Mary Beard is on a mission to uncover the real Julius Caesar, and to challenge public perception, exploring Caesar's surprising legacy.
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He is perhaps the most famous ancient Roman of them all.
When his name is mentioned, we think of power, victory, and betrayal.
Julius Caesar changed his own world in unimaginable ways,
and he's left a pretty big mark on ours.
Julius Caesar, as the story goes, was born by C-section.
The C in C-section is actually short for Caesarean.
The whole story's almost certainly a myth,
but out of the millions of mums who give birth this way,
very few realise that the whole procedure
is named after Julius Caesar, the most famous,
probably most notorious ancient Roman of the lot of them.
There you are! Gosh!
The name "Caesarean section"
is just one of the many ways Julius Caesar is still with us.
I'm going to find out how and why.
I'm about to come face-to-face with Julius Caesar.
Caesar was never called Emperor of Rome
but, in a way, he was the first one,
and he took all the powers that the emperors had
over the next hundreds of years.
And his impact has lasted a lot longer than that.
This old Roman is still part of our everyday language.
For the first time, we went across the Rubicon.
He has given us some wonderfully grabby Latin phrases.
Veni, vidi, vici.
I came, I saw, I conquered!
Getting that punch and simplicity
that still marks the modern political sound bite.
Yes, we can!
Take back control!
Make America great again!
I will track down the evidence
to show how Julius Caesar rose to the top...
We call it conquest but it was really genocide.
..uncover his tricks of the trade...
Like countless men over the last 2,000 years,
he became a master of the comb-over.
..and reveal how our modern leaders,
from dictators to elected politicians,
have used tactics and methods he first perfected 2,000 years ago.
-Hail, Caesar! Come on! ALL:
A city where loads of people still come
to catch a glimpse of a lost world.
And one Roman stars in more selfies than any other.
A conqueror, a populist leader, the biggest power-grabber of the lot.
The man who turned Rome from a democracy into a dictatorship.
And he would no doubt be thrilled to know that we still recognise him,
2,000 years later.
Can you tell me who this guy is?
Yeah, that's Julius Caesar.
-That is Julius Caesar.
LAUGHING: It is.
But how much do we really know about him?
Can you tell me anything that happened to him?
It's been a long time since I was at school.
Do you know?
Emperor of Rome?
He was the boyfriend of Cleopatra?
He was indeed.
I know that he came over here for a certain reason.
He wasn't meant to cross the river!
-Did he come to a good end?
-No, he came to a bad end.
And I can't remember why.
Was he stabbed? Was he assassinated?
Didn't his...brother... kill him, or something?
He was murdered.
He took it in the neck.
As they say.
I guess we have to start with a spoiler,
because if there's one thing most of us half-remember
about Julius Caesar, it's the ending.
So, if you don't want to know the result, look away now.
It was the 15th of March, 44 BC.
And, according to contemporary accounts,
Julius Caesar was going to work.
Very little of Caesar's Rome still exists,
but we can get a glimpse of the ruins of the Senate house,
the building where he died.
When he gets to where the Senate is meeting, somewhere around here,
everybody's chatting and gossiping until Caesar takes his seat.
At that point, one of his friends,
apparently wanting to ask him a favour,
goes over to his chair and pulls on his toga.
That's the signal.
Suddenly, 20 or more of them -
friends, colleagues, politicians - surround him.
Out come their daggers, and everyone has a go!
Into Caesar's face, his thighs, his chest.
Caesar fights back with the only weapon he's got.
It was his pen, and it's hopeless.
There's mess and panic everywhere, and everybody scarpers.
That's what everybody knows about Julius Caesar -
he gets killed.
He wasn't the only famous Roman to meet a bloody end,
but no other has captured our imagination in quite the same way.
The scene of Caesar's murder has been immortalised
in hundreds of paintings
and in William Shakespeare's tragedy, Julius Caesar.
It was in fact Shakespeare
who coined the famous phrase, "Et tu, Brute?" -
"You too, Brutus?" -
that Caesar is supposed to have cried out
when he saw one of his dearest friends wielding a dagger.
Words we still use today
as a shorthand for disloyalty and backstabbing.
Maybe something we hear a bit too often in modern politics?
But how and why did Julius Caesar end up,
literally and metaphorically, stabbed in the back?
How could a rich, but frankly not A-list aristocrat,
gain such power that the only way to get rid of him was to kill him?
The Rome that Caesar was born into in 100 BC
wasn't a bit like the ancient Rome we see in the movies.
It was super-powerful all right, but there was no Coliseum,
no gleaming white marble - all that came later.
Caesar's Rome was home to about a million people.
Most of them living in pretty squalid, low-rise brick buildings.
It was a sort of democracy.
That's to say, everybody had a vote -
apart from the women and the slaves -
but real power was in the hands of a few rich, aristocratic families
How very different from now, eh?
So this was not yet the Rome ruled by emperors.
It was a democracy,
where power was never in the hands of one person for too long.
But Caesar would change all that.
Looking back on it, you can almost see his rise to power
as a brilliantly-executed strategy game.
A masterclass in how to be top,
and engineer the ultimate power grab.
One that would become a manual for leaders, right up to now.
And step one was simple -
rewrite your own history.
Caesar wasn't always marked out for success.
But, like all so-called great men,
almost every aspect of his early life
was eventually spun to suggest that he was.
In Caesar's case, right back to his birth,
C-section or not.
It's a kind of creation myth.
The truth is that his early career was actually pretty ordinary.
Playing by the rules.
Like all Roman posh boys, he does a bit of military service,
he stands for a few political offices,
and we really don't know much about the details.
What we do know for sure
is he pretty soon becomes rather good at the gambits
and the strategy,
and he makes some really clever moves.
And, eventually, he starts to change the rules themselves.
And if he starts out as a little chap like this...
..he turns out to be pretty much like a king.
And according to a later legend,
there was a dramatic, life-changing turning point.
In 69 BC, Caesar was sent to Spain
as an elected official of the Republic of Rome.
Like dozens of other young administrators,
he was taking his first big step on the Roman political ladder.
By this time, through a combination of conquest and alliance,
the power of Rome extended through the whole of Italy,
into North Africa, the Middle East,
southern France, and most of Spain.
And it was on a tiny island off the coast of Spain, near Cadiz,
that Caesar was later said to have had the encounter
that changed the course of his life.
It was with the most glamorized - or to me the most murderous -
ancient Greek General of them all, King Alexander the Great,
who by the age of 33, had conquered half the known world.
The story goes that, somewhere around here,
Caesar actually came face-to-face
with a statue of Alexander the Great.
And he started to cry.
"Isn't it terrible," he said to his friends, "that at my age,
"Alexander was already king of so much of the world."
"But look at me.
"I've done nothing at all remarkable!"
Nothing survives of the temple that once housed the statue.
We don't even know if the whole story's true,
but it became a key chapter in Caesar's legend.
This is a much later attempt to capture the scene.
There's the statue of Alexander here, and Caesar's admiring it,
in his rather splendid red outfit
and some particularly natty shoes.
In fact, ever after,
artists and writers have reimagined this encounter
as a turning point in Caesar's life.
We all do it!
If you wanted, I guess I could give you the turning point
when I decided to become a classicist.
In reality, of course, it's all much more complex.
For me, and certainly for Caesar.
All the same, people have often fixed on this occasion
as the moment when Caesar became Caesar.
True or not, this is the symbolic moment
when Caesar the ordinary administrator
turned into Caesar the wannabe top dog.
If step one in Caesar's rise to power
was mythologizing his early life,
step two was winning the loyalty and devotion of the military.
It's something that he and later leaders would come to rely on.
And ten years after that defining encounter with Alexander the Great,
he got his chance.
After a series of political trade-offs and backstage deals,
Caesar was elected Consul,
the highest political office there was at the time.
Only two were appointed each year,
and that made him one of the principal power brokers in Rome.
And with that kind of political power came a big military command.
Caesar left Italy to lead the conquest of Gaul,
a vast territory that included
modern-day France, Belgium, and Luxembourg.
It was in Gaul that Caesar got to lay the foundations
on what all his later successes in some way would be built.
A loyal army.
One man who can help us see how he managed this is Admiral Lord West,
who understands Caesar's campaigns
from a rather different point of view to mine.
I met him - fittingly, I guess -
in the shadow of a Roman military memorial in Gaul.
Julius Caesar, I think, was a brilliant strategist.
He understood how he should divide and split up his enemies,
not fight too many of them at once, he understood
the political background that he was working against,
he had a very clear concept of what his aim was.
But what he manages to do, he manages to get those guys,
I mean, first of all, to slaughter the enemy, nastily.
How do you get people to do that?
Because that must be part of the secret.
Basically, they felt he was part of them.
He... He took the same risks, he led from the front,
he understood about the fighting.
And you're right, it was visceral and unpleasant and nasty.
Killing 10,000 people in those days meant
you had to kill with a sword or a stabbing.
You right out killed 10,000 people.
But he made each one of them feel that they were individuals.
He won, he won!
There's nothing like having a man who wins to be your commander.
If you have a man who is your commander who keeps winning,
you jolly well like that. And when you look at that totality,
then it's a cohesive unit.
And they felt part of something bigger!
Is that what generals do now?
Is it always the same?
Well, the morale and the focus on the individual
is as important today as it was then.
I mean, that actually is crucial.
If you don't do that, you will not win.
I want you to be absolutely frank on this one.
You've got scruffy prof here.
Do you think you could turn her into a good soldier? And how?
I think, because you have a belief in certain things and a focus,
I think I could make you
be quite unpleasant on the battlefield to somebody else.
There goes my pacifist credentials at a stroke!
But what was it like
for the ordinary squaddie to fight for Caesar?
There's one curious museum treasure that offers us an unexpected glimpse
of the world of the Roman battlefield from the bottom up.
I've waited for ages to get my hands on these strange little things.
Because they give us one of the few glimpses we can get
of what life was like for the ordinary soldier
in an army camp in Caesar's day.
Because what these are
are the ancient equivalent of bullets.
They're called sling-bolts,
and you put them at the end of a cord, you whirl the cord,
let the bullet go, and it does its deadly work.
But what's really interesting about them is that they've got,
either scratched on them or more often
moulded actually into the lead,
they've got messages to take to your enemy.
We're in a way familiar with that.
Bombs in World War II often had rather rude messages
scrawled on the side, you know, "Run, Adolf, run."
That kind of thing.
These Roman ones are actually rather ruder.
This one says "pathice".
The only way you could translate that I suppose is...
From a very academic point of view,
this one's the most interesting.
It's aimed at one of the women,
one of the prominent women on the other side, called Fulvia.
You can see her name there very clearly.
And it says, "Peto" - I'm going for - the "landicam" of Fulvia.
That is the first example in Latin
of the use of the word clitoris.
"I'm going for Fulvia's clitoris."
Now, it's blokeish, it's rude.
I think we also have to remember
that these were really deadly weapons.
Deadly is right.
In less than five years,
Caesar and his men had marched and fought their way
some 1,500 km to grey Northern Gaul.
We know about this campaign in minute detail,
because in one of the most amazing survivals from the ancient world,
we still have Caesar's own step-by-step account.
And one description above all
underlines the brutality and the obedience of his men
as they fought a battle against native tribes.
Caesar describes this battle in detail.
He talks about his own lightning speed,
and how he met the enemy "ad confluentem" -
at the confluence of two rivers.
He hemmed them in
so that they despaired of being able to flee away.
And a large number of them - "magno numero" - were killed.
The rest threw themselves "in flumen" -
into the river.
Goes on to say that this tribe
had once numbered over 400,000 people,
and he implies that there were not very many left.
Archaeologist Nico Roymans
has identified the location of the battle, and its grisly legacy.
Caesar describes the dramatic massacre here
taking place in 55 BC,
and we indeed have this kind of archaeological material
in huge quantities.
You can really see just how deadly Caesar's campaigns were
when you look at the finds that you've got here.
It's a human skull of an adult male, about 60.
-This man has actually had his face cut off with a sword.
With a single sword blow.
This is part of a female skull,
and there's a hole here above one of the eyes
caused by a spearhead or a sword point.
So the casualties include, then, women and children?
We have also bones of children.
It was described as a battle by Caesar,
but in fact it was one large massacre.
It was an attempt to massacre the complete population here.
It tends to make real some of the claims
that people now make, that what Caesar was doing in Gaul was...
We call it conquest, but it was really genocide.
Yeah, I think we can use that term.
This was a landscape of terror, more or less.
-Yeah, yeah, killing fields.
In that mid-first century BC.
Julius Caesar has always had
the number-one reputation as great conqueror.
He's a towering hero among generals ancient and modern.
But my problem is, it's such a sanitized view of ancient warfare.
It's easy enough to glorify a conquering general like Caesar
2,000 years ago, when you don't see the collateral damage.
When you don't see the innocent victims,
you don't hear their voices, you don't even know their names.
Now, we watch the maimed children in hospital on our televisions.
And that makes it a lot harder to glorify conquest.
But leadership isn't only about conquest -
it's about commanding the unquestioning loyalty of your men.
And Caesar's men would follow him to the ends of the earth.
In 55 BC, Caesar decided to cross the Channel and check out
what the land he could see on the other side was all about.
Almost 100 years before Roman armies actually conquered Britain,
Caesar became the first Roman we know
to have set foot on British soil.
He landed here, in Kent.
This wasn't conquest, it was exploration.
More like a moon landing, really.
Because for the Romans,
Britain really was beyond the final frontier.
And when they got here,
they did actually find themselves face-to-face with little blue men.
Now, it was in fact Julius Caesar who has given us
the first surviving eyewitness account of us.
And there's good news in it for the people of Kent.
This is some of what he's got to say.
SHE TRANSLATES: Out of all the people there,
by far the most sophisticated - humanissimmi -
are those who inhabit Kent,
which is a seaside region, not very different from Gaul.
But all the Britons dye themselves with woad,
which gives them a blue colour
that makes them really awful to look at -
horridiores - in battle.
They let their hair grow long, and every part of their body is shaved
except their head and their upper lip.
Now, I don't really recognise myself in that description,
but that really is the first time
that the British enter real history.
Caesar's writings didn't just record events.
His accounts cast him as a Roman hero,
a kind of soldier-adventurer,
and that's where their true purpose comes in.
They are propaganda for a contemporary Roman audience.
It was, if you like, step three
in Caesar's handbook for would-be leaders -
set the news agenda.
Caesar had the problem all politicians have.
How do you keep yourself in the public eye?
How do you get your message across?
Today, that's done by Twitter, 24-hour news, and the internet.
Caesar had none of that.
But that's where those step-by-step accounts of his conquests come in.
Because I don't think that they were written
just to help out historians 2,000 years later.
Those accounts actually make pretty odd reading now
because he didn't write, "I did this, and then I did that,
"and then I did the other."
What he wrote was, "Caesar did this! And then Caesar did that!"
That could be because he was frightfully pompous,
but much more likely is he wrote this stuff to be read out in Rome,
directly to the Roman people, by one of his staff,
when he was hundreds of miles away.
Let's give it a try.
I am bringing you dispatches from Gaul!
TRANSLATING: Caesar as always, hurries ahead
to be in the very midst of the battle!
You can spot him from the distinctive colour of his uniform.
But Caesar, again, as always,
goes ahead to harass the enemy!
He sends them packing!
THEY CHEER Yes!
And I'll bring you more news soon.
-Come on! ALL:
In his written accounts,
Caesar gave the Romans in the streets
something and somebody to celebrate.
You might say he whipped up national pride.
And never more successfully
than in one particular report of a later victory.
Writing the story down and reading it out isn't enough.
Caesar absolutely grasped the value of a good sound bite.
Veni, vidi, vici.
I came, I saw, I conquered.
These must be the most famous words that Caesar ever wrote.
They're probably the most famous words
in the whole of the Latin language.
They've got tremendous zing, rhythm,
and they're really to the point.
I kind of think of them
as the forerunners of some of our best slogans.
Yes, we can!
Education, education, education!
Even Caesar's contemporaries
were impressed with the punch and the genius brevity.
It's all a lot less than the average tweet!
Come to think of it, I might actually send it
to the world's most famous tweeter.
@Potus... SHE LAUGHS
There you are, Donald. Mr President.
Caesar knew exactly how important it was
to get your message across directly to the people.
It's something that Robert Harris,
who has written about ancient and modern politics, gets very well.
Caesar - he didn't write
quite as much as you, but he wrote a huge amount,
which is very unusual in the ancient world in surviving.
And what do you make of them?
Well, I think they show that he was a master of propaganda.
So if one imagines what it must've been like when the herald or whoever
appeared in the forum, the crowd gathering,
people going, "Come and look! Let's see what he's done now!"
And the things that he was doing, of course, were, as someone said,
landing in Britain was like the trip to the moon.
It was astonishing that one of their citizens was doing this!
So a lot of ordinary people, they really liked to hear that.
They really like to see their leaders are cutting it out there
and anyone who gets in their way gets it.
You know, "Make Rome great again"
seems to be the kind of message
that's coming through these commentaries.
Of course, you know, it's quite a common phenomenon
for politicians to refer to themselves in the third person.
Look at President Trump. He often refers in tweets to
"President Trump has done this, that, or the other."
And Caesar's appealing to the socially excluded,
-just like some modern populist politicians.
and that the more outrageous he was, the more people he killed,
the more he flaunted his own misdemeanours,
the better they liked him.
So one of the things you ought to do
if you're in either Caesar or Trump's position
is kind of bypass the rest of the political structure
and speak to the citizens directly.
Yes, what he did, which I think is very modern,
is that although he was himself immensely wealthy,
he nevertheless managed to appeal over the head of what he called
"a rotten and corrupt elite".
All great dictators, in a way,
or charismatic leaders,
I think addressed their followers directly,
and they stage-manage very carefully the form in which they do it.
Obviously, Hitler with his rallies, Caesar the same.
And would our world be different without him?
Yes, I think that Caesar is one of the architects of the modern world.
I have no doubt that the world would've been a different place
if Julius Caesar hadn't been born,
and there aren't many figures in history of whom that can be said.
By 50 BC, Caesar could say that the job in Gaul was more or less done.
He had the love of the people at home and the loyalty of his army,
a dangerous combination.
It made his fellow politicians back in Rome increasingly nervous.
Victory in Gaul brought new problems for Caesar.
The metropolitan elite in Rome,
who were a pretty conservative bunch,
decided that his military job was over.
They thought that he'd gone altogether too far too fast,
and that his appeals to the Roman people were dangerous.
They had in mind to get him back and to impeach him
for legal irregularities, real or imagined,
committed years before.
Caesar had been backed into a corner.
Either he went home to face prosecution,
or he stayed in Gaul against orders, a rogue general.
It was catch-22.
Faced with that dilemma
and to protect what he was always calling his dignitas, his dignity,
he decided to lead his loyal troops across the border between Gaul and
Italy, and to march on Rome.
It was effectively the start of civil war.
The border lay on the line of a river, the River Rubicon.
For a Roman general to cross this border and march his troops
on Rome was almost unthinkable,
like some Commander-in-chief rolling his tanks onto Parliament Square
or Capitol Hill.
That was Caesar's make-or-break moment.
He chose to gamble everything and take on the political establishment.
It's really step four in getting to the top -
spot your opportunity for the power grab and take it.
Oddly enough, Caesar doesn't say a word about this moment in his own
writings. There's a rather guilty silence, I suspect.
But there were loads of Roman stories
about what was going on in his head
at the time. The anxieties, the dreams, the godly apparitions.
Should he? Shouldn't he?
Caesar gave us the phrase "crossing the Rubicon" to mean taking a daring
gamble and going past the point of no return.
"Alea iacta est," he's said to have declared.
"The die is cast."
Or, "I rolled the dice, and it's all up in the air now."
The funny thing is that no-one knows exactly where the river was.
It was Benito Mussolini,
the Italian dictator who came to power in the 1920s,
who decided that this slightly underwhelming stream
was THE Rubicon.
In his march on Rome,
he was trying to reconstruct exactly the route taken by Julius Caesar,
in a way to cast himself as the new Caesar.
But in reality, Mussolini took the train.
Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon has long been seen as a symbol of
single-minded determination and risk-taking.
And not just by Mussolini.
For Caesar's fellow politicians,
it was, of course, an act of aggression,
a coup d'etat.
And it plunged Rome into civil war.
The fighting dragged on across the Roman world for years.
But to all intents and purposes,
Caesar had control of the city itself within a matter of months.
He was elected dictator,
a perfectly traditional office in ancient Rome reserved for times of
crisis, which placed power in the hands of a single individual
for a short time.
Caesar took that power for a year, and now effectively ruled Rome.
It's easy to imagine that Caesar crosses the Rubicon one minute
and gets assassinated the next.
it's what happens in the five years in between that's so crucial.
And he's facing all the problems
that victors in civil wars always face.
What do you do with those you've defeated?
What do you do with your supporters?
Because you've no doubt promised them loads,
and you've now got to deliver.
And how do you make sure you stay in power?
Some of the strategies he uses are easily recognisable to us.
He invests in infrastructure, or at least he promises to.
So there's walls, bridges, he drains the swamps.
And he has a programme of slum clearance and new towns.
And he looks out for the ordinary Roman with food rations.
And he takes some measures
to deal with what we'd call the credit crunch.
The bottom line of all this is strength and stability.
But he's also flooding the city with his own image.
The idea is that there should be a statue of him
in every single temple.
And what he's doing is making Rome his showcase.
Caesar was turning into a dictator in the modern sense.
And by that, I don't just mean winning power by killing people
and commanding fear,
I mean he was changing the world in which he lived,
putting himself at the centre of it.
And he understood the importance of getting his image out there.
It's a technique we recognise well -
the face of the beloved leader pasted across every available
surface from newspapers to flags and billboards.
It was pioneered by Caesar, who had his bust sent everywhere.
And it's true that we do still see his face everywhere.
But actual portraits done from life are almost impossible to find.
Perhaps the orders had not been completed by the time of his death.
Perhaps they were thought to be hot property and destroyed
after his assassination.
But then, in 2007,
archaeologists in France found something intriguing.
It was one of those discoveries that made the headlines.
It was only a few years ago,
an archaeologist was diving right here,
searching for remains on the riverbed.
He's down there, and he spots a bit of marble.
He brings it up to the surface, still dripping,
takes a closer look and then shouts out,
"Putain, mais c'est Cesar!"
-Which could only be translated as,
-me, it's Caesar."
I'm about to come face-to-face with Julius Caesar.
Today, the bust is on display
in the archaeological museum in Arles.
Hello. Or bonjour.
This is about as up close and personal to Julius Caesar
as you can get.
The question is, what kind of image in this portrait is Caesar trying to
project of himself?
I think one thing's for sure, is it's not glam.
He's got a really wrinkled, furrowed brow, kind of saying,
"I'm working terribly hard on behalf of the state,
"on behalf of Rome, thinking through politics!"
And his neck is really craggy and wrinkly,
with a big Adam's apple.
This is not the kind of youthful idealism.
This is sort of middle-aged, elderly bloke style.
But, yes, as a sculpture,
the Holy Grail of classical archaeology.
For centuries and centuries,
archaeologists have tried to track down
a portrait of Caesar done in his lifetime.
And here you are.
Or are you?
The problem is it's very hard to tell whether this really
After all, there's no name on him.
If we want to pin down his portraits,
all we can do is what the archaeologists at Arles did -
match them up with portraits of him that are very clearly labelled.
And guess what?
We have hundreds of those.
-Verre de vin blanc, s'il vous plait.
There's actually only one way of knowing what Julius Caesar looked like,
and that's by looking at the tiny little images on his coins,
which are named.
But these coins were much more revolutionary than they seem.
We take it absolutely for granted that we'll find the Queen's head
on all the currency,
and we assume that one obvious type of political propaganda
is seeing the mugshot of the dear leader plastered everywhere.
But Julius Caesar was the first person to get into that.
He was the very first person in the West systematically
to put his head on the coinage.
It must have been actually quite shocking.
Every time you went to pay for a glass of wine,
or for a takeaway,
or for the ancient equivalent of a cup of coffee,
you were paying with him.
That's to say, Romans went around with Julius Caesar in their pockets.
Madame, l'addition, s'il vous plait.
-Deux euros quatre-vingts.
Je regrette, je ne prends pas le Cesar.
I did try!
-Voila. En l'euro.
Some people may have found the idea of carrying Caesar's face around in
their pockets a bit big-headed, but ordinary Romans loved him.
He was seen as the anti-establishment candidate,
not part of the Roman metropolitan elite.
And he knew the value of keeping the people happy,
what a later Roman satirist would describe as "bread and circuses".
Caesar was generous to the Roman people on a spectacular scale.
It was 100 years before the Colosseum was built,
so he gave his gladiator shows here, in the Forum.
But the point was that Caesar's shows
were on a bigger and better scale
than anyone had ever given before.
And so, too, were his public banquets.
Once, he gave a free feast to the Roman people,
with some frightfully posh fish on the menu,
all laid out on 22,000 tables.
It must've made the Forum
feel like it was a vast, free outdoor restaurant.
All courtesy of Julius Caesar.
But in the Forum, you could find more than fights and feasts.
This was the seedy city centre of Caesar's Rome,
what you came to grab a take away, pick up a prostitute,
or simply hang out and watch the world go by.
The Forum was also the place where Rome put itself on display.
It was here that big Roman funerals happened.
In fact, Caesar was cremated just over there.
And it was through here that the soldiers marched with their generals
after some particularly big or bloody victory.
My guess is that Caesar's squaddies
must really have enjoyed taking the mickey out of him
when they passed this way.
"Romans, lock up your wives," they sang,
"the bald adulterer is back in town!"
I'm sorry to say, gentlemen,
but most Romans thought that baldness was rather silly
and a little bit embarrassing.
So when Caesar began to thin on top,
he was awfully keen to cover it up.
Like countless men over the last 2,000 years,
he became a master of the comb-over.
But he had other tricks up his sleeve.
When he was granted the right to wear a laurel wreath
on any occasion he fancied,
Caesar was absolutely delighted,
not so much because it was a very special honour,
but because it allowed him to cover up that bald patch.
-You look Cesare.
Caesar may have been embarrassed by his baldness,
but my guess is he'd be quite flattered to be called an adulterer.
Rome was certainly a macho culture.
It was full of willy-waving,
and the locker-room chat must've been decidedly unsavoury.
But even in Rome, Caesar was a bit of an extreme case.
Was there anyone in the city he hadn't slept with?
And not just in Rome.
He had an affair with Cleopatra
long before her dalliance with Mark Antony.
Makes me think of big men ever since.
They can't keep their hands off women or off power.
It wasn't long before Caesar decided that a year
perhaps wasn't a long enough term as dictator.
Perhaps ten years would be better.
And with that kind of time span, he began to think bigger.
What strikes me is how Caesar's virtues came to reinforce his power.
One of the qualities he always boasted about was his mercy,
He had a history of surprising acts of kindness.
But there's more to that than meets the eye.
As for his defeated enemies in the civil war,
they must've expected that they'd be strung up in the Forum.
Instead, they found themselves publicly pardoned
in what was almost a general amnesty.
But of course, that kind of mercy is always authoritarian.
And it's only the powerful who could issue pardons.
But more to the point, it tells us something about Caesar himself.
Not that he was kind,
but that he was colossally self-confident.
And it was this colossal self-confidence
that was to leave a permanent mark on our world.
You see, we think of dictators as people who rule by fear -
secret police, mass killings.
In fact, dictators have much cleverer strategies.
The most successful of them change the natural order,
so that what wasn't natural before now seems it.
And Caesar was the master.
I bet that not many people know that our month of July
takes its name from Julius Caesar.
The Romans decided to rename the month that had been called rather
unsexily Quintilis as Julius, or July,
and so it's been ever since.
But that is as nothing to Caesar's real legacy -
the modern Western calendar.
Before Julius Caesar,
the Roman calendar year had weirdly been only 355 days.
That wasn't actually long enough, so every few years,
they had to add another month in.
The problem was they were pretty hopeless at doing the calculations,
so the months of the calendar got increasingly out of sync with the
What I mean is that it would be what you thought was September,
and you'd want to celebrate your harvest festival,
but the vines would only be just coming in to leaf.
Or it would be in the middle of apparently wintry December,
and there'd be bunches of grapes all over the vineyard.
Caesar solved this.
With the help of a few tame scientists,
he pulled the plug on the old system
and he launched the 365-day year that we now have.
In all kinds of ways, it was a really useful and practical reform.
But it also reveals something that only dictators can do -
As one of his friends wryly observed,
"He'll be bossing the stars in the sky around next."
Caesar was becoming a dictator in our sense of the word -
a man who puts himself above the political process,
a man who reorders the world around him, a man who can change time.
And he used public celebrations to reflect his status,
though we can dictate certain anxieties.
This is a version of a 15th-century painting which shows just how
preoccupied later ages were, too,
with the image of the triumphant Caesar.
What you've got here is Julius Caesar thinning a bit on top,
sitting on his elaborate, triumphal chariot.
And there's placards and spoils and loot being processed
through the streets in front of him.
But there's a moral here, too,
in these figures, Caesar on the chariot,
and this slave standing behind him,
who's about to crown him with a laurel wreath.
And we know from Roman writers that what this slave did throughout the
procession for every victory parade was he whispered into the ear of the
general all the time, "Remember you're a man, remember you're a man,
"remember you're a man."
The idea was that anybody who had this kind
of lavish ceremonial would be very likely to forget
that they were just an ordinary human being.
So this, in a way,
is a reminder to Julius Caesar not to get above himself.
All the same, Caesar was aware of the popular power of a good military
parade, something later leaders have been quick to adopt.
Even in the democratic West,
displays of military might have long been part of our national tradition,
from Trooping the Colour to Bastille Day.
Caesar's power over Rome by now seemed almost absolute.
His military image only strengthened his popular appeal.
He was central to almost every aspect of Roman life.
Statues put up later would emphasise this power and authority.
Like this one, still standing in Rome's City Hall,
overhearing traffic regulation and planning disputes.
But it's what's written underneath in this modern inscription
that's even more to the point,
because it gives Caesar his official title -
He's dictator forever.
Now, the Romans wouldn't have found the word dictator remotely shocking.
It was a title given to an entirely traditional short-term office
that was used for coping with particular emergencies.
What they would have found shocking is the idea that Caesar took that
It's a bit like how we would feel about someone being elected
Prime Minister for life.
And it's in that way that Caesar has given us the modern sense
of the word dictator.
What happened is that Caesar made sure that his term as dictator was
extended, not just from one year to ten years, but to forever.
The dictatorship was only one way
in which Caesar disrupted Roman politics.
Roman democracy was based on free elections,
but Caesar managed to make sure that you knew the outcome in advance.
And he found all kinds of ways of putting himself above the rest
of the political class.
It wouldn't have made a blind bit of difference to the women and men in
the Roman street,
but his fellow politicians got very worked up
when he couldn't be bothered to rise from his chair
when they came into the room.
And anyway, that chair was beginning to look suspiciously like
a golden throne.
For Caesar's enemies,
his appointment as dictator perpetuus effectively,
well, crossed the Rubicon.
It was a watershed -
the point at which leader became tyrant,
a subversion of the ideals of freedom and democracy.
He may have been popular with the people
and he may have commanded the loyalty of the army,
but for Caesar,
the price of tyranny was paid in blood here, in the Senate House.
Perhaps this should be the real lesson for modern leaders.
Be careful what you wish for -
too much power comes at a cost.
And there's always somebody waiting in the wings.
The version that we have of Caesar's assassination makes it a heroic and
successful fight for freedom against tyranny.
In reality, it was nothing of the sort.
For a start, if it was freedom for anyone,
it was for a few privileged politicians.
Ordinary Romans wept at Caesar's death.
But you also can't really call it successful.
The problem of assassinations always is that it's easy enough to take the
guy out, it's a lot harder to know what to do next.
Assassins always risk bringing about the very thing they thought
they were fighting against.
In this case, once the deed was done,
the conspirators turned out to have no forward plan.
What they got was civil war,
which ended up producing one-man rule,
emperors, or, if you like, dictators forever after.
So Caesar's assassination only served to strengthen
the very thing it meant to destroy.
The upshot was that Rome fell under the absolute rule of one man -
Caesar's heir and great-nephew Octavian.
The Republic of Rome was now ruled by an emperor.
What I'm interested in is that people come
and they still leave these offerings on...
This is where Julius Caesar was cremated.
And so what they do is...round here is...
The temple of Julius Caesar, they put up after his death.
And so you've got flowers and occasional c...
Look, there's coins.
Caesar would forever after be celebrated
as the originator of the imperial dynasty.
All later emperors took his name.
From that moment on, Caesar wasn't just a surname any more,
it became synonymous with leader.
And not only in Roman times.
The term tsar and Kaiser go back to, you've guessed it, Caesar.
And leaders ever since have done more than just take his name.
For good or bad,
they have used the template he created to ground their own rule.
And more than 2,000 years after his bloody assassination,
Julius Caesar is still with us in all kinds of surprising ways.
So every time you put your hand in your pocket for some loose change,
or have a party in July,
each time you consult the calendar, or hear a snappy political slogan,
when you next think about a caesarean section,
or here a political betrayal described as backstabbing,
spare a thought for the man who inspired all this and more.
I've always been a bit allergic to the idea of Julius Caesar,
the great conqueror.
But if you have to choose just one Roman
who's still absolutely embedded in the way we think,
talk, act and judge,
then it's got to be Gaius Julius Caesar,
You can kill him, but you can't get rid of him.
Julius Caesar is the most famous Roman of them all: brutal conqueror, dictator and victim of a gruesome assassination on the Ides of March 44 BC. 2,000 years on, he still shapes the world. He has given us some political slogans we still use today (Crossing the Rubicon), his name lives on in the month of July, and there is nothing new about Vladmir Putin's carefully cultivated military image and no real novelty in Donald Trump's tweets and slogans.
Mary Beard is on a mission to uncover the real Caesar, and to challenge public perception. She seeks the answers to some big questions. How did he become a one-man ruler of Rome? How did he use spin and PR on his way to the top? Why was he killed? And she asks some equally intriguing little questions. How did he conceal his bald patch? Did he really die, as William Shakespeare put it, with the words Et tu, Brute on his lips? Above all, Mary explores his surprising legacy right up to the present day. Like it or not, Caesar is still present in our everyday lives, our language, and our politics. Many dictators since, not to mention some other less autocratic leaders, have learned the tricks of their trade from Julius Caesar.