The title of Caesar and everything that it represents stems from the actions of a heroic man who had an undying thirst for advancement. That man, Julius Caesar, had a brilliant, tactical militant mind that he joined with the political shrewdness of Senator Pompey and the economic patronage of Crassus to form the First Triumvirate of Rome.
Together, through bribes, intimidation, and ruthless pragmatism, they brought about change that resonated throughout all of Rome — until a betrayal famously turned the Senate against Caesar. So, what does one do when betrayed by his allies? What stance does one take when the very people who brought you to power now want to see you die for treason? What can you do in the face of reckless envy?
Well, if you have an army, you declare war.
The Battle of Pharsalus (48 B.C.E.)
In the aftermath of the Gallic Wars (58 B.C. to 50 B.C.), Caesar was set to return to Rome, astride the high of triumph. However, jealous senators (including the once-loyal Pompey) demanded that he answer for the crime of levying an army without senatorial approval. It was a charge of treason — and the perfect excuse for the aristocracy in the capital to dispose of the greatest threat to their power: Julius Ceasar.
Caesar details the campaign to defend the Empire’s borders against the barbarian hordes of Gaul (modern day France and Belgium) in his book Commentarii de Bello Gallico. Though the book is far from the most credible account of the war (Caesar is known for inflated battle statistics in his favor), what’s undeniable is that a victory is a victory. Caesar’s conquest over the barbarians remedied his massive debt problems and elevated his status among the people.
Victory aside, Caesar was ordered to return to Rome unaccompanied by his army and stand trial before the senate. He uttered, “alea iacta est” (‘the die is cast’) and crossed the Rubicon River with the 13th Legion (Legio XIII) in an act of defiance and informal declaration of war against his accusers.
Senator Pompey and the others fled Rome when they heard that Caesar would not go down without a fight. Rome was officially in a civil war.
Senator Pompey fled across the Adriatic Sea and commanded his allies in Greece to raise troops to help him defend the Republic. Caesar, dedicated to seizing the initiative whenever he could, ordered his men to march to southern Italy in an attempt to cut off Pompey’s army from a rendezvous with eastern allies. Unfortunately, the 13th Legion did not make it in time to stop them and the stage was set for The Battle of Pharsalus (48 B.C.E.).
Did senators ever tell the truth?
Caesar’s victory here sent the Roman Republic into the throes of death — and gave rise to the Roman Empire.
Caesar appointed himself dictator with Mark Antony as his right-hand man (his master of cavalry) and continued his campaign. Just 11 days after establishing his dictatorship, he secured Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus as an ally and his emperorship was beyond reproach.
Several decisive victories in Greece and the Italian mainland later, Caesar had turned what was once seen as an illegitimate military rulership into an unquestionable empire. Long live the Emperor of Rome, hero of the common man.
Caesar’s renown and unchecked power eventually led to his assassination. Beware the ides of March.