The Reforms of Gaius Julius Caesar

Published: 2021-09-13 19:40:09
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Throughout his life, Gaius Julius Caesar (100BC-44BC) was one of the most influential political figures in the Roman world (Lorenzen, 2010). During his time as both general and dictator he reformed the republics workings to a level before unseen. Following his leadership the republic however fell, after surviving a 500-year period of perpetual power struggles and continual war and revolution that Caesar was heavily involved in (Holland, 2003). Caesars struggle for power was great, with civil wars and political unrest dotting the path to his eventual position of 'dictator perpetuo' ('dictator in perpetuity', or 'dictator for life') (BBC, 2001). During this rise in power Caesars political and social reform ideas evolved and came to fruition. He reformed the government extensively, and changed the very structure of it, finding new ways to legitimise his power and pass laws. With this power, he modified laws in relation to current land rights, taxation, corruption, and unemployment and welfare issues in the republic (Salmon, 1944). After Caesar prevailed as the dominant power in the Roman world, he implemented changes to the Roman republic that saw him put in favour with the masses, yet out of favour for the most part with nobles and aristocrats. This is because his reforms aided mainly the populares, as well as redistributing power and wealth from the optimates. These changes resulted in deep-seated political unrest from the optimates.


Caesar became a power dominant enough to single-handedly initiate and pass reforms in the conservative Roman republic. This process took many years. Caesar -like most other Roman politicians- slowly climbed the republics political ladder (Parenti, 2003). In 68BC, Caesar first gained a position of substantial power: he was elected Questor (BBC, 2001). This was followed with his promotion to Aedile in 65BC, declared in charge of 'bread and circuses' (Cornelius, 2004). As Aedile, Caesar held lavish games that gained the respect of the masses, pleasing them with his skill to hold extravagant public events. He began to gain the Roman peoples respect. His further promotion to position of Pontifex Maximus (High Priest) in 63BC saw Caesar go broke, as his last funds were used as bribery to gain this position (Meier, 1996). Caesar now became governor of Andalusia, and proceeded to plunder the nearby Gallic silver mines, making a fortune (Plutarch). In 69BC he returned to Rome a rich man, and acquired the highest position, Censor (Suetonis, c110BC). It was at this time that Caesar formed his first Trumvirate (political alliance), consisting of himself, Crassus, and Pompey (Suetonis, c110BC). Crassus was an extremely wealthy politician who held great influence within the Equestrian order of Rome and also provided financial support to Caesar (Cassius). Pompey was highly regarded within all Roman classes, often noted as the greatest Roman general of the time (Salmon, 1944). This was a powerful trio, and the secret alliance was formed in order to stabilize Caesars power in Rome (Meier, 1996). As Pompey and Crassus both held fame and respect in Rome, the citizens would hopefully follow their lead and support Caesar, even while he was out of the country. After 4 years of the Triumvirate successfully functioning, political turmoil erupted and the alliance began falling apart (Cassius). Between 55-53BC Caesar travelled to Gaul, and defeated the 4 major tribes (the Helvetii, Belgian Nervii, Aduatuci and Breton tribes), earning much praise in Rome (Caesar, 54BC). Following this with a trip to Britain in the summer of 53BC he defeated the main British tribe, the Pritannes (Holland, 2003). This gained Caesar new sources of power; he now controlled offshore regions (Canfora, 2006). However at the same time Caesar's popularity in Rome was falling (Salmon, 1944). Crassus was dead and Pompey no longer supported him. Caesars term ended in 50BC and the senate ordered him to return to Rome and step down (Holland, 2003). In a blatant act of defiance against the republic, Caesar refused (Caesar, 50BC). Roman political theorist and constitutionalist Cicero stated that " . . . when I look at his hair, which is arranged with so much nicety, and see him scratching his head with one finger, I cannot think that this man would ever conceive of so great a crime as the overthrow of the Roman constitution" (Plutarch). It is clear to see how disapproving his contemporaries were of Caesar's actions. The complete lack of regard for Roman constitution was no small affair, and on behalf of the republic Pompey formed an army to defeat him (Lorenzen, 2010). Caesar's army however drove Pompey out of Italy, defeating him at 4 battles along the way (Caesar, 50BC). This defiance against the republic saw a change in its functioning, Caesar was more powerful than the republic itself. Caesars term was over, yet he still ruled, and soon he was elected dictator (Canfora, 2006). Caesar had overcome both the struggle for power and the continual warfare, and became unrivalled leader of the Roman world.


Caesar reformed the government extensively, as well as making other changes that redistributed power and wealth from the optimates. Firstly he extended citizenship to up to 80,000 families of the lands he'd conquered as a general (Guals, Africans, Spaniards) (Cornelius, 2004). He closely followed this by increasing the number of senators from 600 to 900, Aediles from 4 to 6, and Praetors and Questors he doubled, to 16 and 40 respectively (Cornelius, 2004). This allowed new citizens representation, as well as increasing the number of plebians in the government. Making this change gave more people power, yet each had less. Caesar also reduced the length of governing terms (BBC, 2001). At the time there were large corruption issues in the republic. Governors were acting based on their own interests, and the tax collection system was corrupt (Parenti, 2003). Reducing the length of terms reduced tyranny, and if a particular governor was corrupt it became easier to instate another. At the same time Caesar lowered interest rates and cancelled a third of all debts (Cornelius, 2004). This angered the upper classes as the poor had to pay back less on their loans and the optimates made less money. Another form of wealth Caesar took from the optimates was their land and slave-workers. The state was riddled with

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