In terms of political and military genius, surely none can compare to the brilliance of Gaius Julius Caesar. With glowing political ambition and the military genius needed to see it realised, Caesar revolutionalised the
Roman republic through his ability to manipulate the Cursus Honorum, his formation and manipulation of the First Triumvirate and his triumphant military conquests in Gaul; partially attributed to his inspirational leadership. All these successes lead to the conclusion that Gaius Julius Caesar truly was, to a large extent, a political and military genius.
Born into a traditional, though not wealthy, Patrician family, Caesar was influenced to achieve political success from a young age. On the one side, his family had not seen success for generations; his father making only Praetor. This gave Caesar some political guidance while filling him with ambition to succeed for family honour. On the other side however, he was related by law to Marius. Marius held consular position six years in a row and was involved in civil war with Sulla. This influence gave Caesar the thought of using illegal force to achieve his ends, and the knowledge that political success could be achieved through military accomplishments. Both these influences were to guide him in his future military and political successes.
Julius Caesar showed he was able to achieve political success from a young age. At nineteen, he openly defied Sulla, refusing to divorce his wife. This was so abrasive it caused Sulla himself to comment “There are many Marius’ in this fellow Caesar” (Suetonius, 1979, p.1). Caesar showed he had the characteristics to succeed from the moment he enrolled in the army, aged twenty. His military brilliance was such that he was awarded the civic crown, the highest honour granted to a soldier. On the way to Rhodes, he was captured by pirates. It was here his exceptional abilities were first shown. Not in the least intimidated, Caesar according to Suetonius “…had often smilingly sworn, while still in their power, that he would soon capture and crucify them; and that is exactly what he did” (Suetonius, 1979. p.15). This act was unprecedented for a private citizen, and showed his ability to use initiative and force to gain or enforce power. It also showed he had the determination, ambition and arrogance needed to achieve political and military glory.
His political genius can be easily recognised through his exploitation of the Cursus Honorum. Caesar used each position he held intelligently to further his popularity, which he correctly saw as the key to a successful political career. When elected as Quaesitor in 63BC, he went to the Po River and gained clientela by exploiting the discontent felt there due to lack of citizenship. In 65BC, when elected as Aedile, he held lavish games and amazing displays to please the crowd, spending money ‘recklessly’. He realised that huge debts could be cleared as his power grew, but he needed popularity with the people to gain power. This popularity led to his election as Pro-Praetor in 61BC. In this office he held campaigns in Spain, where he had military successes which cleared his debts, and gave him the military reputation needed to achieve further political power. It is obvious to conclude that such brilliant exploitation of each of his offices in the Cursus Honorum places him under the umbrella of ‘political genius’.
His most influential, if not clever, political endeavour was his formation and manipulation of the First Triumvirate. To reach consular position and further his political career, Caesar needed to make powerful and carefully planned alliances. He approached Pompey and Crassus, two of the most powerful men in Rome. Together they held influence over the entire state. Plutarch comments:
“A city, like a ship, can gain stability from opposed forces, which together prevent it from rocking one way or another; but now these forces were united into one and there was nothing to stop its movement of violent part interest from overthrowing everything” (Plutarch, 1974, p.206).
While Pompey and Crassus had thought only of the short term benefits, Caesar had carefully considered this alliance, and how he could manipulate it, for his long term personal gain. Through the triumvirate he had himself elected as consul. He then had his two greatest political adversaries, Cato and Cicero, removed from Rome. To do this he had a tribune elected through the power of the Triumvirate, who then had Cicero exiled and Cato sent to Crete as provincial governor. He then further used their powers to be given, at the conclusion of his consulship, a decent province, which the Senate was attempting to thwart. Caesar was aware that a good province would be necessary if he was to achieve military greatness, and thus extend his political career. Throughout his Pro-Consulship he used the Triumvirate to look after his interests back in Rome. Clearly, the insight and subtle cleverness in the formation and manipulation of the First Triumvirate adds weight to the claim of ‘political genius.’
His campaigns in Gaul are where his true military genius can be clearly seen. In Gaul, Caesar accomplished three great military feats. Firstly, he bridged the Rhine River. This proved to his German opposition that he was capable of anything, and greatly increased his armies’ mobility. Such a technological feat was unprecedented. Secondly, Caesar attacked Briton. This caused excitement in Rome as no Roman had ever had ever raided that far north before. The prestige and reputation Caesar gained was far more valuable then the monetary funds plundered. Florus believes “Caesar was satisfied with what he had done – he was after all only out to acquire a reputation, not a province…” (Williams, 1996, p.187). This shows how Caesar cleverly used his military feats to extend his political career. Thirdly, he produced the greatest siege ever attempted. Caesar had the Gaulish army, united under Vercingtorix, surrounded on an unassailable hill in Alesia. Aware that reinforcements were marching behind him, Caesar, in a stroke of brilliance, built two Forts, to protect himself in front and behind. To do this he had two trenches dug on both sides, one filled with water. He then had an array of spikes, holes, stakes and obstacles implemented in front of them to impede the armies further. At the conclusion of a dirty battle, Caesar was victor, having defeated two armies who together outnumbered him five men to one. The incredible reputation that these events gained for Caesar, as well as the money and land that Caesar gained personally and for the state, proves without a doubt that Caesar planned every event to impress and to contribute to his political career. These events proved that Caesar was undoubtedly a military genius. His military genius extends further, to his brilliance as a general. His successes in battle are largely a result of his men’s loyalty and adoration of him. Plutarch voices the opinion that “His ability to secure the affection of his men, and to get the best out of them was remarkable…” (Plutarch, p. 59). His brilliance as a leader further backs the title of ‘military genius’.
In conclusion, such deep insight into the exploitation of each political position he held, such thought and cleverness in the formation and manipulation of the First Triumvirate, his stunning military exploits in Gaul and brilliance as a leader seamlessly portray a man who can be, to a large extent, described as a ‘political and military genius’. If ever a man lived who was deserved of so prestigious a title, Gaius Julius Caesar would be that man.