Julius Caesar followed Pompey to Egypt where Pompey was murdered by a former Roman officer serving in the court of King Ptolemy XIII. Caesar then became involved in the dynastic struggle of the house of Ptolemy (with the Alexandrine civil war between Ptolemy and his sister, wife, and co-regent queen, the Pharaoh Cleopatra VII). Perhaps as a result of Ptolemy's role in Pompey's murder, Caesar supported Cleopatra (he is reported to have wept at the sight of Pompey's head, which was offered to him by Ptolemy's chamberlain Pothinus as a gift). But caught in Alexandria without sufficient troops, he was nearly destroyed before reinforcements could arrive. The main result of this sojourn was the affair that developed between Caesar and Cleopatra, which ultimately resulted in a son, Caesarion. Caesar defeated the Ptolemaic forces in 47 BC in the Battle of the Nile and installed Cleopatra as ruler (Cleopatra visited Rome on more than one occasion, residing in Caesar's villa just outside Rome across the Tiber.)
In 47 BC, Caesar moved against Pharnaces, the King of Bosphorus, who had overrun much of Asia, and defeated him in a few days at Zela. It was of this rapid victory that he made the famous comment, "Veni, Vidi, Vici" ("I came, I saw, I conquered"). In 46 BC, he smashed another Pompeian army at Thapsus in Africa, before finally crushing the last resistance at Munda in Spain in 45 BC. Returning to Rome he was made dictator for life, but was murdered by a senatorial conspiracy on 15 March (44 BC), a few weeks before he was to have embarked on a series of major campaigns, first against Dacia, then Parthia. Note: Great games and celebrations were held on April 21 to honour Caesar's victory at Munda. Plutarch writes that many Romans found the triumph held following Caesar's victory to be in poor taste, as those defeated in the civil war had not been foreigners, but instead fellow Romans. On Caesar's return to Italy in September 45 BC, he filed his will, naming his grand-nephew Gaius Octavius (Octavian) as the heir to everything, including his name. Caesar also wrote that if Octavian died before Caesar did, Marcus Junius Brutus would be the next heir in succession.
Caesar's uncle Marius was a popularis, Marius' protégé Lucius Cornelius Sulla was an optimas, and in Caesar's youth their rivalry led to civil war. Both Marius and Sulla distinguished themselves in the Social War, and both wanted command of the war against Mithridates, which was initially given to Sulla; but when Sulla left the city to take command of his army, a tribune passed a law transferring the appointment to Marius. Sulla responded by marching on Rome, reclaiming his command and forcing Marius into exile, but when he left on campaign Marius returned at the head of a makeshift army. He and his ally Lucius Cornelius Cinna seized the city and declared Sulla a public enemy, and Marius's troops took violent revenge on Sulla's supporters. Marius died early in 86 BC, but his followers remained in power.
In 85 B.C., Caesar's father died suddenly while putting on his shoes one morning, without any apparent cause, and at sixteen, Caesar was the head of the family. The following year he was nominated to be the new Flamen Dialis, high priest of Jupiter, as Merula, the previous incumbent, had died in Marius's purges. Since the holder of that position not only had to be a patrician but also be married to a patrician, he broke off his engagement to Cossutia, a plebeian girl from a wealthy equestrian family... he had been betrothed to since boyhood, and married Cinna's daughter Cornelia Cinnilla (in 83 BC. She, however, death in childbirth in 69 or 68 BC ).
In 80 BC, after two years in office, Sulla resigned his dictatorship, re-established consular government and, after serving as consul, retired to private life. Caesar later ridiculed Sulla's relinquishing of the dictatorship - "Sulla did not know his political ABC's." He died two years later in 78 BC and was accorded a state funeral. Hearing of Sulla's death, Caesar felt safe enough to return to Rome. Lacking means since his inheritance was confiscated, he acquired a modest house in the Subura, a lower class neighbourhood of Rome. His return coincided with an attempted anti-Sullan coup by Marcus Aemilius Lepidus but Caesar, lacking confidence in Lepidus' leadership, did not participate. Instead he turned to legal advocacy. He became known for his exceptional oratory, accompanied by impassioned gestures and a high-pitched voice, and ruthless prosecution of former governors notorious for extortion and corruption. Even Cicero, widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists praised him: "Come now, what orator would you rank above him...?"
There has been much debate about what political role Caesar planned for himself. He certainly regarded the old oligarchic government as inadequate and desired to replace it with some form of rule by a single leader. Significantly, just before his death, Caesar was appointed dictator for life ("dictator in perpetuity" or dictator perpetuo). About the same time, he began issuing coins with his own portrait on them, a practice unparalleled in Rome up to that time. Among his reforms was the reordering of the inadequate Roman calendar. (In 63 BC, Caesar had been elected Pontifex Maximus, and one of his roles was a complete overhaul of the old Roman calendar, this proved to be one of his most long lasting and influential reforms. In 46 BC, Caesar established a 365-day year with a leap year every fourth year. This Julian calendar was subsequently modified by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 into the modern Gregorian calendar.) Historians place the generalship of Caesar as one of the greatest military strategists and tacticians who ever lived, along with Alexander the Great, Sun Tzu, Hannibal, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon Bonaparte.
A prelude to Caesar's assassination: In Rome dissatisfaction was growing among the senatorial aristocrats over the increasingly permanent nature of the rule of Caesar. A conspiracy was formed, aimed at eliminating Caesar and restoring the government to the Senate. The conspirators hoped that, with Caesar's death, the government would be restored to its old republican form and all of the factors that had produced a Caesar would disappear. The conspiracy progressed with Caesar either ignorant of it or not recognizing the warning signs. On the Ides of March (March 15), 44 B.C., he was stabbed to death in the Senate house of Pompey by a group of men that included old friends and comrades-in-arms, led by Cassius and Marcus Junius Brutus. The other conspirators were: Casca, Trebonius, Ligarius, Decius Brutus, Metellus Cimber and Lucius Cinna. With Caesar's murder, Rome plunged into 13 years of civil war. Caesar remained for some a symbol of tyranny, and for others the heritable founder of the Roman Empire whose ghost has haunted Europe ever since. For all, he is a figure of genius and audacity equaled by few in history. His writings on the Gallic and Civil wars are considered models of classical historiography. Note: The month of March is still considered to be pretty intriguing, and references to "the Ides of March" are still in vogue.
The Assassination of Julius Caesar: Traditional readings of the play maintain that Cassius and the other conspirators are motivated largely by envy and ambition, whereas Brutus is motivated by the demands of honour and patriotism. Brutus allows himself to be cajoled into joining a group of conspiring senators because of a growing suspicion - implanted by Caius Cassius - that Caesar intends to turn republican Rome into a monarchy under his own rule. One of the central strengths of the play is that it resists categorizing its characters as either simple heroes or villains. The early scenes deal mainly with Brutus' arguments with Cassius and his struggle with his own conscience. The growing tide of public support soon turns Brutus against Caesar. This public support was actually faked. Cassius wrote letters to Brutus in different handwritings over the next month in order to get Brutus to join the conspiracy (since his joining them would be strengthening the conspirators' case as well as improve their standing in the eyes of the commoners). A soothsayer warns Caesar to "beware the Ides of March," which he ignores, culminating in his assassination at the Capitol by the conspirators that day.
Caesar's life and death is dramatized in William Shakespeare's play/tragedy (believed to have been written in 1599) - "Julius Caesar", with Caesar's famous death/last line: "Et tu, Brute? Then fall Caesar!" (Act III scene i). In spite of its title, this is not the story of Julius Caesar; he appears in only three scenes, and is killed at the beginning of the third act. Though, towards the end of the play, Caesar's ghost appears to Brutus with a warning of defeat ("thou shalt see me at Philippi", IV.iii,283). His corpse is just the island on which all the other characters fight. Nevertheless, it is an important role, he was the colossus who bestrides the world. When Caesar tells Marc Antony he trusts only fat, well-fed-looking men, it seems like a shrewd campaigner passing on a useful observation to a promising up-and-comer. Caesar's observation was made on the lean and hungry looking Cassius. The protagonist of the play is Marcus Brutus, and the central psychological drama is his struggle between the conflicting demands of honour, patriotism, and friendship. This play portrays the conspiracy against the Roman dictator of the same name, his assassination and its aftermath. It is one of several Roman plays that Shakespeare wrote, based on true events from Roman history, which also include Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra.
Brutus is a Roman praetor (Minister), Caesar's friend and exact emotional opposite: a self-controlled, even-tempered, honor-loving man... a man, torn apart by his love to the Republic and his loyalty to Caesar. Brutus, the noblest and most sympathetic of the characters, battles futilely to save the republic from the inevitable emerging dictatorship. But in spite of his greatness, he is an easy tool for the Machiavellian Cassius. Cassius (a wonderfully nuanced character) preys on the ambition and vanity Brutus does not even recognize in himself. Cassius, though a callow manipulative bribe-taking scoundrel, can yet be so noble and brave. Shortly before killing himself, he tells his slave he has a final order for him, "Live free." We see beneath his self interest lies a magnanimous heart.
The opportunistic Marc Antony's famous funeral speech (for Caesar) with the iconic opening line: "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones; So let it be with Caesar"... can be read at: http://www.artofeurope.com/shakespeare/sha10.htm.) He plays on the word "honourable" a number of times. Watching the mob swayed from one direction to the other first by Brutus' speech and then by Marc Antony's is the best warning there is on the perils of democracy. The same mob who castigate Caesar during Brutus' speech, lionize him during Antony's. In the end the crowd is whipped into a frenzy of revenge when they hear Caesar left them money and land in his will. Marc Anthony, unfaltering in his love for Caesar takes revenge for his murder. Octavius Caesar, Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony) and Caesar's loyal cavalry commander M. Aemilius Lepidus were the Triumvirs (Second Triumvirate) after the death of Julius Caesar. Note: Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (Octavius Caesar), was Caesar's great-nephew by blood, who later became Emperor Augustus.
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill;
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept;
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff. (3.2.90-94)
Note: Two famous film adaptations of this play are: