Caesar’s Triumphs and Titles.When Caesar returned to Rome after the battle of Thapsus, he came not as the servant of the senate, but as master of the world. He crowned his victories by four splendid triumphs, one for Gaul, one for Egypt, one for Pontus, and one for Numidia. He made no reference to the civil war; and no citizens were led among his captives. His victory was attended by no massacres, no proscriptions, no confiscations. He was as generous in peace as he had been relentless in war. Caesar was great enough to forgive his enemies. A general amnesty was proclaimed; and friend and foe were treated alike. We may see the kind of power which he exercised by the titles which he received. He was consul, dictator, controller of public morals (praefectus morum), tribune, pontifex maximus, and chief of the senate (princeps senatus). He thus gathered up in his own person the powers which had been scattered among the various republican officers. The name of “imperator” with which the soldiers had been accustomed to salute a victorious general, was now made an official title, and prefixed to his name. In Caesar was thus embodied the one-man power which had been growing up during the civil wars. He was in fact the first Roman emperor.
Caesar’s Political Reforms.Caesar held his great power only for a short time. But the reforms which he made are enough to show us his policy, and to enable us to judge of him as a statesman. The first need of Rome was a stable government based on the interest of the whole people. The senate had failed to secure such a government; and so had the popular assemblies led by the tribunes. Caesar believed that the only government suited to Rome was a democratic monarchya government in which the supreme power should be held permanently by a single man, and exercised, not for the benefit of himself or any single class, but for the benefit of the whole state. Let us see how his changes accomplished this end.
In the first place, the senate was changed to meet this view. It had hitherto been a comparatively small body, drawn from a single class and ruling for its own interests. Caesar increased the number to nine hundred members, and filled it up with representative men of all classes, not simply nobles, but also ignobilesSpaniards, Gauls, military officers, sons of freedmen, and others. It was to be not a legislative body but an advisory body, to inform the monarch of the condition and wants of Italy and the provinces. In the next place, he extended the Roman franchise to the inhabitants beyond the Po, and to many cities in the provinces, especially in Transalpine Gaul and Spain. All his political changes tended to break down the distinction between nobles and commons, between Italians and the provincials, and to make of all the people of the empire one nation.
Caesar’s Economic Reforms.The next great need of Rome was the improvement of the condition of the lower classes. Caesar well knew that the condition of the people could not be changed in a day; but he believed that the government ought not to encourage pauperism by helping those who ought to help themselves. There were three hundred and twenty thousand persons at Rome to whom grain was distributed. He reduced this number to one hundred and fifty thousand, or more than one half. He provided means of employment for the idle, by constructing new buildings in the city, and other public works; and also by enforcing the law that one third of the labor employed on landed estates should be free labor. As the land of Italy was so completely occupied, he encouraged the establishment, in the provinces, of agricultural colonies which would not only tend to relieve the farmer class, but to Romanize the empire. He relieved the debtor class by a bankrupt law which permitted the insolvent debtor to escape imprisonment by turning over his property to his creditors. In such ways as these, while not pretending to abolish poverty, he afforded better means for the poorer classes to obtain a living.
His Reform of the Provincial System.The despotism of the Roman republic was nowhere more severe and unjust than in the provinces. This was due to two thingsthe arbitrary authority of the governor, and the wretched system of farming the taxes. The governor ruled the province, not for the benefit of the provincials, but for the benefit of himself. It is said that the proconsul hoped to make three fortunes out of his provinceone to pay his debts, one to bribe the jury if he were brought to trial, and one to keep himself. The tax collector also looked upon the property of the province as a harvest to be divided between the Roman treasury and himself. Caesar put a check upon this system of robbery. The governor was now made a responsible agent of the emperor; and the collection of taxes was placed under a more rigid supervision. The provincials found in Caesar a protector; because his policy involved the welfare of all his subjects.
His Other Reforms and Projects.The most noted of Caesar’s other changes was the reform of the calendar, which has remained as he left it, with slight change, down to the present day. He also intended to codify the Roman law; to provide for the founding of public libraries; to improve the architecture of the city; to drain the Pontine Marshes for the improvement of the public health; to cut a channel through the Isthmus of Corinth; and to extend the empire to its natural limits, the Euphrates, the Danube, and the Rhine. These projects show the comprehensive mind of Caesar. That they would have been carried out in great part, if he had lived, we can scarcely doubt, when we consider his wonderful executive genius and the works he actually accomplished in the short time in which he held his power.
The Assassination of Caesar.If Caesar failed, it was because he did not adjust himself sufficiently to the conservative spirit of the time. There were still living at Rome men who were blindly attached to the old republican forms. To them the reforms of Caesar looked like a work of destruction, rather than a work of creation. They saw in his projects a scheme for reviving the kingship. It was said that when Caesar was offered a crown he looked at it wistfully; and that he had selected his nephew Octavius as his royal heir.
The men who hated Caesar, and who conspired to kill him, were men who had themselves received special favors from him. The leading conspirators, M. Brutus and C. Cassius, had both served in Pompey’s army, and had been pardoned by Caesar and promoted to offices under his government. Joined by some fifty other conspirators, these men formed a plot to kill Caesar in the senate house. The story of his assassination has been told by Plutarch and made immortal by Shakespeare. When the appointed day came, the Ides of March (March 15, B.C. 44), Caesar was struck down by the daggers of his treacherous friends, and he fell at the foot of Pompey’s statue. It has been said that the murder of Caesar was the most senseless act that the Romans ever committed. His death deprived Rome of the greatest man she ever produced. But the work of the conspirators did not destroy the work of Caesar.
SELECTIONS FOR READING
Liddell, Ch. 67, “The Second Civil War” (1).2
Shuckburgh, Ch. 42, “Pompey in the East” (1).
How and Leigh, Ch. 47, “Cicero and Catiline” (1).
Merivale, Gen. Hist., Ch. 40, “The First Triumvirate” (1).
Mommsen, Vol. IV., Bk. V., Ch. 11, “The Old Republic and New Monarchy” (2).
Mommsen, abridged, Ch. 35, “Joint Rule of Pompey and Caesar” (2).
Pelham, Bk. V., Ch. 1, “The Dictatorship of Julius” (1).1
CAESAR’S CAMPAIGNS IN GAUL.How and Leigh, Ch. 49 (1); Shuckburgh, Ch. 44 (1); Merivale, Gen. Hist., Ch. 41 (1); Merivale, Triumvirates, Ch. 5 (6); Merivale, Empire, Chs. 5-12 (7); Dodge, Julius Caesar, Chs. 8-14 (22).
1 Son of the colleague of Marius (p. 165).
2 The figure in parenthesis refers to the number of the topic in the Appendix, where a fuller title of the book will be found.