we had to describe what a dictatorship is, then we should talk about rise to power, dealing of political opponents, propaganda and cult of personality. Even though rise to power and management of political opponents may differ from one dictatorship to another, any dictator needs propaganda and a cult of his personality. In this article we will see how Julius Caesar, the first modern-dictator, managed these four elements.
Rise to Power
Julius Caesar and Pompey were the two consuls of Rome, the leaders of the Roman Republic. Caesar’s popularity started to increase while he was leading the Roman Army in Gaul. As he won the war, Pompey and the Senate ordered Caesar to return to Rome, but he didn’t. Caesar knew that the wars he had waged in Britain and Gaul were unsanctioned, and if he had returned to Rome without his army, then he would have faced a trial and would have been sentenced. So he decided to go back to Rome with his army. Caesar crossed the Rubicon River with the 13th Legion in 49 BC, and the Roman establishment had no choice but deem him as an enemy and, consequently, declare war to him.
As Caesar approached Rome, Pompey started to fear him. Pompey couldn’t count on an army as large as Caesar’s . Pompey’s soldiers were dispatched in different regions of the Roman Republic, so he needed time to gather them. The Roman establishment decided to leave Rome and to go to Greece, where Pompey would have been able to set up an army strong enough to face Caesar’s .
Even if he wasn’t a dictator yet, when Caesar reached Rome he was able to take power, at least in the city. Hence, Caesar succeeded in taking the power without fighting. When he entered Rome, the city was free from political opponents.
Even though the context is deeply different, the way in which Caesar took the power has some similarities with the way in which Mussolini took the power. Both entered Rome ready to fight and both found no opposition. The main difference is that Caesar acted in an illegal way, at least according to the Roman establishment, while Mussolini acted in a legal way, as the Italian King Vittorio Emanuele III gave him the role of Prime Minister.
Dealing with Political Opponents
Caesar succeeded in getting rid of his political opponents with the Civil War that took place between 49 and 45 BC. The war was fought by Caesar’s Army on one side and by Pompey’s Army on the other. Eventually, Caesar won and was able to take the role of Roman dictator.
Even so, Caesar failed to leave all his enemies outside his establishment. These enemies, like Brutus and Cassius, would then kill him on the Ides of March of 44 BC. No Great Purges took place under Caesar’s leadership of Rome, and this is maybe the reason why his dictatorship lasted barely a year.
Obviously, propaganda was very different back then. The main reason is the absence of the press, which is the most common means used by propaganda. A form of propaganda in Ancient Rome was the face of Caesar on coins. Another one was Caesar’s offerings to the Roman citizens. Caesar used to pay for elitist parties as well as for shows opened to common people.
Then, his writings about Gaul’s conquest helped him spreading the idea he was a great commander, both in war and peace time. These writings are extremely valuable also from a literal point of view, and they are still being studied nowadays.
Cult of Personality
Caesar tried to spread the cult of the Roman Emperor. In particular, when Caesar died he was proclaimed divine, that is a man like god, and his cult was established. Anyway, Caesar was deemed as a god also when he was alive. This belief was widespread, both the people and the Senators believed it.
We can assume that the citizen’s support for Caesar was due to the massive propaganda of that time, while we cannot be sure whether the Senators supported him because they feared him or because they believed in his divinity.
Nevertheless, nobody ever doubted about Caesar’s leadership and divinity, at least not in public. People used to fear the consequences of challenging him, and this is why from the moment in which Caesar took the power to the moment in which some political opponents killed him he never faced any real opposition.
Far from being deemed as a god, Caesar legacy is of extreme importance even today for his teachings on war strategies and political leadership. He was the first modern-dictator and his teachings were useful both for all European dictators of the 20th century and for democratic leaders to this day.
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