There are some names of the great men and women of the ancient world whom almost everyone recognizes. Among these is the last dictator of the Roman Republic, Julius Caesar, whose assassination Shakespeare immortalized in his play Julius Caesar. Here are some of the main points to know about this great Roman leader.
- Caesar’s Birth
Julius Caesar was probably born 3 days before the Ides of July, in 100 B.C. That date would be July 13. Other possibilities are that he was born on July 12 in 100 B.C. or that he was born on July 12 or 13 in the year 102 B.C.
- Caesar’s Pedigreed Family
His father’s family was from the patrician gens of the Julii.
The Julii traced its lineage to the first king of Rome, Romulus, and the goddess Venus or, instead of Romulus, to Venus’ grandson Ascanius (aka Iulus or Jullus; whence Julius). One patrician branch of the Julian gens was called Caesar. [See Surnames of the Julii from UNRV.] Julius Caesar’s parents were Gaius Caesar and Aurelia, daughter of Lucius Aurelius Cotta.
- Familial Ties
Julius Caesar was related by marriage to Marius.
The first 7-time consul, Marius supported the populares and opposed Sulla. Sulla supported the optimates. (It is common, but inaccurate to consider the optimates like the conservative party and the populares like the liberal party of modern political systems.)
Perhaps more familiar to military history buffs, Marius drastically reformed the military during the Republican period.
- Caesar and the Pirates
The young Julius went to Rhodes to study oratory, but on his way he was captured by pirates whom he charmed and seemingly befriended. After he was freed, Julius arranged to have the pirates executed.
- Cursus Honorum
Julius entered the course of advancement (cursus honorum) in the Roman political system as quaestor in 68 or 69 B.C.
In 65 B.C., Julius Caesar became curule aedile and then managed to be appointed to the position of pontifex maximus, contrary to convention, since he was so young.
Julius Caesar became praetor for 62 B.C. and during that year divorced his second wife for not being above suspicion, in the Bona Dea scandal involving Claudius/Clodius Pulcher.
Julius Caesar won one of the consulships in 59 B.C. The chief advantage for him of this top political position was that following the term in office, he would become governor (proconsul) of a lucrative province.
After his term as consul, Caesar was sent to Gaul as the proconsul.
- Caesar’s Promiscuity
Julius Caesar himself was guilty of many extra-marital affairs, — with Cleopatra, among others. One of the most significant relations was with Servilia Caepionis, the half-sister of Cato the Younger. Because of this relationship, it was thought possible that Brutus was Julius Caesar’s son.
Julius Caesar was taunted all his life with charges of having been the lover of King Nicomedes of Bithynia.
Julius Caesar married Cornelia, a daughter of Marius’ associate, Lucius Cornelius Cinna, then a relative of Pompey named Pompeia, and finally, Calpurnia.
Julius Caesar engineered a 3-way division of power with enemies Crassus and Pompey that was known as the Triumvirate.
- Caesar’s Prose
Second-year Latin students are familiar with the military side of Julius Caesar’s life. As well as conquering the Gallic tribes, he wrote about the Gallic Wars in clear, elegant prose, referring to himself in the third person. It was through his campaigns that Julius Caesar was finally able to work his way out of debt, although the third member of the triumvirate, Crassus, also helped.
- Rubicon and Civil War
Julius Caesar refused to obey the command of the Senate, but instead led his troops across the Rubicon river, which started civil war.
- Ides of March and Assassination
Julius Caesar was the Roman dictator with divine honors, but he didn’t have a crown. In 44 B.C. conspirators, claiming they feared Julius Caesar was aiming to become king, assassinated Julius Caesar on the Ides of March.
- Caesar’s Heirs
Although Julius Caesar had a living son, Caesarion (not officially acknowledged), Caesarion was an Egyptian, the son of Queen Cleopatra, so Julius Caesar adopted a great nephew, Octavian, in his will. Octavian was to become the first Roman emperor, Augustus.
- Caesar Trivia
Caesar was known to be careful or abstemious in his consumption of wine and was said to have been particular in his hygiene, including having himself depilitated. I don’t have a source for this.