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Caesars' one man show

Date of news: 12 March 2022

Gaius Julius Caesar had an adventurous start to his political career. After several military expeditions Caesar started the cursus honorum, the standard political career in Rome. Caesar was generous to the lower classes and this earned him their favor which turned out to be a big part of his political campaign.

While Caesar was a governor in Spain, somewhere around 69 B.C, he defeated the last free tribes there. This boosted his military reputation and granted him a substantial booty. His later campaigns in Gaul, which took place from 58 B.C until 50 B.C, gave his military reputation a further boost and made him one of the richest men in Rome (De Blois & Van Der Spek 2019). These riches gave him the opportunity to realize his political ambitions.

Updates from Gaul

However, one of the political problems that Caesar had to face was his absence from Rome. As a solution he had Lucius Balbus and Gaius Oppius running an efficient publicity office. But as long as Caesar was not personally in Rome, his enemies had the advantage. Thus it was essential to keep his achievements constantly in the public eye. Especially in the city of Rome, the political heart of the Republic (Welch, Powell & Barlow 1998).  As a result Caesar wrote the Bellum Gallicum (Gallic War). This book consisted of records of his campaigns in Gaul. It was intended for the senate but it circulated more widely and it contained claims made by Caesar to enhance his dignitas: he was the best, the greatest and the first in his endeavors in Gaul. The claims that Caesar makes in his work are for example that according to him he was fighting extremely brave and fierce enemies and that through him vast numbers of people were subdued and conquered for Rome. In other words Caesar faced the greatest enemies, was responsible for the greatest conquest and it was he who introduced Rome to these new people and territories. Caesar crafted a narrative with an objective feel to it, through which he could gain admiration and acknowledgement of his greatness from his readers. This literary work was one of the pieces of a grand strategy to justify Caesar's claim of him having the status of princeps civitatis (first citizen) (Bucher 2011).

Unprecedented coinage

Not only did he concern himself with the writing of the adventures in the Gallic regions, he also managed to use media outlets back in Rome to his advantage. Caesar was very much an attentive politician and clearly of a new breed amongst the Romans during his lifetime. He did so by striking coins which at the time were important tools to communicate to the masses. According to historian Carlos Noreña, coins were not only used because of their economic usage, but were also used to deliver messages to the people of Rome while having symbolic function as well (Noreña 2011). The interesting part of Caesars’ coinage was in fact that he portrayed himself on the coins, which was unprecedented for his time and was seen as an unacceptable act of political arrogance in Rome (NGC Ancients, 2016). Several coins were struck portraying Caesar on the backside of the coins which also suggest some sort of evolution. During his first year as the most important man in Rome he is portrayed as the conqueror of the Gallic regions (Roman Republican Coinage 452), while a couple of years into his reign he is confident in his power that he was depicted as dictator of Rome (Roman Republic Coinage 456).

Based on the information we have about Caesar, we can look back at an individual who managed to dictate the political and military life of the Romans. He did this by increasing his popularity through effective ways of communicating his power or persona, as we have seen with the Bellum Gallicum and the coins struck during his reign. Ultimately, his fast rise of power resulted in his death, but his legacy is still very much alive.

Roman Republic Coinage RRC 452/1

Roman Republic Coinage RRC 452/1

Roman Republic Coinage 456/1A  Roman Republic Coinage 456/1A

Roman Republic Coinage 456/1A

By: Dennis van Lambalgen, Nver Avetisian and Tijn Steenhuizen
(students of the course Populism and Propaganda in the Roman World)

Bibliography

Primary sources

  • ANS: Roman Republic Coinage RRC 452/1 & 456/1A

Secondary sources and literature

  • imperialidealsromanwestCarlos Noreña,Imperial ideals in the Roman West. (Cambridge 2011).

    DG271 - .N67 2011
    This book examines the figure of the Roman emperor as a unifying symbol for the western empire. It documents an extensive correspondence between the ideals cited in honorific inscriptions for the emperor erected across the Western Empire and those advertised on imperial coins minted at Rome. This reveals that the dissemination of specific imperial ideals was more pervasive than previously thought, and indicates a high degree of ideological unification amongst the aristocracies of the western provinces. The widespread circulation of a particular set of imperial ideals, and the particular form of ideological unification that this brought about, not only reinforced the power of the Roman imperial state, but also increased the authority of local aristocrats, thereby facilitating a general convergence of social power that defined the high Roman empire.

  • G.S. Bucher, 'Caesar: the view from Rome' The Classical Outlook 88.3 (2011), 82-87. https://www.jstor.org/stable/43940076

  • Kathryn Welch, Anton Powell, Jonathan Barlow, Julius Caesar as artful reporter: the war commentaries as political instruments. (London: Duckworth, 1998).

  • introductionancientworldL. de Blois, R.J. van der Spek, An Introduction to the Ancient World. London – New York (3rd edition; Routledge 2019).

    CB311 - .B5813 2019
    An Introduction to the Ancient World offers a thorough survey of the history of the ancient Near East, Greece and Rome. Covering the social, political, economic and cultural processes that have influenced later western and Near Eastern civilisations, this volume considers subjects such as the administrative structures, economies and religions of the ancient Near East, Athenian democracy, the development of classical Greek literature, the interaction of cultures in the Hellenistic world, the political and administrative system of the Roman Republic and empire, and the coming of Christianity, all within the broad outline of political history.

Digital sources