15 Facts About Julius Caesar You Need to Know!
Today, Julius Caesar is remembered for being one of history’s greatest statesmen and generals. This got me thinking, what are some cool and interesting facts about Julius Caesar? Over the course of his life, Julius Caesar went from venerated general, to respected statesman, to the man who paved the way for the hugely influential Roman […]
Today, Julius Caesar is remembered for being one of history’s greatest statesmen and generals. This got me thinking, what are some cool and interesting facts about Julius Caesar?
Over the course of his life, Julius Caesar went from venerated general, to respected statesman, to the man who paved the way for the hugely influential Roman Empire (which in turn helped to create the modern western world as we know it…)
15. Born Into a Well Connected Patrician Family
During both the Roman Kingdom and Roman Republic, the ruling class were known as the patricians. In many ways, the patricians acted much like Medieval European nobility did, having many titles as well as vast lands and wealth to go with it…
In 100 BC, there were hundreds of patrician families of varying sizes and wealth all across Rome. One of these patrician families were the Julii, who were Alban origin and had been given Roman citizenship centuries before Caesar’s birth.
For the Julii, they were by no means the richest of the patricians, but they weren’t the poorest either. Over the course of the second century BC, the Julii had expanded their fortunes greatly, although not to the extent of other families.
Despite their middling wealth, the Julii were well-connected. For example, Caesar’s father (also called Gaius Julius Caesar) had become governor of the province of Asia prior to Caesar’s birth.
Caesar’s paternal aunt had married a man named Gaius Marius, one of the most prominent figures in Rome at the time.
14. Origins of The Name “Caesar”
For centuries before the birth of Gaius Julius Caesar, his branch of the Julii family had used the cognomen “Caesar” to distinguish their branch from other branches of the Julii.
Due to being the names of one of Rome’s greatest politicians, much has been written about the Caesar branch of the Julii. However, no one seems to know its origins today, indeed, nor did people in Caesar’s time either…
Thanks to this, there are literally of theories, both in contemporary and modern accounts.
By far the most famous is that “Caesar” is a reference to an earlier ancestor having been born from a Caesarian section (a rarity and often fatal procedure in Ancient Rome) as the term “Caesar” may have come Roman verb to cut, caedere.
Others, believe it came from the Punic (Moorish) word caesai, meaning “Elephant”, likely due to some ancestor doing something famous with an elephant.
This interpretation was likely favored by Caesar himself, due to him minting coins with elephants on them whilst he was the dictator of Rome.
Alas, we will probably never know the true origins of the name “Caesar”, with scholars likely debating it for many centuries to come…
13. Mark Antony Was His Cousin
Looking at the lives of both Caesar and Mark Antony, you’ll find that whilst Caesar was alive, the two were often close allies. What you probably didn’t realize, was that it was partly due to the pair being related!
The pair were actually distant cousins, through Antony’s mother Julia (who was born into the Julii). Although Antony’s mother was from a different branch of the Julii family (gens Julia), the pair still shared a great-great-grandfather.
Whilst this didn’t necessarily play a huge part in Antony and Caesar’s alliance, it did help them stay together, with them having immense respect for each other due to their shared heritage.
Alas, this blood bond would not last. Following Caesar’s assassination, Caesar’s adopted son and heir, Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus) would fight a bloody civil war against Antony, who’d ultimately lose…
12. He May Have Been Epileptic
As one of the most famous politicians of his day, there is a lot written about Julius Caesar, which survives to this day. One of the most important, is Plutarch’s work on Caesar, which discusses Caesar in great detail.
Part of this discusses Caesar’s physical appearance and health. In the latter part, Plutarch discusses Caesar’s rather odd behavior, describing Caesar going through fits, being partly deaf in one ear, as well as forgoing security only days before his assassination.
For centuries, doctors and physicians have attempted to diagnose Caesar’s illness. Although a hotly debated topic, many medical professionals believe that Caesar’s symptoms are typical of frontal lobe epilepsy, which was unheard of in Caesar’s time.
Indeed, a number of medical and historical papers have been written claiming as such, to mixed responses from the medical and historian communities.
With that being said, some medical professionals have suggested other reasons, such as malaria, a parasitic infection of the brain and extreme hypoglycemia among several other lesser-known theories…
11. He Was a Priest
Today, the pontifex maximus is one of the Pope’s many titles. The title existed in Caesar’s time too, albeit not as a Christian title, but rather as the title of the highest-ranking priest in the entirety of the Roman Republic.
In 86 BC, a teenage Julius Caesar was appointed as the flamen dialis (the high priest of the Roman god, Jupiter) at the behest of his uncle, Gaius Marius, who controlled Rome at the time.
However, in 81 BC, Gaius Marius lost control of Rome to his enemy Sulla. Due to Caesar’s connection to Marius, however, Sulla had Caesar stripped of his priesthood, which inadvertently led to Caesar joining the army…
Eight years later, a now decorated general and politician, Caesar would be granted the position of pontifex, before becoming pontifex maximus a decade after that.
Caesar’s adopted son Octavian would also become pontifex maximus in 13 AD, setting a trend of Roman Emperors being the pontifex maximus until the fall of the Western Roman Empire centuries later!
10. Kidnapped by Pirates
In 75 BC, a 25 year-old Caesar traveled from Rome to the Aegean island of Rhodes, where he hoped to study under famed Greek rhetorician, Apollonius, who had previously tutored Cicero – Rome’s greatest orator in centuries.
On the journey, Caesar’s ship was boarded by Cilician pirates, who took Caesar hostage. Here, the pirates began demanding a ransom of 20 talents of silver to release Caesar and his crew.
Insulted at what he saw as a low ransom (roughly $330,000 in today’s money), Caesar demanded the pirates raise their ransom to 50 talents (roughly $825,000 in today’s money), which the pirates did. Caesar then paid the ransom.
Whilst held hostage, Caesar promised the pirates that once he was free, he’d hunt them down, and kill them – something the pirates took as an empty threat and a joke. Upon being released, Caesar stayed true to his promise…
Instead of having them crucified as he’d promised, Caesar instead showed leniency towards the pirates by having their throats cut (which whilst brutal would’ve much less painful than a crucifixion).
Caesar was then called back to Rome to help in the wars in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), never getting the chance to study under Apollonius.
9. First Triumvirate
In 60 BC, Caesar ran to become consul for 59 BC. Prior to the election, Caesar had sought financial aid from Crassus, the richest man in Rome, calling upon him again so that he could become consul.
The election would also see Caesar make a number of promises to Pompey, a man who’d been at odds with Crassus for years. After winning the election alongside the traditionally conservative Marcus Bibulus, Caesar would attempt to reconcile the two.
Caesar would succeed in this regard, after reminding the two men, that the three of them combined had enough wealth and power to dominate all aspects of Roman life. In effect, this would instigate what we now call the First Triumvirate.
Although a secret alliance at first, the alliance soon became publicly known after both Crassus and Pompey supported Caesar’s bill to redistribute land to the poor (something the pair would’ve never done prior to the alliance!)
8. Started a Civil War
Between 58 BC and 50 BC, Julius Caesar led Roman legions to victory, in what historians call the Gallic Wars. Here, he brought great riches to the Republic, as well as more land and slaves (a valuable commodity in Rome at the time).
After successfully subjugating Gaul in 50 BC, the Roman Senate ordered Caesar to disband his army and return to Rome (as his term as a governor had ended). Believing he would be prosecuted for disobeying the Senate during the war, Caesar refused.
As a result, Pompey accused Caesar of treason and insubordination, which angered Caesar greatly. With this, Caesar chose to march his legion across the Rubicon (in the north of Italy), heading directly for Rome.
By doing this, Caesar effectively started a civil war, which would see hundreds of thousands die on both sides, resulting in Caesar being elected dictator for ten years, and later serving as sole consul (effectively making Caesar the sole ruler of Rome).
7. The First to Place His Portrait on Coins
Looking at modern coins, you’ll find that almost all of them have some kind of portrait on them. But coins minted before Caesar’s time didn’t, instead having intricate designs on both sides of the coin…
When Caesar first entered office, he wanted to ensure that people who didn’t live in the city of Rome knew what he looked like. The best way to do that, was to put his face on the money people used everyday, which he did.
Understandably, the Roman Senate saw this as a huge abuse of power, and tried to punish Caesar for it, all to no avail. Ironically, coin collectors today will pay hundreds of thousands for these coins!
This idea proved to be quite successful for Caesar, with every subsequent Roman emperor doing the same. This was then continued by European monarchs after the fall of Rome centuries later, continuing until today.
Despite not having a monarch, this is what convinced the US to begin the tradition of putting former president’s faces on coins and notes (such as Washington on the $1 bill and FDR on the Roosevelt dime!)
According to some historians, this is what caused caused his adopted son, Augustus (Octavian) to begin collecting coins. By the end of Augustus’s life, he’d have an impressive collection of Roman and Greek coins, including some of his father’s!
6. His Last Words
In the English-speaking world, we’ve all probably heard of Shakespeare’s famous play, Julius Caesar, which focuses on Caesar’s life (and particularly, his assassination by the Roman Senate on the infamous Ides of March).
The play portrays Caesar’s last words as “Et tu, Brute?” (“You too, Brutus?”) questioning why Brutus – a man who’d stood against him during the civil war, yet who Caesar allowed to live due to his keen intellect – would try to harm him…
Whilst these words are the most famous, there’s almost no evidence to support these actually being Caesar’s last words. In fact, the only thing that historians can agree on is that it’s highly unlikely that Caesar’s last words were “Et tu, Brute?“
Instead, some believe that his last words were “καὶ σύ, τέκνον” (“And you, child?” in reference to Brutus). Others believe it was more likely to have been a slew of Latin curses (similarly to how you may curse in English if someone was killing you too).
Others believe that Caesar’s last words were a bit more grandiose, either being “What is this? Such violence against Caesar!” or “But this is violence!”
There is a lot of contemporary evidence to both support and detract these beliefs with different historians believing different last words. Sadly, however, we will probably never know.
5. Lots of Illegitimated Kids (Maybe…)
Officially, Gaius Julius Caesar of Rome had three children. The first (and 100% legitimate) child was his daughter, Julia, who married her father’s ally, Pompey.
The second was his adopted son, Octavian (Augustus) who was technically Caesar’s great-nephew. The third was his son, Caesarion, who was the result of Caesar’s affair with Cleopatra (Although, he was never acknowledged by Caesar himself).
However, contemporary accounts suggest that Caesar was quite attractive for his day. Plus, Caesar himself publicly spoke about his… umm… talents in bed, boasting about how good he was (something that modern politicians sometimes do too…)
Many of these contemporary accounts hint that Caesar fathered many illegitimate children. Some even claim that among these illegitimate children was Brutus, with the “And you child?” last words being Caesar acknowledging his paternity.
With that being said, this is nothing more than hearsay, and will more than likely never be proven true or false (not without a time machine anyway!)
4. He Was Really Rich
Despite being born into a patrician family, who were traditionally extremely wealthy, Caesar’s family was among the “poorest” patrician families in Rome (although they were not poor by any means).
Over the course of his life, Caesar would rebuild all that his family had lost after Sulla’s civil war. Due to this, much of Caesar’s early adulthood was spent with him having almost no money at all.
After becoming governor, Caesar would look to put himself on a more secure financial footing, clearing his pre-existing debts and then some. To this end, Caesar would instigate the Gallic Wars against the Gauls of modern-day France.
Upon defeated the famed Gallic general Vercingetorix, Caesar would gain vast wealth, including gold, land and slaves, which he plundered from the Gauls. This cleared Caesar’s debts in its entirety, whilst also making Caesar extremely rich in the process…
In fact, although estimates differ, historians believe that Julius Caesar had a net worth of roughly $5 trillion in today’s money, owing almost all of his wealth to the offices he’d held during his life!
3. Caesar’s Will
Following Caesar’s assassination by Roman Senators in 44 BC, the city of Rome executed Caesar’s will as he’d outlined it. This has gone down as one of the most important wills ever written, in no small part due to Caesar’s vast wealth…
In his will, Caesar outlined that each male Roman citizen (roughly 1.1 million at the time) was to receive 300 sesterces each (around 10-15 years wages for most average citizens). This understandably made the citizens love Caesar even more than they already did!
The remaining money, as well as the vast estates he held in his own name (roughly 75% of his estate), were to be inherited by his great-nephew (and adopted son), Octavian (Emperor Augustus).
Without this money, Octavian would’ve never been able to defeat Mark Antony during the civil war fought between the two.
This will would also create tension between Octavian and Caesarion (Caesar’s unacknowledged, yet only biological son) which would culminate in Octavian ordering Caesarion’s murder in August of 30 BC.
Despite coming from a well-connected patrician family (and being incredibly wealthy himself), Caesar was a member of the left-wing Populares faction of the Roman Senate (as political parties weren’t a thing at the time).
Whilst by no means their only agenda, the populares most often fought for the rights of the plebeians, the non-patrician Roman citizens. To this end, the populares were what we would call today a populist party.
Caesar had his own blend of populism, often called Caesarism, which was appealing to the plebians, but also certain members of the richer patrician, senatorial and equestrian classes, who traditionally didn’t vote for the populares.
Over time, Caesarism has evolved into modern-day populism, a political philosophy used by politicians on both sides of the aisle, including Teddy Roosevelt, Ron and Rand Paul as well as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Andrew Jackson.
Caesarism itself has also inspired many extreme left and right-wing politicians, including communist politicians Vladimir Lenin and Fidel Castro, as well fascist leader Benito Mussolini and his German counterpart, Adolf Hitler.
1. The Title
In 27 BC, Caesar’s adoptive son, Octavian, crowned himself as the first Roman emperor, taking on the regal (ruling) name of Augustus. To legitimize his claim, he chose to remind everyone of his “ancestry” by adding “Caesar” before “Augustus”.
After Augustus died in 14 AD, his stepson, Tiberius, would succeed him as emperor. Once again, Tiberius would try to legitimize himself by using the name “Caesar” to link back to the famed statesman he was (sort of) related to.
Over the centuries that would follow, every other Roman emperor would use the name “Caesar” as a way to legitimize their reign, with the name essentially becoming a title meaning “emperor”.
Following the collapse of Rome, several kingdoms would use the title for their own rulers. By far the two most common are the German word Kaiser (emperor) and the Russian word Tsar/Csar (king/emperor), which were used up until the early 20th century!
Ps: This is something you can actually see with Csar… all they’ve done is removed the “ae” from Caesar to make it “Csar”!
Which are your favorite facts about Julius Caesar? Tell me in the comments!