Gaius Julius Caesar helped establish the vast Roman Empire. Caesar’s triumph in a civil war in the 40s BC made him the absolute ruler of Rome. Caesar was neither good nor bad, rather, he was a force of change. His folly was ambition, for when he took power the way to advance changed so drastically that the other Romans ambitions were thwarted, which lead to political jealousies among his opponents and his assassination.
Caesar’s rise to power obliterated the traditional way of attaining high office in Rome. When Caesar ‘became’ the Republic, he inadvertently created new needs: a need to be among Caesar’s circle of friends, a need to feel important in the eyes of the Dictator, a need to be rewarded by Caesar in accordance with one’s expectations. The need to gain Caesars approval was felt in varying degrees by different individuals, according to their goal(s), and, most importantly, their own perceptions of success in meeting these goals.
Thus, even a recipient of an important magistracy might have been disappointed if he had been hoping for a higher office, a different or earlier appointment, or inclusion in an inner circle. When Caesar made himself responsible for all important decisions, he fostered a dangerous atmosphere in which those whom he disappointed, frustrated because of an inability to better their position by constitutional means, could easily focus their anger directly upon Caesar; it was Caesar’s friends, nurturing the highest expectations, who felt this relative deprivation most keenly.
Although times were uncertain and lives were at stake, men placed much emphasis on their own advancement at the nod of Caesar. To achieve their goals, individuals fell over themselves in a gushing forth of self-seeking flattery recorded by ancient writers as occurring primarily after the death of Pompey, during Caesar’s visit to Rome after Thapsus, and, most especially, during Caesar’s final stay in Rome when there were no limits to his power.
Caesar’s response to these exaggerated overtures was equally exaggerated. In a major effort to gain acceptance, Caesar encouraged hope in everyone and made promises to many, resulting in a backlog of favors owed. His efforts to reward individuals and to ingratiate himself to Roman society were tireless: he abdicated his first dictatorship; he resigned his consulship in 45, yielding the office to two important lieutenants; he gave honors and offices to former enemies; he placated captured soldiers; he displayed clemency; he tried to assuage the populace both generally and specifically (e.g., with debt and rent relief); he was attentive to his soldiers; he made conciliatory speeches.
He rewarded as many as he was able with offices, priesthoods, senatorial seats, money, and land sales. Senators received priesthoods and offices, while knights, centurions and subordinates officers received seats in the senate.
But when Caesar found that Republican tradition limited his capability to reward to a magistracy, a priesthood, or a pecuniary, he augmented his ability to reward as a matter of policy. He increased the number of praetors, quaestors, senate seats, aediles and priesthoods. He appointed men to future magistracies. He resigned his own office to appoint others. He ignored tradition to reward followers.
Cicero makes comment about the way in which Caesar had converted political office into a ‘sad joke’ –
“At one o’clock, Caesar announced the election of a consul to serve until 1 January – which was the next morning. So I can inform you that in Canninus’ consulship, nobody had lunch. Still, nothing untoward occurred while he was consul: such was his vigilance that throughout his consulship, he did not sleep a wink!”
His further comment, also showed his opinion of what Caesar had turned the political magistracies into:
“…you could not help but weep… there are countless similar instances. “
Thus, as Caesar’s power grew, his situation became ever more perilous, one reason being that he was not able to reward everyone to the level of their expectations. Resentment came from several quarters. Senators resented unworthy appointments to their ranks. Caesar’s soldiers resented the length of time they remained in service and rewards that did not meet expectations. The soldiers also resented former prisoners of war now enrolled in Caesar’s army receiving equal pay and occupying positions equal to, or higher than, their own and jeered at comrades who were fortunate enough to be elevated to the senate. There was hostility when Caesar would not allow profiteering from confiscated land
In sum, Caesar was not able to eliminate resentment by meeting the needs of all the power seekers. His disappointed friends, expecting much, would feel the deprivation deeply. Some of them joined the conspiracy.
Caesar did not guard against resentment and hatred by creating a buffer between him and those seeking power; there was no cabinet or advisory board at which men could direct their resentment. There was, in addition, no Caesar-directed policy for appointments; men were promoted as his nod. For the power seekers, the comfort of traditional Roman ways of doing politics was gone. With ambiguous rules, uncertainty and hostility were inevitable. Thus, the emergence of Caesar-dependent needs suggested in paragraph one was even more important. One’s reaction to unsatisfied goals could be very personal, directed at Caesar himself. In fact, resentment was very likely felt most deeply by Caesar’s friends and supporters, who had reason to expect the most.
In sum Caesars rise to power was too different and Caesar was unable placate the rest of the Roman politicians ambition and as his power grew his position grew more perilous. Ironically his skill in government lead to his downfall.
Caesar March 31, 1999.http://www.virgil.org/caesar/primary-sources.htm
Meier, Christian. Caesar: A Biography, 1982. Harper Collins
Plutarch. Caesar, 75, MIT Classics Archive
Suetonius, C. Tranquillus. The Twelve Caesars. 1957 Penguin