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Was Julius Caesar an Emperor?

Was Julius Caesar an Emperor?

There are only a few periods in history that have had a bigger impact on the history of humankind than ancient Rome. From the modern-day alphabet and political system to the calendar and architecture, you can find the remnants of ancient Rome everywhere.

When talking about Roman history, it’s not possible to skip one of the most popular names – Gaius Julius Caesar. People who don’t know much about ancient Rome may think that he was an emperor.

However, that’s not the truth, as Caesar never held the title of emperor of Rome. Let’s discuss who he actually was and what made him so popular and powerful.

Was Julius Caesar an Emperor? Infographic.

Who Was Julius Caesar?

As mentioned, Julius Caesar was not an emperor because he was never officially declared as such. He was a Roman general and statesman who played a critical role at the end of the roman republic and the rise of the roman empire.

Painting of Julius Caesar.
Julius Caesar
Clara Grosch, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Born into a patrician family in Rome in 100 BC, Caesar was a popular and successful military leader who conquered many territories for Rome, including Gaul and parts of Britain. 

He was also a skilled politician and orator who used his public speaking abilities to gain support from the Roman people.

Caesar’s military successes and popularity among the Roman people made him a powerful figure in politics. He enacted many foundational reforms that set up the groundwork for the upcoming Roman Empire.

He increased the size of the roman senate house to represent more civilians, created the Julian/Roman calendar (that we still use today), redistributed wealth to empower the poor, and offered Roman citizenship to everyone living under his rule.

He declared himself dictator for life in 44 BC [1], which gave him complete control over the Roman state. However, this action agitated the members of the Roman senate house as they feared that he aspired to be king.

How Did He Become So Powerful?

When Julius Caesar was 16 years old, his father died, and he became the head of the family at such a young age. During that time, the Romans were going through a chaotic period, as the dictator Sulla had overthrown the Republic.

To get away from the chaos, he joined the Roman army, where he built a political career. In 59 BC [2], he ran for the Consul position, which allowed him to become prominent.

Although the political race at that time was filthy and dangerous because of corruption and bribery, Caesar managed to win. One of the reasons why he won the election was the support of Marcus Licinius Crassus [3], one of the most politically influential and wealthiest men in Rome.

Formation of the First Triumvirate

Right after winning the election, Caesar joined forces with Pompey, also known as Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus [4]. Along with being a celebrated general, Pompey was also a popular and politically influential man.

These three people forged an informal alliance called the First Triumvirate [5], allowing them to control public business. To make this alliance even stronger, Pompey married Caesar’s daughter, Julia.

It allowed Julius Caesar to create the strongest political block to control Rome as a dictator, although he won the consul election just for one year. Once that year ended, he received the Governorship of a large territory, including Transalpine Gaul, Illyria, and Cisalpine Gaul, because of his political alliance.

It’s important to note that the term of Governorship at that time used to be just one year. However, it was extended for Caesar and set to five years.

He moved out to Transalpine Gaul and declared war against Germanic tribes to increase his power and wealth. Although these tribes were almost equal in power as compared to the army Caesar brought, they were divided and couldn’t defeat the Romans.

The First Triumvirate of the Roman Republic (L to R) Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, Marcus Licinius Crassus, and Gaius Julius Caesar.
The First Triumvirate of the Roman Republic (L to R) Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, Marcus Licinius Crassus, and Gaius Julius Caesar
Mary Harrsch, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Renewal of Triumvirate

Later in 56 BC, Caesar and the other two members of the First Triumvirate renewed their alliance and divided up the Roman provinces [6]. Caesar got Gaul to rule, Crassus gained control of Syria, and Pompey started controlling Hispania. It was the peak of Caesar’s power.

Fall of Triumvirate

The Triumvirate was destined to fall because all three members wanted power and wealth for themselves. In 54 BC, Caesar’s daughter Julia died during childbirth [7], and the relations between Pompey and Caesar began to turn sour.

Later in 53 BC Crassus also died in the Battle of Carrhae [8], and the Triumvirate came to an end. In 50 BC, Caesar’s Governorship ended, and he was called back to Rome from Gaul, but he refused to go back. He thought he would be arrested by Pompey, who was the leader of the pro-Republican armies at that time.

Pompey charged him with treason and insubordination. As a result, Caesar took his armies and crossed the river Rubicon, which was a declaration of war, known as civil war [9]. Pompey was defeated and ran off to Egypt, but was later apprehended and killed, which ended the civil war.

How Did Julius Caesar Die?

As mentioned, Caesar declared himself dictator of Rome for life in 44 BC. The members of the senate became worried as this step could strip away power from the senate house. Therefore, several members of the senate house conspired to assassinate him.

On 15th March 44 BC, Gaius Julius Caesar was killed by several senators. Marcus Junius Brutus was the one who issued the first attack by stabbing Caesar in the back.

The Death of Julius Caesar (1806). Cropped.
The Death of Julius Caesar 
Vincenzo Camuccini, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (Cropped)

His assassination prevented the consolidation of his power and the establishment of a formal monarchy.

After his death, the Roman Empire was eventually established by his great-nephew and adopted son, Octavian, who became the first Roman emperor and was known as emperor Augustus or Caesar Augustus.

So, while Julius Caesar was an important figure in Roman history and played a crucial role in the transition of the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire, he was not an emperor himself.

Final Words

Julius Caesar was never officially declared Emperor of Rome. However, he did lay the groundwork for the eventual rise of the Roman Empire.

During his time as a leader, he was able to expand the Roman Republic and gain control over many territories, which helped increase his power and influence. He also made several reforms that strengthened the Roman government and its institutions.

His actions and reforms laid the foundation for the eventual rise of the Roman Emperors, who would go on to rule over a vast empire that would last for centuries.