Possibly the greatest commander of all time, Julius Caesar thrived on war.Born into an ancient patrician family, Caesar was nonetheless affiliated with the ple¬ beian (commoner) followers of Caius (KAI- us) Marius in his youth.
He rose swiftly in civil and religious authority, becoming Pontifex Maximus (high priest) in 63 B.C. However, his military skill was virtually unknown until 39 B.C. when he obtained the proconsulship of Cisalpine Gaul (the southern part of present- day France).
Caesar quickly aston¬ ished those who thought they had known the extent of his talents. He conducted a campaign against the Helvetii in present-day Switzerland (38 B.C.) and nearly annihilat¬ ed the tribe. Asked by some of the chieftains of south¬ ern Gaul to repel German invaders,
Caesar marched against Ariovistus and destroyed his army, pursuing the survivors to the Rhine River. Having involved himself in Gaul, Caesar slowly began to constrict the area of Free Gaul in an enormous circular vise grip. He campaigned against the Beglai (in modern- day Belgium) and sailed across the channel to Britain, where he carried out the first Roman invasion of that land.
By 52 B.C., Caesar had most of Gaul within his grasp. That same year, the Arverni chief, Vercingetorix, organ¬ ized a tribal confederacy and carried out a massive war against the Romans. Caesar escaped from several tight spots before he ended the war and captured Vercingetorix at the Siege of Alesia.
Summoned by his former political ally, Pompey (see no. 9), Caesar returned to Rome in January 49 B.C., but he did so at the head of his army. Pompey fled to Greece, where Caesar pursued him, and in 48 B.C., Caesar won a crushing victory over Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalus. Caesar pursued his foe to Egypt, where the followers of King Ptolemy XIII pre¬ sented him with the head of Pompey. Caesar is said to have wept at the sight.
Caesar then joined forces with the Egyptian princess, Cleopatra, and they defeated her brother. Leaving Cleopatra on the throne of Egypt, Caesar went to Asia Minor, where he defeat¬ ed Pharnaces, the son of Mithridates of Pontus, in five days. Caesar then stated the now-famous words, “Veni, Vidi, Vici,”or “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
Caesar returned to Rome and was greeted with tremendous acclaim. He revised the Roman calendar (based on the calendar of Egypt) and reorganized the government. He seemed nearly ready to make himself emperor of Rome when he was struck down by a group of assassins on the floor of the Senate in 44 B.C. The Roman ^Republic had come to an end, and Caesar’s nephew Octavian became the first true emperor of Rome.