Caesar: A Political Cutthroat and Military Genius
Julius Caesar was known for his political and military success and strength during Rome’s time as the superpower of the ancient world. Caesar’s conquest throughout the Mediterranean was unprecedented, and his political career was no small feat. When studying a historical account of a man’s life or career, most of the time it focuses on the actions taken by the subject, rather than the personality or motivations for those actions. This makes sense, as no one today was alive back then, and would only be able to make a reasonable, educated guess. After reading The Civil War, by Julius Caesar, as well as Twelve Caesars, by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, it is clear that Julius Caesar was a military mastermind, and strived for political success by any means necessary.
Julius Caesar’s Civil War is his own account of the Civil War against Pompey. In it, Caesar depicts himself as a man of great militaristic genius and success, when telling his men that Rome has never been more vast and prosperous than during his time of leadership. He wrote of his men’s obedience and loyalty, saying they “cheerfully” follow whatever order Caesar gave. However, the way Caesar boasts about his conquests is that of a man simply doing his duty to Rome, not as a ruthless, power hungry leader, writing that he tried to find a peaceful agreement with his adversary, Pompey, while also saying he “supported Pompey, and helped him secure advancement and reputation”.
Furthermore, he emphasizes his loyalty to the Republic, criticizing Pompey for following in Sulla’s footsteps by stripping the tribunes of their veto power. Caesar’s own account of the Roman Civil War highlights Caesar’s military success, showing his strength against his adversaries, as well as reiterating his loyalty to Rome and the Republic. He was beloved by the people of Rome, as well as the men he commanded. The image Caesar gives himself in his history of the Roman Civil War is one of a strong military leader, as well as a champion of the people and the Republic.
Because The Civil War was written by Caesar, it is reasonable to assume that there would be some form of biases when it comes to Caesar’s depiction of himself. The Civil War must be analyzed through that lens in order to accurately draw conclusions about the events that take place, as well as how the different subjects are depicted. Throughout his account, Caesar refers to himself in the third person. Caesar was very intelligent; he knew the audience for which he was writing, that being the people of Rome. By writing in the third-person when referring to himself, Caesar is able to praise himself throughout his account without fear of seeming narcissistic or self-absorbed.
Furthermore, whenever Caesar criticized an adversary or political opponent, the people are more inclined to agree with the viewpoint. If Caesar had written in the first person, any praise could be seen as narcissistic, and an account of a victory could be seen as exaggerated in terms of scale or success. Furthermore, any criticism Caesar gives could be seen as a political attack or propaganda.
In order to fully understand a person’s character and personality from a historical perspective, it is important to study a person from multiple sources or viewpoints. Another source that provides insight into who Caesar was, is Twelve Caesars by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. Suetonius gives an account of Caesar as an ambitious military general and a fierce political figure, that was willing to do whatever was necessary to gain power and influence. Suetonius writes of an interaction between Caesar and the soothsayers where Caesar describes a dream he had where he raped his mother. The Soothsayers told Caesar that the dream meant that Caesar would then conquer the world. Another interaction Caesar has with the Soothsayers reveals that the owner of Caesar’s horse would rule the world. These interactions may have seriously impacted Caesar, which could have influenced his actions and decision making later in his life. Caesar’s resulting conquest was widespread. Caesar summed up his conquest with simply three words, “Came, Saw, Conquered!”
Suetonius’s account, however, is not autobiographical, and therefore is unbiased. Because of this, Suetonius further reveals the kind of man Caesar was. Suetonius writes of multiple affairs, said to be “numerous and extravagant”. Caesar was even known to have seduced many wives of the Roman elite, as well as of major political opponents. Caesar’s affairs were so commonly known, that his men would chant and sing songs about his extramarital relations. Furthermore, Suetonius shows another side of Caesar that Caesar did not reveal in The Civil War. Suetonius describes Caesar as politically deft, as well as highly ambitious. Caesar was known to go to extreme lengths to secure power and influence politically. Caesar was known to bribe men to accuse political opponents of crimes, conspired with political opponents and bribed voters, as well as attempted to bring on a full revolution in Rome. Caesar used these tactics to gain power and influence throughout Rome, working his way up the political ladder, to be elected Consul in Rome. However Caesar didn’t stop there.
The power of consulship in Rome is split between two consuls, Caesar’s co-consul being a man named Marcus Bibulus. Caesar had gained so much political power that he essentially governed Rome alone. Caesar had a side that he preferred not to share with the people of Rome, as well as history. Caesar was a man of high ambition, perhaps to a fault, as was involved in scandalous affairs with wives, as well as with other men. Caesar was known as “every woman’s husband, and every man’s wife.” Suetonius gives a different side of the story for Caesar, one that recognizes his military success, while also highlighting his more scandalous side.
When analyzing historical accounts to determine the personalities and motivations of historical figures, it is important to understand the biases of the various sources used. Caesar describes himself as a militaristic mastermind, and a champion of the people and the Republic. However, because of Caesar’s bias, he would wittingly or not, emphasize his successes, as well as conceal any failure or scandal. On the other hand, Suetonius describes Caesar as a corrupt political leader who did anything to gain political favor.
On top of this, he wrote of Caesar’s many affairs, with women and men. However, Suetonius’s account is not a primary source. Any number of his sources may have been biased against Caesar, and therefore exaggerated against him. It is important to balance conclusions drawn from different sources, and to take into account separate biases when analyzing sources. Caesar’s conquest is undeniable, but it is possible some of his stories were exaggerated to gain favor.
On the other hand, Caesar may not have been morally pure throughout his years in Rome, but many of Suetonius’s sources may have simply been political slander, meant to simply derail the political career of a battle tested military genius.
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