Ancient History & Civilisation


1. He lost his father at the age of fifteen.1 During the next consulship, after being nominated to be the next flamen of Jupiter, he broke an engagement, made for him while he was still a boy, to marry one Cossutia, for, though rich, she came of only equestrian family. Instead, he married Cornelia, daughter of that Cinna who had been consul four times, and later she bore him a daughter named Julia. The dictator Sulla tried to make Caesar divorce Cornelia, and when he refused he stripped him of the priesthood, his wife’s dowry and his own inheritance, treating him as if he were a member of the opposing party.2 Caesar disappeared from public view and, though suffering from a virulent attack of quartan fever, was forced to find a new hiding place almost every night and bribe householders to protect him from Sulla’s secret police. Finally he won Sulla’s pardon through the intercession of the Vestal Virgins and his near relatives Mamercus Aemilius and Aurelius Cotta. It is well known that, when the most devoted and eminent men pleaded Caesar’s cause and would not let the matter drop, Sulla at last gave way. Whether he was divinely inspired or showed peculiar foresight is an arguable point, but these were his words: ‘Very well then, you win! Take him! But never forget that the man whom you want me to spare will one day prove the ruin of the party of optimates which you and I have so long defended. There are many Mariuses in this fellow Caesar.’3

2. Caesar first saw military service in Asia, where he went as aide–de–camp to Marcus Thermus, the praetorian governor of the province. When Thermus sent Caesar to raise a fleet in Bithynia, he wasted so much time at King Nicomedes’ court that a homosexual relationship between them was suspected, and suspicion gave place to scandal when, soon after his return to headquarters, he revisited Bithynia, ostensibly collecting a debt incurred there by one of his freedmen. However, Caesar’s reputation improved later in the campaign, when Thermus awarded him the civic crown at the storming of Mytilene.4

3. He also campaigned in Cilicia under Servilius Isauricus, but not for long, because the news of Sulla’s death sent him hurrying back to Rome, where a revolt headed by Marcus Lepidus5 seemed to offer prospects of rapid advancement. Nevertheless, though Lepidus made him very advantageous offers, Caesar turned them down; he had small confidence in Lepidus’ capacities, and found the political atmosphere less promising than he had been led to believe.

4. After this revolt was suppressed, Caesar brought a charge of extortion against Cornelius Dolabella, a man of consular rank who had once been awarded a triumph; but he failed to secure a sentence, so he decided to visit Rhodes until the resultant ill feeling had time to die down, meanwhile taking a course in rhetoric from Apollonius Molon, the best living exponent of the art. Winter had already set in when he sailed for Rhodes and was captured by pirates off the island of Pharmacussa. They kept him prisoner for nearly forty days, to his intense annoyance; he had with him only a physician and two valets, having sent the rest of his staff away to borrow the ransom money. As soon as the stipulated fifty talents arrived and the pirates duly set him ashore, he raised a fleet and went after them. He had often smilingly sworn, while still in their power, that he would soon capture and crucify them, and this is exactly what he did. Then he continued to Rhodes, but Mithridates was now ravaging the nearby coast; so, to avoid the charge of showing inertia while the allies of Rome were in danger, he raised a force of auxiliaries and drove Mithridates’ deputy from the province – which confirmed the timorous and half–hearted cities of Asia in their allegiance.

5. On Caesar’s return to Rome, the people voted him the rank of military tribune, and he vigorously helped their leaders to undo Sulla’s legislation by restoring the tribunes of the people to their ancient powers. Then one Plotius introduced a bill for the recall from exile of Caesar’s brother–in–law, Lucius Cinna, and the others who had supported Lepidus and then joined Sertorius6 after Lepidus’ death. Caesar himself spoke in support of the bill, which was passed.

6. During his quaestorship he made the customary funeral speeches from the Rostra in honour of his aunt Julia and his wife Cornelia, and while eulogizing Julia’s maternal and paternal ancestry he did the same for his own ancestry too. ‘Her mother’, he said, ‘was a descendant of kings, since her family, the Marcii Reges, was founded by Ancus Marcius; and her father, of gods – since the Julii (of which we Caesars are a branch) reckon descent from the goddess Venus.7 Thus Julia’s stock can claim both the sanctity of kings, who reign supreme among mortals, and the reverence due to gods, who hold even kings in their power.’ He next married Pompeia, Quintus Pompeius’ daughter, who was also Sulla’s granddaughter, but divorced her on a suspicion of adultery with Publius Clodius; indeed, so persistent was the rumour of Clodius’ having disguised himself as a woman and seduced her at a public religious ceremony that the Senate ordered a judicial inquiry into the alleged desecration of these sacred rites.8

7. As quaestor, Caesar was appointed to Further Spain, where the praetorian governor sent him off on an assize circuit. At Gades he saw a statue of Alexander the Great in the Temple of Hercules, and was overheard to sigh impatiently – vexed, it seems, that at an age when Alexander had already conquered the whole world, he himself had done nothing in the least epoch–making. Moreover, when on the following night, much to his dismay, he had a dream of raping his own mother, the soothsayers greatly encouraged him by their interpretation of it, namely that he was destined to conquer the earth, our universal mother.

8. At all events, he laid down his quaestorship at once, bent on performing some notable act at the first opportunity that offered. He visited the Latin colonies, which were bitterly demanding Roman citizenship, 9 and might have persuaded them to revolt, had not the consuls realized the danger and garrisoned the district with the legions recently raised for the Cilician campaign.

9. Undiscouraged, Caesar soon made an even more daring attempt at revolution in Rome itself. A few days before taking up his aedileship he was suspected of plotting with Marcus Crassus, a man of consular rank; also with Publius Sulla and Lucius Autronius, who had jointly been elected to the consulship but been found guilty of bribery and corruption. These four had agreed to wait until the new year, and then attack the Senate House, killing as many senators as convenient. Crassus would then proclaim himself dictator and Caesar his master of the horse; the government would be reorganized to suit their pleasure; Sulla and Autronius would be appointed consuls. Tanusius Geminus mentions their plot in his history; more information is given in Marcus Bibulus’ edicts and in the speeches of Gaius Curio the elder. Another reference to it may be detected in a letter of Cicero to Axius, where Caesar is said to have ‘established in his consulship the monarchy which he had planned while only an aedile’. Tanusius adds that Crassus was prevented, either by scruples or by nervousness, from appearing at the appointed hour, and that Caesar therefore did not give the agreed signal, which, according to Curio, was letting his toga fall and expose the shoulder. Both Curio and Marcus Actorius Naso state that Caesar also plotted with Gnaeus Piso, a young nobleman suspected of raising a conspiracy in Rome and for that reason appointed governor of Spain, although he was not qualified for the position. Caesar, apparently, was to lead a revolt in Rome as soon as Piso did so in Spain; the Ambrani and the Latins who lived beyond the Po would have risen simultaneously. But Piso’s death cancelled the plan.10

10. During his aedileship, Caesar filled the Comitium, the Forum, its adjacent basilicas and the Capitol itself with a display of the material which he meant to use in his public shows, building temporary colonnades for the purpose. He exhibited wild–beast hunts and stage plays, some at his own expense, some in cooperation with his colleague Marcus Bibulus – but took all the credit in either case, so that Bibulus remarked openly, ‘The temple of the heavenly twins in the Forum is always simply called “Castor’s”;11 and I always play Pollux to Caesar’s Castor when we give a public entertainment together.’ Caesar also put on a gladiatorial show, but had collected so immense a troop of combatants that his terrified political opponents rushed through a bill limiting the number of gladiators that anyone might keep in Rome; consequently far fewer pairs fought than had been advertised.

11. After thus securing the goodwill of the people, Caesar worked through the tribunes to be put in charge of Egypt by popular vote. His excuse for demanding so unusual an appointment was an outcry against the Alexandrians who had just deposed their king, although the Senate had recognized him as an ally and friend of Rome.12 However, the optimate party opposed the measure; so Caesar took vengeance by replacing the public monuments – destroyed by Sulla many years ago – that had commemorated Marius’ victories over Jugurtha, the Cimbri and the Teutones. Further, as president of the court concerned with murder, he prosecuted men who had earned public bounties for bringing in the heads of Roman citizens during the proscriptions, although they had been exempted by the Cornelian laws.13

12. He also bribed a man to bring a charge of high treason against Gaius Rabirius, who some years previously had earned the Senate’s gratitude by checking the seditious activities of Lucius Saturninus, a tribune of the people. Caesar, chosen by lot to try Rabirius, pronounced the sentence with such satisfaction that, when Rabirius appealed to the people, the greatest argument in his favour was the judge’s obvious prejudice.

13. Obliged to abandon his ambitions concerning Egypt, Caesar stood for the office of pontifex maximus, and used the most flagrant bribery to secure it. The story goes that, reckoning up the enormous debts thus contracted, he told his mother, as she kissed him goodbye on the morning of the poll, that if he did not return to her as pontifex he would not return at all. However, he defeated his two prominent rivals, both of whom were much older and more distinguished than himself, and the votes he won from their own tribes exceeded those cast for them in the entire poll.

14. When the Catilinarian conspiracy14 came to light, the whole Senate, with the sole exception of Caesar, then praetorelect, demanded the death of those involved. Caesar proposed merely that they should be imprisoned, each in a different town, and their estates confiscated. What was more, he so browbeat those senators who took a sterner line, by suggesting that the people would conceive an enduring hatred for them if they persisted in their view, that Decimus Silanus, as consul–elect, felt obliged to interpret his own proposal – which, however, he could not bring himself to recast – in a more liberal sense, begging Caesar not to misread it so savagely. And Caesar would have gained his point, since many senators (including the consul Cicero’s brother) had been won over to his view, had Marcus Cato not kept the irresolute Senate in line. Caesar continued to block proceedings until a body of Roman equites, serving as a defence force, threatened to kill him unless he ceased his violent opposition. They even unsheathed their swords and made such passes at him that most of his companions fled and the remainder huddled around, protecting him with their arms or their togas. He was sufficiently impressed not only to leave the Senate House, but to keep away from it for the rest of that year.

15. On the first day of his praetorship, Caesar ordered Quintus Catulus to appear before the people and explain why he had made so little progress with the restoration of the Capitol, demanding that Catulus’ commission should be taken from him and entrusted to someone else. However, the senators of the optimate party, who were escorting the newly elected consuls to their inaugural sacrifice in the Capitol, heard what was afoot and came pouring downhill in a body to offer obstinate resistance. Caesar withdrew his proposal.

16. Caecilius Metellus, a tribune of the people, then proposed some highly inflammatory bills despite his colleagues’ veto, and Caesar stubbornly championed them until at last they were both suspended by a senatorial decree. Nevertheless, he had the effrontery to continue holding his court, until warned that he would be removed by force. Thereupon he dismissed the lictors, took off his praetorian toga, and went quickly home, where he had decided to live in retirement because the times allowed him no other alternative. On the following day, however, a crowd of people made a spontaneous move towards Caesar’s house, riotously offering to put him back on the tribunal; but he restrained their ardour. The Senate, who had hurriedly met to deal with this demonstration, were so surprised by his unexpectedly correct attitude that they sent a deputation of high officials to thank him publicly; they then summoned him to the Senate House, where with warm praises they revoked their decree and confirmed him in his praetorship.

17. The next danger that threatened Caesar was the inclusion of his name in a list of Catilinarian conspirators handed to the special commissioner, Novius Niger, by an informer named Lucius Vettius, and also in another list laid before the Senate by Quintus Curius, who had been voted a public bounty as the first person to betray the plot. Curius claimed that this information came directly from Catiline, and Vettius went so far as to declare that he could produce a letter written to Catiline in Caesar’s own hand. Caesar would not lie down under this insult, and appealed to Cicero’s testimony that he had voluntarily come forward to warn him about the plot and that Curius was not therefore entitled to the bounty. As for Vettius, who had been obliged to produce a bond when he made his revelations, this was declared forfeit and his goods were seized; the people, crowding around the Rostra, nearly tore him in pieces. Caesar thereupon sent Vettius off to jail, and Novius Niger, the commissioner, as well, for having let a magistrate of superior rank to himself be indicted at his tribunal.

18. The province of Further Spain was now allotted to Caesar. He relieved himself of the creditors who tried to keep him in Rome until he had paid his debts by providing sureties for their eventual settlement. Then he took the illegal and unprecedented step of hurrying off before the Senate had voted him the necessary funds. He may have been afraid of being taken to court while still a private citizen, or he may have been anxious to respond as quickly as possible to the appeals of our Spanish allies for help against aggression. At any rate, he rapidly pacified the province and returned to Rome with equal haste – not waiting until he had been relieved – to demand a triumph and stand for the consulship. But the day of the consular elections had already been announced. His candidacy could therefore not be admitted unless he entered the city as a civilian, and when a general outcry arose against his intrigues to be exempted from the regulations governing candidatures, he was forced to forgo the triumph so as not to be excluded from the consulship.

19. There were two other candidates: Lucius Lucceius and Marcus Bibulus. Caesar now approached Lucceius and suggested that they should join forces; since Lucceius had more money and Caesar greater influence, it was agreed that Lucceius should finance their joint candidacy by bribing the voters. The optimates got wind of this arrangement and, fearing that if Caesar were elected consul with a pliant colleague by his side he would stop at nothing to gain his own ends, they authorized Marcus Bibulus to bribe the voters as heavily as Lucceius had done. Many men contributed funds, and Cato himself admitted that this was an occasion when even bribery might be excused for the sake of the commonwealth. Caesar and Bibulus were elected consuls, but the optimates continued to restrict Caesar’s influence by ensuring that, when he and Bibulus had completed their term, neither should govern a province of any significance; they would be put in charge of the forests and public pasturelands in Italy. Infuriated by this slight, Caesar exerted his charm on Gnaeus Pompey, who had quarrelled with the Senate because it was so slow in approving the steps that he had taken to defeat Mithridates. He also succeeded in conciliating Pompey and Marcus Crassus – they were still at odds after their failure to agree on matters of policy while sharing the consulship. Pompey, Caesar and Crassus now formed a triple pact, 15 jointly swearing to oppose all public policies of which any one of them might disapprove.

20. Caesar’s first act as consul was to rule that a daily record of proceedings in the Senate and before the people should be taken and published; he also revived the obsolete custom of having an orderly walk before him, during the months in which his colleague held the fasces, while the lictors followed behind. Next he introduced an agrarian law, and when Bibulus delayed its passage by announcing that the omens were unfavourable he drove him from the Forum by force of arms. On the following day Bibulus lodged a complaint in the Senate, and when nobody dared move a vote of censure or make any observation on this scandalous event – though decrees condemning minor breaches of the peace had often been passed – he felt so frustrated that from then on he stayed at home, satisfying his resentment with further edicts about unfavourable omens.

Caesar was thus enabled to govern alone and do very much as he pleased. It became a joke to sign documents ‘in the consulship of Julius and Caesar’ rather than ‘Bibulus and Caesar’, naming the same man twice, with nomen and cognomen. And this lampoon went the rounds:

The event occurred, as I recall, when Caesar governed Rome – Caesar, not Marcus Bibulus, who kept his seat at home.

Caesar partitioned two districts of Campania, a plain called Stellas that our ancestors had consecrated and an agricultural district that was farmed on behalf of the commonwealth, among citizens with three or more children, selecting the candidates through commissioners rather than by lots. When the publicans asked for relief, he cancelled one–third of their obligations, but gave them frank warning not to bid too high for their contracts in future. He freely granted all other pleas whatsoever, and either met with no opposition or intimidated anyone who dared intervene. Marcus Cato once tried to delay proceedings by talking out the debate, but Caesar had him forcibly ejected by a lictor and led off to prison. Lucius Lucullus went a little too far in opposing Caesar’s policy, whereupon Caesar so terrified him by threats of legal proceedings that Lucullus fell on his knees and begged his pardon. Hearing that Cicero had been making a doleful speech in court about the evils of his times, Caesar at once granted the long–standing request of Cicero’s enemy Publius Clodius to be transferred from patrician to plebeian rank, 16 rushing the measure through at the ninth hour of the very same day. Finally, he began an attack on the opposing faction by bribing Vettius to announce that some of them had tried to make him assassinate Pompey. As had been arranged, Vettius was brought before the Rostra and mentioned a few names, but the whole affair was so suspicious that it led to nothing, and Caesar, realizing that he had been too hasty, is said to have poisoned his agent.

21. Caesar then married Calpurnia, daughter of Lucius Piso, his successor in the consulship, and at the same time betrothed his own daughter Julia to Gnaeus Pompey, thus breaking her previous engagement to Servilius Caepio, who had recently given him a great deal of support in the struggle against Bibulus. He now always called on Pompey to open debates in the Senate, though having hitherto reserved this honour for Crassus, thereby flouting the tradition that a consul should continue, throughout the year, to preserve the order of precedence established for speakers on the Kalends of January.

22. Having thus secured the goodwill of his father–in–law Piso and his son–in–law Pompey, Caesar surveyed the many provinces open to him and chose Gaul as being the likeliest to supply him with wealth and triumphs. True, he was at first appointed governor only of Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum – the proposal came from Vatinius – but afterwards the Senate added Transalpine Gaul to his jurisdiction, fearing that if this were denied him the people would insist that he should have it. His elation was such that he could not refrain from boasting to a packed Senate House, some days later, that having now gained his dearest wish, to the annoyance and grief of his opponents, he would proceed to ‘stamp upon their persons’. When someone interjected with a sneer that a womanwould not find this an easy feat, he answered amicably, ‘Why not? Semiramis was supreme in Syria, and the Amazons once ruled over a large part of Asia.’17

23. At the close of his consulship the praetors Gaius Memmius and Lucius Domitius demanded an inquiry into his official conduct during the past year. Caesar referred the matter to the Senate, which would not discuss it, so after three days had been wasted in idle recriminations he left for Gaul. His quaestor was at once charged with various irregularities, as a first step towards his own impeachment. Then Lucius Antistius, a tribune of the people, arraigned Caesar, who, however, appealed to the whole college of tribunes, pleading absence on business of national importance, and thus staved off the trial. To prevent a recurrence of this sort of trouble he made a point of putting the chief magistrates of each new year under some obligation to him, and refusing to support any candidates or allow them to be elected unless they promised to defend his cause while he was absent from Rome. He had no hesitation in holding some of them to their promises by an oath or even a written contract.

24. But eventually Lucius Domitius stood for the consulship and openly threatened that, once elected, he would remove Caesar from his military command, having failed to do this while praetor. So Caesar called upon Pompey and Crassus to visit Luca, which lay in his province, and there persuaded them to prolong his governorship of Gaul for another five years and to oppose Domitius’ candidature by seeking the consulship themselves. This success encouraged Caesar to expand his regular army with legions raised at his own expense – one even recruited in Transalpine Gaul and called by the Gallic word ‘Alauda’, which he trained and equipped in Roman style. Later he made every Alauda legionary a full citizen. He now lost no opportunity of picking quarrels – however flimsy the pretext – with allies as well as hostile and barbarous tribes, and marching against them. At first the Senate set up a commission of inquiry into the state of the Gallic provinces, and some speakers went so far as to recommend that Caesar should be handed over to the enemy. But the more successful his campaigns, the more frequent were public thanksgivings voted for him, and they lasted more days than those which any general before him had ever earned.

25. Briefly, his nine years’ governorship produced the following results.18 He reduced to the form of a province the whole of Gaul enclosed by the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Cevennes, the Rhine and the Rhône – about 32,000 miles in circumference – except for certain allied states which had given him useful support, and exacted an annual tribute of 40 million sesterces. Caesar was the first Roman to build a military bridge across the Rhine and cause the Germans on the further bank heavy losses. He also invaded Britain, a hitherto unknown country, and defeated the natives, from whom he exacted a large sum of money as well as hostages for future good behaviour. He met with only three serious reverses: in Britain, when his fleet was all but destroyed by a gale; in Gaul, when one of his legions was routed at Gergovia; and on the German frontier, when his legates Titurius and Aurunculeius were ambushed and killed.

26. During this time Caesar lost, one after the other, his mother, his daughter and his grandson. Meanwhile, the assassination of Publius Clodius had caused such an outcry that the Senate voted for the appointment of only a single consul, naming Pompey as their choice. When the tribunes of the people wanted Caesar to stand as Pompey’s colleague, Caesar asked whether they would not persuade the people to let him do so without visiting Rome; his governorship of Gaul, he wrote, was nearly at an end, and he preferred not to leave until his conquests had been completed. Their granting of this concession so fired Caesar’s ambitions that he neglected no expense in winning popularity, both as a private citizen and as a candidate for his second consulship. He began building a new forum with the spoils taken in Gaul, and paid more than 100 million sesterces for the site alone. Then he announced a gladiatorial show and a public banquet in memory of his daughter Julia – an unprecedented event – and to create as much excitement as possible he had the banquet catered for partly by his own household, partly by the market contractors. He also issued an order that any well–known gladiator who failed to win the approval of the spectators should be forcibly rescued from execution and reserved for the coming show. New gladiators were also trained, not by the usual professionals in the schools, but in private houses by Roman equites and even senators who happened to be skilled at arms. Letters of his survive, begging these trainers to give their pupils individual instruction in the art of fighting. He fixed the daily pay of the regular soldiers at double what it had been. Whenever the granaries were full he would make a lavish distribution to the army, without measuring the amount, and occasionally gave every man a Gallic slave.

27. To preserve Pompey’s friendship and renew the family ties, he offered him the hand of his sister’s granddaughter Octavia, though she had already married Gaius Marcellus, and in return he asked leave to marry Pompey’s daughter, 19 who was betrothed to Faustus Sulla. Having now won all Pompey’s friends and most of the Senate to his side with loans at a low rate of interest or interest free, he endeared himself to persons of less distinction too by handing out valuable presents, whether or not they asked for them. His beneficiaries included even the favourite slaves and freedmen of prominent men. Caesar thus became the one reliable source of help to all who were in legal difficulties, or in debt, or living beyond their means, and he refused help only to those whose criminal record was so black, or whose purse so empty, or whose tastes so expensive, that even he could do nothing for them. He frankly told such people, ‘What you need is a civil war.’

28. Caesar took equal pains to win the esteem of kings and provincial authorities by offering them gifts of prisoners, a thousand at a time, or lending them troops whenever they asked and without first obtaining official permission from the Senate and People. He also presented the principal cities of Asia and Greece with magnificent public works, and did the same for those of Italy, Gaul and Spain. Everyone was amazed by this liberality, and wondered what the sequel would be.

At last Marcus Claudius Marcellus, the consul, announced in an edict that he intended to raise a matter of vital public interest; he then proposed to the Senate that, since the war had now ended in victory, Caesar should be relieved of his command before his term as governor expired, that a successor should be appointed, and that the armies in Gaul should be disbanded. He further proposed that Caesar should be forbidden to stand for the consulship without appearing at Rome in person, since Pompey had not subsequently annulled the decree of the people. Pompey, when he introduced a bill regulating the privileges of magistrates, had forgotten to make a special exception for Caesar in the clause debarring absentees from candidacy, and had corrected this oversight only after the law had been engraved on a bronze tablet and registered at the public treasury.20 Nor was Marcellus content to oust Caesar from his command and cancel the privilege already voted him, namely to stand for the consulship in absentia. He also asked that the colonists whom Caesar had settled at Novum Comum under the Vatinian Act should lose their citizenship. This award, he said, had been intended to further Caesar’s political ambitions and lacked legal sanction.

29. The news infuriated Caesar, but he had often been reported as saying, ‘Now that I am the leading Roman of my day, it will be harder to put me down a peg than degrade me to the ranks.’ So he resisted stubbornly, persuading the tribunes of the people to veto Marcellus’ bills and at the same time enlisting the help of Servius Sulpicius, Marcellus’ colleague. When, in the following year, Marcellus was succeeded in office by his cousin Gaius, who adopted a similar policy, Caesar again won over the other consul, Aemilius Paulus, with a heavy bribe, and also bought Gaius Curio, the most energetic tribune of the people. Realizing, however, that his opponents had made a determined stand and that both the new consuls–elect were unfriendly to him, he appealed to the Senate, begging them in a written address not to cancel a privilege voted him by the people without forcing all other military leaders to resign their commands at the same time as he did. But this was read as meaning that he counted on mobilizing his veteran troops sooner than Pompey could his raw levies. Next, Caesar offered to resign command of eight legions and quit Transalpine Gaul if he might keep two legions and Cisalpine Gaul, or at least Illyricum and one legion, until he became consul.

30. Since the Senate did not intervene and his opponents refused to make any deal where the public good was concerned, Caesar crossed into Cisalpine Gaul, where he held his regular assizes, and halted at Ravenna. He was resolved to defend the rights of the tribunes by war if the Senate took any serious action against the ones who were working in his interests. And this was in fact Caesar’s pretext for launching the civil war. Additional motives are suspected, however. Pompey’s comment was that, because Caesar had insufficient capital to carry out his grandiose schemes or give the people all that they had been encouraged to expect on his return, he chose to throw everything into confusion. Another view is that he dreaded having to account for the irregularities of his first consulship, during which he had disregarded auspices and laws and vetos, for Marcus Cato had often sworn to impeach him as soon as the legions were disbanded. Moreover, people said at the time, frankly enough, that should Caesar return from Gaul as a private citizen he would plead his case like Milo in a court ringed around with armed men.21 This sounds plausible enough, because Asinius Pollio records that when Caesar, at the battle of Pharsalus, saw his opponents slaughtered and routed, he said, in these very words, ‘They brought it on themselves. They would have condemned me regardless of all my victories – me, Gaius Caesar – had I not appealed to my army for help.’ It has also been suggested that constant exercise of power gave Caesar a love of it, and that, after weighing his enemies’ strength against his own, he took this chance of fulfilling his youthful dreams by making a bid for absolute rule. Cicero seems to have come to a similar conclusion: in the third book of his On Duties, he records that Caesar repeatedly quoted some lines of Euripides, which Cicero himself translated as follows:22

Is crime consonant with nobility?
Then noblest is the crime of tyranny –
In all things else obey the laws of heaven.

31. Accordingly, when news reached him that the tribunes’ veto had been disallowed and that they had fled the city, he at once sent a few cohorts ahead with all secrecy, and disarmed suspicion by attending a public show, inspecting the plans of a school for gladiators which he proposed to build, and dining as usual among a crowd of guests. But at dusk he borrowed a pair of mules from a nearby bakery, harnessed them to a carriage, and set off quietly with a few of his staff. His lights went out, he lost his way, and the party wandered about aimlessly for some hours, but at dawn found a guide who led them on foot along narrow lanes until they came to the right road. Caesar overtook his advanced guard at the river Rubicon, which formed the boundary of his province. Well aware how critical a decision confronted him, he turned to his staff, remarking, ‘We may still draw back but, once across that little bridge, we shall have to fight it out.’

32. As he stood, in two minds, an apparition of superhuman size and beauty was seen sitting on the riverbank playing a reed pipe. A party of shepherds gathered around to listen, and, when some of Caesar’s men broke ranks to do the same, the apparition snatched a trumpet from one of them, ran down to the river, blew a thunderous blast, and crossed over. Caesar exclaimed, ‘Let us accept this as a sign from the gods and follow where they beckon, in vengeance on our double–dealing enemies. The die is cast.’23

33. He led his army to the further bank, where he welcomed the tribunes of the people who had fled to him from Rome. Then he tearfully addressed the troops and, ripping open his tunic to expose his breast, begged them to stand faithfully by him. The belief that he then promised to promote every man present to the equestrian order is based on a misunderstanding. He had accompanied his pleas with the gesture of pointing to his left hand, as he declared that he would gladly reward those who championed his honour with the very ring on his finger; but some soldiers on the fringe of the assembly, who saw him better than they could hear his words, read too much into the gesture and put it about that Caesar had promised them all the right to wear a gold ring and the 400,000 sesterces that went with it.

34. Here follows a brief account of Caesar’s subsequent movements.24 He occupied Picenum, Umbria and Etruria; captured Lucius Domitius, who had been named as his emergency successor in Gaul and was holding Corfinium; let him go free; and then marched along the Adriatic coast to Brundisium, where Pompey and the consuls had fled from Rome with the intention of crossing the straits as soon as possible. When his efforts to prevent this proved ineffective, he marched on Rome, entered it, summoned the Senate to review the political situation, and then hurriedly set off for Spain, where Pompey’s strongest forces were stationed under the command of his legates Marcus Petreius, Lucius Afranius and Marcus Varro. Before leaving, Caesar told his household, ‘I am off to meet an army without a leader; when I return I shall meet a leader without an army.’ Though delayed by the siege of Massilia, which had shut its gates against him, and by a severe lack of supplies, he won a rapid and overwhelming victory.

35. Caesar returned by way of Rome, crossed over into Macedonia, and after blockading Pompey for nearly four months behind immense containing works, routed him at Pharsalus. Pompey fled to Alexandria; Caesar followed, and, when he found that King Ptolemy had murdered Pompey and was planning to murder him as well, declared war. This proved to be a most difficult campaign, fought during winter within the city walls of a well–equipped and cunning enemy; but, though caught off his guard and without military supplies of any kind, Caesar was victorious. He then handed over the government of Egypt to Cleopatra and her younger brother, fearing that, if it were made a Roman province, some independent–minded governor might one day launch a bid for power from there. From Alexandria he proceeded to Syria, and from Syria to Pontus, news having come that Pharnaces, son of the famous Mithridates, had taken advantage of the confused situation and already gained several successes. Five days after his arrival and four hours after catching sight of Pharnaces, Caesar crushed him in a single battle, and commented drily on Pompey’s good fortune in having built up his reputation for generalship by victories over such poor stuff as this. Then he beat Scipio and Juba in Africa, where they were reorganizing the remnants of the Pompeian party, and Pompey’s sons in Spain.

36. Throughout the civil war Caesar was never defeated himself, but, of his legates, Gaius Curio died in Africa, Gaius Antonius was captured in Illyricum, Publius Dolabella lost a fleet also off Illyricum, and Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus had his army destroyed in Pontus. Yet, though invariably successful, he twice came close to disaster: at Dyrrhachium, where Pompey broke his blockade and forced him to retreat – Caesar remarked when Pompey failed to pursue him, ‘He does not know how to win wars’– and in the final battle in Spain, where all seemed lost and he even considered suicide.

37. After defeating Scipio, Caesar celebrated four triumphs in one month with a few days’ interval between them, and, after defeating Pompey’s sons, a fifth. These triumphs were the Gallic – the first and most magnificent – the Alexandrian, the Pontic, the African and lastly the Spanish. Each differed completely from the others in its presentation. As Caesar rode through the Velabrum on the day of his Gallic triumph, the axle of his chariot broke, and he nearly took a toss; but afterwards he ascended to the Capitol between two lines of elephants, forty in all, which acted as his torch–bearers. In the Pontic triumph one of the decorated wagons carried a simple three–word inscription:


This referred not, like the rest, to the deeds of the war, but to the speed with which he had won it.

38. Every infantryman of Caesar’s veteran legions earned a reward of 24,000 sesterces, in addition to the 2,000 paid at the outbreak of hostilities, and a farm as well. These farms could not be grouped together without evicting the current owners, but were scattered all over the countryside. Every citizen received ten pecks of grain and ten pounds of oil, besides the 300 sesterces which Caesar had promised at first and now raised to 400, by way of interest on the delay in payment. He also waived the annual rent: in Rome, up to 2,000 sesterces; in Italy, no more than 500. He added a public banquet and a distribution of meat, and also a dinner to celebrate his Spanish victory; but he decided that this had not been splendid enough, and five days later he served a second, more succulent, one.

39. His public shows were of great variety. They included a gladiatorial contest, stage plays for every quarter of Rome performed in several languages, chariot races in the Circus, athletic competitions, and a mock naval battle. At the gladiatorial contest in the Forum, a man named Furius Leptinus, of praetorian family, fought Quintus Calpenus, an advocate and former senator. The sons of petty kings from Asia and Bithynia danced the Pyrrhic war dance. In the theatrical performances, Decimus Laberius, a Romaneques, acted in his own play; but afterwards, having been given 500,000 sesterces and a gold ring, he walked straight from the stage through the orchestra to sit in the first fourteen rows.25 The racecourse at the Circus was extended at either end, and a broad ditch was dug around it; the contestants were young noblemen who drove four–horse and two–horse chariots or rode pairs of horses, jumping from back to back. The Troy Game was performed by two troops of boys, one younger than the other. Wild–beast hunts took place five days running, and the entertainment ended with a battle between two armies, each consisting of 500 infantry, 20 elephants and 30 cavalry. To let the camps be pitched facing each other, Caesar removed the central barrier of the Circus, around which the chariots ran. Athletic contests were held in a temporary stadium on the Campus Martius, and lasted for three days. The naval battle was fought between heavily manned Tyrian and Egyptian biremes, triremes and quadriremes on an artificial lake dug in the Lesser Codeta. Such huge numbers of visitors flocked to these shows from all directions that many of them had to sleep in tents pitched along the streets or roads, and the pressure of the crowd often crushed people to death. The victims included two senators.

40. Caesar next turned his attention to domestic reforms. First he reorganized the calendar, which the pontifices had allowed to fall into such disorder, by intercalating days or months as it suited them, that the harvest and vintage festivals no longer corresponded with the appropriate seasons. He linked the year to the course of the sun by lengthening it to 365 days, abolishing the intercalary month26 and adding an entire day every fourth year. But to make the next Kalends of January fall at the right season, he drew out this particular year by two extra months, inserted between November and December, so that it consisted of fifteen, including the intercalary one inserted in the old style.

41. He brought the Senate up to strength, created new patricians, and increased the yearly quota of praetors, aediles and quaestors, as well as of minor officials; he reinstated those degraded by the censors or condemned for corruption by a jury. Also, he arranged with the people that, apart from the consuls, half the magistrates should be popularly elected and half nominated by himself. Allowing even the sons of proscribed men to stand, he circulated brief directions to the voters. For instance, ‘Caesar the dictator to such–and–such a tribe of voters: I recommend so–and–so to you for office.’ He limited jury service to equites and senators, disqualifying the treasury tribunes.27 Caesar conducted a census in a novel way: he made landlords help him to complete the list, street by street, and reduced from 320,000 to 150,000 the number of householders who might draw free grain. To do away with the nuisance of having to summon everyone periodically for enrolment in the register, he made the praetors keep it up to date by replacing the names of dead men with those of others not yet listed.

42. Since the population of Rome had been considerably diminished by the transfer of 80,000 men to overseas colonies, he forbade any citizen between the ages of twenty and forty who was not on military service to absent himself from Italy for more than three years in succession. Nor might any senator’s son travel abroad unless as a member of some magistrate’s household or staff, and at least a third of the cattlemen employed by ranchers had to be freeborn. Caesar also granted the citizenship to all medical practitioners and professors of liberal arts resident in Rome, thus inducing them to remain and tempting others to follow suit. He disappointed popular agitators by cancelling no debts, but in the end he decreed that every debtor should have his property assessed according to pre–war valuation and, after deducting the interest already paid directly or by way of a banker’s guarantee, should satisfy his creditors with whatever sum that might represent; as a result, creditors lost about a fourth of what they had lent. Caesar dissolved all private associations except the ancient ones, and increased the penalties for crime; and since wealthy men had less compunction about committing major offences, because they could simply go into exile with their property intact, he punished murderers of close relatives (as Cicero records) by the seizure of their entire property, and others by seizure of half.

43. In his administration of justice he was both conscientious and severe, and went so far as to degrade senators found guilty of extortion. Once, when a man of praetorian rank married a woman on the day after her divorce from her husband, he annulled the union, although adultery between them was not suspected. He imposed a tariff on foreign manufactures; he forbade the use of litters, except on stated occasions, and the wearing of either purple robes28 or pearls by those below a certain rank and age. To implement his laws against luxury he placed inspectors in different parts of the market to seize delicacies offered for sale in violation of his orders; sometimes he even sent lictors and guards into dining rooms to remove illegal dishes, already served, which his watchmen had failed to intercept.

44. Caesar was continually planning great new works for the embellishment of the city and for the empire’s protection and enlargement. His most notable projects were a temple of Mars, the biggest in the world, to build which he would have had to fill up and pave the lake where the naval sham fight had been staged, and an enormous theatre sloping down from the Tarpeian Rock. Another task he set himself was the reduction of the civil law to manageable proportions, by selecting from the unwieldy mass of statutes only the most essential, and publishing them in a few volumes. Still another was to provide public libraries, by commissioning Marcus Varro to collect and classify Greek and Latin books on a comprehensive scale. His engineering schemes included the draining of the Pomptine Marshes and of the Fucine Lake, the building of a highway from the Adriatic across the Apennines to the Tiber, and the cutting of a canal through the Isthmus of Corinth. In the military field he planned an expulsion of the Dacians from Pontus and Thrace, which they had recently occupied, and then an attack on Parthia by way of Lesser Armenia; but he decided not to risk a pitched battle until he had familiarized himself with Parthian tactics.

All these schemes were cancelled by his assassination. Before describing that, I should perhaps give a brief description of his appearance, personal habits, dress, character, and conduct in peace and war.

45. Caesar is said to have been tall, fair and well built, with a rather broad face and keen, dark eyes. His health was sound, apart from sudden fainting spells and a tendency to nightmares which troubled him towards the end of his life, but he twice had epileptic fits while on campaign. He was something of a dandy, so that he not only kept himself carefully trimmed and shaved but also, as some people have charged, depilated with tweezers. His baldness was a disfigurement which his enemies harped upon, much to his exasperation, but he used to comb the thin strands of hair forward from the crown of his head, and of all the honours voted him by the Senate and People none pleased him so much as the privilege of wearing a laurel wreath on all occasions – he constantly took advantage of it. His dress was, it seems, unusual: he had added wrist–length sleeves with fringes to his purple–striped senatorial tunic, which he wore not only belted but loosely belted at that – hence Sulla’s warning to the optimates: ‘Beware of that boy with the loose clothes!’

46. Caesar’s first home was a modest house in the Subura quarter, but later, as pontifex maximus, he used the official residence on the Sacred Way. Contemporary literature contains frequent references to his fondness for luxurious living. Having built a country mansion near Aricia from the foundations up, one story goes, he was not entirely satisfied with it and so, although poor at the time and heavily in debt, he tore the whole place down. It is also recorded that he carried tessellated and mosaic pavements with him on his campaigns.

47. Pearls seem to have been the lure that prompted his invasion of Britain, and he would sometimes test them in the palm of his hand to determine their weight; he was also a keen collector of gems, carvings, statues and paintings of ancient workmanship. So high were the prices he paid for slaves of good character and attainments that even he became ashamed of his extravagance and would not allow the sums to be entered in his accounts.

48. I find also that, while stationed abroad, he always had dinner served in two separate rooms: one for his officers and Greek friends, the other for Roman citizens and the more important provincials. He paid such strict attention to his domestic economy, however small the detail, that he once put his baker in irons for giving him a different sort of bread from that served to his guests, and he executed a favourite freedman for committing adultery with the wife of an eques, although no complaint had been lodged by the husband.

49. The only charge ever brought against him regarding his sexual tastes was that he had been King Nicomedes’ bedmate – always a dark stain on his reputation, and frequently quoted by his enemies. Licinius Calvus published the notorious verses:

The riches of Bithynia’s King
Who Caesar on his couch abused.

Dolabella called him ‘the Queen’s rival and inner partner of the royal bed’, and the elder Curio ‘Nicomedes’ Bithynian brothel’. Bibulus, Caesar’s colleague in the consulship, described him in an edict as ‘the Queen of Bithynia, who once wanted to sleep with a monarch, but now wants to be one’. And Marcus Brutus recorded that, about the same time, one Octavius, a scatterbrained creature who would say the first thing that came into his head, walked into a packed assembly where he saluted Pompey as ‘King’ and Caesar as ‘Queen’. All this can be discounted as mere slander, but Gaius Memmius directly charges Caesar with having joined a group of Nicomedes’ toy boys at a banquet, where he acted as the royal cupbearer, and adds that certain Roman merchants, whose names he supplies, were present as guests. Cicero too not only wrote in several letters that ‘Caesar was led by Nicomedes’ attendants to the royal bedchamber, where he lay on a golden couch dressed in a purple robe, and so this descendant of Venus lost his virginity in Bithynia,’ but also once interrupted Caesar while he was addressing the Senate in defence of Nicomedes’ daughter Nysa and listing his obligations to Nicomedes himself. ‘Enough of that,’ Cicero shouted, ‘if you please! We all know what he gave you, and what you gave him in return.’ Lastly, when Caesar’s own soldiers followed his decorated chariot in the Gallic triumph, chanting ribald songs, as they were privileged to do, this was one of them:

Gaul was brought to shame by Caesar;
   By King Nicomedes he.
Here comes Caesar, wreathed in triumph
   For his Gallic victory!
Nicomedes wears no laurels,
   Though the greatest of the three.

50. His affairs with women are commonly described as numerous and extravagant: among those of noble birth whom he is said to have seduced were Servius Sulpicius’ wife Postumia, Aulus Gabinius’ wife Lollia, Marcus Crassus’ wife Tertulla, and even Gnaeus Pompey’s wife Mucia. Be this how it may, both the elder and the younger Curio reproached Pompey with being led by his desire for power to marry the daughter of the man on whose account he had divorced the mother of his three children and whom he had often despairingly called ‘Aegisthus’.29 But Marcus Brutus’ mother Servilia was the woman whom Caesar loved best, and in his first consulship he bought her a pearl worth 6million sesterces. He gave her many presents during the civil war, as well as knocking down certain valuable estates to her at a public auction for a song. When surprise was expressed at the low price, Cicero made a clever remark: ‘It was even cheaper than you think, because a third [tertia ] had been discounted.’ Servilia, you see, was also suspected at the time of having prostituted her daughter Tertia to Caesar.

51. That he had love affairs in the provinces too is suggested by another of the ribald verses sung during the Gallic triumph:

Home we bring our bald whoremonger;
   Romans, lock your wives away!
All the bags of gold you lent him
   Went his Gallic tarts to pay.

52. Among his mistresses were several queens – including Eunoë, wife of Bogud of Mauretania, whom, according to Marcus Actorius Naso, he loaded with presents; Bogud is said to have profited equally. The most famous of these queens was Cleopatra. He often feasted with her until dawn, and they would have sailed together in her state barge nearly to Ethiopia had his soldiers consented to follow him. He eventually summoned Cleopatra to Rome, and would not let her return home without high titles and rich presents. He even allowed her to give his own name to the son whom she had borne him.30 Some Greek historians say that the boy closely resembled Caesar in features as well as in gait. Mark Antony informed the Senate that Caesar had in fact acknowledged his paternity, and that other friends of Caesar, including Gaius Matius and Gaius Oppius, were aware of this. Oppius, however, seems to have felt the need to clear his friend’s reputation, because he published a book to prove that the boy whom Cleopatra had fathered on Caesar was not his at all. A tribune of the people named Helvius Cinna informed a number of people that, following instructions, he had drawn up a bill for the people to pass during Caesar’s absence from Rome, legitimizing his marriage with any woman, or women, he pleased –‘for the procreation of children’. And, to emphasize the bad name Caesar had won for both easy virtue and adultery, the elder Curio refers to him in a speech as ‘every woman’s husband and every man’s wife’.

53. Yet not even his enemies denied that he drank abstemiously. An epigram of Marcus Cato’s survives: ‘Caesar was the only sober man who ever tried to overturn the republic.’ And Gaius Oppius relates that he cared so little for good food that when once he attended a dinner party where scented oil had been served by mistake and all the other guests refused it, Caesar helped himself more liberally than usual, to show that he did not consider his host either careless or boorish.

54. He was not particularly honest in money matters, either while a provincial governor or while holding office at Rome. Several memoirs record that as consular governor of Further Spain he not only begged his allies for money to settle his debts, but wantonly sacked several Lusitanian towns, though they had accepted his terms and opened their gates to receive him. In Gaul he plundered large and small temples of their votive offerings, and more often gave towns over to pillage because their inhabitants were rich than because they had offended him. As a result, he collected larger quantities of gold than he could handle, and began selling it in Italy and the provinces at 3,000 sesterces to the pound. In the course of his first consulship he stole 3,000 pounds of gold from the Capitol and replaced it with the same weight of gilded bronze. He sold alliances and thrones for cash, making Ptolemy give him and Pompey nearly 6,000 talents, and later he paid his civil–war army, and the expenses of his triumphs and entertainments, by open extortion and sacrilege.

55. Caesar equalled, if he did not surpass, the greatest orators and generals the world had ever known. His prosecution of Dolabella unquestionably placed him in the first rank of advocates. Cicero, discussing the matter in his Brutus, confesses that he knew no more eloquent speaker than Caesar, and calls his style chaste and pellucid, not to say grand and noble; he also wrote to Cornelius Nepos, ‘Very well, then! Do you know any man who, even if he has concentrated on the art of oratory to the exclusion of all else, can speak better than Caesar? Or anyone who makes so many witty remarks? Or whose vocabulary is so varied and yet so exact?’31 Caesar seems to have modelled his style, at any rate when a beginner, on Caesar Strabo – part of whose Defence of the Sardinians he borrowed verbatim for use in a courtroom speech of his own. It is said that he pitched his voice high in speaking, and used impassioned gestures which far from displeased his audience.

Several of Caesar’s undoubted speeches survive, and he is credited with others that are hardly genuine. Augustus said that the Defence of Quintus Metellus could hardly have been published by Caesar himself, and that it appeared to be a version taken down by shorthand writers who could not keep up with his delivery. He was probably right, because on examining several manuscripts of the speech I find that even the title is given as What He Composed for Metellus – although it is written in the character of Caesar defending Metellus and himself against a joint accusation. Augustus also doubted the authenticity of Caesar’s Address to the Soldiers in Spain. It is written in two parts, one speech supposedly delivered before the first battle, the other before the second – though on the latter occasion, at least, according to Asinius Pollio, the enemy’s attack gave Caesar no time to address his troops at all.

56. He left memoirs of his war in Gaul and of his civil war against Pompey, but no one knows who wrote those of the Alexandrian, African and Spanish campaigns. Some say that it was his friend Oppius; others that it was Hirtius, who also finished The Gallic War, left incomplete by Caesar, adding a final book.32 Cicero, also in the Brutus, observes, ‘Caesar wrote admirably; his memoirs are cleanly, directly and gracefully composed, and divested of all rhetorical trappings. And while his sole intention was to supply historians with factual material, the result has been that several fools have been pleased to primp up his narrative for their own glorification; but every writer of sense has given the subject a wide berth.’ Hirtius says downrightly, ‘These memoirs are so highly rated by all judicious critics that the opportunity of enlarging and improving on them, which he purports to offer historians, seems in fact withheld from them. And, as his friends, we admire this feat even more than strangers can: they appreciate the faultless grace of his style, we know how rapidly and easily he wrote.’ Asinius Pollio, however, believes that the memoirs show signs of carelessness and inaccuracy: Caesar, he holds, did not always check the truth of the reports that came in, and was either disingenuous or forgetful in describing his own actions. Pollio adds that Caesar must have planned a revision.33

Among his literary remains are two books of An Essay on Analogy,two more of Answers to Cato and a poem, The Journey.34 He wrote An Essay on Analogy while coming back over the Alps after holding assizes in Cisalpine Gaul, Answers to Cato in the year that he won the battle of Munda, and The Journey during the twenty–four days he spent on the road between Rome and Further Spain. Many of the letters and dispatches sent by him to the Senate also survive, and he seems to have been the first statesman to reduce such documents to book form; previously, consuls and generals had written right across the page, not in neat columns. Then there are his letters to Cicero and his private letters to friends, the more confidential passages of which he wrote in cipher: to understand their apparently incomprehensible meaning one must substitute each letter that Caesar wrote with the one which occurs three places before– for instance, D stands for A. It is said that in his boyhood and early youth he also wrote pieces called In Praise of Herculesand The Tragedy of Oedipus and Collected Sayings, but nearly a century later the emperor Augustus sent a brief, frank letter to Pompeius Macer, whom he had appointed to oversee the libraries, forbidding him to circulate these minor works.

57. Caesar was a most skilful swordsman and horseman, and showed surprising powers of endurance. He always led his army, more often on foot than in the saddle, went bareheaded in sun and rain alike, and could travel lightly in a carriage for long distances at incredible speed, a hundred miles in a single day. If he reached an unfordable river he would either swim or propel himself across it on an inflated skin, and often arrived at his destination before the messengers whom he had sent ahead to announce his approach.

58. It is a disputable point which was the more remarkable when he went to war: his caution or his daring. He never exposed his army to ambushes, but made careful reconnaissances, and he refrained from crossing over into Britain until he had collected reliable information about the harbours there, the best course to steer, and the navigational risks. On the other hand, when news reached him that his camp in Germany was being besieged, he disguised himself as a Gaul and picked his way through the enemy outposts to take command on the spot. He ferried his troops from Brundisium to Dyrrhachium in the winter season, through the enemy fleet. And one night, when the reinforcements that he had ordered were delayed, despite his repeated pleas, Caesar muffled his head with a cloak, secretly put to sea alone in a small boat, and refused either to reveal his identity or to allow the helmsman to turn back before a storm until he was almost shipwrecked.

59. Religious scruples never deterred him for a moment. When the victim escaped from him at the sacrifice before he set off to fight with Scipio and Juba in Africa, he did not delay but sailed at once. He also slipped and fell as he disembarked on his arrival, but turned this into a favourable omen by clasping the ground and shouting, ‘Africa, I have tight hold of you!’ Then, to ridicule the prophecy according to which the Scipios were destined to be perpetually victorious in that province, he took about with him a contemptible member of the Cornelian family who was given the nickname ‘salvito’ because of his disgraceful life.35

60. Sometimes he fought after careful tactical planning, sometimes on the spur of the moment – at the end of a march, often, or in miserable weather, when he would be least expected to make a move. Towards the end of his life, however, he took fewer chances, having come to the conclusion that his unbroken run of victories ought to sober him, now that he could not possibly gain more by winning yet another battle than he would lose by a defeat. It was his rule never to let enemy troops rally when he had routed them, and always therefore to assault their camp at once. If the fight was a hard fought one he used to send the chargers away – his own among the first – as a warning that those who feared to stand their ground need not hope to escape on horseback.

61. This charger of his, an extraordinary animal with feet that looked almost human – each of its hoofs was cloven in five parts, resembling human toes – had been foaled on his private estate. When the haruspices pronounced that its master would one day rule the world, Caesar carefully reared and was the first to ride the beast; nor would it allow anyone else to do so. He later raised a statue to it before the Temple of Venus Genetrix.

62. If Caesar’s troops gave ground he would often rally them single–handedly, catching individual fugitives by the throat and forcing them round to face the enemy again, even if they were panic–stricken – as when one standard bearer threatened him with the sharp butt of his Eagle and another, whom he tried to detain, ran off leaving the standard in his hand.

63. Caesar’s reputation for presence of mind is fully borne out by the instances quoted. After the battle at Pharsalus, he had sent his troops ahead of him into Asia and was crossing the Hellespont in a small ferry boat when Lucius Cassius with ten naval vessels approached. Caesar made no attempt to escape but rowed towards the flagship and demanded Cassius’ surrender, which in fact he received.

64. Again, while attacking a bridge at Alexandria, Caesar was forced by a sudden enemy sortie to jump into a rowing boat. So many of his men followed him that he dived into the sea and swam 200 yards until he reached his nearest ship – holding his left hand above water the whole way, to keep certain documents dry, and towing his general’s cloak behind him with his teeth, to save this trophy from his opponents.

65. He judged his men by their fighting record, not by their morals or social position, treating them all with equal severity – and equal indulgence, since it was only in the presence of the enemy that he insisted on strict discipline. He never gave forewarning of a march or a battle, but kept his troops always on the alert for sudden orders to go wherever he directed. Often he made them turn out when there was no need at all, especially in wet weather or on public holidays. Sometimes he would say, ‘Keep a close eye on me!’ and then steal away from camp at any hour of the day or night, expecting them to follow. It was certain to be a particularly long march, and hard on stragglers.

66. If rumours about the enemy’s strength were causing alarm, his practice was to heighten morale not by denying or belittling the danger, but on the contrary by further exaggerating it. For instance, when his troops were in a panic at the news of Juba’s approach, he called them together and announced, ‘You may take it from me that the king will be here within a few days, at the head of ten infantry legions, thirty thousand cavalry, a hundred thousand lightly armed troops and three hundred elephants. This being the case, you may as well stop asking questions and making guesses. I have given you the facts, with which I familiar. Any of you who remain unsatisfied will find themselves aboard a leaky hulk and being carried across the sea wherever the winds may decide to blow them.’

67. Though turning a blind eye to much of their misbehaviour and never laying down any fixed scale of penalties, he allowed no deserter or mutineer to escape severe punishment. Sometimes, if a victory had been complete enough, he relieved the troops of all military duties and let them carry on as wildly as they pleased. One of his boasts was ‘My men fight just as well when they are stinking of perfume.’ He always addressed them not as ‘soldiers’ but as ‘comrades’, which put them into a better humour, and he equipped them splendidly. The silver and gold inlay of their weapons both improved their appearance on parade and made them more careful not to get disarmed in battle. Caesar loved his men dearly; when news came that Titurius’ command had been massacred, he swore neither to cut his hair nor to trim his beard until they had been avenged.

68. By these means he won the devotion of his men as well as making them extraordinarily brave. At the outbreak of the civil war every centurion in every legion volunteered to equip a cavalryman from his savings, and the private soldiers unanimously offered to serve under him without pay or rations, pooling their money so that nobody should go short. Throughout the entire struggle not a single man deserted, and many of them, when taken prisoner, preferred death to the alternative of fighting against him. Such was their fortitude in facing starvation and other hardships, both as besiegers and as besieged, that when at the siege of Dyrrhachium Pompey was shown the substitute for bread, made from a herb, on which they were feeding, he exclaimed, ‘Iam fighting wild beasts!’ Then he ordered the loaf to be hidden at once, not wanting his men to find out how tough and resolute the enemy were and so lose heart.

Their stout–heartedness in fighting is attested by the fact that after their only reverse, at Dyrrhachium, they themselves demanded to be punished; whereupon Caesar felt called upon to console rather than upbraid them. In other battles, they easily beat enormously superior forces. A single cohort of the Sixth Legion held a fort against four Pompeian legions for hours, though almost every man had been repeatedly wounded by arrow shot – 130,000 arrows were afterwards collected at the scene of the engagement. This high level of courage is less surprising when individual examples are considered. For example, the centurion Cassius Scaeva, blinded in one eye, wounded in thigh and shoulder, and with no fewer than 120 holes in his shield, continued to defend the approaches to the fort. Nor was his by any means an exceptional case. At the naval battle of Massilia, a private soldier named Gaius Acilius grasped the stern of an enemy ship and, when someone lopped off his right hand, nevertheless boarded her and drove the enemy back with the boss of his shield only – a feat rivalling that of Cynegirus among the Greeks.36

69. Caesar’s men did not mutiny once during the Gallic war, which lasted ten years. In the civil wars they were less dependable, but whenever they made insubordinate demands he faced them boldly and always brought them to heel again – not by appeasement, but by sheer exercise of personal authority. At Placentia, although Pompey’s armies were as yet undefeated, he disbanded the entire Ninth Legion with ignominy, later reinstating them in response to their abject pleas – this with great reluctance, and only after executing the ringleaders.

70. At Rome too, when the Tenth Legion agitated for their discharge and bounty and were terrorizing the city, Caesar defied the advice of his friends and at once confronted the mutineers in person. Again he would have disbanded them ignominiously, though the African war was still being hotly fought, but by addressing them as ‘citizens’ he readily regained their affections. A shout went up: ‘We are your soldiers, Caesar, not civilians!’, and they clamoured to serve under him in Africa– a demand which he nevertheless disdained to grant. He showed his contempt for the more disaffected soldiers by withholding a third part of the prize money and land which had been set aside for them.

71. Even as a young man Caesar was well known for the loyalty he showed his dependants. He protected a nobleman’s son named Masintha against King Hiempsal with such devotion that in the course of the quarrel he caught Juba, the king’s son, by the beard. Masintha, being then declared the king’s vassal, was arrested, but Caesar immediately rescued him and harboured him in his own quarters for a long while. At the close of his praetorship Caesar sailed for Spain, taking Masintha with him. The lictors carrying the fasces and the crowds who had come to say goodbye acted as a screen; nobody realized that Masintha was hidden in Caesar’s litter.

72. He showed consistent affection to his friends. Gaius Oppius, travelling by his side once through a wild forest, suddenly fell sick, and Caesar insisted on his using the only shelter that offered while he and the rest of his staff slept outside on the bare ground. Having attained supreme power, he raised some of his friends, even men of humble birth, to high office and brushed aside criticism by saying, ‘If bandits and cutthroats had helped to defend my honour, I should have shown them gratitude in the same way.’

73. Moreover, when given the chance, he would always cheerfully come to terms with his bitterest enemies. He supported Gaius Memmius’ candidature for the consulship, though they had both spoken most damagingly against each other. When Gaius Calvus, after his cruel lampoons of Caesar, made a move towards reconciliation through mutual friends, Caesar met him more than halfway by writing him a friendly letter. Valerius Catullus had also libelled him in his verses about Mamurra, yet Caesar, while admitting that these were a permanent blot on his name, accepted Catullus’ apology and invited him to dinner that same afternoon, and never interrupted his friendship with Catullus’ father.37

74. Yet, even when he did take action, it was his nature to show restraint; if he crucified the pirates who had held him to ransom, this was only because he had sworn in their presence to do so, and he first mercifully cut their throats. He could never bring himself to take vengeance on Cornelius Phagites, even though in his early days, while he was sick and a fugitive from Sulla, Cornelius had tracked him at night and demanded hush money. On discovering that Philemon, the slave who served as his secretary, had been induced by his enemies to poison him, Caesar ordered a simple execution, without torture. When Publius Clodius was accused of adultery with Caesar’s wife Pompeia in sacrilegious circumstances, and both his mother Aurelia and his sister Julia had given the court a detailed and truthful account of the affair, Caesar himself refused to offer any evidence. When asked why, in that case, he had divorced Pompeia, he replied, ‘Because I cannot have members of my household suspected, even when they are innocent.’

75. Nobody can deny that during the civil war, and after, he behaved with wonderful restraint and clemency. Whereas Pompey declared that all who were not actively with him were against him and would be treated as public enemies, Caesar announced that all who were not actively against him were with him. He allowed every centurion whom he had appointed on Pompey’s recommendation to join the Pompeian forces if he pleased. At Ilerda, when the articles of capitulation were being discussed and the rival armies were fraternizing, Afranius and Petreius suddenly decided not to surrender and massacred every Caesarian soldier found in their camp; yet Caesar did not stoop to imitate this treachery.38 During the battle of Pharsalus he shouted to his men, ‘spare your fellow Romans!’, and then allowed them to save one enemy soldier apiece, whoever he might be. My researches show that not a single Pompeian died except in battle, apart from Afranius and Faustus Sulla and young Lucius Caesar. It is thought that not even these three were killed by his own command, though Afranius and Faustus had taken up arms again after he had spared their lives, and Lucius Caesar had cruelly cut the throats of his slaves and freedmen, even butchering the wild beasts that he had obtained for a public show. At last, towards the end of his career, Caesar invited back to Italy all exiles whom he had not yet pardoned, permitting them to hold magistracies and command armies; he even went so far as to restore the statues of Sulla and Pompey, which the crowd had thrown down and smashed. He also preferred to discourage rather than punish any plots against his life or any slanders on his name. All that he would do, when he detected such plots or became aware of secret nocturnal meetings, was to announce openly that he knew about them. As for slanderers, he contented himself with warning them in public to keep their mouths shut, and good–naturedly took no action either against Aulus Caecina for his most libellous pamphlet or against Pitholaus for his scurrilous verses.

76. Yet other deeds and sayings of Caesar’s may be set to the debit account, so that he is judged to have abused his rule and been justly assassinated. Not only did he accept excessive honours, such as continual consulships, a life dictatorship, a perpetual censorship, the title Imperator put before his name and the title Father of His Country after it, a statue among those of the ancient kings, and a raised seat in the orchestra of the theatre, but he took other honours which, as a mere mortal, he should certainly have refused. These included a golden throne in the Senate House and another on the tribunal, a ceremonial wagon and litter for carrying his statue in the religious procession around the Circus, temples, altars, divine images, a couch for his image at religious festivals, a flamen, a new college of Luperci, and the renaming of a month after him.39 Few, in fact, were the honours which he was not pleased to accept or assume.

His third and fourth consulships were merely titular; the dictatorship conferred on him at the same time supplied all the authority he needed. And in both years he substituted two new consuls for himself during the last quarter, meanwhile letting only tribunes and aediles of the people be elected, and appointing prefects with praetorian rank to govern the city during his absence. One of the consuls died suddenly the day before the Kalends of January, and when someone asked to hold office for the remaining few hours Caesar granted his request.40 He showed equal scorn of ancestral tradition by choosing magistrates several years ahead, decorating ten former praetors with the emblems of consular rank, and admitting to the Senate men of foreign birth, including semi–civilized Gauls who had been granted Roman citizenship. He placed his own slaves in charge of the mint and the public revenues, and sent his toy boy Rufio, the son of one of his freedmen, to command the three legions stationed at Alexandria.

77. Titus Ampius has recorded some of Caesar’s public statements which reveal a similar presumption: that the republic was nothing – a mere name without form or substance; that Sulla had proved himself a dunce by resigning his dictatorship; and that, now his own word was law, people ought to be more careful how they approached him. Once, when a haruspex reported that a sacrificial beast had been found to have no heart– an unlucky omen indeed – Caesar told him arrogantly, ‘The omens will be as favourable as I wish them to be; nor should it be considered a portent if a beast lacks a heart.’

78. But what provoked particularly bitter hostility was that when one day the entire Senate, armed with an imposing list of honours that they had just voted him, came to where he sat in front of the Temple of Venus Genetrix, he did not rise to greet them. According to some accounts, he would have risen had not Cornelius Balbus prevented him; according to others, he made no such move and grimaced angrily at Gaius Trebatius, who suggested this courtesy. The case was aggravated by a memory of Caesar’s behaviour during one of his triumphs: he had ridden past the benches reserved for the tribunes of the people, and was so furious at a certain Pontius Aquila for keeping his seat that he shouted, ‘Hey, there, Aquila the tribune! Do you want me to restore the republic?’ For several days after this incident he added to every undertaking he gave, ‘With the kind consent of Pontius Aquila.’

79. This open insult to the Senate was emphasized by an even more arrogant action. As he returned to Rome from the Latin Festival, a member of the crowd set a laurel wreath bound with a white fillet on the head of his statue.41 Two tribunes of the people, Epidius Marullus and Caesetius Flavus, ordered the fillet to be removed at once and the offender imprisoned. But Caesar reprimanded and summarily degraded them both: either because the suggestion that he should be made king had been so rudely rejected, or else because – this was his own version – they had given him no chance to reject it himself and so earn deserved credit. From that day forward, however, he lay under the odious suspicion of having tried to revive the title of king, though, indeed, when the people greeted him as ‘king’ he now protested, ‘No, I am Caesar, not king,’42 and though, again, when at the Lupercalia Mark Antony, the consul, made several attempts to crown him in front of the Rostra he refused the offer each time and at last sent the crown to the Capitol for dedication to Jupiter Optimus Maximus. What made matters worse was a persistent rumour that Caesar intended to move the seat of government to Troy or Alexandria, carrying off all the national resources, drafting every available man in Italy for military service, and letting his friends govern what was left of the city. At the next meeting of the Senate (it was further whispered), Lucius Cotta would announce a decision of the Quindecimviri who had charge of the Sibylline Books that, since these prophetic writings stated clearly ‘Only a king can conquer the Parthians,’ the title of king must be conferred on Caesar.

80. Because his enemies shrank from agreeing to this proposal, they pressed on with their plans for his assassination. Several groups, each consisting of two or three malcontents, now united in a general conspiracy. Even the people had come to disapprove of how things were going, and no longer hid their disgust at Caesar’s tyrannical rule but openly demanded champions to protect their ancient liberties. When foreigners were admitted to the Senate, someone put up a poster which read, ‘Good Fortune! If any newly appointed senator enquires the way to the Senate House, let nobody direct him there!’ And the following popular song was sung everywhere:

Caesar led the Gauls in triumph,
   Led them uphill, led them down,
To the Senate House he took them,
   Once the glory of our town.
‘Pull those breeches off,’ he shouted,
   ‘Change into a purple gown!’43

As Quintus Maximus, one of the three–month suffect consuls, entered the theatre, the lictor called out as usual, ‘Make way for the consul!’ Cries of protest went up: ‘What? For him? He’s no consul!’ The deposition of Caesetius and Marullus caused such widespread annoyance that at the next consular elections people cast a great many votes in their favour. Someone then wrote on the pedestal of Lucius Brutus’ statue, ‘If only you were alive now!’, and on that of Caesar himself:

Brutus44 was elected consul
   When he sent the kings away;
Caesar sent the consuls packing,
   Caesar is our king today.

More than sixty conspirators banded together against him, led by Gaius Cassius and Marcus and Decimus Brutus. A suggested plan was to wait until the elections in the Campus Martius, when Caesar would take his stand on the wooden bridge along which voters walked to the poll; one group of conspirators would then topple him over, while another waited underneath with daggers drawn. An alternative was to attack him in the Sacred Way or at the entrance to the theatre. The conspirators wavered between these plans until Caesar called a meeting of the Senate in the Assembly Hall of Pompey45 for the Ides of March; they then decided at once that this would be by far the most convenient time and place.

81. Unmistakable signs forewarned Caesar of his assassination. A few months previously the veterans who had been sent to colonize Capua under the Julian Law were breaking up some ancient tombs in search of stone for their new farmhouses – all the more eagerly when they came across a large hoard of ancient vases. One of these tombs proved to be that of Capys, the founder of the city, and there they found a bronze tablet with a Greek inscription to this effect: ‘When the bones of Capys are disturbed, a descendant of his46 will be murdered by his kindred and later avenged at great cost to Italy.’ This story should not be dismissed as idle fiction or a lie, because our authority for it is none other than Cornelius Balbus, a close friend of Caesar. Soon afterwards a herd of horses which Caesar had dedicated to the river Rubicon, after fording it, and allowed to roam untended in the valley, were beginning to show a repugnance for the pasture and shedding bucketfuls of tears. Again, during a sacrifice the haruspex Spurinna warned Caesar to beware of a danger that would not pass until the Ides of March; and on the day before the Ides a little bird called the king wren flew into the Assembly Hall of Pompey with a sprig of laurel in its beak – pursued by a swarm of different birds from a nearby copse, which tore it to pieces there and then. Furthermore, on his last night Caesar dreamed that he was soaring above the clouds and then shaking hands with Jupiter, while his wife Calpurnia dreamed that the pediment of their house47 collapsed and that her husband was stabbed in her arms; and suddenly the bedroom door burst open of its own accord.

These warnings, and a touch of ill health, made him hesitate for some time whether to go ahead with his plans or whether to postpone the meeting. Finally Decimus Brutus persuaded him not to disappoint the Senate, who had been in full session for an hour or more waiting for him to arrive. It was just about the fifth hour of the day when he set off. As he went, someone handed him a note containing details of the plot against his life, but he merely added it to the bundle of petitions in his left hand, which he intended to read later. Several victims were then sacrificed, and, despite consistently unfavourable omens, he entered the Assembly Hall, deriding Spurinna as a false prophet. ‘The Ides of March have come,’ he said. ‘Aye, they have come,’ replied Spurinna, ‘but they have not yet gone.’

82. As soon as Caesar took his seat the conspirators crowded around him as if to pay their respects. Tillius Cimber, who had taken the lead, came up close, pretending to ask a question. Caesar made a gesture of postponement, but Cimber caught hold of his shoulders. ‘This is violence!’ Caesar cried, and at that moment one of the Casca brothers slipped behind and with a sweep of his dagger stabbed him just below the throat. Caesar grasped Casca’s arm and ran it through with his stylus; he was leaping away when another dagger caught him in the breast. Confronted by a ring of drawn daggers, he drew the top of his toga over his face and at the same time ungirded the lower part, letting it fall to his feet so that he would die with his lower body decently covered. Twenty–three dagger thrusts went home as he stood there. Caesar did not utter a sound after Casca’s blow had drawn a groan from him, though some say that when he saw Marcus Brutus about to deliver a blow he reproached him in Greek with ‘You too, my son?’48 The entire Senate then dispersed in confusion, and Caesar was left lying dead for some time until three of his household slaves carried him home in a litter, with one arm hanging over the side. The physician Antistius came to the conclusion that none of the wounds had been mortal except the second one in the breast. The conspirators had decided to drag the dead man down to the Tiber, confiscate his property, and revoke all his edicts, but fear of Mark Antony, the consul, and Lepidus, the master of horse, kept them from making their plans good.

83. At the request of Lucius Piso, Caesar’s father–in–law, his will, which he had drafted on the previous Ides of September at his villa near Lavicum and entrusted to the safekeeping of the Chief Vestal, was unsealed and read in Antony’s house. From the time of his first consulship until the outbreak of the civil war (according to Quintus Tubero) Caesar’s principal heir had been Gnaeus Pompey, and he used to read out this part of his will to the assembled troops. But in the final version of his will he left three–quarters of his estate to Gaius Octavius and one–eighth each to Lucius Pinarius and Quintus Pedius, these being the three grandsons of his sisters; at the close of the will he also adopted Gaius Octavius into the family name. He appointed several of the assassins as guardians to his son, in the case that he should have one; Decimus Brutus even figured among his heirs in the second degree.49 Caesar left the people his gardens on the banks of the Tiber and 300 sesterces a man.

84. When the funeral arrangements had been announced, his friends raised a pyre on the Campus Martius near his daughter Julia’s tomb and a gilded shrine on the Rostra resembling that of Venus Genetrix. In it they set an ivory couch, spread with purple and gold cloth, and from a pillar at its head hung the clothing in which he had been murdered. Since it was thought that a procession of mourners, filing past the pyre in orderly fashion and laying funeral gifts on it, would probably take more than a day, everyone was invited to come there by whatever route he pleased, regardless of precedence. Emotions of pity and indignation were aroused at the funeral games by a line from Pacuvius’ play Contest for the Arms of Achilles, ‘What, did I save these men that they might murder me?’, and by a similar sentiment from Atilius’ Electra. Mark Antony dispensed with a formal eulogy; instead, he instructed a herald to read, first, the recent decree simultaneously voting Caesar all divine and human honours, and then the oath by which the entire Senate had pledged themselves to watch over his safety. Antony added a few short words of comment. When the ivory funeral couch had been carried down into the Forum by a group of magistrates and former magistrates, and a dispute arose as to whether the body should be cremated in the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus or in the Assembly Hall of Pompey, two figures suddenly appeared, javelin in hand and sword at thigh, and set fire to the couch with torches. Immediately the spectators assisted the blaze by heaping on it dry branches and the judges’ chairs along with the court benches, as well as whatever else came to hand. Thereupon the musicians and the theatrical performers took off the clothes which had been used in his triumphs and which they had put on for the present occasion, tore them into pieces, and flung them on the flames, and his veterans added the arms which they were wearing to honour his funeral. Many women in the audience similarly sacrificed their jewellery together with their children’s golden amulets and embroidered tunics. Public grief was enhanced by crowds of foreigners lamenting in their own fashion – especially Jews, who came flocking to the Forum for several nights in succession.

85. As soon as the funeral was over, the people, snatching brands from the pyre, ran to burn down the houses of Brutus and Cassius, and were repelled with difficulty. Mistaking Helvius Cinna for the Cornelius Cinna who had delivered a bitter speech against Caesar on the previous day and whom they were out to kill, they murdered him and paraded the streets with his head stuck on the point of a spear. Later they raised a twenty–foot–high column of Numidian marble in the Forum, and inscribed on it, ‘To the Father of His Country’. For a long time afterwards they used to offer sacrifices at the foot of this column, make vows there, and settle disputes by oaths taken in Caesar’s name.

86. Some of his friends suspected that, having no desire to live much longer because of his failing health, he had taken no precautions against the conspiracy and neglected the omens and warnings of well–wishers. It has also been suggested that he placed such confidence in the Senate’s last decree and in their oath of loyalty that he dispensed even with the armed Spaniards who had hitherto acted as his permanent escort. A contrary view is that, as a relief from taking constant precautions, he deliberately exposed himself to all the plots against his life which he knew had been formed. Also, he is quoted as having often said, ‘It is more important for the commonwealth than for myself that I should survive. I have long been sated with power and glory; but, should anything happen to me, the commonwealth will enjoy no peace. A new civil war will break out under far worse conditions than the last.’

87. Almost all authorities, at any rate, believe that he welcomed the manner of his death. He had once read in Xenophon about the funeral instructions given by Cyrus on his deathbed, 50 and said how much he loathed the prospect of a lingering end – he wanted a sudden one. And on the day before his murder he had dined at Marcus Lepidus’ house, where the topic discussed happened to be ‘the best sort of death’– and ‘Let it come swiftly and unexpectedly,’ cried Caesar.

88. Hewas fifty–five years old when he died, and his immediate deification, formally decreed in the Senate, convinced the city as a whole, if only because, on the first day of the games given by his successor Augustus in honour of this apotheosis, a comet appeared about an hour before sunset and shone for seven days running. This was held to be Caesar’s soul, elevated to heaven; hence the star now placed above the forehead of his divine image. It was decided that the Assembly Hall where he fell should be walled up, that the Ides of March should be known ever afterwards as ‘The Day of Parricide’, and that the Senate should never again meet on that day.

89. Very few, indeed, of the assassins outlived Caesar for more than three years, or died naturally. All were condemned to death, and all met it in different ways – some in shipwreck, some in battle, some using the very daggers with which they had treacherously murdered Caesar to take their own lives.

You can support our site by clicking on this link and watching the advertisement.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!