Interesting, though I never knew much about Julius Caesar's life, I always felt for him, his betrayal that caused him his life must be one of the heaviest in history. A very sad moment in history, followed by similar sad moments as the assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK, etc.
When I read the description of Caesar's death I had the similar deep sadness as when i read about the death of JFK or RFK. I found Caesar last words particularly heartbreaking "you too, my son?
Although there is controversy to know if those last words were ever pronounced, I think they are certainly consistent with the abyssal disappointment
Caesar must have felt when he saw Brutus, the one he had treated like his son
, the one who was probably his son, the one he had forgiven several times despite repeated betrayals, was part of the assassination plot.
So, the end of the story goes, and Caesar, after seeing Brutus would have just left his toga over his head, stopped fighting and stoically left the assassins finish their dirty work.
After reading a few books about Caesar, the main conclusion I came too is that he was not human. He was more than human
. Exceptional individuals are genius in one field. Very exceptional individuals are genius in several fields (like Da Vinci). Caesar was a genius in many fields: combat, strategy, psychology, oration, law, organization, writing, politics, writing, engineering, architecture, logistics, negociation, administration.
However, one point could seem paradoxical in Caesar's life: how to reconcile the million of people he got killed and the notion of mercy he was the first to defend and apply.
I guess Caesar reasoning was fairly simple. To counteract the Senate destructive plans and laws that would have caused millions and millions of death all over the Empire and beyond, he had to be able to fight the Senate and implement fairer policies
He first tried the political way but even when he proposed the most excellent laws the Senate was refusing them. They knew they would be highly beneficial for the people and the Empire but they also knew they would increase Caesar's power, who was a real populist. Its goal was truly to serve people.
So, when Caesar became consul, title that enabled him to raise armies he decided to gain legitimacy through military achievements
. At this time, generals backed by massive armies were sometimes more powerful than the Senate (see Sulla for example).
So Caesar chose a consulship in near Gaul and at the first opportunity he started a war in Gaul. I think he genuinely mis-evaluated the reaction of the Gallic tribes
. And what was supposed to be a short pacification mission around Swiss became a bloodbath that lasted several years and where from Caesar's account 1 million Gauls were killed.
Where is mercy in such mass killings? Actually very often Caesar offered mercy to his enemies
. What seems normal today was a revolution 2 millennium ago, when defeated enemies were systematically killed/tortured/enslaved.
That was indeed a revolution. Caesar maybe thought that his enemies would realize this major progress and respect this most superior virtue: mercy. Well, some did but most didn't. Caesar forgave a lot of his enemies who ended up betraying him again (like Brutus). In this case Caesar was unforgiving (except with Brutus) because this second time the enemies was not really betraying Caesar, worse he was betraying mercy
that he had been entrusted with.
Once Gaul had been pacified Caesar came back to Rome to see the oligarchic Senate plotting against him, instead of giving him the political legitimacy he deserved. Despite Caesar's efforts and compromises the Senators kept increasing the pressure until they decided to attack him militarily. That's how the civil war started. After years of struggles where Caesar showed more mercy than ever
, he finally pacified the whole Roman Empire and gave a lot of key positions to his ex enemies
During the two last years of his life Caesar ruled Rome and introduced many fundamental laws and decisions. He remained faithful to his initial populist (serving the People) orientations. Without destroying the elites, he managed to reduce some of their privileges while substantially raising the quality of life of his fellow citizens. He also deeply modernized how Rome operated and transformed it from a local tribe ruling point to a genuine world empire coordinating organization. Caesar built a massive library, gave citizenship to many non-Romans, reduced slavery by a third, distributed food to the poorest, reformed Roman law, adopted a Solar calendar... A benevolent revolution was in progress
but it was soon to be ended.
Caesar's lasting populist orientations increased the Oligarch's anger. In addition the enemies he had forgiven and put in key positions felt belittled by Caesar. All this resentment finally led to Caesar's assassination on the fateful Ides of March 44 B.C.
The bloodbath and social regression that occurred after Caesar's death confirmed that Caesar's was right. His reign had probably generated less death and suffering than if the Senate had been left to conduct its oligarchic policies.
It seems that all along his life Caesar had been serving two higher principles, namely honor and mercy
. For him these two values were more important than anything else, including his own life and he proved it several times, for example when charging on the front line without his horse during battles that were considered as lost in advance.
From what I see, Caesar's main weakness is that he thought others (Gallic leaders, Cicero, Pompey, Brutus,...) were respecting mercy and honor as much as he did. Most of the time they didn't, instead they betrayed, lied and plotted again and again.
That was Caesar's big mistake to attribute to others the same very high standards as the ones he applied
from the beginning to the end of his life.
During Caesar's reign, humanity experienced something it probably had never experienced before and might never experience again
(apart maybe for JFK to a lesser extent). Half of the world was ruled by a benevolent leader who had full power and who exercised it, starting to create a new world order made of more justice, solidarity, education.
No doubt that Caesar left a very deep mark in people's memory and heart. Caesar had become the perfect model to shape a imaginary Savior figure after him because, in fact, Caesar had been a very real one.