Who was Julius Caesar? - Life & Assassination

Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson we will learn who Julius Caesar was. Together, we will take a closer look at his history, his personal life, and his legacy. We will analyze the improvements he made to Rome and how that may have led ultimately to his assassination.


Julius Caesar played a critical role in the rise of the Roman Empire and in leading social and governmental reforms. At his birth in Rome, Italy in July, 100 BC, Caesar was not born a noble and his parents were not politically influential. Caesar's life story of working his way from lower-class citizen to Dictator is one of hard work, inspiration and, ultimately, personal conquest.


The Rome of Caesar's youth was unstable. Caesar left Rome and joined the military very young and eventually returned to Rome to become involved in politics. He became a legal advocate and speaker. He was known for his passionate speech, usually aimed at the prosecution of politicians who were corrupt. Caesar was eventually elected to government office and began working his way up the political ladder.

He was first elected as Chief Priest of the Roman state religion. A significant success, he was then appointed to govern Spain in 62 BC. While in Spain, he conquered two tribes and completed his tenure there well-regarded.

Caesar returned to Rome to run an election campaign for counsel (what may be considered in the US today as a magistrate - or a lower-powered judge.) During that election, Caesar worked closely with Pompey, a former lieutenant in the military, and Crassus, arguably one of the richest men in Rome. This partnership proved successful for Caesar as it afforded him power and wealth. The close friendship of these three men became known as The First Triumvirate.

Caesar was elected easily and proposed numerous laws that were popular. He was then appointed to govern Northern Italy and Southeastern Europe.

Political Successes

While governing Northern Italy, Caesar made numerous controversial decisions such as conquering Gaul (now known as France and Belgium) with the 13 Legione and punishing his enemy soldiers by cutting off their hands. Caesar became known for his horrific treatment of his enemy soldiers.


In 50 BC, the Senate, led by Pompey, ordered Caesar to return home because his term as governor had ended. Pompey slowly began to turn against Caesar.

Caesar went to battle against Pompey, overtook Italy and pushed Pompey into Egypt where Pompey was eventually killed. While in Egypt, Caesar had an extra-marital affair with Cleopatra who bore Caesar's only known biological son, Caesarion.

Crassus eventually died in a battle in Syria.


In 509 BC, the Romans had overthrown their king who had all inclusive power and was able to rule without Senate or citizen vote. In creating the new government in Rome, the founders of the Roman Republic put into place a system of checks and balances similar to that of the U.S. and in the era of Caesar Rome was democratic. However, the Roman founders had also created an 'emergency clause' which stated that in times of state turmoil the Senate could vote to grant absolute power to one man as dictator in order to have strong leadership to get through that difficult time. By 48 BC, the Senate in Rome was in disarray and there were rumors of war. There was much political corruption and finally the decision was made by the Senate to vote to appoint Caesar dictator.

During Caesar's time as dictator, he made great strides for Rome. Caesar rewrote the debt laws in Rome which relieved a significant amount of debt owed by the citizens. Additionally, Caesar reformed the Senate and election laws.

Most importantly, Caesar updated the Roman calendar. The calendar had previously been structured around the phases of the moon. This new updated Julian Calendar added extra months into the calendar, was set to 365 days and included a leap day at the end of February every fourth year. It is nearly identical to the current Western calendar we use today.


During his time as dictator Caesar became increasingly more power hungry. Enemies in the Senate had become jealous of Caesar's power and became concerned that Caesar would not step down as dictator when the time came. Therefore, a plan was hatched by Marcus Brutus and Gaius Longinus to assassinate Caesar on the Ides of March (the 15th) 44 BC. Caesar was to be assassinated at a session of the Senate held at the Theatre of Pompey. It is estimated that sixty or more men participated in the assassination and Caesar was stabbed on the Senate floor 23 times.

In the years following the assassination of Caesar, five civil wars were fought, which resulted in the formation of the Roman Empire.

Caesar was quickly martyred and two years after death became to first Roman to be deified.


Personal Life

Caesar was married three times throughout his life. His first marriage was to Cornelia Cinnilla (married 83 BC - 69 BC.) There was one child from this marriage - Julia - who later married Pompey and died in childbirth. His second marriage was to Pompeia (married 67 BC - 61 BC.) His third marriage was to Calpurnia Pisonis (married 59 BC - 44 BC.) Caesar, through an extra-marital affair with Cleopatra, bore a son named Caesarion. Because it was an affair, Caesarion was never officially recognized as Caesar's son.

In Caesar's will, he adopted a great-nephew named Octavian. Octavian eventually became the first Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar.

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