Primary Source Selection: “Life of Julius Caesar” by Plutarch (ca. 100 AD) (Introduction to Western Civilization 4.8)

There was added to these causes of offence his insult to the tribunes. It was, namely, the festival of the Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped to an easy delivery, and the barren to pregnancy. These ceremonies Caesar was witnessing, seated upon the rostra on a golden throne, arrayed in triumphal attire. And Antony was one of the runners in the sacred race; for he was consul. Accordingly, after he had dashed into the forum and the crowd had made way for him, he carried a diadem, round which a wreath of laurel was tied, and held it out to Caesar. Then there was applause, not loud, but slight and preconcerted. But when Caesar pushed away the diadem, all the people applauded; and when Antony offered it again, few, and when Caesar declined it again, all, applauded. The experiment having thus failed, Caesar rose from his seat, after ordering the wreath to be carried up to the Capitol; but then his statues were seen to have been decked with royal diadems. So two of the tribunes, Flavius and Maryllus, went up to them and pulled off the diadems, and after discovering those who had first hailed Caesar as king, led them off to prison. Moreover, the people followed the tribunes with applause and called them Brutuses, because Brutus was the man who put an end to the royal succession and brought the power into the hands of the senate and people instead of a sole ruler. At this, Caesar was greatly vexed, and deprived Maryllus and Flavius of their office, while in his denunciation of them, although he at the same time insulted the people, he called them repeatedly Brutes and Cymaeans.

Julius Caesar (Introduction to Western Civilization 4.7)

One of the most influential politicians in the history of Rome was Julius Caesar. Caesar was able to gain power for himself through wise leadership, charisma, and cunning. Caesar’s actions changed Rome forever. To this day Caesar is remembered as one of the greatest Roman men.

Julius Caesar was born into a wealthy and powerful patrician family in 100 BC. His family was deeply involved in politics even before Caesar was born. His father was a member of the Senate and his uncle had served as a Consul. From an early age, Caesar’s parents trained him to become a great politician and leader. He was sent to the best schools in Rome, where he learned reading, writing, mathematics, and rhetoric.

Caesar was especially interested in rhetoric because he knew that speaking well was one of the most important parts of being a great leader. He wanted people to listen to him and to agree with him. He wanted to be able to persuade them using his speaking abilities. As a young man, Caesar sought out the best teachers he could find.

Once, while travelling to the home of a great rhetoric teacher on an island in the Mediterranean Sea, the ship Caesar was on was taken over by pirates. The pirates knew from Caesar’s clean and expensive clothing that he was from a wealth family. They decided to kidnap him and demand a ransom from his family. While he was a prisoner of the pirates, Caesar treated them as if they were his prisoners. He ordered them around and yelled at them to serve him. When the pirates laughed at Caesar, he promised that once he was free he would return and show them who was in charge.

After Caesar’s family paid the ransom money, Caesar went back to Rome and asked the Senate to provide him with a small navy. He told them that with enough ships and sailors he could take care of the problem of pirates on the Mediterranean. The Senate decided to let Caesar try to get rid of the pirates. Using the ships and sailors the Senate had given him, Caesar was able to track down the pirates who had kidnapped him. He captured them and had them all put to death. From then on, the Mediterranean Sea was safe for Romans to travel without fear of attacks by pirates.

Because of his excellent leadership abilities, the Senate appointed Caesar as governor of Spain. Once, while he was in Spain as governor, Caesar sat in his home with some friends reading a biography of Alexander the Great. As he read, Caesar began to cry. When his friends asked Caesar why he was crying, he responded, “By the time Alexander was my age he had conquered a great empire and I am only the governor of one province!”

Eventually, Caesar was able to convince the Senate to make him a Consul. Because there were already two Consuls, Caesar became the third Consul. The three Consuls – Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey – were together called the Triumvirate.

Even being a Consul was not good enough for Caesar, however. He wanted to prove himself on the battlefield by expanding Roman power to new territories. In 55 BC, Caesar invaded the island of Britain and tried to conquer it from the fierce barbarian people who lived there. Although Caesar won many battles during his war in Britain, he also lost many. He only wrote home to the people of Rome about his victories, though, and never told them about his defeats. He became known throughout Rome as a great military leader. He was once asked what his strategy in battle was, to which he responded, “Veni. Vidi. Vici.” In Latin this means, “I came. I saw. I conquered.”

In 53 BC, Crassus died in battle, leaving Caesar and Pompey as the two remaining Consuls. Pompey had also become Caesar’s son-in-law by marrying Caesar’s daughter. Caesar thought that his power was secure. The Senate, however, was becoming very afraid of Caesar’s increasing power. They were especially jealous of his popularity among the plebeians. They ordered that Caesar be arrested. Caesar’s own son-in-law and Co-Consul Pompey even decided to take the Senate’s side and arrest Caesar!

When Caesar heard about what was happening back in Rome, he rushed from Britain back to Italy. When he arrived in Italy, he had to make a very important decision. Everything on the Italian peninsula south of a river called the Rubicon was considered the land of the Senate. If he crossed that river and headed toward Rome he would be challenging the Senate to a battle. There would be a civil war in Rome with Caesar’s armies fighting on one side and the armies of the Senate, led by Pompey, on the other. If Caesar crossed the Rubicon, Rome would change forever and there would be no turning back. Caesar decided to cross the Rubicon on January 10, 49 BC. He headed for Rome.

Caesar’s well-trained and experienced legion easily made their way to the capital. As they arrived, Pompey fled the city in fear. He went to Egypt, hoping that the Egyptians would help him in his fight against Caesar. The rulers of Egypt were the descendants of Ptolemy, one of Alexander the Great’s generals. After Alexander’s death, Ptolemy had taken charge of Egypt and his family had ruled ever since. The two rulers of Egypt at that time, Cleopatra and her brother, also named Ptolemy, were fighting with each other over who would be the only ruler of Egypt. Both of them wanted Caesar, who was now the most powerful man in the world, on their side. Ptolemy thought that he would make Caesar happy by killing Pompey, so he had Pompey’s head cut off and sent back to Caesar as a gift. Ptolemy had made a horrible mistake, though. Although Pompey was Caesar’s political enemy, Pompey was still Caesar’s son-in-law and had been his friend for many years. Caesar was angry at Ptolemy and decided to take over Egypt.

Cleopatra saw this as her chance to get Caesar on her side. Like her ancestors before her, was a very clever ruler. She was also very beautiful. She spoke to Caesar and convinced him to help her get rid of her brother. Caesar agreed and used his armies to fight against Ptolemy. Ptolemy drowned in the Nile River during the battle, leaving Cleopatra as ruler of Egypt. Caesar fell in love with Cleopatra and even had a son with her, whom she named Caesarion. When Caesar returned to Rome the next year, Cleopatra went with him.

Caesar returned to Rome, he was greeted by cheering crowds. Even the Senate agreed to give him awards for his great military victories. He was given the title of dictator, meaning that he had all of the powers of a king but not the title. He used his new power to pass laws that reformed taxes and land policies in Rome. He also passed other laws that were helpful to the plebeians. One of the most important laws he passed was a change to the Roman calendar. Until then, the Roman calendar had been based on the cycles of the moon. Caesar decided to make the Roman calendar like the Egyptian calendar and base it on the time it takes for the earth to go around the Sun, which is about 365 days. This is why we have 365 days in a year on our calendar today.

Even all of this power and praise were not enough for Caesar, however. He did not want to just have the powers of a king, but to actually be called a king. He believed that the rulers of other nations and empires would not respect him unless he was a king. The Senate agreed to make him king and told him to come to the Senate building in the morning on March 15, 44 BC to be crowned. March 15 was called the Ides of March by the Romans. It is a date that is still remembered for what happened in the Senate building that day.

When Caesar arrived, the senators began to act strangely toward him. One of them pulled at his cloak, another bowed to him, and finally another senator ran at him with a dagger. Sixty senators and other patricians attacked Caesar. They stabbed him 23 times. They had secretly decided to assassinate him because they believed he had become too powerful and too ambitious. Finally, Caesar slipped and fell. As he lay on the floor bleeding from his many wounds, he looked up and saw one last senator, his best friend and most loyal supporter, a man named Brutus. As Caesar reached out to Brutus, Brutus also pulled out a knife and stabbed Caesar. Caesar’s last words were “Et tu, Brute?” In Latin this means, “And you too, Brutus?” Above where Caesar lay dead was a statue of Pompey.


 Review Questions

 1. What was the name of Julius Caesar’s son-in-law?

2. What river did Caesar cross, causing a civil war?

3. What Egyptian queen did Caesar fall in love with?

4. On what date was Caesar assassinated?

5. Who was the last person to stab Caesar?


Vocabulary Words

 Ambition – having or showing a strong desire or determination to be successful

Dictator – a ruler with total power over a country, typically one who has obtained power by force.

Legion – an army of about 5000 Roman soldiers

Rhetoric – the art of speaking and writing well

The Roman Reformers (Introduction to Western Civilization 4.6)

While events went well for Rome in its wars with its neighbors and its power continued to spread, things were not going well in the capital. There, the patricians and the plebeians continued to struggle with each other over power and wealth. These struggles between the social classes of Rome made it possible for certain charismatic politicians to gain large groups of follows. These politicians promised to make life in Rome better for the plebeians, slaves, and other poor people by reforming the government and the economy. Three of the most important of these politicians were the two Gracchi brothers, Tiberius and Gaius, and, later, the Roman general Gaius Marius.

One of the primary concerns of the plebeians was the growing wealth of those patricians who owned the land around Rome. Over time a plantation system had developed in Italy. In this system, a few wealthy patricians owned all of the land while slaves did all of the actual labor of farming. In this way, the rich landowners continued to get richer while it was increasingly difficult for small farmers to make money.

In 133 BC, Tiberius Gracchus attempted to reform the land ownership policies in the Roman Republic. Rather than having a few large plantations worked by slaves, Tiberius thought it was better to have many small farms whose owners worked to raise their own food. He began to give away government land to people who wanted to set up these small farms.

The Senate and other Roman leaders wanted to stop Tiberius’s plan to redistribute Roman land to the plebeian farmers. Eventually, the arguments between Gracchus and the other politicians turned violent. When Gracchus decided to try to continue in his position in government even after his term was up, a group of patricians finally assassinated him.

After the death of Tiberius Gracchus, his brother Gaius Gracchus attempted to continue his brother’s policies. Gaius Gracchus passed laws which allowed poor plebeians to be given land in the areas conquered by the Romans. He also used government money to buy food for poor people. Eventually, Gaius Gracchus also was assassinated by a group of patricians angry at him for helping the plebeians.

The next of the reformers was Gaius Marius. Like the Gracchi brothers, Marius promised the plebeians that he would reform Roman law to make them more equal to the patricians. Unlike the Gracchi, however, Marius was not a politician but a military leader. As a general in the Roman military, Marius used his position to change the requirements for those men who wanted to join the army. Previously, only Roman men who owned land could become Roman soldiers. Marius changed the law to say that a man did not have to own land to join the army. Because the army was a career that paid well and allowed a man to improve his position in society, many poor people began to join the army.

Another Roman military leader, Sulla, opposed Marius’s reforms. Sulla took the side of the Senate and the patricians. After Marius’s death from a lung disease, Sulla and other patricians took power on the Italian peninsula. Many of Marius’s supporters and others who desired reform were put to death. This was not the last time that Rome would fall under the influence of a politician with a charming personality and an attractive message, however.


Review Questions

 1. What were the names of the two Gracchi brothers?

2. Describe the reforms of the Gracchi brothers in a paragraph.

3. How did Gaius Marius reform the military? Answer in a sentence.


 Vocabulary Words

 Assassination – murder of an important political figure

Reform – make changes in something in order to improve it

The Punic Wars (Introduction to Western Civilization 4.5)

The Romans very quickly came to dominate the Italian peninsula. By about 200 BC, the Romans had conquered all of Italy and began to expand to other areas around the Mediterranean. In 218 BC, they conquered the Iberian Peninsula, where Spain is. In a series of battles fought between 215-148 BC, the Romans conquered the city-states of Greece as well as the region of Macedonia, where Alexander the Great had come from. Eventually, the Romans and their powerful legions would dominate the entire area around the Mediterranean Sea, which the Romans called “Mare Nostrum,” meaning “Our Sea.”

In order to take over the Mediterranean, though, the Romans had to fight a long and bitter war with another important power, the Carthaginians. The Carthaginians lived in Northern Africa just across the Mediterranean Sea from Italy. The Carthaginians had been a nation for almost as long as the Romans and, like the Romans, had been steadily increasing in power. Now, these two rising empires found themselves in a conflict over who would dominate the Mediterranean Sea. Only one of the two empires would survive the conflict.

This conflict, called the Punic Wars, began in 264 BC over a dispute concerning which of the two powers would be in charge of Sicily. Sicily is an island in the Mediterranean Sea between the Italian peninsula where the Romans were and the northern part of Africa where the Carthaginians were.

At first, the Punic Wars went terrible for the Romans. Because this was a war about who would dominate the Mediterranean Sea, most of the fighting took place on the water. The Romans, however, were more used to fighting on land. They had a very weak navy with badly built boats and inexperienced sailors. The Carthaginians, on the other hand, had been fighting on water for a long time. The Carthaginians had developed the fastest and most powerful ships in the world and their sailors, strong and experienced, knew how to use them well.

Through hard work and creativity, however, the Romans were able to recover in just a few years. They began by copying Carthaginian naval technology and tactics. They then used their own ingenuity to improve on these. Within a short time, the Romans were able to defeat the Carthaginians in naval battles.

The Carthaginians then decided to change tactics and attack the Romans on land using their most powerful weapon: armies of elephants. A Carthaginian general named Hannibal came up the idea. He brought the elephants as well as a large army of men with him from Africa by crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, the narrow part of the Mediterranean Sea between Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. He then marched the men and the elephants all the way from the Iberian Peninsula to Italy. The most difficult part of his journey was passing the Alps, the mountain range filled with very tall mountains just north of the Italian peninsula. Getting hundreds of elephants through a mountain range was a challenge, but Hannibal was able to do it.

In 218 BC, Hannibal launched his first attack on a Roman city in Italy. The people were terrified of the size and strength of the elephants. They Romans had never seen animals that large before. Hannibal spent years taking his army and its elephants all over the Italian peninsula, destroying Roman cities and crushing Roman armies. The Romans believed he was undefeatable. They were afraid that he would eventually come to the city of Rome itself and destroy the Roman people forever.

A Roman general named Scipio came up with a plan, however. Rather than trying to drive Hannibal and his army out of Italy by attacking them as other Roman leaders had tried to do, Scipio decided to take a Roman army across the sea to Carthage, the capital of the Carthaginian Empire. In 203 BC, Scipio and his men travelled to Africa and attacked the Carthaginians there. The capital had been left without many soldiers to defend it because most of the soldiers had gone to Italy with Hannibal.

Hannibal and his soldiers rushed back to Africa, moving as fast as they could to protect their capital city. They were too late, however. By the time they returned Scipio had already destroyed the few Carthaginian soldiers who had remained in Africa. Scipio then turned and quickly defeated Hannibal and his exhausted soldiers. Eventually, the Romans decided to complete destroy the entire city of Carthage. They burned all of the buildings to the ground and enslaved all of the people who lived there. Later, a Roman city was built over top of it. When the Punic Wars ended in 146 BC Carthaginian civilization ceased to exist and the Romans were left as the only group of people powerful enough to control the entire Mediterranean Sea.


 Review Questions

 1. What Carthaginian general led the attack on Italy? What did he do to terrify the Romans?

2. What Roman general led the attack on Carthage? What did he do to surprise the Carthaginians?

3. Who won the Punic Wars?

Primary Source: Selections from the Twelve Tables (ca. 450 BC) (Introduction to Western Civilization 4.4)

The earliest attempt by the Romans to create a code of law was the Laws of the Twelve Tables. A commission of ten men was appointed in about 455 BC to draw up a code of law binding on both patricians and plebeians. It would be the job of the consuls to enforce this law. The commission produced enough laws to fill ten bronze tablets. The plebeians were not satisfied, so a second commission of ten men was appointed in 450 B.C. and two additional tablets were added. Below are some selections from the Twelve Tables.


1. Monstrous or deformed offspring may be put to death by the father.

2. The father shall, during his whole life, have absolute power over his children. He may imprison his son, or scourge him, or keep him working in the fields in fetters, or put him to death, even if the son held the highest offices of state.


2. The provisions of the will of a paterfamilias [head of the household] concerning his property and the support of his family, shall have the force of law.


7. Holders of property along a road shall maintain the road to keep it passable; but if it be passable, anyone may drive his beast or cart across the land wherever hechooses.


1. Whoever publishes a libel shall be beaten to death with clubs.

12. A person committing burglary in the night may be lawfully killed.

13. A thief in the daytime may not be killed unless he carried a weapon.

23. Perjurers and false witnesses shall be hurled from the Tarpeian Rock.

26. Seditious gatherings in the city during the night are forbidden.


Review Questions

 1. What kind of power does a father have over his son?

2. What is the responsibility of someone who owns property along a road?

The Roman Republic (Introduction to Western Civilization 4.3)

After the overthrow of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus in 509 BC, the Romans decided to get rid of monarchy altogether and become a republic. Whereas one person rules the whole nation under a monarchy, all of the people take part in government in a republic. The Roman Republic is very different from the Athenian democracy in some important ways, but what they had in common was a concern that all citizens have the opportunity to have their voice heard and to help make decisions.

Not everyone was considered equal, however, and some people played a bigger role in governing Rome than others. Under the Roman Republic, there were two main social classes. They were called the patricians and the plebeians.

The patricians were the wealthy and powerful upper class of Rome. They claimed to be the descendants of the 100 men whom Romulus had chosen to help him rule the new city after he founded it. Only patricians could hold the highest and most powerful positions in Rome.

The other social class, called plebeians, was made up of all of the common people. Not all of the plebeians were poor, but almost none were as rich as the patricians. And none at all were more powerful than the patricians. The plebeians participated in the government under the Roman Republic by voting for their leaders.

The government of the Roman Republic had three layers. At the top were the consuls. Under the Republic, two elected consuls shared the highest and most powerful position in government. Consuls were members of the Senate who had been elected to serve one year terms as consul. The consuls’ most important power was that they controlled the army. No decision could be made by one consul without the other consul agreeing to it. Both consuls held the right to veto the decisions of the other.

The Senate consisted of 300 men, all of whom were from the patrician class. Senators were appointed by the consuls and, once appointed, served as senators for life. The senators were the lawmakers of the Roman Republic. They controlled all spending and approved other decisions made by the consuls.

The largest layer in the government of the Roman Republic was the Assembly. The Assembly was composed of all the plebeian citizens of Rome. The Assembly did not have a building to meet in like the Senate. Instead, the plebeians who wanted to vote gathered at the Forum, an open area near the center of the city of Rome. For the most part, the Assembly’s power was very limited. They could vote for or suggest laws, but the Senate could block their decisions. The Assembly could also vote to declare war but the Senate could override them on this also.

The Assembly did, however, have one right that made them very powerful. It was the members of the Assembly who voted each year on which two members of the Senate would serve as consuls. As a noble, if you wanted to rise to the level of Consul, the highest position in government under the Republic, you needed to gain the support of the plebeian class. Since it was the Consuls who filled empty seats in the Senate, if the Assembly chose their consuls well, they could slowly gain power in government by putting people in charge who were sympathetic to their needs. As a result, plebeians gained more rights over time and some of them even became very powerful and wealthy. A few plebeians were even able to become members of the patrician class!

Above all else, what made a person powerful and influential in Rome their ability to speak well. The Romans loved a good orator more than almost anything else. When the Assembly met at the Forum, many speeches were going on at the same time. One speaker might say, “Rome’s roads need repair!” Another speaker might say, “We need to stop crime in the streets.” If you wanted your speech to have an impact, it did not matter how rich or poor you were. What mattered was how persuasive you were as a speaker.


Review Questions

 1. What were the two social classes of the Roman Republic? Describe each social class.

2. What were the three layers of government under the Roman Republic? What was the job of each?


Vocabulary Words

 Orator – a public speaker, especially one who is eloquent or skilled.

Veto – Latin word meaning “I forbid;” the power to stop the enactment of a law

Introduction to Ancient Rome (Introduction to Western Civilization 4.1)

According to legend, the city of Rome was founded on April 21, 753 BC. By 200 BC, the Romans had established their dominance on the Italian peninsula by the subduing the other tribes there. With this firm control of Italy, Rome then quickly expanded its power to encompass a vast empire surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. By the time of the birth of Jesus, the Roman Empire stretched from Spain in the west to Palestine in the east and from Britain in the far north to Egypt in the south. By extending their empire over this huge area of land and imposing their power on it, the Romans brought greater unity to the many peoples who lived around the Mediterranean Sea than they had ever had before.

Roman control of the entire Mediterranean world brought about a period of peace and stability that allowed people and things to move quicker from one place to another than they had before. The Romans used their military power to destroy piracy on the Mediterranean Sea. This made it much safer for boats to travel across the sea with people and goods. They also built long concrete roads that connected all of the cities of the Roman Empire. In fact, the Romans were the first people to use concrete, a material we still use in building projects today.

The Romans also helped to create a single culture all around the Mediterranean. Ironically, the culture the Romans spread was the culture of the Greeks, a civilization the Romans had conquered. When the Romans conquered the Greeks, they quickly began to admire the philosophy, science, literature, and art that the Greeks had produced.

Roman artists and writers started to imitate the Greek art and literature. The Roman author Virgil, for example, wrote an epic poem called the Aeneid. You may recall from the unit on the Greeks that Homer was the first person to write epic poetry. His Iliad and Odyssey are both about events the heroes and gods of the Greeks and the role they played in the Trojan War, an event in Greek history. Virgil imitated Homer’s style by writing the Aeneid. He also got the idea for his story from Homer. Virgil tries to link the Romans to the Greeks by telling a story about refugees from Troy who leave the city after it is destroyed and flee to Italy. Once there, he says, they became the ancestors of the Romans.

Other Roman thinkers also admired and imitated the Greeks who had come before them. People all around the Roman Empire began to read the writings of the Greek philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle. The Romans even took many of the religious ideas of the Greeks. For each Greek god, they found a Roman equivalent. The Greek god Hades, god of the underworld, for example, became the Roman god Pluto. The Greek god Zeus, the father and king of the gods, became the Roman god Jupiter. The goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, became the Roman goddess Venus. Ideas that had started with the Greeks spread throughout the Roman Empire and had a very large influence on the way Romans thought.

By adopting Greek culture as their own at the same time they were spreading their empire over a huge area of land, the Romans helped Greek culture to spread as well. Soon, people were talking about Greek philosophers and reading the works of Greek poets in places as far away as Britain, which is more than 2000 miles from Greece. Greek language and culture became the language and culture of most of Europe and much of North Africa and the Middle East.

In addition to spreading the ideas of the Greeks, the Romans also made some unique contributions of their own. One piece of the heritage we still have from the Romans is an emphasis on law. Because their empire was so large and so diverse, the Romans were very concerned that everyone follows the same law, the law of the Roman Empire. The law codes of many of the countries of Europe date from time of the Roman Empire. Even in the United States, whose law code has a different origin, many of the most important words used by lawyers and judges are words in Latin, the language spoken by the Romans.

The Latin language is another very important aspect of the heritage we have received from the Romans. Even many years after the end of the Roman Empire, Latin remained the language used in churches and universities in Europe. The result was that educated people in Europe could speak to each other in the same language no matter which part of Europe they were from. In addition, many of the other languages of Europe came from Latin. French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, for example, are all called Romance languages because they come from Latin. Even about half of the words of the English language have Latin roots.

Although, as we will see, the western half of the Roman Empire was conquered more than 1500 years ago and the eastern half of the Roman Empire was destroyed more than 500 years ago, the heritage of the Romans is still alive and well today. The ideas, words, and customs that began with the Romans still can be found all around us. And all of this started with one small tribe on the Italian peninsula more than 2700 years ago.


Review Questions

 1. What civilization’s culture did the Romans admire and imitate?

2. What sea did the Roman Empire encircle?

3. Name one important aspect of our heritage from the Romans.