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Julius Caesar Biography and Life History

A Short Yet Accurate Julius Caesar Biography and Life History

Want to know more about the life of Julius Caesar? Read the life history and biography of Julius Caesar, Rome's greatest military politician in this Historyplex post.
Madhavi Ghare
Last Updated: Feb 19, 2018
Statue of Gaius Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was born on the 12th of July, in 100 BC (there's a slight debate over whether he was born in 100 BC or 102 BC. But scholars agree upon 100 BC). His family claimed to have been descendants of Iulus, the son of the Trojan prince Aeneas who claimed to be the descendant of the Goddess Venus. His father, also named Gaius Julius Caesar was a praetor, the second highest rank within the Roman Republic's senate. He governed the province of Asia. His mother Aurelia Cotta came from an influential family of Rome. Julius Caesar had two sisters, both of whom were named Julia.
In 85 BC Julius Caesar's father died suddenly and the 16 year old Julius became the head of his family. The year after that he was nominated to be the new Flamen Dialis or the High Priest of Jupiter. The holder of this position had to be a patrician (which he was) and had to be married to another patrician. Towards this end, he broke off his engagement to Cossutia, to whom he had been engaged since childhood as she came from a wealthy equestrian family. He then got married to Cornelia, the daughter of Cinna.
Background of Military Life

Around 82 BC Sulla had conquered Mithridates and returned to Rome. Cinna had already been killed by his mutineering soldiers. As the nephew of Sulla's arch rival Marius, and the son-in-law of another of Sulla's enemies Cinna, Caesar was his next target. Julius Caesar lost his inheritance, his wife's dowry and his priesthood and was forced to go into hiding. He refused to divorce Cornelia. His mother's family, however, included the supporters of Sulla and the Vestal Virgins. They all intervened and Sulla gave up.

However, Caesar did not return to Rome. The fact that he was not a priest anymore allowed him to join the army. So he did just that and served in Asia and Cilicia. He won the Civic Crown for his service in the siege of Mytilene. He then spent a considerably long time at the court of King Nicomedes to secure the King's aid in his mission to Bythinia. This incident created rumors of his being the King's secret lover.

When Sulla died in 78 BC, Caesar finally returned to Rome. He began his career as a legal advocate and became quite well-known as an exceptional orator. His speeches were known to be passionate, full of gestures and he used his high pitched voice with great effect, often prosecuting former governors for extortion or corruption. His oratorical skill invited Cicero's remark- Does anyone have the ability to speak better than Caesar?

To enhance his skills as a public speaker, Caesar decided to go to Rhodes and study under Apollonius Molon, who had taught Cicero. However, on the way, he was taken prisoner by Cilician pirates who held him for ransom at Pharmacusa. When the pirates decided to ask 20 talents as ransom, he advised them to ask for 50. He also promised them that he would return and have them punished. When he was released, Caesar proceeded to raise a fleet and captured the same pirates and handed them over to the governor of Asia. Instead of punishing them, the governor preferred to sell them as slaves. So he returned, re-captured the pirates and had them crucified, just as he had promised.

He then resumed his trip to Rhodes, but was called back to Asia to repel Pontus. When he came back to Rome in 71 BC, he was elected as a Military Tribune. This was his first step into Roman Politics. In 69 BC he was elected Quaestor. His wife, Cornelia and his aunt, Julia also died the same year.

Caesar then went to Hispania to serve his Quaestorship. He asked for an early discharge, which was granted and returned to Rome. It is said, that during this time, he had encountered a statue of Alexander the Great and had realized that he was of the same age when Alexander had conquered the world. When he returned to Roman politics, he also married Pompeia, the granddaughter of Sulla.

He was then elected Aedile.
Caesar Comes Into Power

Julius Caesar took to the Roman political scene with relish. He used several political and diplomatic tactics to gain several supporters - sometimes using fear and sometimes creating allies with strong bonds of intellectualism. In 63 BC he stood for the election for the post of Pontifex Maximus. This was an important post, as he would then be the chief priest of the Roman state religion. Despite several rumors of corruption and bribery, he won the election quite easily. The post also involved him getting an official residence on the Via Sacra.

Julius Caesar had also run into heavy debt to fund his campaign. Caesar continued to be the center of many accusations for taking part in coups, and plotting against the Roman Empire. But each time, he cleared his name, successfully endearing himself to the Roman public at large. Caesar was elected Praetor that year.

Chief among his political opponents was Cato. In a well-known incident, a debate was going on in the Roman senate about how to deal with conspirators. During that debate, someone handed Caesar a note. Cato immediately accused Caesar of corresponding with the conspirators and demanded to read that note aloud. Caesar, in turn, passed the note to Cato and asked him to read the note, which turned out to be a love letter from Cato's half-sister, Servilia. This incident proved to be an embarrassment for Cato.

In 62 BC Caesar supported Celer who was propagating a controversial legislation and both were suspended from office. Caesar continued to serve his post till he was threatened with violence. This was followed by public demonstrations, which Caesar himself stopped. This ensured his return to his post.

In that year, the festival of Bona Dea was held at Caesar's home. Since it was the festival of the Goddess, no men were allowed to enter the home. But Pulcher managed to sneak in, disguised as a woman, intending to seduce Caesar's wife. Pulcher was caught and tried. Caesar did not give any evidence at the trial because he did not want to antagonize one of the wealthiest families of Rome. Pulcher bribed his way out of this situation. But Caesar then divorced Pompeia, saying that his wife shouldn't even be under any suspicion.

Caesar was supposed to leave for his governorship to Hispania soon after. He was in debt. So he turned to Crassus, one of Rome's richest men, who repaid some of Caesar's debts. In return Crassus gained valuable political leverage against Pompey. Caesar also had another motive to leave Rome. If his praetorship expired while he was still in Rome, then he would revert to becoming a private citizen and thus would be exposed to being prosecuted for his debts. He left for Hispania and once there, conquered Callaici and Lusitani. His troops hailed him as an Imperator. This entitled him to a Triumph.

Caesar returned to Rome to stand for the election for the post of Consul, which was the most senior magistrate in the senate. The politics was dirty, but Caesar was a master at the game. He and Bibulus were elected to be Consuls in 59 BC.

Caesar knew of the ongoing differences of opinion between Crassus and Pompey since their consulship in 70 BC. However, he also knew that with Crassus' money and Pompey's political influence, the three of them would become a center of great power in the senate. So Caesar tried to reconcile them. To cement this bond, Caesar married his daughter Julia to Pompey. Caesar himself married Calpurnia who was the daughter of Caesoninus who was elected to be consul the next year. This was the founding of the Triumvirate.

Between the three of them, they managed to rifle many political feathers in Rome and before his consulship was up, Caesar returned to his province. Caesar's debts were steadily mounting. The only way out of this situation was to be made a provincial governor either by extortion or by military force. Caesar had four legions to his command. He decided to make the best of his resources. Caesar raised two more legions and defeated the Helvetii, and then Ariovistus. With more resources than what he began with, he raised two more legions. Caesar was a great military strategist and tactician.

In 56 BC the Triumvirate met at Luca and reinforced their ties. Caesar's proconsulship was renewed for 5 more years along with Crassus and Pompey. They divided amongst themselves Syria for Crassus, Hispania for Pompey. With several of his legions attacking Gaul from all sides, Caesar completed his conquest of Gaul and by 55 BC was ready to attack Great Britain.

While in Britain, Pompey's wife and Caesar's daughter Julia, died in childbirth. Trying to regain Pompey's support, Caesar offered him Octavia, his great-niece, in marriage. In 53 BC, Crassus was killed while invading Parthia. This was a failed mission. Pompey was appointed sole consul and he married Cornelia, the daughter of Scipio, Caesar's political rival.

The Triumvirate thus ended. Trouble, however was still brewing in Gaul and in 52 BC Caesar faced defeat in the battle of Gergovia. However, he recovered soon enough and Gaul was finally conquered.

In 50 BC Pompey ordered Caesar to return to Rome as his proconsulship was now over. This meant that Caesar had to forgo his legions. Pompey also forbade Caesar to stand for re-election in absentia. Thus, in 49 BC, Caesar led a civil war in Rome against Pompey and entered Rome with only one legion. Most of Caesar's political rivals fled rapidly and Caesar pursued Pompey. Pompey fled to Brindisium, and escaped by sea. Caesar then headed for Hispania where he defeated Pompey's forces and then went to Greece where he defeated Pompey's forces yet again. Pompey then fled to Alexandria and Caesar followed him.

Meanwhile in Rome, Caesar was elected again to the post of consul. Upon reaching Alexandria, Caesar discovered that Pompey had been brutally murdered by a former Roman officer serving in the court of King Ptolemy XIII. Alexandria was, at that time, in the middle of a Civil War between King Ptolemy and his co-regent Queen Cleopatra.

Caesar defeated Ptolemy's forces and in 49 BC installed Queen Cleopatra on the throne of Egypt. Soon enough, Caesar and Cleopatra became lovers. He even had a son, named Caesarion, with her. They continued their relationship for at least 14 years and Queen Cleopatra even visited Caesar in Rome.

Then Caesar returned to his battles in the Middle East in 47 BC and swiftly defeated King Pharnaces II of Pontus. This was followed by a victory in Thapsus in 46 BC and the Battle of Munda in 45 BC. He managed to annihilate most of his political enemies. Both these years, he managed to get re-elected in his post of consul.
Ruler Assassinated

In 45 BC when Caesar returned to Rome, the Romans began bestowing him with a great number of honors. Meanwhile, he filed his will and named his grand-nephew Octavian as his heir to everything, including his titles.

Caesar could now wear purple colored triumphal clothing, and a laurel crown. He was even named a Dictator for life. His statues were erected and placed in Temples, equaling him to a God. Caesar also began minting coins with his image on them in Rome, and soon this was employed in other cities as well.

Caesar also resigned from his consulship and placed Maximus and Trebonius as consuls. This managed to anger the senate, as they felt that this was a complete disregard for the Roman Republican system.

However, the Romans continued to bestow more and more honors on Caesar. They elected him consul for life. He was allowed to hold any office he wanted. He was granted legal immunity from prosecution. He had supreme command of all the legions. He now had the right to appoint half of the magistrates. A tribe was named after him. A temple and priesthood was established and dedicated to his family.

The month of his birth was renamed Julius and his date of birth was a national holiday. He established a 365 day calendar with a leap year every 4 years.

But while all this was happening, Caesar also undertook many reforms. He passed a law prohibiting any citizens between the ages of 20 to 40 to leave Italy for more than 3 years, unless on military assignment. This was to ensure that local business and farms ran smoothly. He ensured that corruption was punished. He canceled a fourth of the debt and earned the adulation of the Roman public. He regulated the supply of grain and ensured that the poor got their share. He planned to give land to veterans and establish colonies all over the world. He re-built several public buildings, courthouses and marketplaces. He constructed a public library. He built many temples in and around Rome.

More and more, Caesar had begun to anger the Roman politicians. Caesar took many decisions in his hands and this put paid to the Roman senate. They wanted him out, but he had the hearts of the Roman people. They couldn't just attack him publicly and risk their own lives. They had to find a way out of the predicament that Caesar was soon becoming to them.

The final straw for the Roman politicians was when Caesar refused the laurel crown three times in front of cheering crowds, proclaiming that he was not the king and therefore not eligible to wear that crown.

On the Ides of March, in 44 BC, Caesar was called to the senate by a group of senators who claimed to want to read a petition to him. Among the assassins, who were more than 30 in number, were Casca and Brutus. As Caesar began to read the petition, they attacked him one by one, and stabbed him at least 23 times. The great Caesar finally fell, killed by his own countrymen.

The death of Caesar began an era of Roman Civil war that lasted for many years after him.
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