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Julius Caesar's Accomplishments as a Statesman

Instructor: Erin Carroll

Erin has taught English and History. She has a bachelor's degree in History, and a master's degree in International Relations

In this lesson you will learn about the accomplishments of Julius Caesar as a statesman, and analyze whether he was a great statesman, or just a great politician. First, you will learn how Caesar came into power, and then you will learn about some of the social and political reforms he enacted as a statesman.

Background

Caesar was born Gaius Julius Caesar to an aristocratic family in Rome in 100 B.C. At this time, the Roman senate was made up of aristocrats called patricians. Every year the senate would choose two men from their ranks to govern as co-consuls for one year. Although aristocratic, Caesar's family wasn't rich, and it seemed that he would land in some lower government office. However, Julius Caesar's ambition led him quickly up the ladder. He was eventually proclaimed Dictator of Rome. As a statesman, he passed many laws and reforms, but some thought that he had become too powerful, and stabbed him to death.

Gaius Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar

Historians are divided when it comes to assessing Julius Caesar as a statesman. A statesman is someone with respected experience and action in government matters. Julius Caesar was an excellent politician, as he maneuvered himself to more powerful government offices. Whether he was a great statesman is less clear. Taking a positive view of Caesar, his reforms and laws as a statesman improved Rome. A more cynical view sees these reforms as merely tools to seize power. To assess Caesar's accomplishments as a statesman, we will look at how he came to power, and once in power, what sorts of laws he passed.

Maneuvering Into Power

Caesar first served in the army before being elected to public office in 65 BC. His position was to regulate traffic and business operations. He endeared himself to the people by spending himself into massive debt putting on circuses and spectacles. Two years later in 63 BC, he was elected Pontifex Maximus, or the chief priest of the Roman religion. In 61 BC, he was appointed governor of Spain.

Statue of Julius Caesar
Statue of Julius Caesar

Meanwhile, he aligned himself with Crassus who was rich and Pompey who had military power, creating the first triumvirate, or rule of three men. The influence of these three men helped Caesar be elected consul in 59 BC. One year later, he became the governor of Gaul, or modern France. The triumvirate eventually broke down: Crassus was killed, leaving Pompey and Caesar rivals. Caesar was ordered to return to Rome, so he arrived with an army. He was proclaimed dictator with the position of consul extended for 10 years without any co-consul. In 45 BC he was declared Dictator for life and father of the country.

Social Reforms

As a statesman, Caesar enacted many reforms aimed at improving the everyday lives of plebeians or the common people. Whether his motives were pure, or he simply wanted to buy greater popular support is still contested. He put strict controls on the purchase of state-subsidized grain to leave more for the poorest. He wiped out one quarter of private debt, which relieved many plebeians. However, debt relief was not a new idea and had been suggested by other politicians and reformers before Caesar.

Forum Romanum restored by Caesar
Forum Romanum restored by Caesar

In 46 BC, Caesar changed the Roman calendar from a 355-day year into the 365-day Julian calendar. Cleopatra's astronomer, Sosigenes of Alexandria advised him to add four new months and a leap year every fourth year. He passed laws to protect the sanctity of marriage and outlaw adultery. He believed that stronger families would keep the empire more stable and contented. Caesar also initiated many public works, constructing new and renewing old structures like the Forum Romanum. These social reforms improved the lives of plebeians but also secured their support for Caesar himself.

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