Julius Caesar

Born in 100 B.C. in Rome, Gaius Julius Caesar became one of the Roman Empire’s best known leaders. He established the Roman Empire from the Roman Republic and extended Rome’s territory all the way to the North Sea upon his victory over Gaul. Caesar transformed the government as well as Roman society. His autocracy was not popular with all government factions and he was assassinated by a group of senators, notoriously led by Marcus Junius Brutus, on March 15, 44 B.C.

Born to a family of patricians, Caesar had two sisters, but little is known about his childhood other than his father governed the province of Asia and was also called Gaius Julius Caesar. Caesar’s mother was Aurelia Cotta who similarly came from a well-known family. Caesar became the head of his family upon the death of his father in 85 B.C. At this time he also married Cornelia Cinna. Caesar joined the army and was awarded the Civic Crown for his distinctive service in Asia.

A few years after Caesar returned to Rome he decided to travel to Rhodes in 75 B.C. to study with the rhetorical master Apollonius Molon, but was famously kidnapped by Cilician pirates. Caesar’s ransom of fifty talents of silver was paid, but not before Caesar promised the pirates he would return to crucify them—a promise he kept after his release. In 69 B.C. Caesar’s wife died and he married Pompeia in 67 B.C. and was also elected aedile. In 63 B.C. Caesar was elected to the important position of Pontifex Maximus—the chief priest of the Roman state religion. In 62 B.C. after the attempted seduction of his wife, Caesar famously divorced Pompeia saying his wife should be “above suspicion.”

In 70 B.C. Caesar formed the famous First Triumvirate, the rule of three, with Pompey and Crassus. Caesar also married his third wife, Calpurnia. In the subsequent years Caesar participated in conquests of Gaul and traveled as far as Britain. By 52 B.C. the Triumvirate alliance had fallen apart and a civil war ensued between Caesar and Pompey. Pompey had ordered Caesar to return to Rome without the protection of consulship or his army. Caesar, believing he would be politically marginalized, refused and Pompey then accused Caesar of treason. Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon with his legions led to a civil war which ended with his victory in 48 B.C. and he was subsequently made dictator of Rome.

Having traveled to Alexandria in pursuit of Pompey himself (Pompey was killed by another Roman officer), Caesar became involved with Cleopatra and the civil war with her brother. With Caesar’s help Cleopatra was victorious. It is believed that Caesar fathered her son Caesarion. In 48 B.C. Caesar was elected dictator for another year, but due to his political victories in the Senate, he was elected to a ten year term in 46 B.C. Although Caesar’s assassination was meant as a means to return to the Roman Republic, it actually resulted in another civil war and a long line of Roman dictators.