June 5, 2018

Julius Caesar (Part 4)


Caesar Part 4 Script

  • Hello and welcome back to How to Take Over the world. This is part 4 of the life of Julius Caesar. Before we get started, I want to mention again that if you have any feedback or questions, don’t hesitate to email me at Ben@HTTOTW.com.
  • I’ll give you a quick recap of where we are at: Julius Caesar has conquered all of Gaul, which corresponds roughly to modern day France, and brought it under Roman rule. This was a major accomplishment and provided a huge new source of income to Rome. But when he gets ready to come home he finds that the Senate is anything but grateful. He was bitterly opposed by a group of senators called the optimates. The optimates were those senators who favored more power for the Roman senate and the Roman upper-classes. They hated Caesar, because he was a very powerful populist. He sought power by currying favor with the common people and middle class. The optimates held more power in the senate, so instead of preparing to treat him like the conquering hero that he was, the senate abused his supporters in government, stripped them of their power, threatened to prosecute Caesar, and treated him like an enemy of the state. 
  • They anticipate civil war, and for that reason they bring Pompey to Rome and give him command of all the Roman troops who were not directly under the command of Caesar. As a reminder, Pompey was the other great Roman general of the time. In fact he was considered by almost everyone to be a superior general to Caesar. The two had previously been close, and Pompey had even married Caesar’s daughter, but they had recently grown more distant, in part because Caesar’s daughter Julia had died in childbirth.
  • Caesar tried to reach out and come to a peaceful resolution to the crisis, but in the end was not able to do so, mostly because the optimates in the senate were not willing to compromise. They had more men, they had Pompey, and they had Rome, so they didn’t think Caesar was a serious threat. So why compromise?
  • Caesar always had a knack for doing the unexpected and knocking his opponents off balance. In this case, everyone expected him to sit back and try to defend himself in Gaul. So instead, he takes the few troops he has with him and blitzes into Italy. You’ll remember that we left off with Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon River and taking his first fateful steps on his march to Rome.
  • As his single legion marches with him into Italy they start taking town after town. This has a few effects. One is that it throws Rome into a panic. All the senators who had opposed him start running for the hills. Pompey has been given command of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, but for the most part they are located in the provinces: Spain, Greece, Asia, Syria, Africa, everywhere but Rome.
  • So Pompey and his supporters realize they have to get out of Italy before Caesar gets to them and ends the war before it even begins. Some of Pompey’s supporters, they’re called Pompeiians, argued they had to stay and fight. It would be a total disaster to evacuate Italy. I mean think about it, just a couple weeks before everyone is talking about how Caesar is this upstart rebel and Pompey is going to crush him. Now they are talking about ceding all of Italy to him. But Pompey knows there is no way he can fight Caesar so he takes his few troops and all his supporters in the senate and marches toward the coast. He wants to sail to Greece where he can meet up with some more legions who are loyal to him and the senate.
  • Caesar and Pompey both race to the port that Pompey wants to disembark from; Pompey makes it there first and is able to take off before Caesar can crush his small army. So, Pompey has escaped and will live to fight another day, but this is a major reversal for his cause.
  • We have discussed how much PR matters in war previously in this podcast. Well for Caesar this is a huge PR success. Now instead of seeming like the rebel, in many ways he seems like the legitimate ruler of Rome. If two different people were claiming to be president of the United States, one of the first questions you might ask is, “Well who sleeps in the White House?” And Caesar has changed the answer to that question almost overnight. Now he’s the one who sleeps in the White House, so to speak, because he is the one actually in Rome.
  • When Pompey takes his men to Greece, he basically takes all the military ships in Italy with him, so Caesar can’t follow. So instead of waiting around in Italy and building up his fleet, Caesar does something else unexpected. He marches his men to Spain and attacks the largest contingent of Pompeiian troops, which was located there.
  • Once in Spain, the war takes on an interesting form. Remember Romans were really good at building defensive fortifications, so both armies are quickly marching around each other trying to get the best position from which to defend. But it was extremely difficult to out-march Caesar, he always managed to move his troops extremely quickly. So eventually he manages to corner the enemy army. Pompey’s army was the larger of the two, so it wouldn’t be totally hopeless to attack Caesar, but Caesar now had the better ground and had cut off the Pompeiian army from their supplies.
  • Now what happens next is shocking, and to understand it we have to back track a little. Caesar hadn’t fought any big battles yet in this Civil War. But as he marched through Italy, he had had carried out some minor sieges. When he eventually won those sieges and overcame the city, he always did the same thing. He showed extreme clemency. He didn’t execute or imprison anyone, even if they were a relatively important member of the opposition. He simply freed the soldiers and the commanders and said “You are free to do what you will. Follow your conscience.” And many of those people that he released joined up with Pompey as soon as possible and continued to fight against Caesar. But this was excellent psychological warfare. He made himself seem like a statesman, rather than a rebel, as well as a friend to common soldiers. He made it very tempting to capitulate rather than fight him.
  • So Caesar and his enemies settle into this stalemate with opposing camps very close to each other. And since there is no fighting for a couple days, the soldiers on both sides start to wander into each other’s camps. They are all Romans and you would have many situations where men from the same home town who knew each other would be in opposing armies, so they are crossing back and forth and talking.
  • And the Pompeiian soldiers are asking, “So what do you think of this Caesar guy who you’re fighting for?”. And of course, Caesar was very popular with his troops so they are saying “He’s awesome. We love him. He pays us really well and he really cares about the soldiers. In fact, he pardons every Roman soldier who he captures.”
  • So the Pompeiian soldiers start becoming reluctant to fight. Caesar sounds like a cool guy, they are in a bad position strategically, and they know if they just surrender, they are going to be spared, whereas if they fight they might very well die in battle.
  • Caesar is encouraging this cross-talk, but one of the Pompeiian commanders sees what is going on and is dismayed. He drives Caesar’s men out of his camp, ordering his body guards to kill any of the opposing soldiers that they find. This backfires spectacularly. In a display of soldierly comradery, the common soldiers hide Caesar’s men in their tents, so they can’t be caught and killed. Over the course of a couple days, this defiance morphs into outright mutiny. The army pressures its commanders to surrender to Caesar, and they do, ending the action in Spain without a major battle ever being fought. Caesar disbands the opposing army, and many of the soldiers decide to join him.
  • In his commentaries, Caesar says, and remember, he refers to himself in the third person, “Congratulations and joy were everywhere, on one side for having escaped from such an enormously perilous situation, and on the other for having achieved such great success without shedding any blood. In everyone’s opinion Caesar was getting a huge return from the leniency he had shown[…] and his strategy was now praised by everyone.”
  • His clemency and popularity paid off big time. He has not only defeated his opponents’ largest army with no losses, he has in fact added even more soldiers to his army.
  • However, Pompey is also growing stronger by the day. He has met up with his troops in Greece, he’s adding to them Roman soldiers from Syria and Asia, as well as forces loaned from Roman allies in nearby regions. By the time Caesar returns from Spain, Pompey has built a larger army than Caesar’s, even taking into account the soldiers Caesar has just added. Additionally, he still controls the vast majority of naval vessels in the area, giving him a significant tactical advantage.
  • Caesar returns to Rome with his army and takes a few days to organize things politically in the capital. Shortly thereafter, and you’re not going to believe this, he decides on an unexpected action designed to keep his enemies off balance. He decides to cross the Adriatic and attack Pompey in Greece. No one was expecting this for four reasons: First, it was January and campaigning in winter was difficult because it was cold and there wasn’t a lot of grain to supply troops with. Second, Caesar had built up his navy a little bit, but Pompey still had way more ships, so if he tried to cross there was always the risk that he would be defeated in a naval battle and his army would drown at sea before they could even fight. Third, Caesar’s navy was only big enough to transport about a third of his army, so it would take multiple trips to get them all across the Adriatic Sea to Greece. Fourth, even if he accomplished all of this and somehow managed to get his entire army across the Adriatic Sea and managed to find a way to keep them provisioned, he would be attacking a larger army commanded by Pompey, then considered to be one of the greatest generals of all time.
  • But these were all the same reasons that Caesar did decide on an attack. His naval prospects were not going to increase in the immediate future and Pompey’s army was growing stronger in the meantime, so his choices were to either utilize the element of surprise and get as much of his army across as possible and hope for the best, or wait in Italy until Pompey gathered enough strength that he felt comfortable attacking. So Caesar rolled the dice.
  • Taking advantage of his enemies’ inattentiveness, Caesar is able to sneak the first third of his army across the sea without confronting Pompey’s navy. After that he is blockaded, and unable to unify his army for a few months. Eventually, however, through both persistence and luck, he is able to transfer the entirety of his army across the Adriatic sea to Greece. Caesar marches his troops to the port town where Pompey has his troops stationed, and there he waits. He waits for a long time. Neither side will attack, because they are evenly matched enough that both fear attacking will put them at a disadvantage.
  • Caesar comes up with a new strategy. He besieges Pompey. You’ll remember that the Roman soldiers are these great construction workers. So they build walls and trenches around Pompey’s army in this port town. This is somewhat ludicrous, as Pompey has a slightly larger army, and a much larger navy, with which he could sail his army around the “siege” at any moment. The main reason Caesar carries out this siege is not for any real tactical advantage, but as a PR move. He’s trying to collect friends and allies, and now the story he can sell is that he beat Pompey in Spain and Italy, and now has him besieged in Greece. It is a shrewd and effective tactic.
  • During this time, Pompey is able to sail in supplies while Caesar is not. Remember, one of the reasons that people didn’t campaign during the winter was that there weren’t enough food supplies. Caesar and his men survive only by talking to the locals and discovering that there is a local root plant that can be made into a disgusting but hearty bread. You would think this would demoralize the troops, but Caesar manages to turn it into a motivator. It sort of turns into a sign of their toughness and ingenuity. They heave loaves of it into Pompey’s camp to prove they aren’t starving and that they aren’t going anywhere. When Pompey himself tries the stuff he remarks that they aren’t fighting men but beasts, since only an animal could live off that kind of food.
  • The siege eventually comes to an end when two of Caesar’s commanders from Gaul betray him. They had been skimming money off their soldiers’ pay and were found out and reported to Caesar. Rather than face the inevitable punishment, they defect to Pompey. They tell Pompey about a serious weakness in Caesar’s fortifications and Pompey pounces. He attacks Caesar’s weak spot and scores a major victory. He kills nearly a thousand men. And yes, that is less than 5% of Caesar’s army but keep in mind that that is more men than Caesar lost in any battle in Gaul or any battle he had fought anywhere up to that point in his life. Casualties were hard to come by in a time period when you had to hack or stab someone to death, and 1,000 casualties was a big deal. Caesar is forced to abandon his siege and retreat with his battered army.
  • With this victory, the Pompeiians are ecstatic. They believed all along that Pompey was the superior general to Caesar. This just confirms it in their minds. They are so sure of their victory that they start making plans for when they get back to Rome. The senators in Pompey’s camp are so sure of victory, that they actually start to fight amongst themselves about who will take what positions in the new government after the war.
  • But despite their assurance that victory is near, Caesar is not too panicked. He thinks okay I got in a bad situation and lost one battle. I’m fine. Here is how he describes what happened in his commentaries. This comes from a new translation by Kurt Raaflaub and by the way I highly recommend it. Caesar says:
  • “These accomplishments increased the spirit and confidence of the Pompeians to such an extent that they were no longer thinking of how to win the war but instead were presuming that they had won already. They did not pause to consider significant factors, such as the numerical inferiority of our troops [or] the treacherous battleground(…) nor did they bear in mind the dynamics that commonly affect warfare: how tiny causes such as an error in assumptions, sudden fear, or religious concern have often resulted in major disasters, or how often as well, when a failure occurred in an army, the cause was a mistake by the commander or the fault of a tribune. The Pompeians, on the contrary, behaved as if their virtue had gained them this victory and no reversal could possibly happen: they jubilantly announced all over the world, through letters and word of mouth, the news of that day’s victory.”
  • Caesar is making a crucial point. The Pompeians are chalking up their recent victory up to the superiority of their commander and army. But Caesar is saying they got a tiny advantage and scored a victory off it, but it doesn’t mean that much. They are getting ahead of themselves.
  • Here is how Caesar handles the situation. This is again from the Kurt Raaflaub translation of Caesar’s commentaries:
  • “Caesar was now forced to abandon his previous plans and believed that he needed to change his entire strategy for this war. Accordingly, he simultaneously withdrew his troops from all their fortified positions, thus ending the siege. He gathered his entire army in one place and addressed the troops in assembly, urging them not to be discouraged by what had happened: they should neither be frightened by their present experience nor consider this single setback – which, at any rate, was relatively minor – as equivalent to their many successful battles. They should be grateful to Fortune that they had captured Italy without suffering some losses; and that they had pacified the two provinces of Spain, homes of superbly fierce fighters, by defeating greatly experienced and practiced generals... Finally, they should recall their great good luck when they all had been transported unharmed straight through the enemy fleets.”
  • If not all things turned out to be successful, they ought to come to Fortune’s aid with their own efforts… whether it was their own confusion, or some error, or even that Fortune had intervened to take away [their] victory[…], they all should now devote themselves to overcoming with their bravery the damage that had been suffered. If this was done, it would certainly happen that this reversal would turn into a gain – as had been the case at Gergovia – and that those who earlier had been afraid to fight would of their own accord offer themselves for a battle.”
  • Okay so Caesar makes some really great points. And he brings up their experience in Gaul where he was defeated at Gergovia only to achieve the defining victory of the war immediately thereafter at Alesia. It must have been very reassuring to his soldiers to remember that they had been in a similar situation previously and it had ended in victory.
  • And he was right that after this victory the Pompeiians would finally be willing to fight them in an even battle. Caesar retreats a little way to get more supplies, and they sack a few lightly guarded enemy-held towns, which is good for morale because it gives his men a few cheap victories and restores the confidence of some of the greener troops.
  • Soon enough the Pompeiians catch up with Caesar, and the armies prepare to do battle near a Greek town called Pharsalus. The armies line up and the Pompeiians outnumber Caesar’s troops almost 2 to 1 at this point. Since Caesar’s legions are more experienced, it’s considered to be a draw in terms of infantry, but Pompey has a huge advantage in cavalry.
  • Pompey develops a plan that his infantry will wait for Caesar’s to attack, and then defend and hold them in place while his cavalry go around Caesar’s right flank, defeat Caesar’s cavalry, and then proceed to attack Caesar’s infantry from the side and back. Caesar sniffs out this strategy, so he comes up with a counterplan. He takes his very best soldiers and forms a secret reserve behind his main forces. These guys are like the Navy SEALs of the Roman army. When Pompey attacks with his cavalry, Caesar will have his cavalry pull back, and then have this secret reserve attack and defeat the Pompeiian cavalry. This is exactly how the battle plays out, and Pompey’s army is dismayed to see that the attack that was supposed to win them the battle is completely foiled. Not only that, but Caesar’s secret elite reserve proceeds to attack the now exposed flank of the Pompeiian army.
  • This quickly sends the Pompeiians running for their lives. Pompey himself flees the battle. At the end of the day, Pompey has suffered 15,000 men dead and 20,000 captured compared to Caesar’s 200 dead. Pompey’s army is completely destroyed. 
  • This was the most spectacular victory of Caesar’s career, and it is worth taking a moment to dissect how he did it. We see this interesting pattern again and again in Caesar’s career where his greatest victories come immediately after significant defeats.
  • There is a quote from Winston Churchill “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” And I think that gets at the genius of Caesar. He had grit and perseverance. He didn’t take victories for granted, and he kept calm in the face of defeat. 
  • It’s so easy to lose your head after a defeat. That’s why even an experienced general like Pompey did it. He should have stayed with his men, organized a retreat, kept together what he could, and fought on like Caesar just had. Instead he gave up and ran away. We all like to think we would act like Caesar, but as Mike Tyson so poetically put it, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” There is actually a second half, he said “then, like a rat, they stop in fear and freeze.” Not freezing but instead keeping a cool head and regrouping must be a really tough skill. Pompey was one of the great generals of his age, someone who won multiple wars in spectacular fashion and really was pretty evenly matched when he went head to head with Caesar, and even he couldn’t keep his head after getting punched in the mouth.
  • So how do we do it? There is a lot to be said on the subject, and I’m not sure I have a really great answer, but I will just point out one thing. And that is that Caesar kind of did lose his head the first time he got punched in the mouth. When he lost at Gergovia in Gaul, he made a number of mistakes. Luckily for him, his opponents became over-confident and made even worse errors, which allowed him to regroup and regain victory at Alesia, but he kind of lost his cool for a while. I think no matter how well you prepare, the first time you experience a major failure, it is going to be a major shock and you are probably going to freeze or in some other way respond poorly.
  • One of the best things you can do is get used to failure and learn how to respond by experience. If you do this in a low stakes environment, you will be better prepared to handle failure in a high stakes environment. One way to do this is with a failure goal. I learned about this when I was doing door-to-door work. Anyone who has worked in sales knows that rejection is a part of life that you try to get used to, but never fully do. But by actually setting a goal for how many times you will get rejected, you flip your psychology and instead of avoiding failure, you seek it out. If you are doing door-to-door sales you might set a goal of getting rejected 200 times in a day. Of course, you don’t really want to fail, you’d rather that every time you made a sales-call it turned out successfully, but the exercise helps you get the courage to put yourself out there more, and also gives you more experience dealing with failure. That experience can help you deal with failure more effectively when you confront it in a high-stakes environment. The fact that Caesar had previously had the experience of dealing with a significant failure in Gaul and coming back from it, allowed him to do so again and in an even more effective manner against Pompey.
  • Well, as I said, after the battle Pompey flees. He is without an army, and he becomes a refugee on the run.
  • Caesar starts chasing him across the Eastern Mediterranean until Pompey gets to the city of Alexandria in Egypt. The local rulers there welcome Pompey and offer him shelter but the second he gets ashore they kill him. They saw that Caesar was winning and they wanted to score some points with the man who was surely soon to be the undisputed ruler of Rome, so they kill Pompey and present Caesar with his head.
  • But Caesar is actually very upset. He didn’t want to kill Pompey, he wanted to keep him alive in order to be acknowledged by him. That would convey much more legitimacy and prestige back in Rome. Additionally, Caesar never had personal antipathy for Pompey. He always liked him and believed that they could work out their differences if they could just sit down and talk it out. The Alexandrians deprived him of that opportunity.
  • With Pompey’s death, the war doesn’t completely end, some of his generals hold out in Africa and Spain, but the nature of it completely changes. Previously, most people really thought Pompey represented the legitimate Roman government and Caesar was the insurgent. Now, Caesar took his place as the ruler of Rome, and Pompey’s hold-out generals were the undisputed rebels.
  • Caesar does not immediately leave Egypt. For a number of reasons, not least of which because he is mad at the ruling family for killing Pompey, he decides to start a war in Egypt to replace the ruling king. The woman he supports is the king’s sister, a woman by the name of Cleopatra. After they are victorious, Caesar has an affair with Cleopatra, and she bares his son, a boy she calls Caesarion, meaning little Caesar.
  • Immediately after winning the war in Egypt, before returning to Rome, Caesar travells up the coast of the Eastern Mediterranean, settling affairs there and putting down rebellions started by rulers who had tried to take advantage of the chaos of the Roman civil war and declare independence. After putting down the most significant of these rebellions in quick and decisive fashion, Caesar wrote back his shortest and most famous war report: “Veni. Vidi. Vici.” I came. I saw. I conquered.
  • I’m going to take a cue from Caesar and be similarly brief in my description of the end of the civil war. Caesar returned to Italy where he gave up his dictatorship, was elected consul, and settled many of the affairs of government.
  • As he did this, there was still a cloud hanging over his rule. Some of Pompey’s most ardent supporters were still refusing to give in and gathering strength in Africa, in the area that is modern day Tunisia. They had a relatively impressive army and were already launching raids on Sicily and Sardinia. Caesar needed to deal with this rebellion before it metastasized and became even more dangerous. I won’t spend much time on the African campaign because by this point it will be so repetitive. Caesar had a very distinct style. Listen to this description of the African campaign: He launched off with the troops he had before his army was fully ready, carried out an aggressive and highly mobile campaign, suffered a minor defeat after which he kept a cool head and successfully regrouped his men, and then finished with a crushing decisive victory. It sounds exactly his wars in Greece and Gaul, right? A few enemy commanders escaped to Spain, but for the moment, victory was complete.
  • Caesar returned back to Rome shortly before his 54th birthday, in 46 BC. When he returned from Africa, Caesar was given the greatest celebration in Roman history. If you can remember way back to the first episode in this series about Caesar, he had to choose between standing for election as consul and celebrating a triumph. A triumph was the literal crowning achievement for any Roman, the most glorious honor you could receive. The whole city was shut down and a celebration was held in your honor. You marched through the streets, showing off the spoils of war you had accumulated in your travels. Now Caesar was to receive a triumph celebrating his victories in Gaul, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Africa. He made a big deal of the fact that he was a world conqueror, having achieved major victories on all three continents. Caesar rode in a chariot drawn by white horses, behind him was a seemingly endless caravan of carts and wagons overflowing with gold and silver. These were then followed by famous captives and slaves, such as Vercingetorix. Caesar’s victorious soldiers were also allowed to march in the procession, to receive their share of the glory and sing inappropriate songs about their commander. The triumphal parade was followed by banquets, feasts, and gladiatorial games for days on end.
  • Once the celebrating was over, Caesar was named dictator for the space of 10 years. Dictator did not then have the same negative connotation that it does today. Dictator was a legitimate role in the Roman government. It was a temporary appointment that was only supposed to be used in cases of extreme emergency when Rome itself was under threat. A dictator was typically appointed for one year or at most two, and the fact that Caesar was going to be named dictator for ten years evidenced that this was not an emergency appointment, but a fundamental shift in the balance of power of Roman government.
  • However, Caesar did not dismiss the senate, and still relied on the various branches of Roman government to carry out their functions, at least in form. In other ways, Caesar was building himself up as a larger-than-life figure. A statue was built of him straddling the world, and he offered pronouncements such as “Men ought to speak to me more courteously and treat my word as law.”
  • He used this newfound power to enact a number of revolutionary reforms. He conducted a census of the city, and cut down on bogus welfare claims, increased the size of the senate, banned clubs and guilds, granted citizenship to foreign-born teachers and physicians, reformed the calendar, enforced anti-corruption laws against guilty nobles, drafted plans for large scale public works, reduced the number of slaves, granted citizenship to residents of Northern Italy, and established new over-seas colonies of Roman citizens.
  • However, even as he carried out these impressive reforms, the remaining Pompeians were raising troops in Spain and threatening to revive the Civil War.
  • Caesar raised an army and marched them to Spain to stamp out the last remaining sparks of the rebellion and faced a tough resistance. He faced his last major battle of the Civil War near the city of Munda. It was actually a very close battle, and at one point Caesar had to fight for his life. However, in the end, Caesar and his forces prevailed in a bloody affair with thousands of casualties on both sides. This was the last gasp of the Pompeian rebellion. After five years of fighting across three continents, the rebellion was over. There were many who still held grudges against Caesar and were unhappy that he would be ruling, but five years of civil war had left everyone exhausted, and no one cared to keep up the fighting.
  • Caesar finally returned to Rome to enjoy peace for the first time in decades. Seemingly every senator tripped over themselves to bestow Caesar with more honors than the last. He was given the titles of liberator and imperator, was given a golden chair to sit on when conducting official business, the month of his birth was renamed Julius in his honor, which is why the seventh month of our calendar is to this day called July.
  • He was allowed to wear costumes that harkened back to those of the early Roman kings, was proclaimed the Father of Rome, was made consul for ten years, and declared dictator for life.
  • A god-like cult began to pop up around him as well. A statue of him was carried in a procession of the gods of Rome. The Roman senate established a new cult to Caesar. He was even given an image next to Romulus, the legendary founder and first king of Rome, with the inscription “to the unconquered god.”
  • Despite all of these honors, Caesar did not have himself declared king, though he did flirt with the idea. Roman tradition had been firmly against rule by a king for hundreds of years, and popular sentiment was too overwhelmingly against it to make it a realistic plan.
  • At this time, plots against Caesar’s life were everywhere. The would-be conspirators and assassins had many reasons for plotting against Caesar. In modern times we tend to see Caesar’s assassins as revolutionary republicans who were reacting against monarchy. But this is to see an ancient event through a modern lens. His conspirators had many motivations, and they came from different ideological circles. The one thing they all held in common, was resentment that Caesar stood at the top of the political totem pole. Remember, for an aristocratic Roman, the purpose of life was to accumulate as much political power as possible. You were trying to enhance your auctoritas. 
  • Well, with Caesar indefinitely at the top of the food chain, there was only so much auctoritas to be had. They lived to play a specific game, and Caesar had ended the game and named himself the permanent victor. The assassins killed him not because of some commitment to democratic ideals, but from a desire to be allowed to continue to play their game.
  • The stories and legends surrounding Caesar’s death are mostly too good to be true. They are also too good to pass up telling. Supposedly, a number of omens portended Caesar’s death. However, Caesar did not heed them. He had succumbed to the most human of sins, hubris, and believed that he was too popular and too vital to Rome to be assassinated. He even dismissed his personal body guard.
  • According to the stories, an old prophetess, Spurinna, told Caesar that he would be in grave danger on the ides of March, the ides being the day falling in the middle of the month, the 15th in the case of March. On the morning of the 15th, supposedly Caesar awoke to find his wife in a panic. She had experienced horrible nightmares in which she held Caesar’s lifeless body in her arms. She pleaded with him to not meet with the senate that day, but he disregarded her advice. On the way to the Senate he saw the old witch Spurinna and gently mocked her that the Ides of March had come and he was still alive. She responded “Yes, the Ides have come, but not yet passed.”
  • Caesar took his customary seat at the front of the senate, and began to conduct business in his usual fashion. A senator named Tullius Cimber approached Caesar, and begged him on his knees to pardon his brother who had been exiled. He pulled on Caesar’s cloak, and this was the sign for the assassins to spring into action. The first senator to reach Caesar was a man named Casca, who was so nervous that his blow barely glanced Caesar’s neck. Caesar, not fully realizing what was happening, yelled “Casca, you villain! What are you doing!” stabbed him in the arm with his writing implement, and threw him off the podium. Soon many conspirators started surrounding Caesar and stabbing him with knives they had brought concealed into the senate. Caesar was stabbed 23 times. He continued to struggle and attempt to fight off his assassins, but eventually the loss of blood made him falter. Some said he died silently, but according to others, his last words were to Brutus, the son of his long-time mistress and friend, Servilia. He said, “Kai su, teknon?” which is Greek for “even you, my child?” It was this sentence that Shakespeare changed slightly and put in Latin, to read “Et tu, Brute?” And with that, Caesar pulled his toga over his face, and bled to death.
  • I won’t spend long on Caesar’s legacy. There is so much to say about whether he really ended the Roman Republic and what might have happened to Rome if he had not come onto the scene. Instead, let’s do what this podcast was meant for and focus on what made him great.
  • The first thing that I will mention is the number one attribute of greatness. There are many things that go into greatness: intelligence, focus, charisma… But asI have studied these biographies, one attribute has stood out even more than those: Energy. All these people who accomplish great things have an unbelievable amount of energy. Others are always marveling at their level of activity.
  • There is some interesting research about this: If you look at creative people such as authors, poets, painters, and composers, there is a positive correlation between quantity and quality. Studies have shown that those who produce the best works, also produce the most. Mozart and Bach were unmatched in the sheer volume of their creative output, and they were also two of the greatest composers of all time, if not the greatest.
  • Caesar too had this boundless energy. You can look at many parts of his biography and find him commanding a war, writing a book, corresponding with Rome to keep up his political prospects there, and carrying out a few other important activities for good measure. Activity and energy were key to his success.
  • The second thing I will mention is communication. Caesar was probably the greatest communicator of his era, both in quality and volume. He was an excellent orator and writer. He had an uncanny ability to sway and convince people, and was equally adept at charming aristocrats and peasants. 
  • He was also a compulsive letter writer who was always keeping in communication with everyone. It is so annoying when you are at a dinner or in a meeting with an executive who won’t stop emailing on their iPhone, but they might be onto something. The crowds at gladiatorial matches used to get mad because Caesar would dictate letters while the matches were being fought.
  • Humans are the most powerful species on the planet because we can communicate and coordinate our actions. The most powerful humans will never be the strongest, fastest, or even the smartest, they will always be those who can coordinate others the best. The conductor is more powerful than the first violin. The email addicts will inherit the earth.
  • Third, Caesar was a long-term thinker. Remember he always knew his goal was to become the first man in Rome. He gave up his triumph, the greatest lifetime achievement award a Roman could expect to receive, in order to run for consul, because he knew that one triumph was not his goal. And as a consequence, he eventually got to celebrate five triumphs and achieve his goal of becoming first man in Rome. Think of how that might have been different if he had taken the immediate gratification of celebrating his first triumph.
  • You also see this in his decision to free his captured enemies during the civil war rather than execute them. In the short term, this mean more enemies fighting against him. And that is why his enemies repeatedly mistreated and executed Caesar’s soldiers. But in the long run, Caesar was making it easy for people to defect to his side and his enemies were making it difficult for people to defect to theirs.
  • You can accomplish so much just by expanding your timeline longer than other people. You can beat people who are smarter, or faster, or better funded, just by taking a longer-term view. There is the classic example where if you delay retirement savings by 5 years, you have to save about 50% more EVERY YEAR until retirement in order to have the same amount of money at the end. Expanding your time horizon and having a goal that you stick to over a long period of time is an incredibly effective tool for success, and you see that play out in Caesar’s career.
  • The last thing I’ll mention is Caesar’s bond with his soldiers. They absolutely loved him. In large part, this was because he understood them. Caesar grew up in a middle-lower class neighborhood. When on campaign, he often shared their food, slept in the same accommodations as them, marched with them rather than riding a horse, and spoke directly to common soldiers rather than only communicating with fellow-officers. These shared circumstances created a bond, and allowed Caesar to be able to understand and relate to his soldiers. People can sniff out “fake” very quickly. For Caesar it was crucial that this bond was not an act. He truly respected and valued his soldiers.
  • Compare this to his senatorial career. Between Gaul and the Civil War, he was not a common senator for nearly 20 years. He forgot what it was like to be a senator. He forgot what motivated them, what was important to them, and he stopped respecting them. Eventually, this lack of connection ended in conspiracy and assassination.
  • There is a danger in leaders getting too far from the common troops. You can’t forget what your sales people or your engineers, or your operators, or your low-level associates go through on a regular basis. I worked for a technology company that created a technology platform for large conferences and events. We had a really good CEO, and one reason why is he would consistently show up to shows to see how his technology was actually working. He would also go along on sales calls to see how those were going. That is what effective leadership looks like. It’s not only the strategic planning meetings, it is understanding the lowest and most basic level of your organization.
  • There are of course many other things to learn from Caesar’s life. I mentioned some of the other ones in other episodes in this series, but I hope you were able to draw some of your own conclusions as you listened to his story. Julius Caesar truly was one of the most significant men of all time. His actions still reverberate in the world, more than 2,000 years later. He truly is a great example of how to leave a legacy. I hope you have learned as much from his life as I have. Until next time, thanks for listening to How to Take Over the World.

About Episode

The final episode finishes off the legacy of one of the most significant men of all time. His actions still reverberate in the world, more than 2,000 years later. He truly is a great example of how to leave a legacy.

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