Saturday, 6 September 2014

it happened on the way to the forum: vox populi or render unto caesar

Julius Caesar came from an ancient though impoverished and marginalised patrician family but distinguished himself by rising through the ranks of various municipal posts, civil and religious, and holding those offices for just the requisite amount of time before advancing to the next rung. Undertaking popular causes, the charismatic Caesar found much support among the disenfranchised citizens, made redundant by slave-labour and disaffected veterans, who'd earned honour and treasure for a moribund Senate who cared little for the affairs of the city beyond their own self-interests.
Once attaining the high office of counsel, the old guard began to see this upstart as a threat to their power, and the Senate installed a conservative foil as Caesar's co-counsel in order to veto those dangerous social reforms—which included again the matter of welfare (a grain dole), debt forgiveness and land re-distribution, those usual matters of business which would never pass if put to a vote—and ride out their personal annus horribilis until Caesar's term of a year came to an end. Caesar had already garnered enough enemies in the governing body who would like to see him disposed of by any means, however, there were quite a few legal-fictions at work, and for the remainder of his year-long term, Caesar was untouchable by tradition, as the holder of the office of counsel was immune from legal process—so long as he was a counsel and not just an ordinary citizen. Caesar was safe for now but knew that he faced their collected, stewing wrath at the end of his term. Finding all his political efforts blocked by the vetoes of his co-counsel, Caesar simply moved to bypass the powers of the Senate and introduced legislation to the lower houses—a plebiscite or direct-democracy. Aghast at seeing the Senate undermined, the co-counsel took another tact to lame Caesar: the office of counsel was also vested with the power of declaring the holy days for the year—that is, days on which no work is to be conducted, and as was his wont declared that the rest of the calendar year was a holiday and put the government in recess. Though a grave sacrilegious act, Caesar pressed forward with his reforms and concocted his exit-strategy to escape from prosecution. Caesar stood for the office of pro-counsel of Roman-Gaul, which the Senate gladly endorsed—probably because they believed Caesar would not survive on this savage frontier and in any case he'd be out of the city for the five year term and in lands where he could do little harm.

Not only surviving but eventually thriving in the barbaric lands to the north, the excuse to raise an army and enter into military excursions and Roman occupation of unaligned Gaul quickly presented itself—another legal-fiction, as Romans did not attack unprovoked. A Celtic tribe called the Helvetii were living in the area around Lake Geneva, and penned in by Germanic tribes on three sides were growing weary of their raids and were seeking to migrate to better territory. Rather than moving directly through hostile lands, a Helvetic delegation came to the province of Trans-Alpine Gaul, thinking surely this man that they call Kaiser will grant them safe-passage through his land. Caesar said that he would take the Helvetii's request into consider and asked them to return later, however, no sooner than they had left, Caesar had a wall built to block the mountain pass and warned other tribes of free Gaul along the Helvetii's likely path that a marauding horde would soon be coming. Caesar then magnanimously offered to protect the locals from this coming threat, which formerly Free Gaul graciously accepted. This scheme (which makes Caesar's platform of social reform in Rome seem less than altruistic and more expedient), this casus belli, did result in actual fighting, enraging the Helvetii and many of the Gallic tribes once they realised that once invited in, the Romans were here to stay, but allowed Rome to establish permanent settlements in Gaul, expanding the empire, and justified the existence of Caesar's loyal legion. We have all these details today because Caesar was also a master propagandist for his own cause and sent to Rome regular missives, reports from the front, and this is just how the Great Caesar began, with much more to follow.