In history it is rare to find truly great leadership, but every once in a while someone comes along so charismatic that even his enemies cannot but admire him. Rome in the first century B. C. was replete with statesmen, generals and leaders who to this day are remembered as being among the greatest and most fascinating that ever lived. But there is no doubt as to the most memorable of these. Gaius Julius Caesar lived from 100 to 44 B. C. and though his life began and ended with Rome beset by internal strife and the threat of civil war, he did more than anyone to consolidate the power of Rome and facilitate the rise of the Roman empire.
It is true that the political and social climate of Rome had been changing rapidly for two hundred years before Caesar, but it is a moot point whether Rome would have proceeded towards monarchy without Caesar. The important thing is that he did live and reshape the Roman world; the life of Caesar was the catalyst for four centuries of the most extensive and influential empire in human history.
Aside from his legendary military prowess, shrewd political mind, oratorical and literary brilliance, reputation for even handedness and demagogic appeal, part of what fascinates us even today about Caesar is that his assassination in 44 B. C. by a group of short sighted senators left a feeling of inconclusiveness to the story of Caesar. Was his ultimate goal a monarchy or did he simply wish to drastically reform Rome to ensure control of its conquests? Did he really aspire to conquer the whole earth as Alexander had? What would he have accomplished in the years after 44 B. C.? What he did manage to accomplish was extraordinary. In his conquests as a general Plutarch ranks him as the greatest in the history of Rome.
His domestic reforms were no less outstanding and included the reformation of the calendar, the restructuring of welfare and census systems, increasing the number of senators and elected officials, assessment of debts at a pre-war rate to satisfy both debtors and creditors, and the beginning of public works such as temples and theaters. In war or peace, his ability to secure the affection of his men and to get the best out of them was remarkable (Plutarch, 259). Suetonius describes him heroically as a most skillful swordsman and horseman with surprising powers of endurance…
It is a disputable point which was the more remarkable when he went to war: his caution or his daring (41). This is a prominent characteristic of Caesar: there were many sides to him. He could pardon some of his most bitter political enemies and grant degrees of autonomy to conquered people, but at the same time he could crucify a band of pirates who once captured him, divorce his wife on questionable grounds, and brazenly flaunt his power as dictator before jealous and fearful senators. In his administration of justice he was both conscientious and severe… (Suentonius, 33).
Though he was temperate with regards to drink, he was among the most licentious of all Romans in his love affairs. He refused the crown Mark Antony offered him but he daily centralized more power to his name as dictator. Caesar was in more ways than one, every womans man and every mans woman (Suetonius, 37). So vibrant and powerful was he that for the few years of his dictatorship, he was the government itself, with the consent of the people. He was Rome. Though his death cast Rome into greater political upheaval, Caesars greatness as a leader made possible the ultimate settlement of the conflict and the peoples acceptance of a monarchy.
He made Rome recognize that she had grown too large to be ruled by a cumbersome, outdated Republic. An empire must be ruled by an emperor, not a senate. Caesars reforms and concern for more efficient government foreshadowed the best intentions of later rulers(Hooper, 295). Even though the stage had been set for revolution by men like the Gracchi, Marius and Sulla, Pompey, Lucullus and Crassus, it was Caesar who brought the act to fulfillment and at his death transformed the Roman world. Ultimately, though, he was too great of a leader.
His vision was so far beyond that of his contemporaries that it was impossible for them to understand him. As Hooper notes, like a teacher he seemed always to be directing affairs in a world of children, yet too far above them all to care about hurting any. To less gifted men however, his aloofness, even if mixed with kindness, was thought to be patronizing. They could not believe that in his heart he really cared about them. Caesar never bothered to ask for another mans opinion(297). He was like a fictional character, too good to be true.
Plutarch perhaps sums it up best: Caesar was born to do great things and to seek constantly for distinction. His many successes… only served to kindle in him fresh confidence for the future, filling his mind with projects of still greater actions and with a passion for new glory, as though he had run through his stock of the old. His feelings can be best described by saying he was competing with himself, as though he were someone else, and was struggling to make the future excel the past(298). There was no one who could compete with Caesar as a leader of men.
It is difficult to call a man a transformational leader when his life began and ended with his country in chaos, but for this man there can be no doubt that his life forever transformed the history of his people. He was indeed born at the right time in Roman history, but we cannot attribute his success to this alone. Does history make the man or does man make history? This does not matter. History happens and men play a part in it whether they are the audience or the actors, whether a puppet or the hand that guides it. Caesar would have scoffed at such idle speculation and continued making history.