Julius Caesar- Rise to Prominence Essay

Julius Caesar’s rise to prominence up until 60BC transpired due to a number of factors. The first of these being his family background and Marian connections, which at varying stages of his life were both a help and a hindrance. We can also note that most of his marriages were used to gain political and financial resources accentuating his connections to powerful families and individuals. This rise to prominence can also be attributed to Caesar’s opportunistic nature and vast ambitions coupled with his education and specialised tuition in the art of rhetoric, skills essential to gain popularity and political office.

Additionally his acquisition of religious titles added prestige and status to his name while providing him with an array of religious powers. We also see his political alliances reflecting the success of his early political career and rise through the cursus honorum. All of these aspects were an integral part of Caesar’s public and personal life contributing in no small way to his eventual rise to prominence. Caesar’s family background and Marian connections gave him a base to build his career as well as enhancing his reputation and status in society.

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His family, Gens Julia were of noble patrician roots, but at the time neither rich nor influential. However they were able to claim decent from Trojan prince Aeneas, supposed son of the goddess Venus. This claim to both royal and divine decent gave Caesar high social standing within roman society at the time. Caesar’s aunt Julia was married to Gaius Marius who during Caesar’s infancy was the most powerful man in Rome, holding an unprecedented seven consecutive consulships along with leading the faction known as the populares.

These Marian connections were exploited by Caesar himself at every possible opportunity most notably the funerals of his aunt Julia and his wife Cornelia. While delivering their eulogies he flaunted his Marian heritage, Plutarch telling us that “As nephew of Julia the deceased wife of Marius, he pronounced a splendid encomium upon her in the forum, and in her funeral procession ventured to display images of Marius, which were then seen for the first time since the administration of Sulla”. In regard to Caesar’s rise to prominence the acclamation of divine and royal ancestry along with his ties to the previously most powerful family in Rome gave Caesar reputation and status as well as providing a host of available clientele to enhance his political career. Caesar’s marriages linked him to some of the most powerful men in Rome enhancing his influence amongst his peers. Caesar’s first engagement and possible marriage had little significance in his rise to prominence and was ended around 86BC.

However Caesar’s second marriage was to Cornelia, daughter of Cinna, in 84BC and was of much higher importance to Caesar’s rise. Not only did it emphasise his ties to the populare faction, it made him the son in law of the most powerful man in Rome as Cinna was holding the office of consul at the time. His third and final marriage before 60BC was to Pompeia the granddaughter of Sulla and the daughter of rising general Pompey. Pompeia brought with her a large dowry along with access to two of the most influential people at the time.

The marriage ended in 61BC due to a supposed affair where Clodius was accused of sacrilege. Caesar immediately divorced Pompeia on the grounds that “I thought my wife ought not even to be under suspicion. ” 2 separating him almost completely from any affiliation with the Optimates. Caesar’s marriages were used for political gain, the procurement of financial resources and for access to the most influential men in Rome all of which enhanced Caesar’s prominence. Caesar’s opportunistic nature, vast ambitions and education were all essential aspects of his continual rise to prominence.

We gain insight into the depth of his ambition through Plutarch’s reporting of Caesar bursting into tears upon reading about Alexander the great proclaiming the reason was, “Do you not think, it is matter for sorrow that while Alexander, at my age, was already king of so many peoples, and I have as yet achieved no brilliant success? ”. 1 It is reported by Suetonius that Caesar travelled to Rhodes to “have leisure to study under Apollonius Molo, the most eminent teacher of oratory of that time. 2 His education at Rhodes was reflective his ambitious nature as Plutarch reports that, “Caesar had the greatest natural talent for political oratory, and cultivated his talent most ambitiously. ”3 This skill for rhetoric was also commented on by political opponent Cicero asking “does anyone have the ability to speak better than Caesar? ”4 demonstrating his respect for his ability in rhetoric. Caesar’s ambition, nature and education allowed him to establish himself as a skilled lawyer and orator to enhance his prominence among the people.

Caesar’s collection of religious titles contributed to increasing his influence and provided him with an array of religious powers. As a young man Caesar was appointed Flamen Dialis with help from his Uncle Gaius Marius a position that provided little power although establishing Caesar as a Populare supporter. Plutarch tells us that, “To this candidacy Sulla secretly opposed himself, and took measures to make Caesar fail in it. ”5 Many years later after acquiring the title of pontifex in 73BC, a highly prestigious and renowned position Caesar was elected into the office of Pontifex Maximus a short decade later.

This surprised his opponents who had expected the more distinguished Optimate candidates to be next elected. Modern historian Antony Kamm has presented the view that “It must have been due to the Marius connection that a mere boy was selected as Merula’s successor for this extraordinary, but highly prestigious office. ”6 These religious titles would prove invaluable for Caesar as they increased his influence and would be yet another stepping stone on his rise to prominence. Caesar’s political alliances stemmed from a need to gain influential patrons, wealth and clients.

Due to the undistinguished nature of Caesar’s family he originally lacked wealth to support his political career. He solved this problem by entering into a political alliance with Crassus, described as the “wealthiest man in the world. ” Plutarch tells us that “Crassus, the richest of the Romans, had need of Caesar’s vigour and fire for his political campaign against Pompey. ”7 Other evidence of Caesar’s political alliances come from Suetonius who describes how Caesar was taken off the proscription lists by allying himself with a senior religious order and the consul of 75BC Cotta.

Sulla was adamant that Caesar remain on the list but eventually caved under political pressure. Suetonius reports that Sulla claimed “ Remember that the man you are so keen to save will one day destroy the cause of the ruling party which you and I are trying to uphold. There are many signs of Marius in Caesar. ”8 Caesar’s political alliances gained him a patron willing to cover his expenditure and pressured Sulla into taking his name of the proscription list.

This allowed Caesar to continue his rise to prominence without fear of being executed or unable to pay his creditors. When analysing Plutarch we must take into account several factors such as context, type of source, purpose and intended audience. Plutarch was a biographer and philosopher who lived from 45 Ad to 120Ad whose primary concerns were logic and reason as well as determining universal significance. His work the parallel lives was created sometime in the late 1st century AD approximately 150-200 years after Caesar’s assassination.

Plutarch’s parallel lives; life of Julius Caesar from pages 437-474; provides a wealth of information on Caesar’s rise to prominence. This extract was written as part of a parallel biography to that of Alexander the great where the vices and virtues of the two personalities were contrasted against one another as well as depicting major events in their times. His writing style throughout the lives is inclusive of moral description, character traits, personality and Plutarch’s own opinion on the Caesar and the varying sources incorporated in the source.

This writing style in conjunction with Plutarch’s use of persuasive language illustrates the purpose of the text, this being to try and sway the reader to support Plutarch’s own view. Plutarch intended for his work to be distributed among as many people as possible namely the intellectual minds of the time. An evaluation of the extract of Plutarch’s life of Caesar from pages 437-474 in terms of usefulness and reliability must take in to account several factors. The fact that Plutarch was writing more than a hundred years after Caesar’s death makes it subject to a degree of unreliability.

We must also recognise that Plutarch’s work is primarily based on a mix of opinion and fact stating that “It must be borne in mind that my design is not to write histories, but lives”. 1 This concept in conjunction with his use of persuasive language, to sway the reader toward his own point of view limits the reliability of the extract as a source. In contrast it must be taken into account that Plutarch had access to documents and writings that have long since been lost enhancing the overall reliability of the extract.

The text may be subject to a degree of bias and unreliability reflecting the authors own subjective view of Caesar. The usefulness of the extract pertaining to Caesar’s rise to prominence is immense as it provides with details of Caesar’s early life up to and beyond 60BC. Caesar’s rise to prominence was a long process affected by multiple aspects all of which interrelate with each other. We see that Caesar’s Marian connections and family background were directly related to some of the political alliances and marriages he would make.

We also see how his education was a by-product of his family status and ambitious desire to gain power. This desire for power is again reflected in Caesar’s acquisition of religious title. These links illustrate how Caesar’s rise to prominence was not caused by one sole factor but rather an interrelation of many factors. The eventual result of this led to the rise of one of Rome’s most important men whose assassination would cause the fall of the republic.


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