|In one single moment, history changed forever. On the tenth of January, 49 BC, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River into Italy and, with this act, declared civil war on Rome. He uttered the famous words of the Athenian playwright Menander: “The die is cast” (qtd. in Lendering). Indeed, his words would ring true throughout his rule, because this act started a chain of events which led to the downfall of the Roman Republic and the start of the Roman Empire. When Caesar crossed the Rubicon, he ended 460 years of Republican rule and became the first Roman emperor.
Julius Caesar, like all emperors, wanted to establish his own rule. The Roman Republic’s core essence lay in the Senate, which made all major decisions. The Senate, led by Pompey, had demanded that Caesar disband his army and return to Rome. When Caesar disobeyed the Senate, he defied the Republic’s rule. He went on to conquer Pompey and his followers and in doing so, completely severed his ties with the Senate. Caesar then “swept around the Mediterranean, suppressing rebellious provinces” (Ellis and Esler 137). Around that time, he spoke the famous phrase “Veni, Vedi, Vici.”---“I came, I saw, I conquered” (Ellis and Esler 137). Notice that Caesar did not mention the Republic or the people, but only thought of himself. Evidently, his interests lay in gaining power for his own benefit, all pointing to an interest in being the single authority over Rome. Upon his return to Rome, he “forced the senate to make him dictator” (Ellis and Esler 137). At first, the Senate and consuls refused to make him dictator, so Caesar appointed praetor Marcus Aemilius Lepidus prefect while he embarked on more conquests in Spain. “Back in Rome, Lepidus got the assembly to appoint Caesar dictator” (Beck). While keeping up the mask of the Senate having power in order to keep down rebellion, he was in fact the sole leader of Rome. The dictatorship had already been misused by previous leaders, so Caesar kept the Senate to prevent people from getting a bad impression. Despite the fact that he kept the Senate in effect, his great influence over it overshadowed the Senate’s own influence.
While pushing through a number of reforms that were supposed to help the citizens, Caesar ensured that he would benefit from these modifications. In one of these reforms, Caesar “granted land to the landless, distributing areas from Gaul, Spain, and southern Italy. As a result many peasants joined the military to gain land, which ended in an expansion of Caesar’s army” (Murphy). While appearing to benefit the people, Caesar managed to gain much from it as well. Caesar’s reforms also included expanding the Senate’s capacity. “To enact these reforms, however, he packed the senate with his own followers” (Ellis and Esler 137). This way, Caesar could have automatic authorization for his acts. Caesar used his power to select people who would obey him as the main officials of the Republic.
Nothing, but self-glorification, better defines a dictator and Caesar exemplified this. To ensure a good public image, he utilized the “ability to veto anything that made him look bad. He could manipulate the media to enhance his figure” (Murphy). Since Caesar now controlled the Senate, he had a major say in what proposals ended up out there. Another strategy Caesar employed consisted of claiming descent from the goddess Venus. This strategy even frightened Pompey when he had a dream:
He saw himself…climbing the steps that led to the temple of Venus and there…dedicating the spoils of his many victories to the goddess. It was enough to make him wake up in a cold sweat…Pompey remembered that Caesar was descended from Venus, and so he dreaded that all his laurels and greatness were on the point of becoming lost to him forever, and becoming his rival’s. (Holland 311)
The descendant idea also could be seen in “the Temple of Venus located in the center of the Forum of Caesar” (Murphy). Lastly, his clothing demonstrated his pride in himself. “Early in 44 Caesar began appearing in the high red boots once worn by kings in Italy’s legendary past” (Holland 333). Caesar, using symbols of royalty, would “wear a purple robe” and “sat on a golden throne in the Senate” (Lendering). Essentially, Caesar behaved like a king and refused only the title.
Julius Caesar took the entire Republican governmental system of Rome and molded it into something different. Where the Senate formerly held power, Caesar now presided. Starting with the crossing of the Rubicon River, a new period in time and history began. With confidence and authority, Caesar managed to benefit himself while appearing to help the population of Rome. When he crossed the Rubicon, he crossed the Roman Republic and a new age dawned: The age of the Roman Empire.