- Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March over 2,000 years ago.
- Caesar held a number of roles over the course of his career, serving as a high priest, general, and dictator.
- His actions and assassination contributed to the downfall of the faltering Roman Republic.
Julius Caesar had a pretty bad day at work on March 15, 44 BCE. The dictator of Rome was lured to a meeting and stabbed to death by his coworkers.
He would’ve done well to beware the Ides of March.
Several years earlier, the politician and general had rose to power in a civil war. His assassination sparked yet another civil war that doomed the Roman Republic. The state ended up mutating into an empire, with Caesar’s adopted heir Octavian at the helm.
Today, Caesar is still considered one of the greatest military commanders in history. His name is also synonymous with cults of personality and political strongmen.
So how exactly did the one-time high priest of Jupiter accrue so much power during his lifetime?
Business Insider looked through some of his own writings — as well as the less-reliable but still interesting works of contemporary ancient writers — to get a sense of his leadership style.
1. Presentation matters
The best leaders don’t just do amazing things — they know how to present a compelling story.
After a relatively brief war with a certain Pharnacles II of Pontus, Caesar had to sit down and write out a report to Rome detailing his conquest. According to both Greek biographer Plutarch and Roman historian Suetonius, the commander didn’t go into too much detail, writing simply: “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
The phrase proved so catchy that we still remember it, centuries later.
Caesar could have gone on and on about his military prowess (in fact, he was the author of several long military accounts). Instead, he realized that the simple note would convey the most powerful message.
2. Take risks
In ancient Rome, crossing the Rubicon River with an army was kind of a big deal. It was tantamount to a declaration of war and could be punishable by death.
When Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his legion, he put everything on the line. In “The Life of the Deified Julius,” Suetonius writes that Caesar quoted an Athenian playwright as he crossed the river, declaring “the die is cast.”
He risked it all and it paid off (in the short-term, at least).
3. There’s nothing wrong with starting small
Oftentimes, you’ve got to start out as a large fish in a small pond in order to succeed as a leader.
Caesar understood this. He managed to climb back into a position of power, even after losing his inheritance in a coup as a young man.
According to the ancient Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives,” the general also made a rather curious remark while passing through a small village in the Alps: “I assure you I had rather be the first man here than the second man in Rome.”