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Rise of Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar conquers Gaul and ignites a civil war.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] We're going to talk about one of the most significant figures in Western history, and that's Gaius Julius Caesar. Now, what we'll see is, his life really marks the transition from official Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. And I say official Roman Republic, because it's important to keep in mind, even at the time of Julius Caesar's birth, at the beginning of the 1st century BCE, the Roman Republic already looked something like an empire. You might remember that during the Punic Wars they were able to take over Carthage's possessions in Africa, and in Spain, at the end of the 3rd Punic War, they were also, and this wasn't part of the Punic War, but they were separately, in 146 BCE, were also able to take over Greece. So any state that has conquered these people that have different languages, cultures, and they don't have the same rights as a citizen of that state, well, this is, by most definitions, what would constitute an empire. But, during Julius Caesar's birth and during his life, Rome was still officially a republic, and that's referring more to its form of government; you had a very powerful Senate, you had these Consuls who were elected for these one-year terms, and there were all of these checks and balances. As we'll see, his life, especially the end of his life, marks the transition to an empire, in which there's a Roman Emperor who holds most of the power. But let's go into the story, and there's going to be a significant cast of characters here that I'm going to go into. So by 60 BCE, Julius Caesar is roughly 40 years old, and he's already a significant figure in the Republic. He is born to a patrician family, he rises up through the ranks, he's charismatic figure, and in 60, he forms a triumvirate with two other powerful figures in Rome, so you have... This is Julius Caesar, of course, and he forms this triumvirate, which later gets known as the First Triumvirate, with Crassus, who is the richest man in Rome at the time and is believed to be one of the richest men in Roman history. As you can see, Crassus is a good bit older than Julius Caesar, he's born more than a decade before Julius Caesar, and he also forms this alliance with Pompey, who is also a little bit older than Julius Caesar, and is a significant military figure, a general, in the Roman Republic. And this First Triumvirate, even though it wasn't an official, it's an official government group, it allowed them to really hold the power of the Roman Republic, and to really move and hold the power within the Senate, this First Triumvirate. And even though Julius Caesar was a Patrician, he was part of the nobility, they had populist tendencies, they wanted to do things for the people. You could view them as, in certain ways, progressive, they wanted to do land redistribution, versus the conservatives, who wanted to hold the power in the aristocracy. And so, this First Triumvirate is able to use their influence to put Julius Caesar in as Consul for the year 59 BCE. And, as I just mentioned at the beginning of this video, there are two Consuls, the other one was a figure named Bibulus, but Julius Caesar is able to dominate the position, and he's a very powerful Consul, and he tries to put all of these populous reforms into place. So this is already starting to cause a lot of tension in the Senate between the populus and the conservatives. Now, after he's done his one-year term, he becomes Pro Consul, which you can view as a military governor, and he's given regions that border Gaul, so he's given what would be considered Southern France right over here, border with the Gallic tribes, I guess you'd say, near the Italian Alps; these are two of the regions, two of the three regions, that he's given to govern. And he uses his position as military governor, as Pro Consul, to expand the territories into Gaul, to take on these Gallic tribes. Now the Gauls, or these Gallic tribes, they're super fragmented, there's many, many of them, Plutarch says on the order of 300 of these Gallic tribes. They were militarily, fairly sophisticated, they were, many historians say, comparable to the Romans, but it was their fragmentation that allowed Julius Caesar to go after them. So over the course of his governorship, of his position as Pro Consul, you also have the Gallic Wars, and that's what I have depicted here in red, from 58 BCE to 52 BCE, and they end here in Alesia, where Julius Caesar's legions are able to win decisively. And that is the end, and he's able to take all of this territory for Rome. Now, while that was happening, in 53 BCE, which is right over here, in 53, yeah, this is 53 BCE, Crassus, who you might remember, was part of this First Triumvirate, he is off over here in the East fighting the Parthians; you might remember, the Parthians, this is now the Parthian-Persian Empire, they're the successors of the Seleucids or the successor of Alexander the Great, who was the successor in Persia of the Achaemenid Empire, and while fighting the Parthians, he is killed, Crassus is killed while fighting the Parthians, which breaks up this First Triumvirate, and then Pompey switches sides. He switches sides over to the conservative side. So now, instead of being one of Julius Caesar's allies, he becomes one of his opponents. And so Julius Caesar, he's victorious, he's able to conquer these powerful Gallic tribes. Plutarch, according to him, Julius Caesar's legions fought on the order of three million Gauls, I don't know if those numbers are exaggerations, they sound like they might be a little bit of one, of which one million were killed and one million were enslaved, 800 cities were destroyed, 300 tribes were overrun; and those might be exaggerations, they probably were, but it tells you the scope of what Julius Caesar did when he took over Gaul. So, he's already this very charismatic figure, he was Consul, but he's a controversial figure in the Senate. He has these more populist tendencies, while there's a lot of these conservatives in the Senate. The First Triumvirate breaks, Pompey switched sides, he's able to take over Gaul, and so you can imagine as he is now victorious, the Senators are worried. They're like, this guy, if he comes back to Rome, he might have too much power, and he might have too much power to do the things that we, especially the conservatives, don't want him to do. This land redistribution, and all of the things like that. And so they tell him, in 50 BCE, so this is 50 BCE, let me circle that, in 50 BCE they tell him to leave his Pro Consul position, disband his army, and return to Rome. Now, Julius Caesar's thinking to himself, wait, I just did all of this. These people are afraid of me, if I go without my title, without my army, who knows what they're gonna do to me when I go back to Rome. So he says, I either go back without my armies, or I go with my armies. And so, he decides to do the latter, he takes his armies, and he crosses the Rubicon River. Now, crossing the Rubicon, I'm gonna write this down, Crossing the Rubicon, is now a phrase that we have in our culture that means you've gone past the point of no return. There's a famous quote ascribed to Julius Caesar once he crossed the Rubicon, as the die has been cast, it's the point of no return. And this was a really big deal, because it was illegal for a governor general, a Pro Consul, to take their legions outside of territories they governed, and this wasn't just any region, he was taking it into the Italian peninsula, he was taking it to Rome. So this was very, very, very illegal. So the Senators weren't happy about this, so they said "Hey Pompey, you have to go face "your former ally, Julius Caesar." Now Pompey doesn't know that Julius Caesar only has one legion, a legion is about 4-5000 soldiers. He's thinking surely if Julius Caesar is crossing the Rubicon, he must have a trick up his sleeve, he's already had, you know, conquering Gaul, he's established himself as this significant military figure, and so Pompey says, you know, Senators, I'm not gonna keep him from going to Rome just yet, I'm gonna go over to the East into Greece where we can build up our armies and make sure we are prepared to retake Rome. And so the Senators aren't too happy about this, but a good number of them says, "Okay, well if you're "gonna leave, we're gonna go with you." And so, Julius Caesar is actually able to, in 49 BCE, take Rome. But this isn't the end, and we will continue it in the next video, because you, as I just said, the power of Rome has now moved over to Greece. A good number of the powerful Senators, you have Pompey and his armies over in Greece, Pompey controls significant fractions of the navy, and so a civil war has now broken out in the Roman Republic.