Le Mourre is a vast encyclopedic dictionary of history drafted by a single man, Michel Mourre. -- Mourre devoted the last decades of a brief reclusive life to the drafting of reference works perhaps unique in the 20th century for their solitary erudition. -- Little-known in the English-speaking world, le Mourre, as the work has popularly come to be known, was first published in France in 1978, several months after the author's death at the age of 49. -- It has gained a certain reputation as a monument of erudition, and has been kept up to date in several subsequent editions. -- The 1996 French edition, published by Bordas, runs to 5,884 pages, three of which are translated below, recounting the life and accomplishments of Julius Caesar. -- They exemplify Mourre's sobriety and attitude of nil admirari and offer, to the language of hype that is now nearly universal in the 21st century, a contrast that some may find salutary and refreshing...
By Michel Mourre
Dictionnaire encyclopédique d'histoire: nouvelle édition
Paris: Bordas, 1996 (original edition 1978)
CAESAR, Gaius Julius Caesar (July 12, 100 BCE [?], Rome-March 15, 44 BCE, Rome). General and Roman political figure. From one of the most ancient patrician families [gentes (pl. of gens)] of Rome, that of the Julia, which claimed to trace its ancestry to Aeneas and, through him, to Venus, he was, on his mother's side, the nephew by marriage of Marius, and, at the age of sixteen, he became the son-in-law of one of the most uncompromising Marianists, Cinna. Thus, from the beginning of his career, this aristocrat was seen as being in the "popular" party. But he proceeded with an extreme prudence, thanks to which he was spared by Sulla. At first no one took seriously the man who would be turn out to be the most appealing of the ambitious figures who were so numerous in the Rome of the Late Republic. His youth was apparently devoted to dissipation of the most unbridled sort, to passing love affairs, to poetry, to the expense of pomp; like all the elegant young Romans, he resorted to Greek professors to complete his education, and in Rhodes (74-73 BCE), he took the famous course in eloquence of a famous master, Molo. But he had already proved his talent as an orator in pleading against Gnaeus Cornelius Dolabella, who had been accused of extortion. His ambition awakened, Caesar began to seek honors, not hesitating to borrow enormous sums to win public favor by organizing games and feasts or by subsidizing public works. Quaestor in 69 BCE, aedile in 65 BCE, he symbolically displayed his feelings by raising Marius's trophies on the Capitoline Hill. Supported by the plebs, but also by the extremely rich Crassus, he was pontifex maximus in 63 BCE, praetor in 62 BCE. Groundlessly suspected of complicity with Catiline, he nevertheless called in the Senate, in opposition to Cato, for measures of clemency with regard to the conspirators. Propraetor in Hispania Ulterior (61-60 BCE) he distinguished himself by his good administration, acquired an inexpensive glory and also riches that enabled him to aspire to a consulship upon his return to Rome. His first master coup was that of reconciling two rivals, Crassus and Pompey, who were equally frustrated with the Senate. He formed with them a secret understanding, the triumvirate, which was intended to satisfy their respective ambitions.
FROM CONSULSHIP TO DOMINATION OF THE ROMAN WORLD
Elected consul for 59 BCE, Caesar easily neutralized his colleague Bibulus's interference. He satisfied Pompey by ratifying the latter's acts in the East and by giving land to his veterans, while Crassus, meanwhile, obtained advantages for his knights in Asia. During this year of consulship, Caesar undertook a series of initiatives designed to increase his popularity but which also were acts of statesmanship: two agrarian laws completed the dividing into plots of the ager publicus in Italy to benefit veterans and the unemployed; the publication of official accounts of proceedings of the Senate, guaranteeing to it the control of public opinion; the bringing to heel of the provincial governors, henceforward rendered accountable, announcing a new era for those living in the provinces. But Caesar did not forget his own interests: preferring, according to Plutarch, "to be first in a miserable village in the Alps than second in Rome" and believing the republican regime to be disintegrating, he aspired to absolute power. What he needed next was a rich province in order to pay his debts, buy new supporters, a new army to serve his political ambitions, but also in order to know military glory, military life, and war, which tempered his soul, as Plutarch says, with its sober regimen, exhausting campaigns, and interminable marches. So when his consulship ended, he had himself named governor of Cisalpine Gaul and Illyria, to which the Senate added Transalpine Gaul, for a period of five years (58-54 BCE).
Leaving behind him in Rome reliable agents, in particular Cornelius Balbus, he set out to undertake the conquest of Gaul (58-51 BCE), which ended -- after many revolts, two crossings of the Rhine (55 and 53 BCE), and two incursions into Britain (55 and 54 BCE) -- with Vercingetorix's surrender at Alesia in 52 BCE and, in the following year, the taking of Uxellodunum. Caesar, who thought on several occasions that he was on the verge of victory, had to wage eight campaigns in order to overcome the Gauls' resistance. But in 51 BCE he found himself henceforward the master of a vast territory rich in natural and human resources. As an empire-builder, he could draw on an accomplishment as great as the one achieved by Pompey in the East. His Commentaries, as much a work of propaganda as a war memoir, written as opportunity allowed after the events described and published in 51 BCE, fostered his glorious reputation in Italian public opinion. His army, marvelously trained and hardened, was formidable. Even as he waged his campaigns, Caesar kept in view the political struggles in Rome, which each winter he came to observe at closer hand in Cisalpine Gaul. In 56 BCE, the Lucca agreement had renewed the triumvirate and allowed Caesar to keep his proconsulate in Gaul until 50 BCE. But the death of Julia, Caesar's daughter and Pompey's wife (54 BCE), then that of Crassus, killed during an expedition against the Parthians (53 BCE), left remaining only a harsh rivalry between Caesar and Pompey. The latter, who had become the last hope of the senatorial oligarchy and had been named sole consul in 52 BCE, thought he could oblige Caesar to come back to Rome as a simple citizen. Caesar, to the contrary, meant to keep his command until the ten years' interval fixed by law between the two consultates had expired, permitting him once again to engage in intrigues for this magistracy. Ordered to give up his army, he demanded that Pompey do the same with his. After a year of confused negotiations, the Senate granted the consuls unlimited powers against Caesar. After a brief hesitation, Caesar chose war: On Jan. 11, 49 BCE, crossing the Rubicon, which marked the southern border of Cisalpine Gaul, he marched on Rome.
In two months he was the master of Italy, but he was unable to prevent Pompey from taking refuge in Greece, along with many senators. Having no fleet immediately available to pursue him, Caesar went to Spain; he defeated the Pompey's lieutenants near Ilerda [modern Lleida], forced Marseille to surrender after a siege of several months (May-September 49 BCE), then arrived in Epirus, and, forcing the enemy to fight in Thessaly, he crushed Pompey at Pharsalus [modern Farsala]. He followed Pompey in hot pursuit, but when he arrived in Egypt, the latter had already been assassinated on the order of one of the ministers of the king, Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopater, who thought that in this way he would ingratiate himself with the victor. Caesar wept for his rival, punished his murderers, then gave the throne of Egypt to Cleopatra, whose lover he became. With her, he briefly inspected the shores of the Nile before rushing into Asia Minor, where he defeated, at Zela [modern Zile], Pharnaces II of Pontus, son of Mithridates (47 BCE) -- it was this blitzkrieg episode that was later summarized, during his triumphal procession in 46 BCE, by the famous formula: Veni, vidi, vici. After a brief stay in Rome, Caesar continued to pursue the republican leaders who, having taken refuge in the province of Africa, had rebuilt there a powerful army. Their defeat, at Thapsus (February 46 BCE), was followed by Cato's suicide. The last act in the civil war, which engulfed the entire Roman world, was Caesar's decisive victory at Munda (March 17, 45 BCE), near Cordova. Of the leaders, only Sextus Pompey, son of Pompey the Great, managed to escape.
Caesar had but a year yet to live, however. From 49 to 45 BCE, being tied up in the provinces by fighting, he was able to spend only a few months in Rome. As was the case during the wars in Gaul, when he maintained his propaganda via the Commentaries, the three books of De bello civili, which appeared between 49 and 47 BCE, emphasized his rectitude, his patriotism, the bad faith of his adversaries, the purity of his intentions, and the spirit of peace and clemency that had always driven him. By 46 BCE, he had triumphed over Gaul, the Kingdom of Pontus, Egypt, and Numidia, dragging behind his chariot Vercingetorix, Arsinoe IV of Egypt, and the son of Juba I of Mauritania. In 45 BCE, he celebrated his triumph over the partisans of Pompey, provoking comment because it was not the custom for a Roman thus to celebrate his victories over another Roman. But these ceremonies were accompanied by the distribution of money, grain, win, oil, popular banquets, games, circuses, and awards to veterans. Caesar could rely on the people and, even more, on the fidelity of 39 legions in arms, an army such as Rome had never before seen. This military dictatorship was, however, disguised beneath an accumulation of juxtaposed civilian magistricies that already heralded a princely regime like the one later realized by Augustus. Dictator for eleven days in 49 BCE, consul in 48 BCE, and dictator for a year in 47 BCE, Caesar became, in 46 BCE, dictator for ten years, consul for ten years, and moral prefect for three years; finally, in 44 BCE, he received the title of perpetual dictator. Even more exorbitant prerogatives completed his power: the right to declare peace and war, an oath imposed upon senators and magistrates to respect his decisions, and tribunicial power, which gave him (without being a tribune) a sacred character. He bore the title of imperator, which could be passed on to his descendants, and which conferred to his race the personal privilege, as it were, of victory. In addition, he had the right to wear without interruption triumphal garb (the purple and the laurel), to adorn his home with a pediment, like a temple, and to raise his statue in the temple of Quirinus; finally, at the beginning of 44 BCE, he was able to take the name of "divine Julius." According to Suetonius, Caesar when in private did not hide his view that the Republic was no longer for him anything but "an word empty of form and content" and that from now "his words should be regarded as laws." He took care not to offend Romans' traditionalist spirit. The old Constitution was maintained but was no longer anything more than a façade. A senate whose membership was increased from 600 to 900 members, in which republicans who had followed Pompey were replaced by provincials, Italians, financiers, centurions, even freedmen, all proven supporters of the master, made up a senate "that could not be found" (J. Carcopino) and which was reduced to the rank of an advisor. Caesar likewise weakened the magistrates by increasing their number (40 quaestors, 6 aediles, 16 praetors), meanwhile suspending constitutional life during his absences, inventing suffect consuls who, during the year, replaced ordinary consuls for several months or several days. But this winner of a civil war showed himself to be magnificently liberal and clement; he had asked, at Pharsala, that citizens be spared; he offered to Pompey's supporters who rallied to him a very broad amnesty and granted to them magistracies and commands, and went so far as to raise the statues of Sulla and Pompey that the people had overthrown. The fabulous treasure that he had constituted from the plunder of war and his absolute authority over all of state administration gave him every means to purchase both crowds and consciences. But Caesar, without scruples as to means, without illusions as to men, was pursuing a design cut to his own measure: to be the person who united and unified greater Rome. He realized that the long civil war, forcing every provincial and the most distant tributary to take part in the domestic strife of the City, had been, in the end, an excellent crucible for imperial unity. This needed to be consolidated, first by reintegrating the Italian proletariat and returning to the land the deracinated and idle plebs that had grown used to living from the sale of votes and the distribution of alms. One of Caesar's first acts was to reduced from 320,000 to 150,000 the number of those who would henceforth receive free allocations. Those included were reclassed according to various categories of economic activity; those who were available were employed in great urban works, the construction of a new Forum, and the improvement of the port of Ostia. Most received lands: 80,000 proletarians became men of the country on domains confiscated from Pompey's partisans; the draining of the Pontine Marshes was decided upon; in order to reduce poverty debts were cut by a quarter and non-payment of rent was authorized for one year; sumptuary laws repressed unbridled luxury. The provinces had been abandoned to pillage by the Republic. Caesar undertook to reestablish their governement from top to bottom, naming proconsuls himself and moving them about at will, publishing provincial budgets, creating colonies with the poor or with veterans in places destined for great economic development: Hispalis [modern Seville] in Spain, Narbonne and Arles in Gaul, Corinth, Sinope and Trebizond in the East, Carthage in Africa. The Lex Iulia municipalis favored municipal autonomy. Even the calender was reworked by the reforming genius of Caesar: the Julian calendar would remain in force until the end of the 16th century.
TOWARD THE ROMAN EMPIRE
Having thus simultaneously waged civil war and state reorganization, Caesar laid the groundwork of more durable accomplishments than those of the single man who to whom he can be compared, Napoleon. His iron fist definitively fractured the worn-out limits of the city-state and sketched out the broad outlines of the plan according to which the Roman Empire would maintain itself for more than four centuries. Dictator for life, nearly divinized during his own lifetime, Caesar, in 44 BCE, realized more and more clearly that what he needed was a still higher consecration, one more difficult of acceptance to Romans: kingly rank. His policy in Asia required it from the moment he began preparing a campaign against the Parthians. In those countries, which had seen so many monarchies of divine right, the Roman dictator had to "invoke out loud celestial powers before whom oriental populations prostrated themselves and which he incarnated like the basileus whose place he took" (J. Carcopino). But for the first time in his career Caesar opposed Roman popular sentiment, which saw in the very name of king the ultimate blow to its freedom. In February 44 BCE, during the Lupercalia festival organized by Antony, with his definite approval, Caesar perceived the danger and rejected the diadem that was offered to him. The senate nevertheless resolved to allow him to bear the title of king, albeit not in Rome. But on March 15, 44 BCE, the day on which this solemn act was anticipated, Caesar fell, struck during a session of the Senate by 23 blows of the sword by a group of republican aristocrats led by Brutus and Cassius.
This crime would unleash new civil wars that did not change the main course of events. Scarcely ten years later, Caesarism -- in the more balanced guise of the Augustan "principate" -- emerged anew as the only solution that could reconcile, assimilate, and unify a Rome that had taken on the dimensions of a world. "It was so completely impossible to reestablish the Republic," Montesquieu would say, "that a condition of things now followed which had never yet been seen: the tyrant was no more, and liberty did not return; for the causes which had destroyed the freedom of the state were of a permanent character." Married three times -- around 84 BCE to Cornelia, daughter of Cinna, in 67 BCE to Pompeia, who was repudiated after having allowed herself to be compromised in the affair of the Bona Dea, and finally in 59 BCE to Calpurnia, daughter of Lucius Piso --, Caesar had only one legitimate child, Julia, who married Pompey. He was doubtless the father of Caesarion, the natural child of Cleopatra (later executed by order of Augustus). By his will, drafted in 45 BCE, he adopted his sister's grandson, Octavius (Augustus), and made him his heir.
Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003