Who Was the Best Roman Leader?
The most important thing to have in a country is peace. Peace brings refinement of the arts, progress in the fields of agriculture, medicine, and science, and in countless other areas; and most importantly peace helps people to advance spiritually and morally. If a monarchy brings peace to a certain country, supports the rights of the people, and helps them to improve, then for that people a monarchy is the best form of government. If a republic or a democracy does the same to another people, than obviously this is a good form of government for those people. For the Romans a republic usually worked out best, because the Roman people, for the most part, were very independent, intelligent, and reasonable and would be unhappy with a monarchy. Thus, the subject of who was the best Roman leader should be opened with the question of who most valued peace and promoted democracy. The answer would be Cato the Younger.
To begin with, Cato was known throughout his life for having a very even temper, a fearless commitment to justice and liberty, and a very determined will. His self-discipline went almost to the point of severity. He always strove to do his best in everything he did. A good example of this would be the time when he was appointed quaestor, and he did such a good job that he restored respect for the public treasury. Whenever Cato was in a position of military authority, unlike Caesar or Antony, he did not try to win his soldiers over by luxurious presents or bribes; instead, he won their affection by his unfailing courtesy and justice and his willingness to live like a common soldier rather than a pampered officer, even going so far as to refuse a horse, and insist on walking with then soldiers. Cato was very committed to the freedom of Rome and to the republic, and he was always on guard against any threat to it. He was very good at foreseeing the possible ways in which events could evolve, such as when he perceived how dangerous it would be to give Pompey unprecedented power and to let him enter the City, under the pretext of protecting the city from the Catiline conspirators. His influence with the Senate prevented this from happening. And again, Cato almost immediately saw the danger Caesar’ increasing power posed, but his warnings were ignored. Cato never sought power for himself unless it would do his country some good. His patriotism was unbending; he would do anything for his country. Thus, if Cato had been made consul, he would have been an excellent ruler.
The first Roman king or ruler was, of course, the legendary founder Romulus. He was a very hot-headed stubborn person; this is easy to see from the way he killed his brother, Remus, in the famous story of the founding of Rome. Romulus was hungry for military power, and he was always striving to expand the boundaries of Rome. When he first established Rome itself, he divided the people into soldiers, patricians, and the people. He did this because he wanted the people or plebeians to look upon the patricians as “fathers”, and he wanted them to have a relationship like patron to client. The patricians were to serve the people both publicly in court in their private needs. However, this was a rather naïve move on Romulus’s part, because it was inevitable that this separation would cause a sense of inequality and eventually major conflicts in interest. From then on, this division was the cause of endless power struggles. Later on in his life, Romulus became very arrogant due to all his military and political success and he grew to act more like a king; this behavior making him loathsome to the people. Thus, Romulus was a rather power hungry, egotistical ruler. After his reign, the Sabines and the Romans both agreed that Numa Pompilius should be the next king.
Numa Pompilius was a very good king, and he loved peace and strove to obtain it in Rome and succeeded. In the severity of his lifestyle, he surpassed Cato. This might or might not be an admirable thing, since everything should be done with moderation. During his reign, there was not one war, Numa instituted many new religious practices, rites, and sacred orders, and he repealed many unjust laws. However, after all he did to humanize and refine the people he failed to rid the government of the two conflicting classes of plebeians and patricians by making them all equal and called by the same name. Cato would probably have handled the situation better. So for this reason, he was not the best Roman ruler.
In contrast to Numa Pompilius, Julius Caesar was a warmonger, and everything he did he did for his own personal honor. His main drive was ambition, and there was a scene in Plutarch’s Lives where Caesar is found crying with a copy of the history of Alexander. When asked why he was crying he answered, “Do you think I have not just cause to weep, when I consider that Alexander at my age had conquered so many nations, and I have all this time done nothing that is memorable.” Caesar was almost constantly in a war, and everything he did unsettled the peace in one way or another. He was a brilliant tactician, but this talent is always a very dangerous one for a person fueled by ambition to have. It eventually caused the destruction of the republic because the Roman people were so tired of war after Caesar’s reign, that they willingly submitted to having an emperor in order to achieve peace once more.
Thus, Cato the Younger was the best Roman leader because he did everything for the sake of the State. He was intuitive, just, virtuous, and very patriotic. He was not driven by ambition, but by his own virtue and love of Rome and its people. He upheld the republic, and throughout his life he struggled to steer the State away from great evils such as civil war, and though people often disregarded his advice and warnings, he was rarely mistaken in his judgments. If events had transpired in a different way and had Cato reached power like Caesar’s, there might never have been a Roman emperor, and the republic might have continued on better than ever. But as it was, Cato did all that he could to contribute to a better Rome, and the best is all that can be asked of a person. Therefore, Cato the Younger was the greatest Roman leader.