Alternate History: Caesar survives

The author is not an authority on Roman history although he has sunk countless hours into Rome: Total War. This article might turn out to be more wishful fantasy than a fact-based prediction.

Ides of March, 44 BC

Just as Caesar is about to leave for his impending doom, he has one of his seizures and is forced to stay home. Caesar learns of the plot that had been hatched, either through his spies or Mark Antony who having vaguely learned of the plot the night before had tried to warn Caesar but was waylaid.

*What follows is a dramatic enactment*

Enraged by how even those he had considered allies were a part of the plot, Caesar summons them and demands answers. Overcome with emotion, Brutus-who Caesar had pardoned after the previous civil war, goes on about how even though he admired Caesar, he can’t admire a tyrant. The needs of Rome must be placed above all else. He talks about how the senate fears what Caesar might become. Though Caesar vehemently denies any such possibilities it dawns on him that those with power like to hold on to it.

*End dramatization*

Caesar’s pro-plebeian reforms were a threat to the established aristocracy.

During his early career, Caesar had seen how chaotic and dysfunctional the Roman Republic had become. The republican machinery had broken down under the weight of imperialism, the central government had become powerless, the provinces had been transformed into independent principalities under the absolute control of their governors, and the army had replaced the constitution as the means of accomplishing political goals. With a weak central government, political corruption had spiraled out of control, and the status quo had been maintained by a corrupt aristocracy, which saw no need to change a system which had made all of its members quite rich. Caesar’s attempts to reform this system had endeared him to the public

Caesar would have probably rallied the people and annihilated those who stood against him. Or he might have concluded his reformist dreams to be futile and made haste to get out of Rome. Either way, he would have proceeded to Apollonia where his nephew Octavius waited with the legions. Caesar had made extensive plans for a campaign in Parthia. He thought to emulate Alexander the Great and create an empire that stretched till India. He also wished to avenge his friend Crassus.

Crassus, a member of the First Triumvirate and the wealthiest man in Rome, had been enticed by the prospect of military glory and riches and decided to invade Parthia without the official consent of the Senate. Rejecting an offer from the Armenian King Artavasdes II to allow Crassus to invade Parthia via Armenia, Crassus marched his army directly through the deserts of Mesopotamia. His army clashed with Surena’s force near Carrhae, a small town in modern-day Turkey. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Surena’s cavalry completely outmaneuvered the Roman heavy infantry, killing or capturing most of the Roman soldiers. Crassus himself was killed when truce negotiations turned violent.

Being the military genius he was, Caesar would have learnt from the mistakes of his predecessors. The Roman war machine, deadly at close quarters, had been vastly effective against the barbarians of Gaul and Germania but the Parthian cavalry archers were too mobile. The Romans repeatedly advanced towards the Parthians to attempt to engage in close-quarters fighting, but the horse archers were always able to retreat safely, setting loose Parthian shots (which gave rise to “parting shot”)  as they withdrew. Caesar would have extensively employed auxiliary cavalry, probably local Armenians, to guard his flanks and support the infantry as it slowly advanced. Eventually conquering a sizable portion in the name of Rome.

These military endeavors would also serve to glorify his chosen heir Octavius, who later on became emperor Augustus. Octavius upon coming to power became the first Roman emperor and had forced the senate to bestow upon him extraordinary power. Had Caesar been alive this would have played out differently. Caesar’s push for reforms would have kept the republic alive at least for a few more decades. On the topic of heirs, Caesar might even have fathered natural children with Cleopatra.

Roman law prohibited those of the senatorial class from taking non-citizen for wives. Had he been alive Caesar might have attempted to unify Egypt and Rome under a single throne and legitimise any potential off-springs with Cleopatra as true-born heirs.

In the end, Caesar’s survival would not have had a huge impact on western history as we know it. Rome’s borders would have grown but the open plains of Persia are hard to defend and would not have stayed in Roman hands for long. The Roman conquest of Britain (43 – 84 AD) proved to be a slow and costly affair. Had Caesar turned his sights to Britain after Parthia, it might have been the end of him. The Roman Republic was too far gone to be saved and would have fallen later if not sooner. In fact, if Caesar had lived, humanity’s greatest loss would have been Mark Antony’s rousing speech.

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;”

*Cue epic music*

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An Article By Rishab.

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