6 Facts about the Inner Life of Julius Caesar

Dive into Julius Caesar's world: from audacious encounters with pirates to the mysteries of his heart and mind.

Jan 1, 2020By Marian Vermeulen, BA History and Philosophy



Julius Caesar is one of the most fascinating and enigmatic figures in history. Was he ruthless or merciful? Did he have a calculated plan to seize power in Rome, or was he forced into his decisions by the actions of the Senate?

Would he have held his position and become a tyrant, or would he have stepped down from power after reforming a broken Rome as he claimed? Was his assassination just, a last desperate attempt to save the Republic, or a bitter, jealous act that deprived the Republic of her best hope?

These are questions that can never truly be answered but only addressed with eager speculation. However, one thing is certain, Julius Caesar’s character and personality were far more complex than a black-and-white depiction of a despot or a savior.


1. Julius Caesar Once Marched Against Rome

Statue av Cæsar, av Nicolas Coustou (1658–1733)
Statue of Julius Cæsar by French sculptor Nicolas Coustou and commissioned in 1696 for the Gardens of Versailles, Louvre Museum


Born in 100 BCE, Julius Caesar was fast-tracked into the Roman political scene by his strong family ties. He enjoyed a stellar career as a politician and general. However, he provoked the hatred of many of the Roman Senators because of his popularity with the people and the soldiers of Rome as well as his apparent willingness to use that to his advantage.

The Senate attempted to force him into a no-win situation. Instead, he crossed the Rubicon with an active army, breaking the ancient laws of Rome. At the crossing, he uttered his famous line, “the die is cast.”

After a long and brutal civil war against his former friend and father-in-law, Pompey the Great, Caesar emerged victorious and returned to Rome in possession of almost unlimited power. Though he insisted that he was not a king nor desirous of becoming one, the Roman politicians were understandably suspicious of his motives and intentions, and they formed a conspiracy to murder him on the Senate floor.

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2. He Was Once Captured by Pirates

Fresco depicting Caesar talking to his pirate captors, Corgna palace in Castiglione del Lago, Italy


It was a skill he developed early in his life and demonstrated in a peculiar encounter. After earning a reputation for bravery and the second-highest military decoration in Rome for his bravery at the Siege of Mytilene, Caesar was eager to advance his political career.

He embarked for Rhodes to study oration. However, while still at sea, Sicilian pirates captured his ship and demanded a ransom of twenty talents. Caesar responded by laughing at them. Informing them that they were clueless as to who they had just captured, he insisted he not be ransomed for anything less than fifty.

Caesar’s friends departed to gather the ransom, while Caesar himself remained a captive of the pirates. However, he did not behave like a typical prisoner. Instead, he used his free time to practice speeches and poetry, often reciting his work aloud for the pirates and then calling them unintelligent savages if they did not appreciate his work.

Thoroughly amused by the bold young man, the pirates allowed him to wander freely among their boats and islands. He joined in their athletic exercises and games, would send messages demanding silence for his slumbers, and told them frequently that he would crucify them all.

The pirates would merely laugh at his threats, but they should have taken him more seriously. When his friends brought the ransom and freed him, Caesar sailed to the nearest port, managed to gather a private force just through his personal magnetism, sailed back to the pirates’ lair, defeated and captured them, and followed through on his promise to crucify every last one of them, though he ordered their throats slit in an act of mercy.


3. He Was Fascinated by Alexander the Great

Bust of Alexander the Great
Bust of Alexander the Great, Glyptotek museum, Copenhagen, Denmark


Caesar grew up reading about the exploits of Alexander the Great, the young Macedonian general who conquered Persia and formed the greatest empire of his age, all before his premature death just before his thirty-third birthday. When Caesar was about thirty-eight, he was assigned to govern the Roman province in Spain.

One day, while visiting the temple of Hercules in the large Spanish city of Gades, he saw a statue of Alexander there and fell to weeping in front of it, lamenting the fact that he was older than Alexander had been when he ruled over most of the known world, and yet he himself had achieved nothing noteworthy. He determined immediately to seek to return to Rome for greater things.

Caesar later traveled to Africa to bring an end to the civil wars. He remained there for some time, enjoying Egypt and his affair with Queen Cleopatra VII, and visited the tomb of Alexander several times. At the time, the Egyptians still held the tomb in high regard.

Cleopatra had even incurred the anger of her subjects by taking gold from the tomb to pay her debts. Caesar’s nephew Octavian also visited the tombs when he visited Alexandria in later years. According to historian Cassius Dio, he accidentally broke off the nose of the great conqueror.


4. He Had Three Wives and Many Mistresses

Caesar and Calpurnia
Caesar and Calpurnia, Fabio Canal, pre-1776. Calpurnia was Caesar’s third and last wife.


Caesar married his first wife, Cornelia, at the age of seventeen. They had one daughter, Julia, Caesar’s only acknowledged child. Cornelia was the daughter of Lucius Cornelius Cinna, who supported Marius in the civil wars with Sulla. When Sulla triumphed, he commanded the young Caesar to divorce Cornelia.

Apparently devoted to his young wife, not even losing his priesthood, Cornelia’s dowry, or his family inheritance could persuade him to leave her. Eventually, Sulla put him under an order of death.

Caesar escaped the city and remained in hiding until his friends convinced Sulla to reverse the death order. When Cornelia died thirteen years later, possibly in childbirth, Caesar gave her a grand eulogy in the forum. It was an extremely rare occurrence and honor for a young woman at that time.

Caesar’s other devoted lover was Servilia, who was also the half-sister of Cato the Younger, one of Caesar’s greatest opponents. Servilia has often been described as “the love of his life.” He brought her a beautiful black pearl, worth over six million sesterces, after the Gallic Wars. Despite being married, the affair between the two was apparently no secret. On one occasion, Caesar received a small note while on the floor of the Senate arguing with Cato.

Fixating on the note, Cato insisted that it was evidence of conspiracy, and demanded that Caesar read it aloud. Caesar merely smiled and handed the note to Cato, who ashamedly read the saucy love letter from Servilia to Caesar. She remained his beloved mistress until his death.


5. Brutus Could Have Been His Illegitimate Son

Roman coin depicting the head of Brutus
The head of Brutus depicted on a gold coin struck by a military mint in late August of 42 BCE


One of the ringleaders of the conspiracy to murder Caesar was Marcus Junius Brutus, the son of Servilia. Rumors flew that Brutus was actually the illegitimate son of Caesar and Servilia, particularly as Caesar was deeply fond of the young man. They are likely to be little more than rumors, for Caesar would only have been fifteen years old when Brutus was born, not impossible for him to have been the father, but less likely.

Regardless of actual parentage, Caesar reportedly treated Brutus as a beloved son. He remained close to the family throughout Brutus’s youth. In the wars against Pompey, Brutus declared against Caesar as well. Even so, at the Battle of Pharsalus, Caesar gave strict orders that Brutus was not to be harmed. After the battle, he was frantic to find the young man and greatly relieved when he learned of Brutus’s safety. He even gave him a full pardon and raised him to the rank of praetor after the war.

Despite all this, Brutus feared that the power Caesar was amassing would eventually make him a king. He, therefore reluctantly agreed to join in the conspiracy. His ancestor had famously killed the last king of Rome, Tarquinus, in 509 BCE, leaving Brutus feeling even more honor-bound to protect the Roman Republic.


6. Julius Caesar’s Final Words Are Often Misquoted 

La Morte di Cesare by Vincenzo Camuccini
La Morte di Cesare by Vincenzo Camuccini, early 19th Century, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome


The conspirators planned the murder for the 15th of March. One member carefully detained Mark Antony in conversation outside the Senate halls, knowing he would not calmly accept the murder of Caesar. They surrounded Caesar, pretending affability until one gave the signal by pulling Caesar’s toga over his head, and they all fell upon him with daggers.

Caesar attempted to fight them off until he saw Brutus was among his attackers. At that point, despairing, he pulled his toga over his head and collapsed. Shakespeare has his final words be “et tu, Brute? Then fall Caesar,” which translates as “even you, Brutus. In reality, as reported by the ancient historians, Caesar’s final words to Brutus are far more tragic: “thou too, my son?”.

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By Marian VermeulenBA History and PhilosophyMarian has been a devoted student of the ancient world since primary school. She received her BA in History and Philosophy from Hope College and has continued researching and writing on topics of ancient history from the Assyrian Empire to the Roman Empire and everything in between. She enjoys dabbling in historical fiction, but generally finds the actual true individuals of history and their stories more fascinating than any fictional invention. Her other passion is horses, and in her spare time she enjoys starting young horses under saddle and volunteer training for the local horse rescue.