Before he was a god, before he was a dictator, before he was a governor or consul, Gaius Iulius Caesar was a crafty military leader who wore gear like this in the Roman Republic.

Photograph by Albert Moldvay, National Geographic

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  • Julius Caesar

    Before he was a god, before he was a dictator, before he was a governor or consul, Gaius Iulius Caesar was a crafty military leader who wore gear like this in the Roman Republic.

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    Julius Caesar was a Roman general and politician who named himself dictator of the Roman Empire, a rule that lasted less than one year before he was famously assassinated by political rivals in 44 B.C.

    Caesar was born on July 12 or 13 in 100 B.C. to a noble family. During his youth, the Roman Republic was in chaos. Seizing the opportunity, Caesar advanced in the political system and briefly became governor of Spain, a Roman province. 

    Returning to Rome, he formed political alliances that helped him become governor of Gaul, an area that included what is now France and Belgium. His Roman troops conquered Gallic tribes by exploiting tribal rivalries. Throughout his eight-year governorship, he increased his military power and, more importantly, acquired plunder from Gaul. When his rivals in Rome demanded he return as a private citizen, he used these riches to support his army and marched them across the Rubicon River, crossing from Gaul into Italy. This sparked a civil war between Caesar’s forces and forces of his chief rival for power, Pompey, from which Caesar emerged victorious.

    Returning to Italy, Caesar consolidated his power and made himself dictator. He wielded his power to enlarge the senate, created needed government reforms, and decreased Rome’s debt. At the same time, he sponsored the building of the Forum Iulium and rebuilt two city-states, Carthage and Corinth. He also granted citizenship to foreigners living within the Roman Republic.

    In 44 B.C., Caesar declared himself dictator for life. His increasing power and great ambition agitated many senators who feared Caesar aspired to be king. Only a month after Caesar’s declaration, a group of senators, among them Marcus Junius Brutus, Caesar’s second choice as heir, and Gaius Cassius Longinus assassinated Caesar in fear of his absolute power.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    absolute Noun

    something that is complete, certain and reliable.

    alliance Noun

    people or groups united for a specific purpose.

    chaos Noun

    complete confusion and disorder.

    citizen Noun

    member of a country, state, or town who shares responsibilities for the area and benefits from being a member.

    consolidate Verb

    to combine or unite.

    dictator Noun

    person with complete control of a government.

    Gaul Noun

    Western European civilization that became a major part of ancient Rome.

    general Noun

    highest rank of leadership in armies and air forces.

    governor Noun

    elected or appointed leader of a state or area.

    Julius Caesar Noun

    (100 BCE-44 BCE) leader of ancient Rome.

    military Noun

    armed forces.

    noble Noun

    person born into a position with a high rank or class.

    plunder Verb

    to rob or steal.

    political Adjective

    having to do with public policy, government, administration, or elected office.

    politician Noun

    person who serves as a representative of the citizens of a geographic area to the local, state, or national government.

    rival Noun

    opponent.

    Roman Adjective

    having to do with the civilization of ancient Rome, including the kingdom, republic, and empire.

    victorious Adjective

    having won.