This is the eighth in a series of posts in which we examine the “Great Captains” of military history. Unusually, we do this in video format; posting compelling biographical material; as well as images and a brief narrative.
Few great generals are better known than Julius Caesar. As the only Great Captain of antiquity to write his own campaign memoirs, both the general public of his day and history students today know of his exploits in more detail, albeit perhaps somewhat subjective details, than is the case with any of his fellow greats. This is deliberate: Caesar was not only a great general; he was also a very gifted politician and statesman.
Born in 100 BC, he was the nephew by marriage of another commander of great ability,Gaius Marius. His family was a poor branch of the Julii, a venerable patrician family claiming descent from Iulus, son of the Trojan prince Aeneas; who supposedly brought the survivors of Troy to Latium. Aeneas was, in legend, the son of the goddess Venus; and Caesar certainly behaved as though he was descended from the goddess of love, always cutting a swath through the ladies of Rome.
He spent the first half of his life struggling to find financial security and to carve out a place for himself in the rough-and-tumble politics of his day. As the heir to Marius’ place as political champion of the plebeians and military veterans, Caesar built a strong connection with the “people”; who remained loyal to him till the end of his life. He used this political strength with the voters to win election to one political office after another; climbing the ladder known in Roman society as the cursus honorum. But because by Roman law he could not get an opportunity to show his metal as a general until reaching the appropriate age and standing for those offices which granted the recipient military command. It was not till he was 39 that he received his first independent command. This was as propraetor of Hispania Ulterior. This gave him the opportunity to campaign against the Lusitanians; in which he began to exhibit his gift for command.
He forged a strong alliance with two of the leading men in the Rome of his day: Pompey the Great, Rome’s most respected military leader; and Marcus Licinius Crassus, its leading financier and business leader. Between them, this Triumvirate controlled Roman politics and were able to effectively advance each other’s interests. Caesar was able to win election as Consul in 59 BC; and from there to be appointed governor of the Roman territories abutting Gaul….