How Caesar came to power

Siddharth Vecham
4 min readJan 10, 2021

Julius Caesar. A man so famous and powerful that many rulers still attempt to emulate him. While we know of his many conquests and long rule, what is oft-ignored is how Caesar actually came to power and his background.

Julius Caesar was born into a noble family that traced its heritage to the mythical founder of Rome, Aeneid. Caesar had been born in the reformist faction, the Populists, through his Marius, an ex-consul who led the Populists. Despite his relation with Marius, his father failed to gain any powerful positions. This was seen as a disgrace for his great noble family and made him even more determined to become the consul. There were 2 consuls, and they had 1-year terms and served as the leaders of the Roman Republic. He was quickly elected as a tribune then quaestor, then elected as the chief priest of the state religion. One year later, he was given the governorship of Hispania Ulterior, a province in the southeast of present-day Spain. This also made him a general. He had many major military victories and was even given a triumph. A triumph was the greatest military accomplishment a Roman general could get. With his popularity with the people stemming from his reputation as a reformer in contrast to the conservatives who held considerable sway in the senate, he attempted to run for consul. However, generals were not allowed to enter Rome, and he could not run for consul without being in Rome. He decided to shock the country and give up his generalship, which was unheard of. This would also render his triumph null.

He easily won the election and became consul. Unfortunately for Caesar, the second consul elected was a conservative who opposed reform. One consul could veto any law he objected to, giving him the power to stop Caesar from passing any laws. Through illegal intimidation, he forced the second consul to stay out of public view, giving him free rein. Through a secret alliance with Crassus, the richest man in Rome, and Pompey, a famed general, he could bribe and intimidate senators into passing his laws. Crassus had helped fund Caesar’s campaign while Pompey used his soldiers to intimate the conservatives in the senate.

He first had to repay Crassus and Pompey. He got the money Pompey needed to reward his soldiers with land and helped Crassus with pardoning tax collectors. One of Caesar’s main goals was to pass a land reform bill. The country’s agricultural sector was dominated by mega plantations that used slaves. They often bought out small family farms, which could not compete. The displaced farmers moved to cities, overcrowding them. They often could not find new jobs and survived on subsidized bread, which cost the country a lot of money. Caesar introduced a bill that would allow the government to buy land from the mega plantations and give them back to the small farmers. He then used all his resources, along with Pompey’s soldiers and Crassus’s money, to get the bill passed. This greatly pleased the people of Rome, his main support base, and cemented his reputation as a consul who fought for the common man. Caesar also reformed the powers of the governors. While many conservatives did not want Caesar to pass any laws, they also stood against corruption, forcing them to vote for Caesar’s bill. All these reforms made him a hero of the people but elicited fear among the Roman elite.

However, he faced prosecution for all his illegal activities from the conservatives as soon he ceased being consul as his immunity would also end. There was no doubt if a prosecution took place that he would be convicted. To regain immunity, he would need a governorship. He managed to convince, with the help of his allies, the senate to give him three provinces in Gaul and Italy to govern over the objections of the conservatives. He would have to wait then years to run for consul again. In those ten years, he could continue to expand Rome, enriching him and becoming more powerful and popular. He went on to conquer all of Gaul, famously defeating the chieftain Vercingetorix at the Battle of Alesia. He also started an incursion into England. While he had many setbacks and failures, he managed to campaign for a while before returning back to Gaul. This adventurism gained him even more fame. The conservatives in the senate feared his growing popularity and ended his governorship two years early, allowing them to prosecute Caesar for his past crimes. Even worse, Pompey had started to turn against Caesar. Pompey had married Caesar’s daughter Julia to strengthen their alliance, but Julia had died, weakening the alliance. Pompey started to side with the conservatives, depriving Caesar of a crucial ally. Caesar was seemingly in a bind, abandoned by his ally.

Caesar then did the unthinkable. He marched on Rome with his army. This was an act of war, as generals were forbidden from entering Rome, much less bringing their soldiers. The conservatives and Pompey fled to Greece and started to raise an army to fight Caesar with. Caesar took his army and marched to Greece to confront the rebellion. Pompey and Caesar met at the Battle of Pharsalus, where Pompey’s army was defeated. Pompey fled to Egypt but was killed by King Ptolemy, who wished to gain favor with Caesar. He granted clemency to most of Pompey’s allies. This convinced them to stop fighting and return to an easier life in Rome. When he returned to Rome, Caesar was appointed dictator for 10 years, then dictator for life. He was now the undisputed ruler of Rome.

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Siddharth Vecham

I write about economics and public policy. I also offer my opinion on current events.