Julius Caesar

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Julius CaesarJulius CaesarIt was July 13th, 100 BC, and no one could have anticipated the change about to come from the birth of Gaius Julius Caesar.

It was July 13th, 100 BC, and no one could have anticipated the change about to come from the birth of Gaius Julius Caesar.
Caesar’s family, the Julii, had an impressive pedigree as an ancient and well-established family, but they were not particularly politically influential until Caesar’s father was given governorship of the province of Asia.
After his father’s sudden death in 85 BC, Caesar became the head of the family while his uncle, Gaius Marius, was in the middle of a civil war with Lucius Cornelius Sulla. His uncle eventually lost to Sulla, and Caesar’s inheritance was confiscated. He decided to leave Rome to join the army where he won the Civic Crown, the second highest military decoration a citizen could receive, for his part in an important siege.
Upon Sulla’s death in 78 BC, Caesar returned to Rome and became well-known for being an exceptional orator, using passionate gestures and a relatively high-pitched voice to speak forcefully in favor of the condemnation and prosecution of corrupt governors.
The Rise of a Leader
He was elected quaestor (financial supervisor), of Spain in 69 BC. While in Spain, he came upon a statue of Alexander the Great. He realized with dismay that he had accomplished very little, as Alexander had already conquered the world by the time he was Julius’ age. This was a pivotal moment for Caesar, igniting in him the spark to conquer. While in Spain, Caesar’s abilities as a general were revealed, and within a few short years, Caesar would transform Rome forever.
Caesar won the friendship of Rome’s richest citizen, Marcus Licinius Crassus, who provided him financial backing, especially during his election to the post of Pontifex Maximus. This election was not without controversy, as Caesar’s win was unexpected in light of the standing of the two competing Senators, leaving many to feel that bribery was the sole cause for his success.
When Caesar returned to Rome, he was rejected by the Senate, causing him to form the First Triumvirate, an alliance uniting Crassus and the great military general Pompey. Crassus and Pompey had been blocking each other’s political moves, but Caesar promised to support them both if they worked together to help him get elected as consul.
In 59 BC, Caesar succeeded in securing a consulship against heavy opposition from Marcus Porcius Cato, an extremely conservative politician. Caesar used armed force to pass his self-serving legislation, pushing Pompey’s measures through, helping Crassus’ proposals, and giving himself a five-year term as proconsul of Gaul, a region comprising northern Italy and southern France.
Growing the Republic
While acting as governor of Gaul between 58 and 51 BC, he extended Roman control to most of central Europe, following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great. He remained abroad for nine years, fighting during the summers and meeting with his supporters in northern Italy in the winters, using them to actively manipulate Roman politics from a distance.
Crassus had perished on the battlefield in 53 BC, and the relationship between Pompey and Caesar had become strained, causing Pompey to drift away and align himself against Caesar. The Senate tried to use Pompey to enforce their decision to revoke Caesar’s command. This resulted in Caesar famously crossing the Rubicon with his legions on January 10th, 49 BC, an act of rebellion. He succeeded in capturing Rome, forcing Pompey and most of the Senate to flee Italy.
The following civil war lasted for four years with campaigns throughout Africa, Spain, and Greece. Pompey was defeated at Pharsalus in 48 BC, and Caesar claimed all of his remaining troops. Caesar’s intent was to unify the factions, welcoming and advancing the careers of all who sided with him.
Caesar made considerable positive changes, instituting numerous improvements which showed his political and humanitarian talents. He reformed the civic administration, improved the stability of urban life, established the first public library, embarked upon significant building projects, extended Roman citizenship into the provinces, and formalized a new calendar. Shortly before his death, the month of Quintilis was renamed July in his honor.
A Step Too Far
Unfortunately, for all of the positive progress he was making, Caesar became power-hungry like the governors he had once campaigned against. In 48 BC, Caesar acquired permanent tribunician powers, which made him unimpeachable and allowed him to veto the Senate. Two years later, he gave himself the title of “Prefect of the Morals” which was an office identical in power to the censors – a position responsible for maintaining the census, supervising the public, and overseeing government finances. This position allowed him to hold censorial powers but avoided the normal checks and balances.
He then required the Senate to bestow various titles and honors upon him, including “Father of the Homeland”, “Imperator”, and to accept him as a demigod. He gave himself the right to speak first during every dialog at Senate meetings and increased the number of magistrates elected each year, allowing Caesar to reward his supporters with public positions at the expense of introducing a large pool of inexperience and bias.
Caesar added a vast number of his own senators, eventually resulting in a 900-member Senate, which severely diluted the influence of the original members who were familiar with the actual workings of Rome. To prevent the risk of another general challenging him, Caesar introduced a law which subjected governors to term limits. As he prepared to go to war against the Parthian Empire, he recognized that his absence from Rome could limit his ability to install his own consuls, so he passed a law which allowed him to personally and proactively appoint all of the future magistrates of 43 BC and all of the consuls and tribunes of 42 BC.
Coinage Reforms
At the beginning of 44 BC, Caesar set to reform the control of coinage. He installed a committee of four monetary magistrates to supervise the coinage for the upcoming year: Marcus Mettius, L. Aemilius Buca, P. Sepullius Macer, and Gaius Cossutius Maridianus. This group was instructed to magnify Caesar’s prestige; the biased Senate authorized them to place Caesar’s portrait on the coinage. This placement had been reserved for kings and gods - never before had a living Roman been shown on the coinage.
Between the four moneyers, twenty-eight distinct varieties were minted. The volume of production and large number of variations on the types of denarii indicate that Caesar anticipated needing a large quantity of coinage to pay the army he was building to fight the upcoming Parthian war. All aspects of the coins were chosen carefully, specifically designed for political propaganda as coins were easily understood by all, even the illiterate, allowing messages to spread widely.
This coin can be dated accurately to January-February, 44 BC, mere weeks before his assassination. It was minted by Buca, as indicated by the reverse legend L AEMILIVS BVCA.
The Portrait of a Dictator
This coin shows the wreathed head of Caesar facing right with a crescent moon dividing the legend “CAESAR IM P M” on the obverse. The wreath he wears on the coins is different than other royal diadems, such as those on coins of Hellenistic monarchs or worn by later Roman Emperors. Rather than a conventional laurel wreath, it may represent that of a Triumphator, a victorious general. Caesar often wore his wreath in public in an effort to cover his increasing baldness in his middle age.
The portraits of Caesar on the coins in his final year were engraved in a very natural style and are believed to closely mirror his actual appearance, especially in how they highlight the folds in his neck. It is unknown as to whether or not Caesar himself was used as the model for the images or if a recent statue were the inspiration for the die cutters.
The reverse reiterates the designation of Venus, the Roman goddess, as Caesar’s divine patroness. Caesar claimed that Venus was an ancestor of his, even going so far as to use her name as the password for his troops during multiple battles. The military nature of her protection is explicitly shown by her holding a small figure of Victory as well as a scepter in her left hand.
On February 14th, 44 BC, Caesar was appointed perpetual dictator for life. Being declared dictator did not carry the negative connotations it does today and instead generally identified the dictator as the hero and savior of the people. However, being claimed “dictator for life” crossed the line into a monarchy, a position which was greatly despised.
He arranged for the Senate to recognize him as a king outside of Italy. It was prophesied that only a king could conquer Parthia, and it was expected that Caesar would next force the Senate to call him King of Rome.
The Assassination
Minting coins with his portrait was likely the final catalyst to convince the conspirators that Caesar intended to become king, leading them to murder him on the Ides of March. The conspiracy to assassinate Caesar comprised sixty men, mostly aristocrats, led by Brutus, who assassinated him at the House of the Senate at the feet of a statue of Pompey. These coins would continue being produced for a few weeks after his assassination, but all regular coinage was suspended as the second civil war began.
Caesar significantly improved Roman life but sealed his fate by overstepping in his desire to acquire power. Much to the dismay of his assassins, the murder of Caesar immediately started a cascade of events which quickly evaporated the power of the Senate and ended its Republican ways. This brought forth the Roman Empire with Augustus at the helm, who learned from his adoptive father’s mistakes and ruled more amicably, avoiding the connotations of a monarchy.
Julius Caesar with L. Aemilius Buca. Denarius 44, AR 3.63 g. CAESAR•IM – P – M Wreathed head of Caesar r.; behind, crescent. Rev. [L]•AEMILIVS – BVCA Venus standing l., holding sceptre and Victory. Babelon Julia 34 and Aemilia 13. Sydenham 1060. Sear Imperators 102. Crawford 480/4. A very attractive portrait and a light iridescent tone, about extremely fine.