As my enormous seven-volume ‘Opus Magnum’ creeps ever-closer to completion, I have taken a little time to draw up a small book on one of history’s greatest ever generals – Julius Caesar.
Caesar was a truly magnificent general and has been termed ‘The Greatest name in history’ and yet most people don’t know too much about him barring “I came, I saw, I conquered” and that he was the first person to invade Britain. Due to the inaccuracies of popular TV, most people now believe that he spent half his time fighting Spartacus – which he absolutely did not, so I thought I’d throw in a bit of trivia to explain just who he was, how good he was, and to help whet the appetite of those history buffs who aren’t quite as up on Caesar as they should be…after all, the stuff they taught us about him in school was so very boring, wasn’t it? – Here’s a more fun version.
1/ He claimed a Divine Lineage – Caesar’s family claimed semi-divinity through their ties to the Royal House of Troy and the Goddess Venus. It was not uncommon for many families to make this kind of claim in ancient Rome and further afield. His most famous ancestor was Gaius Marius – seven time Consul of Rome and considered as one of the top 100 greatest generals in the world even today.
2/ He was a war hero – At the age of 19 Caesar had his first military experience at the siege of Mytilene in 81BC. Having fled to the army to avoid the politics of Rome (where Sulla had defeated and exiled his uncle Gaius Marius in the Social War) he joined the invasion of Cilicia as an under-officer and was awarded the Civic Crown – Rome’s second highest decoration for bravery, for saving the life of a comrade.
3/ He was captured by Pirates – On his return from the war in Cilicia, Caesar was captured by pirates who determined to ransom him for 20 talents of silver – he remonstrated that he was worth more and had them ask for fifty, which they duly received. Whilst in captivity he had joked with the pirates that he would come back, find them and crucify them, and they had laughed at him. Upon his release, he raised several ships and crews at his own expense and set out after them, soon capturing them and making good on his promise.
4/ He was the Pope! – Okay specifically he was ‘Pontifex Maximus’ a term still used today for the Pope although being High Priest of Rome – since there was no Christianity then, obviously! He was elected to the post in 63BC after one of the most corrupt elections ever seen in Roman history.
5/ He was Consul for 59BC – The highest political rank in Rome, always held for a year in tandem with a second consul. The election was described as ‘sordid’ – topping even his election to the Pontifex with bribery, violence, murder and blackmail. One of his first acts was to get rid of the second Consul Bibulus, which he did by having his supporters beat up Bibulus and his men in the senate before throwing a bucket of excrement over him. Satirists soon changed ‘The Consulship of Bibulus and Caesar’ into a more correct ‘The Consulship of Julius and Caesar’.
6/ He was the first man to conquer Gaul – Roman armies had ventured into Gaul before, but the land was unknown and vast tribes of hundreds of thousand fierce warriors roamed about, who towered over the Roman soldiers. In 105BC just five years before Caesar’s birth, Rome had suffered her worst defeat ever at the battle of Arausio in Gaul, with losses double that of Cannae, and since then, the Romans had been content to let the Gauls be. Caesar conquered Gaul in six years between 58BC-52BC during which time he killed 1.3 Million Gauls, subjugated 300 tribes and destroyed over 800 major towns.
7/ He was the first man to invade Britain – Actually he invaded twice, both times to gain a better knowledge of the land and its people, though never with a view to actually conquering the place. He was very impressed by the British chariots, which were sent back to Rome and soon became a favourite amongst the gladitorial crowds. Caesar came up against his foes defending the line of the River Thames at what is now Embankment. The cavalry began to swim the river, but what really won the day was Caesar’s sending of an elephant into the river with riders. The Britons had never seen such an enormous beat, and by the time the elephant made the far bank, the Britons had all scarpered! – Think about that next time you’re on the Thames Embankment!
8/ He has one of the best battle records in history – Before Caesar the record number of battles fought by a general was 39 by Marcus Marcellus – Caesar fought fifty in total with a creditable 48 wins, 2 defeats and one Pyrrhic victory (he won but lost more men than his opponent). His defeats were minor, being thwarted in attacking the camp of Vercingetorix at Gergovia and being out-sieged by Pompey at Dyrrachium. His only Pyrrhic victory came against his excellent former lieutenant, Titus Labienus at Ruspina. Napoleon was to go on to fight sixty battles, though the record still stands as held by Marshal Suvurov at 63 battles and no losses!
9/ He was one of the first autobiographers of history – Caesar wrote his ‘Commentaries’ – a series of autobiographical books covering the Gallic War, the Civil War, the Alexandrian War, the African War and the Spanish War, which was to be his last. These books are taken as one of the greatest literary works in history and are still studied by the armed forces of every world nation today. They were also a favourite of such great generals as Gustavus Adolphus, Turenne, Frederick the Great and Napoleon, who had a copy by his bed every night of his life.
10/ His death was predicted – Several days before Caesar’ death, he was dining with Marcus Lepidus who asked him his preferred method of death, to which Caesar replied; “The unexpected.” A soothsayer had warned him just days before to “Beware the ides of March” (March 15th) and when that day came, he made his way to the Senate. Seeing the soothsayer, he called out; “See, the Ides of March have come!” – to which the old man replied; “Aye, Caesar, but not gone.” Upon entering the Senate, Caesar was stabbed twenty-three times by the conspirators led by Brutus and Cassius, finally collapsing at the feet of the statue of his vanquished foe Pompey.
So there we have it; ten things you probably didn’t know about Julius Caesar – one the the greatest commanders in military history, and a name which will be as remembered two thousand years from now as it is today.
Oh yes, and “Veni, Vidi, Vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered) did happen after the Battle of Zela, in case you didn’t know. It was nowhere near Britain, as many seem to think!!