Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome

By Victor Davis Hanson | Go to book overview

9.
Julius Caesar and the General as State

ADRIAN GOLDSWORTHY

IN THE EARLY HOURS OF JANUARY 11, 49 BC, Julius Caesar led the Thirteenth Legion across the Rubicon and became a rebel. The river—in reality little more than a stream, and now impossible to locate—marked the boundary between his province of Cisalpine Gaul and Italy itself. North of that line he was legally entitled to command troops. To the south he was not. Nineteen months later, while surveying the corpses of his enemies at Pharsalus, Caesar claimed, “They wanted it; even after all my great deeds I, Caius Caesar, would have been condemned, if I had not sought support from my army.”1

Caesar was more successful than any other Roman general, fighting “fifty pitched battles, the only commander to surpass Marcus Marcellus, who fought thirty-nine.”2 Yet there was an ambiguity about his reputation because many of his battles were fought against other Romans. For more than a year before crossing the Rubicon, Caesar and his opponents in the Senate had engaged in a game of brinkmanship, each in turn raising the stakes. Probably both sides expected the other to back down. There was no profound ideology involved. His opponents were determined to end Caesar's career, and he was equally resolved to preserve it. The price was a war fought all around the Mediterranean that cost tens of thousands of lives. However unreasonable his opponents had been, it was Caesar who crossed the Rubicon and started the civil war of 49–45 BC. Cicero believed that fighting this war was unnecessary and foolish, but was still scornful of Caesar's behavior: “He claims that he is doing all this to protect his dignity. How can there be any dignity where there is no honesty?”3

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