Julius Caesar is one of the most renowned names from ancient Rome. Born into not so influential a family, he rose through the ranks in Roman politics to become the most powerful man in Rome, taking the title of dictator in perpetuity. He was a key player in the series of events which led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar is also famous for being one of the most able military commanders in history and for his complicated love life which included an affair with the renowned Egyptian queen Cleopatra. He was assassinated on the Ides of March, 44 BC, due to a conspiracy against him by senators who feared he would overthrow the Senate in favor of tyranny. Know more about the family, life, political career and assassination of Julius Caesar through these 10 interesting facts.

 

#1 He was not born by caesarean section

Born on 13th July 100 BC, Gaius Julius Caesar was the youngest child of Gaius Julius Caesar and his wife Aurelia Cotta. He had two elder sisters, Julia Major and Julia Minor. Contrary to popular belief, it is unlikely that Caesar was born by caesarean section. At the time, caesarean section was usually fatal to the mother and performed only when the mother was dead or dying. Caesar’s mother, Aurelia, lived till 54 BC. According to some sources, the name Caesar originated because one of his ancestors was born by caesarean section (from caesus, Latin for cut). Other explanations for the name include long hair (Latin caesaries), bright grey eyes (Latin oculis caesiis) or killing an elephant in battle (caesai in Moorish).

Julius Caesar's parents
Julius Caesar’s parents – Gaius Julius Caesar (left) and Aurelia Cotta (right)

 

#2 He had to leave Italy after Sulla won the civil war against his uncle Gaius Marius

Bust of Gaius Marius
Bust of Gaius Marius, Caesar’s uncle

Patrician is a term used to refer to the ruling class families in ancient Rome. Julius Caesar was born into a patrician family but it was not politically influential. However, it was seeing a reversal in its fortunes. Caesar’s father was made governor of the Roman province of Asia and his aunt Julia married Gaius Marius, one of the most prominent figures in the Republic. When Caesar was in his teens, a civil war began in Rome between his uncle Gaius Marius and his rival Lucius Cornelius Sulla. In 85 BC, Caesar’s father died making Caesar head of the family at the age of sixteen. The following year, Caesar married Cornelia, daughter of his uncle’s ally Lucius Cornelius Cinna. After, Sulla’s victory in the civil war, Sulla ordered Caesar to divorce Cornelia. Caesar refused, lost his inheritance, and found escape by leaving Italy and doing military service, first in the province of Asia and then in Cilicia.

#3 Caesar was kidnapped by pirates when he was in his twenties

In 78 BC, after Sulla’s death, Julius Caesar returned to Rome and acquired a modest house as his inheritance had been confiscated earlier.  In 75 BC Caesar set out from Rome for the Aegean island of Rhodes to study oratory under the famous professor, Apollonius Molon. However, on the way across the Aegean Sea, Caesar was kidnapped by pirates and held prisoner. The pirates demanded a ransom of 20 talents of silver but Caesar insisted that they ask for 50. The raised ransom was paid and he was released. Caesar immediately raised a fleet, and pursued and captured the pirates. He then had them crucified as he had promised while he was their captive.

 

#4 He was part of the First Triumvirate

On his return to Rome, Caesar began to work in cooperation with Pompey the Great, a prominent political leader most known for his military exploits. Caesar progressed within the Roman political system becoming quaestor in 69 BC, aedile in 65 BC and praetor in 62 BC; and in 59 BC he became consul, the highest political office in the Roman Republic. While partnering with Pompey, Caesar also aligned himself with Marcus Licinius Crassus, a Roman general and politician cited as the wealthiest man in Roman history. Pompey and Crassus were intense rivals but Caesar acted as a mediator between the two. Around 60 BC, they made an unofficial alliance known as the First Triumvirate. It made them the unofficial rulers of Rome and gave them lands to reign over with Crassus taking Syria, Caesar taking Illyrica and Gaul and Pompey taking Spain. The triumvirate lasted till the death of Crassus in 53 BC.

Pompey, Crassus and Julius Caesar
The First Triumvirate (left to right) – Pompey, Crassus and Julius Caesar

 

#5 Julius Caesar famously led Rome to victory in the Gallic Wars

Julius Caesar is considered one of the greatest military commanders in history. His most famous achievement came in the Gallic Wars, a series of military campaigns against the feared native tribes in the region of Gaul. The Gallic Wars, which lasted from 58 BC to 50 BC, extended Rome’s territory over the whole of Gaul (present-day France and Belgium). His Gallic success granted Caesar unmatched military power and threatened Pompey, who had realigned himself with the Senate. In 50 BC, the Senate ordered Caesar to disband his army and return to Rome because his term as governor was over. Julius Caesar defied the order and returned to Italy without disbanding his army by crossing the Rubicon River. He thus ignited the Civil War against Pompey and the Senate; and as he stepped into Italy, he is said to have famously said, “alea iacta esto” (“the die is cast”).

Painting of Vercingetorix surrendering to Caesar
Gallic chieftain Vercingetorix surrendering to Julius Caesar after the Battle of Alesia (52 BC)

 

#6 Julius Caesar had an affair with the famous Egyptian queen Cleopatra

The Great Roman Civil War began in 49 BC with Caesar driving his opponents out of Italy. He then crushed Pompey’s army in Spain. Pompey and the Roman senate enjoyed a major victory in the Battle of Dyrrhachium but were decisively defeated by Caesar in the Battle of Pharsalus. Pompey fled to Egypt and Caesar followed him but Pompey was assassinated before Caesar’s arrival. In Egypt, Caesar became involved in an Egyptian civil war between the pharaoh Ptolemy XIII and his elder sister, wife and co-regent, the famous queen Cleopatra. Ptolemy had directed his army to prevent Cleopatra from meeting Caesar but she smuggled herself rolled up in a carpet to meet the Roman general. Cleopatra and Caesar became involved in an affair and Caesar helped her claim the throne of Egypt.

Painting of Cleopatra and Caesar
Cleopatra appearing before Caesar – Painting by Jean-Leon Gerome

 

#7 He was appointed dictator in perpetuity in 44 BC

After the Egyptian civil war, Caesar won several military campaigns against the remaining supporters of Pompey. The Great Roman Civil War ended with his victory at the Battle of Munda on 17th March 45 BC. In the Roman Republic, a dictator was an office which was given wide ranging powers. It was entrusted with full authority of the state, usually to deal with a military emergency or to undertake a specific duty. Julius Caesar was first appointed dictator in 49 BC; and reappointed the following year. In 46 BC he was appointed dictator for 10 years and in 44 BC he was appointed dictator perpetuo (dictator in perpetuity). During this time he filled the depleted numbers of the Senate with his supporters, raising the number of senators to 900. In 48 BC, he had been also granted the tribunician power for an indefinite period, which prevented the other tribunes from interfering with his actions.

The Tusculum Portrait of Julius Caesar
The Tusculum Portrait – Perhaps the only surviving sculpture of Julius Caesar made during his lifetime

 

#8 Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March of 44 BC

Caesar’s appointment as dictator perpetuo made several senators fear that he wanted to overthrow the Senate in favor of tyranny. Led by Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus, the conspirators stabbed Julius Caesar to death in a location adjacent to the Theatre of Pompey on the Ides of March (March 15), 44 BC. More than 30 men participated in the assassination and Caesar was stabbed 23 times. The last words of Caesar were not “Et tu, Brute?” (“you too, Brutus?”) as in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar; but they might have been “Kai su, teknon?” (“You too, child?”). Brutus had sided with Pompey during the Civil War but Caesar forgave him and even appointed him to important positions. Caesar being assassinated by Brutus, a man whom he had forgiven, trusted, and loved, has since been a popular tale of betrayal. When he was young, Caesar had an affair with Servilia, the mother of Brutus. This has led to some speculation that Brutus might have been Caesar’s child.

Painting of the Assassination of Julius Caesar
The Assassination of Julius Caesar, as depicted by Vincenzo Camuccini

 

#9 He was a womanizer and might have been a bisexual

1696 Statue of Julius Caesar
1696 Statue of Julius Caesar by Nicolas Coustou

Julius Caesar married Cornelia in 84 BC but their marriage was cut short due to her death in 69 BC. In 67 BC, he married Pompeia. In 62 BC, there was a women only celebration at Caesar’s house in honor of Bona Dea, a Roman goddess. A man named Publius Clodius intruded on the rites disguised as a woman but was discovered. A scandal erupted during which it was rumored that Clodius was in love with Pompeia or trying to seduce her. Caesar divorced Pompeia the following year. Caesar’s third wife was Calpurnia. They married in 59 BC and remained together till his assassination in 44 BC. Julius Caesar had only two known children, a daughter named Julia, by Cornelia; and a son named Caesarion through his love affair with Cleopatra. A noted womanizer, Caesar had multiple affairs, many of them with married women. There were also rumors of a homosexual relationship between Caesar and Nicomedes IV, the king of Bithynia.

#10 The month of July is named after Julius Caesar

With no sons from his three marriages, Julius Caesar had named his adopted son and great-nephew by blood, Octavian, as his sole heir. This granted Octavian not only sizable wealth but also immense power as Caesar was hugely popular among the masses. The assassination of Julius Caesar was followed by a period of civil war which ended with the collapse of the Roman Republic and Octavian, or Augustus Caesar, becoming the de facto Emperor of Rome. Julius Caesar thus played a major role in Rome being transformed from a decaying Republic into a stable monarchic Empire which lasted for around 1400 years. Shortly before his assassination, the month of Quintilis was renamed July in the honor of Julius Caesar. On January 1, 42 BC, he was posthumously granted the title Divus Iulius (the divine Julius) thus becoming the first historical Roman to be officially deified.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Nice article and so many thing came to know about Caesar. I never knew that he had an affair with Cleopatra. one more astonishing thing is “Month name July”

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