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Caesar’s Supporters in Rome

May 5, 2013

Caesar left for Gaul in 58 BC having secured a tenure of five-years through the enacting of the lex Vatinia whilst he was consul of Rome. This law conferred on Caesar the position of proconsul of several provinces of Gaul which should have ended in 54 BC. The proconsulship was successfully extended through a number of deals and with the support of Cicero who argued that, ‘Caesar was the right man to complete the work started in Gaul’ (Gelzer 1969:124). During his campaign Caesar sent comentarii to Rome detailing his successes, this drew support for him among the people. However, his continued status as proconsul (which granted him imperium) created some disquiet among the members of the senate, such as Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus.

Allies and Enemies

There are a number of sources that provide evidence of Caesar’s achievements, motivations and the views of his contemporary’s. The balance of this evidence, however, is towards a negative representation of Caesar. Furthermore, there are details of actions taken against Caesar that were an affront to his dignitas. Canfora (2007:127) observes that Caesar was not involved in the decision making process with respect to a number of key matters. With respect of his allies there is evidence of Caesar having a number of them among his army, the people and persons within official offices. Cicero (Letters Atticus 7.4) comments in a letter that ‘Hirtius, Caesar’s most intimate friend, had been in the neighbourhood but not called on [Pompey]’ indicating that camps between Caesar and Pompey were being created. However, there is evidence that the supporters within official positions may have been achieved through bribery.

Caesar could consider the people of Rome as allies. Suetonius reports that Caesar ‘prevailed with the tribunes of the people…to propose…a bill, enabling him, though absent, to become a candidate for his second consulship’ (Suetonius Divus Julius 26). This bill was passed by the people and ‘Having attained this object…he omitted no opportunity of gaining universal favour, by acts of liberality and kindness to individuals, both in public and private’ (Suetonius Divus Julius 26). This solidified his position with the people of Rome but ultimately the law was overturned through the actions of Pompey whilst consul. Pompey passed a law, Lex de imperium magistratuum, that stated candidates could not stand for positions of office in absentia. Stanton (2003:74) observes that this law severely damaged Caesars plans as he wanted to avoid loss of imperium which would have made him liable to prosecution as a private individual. Caesar argues in a letter to the Senate ‘requesting that they would not deprive him of the privilege kindly granted him by the people’ (Suetonius Divus Julius 29). Caesar is looking out for his interests whilst presenting the case that the Senate is denying the people their voice. There is further evidence of the Senates perception of Caesar in their response to his request, ‘the senate declined to interpose in the business, and his enemies declared that they would enter into no compromise where the safety of the republic was at stake’ (Suetonius Divus Julius 30). Suetonius, however, is a supporter of Caesar and presents a case of the mistreatment of him only. This is not a balanced view and does not account for the deliberations of the Senate. Suetonius provides further insight into the actions of one of Caesar’s enemies Claudius Marcellus who proposed, ‘that some person should be appointed to succeed Caesar in his province…and the…army ought to be disbanded…Caesar being absent, his claims to be a candidate at the next election of consuls, should not be admitted’ (Suetonius Divus Julius 28). This would have put an end to Caesar’s plans and result in his loss of imperium. Canfora (2007:130) observes that Caesar was ‘unassailable by political adversaries, until the end of 49’ whilst he was proconsul of Gaul and was planning to obtain the consulship of 48 but each of the actions of his enemies made this plan increasingly unachievable. The accounts certainly reflect Caesar’s concerns suggesting that prosecution was a possibility.

Caesar had allies within official positions. Canfora (2007, 145) notes that ‘during the night of 7 January, the tribunes of the plebs, Antony and Quintus Cassius, accompanied by Curio and Rufus Caelius, fled Rome.’ These supporters of Caesar joined his cause but questions have been asked as to why they become supporters of Caesar. Suetonius’ account of Caesar notes that ‘Every person about [Caesar]…he secured by loans of money at low interest, or none t all; and to all others who came upon him…he made liberal presents…He offered also singular and ready aid to all who were under prosecution, or in debt, and to prodigal youths’(Divus Julius 27). There is evidence that demonstrates Curio, who was in debt due to construction projects that he had under taken, was one such person. Caesar could afford to pay off these debts and gain the aid of this tribune. Meir (1982:337) observes that Curio could have easily sided with the Senate but he wanted attention and needed money. Canfora (2007:141) also notes that Caesar had brought the support of Curio. It is, therefore, possible that other officials could have been brought as well. However, Gruen (1995:473) believes that there is no trace of any bribe in the contemporary evidence. Furthermore, he suggests that it was made up by anti-Caesarian sources. It is difficult to conclude which perspective warrants greater consideration but a significant number believe that Curio was paid off by Caesar. In addition to this there is certainly evidence of Caesar using the monetary resources acquired in Gaul to make gifts to people as identified previously.

Caesar had a vast army that he could call on for support. In Caesar’s The Civil Wars (1 – 7) he explains that ‘he exhorted them to defend from the malice of his enemies the reputation and honour of that general under whose command they had for nine years most successfully supported the state’. Caesar’s army, in the same chapter, cry out that they were ready ‘to defend their general, and the tribunes of the commons, from all injuries’. This book having been written by Caesar is a biased account of the reactions of his army. However, the army did follow Caesar as accounted in Suetonius (Divus Julius 33) although he does not recount the speech Caesar gave or the reaction of the army. Gruen (1995:384) considers that the army marched with Caesar ‘for profit and social betterment…[not with] the intent or desire to bring down the Roman Republic’ but Meir (1982:365) and Gelzer (1969:195) present the view and evidence that the army were behind Caesar and in full support of his actions. It is a matter of interpretation of the evidence; considering of course the bias that may be present within the account of Caesar or those that support him.

More Enemies than Allies?

The evidence suggests that Caesar had significantly more enemies within official positions in Rome than allies. There were supporters of Caesar Antony, Cassius and Curio some of whom may have become an ally through payments but nonetheless they were his supporters. However, once Caesar had exhausted the political processes to restore his dignatas, he could rely on his army and the people of Rome to take more drastic measures. It is important to cross reference sources as the evidence presented by Suetonius is clearly biased towards Caesar. The letter’s of Cicero and accounts of Plutarch would provide further insight into the situation in Rome during Caesar’s time in Gaul.

Bibliography

Primary

Caesar, J. The Civil War Translated by Gardener, J. London: Penguin Books, 1967.

Cicero Letters, Translated by Shuckburgh, E. S. (1908-09) London: George Bell and Sons. Perseus Digital Library http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0022  [Accessed: 5 May 2013]

Suetonius Tranquillus, C. Divus Julius – The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Translated by Thomson, A, Eugene Reed, J. (Ed) (1889) Philadelphia: Gebbie & Co. Perseus Digital Library http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0132%3Alife%3Djul.%3Achapter%3D1 [Accessed: 5 May 2013]

Secondary

Canfora, L. Caesar. The People’s Dictator, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007.

Gelzer, M. Caesar. Politician and Statesman, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1968.

Gruen, E. S. The Last Generation of the Roman Republic, Berkeley-Los Angeles-London: University of California Press, 1974.

Stanton, G.R. Why Did Caesar Cross the Rubicon? Historia 52.1, 2003 p.67-94.

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