This tutorial was written by
Education consultant, Newcastle
The specific outcomes for this tutorial are:
describe and assess the significance of key people, groups, events, institutions, societies and sites within the historical context
|H 4.1||use historical terms and concepts appropriately|
explain and evaluate differing perspectives and interpretations of the past
The Principal Focus of this study is that students gain an understanding of Julius Caesar in the context of his time.
Personalities can influence the course of history. By synthesising information students can construct an evaluation of Julius Caesar's significance and legacy.
There is a wealth of evidence from this period in history both archaeological and written. This evidence presents a range of views and interpretations of
Caesar and students need to learn to consider why these views might differ.
Finally the student should be able to argue why Caesar took the actions he did and evaluate his significance and legacy to Roman history.
While Julius Caesar achieved a great deal, there were other Roman personalities, such as Augustus, who achieved more. However, Caesar's name has become
synonymous with Rome.
Born into a Roman patrician (aristocratic or noble) family about 100 BC Julius Caesar is remembered for the following:
Julius Caesar was born into two old Roman patrician (noble) families, the Julians and the Aurelians (on his mother's side). It was however, unlikely,
that any member of the Julian family had ever been a consul, the highest political position in Rome. Caesar's
aunt Julia had married Gaius Marius who had been consul seven times, and had
been the most important man in Rome for about 20 years during Caesar's early years.
Julius Caesar gave a funeral speech for his Aunt Julia and his wife Cornelia in 69 BC:
During his quaestorship he made the customary funeral speeches from the Rostra in honour of his Aunt Julia and his wife Cornelia; and while eulogising Julia's maternal and paternal ancestry, did the same for the Caesar's too. "Her mother", he said, "was a descendant of kings, namely the Royal Marcians, a family founded by the Roman King Ancus Marcius; and her father, of gods - since the Julians (of which we Caesars are a branch) reckon descendent from the Goddess Venus. Thus Julia's stock can claim both the sanctity of kings, who reign supreme among mortals, and the reverence due to Gods, who hold even kings in their power.
Suetonius, Julius Caesar, 6
Political alliances and marriages
Julius Caesar's family background therefore met the criteria for success in Roman politics in the first century BC.
Julius Caesar married his first wife, Cossutia in 84 BC to please his father. He married his second wife, Cornelia, after divorcing Cossutia soon after his father's death in 83 BC. Cornelia's father, Cinna had been consul four times. In 68 BC Cornelia died and Caesar married Pompeia, the granddaughter of Sulla. This was purely a political marriage. Sulla had been consul in 88 BC and in 81 BC had been made dictator of Rome. As dictator Sulla had held supreme power in Rome. Sulla had been supported by a group of senators known as the Optimates and Julius Caesar hoped that he would also be able to gain their support by marrying Pompeia.
Julius Caesar always wanted to be successful and wanted to emulate the power achieved by Marius and Sulla. In 69 BC he was in Spain as quaestor:
... in Spain, he was at leisure and was reading from the history of Alexander, he was lost in thought for a long time. And then burst into tears. His friends were astonished, and asked the reason for his tears. "Do you think", said he, "It is a matter for sorrow that while Alexander, at my age, was already king of so many peoples, I have as yet achieved no brilliant success?
Plutarch, Caesar, 11
Career: role in First Triumvirate
Julius Caesar's early career followed the typical career of a Roman politician in the first century BC. He initially became a lawyer then held the positions needed to climb the political ladder to the consulship: quaestor, aedile and praetor. He became consul in 59 BC. In order to make sure he obtained this consulship he formed a secret agreement between himself and the other two most powerful men of that time; Pompey and Crassus. Pompey was a leading military figure and Crassus was not only the richest man in Rome but was a leading patrician senator. Their alliance became known as the First Triumvirate.