- Born: 12 July 100 BC, Rome, Italy
- Died: 15 March 44 BC (aged 55), Rome, Italy
- Occupation: Politician, soldier
- Notable Works: Bellum Gallicum, Bellum Civile
Gaius Julius Caesar was a renowned general, politician and scholar. After many military victories and alliances, Caesar became dictator of the Roman Empire, a rule that lasted for just one year before his death. Caesar also played an important role in the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. Much of Caesar’s military career is documented in works that he composed throughout his life.
Caesar was a member of the First Triumvirate, an alliance formed in 60 BC between Caesar, Crassus and Pompey. Despite this alliance dominating Roman politics for a number of years, Caesar ultimately went on to defeat Pompey, his rival, in a civil war.
Caesar is also remembered for a string of military victories in the Gallic Wars, extending Roman territory, during which time he both invaded Britain and built a bridge across the Rhine river. All these events helped to secure him support against Pompey.
As dictator, Caesar made many changes to Ancient Rome and passed many laws. Many of these laws benefited the lower and middle class. He also made changes to the calendar, creating the Julian calendar. While his popularity within the lower and middle class grew with his dictatorship, his popularity with those higher up lessened.
On the Ides of March (15 March), 44 BC, Caesar was assassinated by a group of rebellious senators led by Brutus and Cassius, who stabbed him to death.
Julius Caesar’s Early Life
Julius Caesar was born on 12 July 100 BC in Rome, Italy, to his father (also named Gaius Julius Caesar), and his mother Aurelia Cotta. He was born into a wealthy family with noble lineage, with his family being patricians. This meant that they were members of the oldest aristocratic class at Rome. While his family was not particularly powerful when he was born, some of Caesar’s ancestors had held positions as senior officials in the Roman Republic.
Little is known about Caesar’s early life. In 85 BC, when Caesar was 16 years old, his father died suddenly. Caesar became the head of the family, but at that time a civil war was ongoing between his uncle Gaius Marius and his rival Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Gaius Marius was one of the most prominent figures in the Republic.
Caesar decided that the most benefit to his family following his father death would be for him to join the priesthood, and he managed to have himself nominated as the new High Priest of Jupiter. As a priest not only had to be of patrician stock, but married to a patrician, Caesar broke off his engagement to a plebian girl and married the patrician, Cornelia, who was the daughter of Gaius Marius’ ally, Lucius Cornelius Cinna. Cinna was an influential member of the Populares.
When Sulla won the civil war in 82 BC and declared himself dictator of Rome, Caesar’s connections to the old regime made him a target for the new one. He was forced to flee Rome and go into hiding, being stripped of his inheritance, his wife’s dowry, and his priesthood. However, he refused to divorce is wife Cornelia.
Luckily, the threat against him was lifted by the intervention of his mother’s family, which included supporters of Sulla, and the Vestal Virgins.
Early Military Service
As a high priest of Jupiter, Caesar was not permitted to touch a horse, sleep three nights outside his own bed or one night outside Rome, or look upon an army. Losing his priesthood allowed him to pursue a military career, and he felt he was much safer away from Sulla incase he changed his mind. Therefore, Caesar left Rome and joined the army, serving under Marcus Minucius Thermus in Asia and Servilius Isauricus in Cilicia.
Caesar served with distinction and earned the prestigious Civic Crown for his courage at the Siege of Mytilene in 80 BC. He went on a mission to Bithynia to secure the assistance of King Nicomedes’s fleet, but he spent so long at Nicomedes’ court that rumours arose of an affair with the king. Caesar denied these rumors for the rest of his life.
After Sulla’s death in 78 BC, Caesar felt it was safe enough to go home and he returned to Rome. He became a successful prosecutor, widely known for his oratory skills. Because he had no inheritance, he acquired a modest house in Subura, a lower-class neighbourhood of Rome.
Captured By Pirates
In 75 BC, while he crossed the Aegean Sea in route to Rhodes to study philosophy and oratory, Caesar was captured by pirates. While he was held captive, he maintained an attitude of superiority. For example, the pirates demanded a ransom of 20 talents of silver, but he insisted that they ask for 50. He had a relaxed and familiar approach with the pirates, but would often threaten to kill them.
Once the ransom was paid, Caesar followed through on his threats. He hired a private fleet to hunt them down and kill them for their crimes. However, he had the pirates’ throats slit before crucifixion in a show of leniency owing to their easy treatment of him in captivity.
Julius Caesar’s Political Rise
Following Caesar’s return to Rome, he was elected military tribune which was the first step in a political career. He was elected quaestor in 69 BC and in the same year his wife Cornelia also died. After his wife’s funeral, he went to serve his quaestorship in Hispania in the spring or early summer of 69 BC.
On his return from Hispania, he married Pompeia, a granddaughter of Sulla in 67 BC, but he divorced her in 61 BC after her embroilment in the Bona Dea scandal. He was elected curule aedile in 65 BC and staged lavish games that helped to win him further attention and popular support.
Caesar ran for election to the post of pontifex maximus, chief priest of the Roman state religion, against two powerful senators in 63 BC. There were accusations of bribery made on all sides, but Caesar won. In the same year, Caesar was accused of being involved in Catiline’s conspiracy to seize control of the republic which Cicero, as consul, exposed.
Caesar was appointed to govern Hispania Ulterior (the western part of the Iberian Peninsula) as propraetor. He was still in a lot of debt as he had been spending lavishly and turned to Marcus Licinius Crassus, who was the richest man in Rome. Crassus paid some of Caesar’s debts in return for political support.
In Hispania, Caesar defeated the warring rival tribes, brought stability to the region, and won the personal allegiance of his troops through his skill on the battlefield.
In 60 BC, with the support of Crassus, Caesar sought election as consul and won. Caesar and Crassus eventually allied with Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey, a powerful Roman general and politician, to form a triumvirate that ruled over the Roman Republic. This was known as the First Triumvirate (“rule of three men”), and was cemented by the marriage of Pompey to Caesar’s daughter Julia. Caesar also married again, this time to Calpurnia, who was the daughter of another powerful senator.
Julius Caesar’s Early Rule and Gallic Wars
The three men together effectively ruled Rome, with Caesar as consul, and pushed through measures favored by Pompey or Crassus in the senate. Caesar proposed legislation for reform of government, opposing Optimate sentiment, and a redistribution of land to the poor. His initiatives were supported by Crassus’ wealth and Pompey’s soldiers. Pompey filled the city with soldiers, a move which intimidated the triumvirate’s opponents.
When was Caesar was first elected as consul, he was given the woods and pastures of Italy as his military command duty after his year in office was over. However, with the help of political allies, Caesar secured passage of the lex Vatinia, granting him governorship over Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy) and Illyricum (northwest Balkans). He also managed to secure Transalpine Gaul (southern France).
Between 58 and 50 BC, Caesar conquered the rest of Gaul up to the river Rhine. When the Germanic tribes looked as if they were going to invade, Caesar built a bridge over the Rhine River, and marched his legions across in a show of force, then marched them back and had the bridge dismantled. The Germans understood the message and never invaded.
Caesar also defeated the tribes of the north and twice invaded Britain (Rome’s first incursion into the British isles). At the Battle of Alesia, in 52 BC, Caesar defeated the Gallic leader Vercingetorix and completed the conquest of Gaul.
Pompey’s Civil War and Crossing The Rubicon
However, while Caesar was having success in Gaul, the First Triumvirate back in Rome was disintegrating. Caesar’s successes caused Pompey to resent him and complicated the already-strained relationship between Pompey and Crassus. What’s more, Pompey’s wife, Julia, died in childbirth.
Caesar tried to re-secure Pompey’s support by offering him his great-niece in marriage, but Pompey declined. Then, in 53 BC, Crassus was killed leading a failed invasion of the east. Pompey was appointed sole consul as an emergency measure, and married the daughter of a political opponent of Caesar. Without Crassus to mediate between the two, Pompey aligned with Caesar’s opponents and ordered him to give up his army and return to Rome.
Instead of obeying Pompey’s commands, though, Caesar ordered his powerful army to cross the Rubicon river in northern Italy and march toward Rome. Pompey and many of the Senate fled to the south, having little confidence in Pompey’s newly raised troops. Pompey, despite greatly outnumbering Caesar, who had only his Thirteenth Legion with him, did not intend to fight. Caesar pursued Pompey, hoping to capture him before his legions could escape.
However, Pompey managed to escape before Caesar could capture him. Caesar headed for Hispania under the control of Mark Antony, and defeated Pompey’s lieutenants in a 27 day route march. He then returned east, to challenge Pompey in Illyria, where, on 10 July 48 BC in the battle of Dyrrhachium just avoided defeat. On 9 August 48 BC, he defeated Pompey at Pharsalus, Greece.
Hoping to prevent Caesar from invading Egypt, the child pharaoh Ptolemy VIII had Pompey killed on September 28, 48 BC. When Caesar entered Egypt, Ptolemy gifted him Pompey’s severed head.
However, Caesar now found himself in the middle of a civil war between Ptolemy and his Egyptian co-regent Cleopatra. Caesar sided with Cleopatra, became her lover and partnered with her to overthrow Ptolemy and make her ruler of Egypt. The pair never married but their long-term affair produced a son, Ptolemy XV Caesar, known as Caesarion.
Caesar fought in the Siege of Alexandria and later he defeated the pharaoh’s forces at the Battle of the Nile in 47 BC and installed Cleopatra as ruler.
Julius Caesar’s Dictatorship
In 48 BC, Caesar was appointed dictatorship with a term of one year. However, he still had many enemies who had supported Pompey, and needed to get rid of them. He went to the Middle East and wiped out the king of Pontus. He then proceeded to Africa to deal with the remnants of Pompey’s senatorial supporters. While he was defeated by Titus Labienus at Ruspina on 4 January 46 BC, he recovered with a significant victory at Thapsus on 6 April 46 BC over Cato, who then committed suicide.
Following these victories, he was then appointed dictatorship for ten years. When he returned to Italy in September 45 BC, he filed his will, naming his grandnephew Gaius Octavius (Octavian, later known as Augustus Caesar) as his principal heir.
As dictator, Caesar made a lot of changes and passed many laws. Many of these laws benefited Rome’s lower and middle classes. He ordered a census be taken, which forced a reduction in the grain dole, and decreed that jurors could come only from the Senate or the equestrian ranks. He also passed a sumptuary law that restricted the purchase of certain luxuries.
Caesar passed a law that rewarded families for having many children, to speed up the repopulation of Italy, and outlawed professional guilds, except those of ancient foundation, since many of these were subversive political clubs. He also passed a debt-restructuring law, which ultimately eliminated about a fourth of all debts owed.
However, Caesar’s biggest and most notable change during his dictatorship was his reform of the calendar. At the time, the Roman calendar was regulated by the movement of the moon. Caesar wanted to replace it with the Egyptian calendar, that was based on the sun, so Roman farmers were able to use it as the basis of consistent seasonal planting from year to year. He set the length of the year to 365.25 days by adding an extra day in February every year, now known as a leap year. The month that Caesar was born was eventually named “July” in Caesar’s honor.
Caesar was responsible for many other public works during his time as dictator, including the Forum of Caesar, with its Temple of Venus Genetrix. He distributed land to about 15,000 of his veterans and also ordered the rebuilding of Carthage and Corinth.
He also extended Latin rights throughout the Roman world, and then abolished the tax system and reverted to the earlier version that allowed cities to collect tribute however they wanted, rather than needing Roman intermediaries.
Julius Caesar’s Assassination
In January 44 BC, the Roman senate named Caesar “dictator for life.” While Caesar had enough overall support from the senate to get the measure passed there were many senators, led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, who were opposed to giving Caesar the title. He was very popular with the lower- and middle-class populations, but many senators envied his power.
On the Ides of March (March 15, 44 BC), the senators, led by Gaius Cassius Longinus, Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus and Marcus Junius Brutus, stabbed Caesar 23 times and he died at the base of Pompey’s statue in the Senate. He was 56 years old.
Caesar’s assassination prevented further and larger schemes that he had planned for during his dictatorship, such as the construction of an unprecedented temple to Mars, a huge theatre, and a library on the scale of the Library of Alexandria.
Caesar’s body was cremated. On the site of his cremation, the Temple of Caesar was erected a few years later (at the east side of the main square of the Roman Forum). Only its altar now remains.
Following the death of Caesar, a power struggle ensued in Rome. A civil war between Caesar’s great-grandnephew Gaius Octavian, Mark Anthony, and Brutus and Cassius occurred, although Octavian was able to defeat them and took power in 27 B.C. This resulted in the downfall of the Roman Republic as Octavian became the first Roman emperor.
Just two years after his death, Caesar became the first Roman figure to be deified. The Senate also gave him the title “The Divine Julius”.
Throughout his lifetime, Caesar was considered to be one of the best orators and prose authors in Latin, although only two of his war commentaries have survived. One is the Commentarii de Bello Gallico, usually known in English as The Gallic Wars, which are seven books each covering one year of his campaigns in Gaul and southern Britain in the 50s BC. The second is the Commentarii de Bello Civili (The Civil War), covering the events of the Civil War from Caesar’s perspective, until immediately after Pompey’s death in Egypt.
Aside from these two works known to have been authored by Caesar, there are three works that have been historically linked to him, although authorship has not been confirmed. These are De Bello Alexandrino (On the Alexandrine War), on the campaign in Alexandria, De Bello Africo (On the African War), campaigns in North Africa, on the campaigns in North Africa, and De Bello Hispaniensi (On the Hispanic War), on the campaigns in the Iberian Peninsula.
Marriages and Children
Caesar was married three times and had at least two children, although more children are thought to have been fathered by him. His marriage to his first wife Cornelia lasted from 84 BC until her death in 69 or 68 BC and they had one child together, Julia, who was born in either 83 or 82 BC. His second marriage was to Pompeia, from 67 BC until he divorced her around 61 BC over the Bona Dea scandal. They had no children together. His third marriage was to Calpurnia, from 59 BC until his death. They also had no children together.
Caesar’s second child was Caesarion by Cleopatra VII. He was born in 47 BC, and killed at age 17 by Caesar’s adopted son Octavianus. Octavianus was Caesar’s great-nephew by blood (the grandson of Julia, his sister) and was posthumously adopted by Caesar. He later became Emperor Augustus.
Three children are suspected to have been fathered by Caesar, but never confirmed. The first was Marcus Junius Brutus (born 85 BC). His mother, Servilia, is said to have been Caesar’s lover during their youth. Caesar would have been 15 years old when Brutus was born. The second was another child mothered by Servilia, a daughter named Junia Tertia, born sometime in the 60s BC.
His third suspected child was Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, born between 85 and 81 BC. Caesar stated that he loved Decimus Brutus like a son and even named him as his heir in case Octavius had died before the latter.
Health and Physical Appearance
It is thought that Caesar suffered from epilepsy throughout his life, as there are at least four documented episodes of what may have been complex partial seizures. He may have also had seizures in his childhood.
Suetonius, writing more than a century after Caesar’s death, describes Caesar as “tall of stature with a fair complexion, shapely limbs, a somewhat full face, and keen black eyes”.
Julius Caesar’s Greatest Achievements and Historical Significance
Julius Caesar is one of the most renowned and highly accomplished generals in history, and is remembered for a number of his achievements. He had resounding victories in the Gallic wars, defeating all the Gallic tribes and expanding the Roman provinces farther across the entire Gaul region (modern-day France and Belgium). He also had a victory in the great Battle of the Nile, defeating his enemy Ptolemy.
Caesar’s time as dictator was also historically significant. One of his most memorable acts was the introduction of the Julian calendar, adding an extra day into February every four years that we now call a leap year. During his dictatorship he also aided the poor in many ways by changing a number of laws. This made him very popular with much of the general public in Rome at the time. He also oversaw the recreation of both Carthage and Corinth, famous cities that were destroyed by the Romans.
Perhaps the most historically significant event surrounding Caesar, however, came after his death. A civil war in ensued, which led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire.
Julius Caesar is remembered for a number of his quotes, too. These include “I came, I saw, I conquered.”, “In the end, it is impossible to become what others believe you are.”, and “If I fail, it is only because I have too much pride and ambition.”.
In 1599, William Shakespeare wrote The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, a play based on Caesar’s life. Set in 44 BC, it tells the story of a Roman politician named Brutus who plots with others to assassinate Caesar. It also portrays Caesar’s brutal murder and the aftermath.
Julius Caesar FAQs
Who was Julius Caesar?
Julius Caesar was a Roman general and politician, who played a crucial role in the fall of the Roman Republic and the birth of the Roman Empire. He lived from 12 July 100 BC to 15 March 44 BC, during which time he had many political and military victories and became dictator of Rome. He was famously assassinated by rivals in 44 BC, leading to a civil war and the end of the Roman Republic.
Did Julius Caesar really create a new calendar?
Caesar reformed the Roman calendar, which followed the moon, to a calendar similar to the the Egyptian calendar, that was based on the sun, so Roman farmers were able to use it as the basis of consistent seasonal planting from year to year. This became known as the Julian calendar. He set the length of the year to 365.25 days by adding an extra day in February every year, now known as a leap year.
The Julian calendar became the predominant calendar in the Roman Empire and subsequently most of the Western world for more than 1,600 years until 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII created the Gregorian calendar which was adopted worldwide and is still used today. They had very slightly differing year lengths, meaning that for any given event during the years from 1901 to 2099 inclusive, its date according to the Julian calendar is 13 days behind its corresponding Gregorian date.
Was Julius Caesar born by Caesarian section?
Julius Caesar was not born by Caesarian section, as the first Caesarean births which the mother actually survived only took place in the 18th century, and Caesar’s mother lived for many years after his birth. It is unsure exactly where the term Caesarian comes from, but it is often thought to be related to Caesar.
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