The Lesson of the Ides
Two thousand and fifty six years ago,
A captive who hunted down and killed his captors,
A writer who propagandized with “I came, I saw, I conquered,”
A governor who wiped out thousands of ancestral enemies,
A reformist who gave the world much of the modern calendar,
A general who defeated one of the greatest military minds of his era,
A politician who was declared dictator of his realm for ten years,
Was stabbed to death by 40 of his political rivals, including his friend and protégé Brutus. (Et tu, Brute?)
Gaius Julius Caesar, captive, writer, governor, reformist, general and politician. Yes, all of these occupations describe the same man. The Roman who broke the Roman Republic and paved the way for his grandnephew, Augustus Caesar, to usher in the Roman Empire.
For history buffs this day, March 15th, 44 B.C., also known as the “Ides of March”, is quite monumental.
Some interesting links to peruse:
Caesar and Genocide: Confronting the Dark Side of Caesar’s Gallic Wars
Beware the Ides of March. (But Why?)
The Assassination of Julius Caesar
Caesar’s life was an amazing, wild ride and full of impactful lessons, as many others have already said or written more eloquently than I, though I will summarize as well as I can.
Born in 100 B.C. Caesar was a member of the illustrious Julian family, which provided him with prestige and connections, yet the Julians’ best days were in the nascent Roman Republic, hundreds of years earlier. Thus, from an early age Julius had the drive to restore his family to glory, simultaneously immortalizing himself.
At age 25, Julius was kidnapped by pirates:
“Caesar made himself at home among the pirates, bossing them around and shushing them when he wanted to sleep. He made them listen to the speeches and poems he was composing in his unanticipated downtime and berated them as illiterates if they weren’t sufficiently impressed. He would participate but he always addressed them as if he were the commander and they were his subordinates. From time to time he would threaten to have all of them crucified. They took it as a joke from their overconfident, slightly nutty captive.
It wasn’t a joke. After 38 days, the ransom was delivered and Caesar went free. Astonishingly, Caesar managed to raise a naval force in Miletus-despite holding no public or military office-and he set out in pursuit of the pirates. He found them still camped at the island where he had been held, and he brought them back as his captives. When the governor of Asia seemed to vacillate about punishing them, Caesar went to the prison where they were being held and had them all crucified.”
It’s no wonder this story has been a favorite among historians for generations. It’s terrifying to be kidnapped. Imagine bossing around your captors and threatening to kill them? And then actually doing it without holding public or military office? At a young age, Caesar demonstrated the confidence that would catapult him up through and send him crashing down the ranks of Roman society.
Throughout the following decades, Julius moved up through the cursus honorum and formed the First Triumvirate political alliance with Marcus Licinius Crassus, the richest man in Rome, and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, the legendary general who was the only Roman to receive the nickname ‘Magnus’ (the Great), in emulation of Alexander the Great.
Caesar governed Gaul (modern France) for eight years. He managed to write Commentarii de Bello Gallico (the Gallic Wars), which have been used a historical text for almost 2000 years, while away. A few years later, managed to defeat Pompey, reform the Roman calendar and get the Senate to declare him Dictator for 10 years. This declaration was a huge move, considering the Roman Republic had been founded 450 years earlier after throwing out the last of its seven kings.
Of course, 10 years wasn’t enough for Julius. He wanted to be dictator perpetuo: dictator for life.
And you know the rest. Four years after defeating his greatest rival Pompey and two months after becoming dictator for life, achieving what no Roman had done for several hundred years, Caesar was dead at 56.
What always strikes me is how meticulous his climb and how rapid his fall. Look at Caesar’s list of accomplishments. Pirates, Gauls or Pompey couldn’t defeat him.
The sole person who could defeat Caesar was….well Caesar.
No matter what challenges you face in life, whether you’re a politician or a citizen, a solider or a civilian, a teacher or a laborer, powerful or powerless, rich or poor, male or female, young or old…
You can be your greatest ally.
You can be your greatest enemy.
Which will you choose?