Caesar As Dictator: His Impact on the City of Rome

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by Steven Fife
published on 18 January 2012

During his reign as dictator from 49-44 BC, Julius Caesar had a number of notable impacts on the city of Rome.

One of the initial crises with which Caesar had to deal was widespread debt in Rome, especially after the outbreak of civil war when lenders demanded repayment of loans and real estate values collapsed. The result was a serious shortage of coinage in circulation as people hoarded whatever they had. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Caesar ordered that property must be accepted for repayment at its pre-war value. He also reinstated a previous law which forbade the holding of more than 60,000 sesterces in cash by any one person. Caesar later cancelled all interest payments due since the beginning of 49 BC and permitted tenants to pay no rent for one year. While these measures still did not eliminate Rome’s debt, Caesar’s creative reaction to the problem helped to alleviate the debt in a way that satisfied both lenders and borrowers.

In addition to debt, Caesar had to deal with widespread unemployment in Rome. As a way to reduce the unemployment, the poor were offered a new life in Rome’s overseas colonies. Those who stayed behind and depended on a monthly supply of free grain suffered when Caesar cut the grain rations in half, limiting the number of receivers to 150,000 when 320,000 had been collecting them. Caesar did, however, arrange for better supervision of the city’s grain supply, and he also helped to improve access to grain from overseas by constructing a new harbour at Ostia and a new canal from Tarracina.

The construction of new public buildings also served as a method of reducing unemployment in the city, but there was another motivation for building major projects in Rome: Caesar wanted to enhance the city’s appearance after he realized how unimpressive Rome seemed in comparison to Alexandria, which was considered the greatest city of the Mediterranean. As a result, the Forum Julium was built to provide more space for lawcourts, and the Saepta Julia, situated on the Campus Martius, provided a large enclosure for voting. Caesar also ordered the construction of a new senate house after the previous one was used as Clodius’s funeral pyre in 52 BC. Additionally, he sought to divert the Tiber River away from Rome to prevent flooding and to add to the city’s area. He had also planned to build a grand temple of Mars, a theatre that would rival Pompey’s, and a library that would rival Alexandria’s. Caesar never saw any of the latter projects completed, however, as he was killed in 44 BC before any of them were finished.

Caesar’s impact on the city of Rome continued even after his death when, in his will, he stipulated that his villa, the gardens surrounding it, and his art gallery all be made public. He also distributed his wealth to the people of Rome, leaving 300,000 sesterces to each citizen. Overall, Caesar sought to make Rome a cultural and educational centre of the Mediterranean world by attracting intellectuals, doctors, and lawyers to the city. Indeed, the actions that he took over his time in power showed his devotion to Rome and his wish to bring stability and prosperity to the city.

Written by , published on under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms.

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