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  • Hi, I’m John Green; this is crash course: world history and today were going to learn

  • about the Roman Empire, which of course began when two totally nonfictional twins, Romulus

  • and Remus, who’d been raised by wolves, founded a city on seven hills.

  • Mr Green, Mr Green, what, what does SPQR stand for?

  • It means shut piehole quickly, rapscallion. No, it means Senatus Populusque Romanus, one

  • of the mottoes of the Roman Republic.

  • So today were going to do some old school Great Man History and focus on Julius Caesar

  • while trying to answer a question: When, if ever, is it OK to stab someone 23 times?

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  • Shakespeare answers that question by saying that Roman senators killed Caesar because

  • he was going to destroy the Roman republic, but even if that’s true, we still have to

  • answer whether: a. The Roman Republic was worth preserving,

  • and b. whether Caesar actually destroyed it.

  • One of the things that made the Roman republic endure, both in reality and in imagination

  • was its balance. According to the Greek historian Polybius,

  • "THE THREE kinds of government, monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, were all found

  • united in Rome. Andit was no easy thing to determine with assurance, whether the entire

  • state was an aristocracy, a democracy, or a monarchy.”

  • At the heart of this blended system was the Senate, a body of legislators chosen from

  • a group of elite families.

  • (Rome was divided into two broad classes: the Patriciansthe small group of aristocratic

  • families and the Plebeians, basically everybody else. The Senators were drawn from the Patricians.)

  • The Senate was a sort of a mixture of legislature and giant advisory council. Their main job

  • was to set the policy for the Consuls.

  • Each year the Senate would choose from among its ranks 2 co-Consuls to serve as sort of

  • the chief executives of Rome.

  • There needed to be two so they could check each other’s ambition, and also so that

  • one could, you know, take care of Rome domestically, while the other was off fighting wars, and

  • conquering new territory.

  • There were two additional checks on power: First, the one-year term. I mean, how much

  • trouble could you really do in a year, right?

  • Unless youre the CEO of Netflix, I mean he destroyed that company in like two weeks.

  • And secondly, once a senator had served as consul, he was forbidden to serve as consul

  • again for at least 10 years. Although that went a little bit like you say youre only

  • going to eat one Chipotle burrito per week, and then there are a few exceptions, and then

  • all of a sudden youre there every day, and YES, I know guacamole is more, JUST GIVE

  • IT TO ME!

  • But right, we were talking about the Romans. The Romans also had a position of dictator,

  • a person who would who’d take over in the event the Republic was in imminent danger.

  • The paradigm for this selfless Roman ruler was Cincinnatus, a general who came out of

  • comfortable retirement at his plantation, took command an army, defeated whatever enemy

  • he was battling, and then laid down his command and returned to his farm, safe in the knowledge

  • that one day the second largest city in Ohio would be named for him.

  • If that model of leadership sounds familiar to Americans by the way, it’s because George

  • Washington was heavily influenced by Cincinnatus when he invented the idea of a two term presidency.

  • So along comes Caesar. Gaius Ju- Gay-us? No it’s Gaius, I know from Battlestar Galactica.

  • Gaius Julius Caesar was born around 100 BCE to one of Rome’s leading families.

  • His birth was somewhat miraculous, requiring a surgical procedure that we know as Caesarian

  • section.

  • Coming as he did from the senatorial class, it was natural that Caesar would serve in

  • both the army and the Senate, which he did. He rose through the ranks,

  • and after some top-notch generalling, and a gig as the governor of Spain, he decided

  • to run for consul.

  • In order to win, Caesar needed financial help, which he got from Crassus, one of Rome’s

  • richest men. Crassus ran a private fire company whose business model was essentially, “hey,

  • I notice your house is on fire. Give me some money and I’ll help you out with that.”

  • Caesar succeeded in becoming consul in 59 BC and thereafter sought to dominate Roman

  • politics by allying himself with Crassus and also with Rome’s other most powerful man,

  • the general Pompey.

  • Youll no doubt remember Pompey from his fascination with Alexander the Great.

  • Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar were the so-called first triumvirate, and the alliance worked

  • out super well, for Caesar.

  • Not so well for the other two. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble.

  • After a year as consul that included getting the senate to pass laws largely because of

  • intimidation by Pompey’s troops,

  • Caesar landed the governorship of Gaul, at least the southern part of Gaul that Rome

  • controlled. He quickly conquered the rest of Gaul and his four loyal armiesor legions,

  • as the Romans called thembecame his source of power.

  • Caesar continued his conquests, invading Britain and waging another successful war against

  • the Gauls.

  • While he was away, Crassus died in battle with the Parthians and Pompey, who had become

  • Caesar’s rival and enemy, was elected Consul.

  • Pompey and the Senate decided to try to strip Caesar of his command and recall him to Rome.

  • If he returned to Rome without an army, Caesar would have been prosecuted for corrupt consuling

  • and also probably exceeding his authority as governor,

  • so instead he returned with the 13th Legion. He crossed the Rubicon River,

  • famously saying, “the die is castor possibly, “Let the die be cast.”

  • Sorry, Thought Bubble, sources disagree.

  • Basically, Caesar was invading his own hometown. Pompey was in charge of Rome’s army but

  • like a boss fled the city,

  • and by 48 BCE Caesar was in total command of all of Rome’s holdings, having been named

  • both dictator and consul.

  • Caesar set out to Egypt to track down Pompey only to learn that he’d already been assassinated

  • by agents of the Pharaoh Ptolemy.

  • Egypt had its own civil war at the time, between the Pharaoh and his sister/wife Cleopatra.

  • Ptolemy was trying to curry favor with Caesar by killing his enemy, but Caesar was mad in

  • that the-only-person-who-gets-to-tease-my-little-brother-is-me kind of way, except with murder instead of

  • teasing.

  • So Caesar sided withand skoodilypooped withCleopatra.

  • Thank you, Thought Bubble. Cleopatra went on to become tBut before all that, Caesar

  • made his way back from Egypt to Rome, stopping off to defeat a few kings in the east, and

  • was declared dictator again.

  • he last Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt and bet on Marc “I am the Wrong HorseAntony instead

  • of EmperorThere Is a Baby Attached to My LegAugustus.

  • But before all that, Caesar made his way back from Egypt to Rome, stopping off to defeat

  • a few kings in the east, and was declared dictator again.

  • That position that was later extended for ten years, and then for life. He was elected

  • consul in 46 and then again in 45 BCE, this last time without a co-consul.

  • By 45 BCE Caesar was the undisputed master of Rome and he pursued reforms that strengthened

  • his own power.

  • He provided land pensions for his soldiers, restructured the debts of a huge percentage

  • of Rome’s debtors, and also changed the calendar to make it look more like the one

  • we use today.

  • But by 44 BCE, many Senators had decided that Caesar controlled too much of the power in

  • Rome, and so they stabbed him 23 times on the floor of the Roman senate.

  • Caesar was duly surprised about this and all, but he never said, “Et Tu, Brutewhen

  • he realized Brutus was one of the co-conspirators. That was an invention of Shakespeare.

  • The conspirators thought that the death of Caesar would bring about the restoration of

  • the Republic, and they were wrong.

  • For one thing, Caesar’s reforms were really popular with the Rome’s people, who were

  • quick to hail his adopted son Octavian, along with his second in command Mark “I am the

  • wrong horseAntony

  • and a dude named Lepidus, as a second triumvirate.

  • This triumvirate was an awesome failure, degenerating into a second civil war.

  • Octavian and Antony fought it out. Antony being the wrong horse lost. Octavian won,

  • changed his name to Caesar Augustus, became sole ruler of Rome, attached a baby to his

  • leg, adopted the title Emperor, and started printing coins identifying himself as Divini

  • Filius: Son of God. More on that next week.

  • Although Augustus tried to pretend that the forms of the Roman republic were still intact,

  • the truth was that he made the laws and the Senate had become nothing more than a rubber

  • stamp.

  • Which reminds me, it’s time for the open letter. Movie magic!

  • An open letter to the Roman Senate. Oh, but first, let’s see what’s in the secret

  • compartment. Ah, it’s a harmonica! Stan, do you want me to play some old, Roman folk

  • songs? Very well. Stan, I just want to thank you for doing such a good job of overdubbing

  • there.

  • Dear Roman Senate, whether you were rubber stamping the laws of Emperor Augustus, or

  • stabbing Caesar on the floor of your sacred hall, you were always doing something!

  • I don’t want to sound nostalgic for a time when people lived to be 30, a tiny minority

  • of adults could vote, and the best fashion choice was bedsheets, but oh my god, at least

  • you did something!

  • Youre senate was chosen from among the Patrician class. Our senate here in the United

  • States is chosen from among the obstructionist class.

  • But don’t get me wrong Roman senate, you were terrible. Best wishes, John Green.

  • So did Caesar destroy the Republic? Well, he started a series of civil wars, he seized

  • power for himself, subverted the ideas of the republic, he changed the constitution,

  • but he’s only really to blame if he was the first one to do that. And he wasn’t.

  • Take the general Marius, for instance, who rose to power on the strength of his generalship

  • and on his willingness to open up the army to the poor, who were loyal to him personally,

  • and not to Rome,and whom he promised land in exchange for their good service in the

  • army.

  • This of course required the Romans to keep conquering new land so they could keep giving

  • it to new legionnaires.

  • Marius also was consul 5 times in a row 60 years before Caesar.

  • Or look at the general Sulla who, like Marius, ensured that his armies would be more loyal

  • to him personally than to Rome, but who marched against Rome itself, and then became its dictator,

  • executing thousands of people in 81 BCE, 30 years before Caesar entered the scene.

  • There is another way of looking at this question altogether if we dispense with great man history.

  • Maybe Rome became an empire before it had an emperor.

  • Like, remember the Persian Empire? Youll remember that empire had some characteristics

  • that made it, imperial.

  • Like a unified system of government, continual military expansion, and a diversity of subject

  • peoples.

  • The Roman empire had all three of those characteristics long before it became The Roman Empire. Like

  • Rome started In 219 BCE, Hannibal attacked a Roman town and then led an army across Spain,

  • and then crossed the freaking Alps with elephants.

  • out as a city, and then it became a city state, then a kingdom, and then a Republic, but that