Julius Caesar went down in history as the conqueror of Gaul and the creator of the new regime who found followers in various epochs. Little known to the general public are his military activities at the earlier stages of his career, i.e. during his tenure as pro-prime minister in Spain, where the future winner of the Gauls for the first time commanded a larger group of troops.
Caesar began his military career in Asia under the orders of Marcus Termus. He participated in the conquest in 80 BCE Mytilene, the only city in Asia that resisted the Republic even after the defeat of Mithridates. During the fights, he received corona civica in recognition of his war merits. Then he served under the orders of P. Servilius Vatii against the Isaurus. When in 74 BCE Mithridates attacked the province of Asia, Caesar headed the “free company” defending it against the attacks of King Pontus. Caesar’s real baptism of fire as commander of a larger army took place during the period when he was serving as the prime minister in Further Spain in 62/61 BCE. The Senate assigned him this province because of his experience as a quaestor in these areas. Caesar’s situation before taking up this post was not enviable, as he was extremely indebted. The position of the pro-prime minister made it possible to get rich, which could repair his finances. Initially, Caesar’s departure to the province was put into question, as creditors wanted to block him until all debts were paid. Caesar wisely asked for help from Crassus, who vowed to vouch for 830 talents. Caesar himself came to an agreement with some of them, promising them a share in the wealth obtained from the provinces. The freshly appointed associate professor did not settle all matters related to the new position, concerning the recruitment of personnel, finances and the military. In this way, he wanted to avoid possible obstacles that would make it difficult to leave the capital.
Caesar’s activities in Further Spain
Caesar’s intention was not only to gain new funds while in office in this province but also to gain fame in the war campaign, which would increase his chances of seeking a consulate the following year. Even from the time of his bursary in Spain, he knew local relations. He also had good contacts with merchants from Gades, whom he often did a favour, for example, he facilitated an audience before the Senate.
He began his office by increasing the size of the army, which he strengthened with recruits among the natives. The Roman army increased from 20 to 30 cohorts. Then, to win over the people of the province, Caesar launched a campaign against the inhabitants of the Hermium Mountains south of the Tagus. They committed robberies in neighbouring communities. Caesar demanded that the highlanders leave the fortified seats and settle on the plains under the pretext of disarmament. In fact, he understood that they would refuse anyway, and it would give him an excuse for war. Started at the turn of August and September 61 BCE. the attack on Hermium was a prelude to further actions.
After subjugating the highlanders, Roman troops moved to the adjacent areas inhabited by shepherds and farmers who resisted them. Before the clash, the rebellious natives evacuated their belongings and families across the Duero River. They released their herds of cattle towards the Romans in the hope that the soldiers of the propreator would scatter around the area in pursuit of them. Contrary to these naive expectations, the legionaries attacked their ranks and defeated them. After their pogrom, Caesar had to face once again the highlanders from Hermium, who again took up arms. They moved to the shores of the Atlantic and made their way to one of the islands in the ocean. Caesar, after reaching the western shore of the Iberian Peninsula, sent a troop on rafts, which after landing on an island manned by rebels was cut into a trunk. At this stage, operations were stopped and Caesar’s troops withdrew to Cordoba for winter quarters. In the following months, the pro-secretary dealt with the pressing matters of the provincial inhabitants. One of them was the problem of the growing indebtedness of the local population. Caesar, struggling with his debts himself, issued a law under which creditors could only occupy 2/?of the debtors’ income during the year and not 100% of their value as previously. He also abolished the annual contribution imposed on the local tribes during the war with Sertorius.
Caesar skillfully won over the local elites, and one of their representatives, L. Cornelius Balbus of Gades, became one of his closest confidants and friends. He was an interesting figure who could be a model of the effectiveness of the assimilation of the province led by Rome. Balbus had already made himself known as a supporter of Rome, supporting the invaders’ army, for which he was awarded Roman citizenship. Caesar appointed him prefectus fabrum – commander of artisans in the legions. It was thanks to him that the Roman commander granted privileges to his home town. Meanwhile, it was the season of the military campaign, and Caesar again directed his legions against the Hermium highlanders occupying the island in the Atlantic. This time, the landing party used ships provided by the friendly city of Gades. The second clash on the island ended in a pogrom of rebellious highlanders. The next target of Caesar’s army was the city of Brigantium, which, frightened by the sight of Roman ships, opened its gates to the army of the propreator.
Caesar’s office in Spain brought him the expected military successes and resources that he could use to pay off huge debts incurred in Rome. It also influenced the awakening of his ambitions, because from then on, he wanted even more conquests and riches drawn from the subjugated territories. During his activities in Downward Spain, Caesar showed his organizational and military abilities, which would emerge again during the Gallic War. In Spain, there are also such advantages of Caesar as consistency in pursuing his goal and the ability to attract local people.