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Caesar's Dictatorship Notes

Classics Notes > Roman History; 46 BC to 54 AD Notes

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Caesar's Dictatorship The dictatorship of Caesar was a fundamental turning point in Roman history; it marked the end of the Republican period and the beginning of what would eventually become the Principate under Augustus. The position of dictator was, of course, a republican one and others had held it before him without causing such radical upheaval, therefore it is important to consider what policies Caesar actually enacted, what he intended to do and finally what his attitudes were to the senate whose members assassinated him. Caesar, in his work the Bellum Civile, expresses the overall aims he wished to achieve in the dictatorship, "If he should do this everyone would put down to his sole credit the tranquillity of Italy, the peace of the provinces, the safety of the empire." These aims can be seen strongly in his policies regarding citizenship, colonization and municipalisation because Caesar saw the benefits of widening the Roman franchise extensively throughout the empire to create a broad base of power (probably more for himself rather than Rome but it had the result of doing both). He also saw the advantages of diffusing power away from Rome and putting legislative power into the hands of the individual cities of Italy, this had the effect of turning Rome from a city state power into a national one under the banner of an Italian state. The Tabula Hercacleensis, which contains the lex Julia municipalis, shows that he ended the overall supremacy of Rome and founded the Italian municipal system; independent jurisdiction was given to cities and the power to administer the law was divided into state and city jurisdiction. Men such as the Gracchi had previously sought to bring the Italians and provincials into full equality with Rome and they had achieved much on their own in the social wars but it was Caesar who began to throw down the last barriers and created a country rather than a single city. In line with this aim of bringing tranquillity to the Roman world he also began to settle large numbers of the urban populace of Rome overseas; by doing his he hoped to solve the problem of the near-exhaustion of the ager publicus and create centres of loyalty in the provinces. For example he founded the colony of Hispalis (Seville) as well as reviving the cities of Corinth and Carthage; Suetonius claims that eighty thousand people left Italy to settle abroad under the dictatorship of Caesar. The extant lex Coloniae Genetivae Juliae Ursnensis supports this as it records a decree from the dictator by which a colony was to be founded. According to its constitution freedmen could serve as magistrates (they could not in Rome) and the inhabitants were prohibited from choosing a senator or a senator's son as their patron; these elements show very clearly that his policy of colonization was a move to build political strength overseas without opposition. The colonists of these cities were Roman citizens but Caesar also sought to extend the franchise to existing colonies. For example the lex Rubria made the inhabitants of the Po river valley equal with other citizens of Italy and the Fragmentum Atestinum indicates that he intended to initiate certain changes in the duties of local magistrate in Gallia Cisalpina. All in all Caesar's policy of granting citizenship was liberal and he clearly saw it as important to enlarge the number of citizens.

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