Julius Caesar

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A coin with Julius Caesar's head on it
A coin with Julius Caesar's head on it
Painting of Gaius Julius Caesar
Painting of Gaius Julius Caesar
Bust of Julius Caesar
Bust of Julius Caesar
For other uses, see Julius Caesar (disambiguation).

Gaius Julius Caesar (Classical Latin: IMP·C·IVLIVS·CAESAR·DIVVS¹) (b. July 13, ca. 100 BC; d. March 15, 44 BC) was a Roman military and political leader. He was instrumental in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. His conquest of Gaul extended the Roman world all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, introducing Roman influence into what has become modern France, of which direct consequences are visible to this day. This conquest also led to the extinction of the Celtic languages in Gaul. In 55 BC Caesar launched the first Roman invasion of Britain.

Caesar fought and won a civil war which left him undisputed master of the Roman world, and began extensive reforms of Roman society and government. He was proclaimed dictator for life, and heavily centralized the already faltering government of the weak Republic. Caesar's friend Marcus Brutus conspired with others to assassinate Caesar in hopes of saving the Republic. The dramatic assassination on the Ides of March sparked a new civil war between the Caesarians: Octavian, Mark Antony, Lepidus, and Republicans: Brutus, Cassius, and Cicero among others. This conflict ended with a Caesarian victory at the Battle of Philippi, and the formal establishment of the Second Triumvirate in which Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus shared control of Rome. Tensions between Octavian and Antony soon plunged Rome into further civil war, culminating in Antony's defeat at the Battle of Actium, and leaving Octavian as the undisputed leader of the Roman world.

This period of civil wars transformed the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire with Caesar's great nephew and adopted son Octavian, later known as Caesar Augustus, installed as the first Emperor.

Caesar's military campaigns are known in detail from his own written Commentaries (Commentarii), and many details of his life are recorded by later historians such as Suetonius, Plutarch, and Cassius Dio.


Early Life

19th c. bust of young Julius CaesarPhoto: Maxwell Wolf
19th c. bust of young Julius Caesar
Photo: Maxwell Wolf

Caesar was born in Rome to a well-known patrician family (gens Julia), which supposedly traced its ancestry to Julus, the son of the Trojan prince Aeneas, who according to myth was the son of Venus. According to legend, Caesar was born by Caesarian section and is its namesake, though this is unlikely because it was only performed on dead women, and his mother lived long after he was born. Caesar was raised in a modest apartment building (insula) in the Subura, a lower-class neighborhood of Rome.

The Julii Caesares, although of impeccable aristocratic patrician stock, were not rich by the standards of the Roman nobility. Thus, no member of his family had achieved any outstanding prominence in recent times, though in his father's generation there was a renaissance of their fortunes. His paternal aunt, Julia, married Gaius Marius, a talented general and reformer of the Roman army. Marius became one of the richest men in Rome at the time and while he gained political influence, the Caesar family gained the wealth.

Towards the end of Marius' life in 86 BC, internal politics reached a breaking point. During this period Roman politicians were generally divided into two factions: the Populares, which included Marius, and the Optimates, which included Lucius Cornelius Sulla. A string of disputes between these two factions led to civil war and eventually opened the way to Sulla's dictatorship. Caesar was tied to the Populares through family connections. Not only was he Marius' nephew, he was also married to Cornelia Cinnilla, the youngest daughter of Lucius Cornelius Cinna, Marius' greatest supporter and Sulla's enemy. To make matters worse, in the year 85 BC, just after Caesar turned 15, his father grew ill and soon died. Both Marius and his father had left Caesar much of their property and wealth in their wills.

Thus, when Sulla emerged as the winner of this civil war and began his program of proscriptions, Caesar, not yet 20 years old, was in a bad position. Sulla ordered Caesar to divorce Cornelia in 82 BC, but Caesar refused and prudently left Rome to hide. Sulla pardoned Caesar and his family and allowed him to return to Rome. In a prophetic moment, Sulla was said to comment on the dangers of letting Caesar live. According to Suetonius, the dictator in relenting on Caesar's proscription said, "He whose life you so much desire will one day be the overthrow of the part of nobles, whose cause you have sustained with me; for in this one Caesar, you will find many a Marius."

Despite Sulla's pardon, Caesar did not remain in Rome and left for military service in Asia and Cilicia. While still in Asia Minor, Caesar was involved in several military operations. In 80 BC, while still serving under Thermus, he played a pivotal role in the siege of Miletus. During the course of the battle Caesar showed such personal bravery in saving the lives of legionaries, that he was later awarded the corona civica (oak crown). The award was of the highest honor given to a non-commander, and when worn in public, even in the presence of the Roman Senate, all were forced to stand and applaud his presence.

Back in Rome in 78 BC, when Sulla died, Caesar began his political career in the Forum at Rome as an advocate, known for his oratory and ruthless prosecution of former governors notorious for extortion and corruption. The great orator Cicero even commented, "Does anyone have the ability to speak better than Caesar?" Aiming at rhetorical perfection, Caesar traveled to Rhodes in 75 BC for philosophical and oratorical studies with the famous teacher Apollonius Molo.

On the way, Caesar was kidnapped by Cilician pirates in the Mediterranean Sea. When they demanded a ransom of twenty talents, he laughed at them, saying they did not know whom they had captured. Instead, he ordered them to ask for fifty. They accepted, and Caesar sent his followers to various cities to collect the ransom money. In all he was held for thirty-eight days and would often laughingly threaten to have them all crucified. True to his word, as soon as he was ransomed and released, he organized a naval force, captured the pirates and their island stronghold and put them to death by crucifixion as a warning to other pirates. However, since they had treated him well, he had their throats cut before they were crucified to lessen their suffering.

After returning to Rome in 73 BC, Caesar was elected to the College of Pontiffs. Unfortunately, Caesar returned to Rome in the middle of the slave rebellion under the ex-gladiator Spartacus. The Senate sent legion after legion to crush the rebellion, but each time Spartacus was victorious. In 72 BC, Caesar was elected a military tribune by the Roman assemblies, his first step in political life. Finally, in the year 71 BC, Marcus Crassus rose to the challenge presented by Spartacus. Caesar was one of the few men to lobby for Crassus in trying to establish his command. The Senate appointed Crassus to the cause, and Crassus personally levied six brand new legions, and recruited the young Caesar to serve as one of his tribunes for his work as an advocate. After a series of defeats, Crassus finally overcame Spartacus in 71 BC. During their time together, Caesar and Crassus would form a friendship that would later advance both of their careers in the years to come. But Caesar's triumph soon turned to disaster.

In 69 BC, Caesar became a widower after Cornelia's death trying to deliver a stillborn son. In the same year, he lost his aunt Julia, to whom he was very attached. These two deaths left Caesar very much alone to raise a still infant daughter, Julia Caesaris. It was untraditional for Roman women to have great public funerals, but Caesar broke tradition and gave them both fine funerals. During the funerals, Caesar delivered eulogy speeches from the Rostra. Julia's funeral was filled with political connotations, since Caesar insisted on parading Marius's funeral mask. Although Caesar was very fond of both women (according to Suetonius), these speeches were interpreted by his political opponents as propaganda for his upcoming election for the office of quaestor.

Caesar's cursus honorum

Julius Caesar, depicted from the bust in the British Museum, in Cassell's History of England (1902)
Julius Caesar, depicted from the bust in the British Museum, in Cassell's History of England (1902)

Caesar was elected quaestor by the Assembly of the People in 69 BC, at the age of 30, as stipulated in the Roman cursus honorum. This office brought with it membership in the senate. He drew the lots and was assigned with a quaestorship in Hispania Ulterior, a Roman province roughly situated in modern Portugal and southern Spain. As an administrative and financial officer, the trip was largely uneventful, but while in Hispania he had the now famous encounter with a statue of Alexander the Great. Perhaps because of his weakened emotional state coupled with a growing and now obvious personal ambition, he had a definitive and prophetic reaction to the site of the statue. At the temple of Hercules in Gades, it was said that he either broke down and cried or at the very least was deeply saddened in reaction to it. When asked why he would react so, he responded: "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 released early from his office as quaestor, and allowed to return to Rome. Despite any personal grief over the loss of his wife, whom all accounts suggest he loved dearly, Caesar was set to remarry in 67 BC for political gain. This time, however, he chose an odd alliance. The granddaughter of Sulla, and daughter of Quintus Pompey, Pompeia became his next wife. Although seeming to align himself with the Senatorial optimates, Caesar's other actions had little to do with conservative policy and he continued his course of support for a populares policy. Caesar supported the Lex Gabinia which granted Pompey the Great unlimited powers in dealing with Cilician Pirates. Later, and once again in the face of bitter Optimate resistance, Caesar supported the Lex Manilia which granted Pompey the unique and comprehensive command of the entire east against Mithridates. Obviously building a relationship with Rome’s great general would play into his hands later. The rivalry between Pompey and Caesar’s benefactor Crassus, seemed to have little effect on Caesar. Crassus continued to support Caesar’s enormous debts over the next few years.

Between the support of the two laws regarding Pompey’s command, Caesar served as the curator of the Appian Way. The maintenance of this road, which stretched from Rome through Cumae to the heel of Italy’s boot, was an important and high profile position. While it was enormously expensive to him personally, it gave a great deal of prestige to the young Senator, and Crassus’ support made it an achievable task for Caesar. All the while, Caesar continued pursuing his judicial career until his election as curule aedile in 65 BC, along with Bibulus, a young rival and member of the optimate faction.

This magisterial position was the next step in the Roman cursus honorum and provided a grand opportunity for the master of the public spectacle. The curule aediles were responsible for the construction and care of temples, maintenance of public buildings, traffic, and other aspects of Rome's daily life. Perhaps most importantly, the aediles staged public games on state holidays and managed the Circus Maximus. Caesar indebted himself to the point of near financial ruin during this time, but enhanced his image irreversibly with the common people. His games were spectacular affairs, and building projects during his term were ambitious. In a spectacle to honor his father, Caesar displayed 320 pairs of gladiators clad in silver armor at an enormous expense.

Caesar pushed his agenda further by erecting statues of Marius for public display. The senate was outraged, but Caesar’s popularity made him nearly untouchable. They could, however, attempt to block his political path through other means. Caesar may have been nominated to take charge of quelling a disturbance in Egypt but was unable to win enough support to take the position. Caesar ended his year as aedile in both glory and bankruptcy. His debts reached several hundred gold talents (millions of Euros in today's currency) and threatened to hinder his future political career. His co-aedile Bibulus was so unspectacular in comparison that he later commented in frustration that the entire year’s aedile ship was credited to Caesar alone, instead of both.

His success as aedile, however, enormously helped his election as Pontifex Maximus (high priest) in 63 BC, following the death of the previous pontifex Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius. This office came with a house — the Domus Publica (public house) — in the Forum, the responsibility of all Roman religious affairs and the custody of the Vestal virgins under his roof. For Caesar, it also meant a relief of his debts. This election bestowed considerable power on Caesar, with the opportunity for income. The Pontifex was elected to a lifetime term. While technically not a political office, the pontificate provided considerable advantages in dealing with the Senate and legislation.

Scandal marred Caesar's debut as Pontifex. Following Cornelia's death, Caesar had married Pompeia, a granddaughter of Sulla, in 67 BC. As the wife of the Pontifex and an important matrona, Pompeia was responsible for the organization of the Bona Dea festival in December. These sacred rites were exclusive to women. However, Publius Clodius Pulcher managed to sneak in the house disguised as a woman. This was absolute sacrilege and Pompeia received a letter of divorce. Caesar himself admitted that she might be innocent of wrongdoing, but that: "Caesar's wife, like the rest of Caesar's family, must be above suspicion."

Sixty-three BC proved especially difficult, not only for Caesar, but for the Roman Republic itself. Caesar won the office of urban Praetor, but before he could take office, the Catiline Conspiracy erupted, putting Caesar in direct conflict with the optimates once again. Lucius Sergius Catilina, twice a candidate for consul, faced charges of plotting to overthrow the Republic through armed rebellion. Caliline's guilt is disputed. In the elections held in late 63 BC, Marcus Tullius Cicero defeated Catiline in the consular election.

Soon afterwards, Crassus received anonymous letters informing various Senators to leave Rome in order to avoid a coming massacre of government leaders. Crassus took the letters to Cicero, who presented the conspiracy concept to the Senate. Many in the Senate disbelieved him, thinking that Cicero fabricated the affair for political gain. Cicero’s oratorical eloquence, however, convinced the Senate that plot warranted extreme steps. Senatus consultum ultimum followed granting Cicero the authority to deal with the conspirators. Catiline, among others, became the prime target. In response he decided to flee Rome, but not before being implicated in a plot to assassinate Cicero. The plot failed, and Catiline left to join the rebellion in Etruria.

Five notable Romans, allies of Cataline, were sentenced to death without trial. Imprisonment before trial was unheard of and if banished the men might have joined Catiline's armies in Etruria. During the Senate's deliberation, Caesar was one of the few men to argue against a death sentence. His position was defeated, due to Cato the younger's insistence, and the men were executed on the same day. This was also the day on which Caesar's affair with Servilia Caepionis was exposed to the public eye. Caesar's opposition prompted accusations — never proved — of his involvement with the conspiracy.

If Caesar was implicated in the Catiline affair, it did him no lasting damage. In the following year, Caesar began a term as urban praetor. From this elite position, he once again pushed his populares policies. He asked for an account of the cost of restoring the capital, in which he was opposed by the optimates. Unsuccessful in that attempt, he strengthened his standing with Pompey, who was soon to return to Rome from his eastern campaigns. Pompey’s return troubled the optimates, who feared a Sullan-style march to Rome and dictatorship. They needed to present the city, and the surrounding countryside, as a stable environment not in need of Pompey to ‘restore order’. Pompey’s ally, Caecilius Metellus Nepos, however, took the matter to the Senate demanding that Pompey be allowed to land in Italy and do just that. Caesar supported Nepos and Pompey, but Cato defeated the motion. Nepos fled Rome to join Pompey, and Caesar was eventually stripped of the Praetorship. When a mob in support of Caesar threatened violence his position was restored. Caesar quelled the mob before any violence ensued.

Towards the end of his Praetorship, Caesar again faced the serious jeopardy of prosecution for his debts. Crassus, rescuing his ally, paid off a quarter of his 20 million denarii balance. By 61 BC, Caesar was assigned the Proconsular governorship of further Hispania, the province in which he had served as quaestor. With this appointment to a potenially profitable position, his creditors relaxed their demands. Not taking chances, Caesar left Rome earlier than this new responsibility required.

Caesar and his staff rode hard, reaching the Rhone in only 8 days, and presaging his future ability to move armies at remarkable speeds. On the way, several members of his entourage noted the barbaric, and, in their view, wretched standard of living in the local villages. Caesar, demonstrating his ambition replied, "For my part, I’d rather be the first man among these fellows than the second man in Rome." During his term as governor, Caesar strengthened his relationship with these Gallic peoples, which proved to be an important factor in his later plans.

Arriving in Hispania, Caesar earned a remarkable reputation for military command. Between 61 BC and 60 BC, he won considerable victories over the Gallaecians and Lusitanians. He advanced to the Atlantic Ocean and subdued tribes in the northwest part of the country that had never before bowed to the Romans. He secured sufficient spoils of war to pay off all of his debts, provide his men a considerable share of booty, and add to the Roman treasury. During one of his victories, his men hailed him as Imperator in the field, which was a vital consideration in being eligible for a triumph back in Rome. But a terrible dilemma faced Caesar. He wanted to run for Consul for 59 BC, which required his presence in Rome, but he also wanted the honor of a triumph. The optimates could use this against him, forcing him to wait outside the city, as was the custom, until they confirmed his triumph. This delay could force Caesar to miss his chance to run for Consul. In the summer of 60 BC, Caesar entered Rome to run for the highest political office in the Roman Republic, foregoing his triumph.

The First Triumvirate and the Gallic War

In 60 BC (or 59 BC) the Centuriate Assembly elected Caesar senior Consul of the Roman Republic. His junior partner was his political enemy Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, an Optimate and personal friend of Marcus Porcius Cato. Bibulus' first act as Consul was to retire from all political activity in order to search the skies for omens. This apparently pious decision was designed to make Caesar's life difficult during his Consulship. Caesar needed allies and he found them where none of his enemies expected.

The leading general of the day, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great), was unsuccessfully fighting the Senate for farmlands for his veterans. A former Consul, Marcus Licinius Crassus, allegedly the richest man in Rome, was also having problems in obtaining his long-desired military command against the Parthian Empire. Caesar desperately needed Crassus's money and Pompey's influence, and an informal alliance soon followed: The First Triumvirate (rule by three men). To confirm the alliance, Pompey married Julia Caesaris, Caesar's only daughter. Despite their differences in age and upbringing, this political marriage proved to be a love match.

Following a difficult year as Consul, Caesar was appointed to a five year term as Proconsular Governor of Transalpine Gaul (current southern France) and Illyria (the coast of Dalmatia). Not content with an idle governorship, Caesar started the Gallic Wars (58 BC49 BC) in which he conquered all of Gaul (the rest of current France) and parts of Germania and annexed them to Rome. Among his legates were his cousins Lucius Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, Titus Labienus and Quintus Tullius Cicero, the younger brother of Caesar's political opponent, Cicero.

Caesar defeated the Helvetii (in Switzerland) in 58 BC, the Belgic confederacy and the Nervii in 57 BC and the Veneti in 56 BC. On August 26th 55 BC he attempted an invasion of Britain and, in 52 BC he defeated a union of Gauls led by Vercingetorix at the battle of Alesia. He recorded his own accounts of these campaigns in De Bello Gallico ("On the Gallic War").

According to Plutarch, the whole campaign resulted in 800 conquered cities, 300 subdued tribes, one million men sold to slavery and another three million dead in battle fields. Ancient historians notoriously exaggerated numbers of this kind, but Caesar's conquest of Gaul was certainly the greatest military invasion since the campaigns of Alexander the Great. The victory was also far more lasting than those of Alexander's - Gaul never regained its Celtic identity, never attempted another nationalist rebellion, and remained loyal to Rome until the fall of the Western Empire in 476.

Despite his successes and the benefits to Rome, Caesar remained unpopular among his peers, especially the conservative faction, who suspected him of wanting to be king. In 55 BC, his partners Pompey and Crassus were elected consuls and honored their agreement with Caesar by prolonging his proconsulship for another five years. This was the last act of the First Triumvirate.

In 54 BC, Julia Caesaris died in childbirth, leaving both Pompey and Caesar heartbroken. Crassus was killed in 53 BC during his campaign in Parthia. Without Crassus or Julia, Pompey drifted towards the Optimates. Still in Gaul, Caesar tried to secure Pompey's support by offering him one of his nieces in marriage, but Pompey refused. Instead, Pompey married Cornelia Metella, the daughter of Metellus Scipio, one of Caesar's greatest enemies.

The civil war

In 50 BC, the Senate, led by Pompey, ordered Caesar to return to Rome and disband his army because his term as Proconsul had finished. Moreover, the Senate forbade Caesar to stand for a second consulship in absentia. Caesar thought he would be prosecuted and politically marginalized if he entered Rome without the immunity enjoyed by a Consul or without the power of his army. Pompey accused Caesar of insubordination and treason. On January 10, 49 BC Caesar crossed the Rubicon (the frontier boundary of Italy) and civil war broke out. Historians differ as to what Caesar said upon crossing the Rubicon; the two competing lines are "Alea iacta est" ("The die is cast"), and "Let the dice fly high!" (a line from the New Comedy poet Menander). This minor controversy is occasionally seen in modern literature when an author attributes the less popular Menander line to Caesar.

The Optimates, including Metellus Scipio and Cato the Younger, fled to the south, not knowing that Caesar had only his Tenth Legion with him. Caesar pursued Pompey to Brundisium, hoping to restore their alliance of ten years prior. Pompey eluded him, however, and Caesar made an astonishing 27-day route-march to Hispania where he defeated Pompey's lieutenants. He then returned east, to challenge Pompey in Greece where on July 10, 48 BC at Dyrrhachium Caesar barely avoided a catastrophic defeat. He decisively defeated Pompey, despite Pompey's numerical advantage (nearly twice the number of infantry and considerably more cavalry), at Pharsalus in an exceedingly short engagement in 48 BC.

Pompey fled to Egypt, where he was murdered by an officer of King Ptolemy XIII. In Rome, Caesar was appointed dictator, with Mark Antony as his master of the horse; Caesar resigned this dictatorate after eleven days and was elected to a second term as consul with Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus as his colleague. He pursued Pompey to Alexandria, where he camped his army and became involved with the Alexandrine civil war between Ptolemy and his sister, wife, and co-regnant queen, the Pharaoh Cleopatra VII. Perhaps as a result of Ptolemy's role in Pompey's murder, Caesar sided with Cleopatra; he is reported to have wept at the sight of Pompey's head, which was offered to him by Ptolemy's chamberlain Pothinus as a gift. In any event, Caesar defeated the Ptolemaic forces and installed Cleopatra as ruler, with whom he fathered his only known biological son, Ptolemy XV Caesar, better known as "Caesarion". Caesar and Cleopatra never married.

After spending the first months of 47 BC in Egypt, Caesar went to the Middle East, where he annihilated King Pharnaces II of Pontus in the battle of Zela; his victory was so swift and complete that he commemorated it with the words Veni, vidi, vici ("I came, I saw, I conquered"). Thence, he proceeded to Africa to deal with the remnants of Pompey's senatorial supporters. He quickly gained a significant victory at Thapsus in 46 BC over the forces of Metellus Scipio (who died in the battle) and Cato the Younger (who committed suicide). Nevertheless, Pompey's sons Gnaeus Pompeius and Sextus Pompeius, together with Titus Labienus, Caesar's former propraetorian legate (legatus propraetore) and second in command in the Gallic War, escaped to Hispania. Caesar gave chase and defeated the last remnants of opposition in the Munda in March 45 BC. During this time, Caesar was elected to his third and fourth terms as consul in 46 BC (with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus) and 45 BC (without colleague).

After the war

Caesar returned to Italy in September, 45 BC. Among his first tasks he filed his will, naming Octavian as his sole heir. The Senate had already begun bestowing honors on Caesar in absentia. Even though Caesar had not proscribed his enemies, instead pardoning nearly every one of them, there seemed to be little open resistance to him.

Great games and celebrations were held on April 21 to honor Caesar’s great victory. Along with the games, Caesar was honored with the right to wear triumphal clothing, including a purple robe (reminiscent of the kings of Rome) and laurel crown, on all public occasions. A large estate was being built at Rome’s expense, and on state property, for Caesar’s exclusive use. The title of Imperator became a legal title that he could use in his name for the rest of his life. An ivory statue in his likeness was to be carried at all public religious processions. Images of Cesar show his hair combed forward in an atempt to conceal his baldness,

Another statue of Caesar was placed in the temple of Quirinus with the inscription To the Invincible God. Since Quirinus was the deified likeness of the city and its founder and first King, Romulus, this act identified Caesar not only on equal terms with the gods, but with the ancient kings as well. A third statue was erected on the capitol alongside those of the seven Roman Kings and with that of Lucius Junius Brutus, the man who led the revolt to expel the Kings originally. In yet more scandalous behavior, Caesar had coins minted bearing his likeness. This was the first time in Roman history that a living Roman was featured on a coin.

When Caesar returned to Rome in October of 45 BC, he gave up his fourth Consulship (which he held without colleague) and placed Quintus Fabius Maximus and Gaius Trebonius as suffect consuls in his stead. This irritated the Senate because he completely disregarded the Republican system of election, and performed these actions at his own whim. He celebrated a fifth triumph, this time to honor his victory in Hispania. The Senate continued to encourage more honors. A temple to Libertas was to be built in his honor, and he was granted the title Liberator. They elected him Consul for life, and allowed to hold any office he wanted, including those generally reserved for Plebeians. Rome also seemed willing to grant Caesar the unprecedented right to be the only Roman to own imperium. In this, Caesar alone would be immune from legal prosecution and would technically have the supreme command of the legions.

More honors continued, including the right to appoint half of all magistrates, which were supposed to be elected positions. He also appointed magistrates to all provincial duties, a process previously done by draw of lots or through the approval of the Senate. The month of his birth, Quintilis, was renamed July (Latin Julius) in his honor and his birthday, July 13, was recognized as a national holiday. Even a tribe of the people’s assembly was to be named for him. A temple and priesthood, the Flamen maior, was established and dedicated in honor of his family.

Caesar, however, did have a reform agenda and took on various social ills. He passed a law that prohibited citizens between the ages of 20 and 40 from leaving Italy for more than 3 years unless on military assignment. This theoretically would help preserve the continued operation of local farms and businesses and prevent corruption abroad. If a member of the social elite did harm or killed a member of the lower class, then all the wealth of the perpetrator was to be confiscated. Caesar demonstrated that he still had the best interest of the state at heart, even if he believed that he was the only person capable of running it. A general cancellation of one-fourth of all debt also greatly relieved the public and helped to endear him even further to the common population.

Caesar tightly regulated the purchase of state-subsidized grain, prostitutes, and forbade those who could afford privately supplied grain from purchasing from the grain dole. He made plans for the distribution of land to his veterans and for the establishment of veteran colonies throughout the Roman world. One of his most wide-ranging reforms came after his election to Pontifex Maximus for life. Caesar ordered a complete overhaul of the Roman calendar, establishing a 365-day year with a leap year every fourth year (this Julian Calendar was subsequently modified by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 into the modern calendar). As a result of this reform, the year 46 BC was in fact 445 days long to bring the calendar into line.

Additionally great public works were undertaken. Rome was a city of great urban sprawl and unimpressive brick architecture and Rome desperately needed a renewal. A new Rostra of marble, along with court houses and marketplaces were built. A public library under the great scholar Varro was also under construction. The Senate house, the Curia Hostilia, which had been recently repaired, was abandoned for a new marble project to be called the Curia Julia. The city Pomerium (sacred boundary) was extended allowing for additional growth.

Plutarch records that at one point, Caesar informed the Senate that his honours were more in need of reduction than augmentation, but withdrew this position so as not to appear ungrateful. He was given the title Pater Patriae ("Father of the Fatherland"). He was appointed dictator a third time, and then nominated for nine consecutive one-year terms as dictator, effectually making him dictator for ten years. He was also given censorial authority as prefect of morals (praefectus morum) for three years.

At the onset of 44 BC, the honors heaped upon Caesar continued and the rift between him and the aristocrats deepened. He had been named Dictator Perpetuus, making him dictator for the remainder of his life . This title even began to show up on coinage bearing Caesar’s likeness, placing him above all others in Rome. Some among the population even began to referred to him as ‘Rex’ (Latin king), but Caesar refused to accept the title. At Caesar’s new temple of Venus, a Senatorial delegation went to consult with him, and Caesar refused to stand to honor them upon their arrival. Though the event is clouded by several different versions of the story, it’s quite clear that the Senators present were deeply insulted. He attempted to rectify the situation later by exposing his neck to his friends and saying he was ready to offer it to anyone who would deliver a stroke of the sword. This seemed to at least cool the situation, but the damage was done. The seeds of conspiracy were beginning to grow.


The fear of Caesar becoming king continued when someone placed a diadem on the statue of Caesar on the Rostra. The tribunes, Gaius Epidius Marcellus and Lucius Caesetius Flavius removed the diadem. Not long after the incident with the diadem, the same two tribunes had citizens arrested after they called out the title ‘Rex’ to Caesar as he passed by on the streets of Rome. Now seeing his supporters threatened, Caesar acted harshly. He ordered those arrested to be released, and instead took the tribunes before the Senate and had them stripped of their positions. Caesar had originally used the sanctity of the Tribunes as one reason for the start of the civil war, but now revoked their power for his own gain.

At the coming festival of the Lupercalia, the biggest test of the Roman people for their willingness to accept Caesar as King was to take place. On February 15, 44 BC, Caesar sat upon his gilded chair on the Rostra, wearing his purple robe, red shoes and a golden laurel and armed with the title of Dictator Perpetuus. The race around the pomerium that was a tradition of the festival, and when Mark Antony ran into the forum and was raised to the Rostra by the priests attending the event. Antony produced a diadem and attempted to place it on Caesar’s head, saying "the people offer this (the title of king) to you through me." There was, however, little support from the crowd, and Caesar quickly refused being sure that the diadem didn’t touch his head. The crowd roared with approval, but Antony, undeterred attempted to place it on Caesar’s head again. Still there was no voice of support from the crowd, and Caesar rose from his chair and refused Antony again, saying, "I will not be king of Rome. Jupiter alone is King of the Romans." The crowd wildly endorsed Caesar’s actions.

All the while Caesar was still planning a campaign into Dacia and then Parthia. The Parthian campaign stood to bring back considerable wealth to Rome, along with the potential return of the standards that Crassus has lost over nine years earlier. An ancient legend has told that Partia could only be conquered by a king, so Caesar was authorized by the Senate to wear a crown anywhere in the empire, save Italy. Caesar planned to leave in April of 44 BC, and the secret opposition that was steadily building had to act fast. Made up mostly of men that Caesar had pardoned already, they knew their only chance to rid Rome of Caesar was to prevent him ever leaving for Parthia.

The Roman Senate traditionally met in the Curia Hostilia, which had been recently repaired from the fires that destroyed it years before, but the Senate had abandoned it for the new house under construction. Thus Caesar summoned the Senate to meet in the Theatrum Pompeium (built by Pompey) on the Ides of March (March 15) 44 BC. A few days before, a soothsayer had said to Caesar, "Beware the Ides of March." As the Senate convened, Caesar was attacked and stabbed to death by a group of senators who called themselves the Liberators (Liberatores); the Liberators justified their action on the grounds that they committed tyrannicide, not murder, and were preserving the Republic from Caesar's alleged monarchical ambitions. Among the assassins who locked themselves in the Temple of Jupiter were Gaius Trebonius, Decimus Junius Brutus, Marcus Junius Brutus, and Gaius Cassius Longinus; Caesar had personally pardoned most of his murderers or personally advanced their careers. Marcus Brutus was a distant cousin of Caesar and named as one of his testamentary heirs. There is also speculation that Marcus Brutus was an illegitimate child of Caesar's, since he had an affair with Servilia Caepionis, Brutus' mother; however, Caesar was 15 years old at the time Brutus was born. Caesar sustained 23 (as much as 35 by some accounts) stab wounds, which ranged from superficial to mortal, and ironically fell at the feet of a statue of his friend turned rival, Pompey the Great. Pompey had recently been deified by the Senate, some accounts report that Caesar prayed to Pompey as he lay dying. His last words have been variously reported as:

  • και συ τεκνον; (Kai su, teknon?) (Gr., "Even you, my child?" – from Suetonius)
  • Tu quoque, Brute, fili mi! (Lat., "You too, Brutus, my son!" – a modern Latin translation of the Greek quotation from Suetonius)

Eyewitness account

Here follows an eyewitness account of Caesar's assassination written by Nicolaus of Damascus, a few years after the assassination.

The Plan

"The conspirators never met openly, but they assembled a few at a time in each others' homes. There were many discussions and proposals, as might be expected, while they investigated how and where to execute their design. Some suggested that they should make the attempt as he was going along the Sacred Way, which was one of his favorite walks. Another idea was for it to be done at the elections during which he had to cross a bridge to appoint the magistrates in the Campus Martius; they should draw lots for some to push him from the bridge and for others to run up and kill him. A third plan was to wait for a coming gladiatorial show. The advantage of that would be that, because of the show, no suspicion would be aroused if arms were seen prepared for the attempt. But the majority opinion favored killing him while he sat in the Senate, where he would be by himself since non-Senators would not be admitted, and where the many conspirators could hide their daggers beneath their togas. This plan won the day."

Bad Omens

"Before he entered the chamber, the priests brought up the victims for him to make what was to be his last sacrifice. The omens were clearly unfavorable. After this unsuccessful sacrifice, the priests made repeated other ones, to see if anything more propitious might appear than what had already been revealed to them. In the end they said that they could not clearly see the divine intent, for there was some transparent, malignant spirit hidden in the victims. Caesar was annoyed and abandoned divination till sunset, though the priests continued all the more with their efforts.
"Those of the murderers present were delighted at all this, though Caesar's friends asked him to put off the meeting of the Senate for that day because of what the priests had said, and he agreed to do this. But some attendants came up, calling him and saying that the Senate was full. He glanced at his friends, but Brutus approached him again and said, 'Come, good sir, pay no attention to the babblings of these men, and do not postpone what Caesar and his mighty power has seen fit to arrange. Make your own courage your favorable omen.' He convinced Caesar with these words, took him by the right hand, and led him to the Senate which was quite near. Caesar followed in silence."

The Final Attack

"The Senate rose in respect for his position when they saw him entering. Those who were to have part in the plot stood near him. Right next to him went Tillius Cimber, whose brother had been exiled by Caesar. Under pretext of a humble request on behalf of this brother, Cimber approached and grasped the mantle of his toga, seeming to want to make a more positive move with his hands upon Caesar. Caesar wanted to get up and use his hands, but was prevented by Cimber and became exceedingly annoyed.
"That was the moment for the men to set to work. All quickly unsheathed their daggers and rushed at him. First Servilius Casca struck him with the point of the blade on the left shoulder a little above the collar-bone. He had been aiming for that, but in the excitement he missed. Caesar rose to defend himself, and in the uproar Casca shouted out in Greek to his brother. The latter heard him and drove his sword into the ribs. After a moment, Cassius made a slash at his face, and Decimus Brutus pierced him in the side. While Cassius Longinus was trying to give him another blow he missed and struck Marcus Brutus on the hand. Minucius also hit out at Caesar and hit Rubrius in the thigh. They were just like men doing battle against him.
"Under the mass of wounds, he fell at the foot of Pompey's statue. Everyone wanted to seem to have had some part in the murder, and there was not one of them who failed to strike his body as it lay there, until, wounded twenty-three times, he breathed his last. "


Caesar's death also marked, ironically, the end of the Roman Republic, for which the assassins had struck him down. The Roman middle and lower classes, with whom Caesar was immensely popular, and had been since Gaul and before, were enraged that a small group of high-browed aristocrats had killed their champion. Antony's famous Shakespearian speech, "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears" may or may not have actually happened, but the speech is a perfect example of what public thinking was following Caesar's murder. Antony, who'd been as of late drifting from Caesar, capitalized on the grief of the Roman mob and threatened to unleash them on the Optimates, perhaps with the intent of taking control of Rome himself. But Caesar named his grand nephew Gaius Octavius sole heir of his vast fortune, giving Octavius both the immensely powerful Caesar name and control of one of the largest amounts of money in the Republic. In addition, Gaius Octavius was also, for all intents and purposes, the son of the great Caesar, and consequently the loyalty of the Roman populace shifted from dead Caesar to living Octavius. Octavius, only aged 19 at the time of Caesar's death, proved to be ruthless and lethal, and while Antony dealt with Decimus Brutus in the first round of the new civil wars, Octavius consolidated his position. In order to combat Brutus and Cassius, who was massing a major army in Greece, Antony needed both the cash from Caesar's war chests and the legitimacy that Caesar's name would provide any action he took against the two. A new Triumvirate was found - the Second and final one, with Octavius, Antony, and Caesar's loyal cavalry commander Lepidus as the third member. This Second Triumvirate deified Caesar as divus iulius and – seeing that Caesar's clemency had resulted in his murder – brought back the horror of proscription, abandoned since Sulla, and proscribed its enemies in large numbers in order to sieze even more funds for the second civil war against Brutus and Cassius, whom Antony and Octavian defeated at Philippi. A third civil war then broke out between Octavian on one hand and Antony and Cleopatra on the other. This final civil war, culminating in Antony and Cleopatra's defeat at Actium, resulted in the ascendancy of Octavian, who became the first Roman emperor, under the name Caesar Augustus. In 42 BC, Caesar was formally deified as "the Divine Julius" (Divus Iulius), and Caesar Augustus henceforth became Divi filius ("Son of God").

The literary Caesar

See Literary works of Julius Caesar.

The military Caesar

See Military career of Julius Caesar.

Caesar's name

See Etymology of the name of Julius Caesar.

Caesar's family




  • a grandson from Julia Caesaris and Pompey, dead at several days, unnamed

Female lovers

  • Affair with Cleopatra VII
  • Affair with Cato's first wife, Bibulus' first two wives, the wives of many of the opposing factions' senators
  • Affair with Servilia Caepionis, mother of Brutus

Male lovers

In ancient Rome male homosexuality was common and widespread throughout society, especially amongst the upper classes. However, it was thought to be improper for a freeborn boy or man to be penetrated anally as Caesar was alleged to have been in his youth. For a man or boy to participate in the passive role during anal sex it generally indicated that they were a slave (the purchase of male slaves for sexual purposes was common in Rome) or one that had earned his freedom. Under Roman law emancipated slaves may still be required to render certain services, including sexual ones, to their former master.

Roman society viewed the passive role during sex, regardless of gender, to be a sign of submission or inferiority. Indeed, it was said some sang mockingly of Caesar that, "Caesar may have conquered the Gauls, but Nicomedes conquered Caesar". According to Cicero, Bibulus, Gaius Memmius (whose account may be from firsthand knowledge), and others (mainly Caesar's enemies), he had an affair with Nicomedes III of Bithynia early in his career. The tales were repeated by some Roman politicians as a way to humiliate and degrade him. Caesar himself, according to Cassius Dio, denied the accusations under oath. [1]

Mark Antony charged that Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus had earned his adoption by Caesar through sexual favors. Suetonius described Antony's accusation of an affair with Octavian as political slander. The boy would become the first Roman Emperor following Caesar's death. [2]


  • July 13, 100 BC – Birth in Rome; Alternatively, July 12, 102 BC or July 12, 100 BC
  • 84 BC – First marriage to Cornelia Cinnilla
  • 82 BC – Escapes the Sullan persecutions
  • 81/79 BC – Military service in Asia and Cilicia; tryst with Nicomedes of Bithynia
  • 70s – Career as an advocate
  • 69 BC – Death of Cornelia, Quaestor in Hispania Ulterior
  • 65 BC – Curule aedile
  • 63 BC – Second marriage to Pompeia Sulla,
  • 61 BC – Serves of Propraetor in Hispania Ulterior
  • 59 BC – First consulship with Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, beginning of the First Triumvirate
    • Third marriage to Calpurnia Pisonis
  • 58 BC/53 BC – First term as Proconsul of Gaul
  • 54 BC – Death of Julia
  • 53 BC – Death of Crassus: end of the First Triumvirate
    • 53 BC/48 BC — Second term as Proconsul of Gaul
  • 52 BC – Battle of Alesia
  • 49 BC – Crossing of the Rubicon, the civil war starts
  • 48 BC – Defeats Pompey in Greece at Battle of Pharsalus, made dictator (serves for 11 days)
    • Second consulship with Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus
  • 47 BC – Campaign in Egypt; meets Cleopatra VII
  • 46 BC – Defeats Cato and Metellus Scipio in northern Africa, third consulship with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus
    • Second dictatorship
    • Elected Pontifex Maximus for life (introduces Julian Calendar) and adoptes Octavian as heir
  • 45 BC – Defeats the last opposition in Hispania
    • Returns to Rome; fourth consulship (without colleague)
    • Named Pater Patriae by the Senate and third dictatorship
  • 44 BC
    • Fifth consulship with Mark Antony
    • Appointed perpetual dictator
    • February, Refuses the diadem offered by Antony
    • March 15, Assassinated
  • 42 BC Formally deified as "the Divine Julius" (Divus Julius)


Caesar was ranked #67 on Michael H. Hart's list of the most influential figures in history.

Was voted the title Divus, or "god," after his death

During his life, he received many honors, including titles such as Pater Patriae (Father of the Fatherland), Pontifex Maximus (Highest Priest), and Dictator. In fact, the many titles he was voted by the Senate are sometimes considered to be a cause of his assassination, as it seemed inappropriate to many contemporaries for a mortal man to be awarded so many honors.

Perhaps the most significant title he carried was his name from birth: Caesar. This name would be awarded to every Roman emperor, and it became a signal of great power and authority far beyond the bounds of the empire (witness the German Kaiser and Russian Tzar/Csar).


  • The Gallic War, by Julius Caesar; Loeb Classics
  • Life of Caesar, by Plutarch; Oxford Classics
  • The Twelve Caesars – Julius Caesar, by Suetonius; Penguin Classics
  1. ^  Suetonius 1.2, 49; Dio, 43.20
  2. ^  Suetonius 2.68, 71

Related topics

External links

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Primary sources

Caesar's own writings

Ancient historians on Caesar

Secondary Material

Ancient historians on Caesar

Secondary Material

Loosely Related


1- Official name after 42 BC, Imperator Gaius Iulius Caesar Divus, in English, "Imperator Gaius Julius Caesar, the deified one". Born as Gaius Iulius Gaii Filius Gaii Nepos Caesar, in English, "Gaius Julius Caesar, son of Gaius, grandson of Gaius".

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