Sources for the life of Caesar include biographies by Suetonius and Plutarch. The latter, in a translation written by Thomas North entitled Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, was Shakespeare's source. In June of 1599 the Privy Council had issued an order forbidding the production of English History plays, some of which had been a source of political embarrassment. The Globe Theatre had opened in the early autumn of the same year and Shakespeare's new Roman history play was one of the first to be performed on the new stage.
Julius Caesar (100?-44 B.C.) was a Roman statesman and general. He made Gaul a Roman province and prepared the way for the establishment of the Roman Empire. Caesar was a man of vision and versatility. Caesar wrote commentaries on the Gallic and Civil Wars. As an orator he was excelled only by Cicero. Caesar was born into a patrician family. In 84 he married Cornelia, daughter of an enemy of the dictator Sulla. Deprived of property and rank for refusing to divorce his wife, Caesar fled Rome. He served in military campaigns in Asia and returned to Rome in 78 following Sulla's death. In Rome he plunged into politics and won favour with the populace, who elected him pontifex maximus in 63.
Following a period of valuable military experience as propraetor in Spain, he returned to Rome in 60. The Senate, influenced by Cato the Younger, refused Caesar's request to stand for the consulate, where upon Caesar refused the triumph granted to victorious generals and joined with the great general Pompey and the wealthy Crassus in the First Triumvirate. Caesar secured the consulate in 59. He was granted the governorship of Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy), Illyricum, and Transalpine Gaul (the huge territory bounded by the Mediterranean, the Pyrenees, the ocean, the Rhine River, and the Alps). The German tribes in Transalpine Gaul were on the verge of seeking mastery of the territory, and for nine years Caesar was occupied with subduing them. He also conducted inconclusive campaigns in Britain in 55 and 54. His defeat of Vercingetorix settled the fate of Gaul, which became an orderly province by 51.
In 54, however, Julia, daughter of Caesar and wife of Pompey, died. Crassus was killed in 53. In league with the Senate, Pompey worked to undermine Caesar's power. In 49 Caesar, with one legion, crossed the Rubicon, a river on the northern boundary of Italy proper. Pompey fled to the East, where he was renowned, and Caesar overran all of Italy. After subduing Pompey's lieutenants in Spain, Caesar sailed to meet Pompey. On the plain of Thessaly his hardened veterans defeated decisively Pompey's larger army. Pompey fled to Egypt, where he was murdered. In Egypt Caesar became involved in the Alexandrine War, which he successfully resolved in favour of Cleopatra. In 47 Caesar defeated Pharnaces II at Zile in Asia Minor and sent to Rome his succinct report, "Veni ,vidi, vici" (I came, I saw, I conquered). In 46 Caesar crushed the Pompeian forces that had united under Scipio in Africa. In Rome, in 46, Caesar celebrated his great triumphs and won the people with festivals, gifts, and games. In the same year he fought Pompey's sons, whom he defeated in Spain in one of his most difficult battles.
Against all Roman tradition, Caesar was made dictator for life in 44. His head appeared on Roman coins of 45 and 44, and he aspired to a monarchy. Because of public disapproval Caesar reluctantly refused the crown placed on his head by Mark Antony in February, 44. On March 15, 44, Caesar fell beneath the knives of conspirators led by Marcus Brutus and Gaius Cassius. Caesar's new government had threatened the old republican institutions. For this reason Julius Caesar was assassinated by the senatorial aristocracy.
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