Just completed Tom Holland's - 'Rubicon - The Last Years of the Roman Republic' and found it a tantalizing read, well-researched and entertaining in many places. Holland follows the the norm of most Roman historians, that Julius Caesar ended the Republic by crossing the Rubicon with his legions returning from conquest in Gaul. Yet, he takes the reader through a narrative of the other personalities involving Rome in its last Republican days, and he is not convincing in his own words that we can heap the whole demise on Caesar himself; one can read between the lines that the author of said book himself has his doubts that Rubicon was the epicenter of the Roman Republic's omega.
Unlike most antiquarian, Classical historians, Holland portrays Cicero for what he really was -
a two-faced,synchophant, class-climbing, oppurtunist, and not personally a very brave citizen no matter how many speeches he delivered in the Senate extolling Stoic and manly Roman virtutes. Cicero wasn't spawned from an 'old' Roman family, so he planned his career in kissing the reactionary optimates' arses, and they ultimately rewarded him with power and wealth. When Cicero talked up the 'Republic', he was speaking for the slaveocracy, the slum-owners, the patrician grifting class, and the Optimates' death squads that were occasionally employed in the late Roman Republic. Often Cicero the man is skirted over in Classical departments at universities and he remains a hero to this day with some of these scholars. In modern day comparisons, Cicero puts me in mind of a cross between William F. Buckley Jr and Rush Limbaugh: silver tongued, verbose and educated as is Buckley, a mealy-mouthed demagogue for the corporate Overclass as is Limbaugh.Because that's his meal-ticket. Cicero would had been a populares if he thought the silver spoon with all the power to go with it could had been attained sooner.
Cato the Younger enjoys Tom Holland's greater esteem; Cato was a Republican purist who pined for the golden age of the Roman Republic that didn't exist (except in his own mind). Cato can be respected, but not at all liked: he was a filthy rich brat from an impeccable Roman aristocratic family but he purposely dressed in a dusty black toga, often forgot to wear shoes in the Forum, and talked- up living the spartan existence as an essential Roman virtue.One is reminded of the chic, wealthy bipeds we witness today who go slumming in their attire. You know, the crowd that wears used flannel shirts with a John Deere ballcap to top off their uniform and purposely rips holes in their Jeans...and all the males have perennially a three-day beard no matter what day you see them. Cato was like the person that you read about in Weird News who lived (when not homeless )in a trailer-park, drove a dilipadated that '70's' station wagon and drank ghetto wine & beer but died in a Salvation Army Shelter with millions in the bank and in stocks and bonds(via inheritence, mostly); it was discovered post mortem that he had a degree from Harvard who snagged his Ph.D from there writing apologetics for Social Darwinism and Ricardo economics... But Cato was a True Believer, unlike Cicero. He could afford to. Cato could look like a DirtBall and preach on stoicism. Julius Caesar never could sit smug and he was born with a major strike against him.
The Julius family were old Roman patricans, but had become impoverished by the time that Gaius made his appearance on the tragic Earth crying from his mother's womb. The homestead of said Julius family was set right adjaecent to the plebian ghetto of Rome and heard, smelled and maybe felt their pain, per diem. For a talented and ambitious Roman patrician without wealth, the only ticket to sucess was political and military power.Yet Caesar did have some principles that he abided by and didn't let oppurtunism trample them(unlike Cicero). His family were from the populares faction that more or less sided with the reformer Marius - who met a gruesome end at the reactionary coup led by a patrician warlord named Sulla - the first Roman who broke the law by sending his legion into the Rome. The Sullan coup was the pre-Rubicon and in my estimation was when Rome as a Republic ceased to exist but in name only. Sulla could be compared to Augusto Pinochet: he soon sent out his death squads throughout Rome and it was reported that some three-thousand Romans, plebians and patricians alike, were dispatched to the afterlife - mostly populares partisans and Sulla's personal enemies. In late life, Sulla wrote that he regretted not assigning Julius Caesar a similar fate when he had the power to do so. In fact, he offered the young Caesar a Faustian bargain: join the optimates faction and power and glory would be his. Caesar bravely declined and remained with the populares and he always was one. This is proof that Caesar was not a single-minded oppurtunist as many historians try to paint him as.
Sulla was granted the title of dictator by the Senate to "restore the Republic". His and the Senate's idea of restoration was to undo all of the Marius economic reforms and they did so in fine fashion(like Pincochet implemented "free-market reforms" that primarily benefited the Chilean wealthy elite). The restoration was quite un-republican and Sulla ruled by his goon squads that would knife opponents, or suspected ones on Roman crossroads w/o trial. Not a peep in protest was heard from Cicero, the Great Orator of republican virtues and order . Cato did occassionally take issue with Sulla, but again, being who he was, he was untouchable and could afford to dissent. Yet, Cato handled Sulla with kid gloves in comparison to his screeching diatribes against Caesar later on.The reason was that Sulla was no threat to the patrician's monopoly on the Roman economic infrastructure; Caesar attempted to put checks on it and spread out the interests involved.
That Sulla later on voluntarily walked away and ended his dictatorship is lauded by some Classical historians that Sulla was a true republican and was earnest in its restoration. The author of Rubicon begs to differ:Sulla had a strong hedonistic streak and was quite fond of wine and had an open prediliction for drag queens. After killing off most of his opponents, accumulating great wealth for himself and his already wealthy friends, Sulla decided to retire in his opulent villa and fully steep himself in his vices, write his memories. His shadow remained over the Senate, however, and his Death Squads were always at the ready if need be. Even later when he died from cirrosis of the liver in the arms of his transvestite lover, the fear of Sulla was like a fog over the citizens of Rome that never abated.
Many people do not realize to full effect that Rome was quite already an Empire before Ceasar formed his legions and marched into Gaul at age 40, and he had solidly established himself as a politician from the populares;he was the third link in the triumvirate and fought in the Senate for the plebians, the free lower class Romans. His later reforms as dictator was not entirely a power move to get the 'mob' firmly on his side. Though Caesar was not a humanist by any wild stretch of the imagination, and probably didn't personally give a bleep about the plight of the Roman working stiff, he did think that he had an obligation being the populares that he was, and Caesar delivered. He talked the talk and also walked the walk. True, many patricians would side with the plebians only to garner useful idiots in their quest for personal power and throw them off when their objectives were realized, Gaius Julius Caesar did indeed have virtue in his political worldview. Because Caesar was true to his word to his plebian allies, this is the main reason that he was feared by the optimates like Cato and Cicero.
Tom Holland doesn't go into detail why Caesar sent his legions across the Rubicon. By then, the centrist Pompey had been turned by the optimates following the death of his beloved wife - Julius Caesar's daughter. Plus, Pompey had become jealous of Caesar's military conquests when he had always egotistically thought himself as the Alpha Male and believed Caesar as a mere protoge, not exactly his equal. Pompey had previously formed a legion of his own in the quise of putting down mob gang warfare in Rome itself which was already a violation of Senate law. Caesar was given an ultimatum when he had crossed the Alps to return to Rome: 'disband your legion now, and return to Rome in your own person.' Caesar was quite aware of history what had happened to populares reformers like Marius and summarily retorted that he would gladly comply with the Senate's ruling if Pompey would disband his own legion that was already stationed within the city limits of Rome - so would he, his legions. Besides, Sulla had crossed the line before, and so had Pompey. The Senate rudely rejected Caesar's reasonable proposal, and the die was cast.
We know the rest of the story - the Civil War the that followed the Crossing of the Rubicon and Caesar's triumph over Pompey and his optimates minions; Caesar being awarded the title of dictator by the Senate(which was in the Roman constitution, btw). He was a legal dictator, but unlike Sulla, Julius Caesar was not a tyrant. Caesar, known for his occasional cruelty on the battlefied against barbarian enemies, was overly magnanimous to his vanquished fellow Romans. He had pardoned many of his key opponents in the Civil War - including Brutus and Cicero - and was reported to have wept crocodile tears when Pompey's head was delivered to him by treacherous Egyptians that took it upon themselves to execute him(Caesar subsequently had Pompey's assasins meet the same fate). During his reign as dictator, Caesar tried to form a coalition, a harmony of interests, if you will. He tried to work chiefly with the Senate initially, but when they rebuffed him on his proposed social and economic reforms, he then installed more power to the plebian Tribal Council to do so. Certainly, there was rigged elections, corruption,bribery but Caesar didn't resort to organized Death Squads as what was the norm in the Sullan dictatorship, and he could had done so if he wished. Caesar tried to reform the Senate in putting 'new men' who got there based on their merit & loyalty, not because of their family name. The die that was cast is that the Roman patrician oligarchy was going to have checks on their power.
I concur with Parenti(though I really hate to admit it): if Caesar would had never reformed the economic plutocracy of the Optimates, they probably would had sang moonshine and roses about Julius Caesar and held him up to be the archetype of a Roman Republican. Instead, Caesar pushed through rent controls in the Roman slums( even gave a one year moratorium on rents), installed a system of public works for the idle plebians, rewarded his long suffering and loyal legionaires their own land plots in Italy. Caesar knew that the people could not live by Bread n'Circuses alone. The final nail in Caesar's coffin was when he had pushed through the Tribal Council a bill that would require the rich plantation owners to hire 15% free labor. That was a threat to the slavocracy - and the economic oligarchs acted accordingly by murdering the man who was the closest thing to a democrat that Rome had at the time. Following the Optimates propoganda campaign that Caesar was going to bring back the monarchy, they ultimately got monarchy with Ceasar's nephew Octavian/Augustus: Augustus became Emperor but kept the Senate intact nevertheless and he restored the economic oligarchy of the patrician class, undid all of his uncle's reforms. No protest from the reactionary Senators was heard then, no cries for a restoration of republican virtues and government...
Caesar didn't end the Republic - it was gone before he was even born.Most did not know so at the time. Rubicon is just a power word, a weasel phrase, and it is historically unjust by putting the blame on Caesar for the Republic's demise, just as it is for blaming Herbert Hoover for the Great Depression, Kaiser Bill for the Great War 1914-18, LBJ for the Vietnam War, and so on.
Comparions can be odious at times. Many like to compare the USA to the trials and tribulations of the Roman Republic. If they are fitting, we have to be on-guard against our own patrician rulling class & their mouthpieces today who talk about "restoration of the Republic". This is why I don't quite trust such aspiring political power personalities such as Ron Paul, though I find myself in agreement with a portion of his spiel. If the USA goes to full-blown Imperium, it will be under the blanket of republican virtues and it will be when the American Overclass feels that their monopoly on economic interest are threatened. The Night Watchman of the Republic can't afford to catch sleep during the Day, either.