Leaders whose names become remembered long after their death often had a great direct or indirect effect on the course of history. On first glance, Julius Caesar and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia are only superficially similar. However, at a closer examination, it is possible to see some important similarities and differences. This paper will provide background information on each of the leaders and then compare them to each other.
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Julius Caesar is perhaps the most famous ruler in western history. He grew up during a time of instability in the Roman Republic and tried to gain entrance into the noble classes. After a number of missteps, Caesar found his way into Roman politics as a prosecuting advocate. Even in his early age, he showcased great skills of negotiation and military strategy when during his capture by pirates he managed to convince them to raise the ransom, only to later gather naval forces to get his revenge. Caesar later reaffirmed his military skills when Caesar fought against the king of Pontus. He quickly gained political power by aligning himself with various Roman politicians and was eventually elected as consul in 59 BC. His alliance with Marcus Licinius Crassus and Pompey became known as the First Triumvirate, which allowed him to further dominate his political opponents.
However, this relationship would not last forever, as Caesar gradually gained more military and political power, committing controversial military actions in Gaul and eventually Pompey. Despite the condemnation of Caesar from the upper classes of Rome, middle and lower classes saw his actions as inspiring and justified. When he crossed the river Rubicon in 49 BC, he committed an act of treason which eventually led to a short civil war that ended in his victory. When Caesar returned to Rome, he was made “dictator for life.” In his short time of rule, he increased the size of the senate, made it more representative of the Roman people, reformed the calendar, and the local governments (Stevenson, 2015). His reign did not last long, however, as he was assassinated by his political rivals in 44 BC. He was soon deified and was seen as a martyr (Strauss, 2015). His death resulted in a power struggle and eventual death of his assassins.
Tsar Nicholas II led a tragic life and was the last Tsar of Russia. He was born into the Romanov dynasty in 1868, which held important political positions not only as the rulers of Russia but had familial connections all over Europe. One of the defining moments of his life came when he was 13 years old. His grandfather Alexander II was assassinated by a revolutionary bomber, making his father ascended to the throne, and giving Nicholas II the position of the heir. He studied law and military strategy and spent three years in military service. He became Tsar after his father died of kidney failure at the age of 49. Nicholas II was not ready to be the Tsar and have not received proper education in politics. He married Princess Alexandra soon after. Their first four children were girls, leaving the Tsar without an heir. When a boy was eventually born, they named him Alexei. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with hemophilia, leaving the parents in constant worry of his health.
This condition led the pair to become involved with a monk by the name of Rasputin who supposedly kept the child healthy. Rasputin was a controversial figure with great power over the royal couple (Wortman, 2013). This association brought a lot of bad publicity to the Tsar’s image as a ruler. It only worsened however as Tsar experienced a great defeat in the Russo-Japanese war (White, 2016). Tsar Nicholas II was much too conservative for the political climate of his day. The middle and lower classes had little power and securities, while the nobility held say over everything. Violent pogroms against the Jewish populations and brutal responses to peaceful demonstrations have eventually made the public see Tsar as the enemy. Tsar Nicholas II attempted to quell the tension by creating an elected Duma but still opposed reform. His great losses in World War I brought the wrath of the people upon him and led to a revolution. He abdicated and in 1918 was executed along with all members of his family by the Bolsheviks (Chamberlin, 2014). In 2008 he and his family were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church and are currently worshiped as martyrs.
Both men were leaders at the turning points in history. The assassination of Caesar led to the transition of the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire, while the execution of Nicholas II was one of the first major events of the Bolshevik Revolution. Both Caesar and Nicholas II became martyrs after their death and have a modern following. However, their lives are almost a negative reflection of each other. Nicholas II did not have a great ambition to rule and was woefully unprepared for it. On the other hand, Caesar was an extremely ambitious leader who was prepared to rule since a young age. Nicholas II was a poor strategist and his lack of military prowess led to great losses and civil unrest, while Caesar’s victories have gained him a great admiration of middle and lower classes. Even their deaths were orchestrated by the opposite classes. Caesar was assassinated by political rivals who mostly represented the Roman nobility, while Nicholas II was executed by people representing the lower classes.
Both Caesar and Nicholas II met a tragic end. Their histories may be the opposites of each other, but their place in history is similar. Neither of them is likely to be forgotten in the future.
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Chamberlin, W. (2014). The Russian Revolution, volume I: 1917-1918: From the overthrow of the Tsar to the assumption of power by the Bolsheviks. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Stevenson, T. (2015). Julius Caesar and the transformation of the Roman Republic. Abingdon, UK: Taylor and Francis.
Strauss, B. (2015). The death of Caesar: The story of history’s most famous assassination. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
White, J. (2016). Diplomacy of the Russo-Japanese war. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Wortman, R. (2013). Scenarios of power: Myth and ceremony in Russian monarchy from Peter the Great to the abdication of Nicholas II. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.