The End of the Roman Republic and the Beginning of the Roman Empire
“Veni, vidi, vici!” Julius Caesar must have uttered these words with such passion and intensity after crushing a rebellion.
Born in July 12, 100 BC, this brilliant Roman general, politician, speaker, and writer hailed from a notable lineage. His father, Gaius Julius Caesar, was a senator, quaestor, praetor, and governor in Asia. His mother, Aurelia Cotta, was a daughter of a senator, consul and military commander.
Certainly, his father, who died when Caesar was only 15, must have presented to him a series of political allusions…and coming from one of the oldest aristocratic families engaged in politics, he embarked on a compelling political adventure…He held several government posts such as consul, governor of the Roman province of Spain, and fought several wars…before ultimately becoming the most powerful man in the Roman Republic.
As prevalent throughout history, Caesar had to seal alliances through marriages and political affinities to hasten his political goals.
He married Cornelia in 84 BC, the daughter of a wealthy Roman. She died in 69 BC, leaving him his first and only legal child, Julia Caesaris (he later arranged the marriage of Julia to Pompey, one of the most powerful man in Rome and Julia died in childbirth in 54 BC). Caesar then married Pompeia in 67 BC, granddaughter of the Roman dictator Sulla. This marriage lasted for five years and ended in divorce in 62 BC. He married his third and last wife Calpurnia, a daughter of a consul, in 59 BC, when she was only 16 and he was already 41. She remained to be his wife until his death and never remarried.
Caesar had three paramours, including the famous queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. She became Julius Caesar’s lover from 48 to 47 BC, giving him a son named Caesarion, who was later killed by the Romans after Cleopatra’s suicide. The other two paramours were Queen Eunoe of Mauretania and Servilia Caepeonis, whose son Marcus Brutus later became one of Caesar’s assassins.
In 60 B.C., Julius Caesar, together with two other ambitious war heroes, Gnaeus Pompey and Marcus Licinius Crassus, formed a political alliance, the First Triumvirate of the Republic. Over the years, there was a fierce rivalry among the three. Crassus was killed in a battle in Syria in 53 BC. Caesar conquered France and Britain (The Gallic Wars), which started in 58 BC and ended in 51 BC while Pompey was gaining political power and support in Rome. In 49 B.C., Caesar’s and Pompey’s armies went into battle. Pompey’s armies were defeated.
Thereafter, Caesar gained more victories in Africa, Egypt, Spain, and Asia Minor. He marched back to Rome in 46 B.C. as a great hero, the most powerful man in the Republic. He became more popular with the middle and lower classes by lowering taxes, resettling and giving lands to war veterans, granted citizenship to people outside Italy, and put into effect the Julian calendar. The nobles and some members of the senate considered him a dictator. They feared that he’d ultimately become king thus would have that dangerous one-man rule, putting an end to the Republic…so they conspired to assassinate him. On March 15, 44 B.C., Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times to death by a group of senatorial conspirators led by Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus.
“I found Rome built of bricks; I leave her clothed in marble.” Proudly declared by Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman Empire!
Rome’s history could beat any plot-heavy movies or stuffy soap operas! Gaius Octavian (63 B.C. – A.D. 14) was Julius Caesar’s grand-nephew and adopted son! He learned that Julius Caesar had adopted him in his will only after Caesar’s death. His real father, a senator named Gaius Octavius, died when Octavian was only four and his mother was Atia, the daughter of Julius Caesar’s sister Julia.
At the age of 18, he set forth to Rome to claim his inheritance. He, together with two of Caesar’s loyal supporters, Mark Antony and Lepidus, formed the Second Triumvirate of the Republic.
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!”. This was the funeral oration of Marc Antony for Caesar in the play “Julius Caesar” which became one of the most popular of all Shakespeare’s soliloquies. For sheer drama, any play, even that of the exquisitely brilliant Shakespeare’s, could not rival what actually transpired after Caesar’s death.
The Second Triumvirate defeated the armies of the two conspirators against Caesar – Brutus and Cassius…However, Mark Antony and Octavian soon became rivals.
After Caesar’s death, Cleopatra became Mark Antony’s wife. Antony and Cleopatra combined their navies for the Battle of Actium in 31 BC off the coast of Greece, only to be crushed by the forces of Octavian. Antony was given the false news that Cleopatra had died so he committed suicide. Rather than fall under the mercy of the Roman mob, on the 12th of August, 30 BC, Cleopatra had herself bitten by an Egyptian cobra!
The Roman Republic too, met its end…It ultimately became the Roman Empire. Octavian was then given the title of Augustus by the Roman Senate in 27 B.C., meaning honored and majestic, with an honorary title “Caesar”. He became the first emperor of the 147 emperors that ruled the vast Roman Empire.
Augustus was not a great warrior but he had the great general Agrippa as a best friend who gave him great victories. He was not a tyrannical leader too…and had the ability to creatively build a consensus around his vision. He became a highly skilled administrator, giving Rome peace, prosperity and more expansion from the time he became emperor until his death in 14 A.D. at the age of 75. His rule introduced a period called Pax Romana, the Roman Peace.