Did the Romans Like Julius Caesar?


Julius Caesar is the most iconic of all Roman leaders. He was charismatic, eloquent, a military genius, and a skilled politician. He made many enemies as he rose to power, but he was careful to maintain a good public image. 

The Romans liked Julius Caesar. He was a populist who won the loyalty of his army, gained glory with his conquests, and enacted many laws that benefited Roman citizens. However, Caesar was hated by the Senate. He took power from them, causing a civil war. He was killed by conspiring Senators. 

Caesar’s reign as a Dictator was short-lived, but his legacy lasted much longer and created the figure of the Emperor. However, well-liked as he was, the people didn’t want him to be a king. What’s behind this seeming contradiction?

Also see Did the Romans Discover America? to learn more.

Julius Caesar Roman Empire
How did Caesar die? See below

Did the Romans Want Caesar as King?

Roman citizens didn’t want Caesar as king. They liked and respected him, and they seemed to approve of him being Dictator, which was similar in practice to being a king. However, the title of “king” had very negative connotations for the Romans. 

Long before the constitution of Rome as a republic, the Romans had been subject to the rule of local kings. After overthrowing them, they established the Senate. [1]

As a political organization, the Senate was supposed to represent the Roman people when making decisions and not be swayed by power and riches as monarchies were. 

However, in practice, this had long stopped being the case. By the time of Julius Caesar, the nobility of Rome, which controlled the Senate, had fatally mismanaged the Greco-Roman world. The Senate had become a hotbed for corruption and intrigue and had lost the favor of the people. 

Caesar was no less scheming and deceitful than Senators, but he was devoted to his political project. He rose through the ranks of the Roman bureaucracy, eventually becoming a consul. However, in practice, he retained power long after his one-year period. 

Caesar was a genius military man. His conquest of Gaul between 58 and 50 B.C. won him the loyalty of his army and gave him glory in the eyes of the people. [2]

But his prowess didn’t stop there. He was an eloquent speaker and brilliant propagandist. He took every chance to show his caring side to the public, siding with the common people and seemingly sharing their worries. He even turned the funeral of his wife into a populist speech. 

He often showed clemency to his political enemies, further improving his image. This doesn’t mean he couldn’t be harsh: he ravaged and applied cruel measures against the “barbarians” of Gaul. 

Even when Caesar defied the Senate by crossing the Rubicon river with his army, he probably still had the support of the people. [3] They may have seen in him an opportunity to get rid of Rome’s corrupt and decadent nobility. 

However, even though they may have taken Caesar’s side, common people were extremely opposed to the civil war that followed. 

The civil war took Caesar across the empire, and he returned to Rome with the title of Dictator for life, which gave him autocratic power over the politics of Rome. Caesar then established many policies that had a positive impact on the people of the city. 

He decreased unemployment by ordering the construction of many public buildings inside the city. He also offered war veterans and unemployed people the opportunity to populate overseas colonies. 

Before he was a dictator, he took measures against crime and corrupt governors. In an unprecedented move, he provided citizenship to people outside of Rome. He also expanded the size of the Senate and made it more representative of the people. 

Here’s where the famous scene related by Cicero comes into play. During a public celebration, Caesar was sitting on the speaker’s stage. Mark Anthony approached him and placed a laurel crown on his head, provoking anger and booing from the public. Caesar then rejected the crown, making the people cheer. 

The meaning of this story isn’t clear. Was it all a stunt planned by Caesar just to improve his public image? Did he try to be crowned but changed his mind after seeing the public’s reaction? Was it just Mark Anthony being overly flattering? 

Whatever the case, the event speaks to the fact that the Romans wanted to remain citizens, not become subjects. Being subjects may have been seen as something akin to slavery. Even when it came from a beloved leader, monarchy stirred negative feelings among the people of Rome.

Also see Did the Romans Know About America? to learn more.

Julius Caesar statue
How did the Romans honor Caesar? See below

How Did Caesar Die?

Caesar died after being stabbed 23 times by Senators. He took power from the Senate but pardoned many Senators, leaving them in power. After he’d been Dictator for a year, 60 senators conspired to kill him, including Caesar’s friend Brutus. Anthony tried to warn Caesar but was stopped. 

Caesar made many enemies throughout his career. He openly opposed the Senate and had bought many political agents in other institutions, like the Tribunes and the Plebe. 

This animosity reached its prime after Caesar approached Rome with his army. Before this happened, the Senate had been trying to bring Caesar to Rome without any titles in an attempt to prosecute him or perhaps kill him. Casar brought forth the civil war to preserve himself and his project. 

During the civil war, Caesar violently took power from the Senate. [4] However, after it was over, he pardoned many of his opposers and even gave political positions to many of them. This clemency is part of what got him killed. 

A group of 60 people, made mainly of Senators and the old nobility of Rome, conspired to kill Caesar in a session of the Senate. Mark Anthony heard of the plot and approached Caesar to warn him not to approach the Senate. However, the conspirators anticipated this and stopped him from reaching Caesar. 

When Caesar arrived at the Senate, the conspirators surrounded him under the appearance of asking him a favor. Then Cimber tore down his tunic, and Casca pulled out a dagger. After a moment, the entire group was hitting him and stabbing him. He was stabbed 23 times. 

One of the conspirators was Brutus, a man that Caesar had forgiven and had come to trust and love. The story goes that Caesar’s last words were directed at him: “You too, Brutus?”.

Also see Did the Romans Steal the Greek Gods? to learn more.

Emperor Julius Caesar
Statue of Julius Caesar

How Did the Romans Honor Caesar?

The Romans honored Caesar by building a temple in his name and making games in his honor. His funeral was attended by a great multitude that was outraged at his assassination. This outrage provoked a civil war. 

Caesar’s nephew and rightful successor, Octavious, came out of it as Emperor. 

Caesar’s assassination was followed by outrage. Mark Anthony delivered a funeral speech and positioned himself as Caesar’s rightful successor, but the people still weren’t happy with the situation. 

The death of Caesar, contrary to what the Senators had wanted, precipitated the fall of the Republic. [5] The people, outraged, attacked the houses of conspirators Brutus and Cassius, which sparked a series of civil wars. 

Caesar had appointed his nephew Octavius as a successor. Octavius obtained power after the civil war, partly coaxed by other senators and military men. However, he ended up being a skilled politician who had his own objectives. 

Octavius became Caesar Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. This is the most significant legacy of Julius Caesar: the Roman Republic became the Roman Empire. 

Julius Caesar was honored greatly after his death. Games were held in his honor, and a temple was built in his name. Caesar’s deification was the basis for the Imperial Cult, which consisted in the religious adoration of the current Roman Emperor. 

Conclusion

Caesar gained autocratic power over Rome and was well-liked. This suggests that the Romans’ dislike of kings was more in name than in practice.

Also see Did the Romans Keep Records of Crucifixions? to learn more.

References:
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