Julius Caesar [Cliff notes to correcting common pop culture misconceptions]

Caesar was:

  • A great leader, the embodiment of what Rome wanted their politicians to be

    Votes: 5 25.0%
  • A flawed but justified leader

    Votes: 4 20.0%
  • I didn't read the thread, he was a power mad dictator right?

    Votes: 4 20.0%
  • None of the above

    Votes: 7 35.0%

  • Total voters
    20
Status
Closed

Caesarmagnus

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,572
Australia
I had some time, so I thought I'd start a thread that could be a starting point for correcting a number of popular misconceptions about Julius Caesar, since they seem to be very common even on this forum. The average person's perspective of Julius Caesar comes from shows like Spartacus, which aren't based in reality, or other superficial erroneous references. The Dark Knight refers to Caesar as a dictator who wouldn't give up power, the pro-freedom conservative think tank, the Cato Institute, is named after Caesar's sworn enemy. The reality of Caesar's situation is totally different.

In contrast to many political figures from the late Republican period, whose careers were marked from an early stage by blatantly illegal conduct (e.g. Pompey), were aimed at massive reforms of the political system (Marius, Drusus, etc), or were demagogical (Clodius, etc), Caesar's political career was very by the book. He served the correct offices in the correct years, all the way to his consulship. His goal was not to overthrow the state or anything of the sort. He was a moderately progressive politician, who wanted what most politicians of note wanted at the time; fame, fortune, the enhancement of Roman power, and to enshrine his dignitas for future generations of his family. His more progressive leanings were undoubtedly a product of being raised in the poorer suburbs of Rome, despite having an ancient bloodline, and coming from a family who was of modest wealth by Senatorial standards, having only recently moved back into the political limelight. His goal after his consulship was to achieve those things, come back to Rome covered in glory, win a 2nd consulship, then go fight in another war. After this he probably would have retired, moved into the background, or just repeated the same pattern for as long as he was able. The benefits to Rome of him doing these things, which were common among all contemporaries, would have been great. The harm non-existent. He was doing no different to other notable Roman politicians before him. The only difference being unlike figures such as Pompey, his career wasn't marred by blatant and illegal conduct from its inception through to its conclusion. If anyone thinks Pompey and he were "both behaving illegally" they need to go do some research. Pompey's career was built on blatantly illegal behavior, Caesar for the most part tried to avoid this sort of thing. The only difference was Caesar had a bunch of enemies determined to take him down due to political enmity, and Pompey was the chosen tool to do so.

I think it's important to distinguish here between genuinely illegal conduct, and technicalities that are used as the basis of nebulous and trumped up charges later. I'll illustrate this with some examples. Pompey recruited his first army illegally. He had no authorization, he wasn't even in the Senate. Pompey killed elected officials without authorization early in his career. Pompey forced the Senate to make him consul before he was even a Senator, never mind the legal prerequisites like serving in the Senate for x years and filling x positions. Pompey ignored Sulla's orders as dictator and brought an army to Rome in an attempt to strong arm him into granting him a triumph. Blatantly illegal stuff. In contrast the catch cry of Caesar's enemies was stuff that was either dubious technicalities, or blatant scapegoating. For example, as consul some protesters emptied some dung onto the Junior consul because they were so sick of him opposing Caesar; but it's a little ridiculous to blame that on Caesar. His enemies declared bad omens and tried to cancel all public business on one consul's unilateral declaration for the year; then alleged he had committed sacrilege by defying the omens; omens which were obviously politically manufactured nonsense which nobody else would be prosecuted for violating, and which the Senate didn't support anyway. In Roman politics anyone could be subject to a nebulous treason charge at any time, and exiled for fake reasons, but that doesn't mean they were actually guilty (and many examples exist of people who were clearly innocent).

All Caesar's political opponents had to do was let him run for consul after his expedition in Gaul was over, and Roman politics would have continued as usual. Caesar didn't want to be dictator, he didn't want a war at all. Neither did the Senate, who voted 370-22 against having one. It was Caesar's opponents who behaved illegally; ignoring the Senate vote about stopping the war, giving Pompey a sword and commanding him to recruit soldiers and prepare for war, demanding Caesar give up his imperium before his term of office had expired which was illegal, and ignoring the tribunes who vetoed the Emergency decree (then having them beaten up and tossing them from the Senate). The Republic was so weak at this point that a handful of important Senators could basically ignore democratic mechanisms. What exactly is a reasonable person in this situation meant to do? Commit career suicide and go into exile because your personal enemies won't rest until you've been disgraced? That's a pretty ridiculous thing to ask of anyone. Then when he's forced into a war he is calling for peace negotiations and the end of the war every step of the way, all of which his enemies were totally uninterested in (something even Caesar hater Cicero confirms for us), and is pardoning his enemies repeatedly because he doesn't want to kill his peers over a political disagreement. Outside the Senate, the common people and countryside supported Caesar too; he's actually the force for both popular democracy and most of the affluent as well. When I look at Caesar's career it comes off as far more sympathetic and morally principled than hypocrites like Cicero and Cato, who wanted to execute Roman citizens without trial, neither of whom actually stood for the democratic, liberal values that some people like to believe they did. They were inherently conservative politicians who hated the common people, and were against reforms to make Rome more fair or participative, and just against Republicanism in general except when it suited them.

Caesar was basically forced into being dictator, and couldn't step away from the ruder of government without creating a power vacuum. Long term we don't know what he would or could have done to transition things back to Republicanism, things were pretty broken by that point, but it's pretty clear everyone would have been better off if he hadn't been assassinated. Rome would have been left to mostly run itself while he went off to the East to fight a war for 5-10 years. Assassinating him instead guaranteed a long and bloody civil war, at the end of which his heir took over and centralized power for good (which was probably happening no matter who won). Caesar is a more compelling, principled, relatable and impressive figure than his enemies, who come off as ridiculous, hypocritical, incompetent and destructive to the long term health of Rome. I prefer to read about the benevolent polymath, gifted in a range of fields, than the petty blue bloods determined to bring their enemy down even if it destroys Rome.

Other myths to bust:
- There's no real evidence Caesar had epilepsy. Some vague references to fainting a few times, etc, is not the same thing, and it would have been impossible for him to function on campaign with such a condition
- Caesar never met Spartacus
- Caesar probably wasn't gay, or even bi, the one story to the contrary is an obvious political smear with a King who was probably so old at the time it's doubtful he'd have even been capable of the sexual act. Meanwhile he's a known notorious womanizer, with multiple known children.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Runa and Menshevik
Mar 2019
1,811
Kansas
- Caesar probably wasn't gay, or even bi, the one story to the contrary is an obvious political smear with a King who was probably so old at the time it's doubtful he'd have even been capable of the sexual act. Meanwhile he's a known notorious womanizer, with multiple known children.
I was reading today of a song his troops sang during one of his triumphs. Definitely NSFW lol.

I dont think he would have had the time or the energy to be bi or gay
 

Caesarmagnus

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,572
Australia
Another myth; "Caesar was doomed until Pompey was forced to fight by the Senators". So many dumb myths.
 

Menshevik

Ad Honorem
Dec 2012
9,279
here
His more progressive leanings were undoubtedly a product of being raised in the poorer suburbs of Rome, despite having an ancient bloodline, and coming from a family who was of modest wealth by Senatorial standards, having only recently moved back into the political limelight.
I've always wondered about this. I think maybe that fate was the determining factor behind Caesar being among the Populares rather than him being one of the Optimates. I think it's more about opportunism than ideology that he was among the Populares and not the Optimates. But, I'm not singling him out, as you say, he was merely playing the game and trying his best to climb the Roman ladder, so to speak.
 
Aug 2019
51
Southwest Florida
I had some time, so I thought I'd start a thread that could be a starting point for correcting a number of popular misconceptions about Julius Caesar, since they seem to be very common even on this forum. The average person's perspective of Julius Caesar comes from shows like Spartacus, which aren't based in reality, or other superficial erroneous references. The Dark Knight refers to Caesar as a dictator who wouldn't give up power, the pro-freedom conservative think tank, the Cato Institute, is named after Caesar's sworn enemy. The reality of Caesar's situation is totally different.

In contrast to many political figures from the late Republican period, whose careers were marked from an early stage by blatantly illegal conduct (e.g. Pompey), were aimed at massive reforms of the political system (Marius, Drusus, etc), or were demagogical (Clodius, etc), Caesar's political career was very by the book. He served the correct offices in the correct years, all the way to his consulship. His goal was not to overthrow the state or anything of the sort. He was a moderately progressive politician, who wanted what most politicians of note wanted at the time; fame, fortune, the enhancement of Roman power, and to enshrine his dignitas for future generations of his family. His more progressive leanings were undoubtedly a product of being raised in the poorer suburbs of Rome, despite having an ancient bloodline, and coming from a family who was of modest wealth by Senatorial standards, having only recently moved back into the political limelight. His goal after his consulship was to achieve those things, come back to Rome covered in glory, win a 2nd consulship, then go fight in another war. After this he probably would have retired, moved into the background, or just repeated the same pattern for as long as he was able. The benefits to Rome of him doing these things, which were common among all contemporaries, would have been great. The harm non-existent. He was doing no different to other notable Roman politicians before him. The only difference being unlike figures such as Pompey, his career wasn't marred by blatant and illegal conduct from its inception through to its conclusion. If anyone thinks Pompey and he were "both behaving illegally" they need to go do some research. Pompey's career was built on blatantly illegal behavior, Caesar for the most part tried to avoid this sort of thing. The only difference was Caesar had a bunch of enemies determined to take him down due to political enmity, and Pompey was the chosen tool to do so.

I think it's important to distinguish here between genuinely illegal conduct, and technicalities that are used as the basis of nebulous and trumped up charges later. I'll illustrate this with some examples. Pompey recruited his first army illegally. He had no authorization, he wasn't even in the Senate. Pompey killed elected officials without authorization early in his career. Pompey forced the Senate to make him consul before he was even a Senator, never mind the legal prerequisites like serving in the Senate for x years and filling x positions. Pompey ignored Sulla's orders as dictator and brought an army to Rome in an attempt to strong arm him into granting him a triumph. Blatantly illegal stuff. In contrast the catch cry of Caesar's enemies was stuff that was either dubious technicalities, or blatant scapegoating. For example, as consul some protesters emptied some dung onto the Junior consul because they were so sick of him opposing Caesar; but it's a little ridiculous to blame that on Caesar. His enemies declared bad omens and tried to cancel all public business on one consul's unilateral declaration for the year; then alleged he had committed sacrilege by defying the omens; omens which were obviously politically manufactured nonsense which nobody else would be prosecuted for violating, and which the Senate didn't support anyway. In Roman politics anyone could be subject to a nebulous treason charge at any time, and exiled for fake reasons, but that doesn't mean they were actually guilty (and many examples exist of people who were clearly innocent).

All Caesar's political opponents had to do was let him run for consul after his expedition in Gaul was over, and Roman politics would have continued as usual. Caesar didn't want to be dictator, he didn't want a war at all. Neither did the Senate, who voted 370-22 against having one. It was Caesar's opponents who behaved illegally; ignoring the Senate vote about stopping the war, giving Pompey a sword and commanding him to recruit soldiers and prepare for war, demanding Caesar give up his imperium before his term of office had expired which was illegal, and ignoring the tribunes who vetoed the Emergency decree (then having them beaten up and tossing them from the Senate). The Republic was so weak at this point that a handful of important Senators could basically ignore democratic mechanisms. What exactly is a reasonable person in this situation meant to do? Commit career suicide and go into exile because your personal enemies won't rest until you've been disgraced? That's a pretty ridiculous thing to ask of anyone. Then when he's forced into a war he is calling for peace negotiations and the end of the war every step of the way, all of which his enemies were totally uninterested in (something even Caesar hater Cicero confirms for us), and is pardoning his enemies repeatedly because he doesn't want to kill his peers over a political disagreement. Outside the Senate, the common people and countryside supported Caesar too; he's actually the force for both popular democracy and most of the affluent as well. When I look at Caesar's career it comes off as far more sympathetic and morally principled than hypocrites like Cicero and Cato, who wanted to execute Roman citizens without trial, neither of whom actually stood for the democratic, liberal values that some people like to believe they did. They were inherently conservative politicians who hated the common people, and were against reforms to make Rome more fair or participative, and just against Republicanism in general except when it suited them.

Caesar was basically forced into being dictator, and couldn't step away from the ruder of government without creating a power vacuum. Long term we don't know what he would or could have done to transition things back to Republicanism, things were pretty broken by that point, but it's pretty clear everyone would have been better off if he hadn't been assassinated. Rome would have been left to mostly run itself while he went off to the East to fight a war for 5-10 years. Assassinating him instead guaranteed a long and bloody civil war, at the end of which his heir took over and centralized power for good (which was probably happening no matter who won). Caesar is a more compelling, principled, relatable and impressive figure than his enemies, who come off as ridiculous, hypocritical, incompetent and destructive to the long term health of Rome. I prefer to read about the benevolent polymath, gifted in a range of fields, than the petty blue bloods determined to bring their enemy down even if it destroys Rome.

Other myths to bust:
- There's no real evidence Caesar had epilepsy. Some vague references to fainting a few times, etc, is not the same thing, and it would have been impossible for him to function on campaign with such a condition
- Caesar never met Spartacus
- Caesar probably wasn't gay, or even bi, the one story to the contrary is an obvious political smear with a King who was probably so old at the time it's doubtful he'd have even been capable of the sexual act. Meanwhile he's a known notorious womanizer, with multiple known children.
It would seem likely that while Caesar would never have taken the 'passive' role, he would have taken the 'active' role with a few young boys during his day. Most did, and he was known as a very virile man. If we are going to base the conclusion on conjecture, with Rome we have to start by accepting that the practice was considered the norm, and then see if we can find reasons why Caesar wouldn't have. But at first blush we should suspect he acted with the norm.

These types of encounters were common and often came in the form of property rights (slave/master.)

On campaign for seven years in Gaul, a clean Greek boy (slave) would have been more appealing than a dirty, brutish (possibly diseased) Gallic woman.
 
Status
Closed