a plethora of important titles however he is best known today as the instigator of change within Rome wherein the Roman Republic became the Roman Empire.
While various historians and critics may disparage Caesar over the change he wrought over a previously democratic society into a sudden dictatorship the fact remains that it was through his actions that Rome was not only able to expand territorially but economically as well.
What must be understood is that all of Caesar’s actions in one way or another can be set under a particular structural behavioral model which focuses on Caesar’s inherent desire for power and control. His actions such as beginning the Roman civil war, creating the Roman Empire and increasingly placing his own people into important bureaucratic positions all fit the standard actions of most dictatorial rulers whose desire for power is only eclipsed by their desire to maintain control over the system that they currently preside over.
In fact a comparison between the actions of Julius Caesar and former Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos show distinct similarities wherein both attempted to control their respective systems through the placement of controlled individuals within government positions, instigating change within the system of government and finally implementing strict control over both the government and the population.
Explaining Caesar’s actions from divorcing his wife, forming a political alliance with Pompey and Crassus to further solidifying his power through significant political control can actually be traced back to his humble origins which fermented his desire for power and created the necessary impetus to begin his desire for a dictatorship.
Examining the Origins of Caesar’s Desire for Power
An examination of Caesar’s early life reveals that he was born into the “gens Julia”, a relatively minor patrician family who claim decent from the Trojan prince Aeneas. Despite their ancestry Caesar’s family had relatively minor political clout or wealth and such throughout much of his early life Caesar had to work his way up from relatively minor political positions all the way to his appoint has the new high priest of Jupiter, a position he was able to obtain only through his marriage to the daughter of Lucius Cinna.
It must be noted that throughout Caesar’s early childhood (91 B.C. to 82 BC) Rome was undergoing significant turmoil due to the actions of the Roman dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla. At this particular point in time it must be noted that when Sulla came to power he had many of his political enemies either killed or exiled from Rome.
Due to Caesar’s marriage to the daughter of Lucius Cornelius he was implicated in this apparent purge which resulted in him being stripped of his inheritance, wealth and even his job. It was only through the intervention of his mother’s family which was politically well connected as well as the Vestal Virgins from the temple of Jupiter that Caesar was able to avoid possible death or exile.
It can be assumed that the chaotic political environment Caesar grew up in combined with the early death of his father, as well as his subsequent lost of wealth and entitlement under Sulla gave rise to his future predisposition to want power, not only as a means of control over a chaotic political and social landscape but also as a means of ensuring that he himself would never have to suffer actions similar to what was done to him at the hands of Sulla.
Caesar’s Rise to Power
As mentioned earlier Julius Caesar was seemingly defined by his desire for power. In 60 BC Caesar, Crassus and Pompey entered into an alliance that dominate the political arena of Rome for many years. Their attempt at gaining power was fueled by political strategies similar to today’s populist tactics resulting in development of enmity between them and the Roman Senate due to the presence of the conservative elite who wanted Rome to retain its current method of leadership.
It was only through his conquest of areas such as Gaul and the invasion of Britain using the Roman army that Caesar was able to gain enough political and military to actually politically spar against the Senate. Unfortunately with the death of Crassus by 53 BC and Caesar’s subsequent rise to power this as a result eclipsed the political standing of Pompey resulting in a distinct shift in the balance of power wherein Pompey began to side against Caesar with the other members of the Roman Senate backing him up.
This in turn resulted in various charges being brought against Caesar for his supposed “treasonous” actions against the Roman Senate. With the might of the several Legions behind him Caesar travelled from Gaul to Italy which resulted in a subsequent civil war which Caesar won resulting in him becoming the uncontested leader of the Roman Republic which was to become the Roman Empire.
Throughout his political career Caesar established numerous reforms aimed at creating a stronger central government and making sure that the Roman Republic became a cohesive whole (Caesar, 1996). While Caesar’s subsequent assassination by several members of the Roman Senate is a well known fact it must be established that it was not in fact directly connected to his relationship with Cleopatra.
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While it may be true that the relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra was looked down upon by various member of the Senate this was not actually enough impetus to actually cause the assassination of Caesar (Caesar, 1996). Rather it was Caesar’s strong handed reforms as well as his continued personal appointments to the Senate and various members to several vital offices that precipitated his assassination.
Reforms Precipitated by Caesar
Caesar, by and large, accommodated the needs and wants of Rome’s more common citizens rather than that of the rich, this is reflected in the various reforms he instituted which this paper will now discuss. One of the first reforms instituted by Caesar was the grain dole allotted to each Roman citizen (grain dole acted as a form of welfare rolls at the time of the Roman Empire).
The previous administration set the count at 320,000 however Caesar slashed this to 150,000. This particular action was not done due to cost saving measures or in an attempt to starve people but was in fact one of the first attempts at population control of a major metropolitan center.
As Rome became more popular more and more people flocked to it in order to gain jobs, start businesses etc. Unfortunately, just like any modern city, the resulting flood of people into Rome not only caused problems for the local food supply but problems related to unemployment were further exacerbated by the sheer amount of people in the city.
The halving of the grain dole was in fact a means of encouraging the people who had come to Rome to go back to their various homelands. In fact it was these generous handouts by the Rome itself that had attracted people to come to it in the first place.
It must be noted though that the amount of rations allotted to families with children was actually increased in order to prevent possible occurrences of malnutrition. Another reform that Caesar enacted was that he freed nearly 1/3 of all slave workers in Rome and in its surrounding large estates.
While this granted him the gratitude of thousands of freed slave workers the fact of the matter is this particular reform was aimed at resolving the increased rate of unemployment within the Roman capital. At the time Rome actually had a rather high unemployment rate due to the fact that a majority of jobs done at the time were done by slaves since they were a form of free labor. This resulted in more jobs going to slaves than to Roman citizens; by freeing thousands of slaves this in effect created thousands of new jobs for the citizens of Rome.
One particular reform that granted him the gratitude of nearly every single citizen in Rome was a restructuring of the process of debt wherein through the lowering of interest rates and other similar procedures this resulted in nearly 1/4 of all debt owed by Roman citizens to be effectively canceled.
This reduction in debt was also combined with an increase in the amount of currency circulated in the market which helped to spark greater economic activity which in turn promoted the creation of more jobs resulting in lowering the unemployment rate even further.
In terms of visible reforms to Rome Caesar in effect sparked enormous public works projects such as rebuilding the senate, the forum and various commercial buildings wherein the construction of various Roman facades was changed from brick to its now characteristic marble.
This particular aesthetic reform greatly endeared him to ordinary Roman citizens of the capital since it made them take greater pride in their city. One reform that Caesar enacted, which even today is being utilized, was the reform of the Roman calendar year.
Previously the Roman calendar was calculated using various phases of the moon with certain deficits in the calculations being fixed by adding in leap days. Unfortunately such a method of organization resulted in a new calendar being implemented each year with the New Year sometimes being implemented on Autumn or in Spring of the next year.
Inspired by the method of date keeping used in Alexandria, Caesar changed the number of days within a year to 365 making every 4th year a leap year. The very calendar created by Caesar is still in use today with a few minor changes implemented to take into account slight errors.
Examining the Reforms
An examination of the reforms reveals that most of them positively affected ordinary Roman citizens and the middle class but in effect alienated members of the upper class. It must be noted that one common theme in the actions of Caesar was that despite his lust for power his actions often resulted in positive effects for the middle or lower classes of Roman society.
It must be noted that based on various historical perspectives it has always been the upper class that has been the stumbling block for most economic and social reforms since changes to these particular aspects of society, while beneficial to lower classes, was actually detrimental towards the continued accumulation of wealth and prestige by the upper class.
It can be said that Caesar could have only instituted such reforms because of the power he accumulated since utilizing any other method would have resulted in either a far longer period of time before the reforms could have been enacted to even the reforms not pushing through at all.
As such, though historical records cannot say for certain, perhaps it can be assumed that Caesar took on the role of a dictator and tried to seize as much power as he could since he realized early on that this was the only effective method of actually instituting change within Rome at the time.
Examining the Relationship between Cleopatra and Julius Caesar
First and foremost it must be stated that the relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra was doomed to failure since the beginning. The reason behind this lies in the differences behind their origin and Caesar’s desire to rule Rome (Bergquist, 1- 3). An examination of Ancient Roman customs at the time reveals that marriage, for it to be acceptable within the public domain of Rome, must be conducted only between two Romans.
While it is acceptable to have relations with members of other races a Roman cannot marry them rather such liaisons can be done extra-martially since there is no law that forbids a Roman from having extra-marital affairs.
The reason behind this particular social practice which doomed the relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra could be described as being similar to a form of xenophobia but not as severe since it allows liaisons to exist. While there are obscure references to this apparent practice one modern day definition is to describe it as Humanocentric speciesism.
Humanocentric speciesism is based off two distinct concepts the first being Humanocentrism which is described as a tendency for human beings to view the natural environment and other species from the standpoint of a distinctly human majority (Brennan, 274 – 302). Its premise is that anything that is outside the concept of being human is immediately classified as non-human or in extreme cases “alien” (Brennan, 276).
For the Romans, their belief in Rome being the epitome of civilization caused them to believe that all other races are inherently inferior. This is reflected in their various actions such as their subjugation of other races as well as laws and social practices forbidding marriages to occur between Romans and non-Romans. Speciesism on the other hand is based on the belief that the species a particular individual or group belongs to is inherently superior to all other species (Brooks, 32).
One notable historical example of such a belief was the concept of the Übermensch developed by the German philosopher Nietzche in 1883 and taken to its extremes by the Nazi regime. This particular brand of speciesism consisted of considering all other races inferior to Germans as the Übermensch or master race of humanity, a philosophy that helped to contribute to genocide of the Jewish population in Europe (Brooks, 32).
A similar concept was applied by the Romans in which their continued expansion into Gaul obliterated many of the native populations under the banner of Roman expansionism which is similar to the concept of Hitler involving “lebenstraum” (living space).
The reason such concepts are mentioned is due to the fact that they address important issues in the relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra. It must be mentioned that at the time of their relationship Cleopatra did bear a son for Julius Caesar which she named Caessarian which can be interpreted as “little Caesar” (Feller, 1).
It must be noted that upon his assassination his will specifically stated that his nephew, Octavian, would inherit his title and wealth and not the son he bore through Cleopatra. Such a concept would be considered rather confusing to most people since fathers would usually place in their will that their son would inherit a majority of the father’s accumulated wealth.
The reason behind this is once more directly attributable to the concept of humanocentric speciesism, the reason why Caesar’s will never even indicated that his own son would get anything is directly attributed to the fact that even he recognized that Roman society would never accept a son born from a non-Roman citizen.
It can be stated that Caesar’s desire for power dictated nearly all his actions in life resulting in his rise and eventual fall as a result of this apparent need for power and control. Though he is remembered as a dictator it must be noted that his reforms within Roman society as well as his actions which created the impetus for the creation of the Roman empire affected present day society in such a profound way that should Caesar never have existed the present could possibly not have become what it is today.
Bergquist, Gordon N. “Caesar and Cleopatra.” Masterplots, Fourth Edition (2010): 1-3. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web.
Brennan, Andrew. “HUMANISM, RACISM AND SPECIESISM.” Worldviews: Environment Culture Religion 7.3 (2003): 274-302. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web.
Brooks, David. “SUPERIORITY COMPLEX.” Atlantic Monthly (10727825) 290.4 (2002): 32. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web.
Caesar, Julius. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia. (1996): 159-160. EBSCO. Web.
Feller, Thomas R. “Caesar and Cleopatra.” Cyclopedia of Literary Places (2003): 1. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web.