Caesar ordered the redistribution of lands to the poor, which made him very popular with the Roman people but angered many wealthy landowning senators. Biblius attempted to veto Caesar’s act, but Caesar’s mob attacked the co-consul. The terrified Biblius retired to his home and left Caesar in complete control of the Roman government.
The Senate tried to block Caesar’s decisions, so he partnered with two generals named Crassus and Pompey. Historians often refer to this alliance as the First Triumvirate. A triumvirate is a partnership of three equal rulers. Neither Crassus nor Pompey were consuls, but the three men were so popular with the Roman people that they could ignore the wishes of the Senate.
Under Roman law, an official could not be arrested while he was in power. Knowing the Senate would have him jailed as soon as he left the consulship, Caesar arranged to be appointed governor of a Roman province in Gaul. Gaul was a territory northwest of the Italian peninsula.
Upon taking office in Gaul, Caesar used his personal fortune to raise a private army. For the next nine years Caesar led his troops across western Europe, killing or enslaving millions and conquering lands that added to the Roman Republic.
In 49BCE, the Senate ordered Caesar to disband his personal army and to return to Rome as a private citizen. Caesar once again feared arrest, so he ignored the order and marched his army back to Rome. Caesar’s orders clearly told him not to bring his troops across the Rubicon River. When Caesar reached the river, he knew he faced an important decision. Caesar knew that if he obeyed the Senate and disbanded his army, his career would be over; but if he marched his troops across the river, the Senate would order Pompey and his army to retaliate. Today when people say they are “crossing the Rubicon,” they refer to a significant decision that cannot be undone.
As Caesar’s army approached Rome, many frightened senators fled the city. Pompey announced that “Rome cannot be defended” and retreated south with his army. The remaining senators named Caesar dictator. A dictator is a ruler with complete control. For several months, Caesar and his army pursued Pompey throughout the Mediterranean until Pompey led his army to Egypt.
When Caesar arrived in Egypt, he met Ptolemy XIII, the ten-year-old ruler of the ancient land. Hoping to gain favor with Rome, Ptolemy presented Caesar with Pompey’s decapitated head. Caesar then met and fell in love with Cleopatra, the older sister of Ptolemy XIII. Caesar spent a year with Cleopatra, and then returned to Rome as a conquering hero.
Caesar puts Cleopatra on the Throne of Egypt
by Pietro de Cortone. (1637)
The Senate elected, then re-elected Caesar consul, breaking the Roman tradition that a consul serve only one year. While in power, Caesar settled 80,000 of his soldiers in colonies, built buildings and monuments throughout the city, and reformed the calendar.
When Caesar came to power, the calendar was out of alignment with the seasons. Caesar instituted the Julian calendar of 365¼ days. Caesar added a month to the calendar and name it July for himself. Caesar’s calendar is closely related to the calendar we use today.
In 44BCE, Caesar arranged to have the Senate name him dictator for life. The Senate had appointed dictators in the past, but only in great emergencies and for a period of no more than six months.