I love the study of history. That shouldn't be much of a surprise to anyone who has stumbled upon this blog if you know me. History, and theology, tends to flow through my bones and leave my body in the form of tediously boring facts. But there is one aspect of historical study that I truly enjoy the most and that is the biographies of the influencers, shapers, movers, of the past. The heroes and the heretics. The armour-plated warlords and the disease-ridden footmen. The successes and the failures. Because they are human. We see in these great men and women from the past both the best, and the basest, parts of our human condition. How they truly rose from the prison cells, the torture, the failures, the rejection, the wounds, the near-death moments, to stand again on the battlefield, in the midst of enemies, beside their family, implementing their vision for the world. We can learn much from these men and women.
In this series of posts, I will be presenting a short(ish) biography of some of the people from history that I tend to find most fascinating. I won't cover every aspect of their lives, leaving, at times, certain things unmentioned that may be considered more widely known, and relating lesser known details. This is intentional.
Most of these biographies, I acknowledge, will be male leaders and rulers (though not all!). This is not a purposed neglect of women, or lower-class figures, from history, but merely reflects the old, sadly accurate, adage, that history is written by the winners. And the winners tended to be the ones people wanted to write about for various reasons, such as patronage, power, or position.
There are scores upon scores of heroines and rulers, as well as forgotten 'nobodies' with amazing stories, worthy of our attention, study, contemplation, and reflection. Perhaps, in another series, I will get to write about some of them. They are no less a part of our journey to this point than the well-known. Til then, I hope that you enjoy this series as much as I will.
This first post, as you have no doubt discerned, concerns one of the most well-known men in all of Western Civilization: Gaius Julius Caesar. Caesar was a great tactician, strategician, statesman, soldier, historian, would-be-king, and populist. He, himself, appeared to live under the shadow of his own heroes (notably, Alexander the Great), and yet his actions were as earth-shatteringly vital to the progress of the world as anything Alexander could have done. It is said that, upon his 30ish(?) birthday, Caesar wept at the tomb of Alexander. By the same age, Alexander had conquered the East, while Caesar felt he had failed.
Yet, by his own death, at the hands of Roman Republicans, Caesar had reshaped the Republic in the image of an empire, and was therefore a key foundation stone for the Roman Empire which would spread across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East as imperiously as the bust of Caesar looked on from the temples of Rome.
This blog series will not reference where the anecdotes and facts come from, throughout the post. I recommend, however, reading the primary sources, in this case his own works, Appian, Plutarch, and Cassius Dio. You can also read Suetonius if you enjoy a slightly more 'salacious' or hyperbolic account.
I will begin this conversation, however, by stating that I never really 'took' to Caesar as a figure. He seemed too wooden and boring to me. I applaud his skills as a commander and courage as a politician, but I never found him to be truly fascinating in my own mind. Nevertheless, the more you read about his life and come to terms with what he achieved, no one can do anything but admire his sense of purpose and power. Perhaps not until the likes of Octavian, Charlemagne or Napoleon has such arrogant certainty been seen since.
Youth and Rise to Power
Gaius Julius was born into a prestigious family in ancient Rome; a Patrician family who claimed descent from Aeneas (of the Aeneid fame) who had settled in the Roman area around the mid-seventh century BC. Their family name was Julii, hence the name Julius. His father, also called Julius, was a governor of the Asian province of the Republic, though the family had no clear political supremacy throughout our Julius' childhood. There fortunes may have been on the up-and-up, but they were far from where the family wanted to be. His mother's lineage was of a similar social standing: not broadly influential.
By the time he ascended to be the head of his family (pater familias), his uncle was a leading political figure at war with the renowned Sulla. In an effort to defeat the power of the other they purged each other's supporters (violently) so as to keep their own position. It was into this political maelstrom that Caesar first tasted the fruits of power. After a season of victory for his uncle, Gaius Marius, Julius was made the High Priest of Jupiter and married into his uncle's political ally's family. Julius saw that power brought wealth, position, and other fruits.
This victory was but a temporary victory, however, as Sulla eventually gained the upper hand and finally defeated Marius. This, in turn, led to Caesar's first taste of defeat. He lost almost everything. The dowry, his position, and his inheritance were all taken away from him by the vengeful Sulla. Despite threats of violence, however, he refused to divorce his wife, which resulted in his going into hiding to avoid violent reprisals. Eventually, through familial intrigue, Caesar was permitted to return and keep his bride, but everything else was taken. Defeat tasted bitter.
A critical consequence of this in-fighting amongst the senators was that Caesar was now free to pursue a career in the military. In fact, arguably, had he not been made, and then removed from, his position as Jupiter's high priest, he would have never had any need to go into the military. (Jupiter's priest was not permitted to leave the city of Rome or serve in the army.) His family was not necessarily a political threat. They were well enough off to survive comfortably. It was the consequences of Marius' exploitation of his nephew that forced Caesar into the army. (It should be noted, however, that if one had political ambition, the best method of political ascendency was to rise through the ranks of the army and defeat an enemy of Rome: the bigger the better. So, it is entirely possible that Caesar would have taken this route anyway.)
Caesar the Soldier
His initial service in the army was notably positive. He handled himself with professionalism, courage, valour, and wisdom, all of which were vital Roman ideals. It was a common Roman perspective that the Republic thrived because of the Spartan-esque rigidity of life. The Republic did not have a monarchy like Egypt, or a licentious culture like Greece. The Romans prided themselves on being pragmatic about power, sex, wealth, and war. Unlike her neighbours. They therefore saw their success as down to these concepts of Roman ideal. Indeed, during Octavian's reign, the Aeneid was penned in an effort to call the people to once again appreciate these cultural values. Caesar, it seemed, thrived as a model of this kind of Roman, and the life of the army suited his personality greatly. During these early campaigns, he received the Civic Crown.
Suetonius does record that during one of these early campaigns, Caesar was involved with a monarch from a client kingdom. Caesar denied this his entire life, and I personally do not trust it. It does, however, present an interesting propaganda piece from Suetonius. Caesar, as we shall see, came to see himself as a king and, judging by his Egyptian encounters with Cleopatra, enjoyed the benefits of monarchy, so it is plausible that he would be entranced by Nicomedes' power and wealth. Or it could be that Suetonius was seeking to salaciously create a pattern of his weaknesses towards the life of luxury.
My favourite story concerning Caesar is this one: During his journey back to Rome after the death of Sulla in 78AD (or shortly afterwards) he was captured by pirates. Despite his capture, and their violence, he maintained his arrogant self-confidence in his own stature and position. During his time as a hostage he often joked that he would return to them and crucify them when they had received his ransom. Goading them on, in fact, he dared them to raise the ransom amount from 20 talents of silver to 50, which they did, and which they subsequently received! And, amazingly, true to his word, he returned to Rome, raised a fleet, chased them down, and crucified them. Just as he had promised! Because of his mercy, however, he graciously had their throats cut first. Caesar was also a man who honoured the rule of law.
His military career began to connect with his political career; he was elected a military Tribune upon his return to Rome and in 69AD was elected quaestor. The quaestor was a position who oversaw the budget and audited the finances of the Republic, akin to the treasury today. It was the next stepping stone on his ascent. It was during this quaestorship in Hispania where he saw the statue of Alexander and broke down and wept at his own pathetic accomplishments.
In 65BC he began to court the people, hosting lavish games that would win him prestige and also act as a demarkation of his political intent. The people of Rome, as in Athens, were a fickle beast, but if they could be harnessed, their support would be a powerful ally for one who lacked the raw resources of many of his senatorial adversaries. A case in point is his election to Pontifex Maximus. He won the election with ease despite being outspent and a newcomer to the political arena, at least in comparison with his opponents. The Pontifex Maximus was the leader of the entire Roman religion, and as such it gave Caesar great prominence amongst the people, fuelled his ambition, and fed the ideal that he was the consummate Roman: pragmatic, venerated the gods, and beloved of the people.
In 62BC he was made the governor of Hispania Ulterior, which was in the western Iberian Peninsula. To leave Rome, however, he had to finally pay his debts. Consequently, this brought him into contact with Crassus, about whom we will hear more, below. Crassus offered to cover Caesar's debts so long as Caesar supported Crassus politically against another significant protagonist of Caesar's: Pompey. He thus left Rome and served as a good governor, by most accounts. His troops supported him as their commander, the locals appreciated his apparent concern for their well-being and security, and his administrative skill enabled some key reforms that were applauded by many.
As a consequence of his successes in Spain, he was acclaimed imperator by his troops. This entitled him to appeal to Rome for what is called a Triumph. The Triumph is the public spectacle whereby the general marches through Rome as a conquering hero. However, Caesar also had ambitions to become a consul, the highest political official in the Republic. He couldn't be a consul and remain a soldier; nor could he have a Triumph and stand of office. He eventually chose to be a consul and stood for office. In 60AD, despite the vile nature of the corruption, Caesar and Bibulus won. They would be consuls for 59AD.
Caesar the Senator
And thus, after years of playing the game, and observing upsets amidst victories, Caesar was finally at the top. The pinnacle. The problem, however, was how to remain at the pinnacle. The consulship was only for one year, which wasn't nearly long enough for Caesar's increased ambition.
The answer lay in divided power. He was, by now, wildly popular within Roman society, but he was not by any means an exceptionally wealthy man. Crassus had the wealth. Caesar, too, was a beloved Roman commander, but Pompey had the army. Thus Caesar attempted to reconcile two of the most bitter of political opponents. By uniting Pompey and Crassus to himself, Caesar declared himself their equal, which they eventually accepted. But more than that, he was able to bind them each to the idea of power. Together, they had the opportunity to build Rome in their image.
He had the power to present and push through legislation, Crassus had the wealth to buy support, and Pompey had the might and political prestige to influence. Together they pushed through a law that would engender public support: commandeering land for the poor of Rome. When Pompey and Crassus both came out in support of the law, the First Triumvirate became public, and it marked a watershed moment in Roman life. After the law was passed (despite Bibulus' best efforts), Bibulus retired for the rest of his consular year, leaving Caesar and his political allies in firm control.
The senate was not without its own power, however. Initially they tried to limit his power by granting him only local regions over which he would govern after his year in office ended, rather than giving him an actual territory as would be his natural right. When one is a governor, they are in command of legions. This makes that individual extraordinarily powerful. IF he is successful, that is. However, the will of Caesar and his new allies proved too great and he was eventually made governor of Gaul. This was eventually expanded to include all of Roman-held Gaul, giving Caesar authority over four legions. A vast army for a vast territory. And a huge boost to his potential for power. In a further twist, and proof of his corruption, the senate also passed (thanks to his allies) that he would be immune from corruption charges for five years, rather than the usual one year. He left for Gaul whereupon he began his most amazing military exploits.
He started out his governorship by defeating a number of Gallic tribes who it appeared threatened to migrate south for better land. This migration would become a frequent theme of the northern border of Roman territory and would, eventually, be the cause of the downfall in centuries to come. Caesar, however, had no such concerns. He defeated the Gauls and made incursions into Germannic territory, demonstrating Roman power, might, aggression, engineering prowess, and all round superiority. He even invaded Britain twice, only to be recalled to Gaul due to rebellions over poor harvests. During this time, however, his political alliance was being strained and he eventually called a conference with Crassus and Pompey and they reaffirmed their commitment to one another. In the interests of Rome, of course. This led to Caesar being given another five years as governor. However, it was not to last.
The major victory, however, was to come against Vercingetorix. I love this story.
Contrary to what is often portrayed in movies and TVs, the Gallic forces were every bit the equal of the legions of Rome. They may not have had the armour of Rome, but centuries of internal warfare had developed the Gauls in a way that similar conflict had also developed the city states of Greece. The downside, however, was that the Greeks were able to unite against the foreign aggressor, Persia. The Gauls did not.
This led to a fairly easy defeat of the great Vercingetorix by Caesar, though at one point it looked like he would lose. Vercingetorix was a capable leader, but lacked the polished touch of a politician. He defeated Caesar in battle, but failed to unite his tribes to deal the killing blow. In return, Caesar besieged the city of Alesia. Despite being outnumbered by around four to one, Caesar managed to defeat Vercingetorix and thus end the rebellion, which, in turn, led to the defeat of Gaul and its inclusion in the territory of the Republic.
Alesia is a fascinating battle account, however. The city was a fortified defense of Gauls, housing about 80,000 troops. Rather than an assault that would almost certainly fail, Caesar decided to raise a circumvallation around the city that effectively kept the Gauls inside. He would starve them into surrender. Despite the Gallic attempts to delay or defeat the effort, the 11 miles of walls and towers were eventually completed. The city would surrender or die.
Unless Vercingetorix's allies arrived with his sought-after relief army. In this event, Caesar would be caught within a pincer movement. The besieged would come out and attack his front while the relief army would attack his rear; he would be defeated and the legions would be destroyed. This was, in fact, the Gallic plan.
Caesar's response was incredible. Rather than raising the siege and continuing to fight against the Gauls over the next few campaigns, Caesar essentially blockaded the Romans in. He built a system of trenches far from their wall, filling some with water, and others with large wooden stakes, and then built another wall effectively locking the Romans in the middle. The idea was to ensure that he was not attacked from both sides at one time. He was preparing to be besieged in an effort to outlast the army of Vercingetorix in the city.
In response, Vercingetorix attempted to ration the grain and then sent the women, children and non-combat-able men out of the city, hoping Caesar would let them through, and perhaps feed them. Caesar, in a callous moment of supremely Roman pragmatism, refused them entrance to his camp, thus leaving them to starve to death between the city and the Roman camp. A terrifying image for the already nervous Gallic soldiers looking down from their ramparts.
I will not recount to you the details of the battle. Caesar himself has done so in his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars. I commend them to you. Suffice it to say that Caesar, despite the odds, won the battle of the besieged besiegers, and the next year secured the submission of Gaul to the Republic.
His victory joy was short-lived, however. Prior to these events, Caesar's daughter Julia, who had sealed his alliance with Pompey through marriage, died in childbirth. Pompey refused the offer of a niece, to replace Julia and preserve the alliance, thereby ending his alliance with the increasingly powerful, and increasingly popular, Caesar. To further concern Caesar, Crassus led a disastrous military campaign in the east where he was killed. The senate, panicking for fear of a disastrous civil war, made Pompey an emergency consul and he sealed his new support with a marriage to the daughter of a political opponent of Caesar's. Caesar was alone. But Caesar had used his time well; the legions under his command saw the future of Rome in the vision of Julius, not Pompey. Caesar had an army of able soldiers and skilled deputies such as Tribonius and Mark Antony. Pompey didn't scare him.
In 50BC Caesar was ordered to disband his army and return to Rome. He had served his time as governor and the position would be filled by others. This was an attempt to bring him to heel under the authority of the senate. Caesar, however, knew that his political enemies would prosecute him for corruption and abuse of power were he to return. Thus, the following year, after being accused of treason by his old ally Pompey, he crossed the Rubicon with his soldiers. This act was illegal and was a declaration of war against the Republic by Caesar. Again, the myth of the moment has changed the reality. He only crossed the Rubicon with one legion, rather than his four. This was partly pragmatic (Gaul had to be kept in submission, after all) as well as a declaration. He was willing to go to war, but it wasn't necessarily his intention. He had a large force to protect him, but he didn't bring the whole army at his disposal.
These considerations did nothing for him. Pompey and the senators fled south, refusing to meet him in battle, and refusing to hear his terms. Despite Pompey's forces being numerically superior, they were fresh recruits, whereas Caesar's were battle-hardened, loyal, and at the top of their game. Even Pompey couldn't fight against those odds. He fled, outrunning Caesar's hot pursuit.
Caesar chased Pompey, first defeating his lieutenants in Spain, before the battle of Pharsalus, in Greece, where Pompey was defeated in 48BC.
The result of this civil war was that Caesar was declared Dictator of Rome, to much public acclaim. His second in command was Mark Antony, who would inherit Caesar's dictatorial tendencies but lacked his political and military skills. Caesar had arrived. He was the ruler of the Republic, or what was left of it. He was sovereign of Rome.
Caesar the Sovereign
He used his power as dictator to have himself made consul, whereupon he resigned the title of Dictator. This title had been employed in Roman history to empower one man for a season to enact draconian legislation during severe crises but would be rescinded once the crisis had passed. Thus Caesar, in honour of that tradition, refused to hold it indefinitely. For now.
As consul, however, he had immunity (though no one was going to challenge him now) and power (the armies were his) and, in theory, legitimacy (he had the position by vote of the senate - it helped, of course, that only those loyal to him remained to vote). He consequently followed his nemesis, Pompey, to Egypt where he and his army arrived and prepared for battle.
By the time he arrived, however, the Egyptians had killed Pompey and now presented the head of his enemy to Caesar, seemingly as a gift to placate the Roman leader and perhaps curry favour. Caesar, as a man of law and the correctness of warfare (insofar as it benefited him) broke into tears at the horrifically un-Roman end to his enemy. He may have been a threat and an opponent, but he was a Roman, and a soldier, at that. Caesar executed the assassins.
It was during this season that he became embroiled in the internecine familial conflicts of the Egyptian monarchy. Most likely as a reaction against Pharaoh's complicity in murdering Pompey (and quite possibly with a dash of lust), he sided with Cleopatra, the Egyptian beauty, and eventually made her the Pharaoh of Egypt (under Roman 'guidance' of course). After a number of battles, he was eventually victorious and enjoyed an Egyptian-style Triumph down the River Nile. This was a momentous occasion as the Royal Barge was joined by over 400 other vessels, all worshipping and adoring him. Caesar had entered the luxury of Egypt (possibly literally, by this time) and it would lead to his downfall.
He apparently grew enraptured by Cleopatra and she had a child by him. She followed him to Rome on at least two occasions, staying in his villa. His political enemies used this as an excuse to rile the masses against him. It may not be legally adulterous, but it was decidedly unRoman. The Romans were stoic people, not in love with luxury or such trappings. It weakened the leadership and bloated the state, they felt. Look at Greece. Look at Egypt. Caesar was simply following the same trajectory. The people loved Caesar but this was becoming a useful weapon against him.
Despite this, however, he went east and almost embarrassingly swiftly defeated Pontus. So secure was this defeat that Pontus was added to the Republic with very limited effort thereafter. He then returned via Africa to end the rebellion of the pro-Pompey leaders in the senate. In 46BC his last opponent, Cato was defeated and took his own life. Caesar had triumphed. He returned to Rome an all-conquering hero.
He was elected dictator for 10 years and consul in 46 and 45BC. In 45BC, however, he was consul alone: there was no colleague. This was a sign of Caesar's ambition: he would rule alone. Dictatorship. To the Roman ear this meant one thing: monarchy. That was a dreadful turn of events and it led his erstwhile allies to turn against him in a most vicious manner.
While in Spain, finishing the destruction of Pompey's line, the senate began to offer him plaudits and support. He returned to enjoy a Triumph for his victory. This particular Triumph, however, did not sit well in the minds of Romans for they were being forced to celebrate the death of fellow Romans. It had been, after all, a civil war. Meanwhile, Caesar drafted a will in which he named Octavius his heir and promised a huge gift to the people of Rome upon his death. If all else fails, pay 'em off.
During his reign in Rome, Caesar began to implement useful, good, and even democratic reforms. He wanted a unified, central government in Rome which would rule over the entire domain of the Republic as one territory, an empire of sorts. This would, of course, require bringing the territories into submission and, in a sense, into Rome. The defeat of Pompey ensured that he could send the army out to fulfil the submission of the territories, but for the rest of the constitution to be implemented it would be required that his power was undisputed. Thus he increased the power of the consul and weakened the power of the senate. He was acting like a king.
Some of these reforms were welcomed, such as social reforms and moral reforms. These would, it was argued, cultivate a healthy Roman society across the entire domain of Roman authority. It meant that the entire domain was seen as one, monogamous entity, rather than disparate regions of varying power and preference. If all was Rome, then all were equal within Rome. Citizenship, therefore, would become a vital tool in the generations to come.
Of course, not all the reforms were quite so magnanimous. He ensured that he was declared imperator and made Dictator in Perpetuity. Both sounded very much like a monarch. He had coins minted with his likeness and ensured that his supporters were rewarded by expanding the bureaucratic machinations of government. He even gave himself the right to speak first in the weakened senate.
In a curious twist, that has often weakened the arguments of those who claim that Caesar was a king in the making, he resigned in 45BC as consul and ensured elections were held for two consuls for the next year. He was, of course, planning to head east with a huge force to attack the Parthians and defeat them once and for all (he wanted to be greater than Alexander, after all). However, this counter argument loses force when it is revealed that he passed a law which ensured he placed men in offices, even in absentia. He would retain control, even over those who were ostensibly in charge. Sounds quite kingly to me!
Caesar, as we all know, was murdered by Brutus and other senators who were striving to preserve the Republic from the man who would make it his kingdom. On the Ides of March he was due to speak to the senate and, upon entering, was stabbed repeatedly, thereby making all complicit in the death of a tyrant. Mark Antony, his faithful second-in-command, should have saved him but was distracted until it was too late.
The conspirators had vastly misunderstood the tone of the city. Whilst Brutus and the senators marched throughout the city crying, 'Rome, you are again free,' the people barricaded themselves indoors. They knew what would be inevitable.
Hours later his bloody body was recovered and cremated. There are discrepancies within the sources whether he spoke as he died (it is unlikely that he said, 'Et tu, Brutei? as Shakespeare has it) or even who killed him. It seems most likely that, upon seeing Brutus, he did, as Plutarch records, accept the inevitability of his demise and cover himself awaiting death. He who had invaded Britain, humbled Gaul, romanced Egypt, brought Rome to the brink before restoring her, lay dead on the floor of the senate he had castrated.
The future of Rome would not be his to shape, though it was his to found. His nephew, Octavius, who would become known as Caesar Augustus, would lead the transition from Republic to Empire. He would rise, in much the same way as Julius himself had done. Against adversity, he would play the game. He would gather trusted men beside him, defeat the murderers of his adoptive father, and craft Rome in his image. He would, in turn, march against Mark Antony who would follow in Julius' footsteps and court the luxury of Egypt. Augustus would defeat Cleopatra and Antony and in doing so make himself first among equals: imperator ad finitum.
The Republic lay dying just as surely as Caesar lay dead.
Caesar the Symbol
In the decades ahead, the legacy of Caesar lived on, though it was eventually (I argue) overtaken by the political prowess of his successor, Augustus. The writing of the Aeneid appears to have been a way to placate Augustus, promote the Roman ideal, while also surreptitiously attack the more avant-garde aspects of Julius and Mark Antony's tastes for Eastern luxuries.
Nevertheless, Caesar is perhaps one of the most well-known heroes of ancient Rome. His legacy lies in his great self-belief. He was not born into glory or power, but instead rose to fight for it, overcoming significant odds and even numerous defeats at the hands of his enemies, both political and military. In a sense, one can see the self-same ideal of the self-made man in our own Western culture today. We appreciate a man who took life by the horns, walked into conflict, and, as Kipling as phrased it in his poem, chose to, 'be a man.'
Yet, it is also instructive, that Caesar is best known for two things: his death at the hands of Brutus and his love affair with the African Queen. For all of his many successes, he has become culturally remembered for his failures. As a Roman, he failed the constitution and was betrayed, and as a Roman he fell to the temptations of luxury and wealth that Romans felt demeaned his otherwise carefully constructed persona. He was, after all, a human being.
He fell prey to the lures of power, of sex, and of wealth. Yet he knew how to use them, each, in turn, to his own advantage. He was a courageous leader whose actions, whether you like him or not, did lead to a period of stability in Rome, and yet also led to the greatest upheaval of the Republic: its demise. He is a confusing character, obsessed with his success, and yet honest enough to record his own failures in his historical writings.
It is for these many reasons that I have come to appreciate the man that he was. I have absolutely no doubt that I would strongly dislike him in person. I suspect he took pleasure in needling people and being something of a jerk. His arrogance and smugness, I believe, would keep him from having too many close compatriots. And yet, and yet, as with every great leader, his men followed him with a devilish devotion. They revered him. They trusted him. He brought victory, and even when he didn't, they trusted that he would the next time.
He stands, therefore, to me, as one of the greatest examples of humanity in leadership. I do firmly believe that he was a man of principle, even if that principle revolved around his arrogant self-assurance that his way was the best way. This justified the means: it was for the greater good. Yet, he was also prone to weakness. He struggled with failure and a sense of achievement (or lack thereof). He did enjoy the fruits of his labour, and his position. His relationship with Cleopatra demonstrated that he, just like any other human, was not immune to the alluring call of the forbidden fruits of gold, sultry advances, and absolute power.
And still, his vision was always for a greater Rome. He saw in his idea of Rome an empire that could march east, west, north, or south and be victorious. And, in its victory, be better for the entire world. Thus, his dictatorial reforms were indeed those that would provide citizenship for all within the territories. They would homogenise the entire Republic, creating a unified structure that would harness patriotism, unity, taxation, and patronage in a way that his contemporaries couldn't imagine, or would hold with contempt.
No greater example of his understanding of the world can be seen than in his treatment of the Jews in Palestine. He gave them distinct permissions within the Republic to be their own people. They could worship their own god (not enforcing the Roman pantheon upon them). They could pay tax to the temple. They were exempt from many cultural expectations that Romans expected from other conquered and client kingdoms. This treatment demonstrated a wise foreign policy (Palestine was the barrier to the East), a shrewd domestic policy (the Jews respected Rome's lenience in comparison with the Parthians), and a true understanding of humanity (the Jews would die for their religious beliefs - Caesar knew that worship matters).
Thus, it amazes me that every time I consider Caesar anew I am dumbfounded by the reality that I respect him as a man, admire him as a politician, appreciate his courage as a soldier, am inspired by his skill as a commander, and yet, equally, am repelled by his pathetic arrogance, disappointed by his selfish corruption, angered at his calculated violence, and confused by his shameless immorality.
He is Julius Caesar. A man, a would be king, a soldier, a commander, a visionary. An enigma.