Caesar ‘ ... spent money very freely, and some thought that he was only buying brief and passing fame at massive cost, when in fact he was securing things of enormous value at a knock-down price. ... In this way the people became so well disposed towards him that they all sought new offices and honours as repayment for his generosity.’- Plutarch, early second century AD.1

In 70 BC Caesar was thirty years old. He was extremely well educated, even by the standards of the Roman aristocracy, a gifted orator and a soldier of proven courage. In the domestic sphere his life was also going well. He and Cornelia had now been married for some fifteen years. The couple had spent over a third of this time separated, when Caesar went abroad for his education and military service, but the marriage was certainly a successful one by the standards of the Roman nobility, and it may well also have been a happy one. At some point Cornelia had given birth to a daughter, who was of course named Julia. This was Caesar’s only legitimate child, but despite her importance the date of her birth is not known. Estimates have varied from as early as 83 to as late as 76 BC, but somewhere near the end of this range seems most probable. Julia was married in 59 BC, by which time she was probably in her mid to late teens. Caesar’s periods of absence overseas make it most likely that his daughter was conceived between 78 BC after his return from the east and before he left Rome again in 75 BC.2

Caesar treated Cornelia with great respect, most famously in his defiance of Sulla’s order to divorce her. In Roman tradition wives were to be honoured, but were not necessarily the objects of great passion for such emotions were seen as irrational and even rather shameful. The marriage bed was the place to produce the next generation of Roman children to continue the family name, but physical pleasure for its own sake should be sought elsewhere. This is not to say that some married couples - perhaps even the majority - were more or less deeply in love and enjoyed an active sex life, but simply that by the ideals of Roman aristocratic society this was not seen as an especially important aspect of marriage. It was widely accepted that aristocratic husbands would take sexual pleasure elsewhere and not require their wives to cater for their more shameful desires. This was especially true in the case of a younger man, what the Romans called an adulescens. Although this is the root of our word adolescent, for the Romans it referred to any man not yet fully matured and could well extend into the late thirties. Such ‘youths’ were granted a degree of leeway in their behaviour not extended to those who had reached full manhood, who as leaders of the Republic were expected to act more responsibly. Taking discreet pleasure with female slaves or with prostitutes was rarely criticised.3

Many young aristocratic men also kept mistresses after they were married. There was a distinct group of high-class prostitutes or courtesans who relied on lovers to provide them with a house or apartment, attendants and wealth. Such women were usually well educated, witty, charming, and perhaps skilled in singing, dancing or playing a musical instrument, so that they provided the lover with company as well as sexual gratification. These affairs were never intended to be permanent and successful courtesans passed from one lover-provider to the next. This added further spice to the affair for the lover had to struggle to win the favour of the mistress and then keep devoting sufficient attention and gifts to retain it. Famous courtesans were often associated with some of the most important men in Rome, for it was not only young senators who might choose to maintain a mistress. The nature of the relationship between lover and courtesan was such that the woman could gain considerable influence. In 74 BC it was widely believed that the consul Lucius Licinius Lucullus gained an important provincial command through winning over Praecia, the mistress of a prominent senator, with gifts and flattery This man was Publius Cornelius Cethegus, a useful illustration of a man who held no formal office, but enjoyed massive, if temporary, influence in the Senate through a mixture of auctoritas and shrewd knowledge and exploitation of senatorial procedure. Concubines could also play a political role in other ways, as was shown in the case of another famous individual called Flora. At one time the young Pompey was deeply in love with her. In later life she was said to have often boasted that she was always left with scratch marks on her back after the two of them had made love. However, when he discovered that a friend of his called Geminius was repeatedly trying to seduce Flora, he willingly gave her up to him. Scrupulous in his generosity to his friend, who thus became indebted to him and a useful political supporter, Pompey never again visited Flora. This was held to be a particularly great sacrifice for him as he was still greatly attracted to her. For her part Flora was also supposed still to have been in love with Pompey, and claimed that she was unwell for a long time afterwards. The concubine’s position was at heart precarious, for even if at times some were able to win great influence they had no legal status and were successful for only as long as they could command their lovers’ affections.4

Courtesans and slave girls were generally acceptable as the objects of male aristocrats’ affections, since this did not in any way threaten the established social order or the integrity of family lines. Most courtesans were of a low social status, prostitutes who had done well for themselves. Often they were slaves or former slaves who had worked as entertainers of various forms. For some time in the mid forties BC Mark Antony was deeply enamoured of a mime actress and dancer called Cytheris, a former slave who had been freed by her patron and given the name Volumnia. Antony paraded her in public and gave her the place of honour at dinner parties, treating her almost like a real wife, much to the private dismay of Cicero. The same woman later became the mistress of Caesar’s assassin Brutus, as well as other prominent senators. Any children born of such a union between an aristocrat and his mistress were illegitimate and so did not take the father’s name or have any legal claim to be supported by him - in the case of the babies born to slaves these were literally the property of their owners. Yet if an aristocratic husband might take lovers in this way, society did not grant the same licence to his wife, for it was important that there should be no question mark over the paternity of her offspring. Chastity, in the sense of remaining faithful to her husband and only her husband, was one of the central attributes of the ideal Roman matron. In earlier times a woman spent her whole life under the power of - literally ‘in the hand of’ (sub manu) - either her father or her husband, who had the power to execute her if they chose. By the first century BC this traditional, strict form of marriage where the husband gained all the rights of the woman’s father was rarely used. Marriage had become looser and divorce more common, but a wife was still expected to remain absolutely faithful to her husband, even if that husband frequently took other lovers.5

Caesar may well have amused himself with courtesans, slave girls and any other available women during his twenties and thirties. Our sources make no explicit mention of this, but since such behaviour was common this may not be especially significant. Suetonius does tell us that Caesar frequently paid very high, even extravagant, prices to purchase physically attractive slaves, noting that even he was ashamed of the cost and so had it concealed in his account books. Whether such servants were entirely ornamental or also intended to provide their owner with sexual entertainment is not stated. However, Suetonius does tell us that it was the ‘fixed opinion’ that Caesar’s passions were ‘unrestrained and extravagant’ and that he seduced ‘many distinguished women’. He lists five by name, all of them wives of important senators, but implies that there were others. One of the named women was Tertulla, the wife of Crassus, under whose command Caesar may have served during the Slave War. She had originally been married to one of Crassus’ older brothers, but when the latter was killed during the civil war he had chosen to marry the widow. She was probably a few years older than Caesar and her marriage to Crassus was successful by aristocratic standards, producing children. There is no indication of when the affair occurred or of how long it lasted, a vagueness common for this side of Caesar’s life. Nor do we know whether Crassus himself became aware of the liaison, although the notoriety of Caesar’s amours make this distinctly possible. He certainly took no action against his wife’s lover and readily employed Caesar as a political ally.6

Caesar’s affairs with married women were numerous, but usually do not appear to have lasted for very long before he sought out a new lover. One definite exception to this pattern was his relationship with Servilia, which seems to have endured for the greater part of Caesar’s life. Suetonius tells us that he ‘loved her before all others’. Servilia’s first husband was Marcus Junius Brutus, but he had supported Lepidus’ coup in 78 BC and been executed when it failed. The widowed Servilia had already given birth to a son in 85 BC, who was also named Marcus Junius Brutus. This was Shakespeare’s ‘noblest Roman of them all’, the man who would be one of the leaders of the conspiracy that would assassinate Caesar in 44 BC. The irony did not end there, for Servilia was also half-sister to Cato the Younger, one of Caesar’s bitterest opponents for over twenty years. Caesar was very fond of Brutus, an affection which remained even after the latter had fought against him in 49-48 BC. This encouraged persistent rumours that he was in fact Brutus’ father, Plutarch even suggesting that Caesar himself believed this. Given that he would only have been fifteen when Brutus was born, this must surely be a myth, but the existence of these tales does suggest that the liaison between Caesar and Servilia began at an early date, probably during the seventies. It continued in spite of the fact that Servilia remarried, and did not prevent Caesar from having numerous affairs with other women. The affair between Servilia and Caesar was evidently passionate on both sides and long lasting, even if the intensity varied over the years. This does suggest more than mere physical attraction. Servilia was an extremely intelligent woman, deeply interested in politics and keen to promote the careers of her husband and son. Her three daughters were each married off to prominent senators. After Caesar’s death she was included in the councils held by Brutus to decide on what the conspirators should do next, her opinion overriding that of distinguished senators including Cicero. The orator was suitably disgusted at a woman invading the male world of politics, but on other occasions had been eager to seek her advice on topics seen as more within the female sphere. He and his family had consulted her when they were seeking a suitable husband for his daughter, Tullia. When the latter died in childbirth, Servilia wrote in sympathy to the distraught Cicero. Although as a woman she could hold no office or formal power, Servilia carefully maintained connections and ties of friendship with many prominent families.7

Attractive, intelligent, well educated, sophisticated and ambitious - the description could as easily be of either Caesar or Servilia, although in the case of the latter the ambition was indirect and aimed at securing prominence not for herself but for the male members of her close family The pair do seem very alike in many ways, which may in part explain the closeness and longevity of the bond between them. The length of the affair in itself suggests that Caesar felt a deeper love for Servilia than for any of his other lovers. Apart from her affair with Caesar, Servilia appears otherwise to have remained faithful to her second husband, Decimus Junius Silanus. This was in contrast to her sister - as usual, confusingly also called Servilia - who was divorced by her husband because of her frequent extramarital affairs. Caesar was a serial seducer of married women. If he felt strong love for any or all of these lovers, it rarely seems to have lasted, or at least was never exclusive. The sheer scale of his activities stood out in Roman society, which at this time did not lack adulterers or rakes. Therefore it is important to try to understand why he behaved in this exceptional way The obvious answer, that he enjoyed having sex with lots of attractive women, should not be completely ignored purely because it is so basic. Yet this in itself is inadequate, since sexual pleasure could be taken less controversially with slaves or mistresses of lower social status. The more distinguished courtesans offered witty companionship in addition to satisfying more physical needs. Seducing married women from senatorial families brought many risks, not least that of notoriety, which could be used against you by political opponents. Tradition, though not law at this date, permitted a husband to kill his wife’s lover if he caught them in the act. Such direct violence was unlikely, but a cuckolded husband might well become a bitter political enemy8

The risks involved may have added to the thrill. It is even possible to see Caesar’s womanising as an extension of political competition, sleeping with other senators’ wives to prove that he was the better man in the bedroom as well as the Forum. Perhaps there was even a conscious desire to smother the stories about his submission to Nicomedes by gaining notoriety for predatory and blatantly heterosexual adventures? Yet none of these reasons seem enough to explain why it was primarily with aristocratic women that Caesar sought satisfaction. That such lovers were almost invariably married was almost inevitable, since the daughters of senatorial families played such an important role in creating and strengthening political bonds. Girls were married young, and those who were divorced or widowed while still young or middle-aged would tend to be swiftly placed into a new match. Only women of mature years who had surviving children were normally permitted to live on as widows without remarrying. Caesar’s mother Aurelia followed this path, as did Servilia after the death of her second husband, but in most respects there simply was no group of single aristocratic women at Rome amongst whom Caesar might seek lovers. However, the very nature of Roman public life, where senators held a series of posts many of which required them to serve overseas for years on end, did mean that married women were left on their own for long periods.

Aristocratic wives enjoyed considerable freedom in first-century-BC Rome. Many had considerable means independent of their husbands, including the dowry they had brought at the time of marriage, which was always supposed to remain separate from, although complementary to, the income of the household. As we have seen, by this era girls were educated in the same way as their brothers, at least in the academic sense and during the early years. Therefore they learned to be bilingual in both Latin and Greek and gained a deep appreciation of literature and culture. Unlike their male siblings, girls rarely had any opportunity to travel abroad to further their education by studying in one of the great centres of Greek learning. Since many philosophers and teachers visited Rome for long periods this was only in part a disadvantage, and there were schools teaching a whole range of cultural accomplishments. Sallust’s description of one senator’s wife is illuminating:

Amongst these was Sempronia, who had often committed many outrages of masculine audacity. This woman was well blessed by fortune in her birth and physical beauty, as well as her husband and children;

well read in Greek and Latin literature, she played the lyre, danced more artfully than any honest woman should, and had many other gifts which fostered a luxurious life. Yet there was never anything she prized so little as her honour and chastity; it was hard to say whether she was less free with her money or her virtue; her lusts were so fierce that she more often pursued men than was pursued by them.. . . She had often broken her word, failed to pay her debts, been party to murder; her lack of money but addiction to luxury set her on a wild course. Even so, she was a remarkable woman; able to write poetry, crack a joke, and converse modestly, tenderly or wantonly; all in all she had great gifts and a good many charms.9

Sempronia was married to Decimus Junius Brutus, a cousin to Servilia’s first husband. Her son was to become one of Caesar’s senior subordinates in Gaul and during the Civil War, but would later turn against him and become one of his assassins. Caesar doubtless knew her, although whether he was one of the men who sought her favours - or was sought by her - is unknown.

Sallust’s description of Sempronia is couched in terms of outrage at her immorality and wildness, but many of her accomplishments were not seen as bad in themselves. Plutarch wrote admiringly of another aristocratic woman who was widowed at a young age and then remarried:

Even apart from her beauty, the young woman had plenty of attractive qualities, in that she was well read, a good player of the lyre, skilled in geometry, and capable of profiting from the philosophical lectures she regularly attended. She also combined these qualities with a character that was free from the unpleasant curiosity which these intellectual interests tend to inflict on young women. . . 10

Sophistication, learning, wit and even some skill in music or dancing were not in themselves seen as bad things in a woman, so long as they were combined with chastity in the sense of remaining loyal to her husband. Yet in Caesar’s day many women did not display this virtue. As a generation they were better educated than their mothers and certainly than their grandmothers, but were still expected to concern themselves with little more than running the household. Given in an arranged marriage while little more than a child, and then perhaps passed on from one husband to the next as death or changing political alliances dictated, a woman was fortunate if she found happiness and fulfilment in this way. Unable to vote or seek office, those like Servilia had to direct their deep interest in politics into promoting the careers of male relations. Independently wealthy in a Rome where all the spoils and profits of empire were available for sale, there was a temptation for many women to compete in luxurious living. Some added spice to their lives by taking a lover or lovers.

On balance it seems likely that Caesar looked for at least a measure of companionship and witty, sophisticated conversation from his mistresses. Some of the most distinguished courtesans may have offered this, but in this respect very few could have competed with the daughters of Rome’s great families. His affairs provided him not merely with sexual gratification, but other forms of stimulation. Other thrills already mentioned - the element of danger in carrying out an affair with a married woman, the added pleasure of cuckolding men whom he would meet and compete with in public life on a daily basis - doubtless contributed to his enjoyment. For the women he loved there was his charm, which few people were ever able to resist when in his company. He was Caesar, the one who dressed distinctively, setting fashions that many younger men copied, who took such care over his appearance and deportment, and always marked himself out as special. To receive his full attention even for a while was doubtless very flattering, something that the notoriety of his amorous exploits may well have made even more attractive. Whatever its root, his repeated success with so many women makes it clear that he was very good at seduction. The urge to go from one affair to another was in part merely a reflection of the great energy and ambition he showed in all other aspects of his life. It may also be that he was always searching for someone who was enough of his match to keep him interested over a long period. Servilia, so like him in many ways, evidently came closest to his ideal than any other Roman woman, hence the longevity of their relationship. Yet for all the passion on both sides, each retained a measure of detachment and independence. Though Servilia may well have mourned her lover after the Ides of March, this in no way prevented her from seeking to promote her son’s cause in its aftermath. Similarly, for all the enthusiasm and effort devoted to his womanising, Caesar seems never to have allowed this to interfere with his ambition for office and status. It is also possible that some of the stories about him were false. Once he had gained this reputation, his simply being seen with a woman was probably enough for the gossips to assume that they were having an affair.


The years after Sulla’s death were on the whole a successful time for Caesar, as he gradually moved into public life. Although he had incurred the dictator’s wrath, he had been accepted back into the fold and saw no reason for joining those still choosing to fight against Sulla or the regime he created. He did not join Lepidus’ rising in 78 BC, nor does it ever seem to have occurred to him to go to Spain where many of Marius’ and Cinna’s supporters still continued to fight the civil war. These men were led by Quintus Sertorius, probably one of the greatest generals Rome ever produced, whose talent for winning over the Spanish tribes allowed him to resist the Senate’s armies for the greater part of a decade. Sertorius and his followers were exiles and refugees from the proscriptions, barred by Sulla’s decrees from returning to Rome or ever resuming a political career. There was little alternative for them but to fight on, although on several occasions Sertorius expressed a deep longing to return home, even to live as a private citizen. Despite crossing Sulla, Caesar’s family connections had prevented him from facing a similar ban on political activity. As a result there was no need for him to follow the desperate path of open rebellion against the State.11

Sulla cast a long shadow over the Republic in these years. The Senate was very much his creation, purged of all his opponents who had failed to defect to him in time, and packed with his partisans. As a body he had strengthened the Senate’s position, restoring the senatorial monopoly over juries in the courts and severely limiting the power of the tribunate. Other legislation, for instance a law restricting the behaviour of provincial governors, was intended to prevent any other general from following the dictator’s own example and turning his legions against the State. Making such actions formally illegal was obviously of questionable practical value, as the continuing war in Spain and the rebellion of Lepidus indicated. Sulla could undo neither the precedents he had set nor the consequences of his actions. Italy was still in a state of upheaval as a result of the Social and civil wars. Large areas had been devastated by the rival armies, while the newly enfranchised Italians had yet to be fully and fairly integrated into the wider citizen body Great swathes of land had also been confiscated so that Sulla could give his discharged veteran soldiers farms of their own, dispossessing many peasants. The problems faced by the Italian countryside had only been made worse by the years of marauding by Spartacus’ slave army.12

Sulla’s Senate had not coped all that well with the series of crises it faced after the dictator’s retirement. The Slave war had seen army after army led by duly elected magistrates routed and even destroyed by the enemy Unorthodox measures were employed to gain final victory, the two consuls laying down their commands and being replaced by Crassus, who had only been elected to the more junior magistracy of the praetorship. This was somewhat unconventional, but paled in comparison to the rapid rise to prominence of Cnaeus Pompey The son of Pompeius Strabo, Pompey was born in 106 BC and served under his father’s command during the Social War. Following Strabo’s death, he spent some time in the camp of Cinna, but was treated with suspicion and eventually retired to his family’s vast estates in Picenum. When Sulla landed in Italy in 83 BC, Pompey decided to join him, as did a growing number of others who had fallen from favour with the current regime or who guessed the likely outcome of the war. Unlike these other refugees, the twenty-three-year-old Pompey chose to appear not as a suppliant, but as a useful ally Using his own money and drawing predominantly on the population of Picenum, he raised first one and then two more legions of soldiers. This was illegal in every respect, since Pompey had never held any office granting him imperium to raise or command troops, and was merely a private citizen. He was not even a member of the Senate, but through his family’s wealth and influence and his own force of personality he was able to get away with it. Unlike his father, who had been one of the most unpopular men of his generation, Pompey was adored by his soldiers, who seem to have had no qualms about his lack of authority to lead them. On their march south to join Sulla the young general and his private army both soon proved that they knew how to fight with skill and ferocity

Sulla had no scruples about employing Pompey’s services and sent him in succession to fight on his behalf in Italy, Sicily and Africa. In each campaign the dashing young commander defeated the opposition with ease. Sulla - perhaps partly ironically, though it is hard to tell with such a complex character - hailed him as Pompey ‘the Great’ (Magnus) and permitted him to celebrate a triumph, an unheard of honour for a man with no legal imperium. For all the glory he won in these years, Pompey also acquired a reputation for cruelty, stories being told of how he derived a sadistic pleasure from executing the distinguished senators he had captured. For some he was not ‘the Great’, but the ‘young executioner’. In marked contrast to Caesar, Pompey obediently divorced his wife to marry the dictator’s own stepdaughter. The latter was already married and heavily pregnant and died soon after the wedding to Pompey, but it was nevertheless a mark of great favour. For all the honours granted by the dictator, Pompey was not enrolled in the Senate and remained a private citizen, able to call upon his own private army. He did, however, take a keen interest in politics and supported Lepidus’ campaign for the consulship for 78 BC, greatly assisting the latter’s victory. Yet when Lepidus turned against the Senate Pompey quickly distanced himself from him. Faced with rebellion, but lacking significant forces with which to oppose it, Sulla’s Senate turned to Pompey and his legions. Acting with all the vigour he had shown in earlier campaigns, the twenty-eight- year-old general rapidly crushed Lepidus and his forces. His accustomed cruelty was also again on display, most notably when he executed Servilia’s first husband, Marcus Brutus.13

Following this success, Pompey encouraged the Senate to send him to Spain to deal with Sertorius, supporting the army that was already operating there under the command of a more conventionally appointed governor. His cause was helped by the reluctance of the consuls of 77 BC to be sent to the region. This time Pompey was invested with proconsular imperium, legitimising his status. A senator who supported him quipped that he was going not as a proconsul but pro consulibus - ‘instead of both consuls’. In Spain Sertorius proved a much tougher opponent than the military incompetents Pompey had faced in the past, and for the first time he suffered some reverses. The experience was humiliating for one so accustomed to success, but the young general had the capacity to learn from his mistakes, developing a respect for his opponent without ever becoming overawed by him. The war in Spain was bitter and protracted, but as the years passed Pompey and the other senatorial armies gradually made headway against the Marian forces. Even so, had Sertorius not been murdered by one of his own subordinates in 72 BC, the war could easily have gone on for several years. Instead, bereft of his genius and instead guided by his assassin, a man whose ambition and pride greatly outstripped his talent, it was all over in a matter of months. Pompey returned to Italy in the following year, arriving just in time to intercept and destroy a few thousand slaves who had escaped the defeat of Spartacus. This minor success soon prompted him to declare publicly that it was he and not Crassus who had brought the Slave War to an end.

The bad blood between Pompey and Crassus dated back to the civil war when both had fought for Sulla. crassus was six or seven years older and resented the honours and attention lavished on the flamboyant younger man. He was understandably bitter at an attempt to rob him of the credit he had deserved for his victory over Spartacus. The incident also revealed a rather petty streak in Pompey, which on other occasions moved him to try and steal the glory of others. There was no need for this, given that the war in Spain had been a far more prestigious conflict than the suppression of Spartacus, bringing him a second triumph compared to the lesser honour of an ovation granted to Crassus. Yet Pompey revelled in the acclaim of the Senate and citizens and was jealous of anyone else who distracted the attention from him even for a moment. People tended to like Pompey, his round face being considered open and attractive even if not classically handsome. Those who knew him better were more cautious, knowing that his public statements often did not match his actions and that he was not always a reliable friend. In contrast Crassus was respected rather than liked, but scrupulously honoured his obligations to others, while never forgetting any debt or favour owed to him. In some ways Pompey was rather immature, something that had been most clearly illustrated at the time of his first triumph when he had planned to ride in a chariot pulled by elephants. Only the discovery that an archway on the processional route would not accommodate such a monstrous vehicle and team had dissuaded him from such a bizarre display He revelled in the name Magnus, as well as the tendency of flatterers to compare him to Alexander the Great. At times he could be extremely devious, which was no bad thing in a general during a war, but he was not particularly good at playing the political game at Rome. This was mainly through lack of experience, for he had spent the greater part of his life in near constant military service. From the age of twenty-three he had led his own army, for much of the time in independent operations far from any superior. Pompey was used to commanding rather than manipulating and persuading. Unlike other young aristocrats he had spent little time watching the day-to-day business of the Senate and Forum, learning from older senators just how public life was conducted. However, on his return from Spain he decided that now was the time to enter politics formally.

In 71 BC Pompey was thirty-five, but had never held any elected post and was still numbered amongst the equestrian order, for he had never been enrolled in the Senate. He now announced that he wished to stand for election to the consulship for the following year. This was directly contrary to Sulla’s regulation of the public career, which had confirmed earlier legislation. According to this a man could not seek election to the consulship until he was aged at least forty-two and had already held the posts of quaestor and praetor. Crassus, who also declared his candidature around the same time, met the age qualification, but Pompey’s entire career to this date violated both the letter and spirit of Sulla’s rules. Both men were

encamped with their armies outside Rome, entirely legitimately, since they were waiting to celebrate their ovation and triumph respectively. Neither made any overt threat, but ever since Sulla had turned his legions on the city to deal with his political opponents the fear was very real that others might do the same. When Pompey and Crassus put aside their personal differences to launch a joint campaign for the consulship there was little desire to oppose them. Crassus had clearly earned the office by his success against the slaves, while Pompey was seen as a hero by a large part of the population. It was irregular for someone outside the Senate to seek to join this body and become consul simultaneously, but it would have seemed absurd for someone who had already enjoyed a string of senior commands to have had to go through all the junior magistracies. Exempted by the Senate from the age and other qualifications - as both men needed permission to stand for election without actually entering the city, since they could not do this without laying down their imperium, which would have meant disbanding their legions before the triumphal procession - he and Crassus were duly elected by a landslide.

Sulla had permitted Pompey a somewhat anomalous position outside the rules he laid down for a career in public life, something that the Senate had felt unwilling or unable to challenge in subsequent years. A degree of flexibility had always been important within the Republican system, especially at times of military crisis. The extraordinary honours and exemptions granted to Pompey were personal and did not mean that regulations were abandoned and that everyone else could follow his example. However, even before they were elected he and Crassus had declared that they were intending to do away with key aspects of Sulla’s system. The first thing that they did in their year of office was to restore full traditional rights and powers to the tribunate. It was a popular measure, hence Caesar’s desire to associate himself with this cause during his time as military tribune. Another measure passed in 70 BC, doubtless with the approval of Pompey and Crassus, was actually put into force by one of Aurelia’s relations, Lucius Aurelius Cotta, who provided a solution to the controversial question of composition of juries. From now on until the end of the Republic juries were drawn in equal numbers from senators, equestrians and the property class registered immediately below them, the tribunii aerarii. Once again this measure carried a good deal of popular support and was seen as a sensible compromise. Another long-running problem was also to a great extent resolved in this year with the election of two censors. These men were the consuls of 72 BC, both of whom had been defeated by Spartacus without this affecting their subsequent careers too adversely. Although the census would not be complete for over a year, it resulted in a massive increase in the number of male citizens properly registered and able to vote. The last even partially complete census had been carried out in 85 BC and included only 463,000 names, but in the new list the total was almost doubled to 910,000. As part of the process, censors were also required to examine and amend the senatorial roll, adding new names and expelling from the House any whose actions or morals had rendered them unfit to guide the Republic. No fewer than sixty-four men were punished in this way.14

Although Pompey and Crassus had combined to seek office and cooperated in the restoration of the tribunate, their mutual dislike and envy swiftly resurfaced. The younger man had begun their year of office in spectacular style. He became consul, joined the Senate and celebrated a triumph all on the same day. Then the new censors decided - no doubt with considerable encouragement from Pompey - to revive an old-fashioned ceremony where the equestrian order paraded with horses and weapons to demonstrate their willingness to perform their traditional role as cavalrymen in the legions. In the middle of this Pompey arrived, proceeded by the twelve lictors who attended him as consul and cleared a way through the watching crowd for him to approach the censors. When asked in the formal words of the ceremony whether he had fulfilled his duty to the Republic, the consul replied in a loud voice that he had served wherever Rome required and always under his own command. As the crowd cheered, the censors accompanied him back to his house. It was a great piece of political theatre, and this and his triumph with its celebratory games were impossible for Crassus to match. Instead he decided to dedicate one-tenth of his wealth to Hercules, paying for a huge public feast at which ten thousand tables were laden down with food, as well as the allocation of three months supply of grain to every citizen. Hercules, the great hero, was closely associated with victory and triumph and the last man to commemorate his military success in this way had been Sulla. As each attempted to upstage the other, relations between the consular colleagues became frigid in the extreme, until at the end of their term they made a public gesture of reconciliation in response to the appeal of an otherwise unknown Caius Aurelius. Both then retired to private life, neither wishing to go out and govern a province as was usual after one of the senior magistracies.15


Little is known of Caesar’s activities in 71-70 BC. During Pompey’s and Crassus’ consulship he is known to have supported a bill put forward by the tribune Plotius (or Plautius), which was intended to allow exiled supporters of Sertorius and Lepidus to return home. He made a speech in favour of this law, which had a personal dimension as it permitted the return of his brother-in-law Lucius Cornelius Cinna. Only a single sentence from this oration is preserved, Caesar declaring that ‘in my opinion, as regards our relationship, I have lacked neither toil, nor deeds, nor diligence’. The duty owed to the extended family as well as friends or clients was very important. Some scholars have speculated that he played a larger role behind the scenes, perhaps encouraging Pompey and Crassus to join forces in their desire for the consulship. It has even been suggested that he arranged the reconciliation between the two, under the assumption that Aurelius was somehow related to his mother’s family. While none of this is impossible, it remains pure speculation since none of our sources suggest any involvement on his part.16

We do know that it was around this time that Caesar himself stood for the quaestorship and it is probable that securing this was his main concern. In 70 BC he was thirty, the minimum age Sulla had decreed for election to this magistracy. It was an important point of pride for an aristocrat to win office in ‘his year’ (suo anno), that is at the time when he first became eligible. This, as well as other factors, make it most likely that Caesar was elected as one of the twenty quaestors in the autumn of 70 BC and began his year of office early in 69 BC. The consular elections were normally held near the end of July, although there was no rigidly fixed date. There were around 150 days a year when it was permissible to hold an Assembly of the Roman people, but this could be reduced by additional festivals or the declaration of periods of public thanksgiving during which no State business could be conducted. The more junior posts such as the quaestorship were decided in a different assembly that was summoned fairly soon after the consular elections. Canvassing could begin as much as a year before the election, but was particularly intense in the last twenty-four days before actual voting. It was during this time, after they had formally registered with the magistrate overseeing the election, that those seeking office donned a specially whitened toga - the toga candidus, hence our word candidate - intended to make them stand out as they moved around the Forum. As they walked through the crowded centre of the city candidates greeted their fellow citizens, especially those whose property and status made their vote most influential. A specially trained slave known as a nomenclator usually stood behind the candidate, ready to whisper the names of anyone they approached, so that his master could greet them properly Reliance on these slaves was almost universal, but good politicians made sure that their dependence on this aid to memory was never obvious. It was important for a candidate to be seen, but in many ways it was even more important with whom he was seen. Other senators who supported his candidature were expected to accompany a man for some of his canvassing, and their auctoritas helped to sway the voters. Less subtle propaganda took the form of signs painted on buildings expressing support. Many of the tombs that stood along the sides of the main roads into Rome included in their inscription a prohibition against such marks of support being posted or painted on them.17

Quaestors were elected by the Comitia Tributa, the Assembly of the thirty-five tribes of Roman citizens. When meeting to elect magistrates rather than vote for or against pieces of legislation, the Comitia was normally held in the Campus Martius, the mainly open area of parks and exercise grounds outside the formal boundary of the city to the northwest. This seems to have been because a higher turnout was expected for an election, and it would have been impossible to squeeze so many voters into the confines of the Forum. It is probable, though not certain, that candidates were given a chance to address the Assembly before the presiding magistrate gave the order ‘Divide, citizens’ (Discedite, Quirites). The members of each tribe then went to their allocated section of the saepta, a temporary complex of fenced enclosures. To vote, each member of the tribe in turn would leave the tribe’s enclosure, walking across a narrow raised gangway known as a ‘bridge’ to the rogator, the official appointed to oversee the process for each tribe. The voter then placed his written ballot into a basket, watched over by other officials known as the ‘guards’ (custodes), who would later count them and report the result to the presiding magistrate. Each tribe voted as a unit, their decision being announced in an order previously established by lot. The number of voters in each tribe varied considerably, with even the poorest members of the four urban tribes being able to attend without much difficulty Given that the majority of Roman citizens now lived far from Rome, only the wealthier members of some of the other tribes were likely to be able and willing to travel to Rome for an election. The vote of these men was very significant, as was that of poorer men who now lived in Rome, but who were still enrolled in one of the rural tribes. In spite of the disparity between the numbers present at the election, the vote of each tribe carried equal weight. It was important for an aristocrat to carry the vote of his own tribe - in Caesar’s case the Fabia tribe - and great effort was made to know and do favours for fellow tribesmen. Elections were not decided by an overall majority, but concluded as soon as enough candidates to fill the available posts had each received the vote of eighteen tribes. It was literally a ‘first past the post’ system.18

Caesar’s prospects were good. He had won acclaim in the courts and served with distinction fighting in the East. Even the rumours about Nicomedes and his own scandalous womanising at least helped to make his name widely known, as did his distinctive style of dress. If his family was not amongst the inner circle of nobles in the Senate, the Julii Caesares had provided a number of magistrates in recent years. Some of these were from the other branch of the family, but this still meant that the name had been kept in the public eye. His mother’s relations were doing very well, with two consulships in the last five years and another member holding the praetorship in 70 BC. With twenty posts as quaestor available each year this was the easiest elected magistracy to win. The enfranchisement of the Italians had brought many sons of wealthy local families to Rome in search of a career, but a member of an established Roman family and patrician had little to fear from such competition. Caesar was duly elected. It was an important moment, for Sulla’s political reforms ensured that all quaestors were automatically enrolled in the Senate. Quaestors performed a range of financial and administrative tasks, but the majority served as deputy to a provincial governor, who was in turn either an ex-consul or ex-praetor. Caesar was sent in this way to Further Spain (Hispania Ulterior), the westernmost province of the Iberian Peninsula.19

Before he left Rome some time in 69 BC, Caesar suffered two personal blows with the death of his aunt Julia, followed shortly afterwards by the death of his wife Cornelia. Aristocratic families held very public funerals for their members, using the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of their whole line, reminding voters of what they had done and hinting at the promise for the future. Actors dressed in the regalia of office and wearing the funeral masks of distinguished ancestors formed part of the procession, which went first to the Forum, where an oration would be delivered from the Rostra. Polybius tells us that

... who makes the oration over the man [or, in this case, woman] about to be buried, when he has finished speaking of him recounts the successes and exploits of the rest whose images are present, beginning from the most ancient. By this means, by this constant renewal of the good report of brave men, the celebrity of those who performed noble deeds is rendered immortal, while at the same time the fame of those who did good service to their country becomes known to the people and a heritage for future generations.20

At Julia’s funeral Caesar spoke from the Rostra about her distinguished ancestry, of the Julii’s descent from the goddess Venus, and the royal connections of her mother’s family. These were useful reminders to the watching crowd of his own lineage. More controversially he included in the procession symbols of Marius’ victories, and perhaps even an actor to represent him. Sulla had banned the public honouring of his rival, but only a few of the watchers protested, and they were swiftly shouted down by the rest. Though Sulla had won the civil war, he had not won over many, even of Rome’s elite, to accept all of his decisions, as had been indicated by the widespread popularity of the restoration of the tribunate. For a lot of Romans Marius remained a great hero, the man who had restored Rome’s injured pride in Africa and then saved Italy from the Northern menace. Cicero, who roundly condemned Marius’ role in the civil war, frequently and enthusiastically praised his victories over Jugurtha and the Cimbri in his speeches, knowing that his audience would warmly concur. Caesar’s gesture was generally welcomed and this emphasis on his own close connection to the great hero was very good for his own popularity.21

It was not uncommon for elderly women from the noble families to receive a grand public funeral. Caesar’s decision to grant the same honour to Cornelia was highly unusual, and Plutarch says that he was the first Roman to do this for such a young woman. The gesture proved popular, as many people took it as a sign of the genuine sorrow of a kind-hearted man. Although the popular image of the Romans sees them as stern and phlegmatic, in truth they were often a deeply sentimental people. Funerals, like so much of an aristocrat’s life, were conducted in public and had an impact on politics. No close male relative of Caesar had died during his young adulthood, and in one sense the funerals of his aunt and wife provided great opportunities for self- publicising. Caesar seized the chance and exploited it to the best of his ability. This does not necessarily mean that his sorrow was not genuine, for sentiment and politics often co-existed happily at Rome. His marriage to Cornelia had been successful, perhaps also happy and loving. However, none of our sources suggest that it was the loss of his wife that sparked off his womanising and it is most probable that he had already had a number of affairs while married to her. We do not know if he paraded the symbols of her father Cinna, as he had so recently done with the latter’s ally Marius. Marius had far greater emotional appeal to the wider population, so the connection with him was far more important for Caesar.

Caesar left for Further Spain in the spring or early summer of 69 BC, quite probably travelling out with the governor he was to serve, Antistius Vetus. It was common for governors to select their own quaestor from those who had been elected. It is possible that this had happened in Caesar’s case and that the two already had a connection. Certainly, they seem to have got on well, and Caesar would take Vetus’ son as his own quaestor when sent to govern Further Spain after his praetorship seven years later. One of the quaestor’s most important tasks was to oversee the accounts for the province, but he could be called upon to act as the governor’s representative in a wide range of activities. Much of a governor’s time was spent in touring the main towns of the region, listening to petitions, resolving problems and dispensing justice. Vetus sent Caesar to perform this function in some places. Caesar performed all his tasks well, and over twenty years later would remind the locals of his services to them. A quaestorship offered the chance to acquire clients amongst the notable men of a provincial population.

We are told that Caesar was first subject to an epileptic fit while serving in Spain, although it is not clear whether this was in 69 BC or during his own spell as governor in 61-60 BC. Another incident probably dated to the quaestorship, although Plutarch sets it later, and occurred when he was visiting Gades (modern Cadiz) to hold court. Caesar is supposed to have seen a statue of Alexander the Great in the Temple of Hercules and been visibly distressed, because he had done so little at an age when the Macedonian king had conquered half the world. More disturbing still was a dream in which he raped his mother Aurelia. Understandably dismayed by this, Caesar consulted a soothsayer whose interpretation was that ‘he was destined to rule the world, since the mother whom he had ravished represented Mother Earth, the parent of all’. Suetonius claims that this explanation prompted him to leave the province early, so eager was he to return to Rome and resume his career. If this is true, then it is likely that he acted with the approval of Vetus, since there never seems to have been any criticism or suggestion that he abandoned his post. His review of the provincial accounts may well have already been complete and so his primary duty fulfilled. On the whole he had done his job well, but the activities of a quaestor rarely held much fascination to the electorate back in Rome.22


On his way back to Italy Caesar paused in Transpadane Gaul, the area of the Po Valley. This was part of the province of Cisalpine Gaul, the only province that formed part of the Italian Peninsula. It was populated by a mixture of descendants of Roman and Italian colonists and the Gallic tribes, the leading families of which were by now culturally very Roman. The grants of citizenship that came in the aftermath of the Social War had stopped at the line of the Po, and communities to the north possessed only Latin status. This was deeply resented, especially by the rich and powerful who had most to gain from full citizenship. Caesar encouraged these sentiments, for the future votes of wealthy new citizens would have been well worth having. The suggestion that his agitation was so strong as to push the Transpadanes to the brink of rebellion, and that this was only prevented by the chance presence of legions nearby, seems extremely improbable. It is most likely a later invention based upon the assumption that Caesar was always aiming at revolution. The man who had refused to join either Lepidus or Sertorius seems unlikely to have wanted to start a rebellion on his own. At this stage in his career, there was simply no need to take such a risk.23

On arrival back in Rome, one of Caesar’s first actions was to remarry. His new bride was Pompeia, grandchild on her mother’s side of Sulla and on her father’s side of the latter’s consular colleague in 88 BC, Quintus Pompeius. Therefore, for all the parading of the connection with Marius and his support for legislation aimed at dismantling Sulla’s regime, it would be far too simplistic to see Caesar as fixedly pro-Marian or anti-Sullan. Roman politics rarely, if ever, divided so starkly, even when civil war raged. When senators married it was almost invariably with a view to the useful associations they would gain as a result of the union. Not enough is known about Pompeia’s relatives to understand precisely how Caesar thought the marriage would help to foster his career - the web of inter-connections between aristocratic families was complex in the extreme. Unlike his marriage to Cornelia, this one would not have been through the confarreatio ceremony. A good deal is known about the rituals associated with conventional marriages at Rome, although we do not know whether all of these were followed at Caesar’s wedding in 67 BC. As with most aspects of private and public life at Rome, there were sacrificial offerings and taking of omens. Brides were traditionally supposed to wear orange slippers and a home-woven dress, fastened with a girdle tied in a complex ‘Herculean’ knot for the groom to undo on the wedding night. If Pompeia followed the usual conventions she would have had her hair bound into six plaits and covered with the bright orange veil (flammeum) - a reminder of Cornelia who would have had to wear such a covering whenever she left the house if Caesar had actually been made Flamen Dialis. In a torch-lit procession, she would then be escorted from her family home to the groom’s house, where the latter would be waiting. On arrival the door posts of the house would be decorated with wooden fillets, and anointed with oil or animal fat. The bride was then carried over the threshold, a gesture that was believed to go back to the rape of the Sabine women, when the first Romans had only been able to find wives by kidnapping the daughters of a neighbouring community. The first Roman brides had therefore entered their new homes unwillingly. This ritual - though without a general consciousness of its supposed origin - has survived into the modern world, but Roman practice differed in that it was the bride’s attendants rather than the groom who actually carried her.

The bridegroom was waiting with a torch and a vessel full of water, symbolising his willingness to provide her with the essentials of life. There rarely appears to have been a particularly long ceremony to formalise the marriage. The traditional formual was simplicity itself, with the bride declaring ‘Where you are Caius, I will be Caia’ (Ubi tu Caius, ego Caia), the masculine and feminine forms of a common name symbolising the joining of the couple. There was a symbolic bridal bed laid out and ornately decorated in the reception hall of the house, although the couple would obviously not actually occupy this but retire to a proper bedroom in due course. (Some Greeks believed that a Roman groom had all the lights extinguished so that the room was in complete darkness before he joined his wife in the proper marriage bed. This was supposed to be a mark of respect for an honourable woman, so that she would never seem like a prostitute, only wanted for sexual pleasure. This may well have been no more than a story told about the quaint Romans by the Greeks.) On the next morning the new wife for the first time sacrificed to the household gods (the lares and penates) of her new home. She and her husband would also entertain guests to a special feast.24

Pompeia was only distantly related to Pompey the Great and there was little love lost between the two branches of the family, so Caesar’s marriage gave him no close link to Rome’s greatest and most popular living general. For the first two years after his consulship Pompey seemed content, even though his performance in the Senate was lacklustre. By 67 BC he was clearly missing the adulation that his victories had brought him and began to manoeuvre for a new command. The spectacular nature of his career so far ensured that this could not simply be a standard consular province, but needed to be far grander. Piracy continued to plague the Mediterranean and a tribune called Aulus Gabinius proposed a bill creating an extraordinary command to deal with the problem once and for all. This was not entirely unprecedented, since the Senate had sent one of the consuls of 74 BC, Marcus Antonius - the father of Caesar’s subordinate Mark Antony - with a roving brief to combat pirates. However, he had achieved little, suffering a serious defeat in 72 BC and dying soon afterwards. The situation had deteriorated even further, threatening the supply of foreign grain on which Rome depended. If its intention was nothing new, the details of Gabinius’ law were extremely radical, granting the new commander control of vast numbers of ships and troops, as well as imperium that stretched throughout the Mediterranean and for a distance of 50 miles in from the shore. His power was at the very least equal to that of all the governors whose provinces included land in this area, and it may possibly have been superior. While Gabinius made no explicit mention of Pompey in his initial proposal, it was clear to all that he was the obvious and really the only choice. Many leading senators opposed the measure, declaring that it was a mistake in a free Republic to give so much power to any one man. As usual the forces of inertia within the Senate ensured that many preferred letting a serious problem continue rather than allowing someone else the credit for solving it.25

Caesar is said to have been the only senator to speak in favour of the bill, doubtless being summoned by Gabinius to speak from the Rostra as the tribune tried to persuade the crowd in the Forum to support his bill. When the order was given for the people to reconvene as the Assembly of the tribes, they enthusiastically passed it. It seems unlikely that no other senator supported the law, but caesar may well have been one of its more vocal supporters. As in the past he was keen to associate himself with popular causes, while his own experiences with pirates gave him a personal knowledge of the threat they posed. When the law was passed the price of grain at Rome is supposed to have dropped immediately to a more normal level as the market expressed its confidence in Pompey. Many prominent senators proved ready to assist him in his task, so that the twenty-four legates or senior subordinates granted to him by the law were a very distinguished group. This in itself does suggest that caesar’s support for Gabinius was probably not unique. The faith in Pompey proved entirely justified as he set his organisational genius to the problem. Dividing the Mediterranean into sectors, the seas west of Italy were swept free of pirates in a matter of weeks. It took only slightly longer to defeat the raiders infesting the eastern half of the Mediterranean. One reason for the speed of this success was Pompey’s willingness to accept the surrender of the pirates and their families, settling them on good farmland and often in new communities where they could support themselves without recourse to violence. Once again Pompey was the adored hero of the Republic, although the pettiness in his character surfaced as he tried to deny the proconsular governor of Crete credit for defeating the pirates on that island. His success merely whetted his appetite for further glory.26

In 66 BC another tribune, Caius Manilius, brought a bill before the Popular Assembly, making use of the powers that Pompey and Crassus had restored to this magistracy. Since 74 BC the command in the on-going conflict with Mithridates had been held by Lucius Licinius Lucullus - a post, which as already noted, he is supposed to have secured through the assistance of the courtesan Praecia (see p. 83). Lucullus was one of Sulla’s men, probably the only senator to stay with him when he first marched on Rome in 88 BC. He was a bold and skilful general, but his strategic and tactical gifts were not matched by comparable skill as a leader. During his campaigns, Lucullus had achieved victory after victory over Mithridates and his ally King Tigranes of Armenia. Yet he had never won the love of his officers and soldiers in the way that commanders like Marius, Sulla and Pompey were able to do. Even more dangerously, he closely regulated the activities of Roman businessmen and the publicani tax collectors in Asia. This was bitterly resented by these influential groups who had grown accustomed to exploiting the locals under governors who demanded no more than a cut of the profits. Lucullus had been anxious to avoid alienating the provincials for fear that they might then come to see Mithridates as a potential liberator from Roman oppression. Yet for many wealthy businessmen profits came before such concerns, and from 69 BC onwards Lucullus’ command was steadily reduced as regions were taken from him and given to other governors. His strength eroded, much of the ground he had won earlier in the war was lost and final victory began to seem ever more distant. Under such circumstances the idea of sending Pompey out to take charge and settle the business once and for all was very attractive. caesar once again spoke in favour of the bill, which was easily passed. Pompey replaced Lucullus, again giving the impression of arriving at the last minute to take the credit for a war that had already been virtually won.27

It is highly unlikely that caesar’s support for the laws granting Pompey extraordinary commands in 67 and 66 BC made much difference to the outcome of the voting on these issues. There were plenty of former quaestors around, as well as several junior senators who flouted convention in their dress and behaviour. It is still useful to remind ourselves that at this point in his life Caesar was still not all that important. His record so far suggested that he was an up and coming man, likely to have a reasonable career, but once again he was not unique in this. Speaking out for both the Lex Gabinia and the Lex Manilia was unlikely to win him the deep gratitude of Pompey, for his had been a very minor role. Yet both laws had been controversial, attracting great attention as a number of leading senators spoke out against them in the Senate and in the Forum. Caesar seized the opportunity to be noticed and to be associated with the success of the laws and of Pompey. There was a chance that some small share of the latter’s popularity would rub off on him. More importantly he had voiced opinions held by a broad range of citizens, including many equestrians and other moderately prosperous Romans whose vote counted for so much in the assemblies. To espouse popular causes in this way was to be a popularis. Although often portrayed in older studies as almost a well-defined political party or grouping, this was no more than a style of politics that relied on winning the support of the people. The Gracchi had been populares, as had Marius at times, as well as Saturninus and Sulpicius. Although they raised many of the same issues, these men did not hold a fixed set of common views. Caesar had from early in his career inclined towards a popularis path, but in the same way this did not automatically mean that he made common cause with anyone else who acted in the same way, as many did. Politics remained essentially an individual struggle, since everyone else was a competitor. It was not just a question of winning popular acclaim, but of winning more than anyone else.28

Another way in which Caesar sought to woo the electorate was by lavish expenditure. He was appointed curator of the Appian Way, and spent a good deal of his own money to pay for the renovations and improvements he had made to the road and its associated structures. Potentially this offered a good return for his money, for the Appian Way remained one of the most important roads to Rome, so that voters travelling to the city by this route would be given a reminder of what Caesar had done for them. The willingness to spend his own wealth on his fellow citizens doubtless contributed to his election to the post of curule aedile for 65 BC. There were four aediles altogether, but two were exclusively plebian posts and therefore could not be held by a patrician like Caesar. The curule aediles, who could be either patrician or plebian, had the right to sit in a magistrate’s official chair, just like praetors and consuls. Sulla had not made the aedileship a compulsory part of a public career if a man wanted to hold a more senior magistracy, since there were so few posts available, but he had set thirty- seven as the minimum age at which it could be held. Caesar was only thirty- five when he became aedile, and it is most probable that he had been granted a special exemption by the Senate to allow him to stand two years earlier than was normal. Such special favours seem to have been reasonably common, so much so that in 67 BC a tribune had passed a law barring the Senate from granting such dispensations unless a quorum of 200 senators were present. The influence of his mother’s family, and his own distinction as a holder of the corona civica and a pontiff probably explain Caesar’s own exemption. (However, the date of his aedileship has been used by those scholars who prefer to date Caesar’s birth to 102 BC. Yet this does not tie in with the little evidence we have, for instance it would have been odd for him to have become quaestor two years late.)29

The aediles were concerned almost exclusively with the running of Rome itself, supervising the upkeep of temples, the cleaning and maintenance of roads, aqueducts and sewers, and overseeing the grain supply, the markets and even the brothels of the city In addition they sometimes took on a judicial role, but one of the main attractions to an ambitious politician was the aediles’ responsibility for public entertainments and festivals. The two curule aediles were specifically responsible for the seven days of games and shows honouring the Mother goddess Cybele in April (the Ludi Megalenses) and the ‘Roman Games’ (the Ludi Romani), a further fifteen days of entertainment in September. Although the Treasury provided an allowance to the magistrates to meet the costs of these productions, it had long become customary for the aediles to supplement this from their own funds. Each lavish spectacle staged by an aedile wanting to make a name for himself set a new standard for his successors to match or surpass. Caesar threw himself into the preparations for the games with all the panache of a natural showman and a determination that no expense should be spared. Much of his private art collection was displayed in the Forum and the basilicas surrounding it, as well as temporary colonnades erected for the purpose. At this time Rome still lacked the monumental theatres that were a feature of Hellenic cities and it was necessary to rig up seating and a temporary auditorium. The other curule aedile, Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, joined him in footing the bill, but complained that all the credit seemed to go to his colleague as they jointly put on beast fights and dramatic productions. Bibulus is supposed to have remarked that it was just like the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Heavenly Twins, which was invariably known as the Temple of Castor for brevity’s sake. In the same way it seemed people were talking about the aedileship of Caesar, never of Caesar and Bibulus.30

Caesar decided during his aedileship to stage gladiatorial games in honour of his father, who had died some twenty years before. The origin of gladiatorial displays lay in funeral games. At first these had been private, family affairs, but near the end of the third century BC they became public spectacles, with rapid escalation in their scale and splendour. The tradition that such fights could only be staged to commemorate a death of a family member continued down to Caesar’s day, in contrast to beast fights, which could be presented as part of a number of different celebrations. Yet it had become little more than a pretext for this form of violent entertainment, which had proved so popular in Rome and throughout Italy. Even so, it was certainly a most unusual step for Caesar to declare funeral games after such a long lapse of time. Yet in many ways the sheer scale of his plans was more exceptional. He began to collect so many gladiators from the schools across Italy that the Senate became nervous. Spartacus’ rebellion was still fresh in everyone’s memory, while there may even have been fears of what an ambitious man like Caesar could do with so many armed men at his command in Rome itself. Probably as importantly, other senators were reluctant to allow such lavish displays, which would raise the expectation of the audience and so make it more expensive and difficult for everyone else to woo the people in future. As a result, a law was passed limiting the number of gladiators that could perform in any games staged by an individual. It is still reported by our sources that 320 pairs of gladiators appeared in Caesar’s games, and that all were equipped with ornate silvered armour. Similarly lavish weapons were also used by the beast fighters in the entertainments staged jointly with Bibulus.31

During his aedileship Caesar spent huge amounts of his own money, supplemented by Bibulus’ cash in their joint projects. The people of Rome revelled in the shows and games put on for free enjoyment. They disliked any hint of stinginess in those staging the games and would hold this against a man in his future career, just as they would gratefully remember someone who was responsible for a truly impressive spectacle. Yet it was not simply a question of throwing money at the projects, for even expensive games could sometimes fall flat if they were not presented well. Caesar never lacked style in anything he did and his games were a great success. From his point of view, the money that had gone to produce this result had been very well spent. It was his personal money only in the sense that he had borrowed it. Even before he had held any elected office, Plutarch tells us that Caesar was said to have debts of over 1,300 talents - a total of over 31 million sestertii in Roman currency. (To put this into proportion, the minimum property qualification for a member of the equestrian order at a slightly later date, and probably also at the time, was 400,000 sestertii.) This was a staggering sum, which was then massively increased by his spending as curator of the Appian Way and as aedile. Caesar was gambling on his political future being bright and lucrative enough to cancel out his debts. His creditors were taking the same risk, but presumably had confidence in Caesar to do well. The greatest part of this money was most probably owed to Crassus. Caesar was not the only rising senator he funded in this way, but it is unlikely that he gave others as much leeway to keep on borrowing more and more.32

There was one last gesture during Caesar’s aedileship. At some point during the year, most probably before one of the sets of games, he gave orders for Marius’ trophies commemorating his victory over the Cimbri and Teutones to be re-erected in the Forum. Sulla had ordered them to be torn down and probably destroyed, so Caesar most likely had a facsimile set up. As with Julia’s funeral, there was a warm response from much of the population to this gesture. Enough people still remembered the fear that the northern barbarians would spill south into Italy and sack Rome again. Marius had saved Rome from this fate, and that was a deed most felt worthy of celebration. One exception was Quintus Lutatius Catulus, consul in 78 BC and like Caesar a pontiff. His father had been consul with Marius in 102 BC and proconsul in 101 BC and had deeply resented the popular hero receiving most of the credit for their joint success. Catalus was now probably the most respected member of the Senate, even if he was not formally the princeps senatus, the man whose name appeared first on the senatorial roll. Emphasis on Marius diminished the glory of Catulus’ own family. He resented this, but if the stories are true he was also beginning to see Caesar as a reckless and potentially dangerous politician. In the Senate Catulus declared that ‘No longer, Caesar, are you undermining the defences of the Republic - now you are launching a direct assault.’ Yet for all the elder statesman’s auctoritas, Caesar replied in a speech that was utterly reasonable and convinced most senators of his innocence. They were probably right, for his career was still in most respects conventional, if flamboyant. Yet revolution was in the air.33

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