The Caesar Factor
by Richard Girard
"If, in looking at the lives of princes, courtiers, men of rank and fashion, we must perforce depict them as idle, profligate, and criminal, we must make allowances for the rich men's failings, and recollect that we, too, were very likely indolent and voluptuous, had we no motive for work, a mortal's natural taste for pleasure, and the daily temptation of a large income. What could a great peer, with a great castle and park, and a great fortune, do but be splendid and idle?" William Makepeace Thackeray, The Four Georges, "George the Third" (1855).
"You all did love him once, not without cause." William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Act III, scene 2 (1599).
I was in session with my therapist last week, talking about people we admired in history. Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Madison, and Lincoln were compared and contrasted with one another, as icons of our nation. I told my therapist that if I were wealthy, I would have busts of all these men in my home. I then told him that I would have a sixth bust that would probably shock him: Gaius Julius Caesar.
My therapist's jaw dropped, and asked why just as the time for our session expired. I told him we would discuss it next time. But if he wanted an answer sooner, he should read Michael Parenti's book The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Rome, (2003).
Let me give you a synopsis of Parenti's book as background.
By the middle of the Second Century B.C.E., the Roman Republic's decline was clearly visible to everyone. Tiberius and Gaius Sempronius Gracchus saw-three decades before Caesar's birth-that the numbers of Rome's yeoman farmers, the core of Rome's army and middle class, were declining so rapidly that Rome would soon find it impossible to maintain its legions. They attempted land reform, a distribution of publicly held lands to Rome's poor. The Roman oligarchs (many of whom used the public lands illegally) caused the deaths of the Gracchi (Tiberius-murdered in 132 B.C.E., Gaius-who committed suicide after leading an insurrection in 121 B.C.E.) to prevent these reforms.
This concentration of wealth (until the Industrial Revolution wealth was measured by land ownership) forced Rome-during the multiple consulships of Gaius Marius-to recruit and equip troops who, contrary to tradition, were financially unable to equip themselves. Rome's wars became such a drain on the manpower of Italy, that the two legions Cicero raised in 52 B.C.E., were the last legions raised in Italy proper for almost one-hundred and twenty years (see Stephen Dando-Collins, Caesar's Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar's Elite Tenth Legion and the Armies of Rome, Appendix A, ?2003).
Gaius Julius Caesar-known to most of us as Julius Caesar, or simply Caesar-has been the bête noire of plutocratic oligarchs for more than twenty centuries. The term Caesarism is used as a pejorative, denoting any form of "military or imperial dictatorship; political authoritarianism" (The American Heritage?Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition copyright 1992). Pro-aristocratic historians-which are the majority-have consistently, and effectively, dragged Gaius Julius Caesar's name through the mud. I would describe such slander as history's Caesar Factor.
Caesar was an extraordinary individual, even by modern standards. He was a multi-linguistic polymath; a charismatic and consumate politician; an outstanding legal advocate, orator and writer; and one of history's greatest military commanders. Combine the talents of Thomas Jefferson, Bill Clinton, Winston Churchill, and George S. Patton, Jr. , and you have a rough approximation of the capabilities of Gaius Julius Caesar.
Caesar claimed descent from the Roman goddess Venus, and the ancient kings of Alba Longa, one of Rome's first acquisitions. He was also a member of one of Rome's oldest patrician clans (Julius was his nomen or clan name).
Caesar was the nephew by marriage of Gaius Marius, who was seven times Consul of Rome (the Republic's highest elected office), victorious commander against the Numidians, and the massive Germanic invasion of Italy and Gaul in the late Second Century B.C.E.. With this background, Caesar seemed destined, at first glance, to be one of the leaders of the oligarchic faction (or optimates) in the Roman Senate.
Unlike his contemporaries, Gaius Julius Caesar did not grow up on the hills that surround the Forum of Rome, where the majority of the patrician upper class lived. Caesar grew up in the squalor of the Subura, the South Central Los Angeles of ancient Rome. His parents owned one of the better insulas, or apartment houses, in what was the worst slum in Rome. The squalor of his childhood "playgrounds," as well as the poverty of his playmates, had a profound influence on the young patrician. This granted Caesar a degree of understanding of Rome's proletariat that his contemporaries conspicuously lacked.
Caesar was also influenced by his uncle, Gaius Marius, who led the democratic faction (or popularis) of the Senate at the time of Caesar's birth. Gaius Marius was a brilliant general, but as a "New Man" (homo novus, an individual who had no ancestors that had been a member of Rome's Senate), he was a ham-handed and somewhat clueless politician. Marius believed that the gratitude of Rome for his military victories would provide him with the needed political currency to carry through his program of land reform. Marius completely underestimated his optimate adversaries. His program of resettling the veterans of his wars in colonies on public land in Italy, as well as Rome's provinces, was stillborn.
In the First Century B.C.E., farm and other unskilled and semi-skilled labor in Italy were increasingly being done by slaves, the illegal aliens of ancient Rome. There was a grain dole for many of Rome's citizens, which provided free or low-priced grain for the poor. The Roman proletariat still had to purchase their own wine, olive oil, vegetables, etc., and pay for housing and clothing. Because slaves were doing so much of Rome's labor, most Roman citizens of the lower classes-including former legionaries-were living a hand-to-mouth existence.