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The great dictator: Julius Caesar and the death of the Roman Republic.


Citizens 1-7 *, people of Rome Julius Caesar, politician and general Pompey, politician and general Marcus Crassus, politician and general Marcus Cicero, Senator Aide to Caesar * Narrators A-D

* Indicates a fictitious character.


IN 409 B.C., THE PEOPLE OF THE CITY-STATE OF ROME did something rare for their time. They banished their King and became a republic. The King was replaced by two elected consuls. A Senate and Assembly were organized to pass laws. But over the next 300 years, as Rome became more powerful, its government grew more corrupt. The oligarchy enriched itself with the slave labor of conquered peoples. Many citizens went bankrupt, and the gap between rich landowners and everyone else became extreme. An atmosphere of great discontent led to political chaos and eventually to the destruction of the Roman Republic. One man would put the final nail in its coffin: Julius Caesar.


Narrator A: In 70 B.C., Rome is on the verge of yet another crisis. For nearly a century, it has been the scene of constant revolt. The city has not recovered from the struggle between two generals, Marius and Sulla, that ended in Sulla's reign of terror in 82 B.C. Meanwhile, the Optimates party, which controls the Senate, struggles with the party of the Populares, which controls the Assembly. Out in the street ...

Citizen 1: Friend, I see that you have returned from Cyrene [sigh-REE-nee; see map, p. 17]. You missed a lot of excitement.

Citizen 2: So I hear. Politicians killing one another. Competing armies and mobs terrorizing the city. Even in Cyrene, one had to be careful about using the names Marius and Sulla in public.

Citizen 3: The generals just get more powerful. They use their battles to get rich from plunder [goods taken by force].

Citizen 1: And public office is open to the highest bidder. As my friend Cicero says, "There is one sure way to win an election in Rome: Buy it."

Narrator A: That year, in fact, the elections for consul are basically bought by two rich men, Pompey and Crassus. Both are generals and politicians who fought for Sulla. They are also sworn enemies. An ambitious young politician observes their success. A relative of Marius, he narrowly escaped being killed by Sulla. His name is Julius Caesar.


Narrator B: During the next decade, Caesar's influence grows. Between holding elective offices in Rome, he serves as the Governor of Spain. In 60 B.C., Caesar returns to Rome. He meets with Pompey and Crassus.

Julius Caesar: Greetings to you, gentlemen and noble Romans.

Marcus Crassus: Why have you brought us together? It is no secret how we feel about each other.

Caesar: Yes, but I believe that we can also help each other. Both of you have profitable agreements in Asia that are being blocked by the Senate. Pompey, the Senate also refuses to give land to your veterans. If I am elected consul, it could be good for all of us. Further, if we appeal to the Assembly and get the people on our side, the Senate will be too nervous not to support us.

Pompey: I like the way you think.

Narrator B: The three men form a triumvirate. Caesar is elected one of Rome's two consuls for the year 59 B.C. Despite the Optimates' resistance, Caesar gets two land acts passed. These grant land to poor citizens, including many of Pompey's soldiers. The Populates are delighted.

Citizen 4: Did you hear? Pompey and Crassus stood on either side of Caesar and defied the Senate. They said they will fight anyone with the sword who opposes Caesar's laws.

Citizen 5: That Caesar is a slick one. When his co-consul Bibulus tried to delay a vote, Caesar had a bucketful of dung dumped over his head.

Narrator B: The triumvirate is further strengthened when Pompey marries Caesar's daughter, Julia. In all, Caesar's year as consul is a big success for the three men--much to the frustration of the Senate.


Narrator C: The following year, Caesar receives a military command that includes the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul. [Today, that area is northern Italy and southern France.] A brilliant general, Caesar begins a steady, brutal conquest of the rest of Gaul. In victory, Caesar builds his own loyal army and source of wealth. Back in Rome, Pompey worries that Caesar's increasing power will threaten his own. He tries to hide his concern from his ally, the Senator Marcus Cicero.

Marcus Cicero: I don't trust Caesar. He is a snake.

Pompey: Don't worry. I need Caesar now, and I can control him. Cicero: I'm not so sure. The common people of Rome think that Caesar has promised them liberty. This "liberty" will end with his becoming a tyrant.

Narrator C: In 54 B.C., Pompey's wife, Julia, dies. Her death cuts Pompey's family tie with Caesar. The following year, Crassus is killed in battle. Now Pompey feels even more threatened by Caesar. Allying himself with the Senate, Pompey is appointed sole consul in 52 B.C. With total control, he makes his move against his rival. Shortly thereafter, in Gaul ...

Caesar: Here is another letter from Rome. The Senate wants to recall me and take my command. If I don't have the protection of my army, they can simply kill me. With me out of the way, Pompey will take over.

Aide: The Senate says that you want to make yourself into a dictator.

Caesar: As if Pompey does not! Let's face it, the Republic is dead. It is a mere name, without a body or form. I won't go back to Rome defenseless.

Narrator C: Caesar tries to avoid a war with Pompey. But on January 7, 49 B.C., the Senate declares that Caesar will be considered a public enemy if he does not disband his army. Camped on the far side of the Rubicon, a river at the border of Italy, Caesar considers his next move.

Caesar: If I cross this river with my men, it will mean war. I did not want to have to do this. But Pompey and the Senate have left me no choice. The die is cast.

Narrator C: On January 10, 49 B.C., Caesar begins leading his troops across the Rubicon. The civil war that will change Rome forever has begun.


Narrator D: Pompey immediately retreats to Greece with his army. Caesar and his soldiers quickly cross the Adriatic Sea and attack Pompey. In August 48 B.C., word reaches Rome of the decisive battle at Pharsalus [far-SAY-luss].

Citizen 6: Caesar was greatly outnumbered, but Pompey was outgeneraled. Thousands of Pompey's soldiers surrendered or fled-many others were killed outright. Pompey, too, ran for his life.

Citizen 7: I heard that Caesar's men found all the tents in Pompey's camp decorated for a victory party. And Caesar ate Pompey's meal for him!

Narrator D: Pompey flees across the Mediterranean to Alexandria, Egypt. Trying to land there, he is killed by order of one of the Pharaoh's officials. But the war is not over yet. Caesar must fight Pompey's allies and other rebels in the provinces for the next three years. He is unable to return to Rome for good until 45 B.C. There, he meets with Cicero.

Cicero: Caesar, we are grateful that you pardoned many of us for fighting on Pompey's side. I hope you will be so generous to all of Rome's citizens.

Caesar: From the beginning, I have only sought to save Rome from itself. Now we must heal our wounds. The poor shall be given relief, and private property will be respected. One day, after I have restored order, perhaps the Republic will be great again.

Narrator D: In 44 B.C., the Senate makes Caesar dictator for life. But Caesar has little time to enjoy the peace he has won. On March 15, 44 B.C., he is assassinated in the Senate. Leading the plotters is one of Pompey's allies whom Caesar had pardoned, Marcus Brutus.


Julius Caesar's stamp on history was huge. Historians say that he saved the Roman state, enabling the spread of Greek and Roman thought throughout the world. Culturally, he left us invaluable histories of his time. The calendar we use today is based on his reform of the Roman calendar.

It is doubtful that Caesar really planned to restore the Republic-or that it could have been saved. Caesar's assassination resparked the civil war. When the war finally ended, in 30 B.C., Caesar's heir, Octavian, held power. Renaming himself Augustus Caesar, he was the first in a series of Emperors, who ruled the Roman Empire for another five centuries, JS

Words to Know

* consul *: the highest office in ancient Rome. Two were elected every year and shared power.

* dictator *: a ruler with absolute power; in ancient Rome, an appointed office.

* oligarchy (oh-li-gar-kee): rule by a small group of powerful individuals.

* Optimates (op-tim-AH-teez) *: the party of the oligarchy.

* Populares (pop-yoo-LAH-reez) *: the party of common citizens.

* republic: government by citizens and their elected representatives.

* triumvirate (try-UHM-vur-it): an alliance of three people.

* See Teacher's Edition for further explanations.


1. What conditions led to turmoil in the Roman Republic?

2. Was the leadership of a strong ruler like Caesar better for the average Roman than the chaos of the Republic? Explain.

Your Turn

1. consul A. ruler with
 absolute power
2. dictator B. goodstaken by
3. oligarchy C. government by
4. plunder D. Roman high office
5. republic E. rule by a small


1. D

2. A

3. E

4. B

5. C

WORLD HISTORY PLAY The Great Dictator, pp. 14-17


Students should understand

* The Republic of ancient Rome was destroyed by years of internal strife, government corruption, and the severe divide between the oligarchy and common citizens.


Optimates: from the Latin for "best ones"; the party of the patrician class or oligarchy

* Populares: or "populists"; the citizens' party.


The highest officers in the Republic were the consuls. In general, the rule was that a consul could not serve two years in a row, but this rule--as most other rules in ancient Rome--was suspended for certain powerful men. Marius, in fact, was consul continuously from 104 B.C. to 100 B.C. Dictator was a specific title in Rome. In theory it was conferred only in times of crisis and was only to last for six months. This mold--as most other molds--was broken by Caesar, who was appointed dictator for 10 years in 46 B.C., then for life in 44 B.C.


COMPREHENSION: How did Caesar appeal to the Populares? (He exploited their class resentment by, among other things, bypassing the Senate and appealing directly to them. He also promised relief to the poor. Other answers likely.)


MAKING AN ARGUMENT: Hail, Caesar or Bah, Caesar? Divide students into two groups. Have them research the second Think About It question: Was the autocratic rule of Julius Caesar better or worse than the chaos of the Republic? Then conduct a debate in your own Senate.



* Time, continuity, and change: How the Roman Republic was destroyed by the ambitions of generals and the dissatisfaction of its people.

* Power, authority, and governance: How leaders of ancient Rome struggled for power, changing forms of governance.



* Jeffrey, Gary, and Petty, Kate, Julius Caesar: The Life of a Roman General (Rosen Central, 2005). Grades 5-7.

* Parsons, Jane (ed.), Julius Caesac The Founder of the Roman Empire (DK Children, 2001). Grades 5-8.


* Assassination of Julius Caesar

* The Romans
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Author:Brown, Bryan
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Article Type:Play
Date:Jan 23, 2006
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