He revolutionized an already formidable army and fostered loyalty from this army which was bound to him not only by money but by honour and respect. He set the foundations for the most powerful empire Europe has ever seen, survived one civil war and won another, and earned the love and admiration of his people.
Today we will not examine his military achievements, but his political ones.
Before Julius was the first of the Emperors and last of the Republicans, he was a humble aedile, a magistrate who was responsible for what was essentially the ancient equivalent of city management. They made sure the sewers were working, the temples were maintained, traffic ran smoothly, grain was properly distributed, and they also organized public games. To most, this was a mundane and undesirable job, viewed only as a pathway to a more powerful position. To Julius Caesar, however, this was not a mundane position, but an oasis of opportunity. He was a man who could see the potential in everything.
When he was told to organize a Munus Legitimum–a type of public spectacle that featured music, beast hunts, executions and gladiators–he was faced with a decision. He could do what everyone else does for the games or do something so chasmously1 different that the Senate itself was concerned for the public treasury (the treasury would have been around the equivalent of several hundred billion USD at this time).
You see, Julius proposed to have a month-long celebration under the facade of honouring his father’s death.; this was a weak guise2, as his father had died 15 years before he planned the games. It was obvious to his rivals that Julius was attempting to demonstrate his magnanimity to the public in order to curry their favour.
Julius planned to have 320 pairs of gladiators fight, 15’000 animals hunted, and several hundred criminals executed. To put this in perspective, the largest recorded Munus Legitimum that occurred before this had only 25 pairs of gladiators fight.
Julius was eventually permitted to host his games at a slightly reduced scale.
Livy, a historian who was a contemporary of Julius writes:
When he was aedile, Julius Caesar decorated not only the Comitium and the Forum with its adjacent basilicas, but the Capitoline Hill as well, and built temporary colonnades to display a part of his material3. He provided venationes and stage-plays too… Caesar also gave a gladiatorial show in addition to this, but with somewhat fewer pairs of fighters than he had planned; for the huge number he gathered from everywhere possible terrified his opponents so much that they passed a law limiting the number of gladiators which anyone was allowed to keep in Rome.
His games were so crazy that the Republic of Rome passed a law to rebuke him. Just think about that for a second.
Even early in his career, Julius was a force to be reckoned with, and people knew it.
So what could have motivated Julius to host such an elaborate and grandiloquent4 spectacle, besides assumed vanity? Julius knew that the key to ruling the nation was to have a happy population, and in order to ensure a population’s happiness, you must keep them entertained; he was setting the stage for his dictatorship years in advance.
This story proves that being a good leader doesn’t just mean being strong and intelligent; it also means keeping those you lead happy and earning their respect. As Julius would tragically prove at the end of his life, when those you lead no longer respect you, things go very, very badly.
Be respectable, be resourceful, but most of all, be a force to be reckoned with, dear Examiner.