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Gaius Julius Caesar (c.100 - 44 BC) was born - according to legend by Caesarean section - to a noble family. His father was a praetor, a mid-level functionary in the Republic. His family was respected, but not especially rich or influential.
After achieving early success as a soldier and diplomat, Caesar was elected to the Senate, where he gave his support to Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey the Great), who with Caesar's help was given command of the war against King Mithridates. He spoke at funerals, including the one of his wife, Cornelia, dazzling the crowds with his oratory skill and personal magnetism. He spent lavishly on games to win popular support.
In 60 BC, at the age of 40, Caesar entered into an alliance with Pompey and Crassus, two very important and influential men of Rome. He agreed to support their aims if they, in turn, would help him get elected to the consulship of Rome (at the time, Rome was ruled by two consuls, each elected for one-year terms). Upon being elected, Caesar pushed through measures that helped the other two men achieve their goals. At the end of his term, he strong-armed the Assembly into giving him a five-year term as the powerful proconsul of Gaul, and thus leader of a large portion of Rome's best troops.
Caesar was to remain in the field of battle for the next nine years. During that time he conquered most of what is now Central Europe, adding "great general" to his already formidable reputation. During his absence, however, Crassus died in battle against the Parthians, and Pompey took sole control of Rome. Worse, Pompey was siding with Caesar's enemies, the Optimates. When Caesar was informed that the Optimates intended to prosecute him for his illegal actions in forcing the Assembly to give him the Gaul proconsul, he broke relations with Pompey.
Having earned his legions' firm loyalty and support, in 49 BC Caesar led them "across the Rubicon" and to Rome. Most of Pompey's legions at the time were in Spain, so he and the Senate abandoned the city to Caesar's legions. In a lightning campaign, Caesar destroyed Pompey's Spanish troops before his enemy could consolidate his forces, and Pompey retreated to Greece, where there remained forces still loyal to him. Caesar pursued as quickly as possible.
The two armies met on the plains of Pharasulus, with Pompey's army outnumbering Caesar's by more than two-to-one. Despite the odds, Caesar was victorious, his brilliant generalship making up for his disadvantage in numbers. Pompey fled the field, and shortly thereafter was betrayed and murdered by the Egyptians. Now undisputed ruler of Rome, Caesar went to Egypt, where he set his lover Cleopatra upon the throne after a short but bitter fight.
Back in Rome, Caesar began an extensive program of reforms. His actions greatly improved life for the average citizen, but angered the aristocracy, the remnants of the Optimate party.
In February of 44 BC, the puppet Senate voted Caesar "dictator perpetuus," or dictator for life. For the first time he began wearing purple garb, a color associated at that time with kings and emperors. Further, he allowed his statues to be adorned like the statues of the gods. On March 15, Caesar was murdered, stabbed at least 23 times by a coalition of aristocrats and senators.
"Crossing the Rubicon," referring to Caesar's fateful march on Rome, is used in modern English to refer to passing a point of no return.
Brutus, the organizer of Caesar's murder on the floor of the Senate, was actually a close personal friend of Caesar.
After his death, Caesar was deified by his nephew, Augustus.