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Pragmatism, Long-term Thinking, and Goal-orientation
Throughout the life of Caesar there is a consistent pattern of choosing the action that served his purpose the most as opposed to acting in a way to purposefully seek the respect or validation of others. Caesar did of course care very much about public opinion, but only for its usefulness in achieving his political goals, not because he felt the need to be popular. His goals were always prioritized above his own self-image or ego.
As a strategy during war campaigns he rarely allowed his legionnaires to loot or plunder. Doing so would give the local population a reason to dislike him and the Roman Empire. In the short-term he would profit from looting and plundering, but in the long-term it would undermine his reputation and influence. The few exceptions to this rule were when the local population had done something particularly disrespectful to challenge his authority or committed some unacceptable act against the Roman Empire. Napoleon and many other warlords would later take on the very same approach to warfare out of political reasons carried out in foreign regions.
When Caesar had gained the privilege to have his first triumph (the greatest honor in Ancient Rome) it was scheduled on the same day as the official decision of becoming an elective for consulship. Caesar tried to postpone his triumph but Cato held a filibuster speech and successfully stalled the senate in voting on the issue, thus forcing Caesar to choose between the two.
Caesar chose to forgo the triumph. It cannot have been an easy choice for a vain man. For Caesar to choose this course of action is in my opinion a clear indicator that he didn’t believe this to be his last chance for lasting glory. (I assume he had progressed a long way in his personal development since that day in his thirties when he saw the statue of Alexander the Great.)
Caesar furthered his alliance with Pompey by allowing Pompey to marry his daughter Julia. This made Caesar father in law of Pompey – which is funny because Pompey was three years older than Caesar.
After Caesar had won the civil war and become consul yet again, he withdrew money the official coffers of Rome that had been stored for the purpose of being used in the case of a Gallic invasion. Caesar claimed that he had stopped the risk of any Gallic invasion forever and so he took the money for other purposes.
Around the same time Caesar implemented a law which stated that no man was to physically own more than 15000 denares. The purpose of the law was certainly to prevent accumulation of financial capital and thus to limit the power and influence of any one citizen, and so reduce opposition to the reign of Caesar.
In the majority of cases when people spoke ill of Caesar or did wrong to him he would forgive them and try to befriend them instead. As an overarching principle he would forgive anyone once and even reward them for helping him, but be forced to punish or kill them if they consistently challenged him. There was rarely any ill will in his actions. He merely did what was required to accomplish his goals regardless of what it was: Whether it required being ruthless, as in the case of ordering a decimation or a mass executions and burning of towns, or if it was to be very friendly to people.
According to Adrian Goldsworthy it’s very hard to find evidence to support that Caesar was cruel or sadistic. He could be completely merciless and ruthless when it served his purposes, but he was never cruel for the sake of being cruel.
The historians who have speculated about the character of Caesar can largely be placed in two camps. The first camp believes that he was an incredibly ambitious man who knew exactly what to do and had intricate visions that he wanted to implement in Rome during his life. The second camp believed he was a man without formulated visions who was being led mostly by chance but who had a profound work ethic and therefore was able to accomplish a lot. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
Adrian Goldsworthy – Caesar, a Roman Colossus