Gaius Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar played a critical role in the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. In 60 BC, Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey formed a political alliance that was to dominate Roman politics for several years. Their attempts to amass power through populist tactics were opposed by the conservative ruling class within the Roman Senate, among them Cato the Younger with the frequent support of Cicero. Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, completed by 51 BC, extended Rome’s territory to the English Channel and the Rhine. Caesar became the first Roman general to cross both when he built a bridge across the Rhine and conducted the first invasion of Britain.
These achievements granted him unmatched military power and threatened to eclipse the standing of Pompey, who had realigned himself with the Senate after the death of Crassus in 53 BC. With the Gallic Wars concluded, the Senate ordered Caesar to lay down his military command and return to Rome. Caesar refused, and marked his defiance in 49 BC by crossing the Rubicon with a legion, leaving his province and illegally entering Roman territory under arms. Civil war resulted, from which he emerged as the unrivaled leader of Rome.
After assuming control of government, Caesar began a program of social and governmental reforms, including the creation of the Julian calendar. He centralised the bureaucracy of the Republic and was eventually proclaimed “dictator in perpetuity”. But the underlying political conflicts had not been resolved, and on the Ides of March (15 March) 44 BC, Caesar was assassinated by a group of senators led by Marcus Junius Brutus. A new series of civil wars broke out, and the constitutional government of the Republic was never restored. Caesar’s adopted heir Octavian, later known as Augustus, rose to sole power, and the era of the Roman Empire began.
Much of Caesar’s life is known from his own accounts of his military campaigns, and from other contemporary sources, mainly the letters and speeches of Cicero and the historical writings of Sallust. The later biographies of Caesar by Suetonius and Plutarch are also major sources. Caesar is deemed to be one of the greatest military commanders in history.