Caesar’s Republican Rhetoric and the Veils of Autocracy

Author: Batstone, William W.
Title: Caesar’s Republican Rhetoric and the Veils of Autocracy
Review/Collection: in: Urso, G. (a cura di), Patria diversis gentibus una? Unità politica e identità etniche nell’Italia antica. Atti del convegno internazionale, Cividale del Friuli, 20-22 settembre 2007 (I convegni della Fondazione Niccolò Canussio, 7)
Place edition: Pisa
Editor: Edizioni ETS
Year edition: 2008
Pages: 181-206
Keywords: Histoire - Storia - History, Politique - Politica - Politics
Description: [Abstract] The competition between Caesar and Pompey that resulted in the civil war was a natural outcome of republican competition. It was encouraged and waged in the terms of the republic. Only hindsight makes it the paradigm shifting event that meant the end of the Republic.
The virtues that Cicero extols in his speech on Pompey’s command are, to a large extent, the same virtues that Caesar displays in both the Gallic War and the Civil War. Caesar’s celeritas, consilium, self-restraint, and humanitas takes Pompey as the model and defeat him in exactly those areas. Not only does Caesarian speed become the essense of speed as Caesar travels south in 49, but his consilium had already required two legions south of the Alps before the end of 50. And it is consilium that fails Pompey in his final scene. But more important than the qualities of a good general, already in 66 the result of Pompey’s military expertise and experience places civile bellum at the head of the list of wars that qualify him for an extraordinary command. These were wars that increased "the glory and dignity of the empire" (11) and secured the safety of Rome. The competition to be primus, optimus, maximus joined the gloria Cn. Pompei and gloria nominis vestri, one man’s divinum consilium ac singularis virtus and the fortunae plurimorum civium coniunctae cum re publica (19).
In 56 when Cicero spoke about the consular provinces we find Caesar now associated with these terms of praise. His fides, virtus, and felicitas is what governs Gaul; he brings laws, rights and peace to Gaul. This accrues to the glory of Rome, the extension and safety of her empire, and fires Cicero with a great love for his country. Caesar’s personal glory and Rome’s safety are inextricably tied. But, more ominous, is the echoing assertion of Caesar’s dignitas. His dignitas, more than the safety of the republic, demanded a prolonged supplicatio; his dignitas required more than was sufficient for the gods. Cicero knew Caesar’s return would inevitably be to his glory and triumph, to the honors of the Senate, to the love of the people (29). He seems to know, too, that Caesar was no Scipio, despite the presence of another Cato: he warns against the evil of diminishing the glory and honor of men eager to conduct the affairs of the Republic (35).
Similarly, The Gallic War presents Caesar as the coming of Rome, her history, her laws, her social structure, her virtues. Enemies are defeated both by the Roman army and their own failures in fides, virtus, self-restraint. The good Gauls are noble; the enemies of Rome are demagogues. When violence harms the workings of clientela among the Aedui and Sequani, Caesar sets their state in order. He Romanizes, which is to say civilizes, the world: this is glory and the safety of the Republic, this is the conjunction of Caesar’s glory and Rome’s safety. The Civil War is of a piece with this rhetoric. Now, however, Pompey displays many of the weaknesses of Caesar’s opponents in Gaul: he is quick to believe rumors; he misjudges his strength; he is cruel, irrational, petty, abusive, devious. Furthermore, his actions destroy good government at Rome, both in terms of equity and in terms of constitutional legality. He and his cronies replace res publica with their own personal interests, res privata. Now it is Caesar’s speed and Caesar’s consilium, Caesar’s temperance and his humanitas, Caesar’s patience and Caesar’s money that defeat the barbarian. This final scene of book 1 after the battle at Ilerda finds Caesar administering justice, bringing peace and law and Roman values to the war. As Caesar put bellum civile on his resume, he was continuing a republican tradition, one in which competition justified egregious power by identifying victory with the state, one that sought publica auctoritas forprivato consilio, one that fought for and protected res publica, and in so doing brought the republic to an end.
Author initials: Batstone 2008