Suetonius: The Twelve Caesars
Book I: Julius Caesar
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2010 All Rights Reserved
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- Translator’s Note
- Book One: Julius Caesar (later deified)
- Book One: I Early Life
- Book One: II First Campaign
- Book One: III Return to Rome
- Book One: IV The Dolabella Trial, Rhodes and Asia
- Book One: V Military Tribune in Rome
- Book One: VI Family Eulogies
- Book One: VII His Destiny
- Book One: VIII The Italian Colonies
- Book One: IX Conspiracy
- Book One: X Wooing the Masses
- Book One: XI Political In-fighting
- Book One: XII The Trial of Gaius Rabirius
- Book One: XIII Pontifex Maximus
- Book One: XIV The Catiline Conspiracy
- Book One: XV Praetor
- Book One: XVI Support from the Commons
- Book One: XVII Accusations of Complicity in the Catiline Conspiracy
- Book One: XVIII Further Spain
- Book One: XIX Consulship: Strategic Alliances
- Book One: XX The ‘Consulship of Julius and Caesar’
- Book One: XXI Alliance with Pompey
- Book One: XXII Governor of Gaul
- Book One: XXIII Threat of Impeachment
- Book One: XXIV Power Base in Gaul
- Book One: XXV Campaigns in Britain and Beyond the Rhine
- Book One: XXVI Mounting Ambition
- Book One: XXVII Buying Favour
- Book One: XXVIII Opposition from Marcus Claudius Marcellus
- Book One: XXIX An Appeal to the Senate
- Book One: XXX The Eve of Civil War
- Book One: XXXI Advance to the Rubicon
- Book One: XXXII The Die is Cast
- Book One: XXXIII Exhorting the Troops
- Book One: XXXIV Victory in Spain
- Book One: XXXV In Pursuit of Pompey
- Book One: XXXVI Victory despite Set-backs
- Book One: XXXVII His Triumphs
- Book One: XXXVIII His Gifts to the Soldiers and People
- Book One: XXXIX His Public Entertainments
- Book One: XL His Reform of the Calendar
- Book One: XLI His Reform of the Administration and Electoral System
- Book One: XLII Other Reforms
- Book One: XLIII His Administration of Justice
- Book One: XLIV His Civil Projects
- Book One: XLV His Appearance and Dress
- Book One: XLVI His Residences
- Book One: XLVII His Acquisitiveness
- Book One: XLVIII His Household Management
- Book One: XLIX His Relationship with King Nicomedes
- Book One: L His Affairs with Roman Women
- Book One: LI His Reputation Elsewhere
- Book One: LII His Royal Love Affairs
- Book One: LIII His Food And Drink
- Book One: LIV His Cupidity
- Book One: LV His Oratory
- Book One: LVI His Writings
- Book One: LVII His Physical Skills and Powers of Endurance
- Book One: LVIII His Sound Judgement on Campaign
- Book One: LIX His Lack of Superstition
- Book One: LX His Battle Tactics
- Book One: LXI His Horse
- Book One: LXII His Rallying of the Troops
- Book One: LXIII His Self-Possession after Pharsalus
- Book One: LXIV His Self-Possession at Alexandria
- Book One: LXV His Handling of the Troops
- Book One: LXVI His Exhortations to the Army
- Book One: LXVII His Indulgence
- Book One: LXVIII His Troops Loyalty and Courage
- Book One: LXIX His Reaction to Mutiny at Placentia
- Book One: LXX His Handling of the Tenth Legion at Rome
- Book One: LXXI His Devotion to his Dependents
- Book One: LXXII His Kindness to his Friends
- Book One: LXXIII His Reconciliation with Ex-Opponents
- Book One: LXXIV His Clemency
- Book One: LXXV His Acts of Mercy in Warfare
- Book One: LXXVI His Abuse of Power
- Book One: LXXVII His Public Arrogance
- Book One: LXXVIII The Defining Moment
- Book One: LXXIX Caesar and the Kingship
- Book One: LXXX The Conspiracy
- Book One: LXXXI Warnings and Portents
- Book One: LXXXII The Assassination
- Book One: LXXXIII The Will
- Book One: LXXXIV The Funeral
- Book One: LXXXV The Aftermath of the Funeral
- Book One: LXXXVI His Anticipation of Death
- Book One: LXXXVII His Wish for a Swift End
- Book One: LXXXVIII The Comet
- Book One: LXXXIX The Fate of the Conspirators
Translator’s Note: The introductory paragraphs to the life of Julius Caesar are lost in all manuscripts. The dates and notes in brackets throughout are my insertions, to allow the reader to follow the chronology without using footnotes. Names have been expanded in places to assist identification. Information in the index entries frequently extends that given by Suetonius in the text without however attributing sources. Wikipedia and other internet sites will provide good additional information for those seeking deeper knowledge.
Book One: Julius Caesar (later deified)
Book One: I Early Life
When Julius Caesar was aged fifteen, his father died (85/84BC). During the next consulship, having previously been nominated to the priesthood of Jupiter (in 86BC, by Marius and Cinna the consuls) he broke off his engagement to Cossutia, a rich girl though of only equestrian rank, to whom he had been betrothed while still a boy and before he had assumed the purple-bordered toga praetexta, and married the daughter of Lucius Cornelius Cinna who had been four times consul (87-84BC). This Cornelia later bore him a daughter, Julia.
He resisted all attempts by Sulla, the dictator, to make him divorce her. So that, as well as losing the priesthood, his wife’s dowry, and his own inheritance, he was treated as a member of the opposition, and was forced into hiding. Though suffering from a virulent bout of quartan fever, he had to find a new hide-out almost every night, and he saved himself from Sulla’s spies by bribery. Finally, through the intercession of the Vestal Virgins, and his near relatives Mamercus Aemilius and Aurelius Cotta, he won pardon. It is known that after firmly resisting the pleas of Caesar’s most devoted and eminent friends, who were obstinate in his cause, Sulla finally gave way and, divinely inspired or with shrewd foresight, cried: ‘You win then, take him! But be clear, the man you’re so keen to save will prove the ruin, some day, of this party you and I support; there is many a Marius in this fellow, Caesar.’
Book One: II First Campaign
His first military campaign was in Asia (81BC), as an aide-de-camp to Marcus Minucius Thermus, the governor of the province. Sent to Bithynia by Thermus, to raise a fleet, he idled so long at the court of King Nicomedes it was rumoured he had prostituted himself to the king. He exacerbated the rumour by travelling back to Bithynia, a few days after his return, ostensibly to collect a debt owed to a freedman, one of his followers. However his reputation improved later in the campaign and, at the storming of Mytilene (80BC), Thermus awarded him a civic crown of oak leaves for saving a fellow-campaigner’s life.
Book One: III Return to Rome
He also campaigned in Cilicia, under Servilius Isauricus. Not for long though, for hearing of Sulla’s death (78BC), and hoping to benefit from a revolt led by Marcus Lepidus, he hastened swiftly back to Rome. Though he was made highly attractive offers, he chose not to align himself with Lepidus, lacking confidence in the man’s abilities, and in the situation which now seemed less promising.
Book One: IV The Dolabella Trial, Rhodes and Asia
The civil unrest was quelled, and subsequently Caesar brought an extortion case (77BC) against Cornelius Dolabella, an ex-consul who had once been afforded a triumph. On Dolabella’s acquittal, Caesar decided to withdraw to Rhodes both to escape the resultant ill-feeling and to rest and have leisure to study oratory under Apollonius Molon, the pre-eminent teacher of rhetoric at that time.
During the crossing to Rhodes, at the start of winter, he was captured by pirates (75BC) off the island of Pharmacussa and, to his intense aggravation, remained their prisoner for almost forty days, attended only by a physician and two man-servants, since on being taken he had sent the rest of his friends and staff to raise money for a ransom. Set on shore, after fifty talents had been paid, he lost no time in raising a fleet, hunting the fleeing pirates down and, as soon as they were in his power, executing on them the punishment of crucifixion with which he had often smilingly threatened them.
He sailed on to Rhodes (74BC), but then, so as not to remain idle while allies appeared to be in danger, he crossed to Asia Minor where Mithridates was ravaging the neighbouring region. He raised a band of auxiliaries there, and drove Mithridates’ deputy from the province, so maintaining the allegiance of its faltering and irresolute cities.
Book One: V Military Tribune in Rome
Appointed to his first office as military tribune, by popular vote, after his return to Rome, Caesar gave strong support to the assembly leaders in restoring the tribunes’ powers, diminished by Sulla’s dictatorship (70BC). He also spoke in favour of the bill introduced by Plotius which brought about the recall from exile of his brother-in-law Lucius Cornelius Cinna, and the other members of Lepidus’ civil insurgency, who had fled to Spain and joined Sertorius after Lepidus’ death in 77BC.
Book One: VI Family Eulogies
As quaestor (69BC) Caesar gave the traditional funeral orations from the Rostra at the deaths of his aunt Julia, and his wife Cornelia. In the eulogy for his aunt he spoke the following words concerning her ancestry and that of the Caesars: ‘My paternal aunt Julia was descended on her mother’s side from royalty, since the Marcii Reges were founded by the Roman King Ancus Marcius; and on her father’s side from the immortal gods, since the Julians, of whom we Caesars are a branch, are descended from the goddess Venus herself. Our family therefore claims the sanctity of kings, who reign supreme among mortals, and the reverence owed the gods, in whose power are those kings themselves’.
Cornelia’s place was assumed by Pompeia, the daughter of Quintus Pompeius Rufus, and grand-daughter of Lucius Sulla, though Caesar later divorced her (62BC) on suspicion of her adultery with Publius Clodius Pulcher who, according to rumour, dressed as a woman and seduced her during a public ceremony, the Festival of Bona Dea, the Good Goddess. This rumour was so persistent that the Senate ordered a judicial inquiry into the alleged pollution of the sacred rites.
Book One: VII His Destiny
As quaestor he was appointed to Further Spain where, while conducting a round of assizes at the instigation of the praetor, he reached Gades, and saw there the statue of Alexander the Great in the temple of Hercules. He sighed deeply, and as if frustrated by his own lack of achievement in failing to perform anything worthy of note, at an age when Alexander had already subjugated the world, he immediately sought his discharge, to seize the first opening for greater action in Rome. Moreover on the following night, shocked by a dream of raping his mother, he was nevertheless encouraged by the soothsayers whose interpretation filled him with the highest of hopes, that the mother he had conquered was no other than Earth itself, who is deemed to be our universal parent.
Book One: VIII The Italian Colonies
He left therefore, before the end of his term, for the Latin colonies beyond the River Po, which were in a state of unrest, and demanding the same citizenship rights as others, and might have roused them to some rash action if the consuls had not temporarily garrisoned the conscripted legions there that were destined for Cilicia.
Book One: IX Conspiracy
However, he soon attempted something more ambitious in Rome itself. A few days before taking up his aedileship (65BC) he was suspected of conspiring with Marcus Licinius Crassus, the ex-consul, and with Publius Cornelius Sulla and Publius Autronius Paetus who after election to the consulship had been found guilty of corruption. They planned to attack the Senate in the New Year and kill as many senators as suited them. Crassus would then become Dictator, proclaiming Caesar his Master of Horse, and when the government was organised to their liking, Sulla and Autronius would be handed the consulship.
This conspiracy is mentioned by Tanusius Geminus in his History, by Marcus Bibulus Calpurnius in his Edicts and by Gaius Scribonius Curio the Elder in his Orations. And Cicero too seems to refer to it in a letter to Axius in which he says that Caesar ‘established during his consulship that dominion which he planned as an aedile’. Tanusius adds that Crassus, through ill-conscience or fear, failed to appear on the day set for the massacre, and Caesar therefore chose not to give the agreed signal, which, Curio claims, was to let the toga fall from his shoulder.
With Curio, Marcus Actorius Naso claims that Caesar also conspired with Gnaeus Piso, a young nobleman suspected of intrigue at Rome who had therefore been assigned to the governorship of Spain, in an exceptional and unsolicited appointment. They had agreed that Piso would raise a rebellion abroad while Caesar did so in Rome, at the same time as the Ambrani of Liguria and the peoples beyond the River Po revolted, but the death of Piso ended the conspiracy.
Book One: X Wooing the Masses
As aedile, Caesar decorated the Comitium, the Forum with its adjacent basilicas, and even the Capitol itself, with a display of material for use in his public shows, building temporary colonnades for his selections from the vast mass available. He staged wild-beast combats and plays, independently and with his colleague, Marcus Bibulus, who openly complained that he had met Pollux’s fate: ‘As the Temple of the Twins in the Forum only bears Castor’s name, so our joint lavishness is always Caesar’s.’
Caesar also mounted gladiatorial contests but with fewer combatants than advertised, as the vast troop collected from all quarters terrified his political opponents to the point that a bill was passed limiting the number of gladiators anyone could maintain in Rome.
Book One: XI Political In-fighting
Having won favour with the masses, Caesar tried, via their tribunes, to take control of Egypt by popular vote. The opportunity which he seized for so irregular an appointment arose from the general condemnation of the Alexandrians who had repudiated King Ptolemy XII, though the Senate had proclaimed him a friend and ally of Rome. Caesar failed because of opposition from the aristocratic party, and wanting to harm their prestige in any way he might, he replaced, as aedile, the monuments, destroyed by Sulla years previously, commemorating Gaius Marius’ victories over Jugurtha, the Cimbri, and the Teutones. Moreover, as Judge of the Court of Inquiry, he prosecuted as murderers those who had earned public bounties for the heads of Roman citizens outlawed by proscription, though they were exempted according to the Cornelian Laws.
Book One: XII The Trial of Gaius Rabirius
Caesar also bribed a man (Titus Labienus) to bring a charge of high treason against Gaius Rabirius (63BC) who had rendered a notable service to the Senate by repressing the seditious activities of the tribune Lucius Appuleius Saturninus (in 100BC). Selected by lot to try the accused, Caesar passed sentence in such a zealous manner that when Rabirius subsequently appealed to the people, the most powerful argument in his favour was his judge’s acerbity.
Book One: XIII Pontifex Maximus
Renouncing hopes of controlling Egypt, Caesar, by flagrant bribery, pursued the office of Pontifex Maximus (High Priest). It is said that, with the enormous debts he had incurred in mind, he told his mother as she kissed him goodbye on the morning of the poll that he would either return as Pontifex or not at all. In reality he defeated his two weighty rivals, superior to him in age and rank, so decisively that he won more votes from their tribes than they won in the entire poll.
Book One: XIV The Catiline Conspiracy
When the Catiline conspiracy was exposed (in 63BC), the whole Senate except for Caesar, who was now praetor-elect, demanded the death-penalty for those implicated. He alone proposed their imprisonment, each in a different town, and the confiscation of their estates. Moreover, he created such anxiety in the minds of those who proposed a more severe punishment, by describing the enduring hatred the Commons would feel towards them, that Decimus Junius Silanus, consul-elect, did not hesitate to give a milder interpretation to his proposal, which it would have been humiliating to change, as it might have been taken as more severe than was intended. Caesar would have prevailed, since a number of senators, including Quintus Tullius Cicero, the consul’s brother, had been won to his view, had not Marcus Portius Cato’s speech kept those who were wavering in line. Nevertheless Caesar continued to delay proceedings, until the group of armed knights guarding the Senate threatened his life if he continued with such immoderate behaviour. They even drew their swords and waved them at him so vigorously that friends beside him left their seats, while the remainder took pains to shield him with their bodies and the folds of their robes. Clearly deterred, he not only desisted, but kept away from the House for the rest of the year.
Book One: XV Praetor
On the first day of his praetorship (62BC) he demanded that Quintus Lutatius Catulus publish an account to the people of the Capitol restorations, and proposed the commission be entrusted elsewhere (to Pompey). However he withdrew the measure, unequal to the combined opposition of the aristocrats, who were attending the inaugural sacrifice on the Capitol marking the new consuls’ commencement of office and, resolved on obstinate resistance, quickly altered their plans and descended en masse.
Book One: XVI Support from the Commons
Then, when Caecilius Metellus, a tribune of the people, brought in some highly inflammatory bills, despite his colleagues’ veto, Caesar supported and championed his cause so pugnaciously that he and Metellus were suspended from office by senatorial decree. Nevertheless Caesar was so audacious as to continue to hold court and give rulings. Learning that he was about to be prevented by force, he dismissed the lictors, doffed his formal robes, and quietly went home, deciding to remain in retirement due to circumstances.
In fact, when the populace flocked to his house, spontaneously, the following day, and in a riotous demonstration offered him their help in regaining office, he restrained them. His response being unanticipated, the Senate, which had hastily convened to address the situation, ended by thanking him publicly via a deputation of its leaders, summoning him to the House and, while showering praises on him, revoking their former decree, and re-confirming his praetorship.
Book One: XVII Accusations of Complicity in the Catiline Conspiracy
He was once more in danger when named as one of the Catiline conspirators, by Lucius Vettius an informer, in front of the special commissioner, Novius Niger, and also in the Senate, by Quintus Curius, who had been voted a reward from public funds for first revealing the plot. Curius claimed his information came directly from Catiline himself, while, Vettius offered to produce a letter to Catiline in Caesar’s handwriting.
Caesar, deciding that such claims could in no way be tolerated and by appealing to Cicero’s own testimony that he had voluntarily reported certain details of the conspiracy to him, ensured Curius was denied his bounty. As for Vettius, whose surety was declared forfeit and possessions seized, he was nearly torn to pieces by a furious crowd before the Rostra. Caesar had him imprisoned along with Novius Niger, the commissioner, who had allowed a magistrate of higher rank to be indicted by his tribunal.
Book One: XVIII Further Spain
After his praetorship, Caesar was appointed to the province of Further Spain (61BC). He relieved himself of his creditors, who had tried to detain him, by providing sureties for his debts, and was away, contrary to law and custom, even before the necessary funds had been decreed by the Senate. He may have feared impeachment while still a private citizen, or simply wished to respond more swiftly to the pleas for assistance from Rome’s Spanish allies. Having pacified the province he departed with equal haste for Rome, without waiting for his successor to arrive, in order to request, in the same breath, a triumph and a consulship. Since the consular election date had already been announced; his candidacy was only acceptable if he entered Rome as a private citizen; and his attempts to gain exemption from the rules met with a general outcry; he was obliged to forgo the triumph to avoid losing the consulship.
Book One: XIX Consulship: Strategic Alliances
Faced with two other candidates for the consulship (of 60BC), Lucius Lucceius and Marcus Bibulus, Caesar joined forces with the former, agreeing with him that since Lucceius had more money but less influence, he should issue bribes to the electors on behalf of both of them. Hearing of this, the aristocratic party, fearing there was nothing Caesar would not dare if he were consul with a compliant colleague alongside him, authorized Bibulus to match their bribes. Many aristocrats contributed to the fund, not even Cato rejecting bribery, in the circumstances, as a means of achieving public good.
So Caesar and Bibulus were elected as consuls. For the reason given, the aristocrats took steps to ensure that the newly-elected consuls would, at the end of their term of office, be granted governorships of the least important provinces, the role being simply to police the woods and passes. Incensed by the slight, Caesar paid every attention possible to win Gnaeus Pompey’s goodwill, Pompey being annoyed with the Senate for its slowness in ratifying his actions after his defeat of King Mithridates. Caesar also succeeded in reconciling Pompey and Marcus Crassus, enemies since their joint consulship, which had involved intense disagreement. He forged an alliance with both, whereby nothing should proceed politically that any of the three disliked.
Book One: XX The ‘Consulship of Julius and Caesar’
Caesar’s first act as Consul was to institute the daily recording and publishing of proceedings in the Senate and the People’s Court. He also revived the ancient custom whereby an orderly should precede him, during the months when his colleague held the rods of office (the fasces), while the lictors followed. He also introduced a new agrarian law, and when Bibulus announced the omens were unfavourable so as to delay the bill, he drove him from the Forum by force of arms. When next day, in the Senate, Bibulus complained, and found that no one dared to move a motion of censure, or even to express an opinion about such a scandalous action, though decrees had often been passed regarding much less serious disorder, he was driven to such exasperation with Caesar’s conduct that he stayed at home from then until the end of his term of office, merely issuing further announcements of adverse omens.
From that moment on, Caesar administered all the affairs of State himself according to his own wishes. So that some people, by way of a joke, pretending to sign and seal a testamentary document, instead of writing: ‘Executed in the consulship of Bibulus and Caesar’, would write ‘in the consulship of Julius and Caesar.’ And this verse soon went the rounds:
‘Not in Bibulus’ year but Caesar’s, something, recently, got done:
Of Bibulus’ year, I can’t recall a single act, not one.’
The plain called Stellas in Northern Campania, which had of old been devoted to public use, and those Campanian lands farmed on behalf of the government purse, he divided, by a special commission and without casting lots, among the twenty thousand or so citizens who had fathered three or more children. When the tax-farmers asked for relief, he cancelled a third of their obligation, but openly warned them not to bid too recklessly for future contracts. He freely granted anything anyone asked, unopposed, or if there was an objection, by intimidation. Marcus Cato who attempted a filibuster was dragged from the House by a lictor, on Caesar’s orders, and thrown into prison. When Lucius Lucullus went too far in stating his opposition, Caesar so terrified him with threats of prosecution (for his conduct in the Mithridatic Wars) that Lucullus went down on his knees to beg for pardon. Hearing that Cicero had made a speech in court deploring the state of things, Caesar granted the orator’s enemy, Publius Clodius Pulcher, a transfer from the patricians to the plebeians (in 59BC), a move that Publius had long wished to achieve, and did so at the ninth hour of the day, three o’clock that is, after the close of session.
Ultimately, in an attack on the whole opposition party, he bribed an informer to appear on the Rostra, claim there that certain aristocrats had urged him to assassinate Pompey, and then in a pre-arranged manner list the guilty. He did indeed name one or two, but to no effect, so strong was the suspicion of underhand dealing, with the result, it is said, that Caesar, having abandoned his over-hasty attempt, had the man poisoned.
Book One: XXI Alliance with Pompey
Around that time, he married Calpurnia, the daughter of Lucius Calpurnius Piso his successor in the consulship, and betrothed his own daughter Julia to Pompey, ending her previous engagement to Servilius Caepio, though Caepio had recently served him well in his efforts against Bibulus. Once the new alliance was forged, Caesar would call on Pompey to open debates in the Senate, where previously Crassus had taken priority, ignoring the tradition of maintaining the same order of speakers as that established on New Years Day (the Kalends of January).
Book One: XXII Governor of Gaul
Now, with Piso as father-in-law, and Pompey as son-in-law, Caesar set his eye on Gaul as the province above all most likely to yield him wealth and opportunity for triumphs. He was, it is true, only appointed to Cisalpine Gaul with Illyricum, at first, following a proposal made by Publius Vatinius, but the Senate soon added Transalpine Gaul, fearing that if they refused the people would overrule them.
Elated by this success, he could not refrain from boasting, a few days later, to a crowded House, that having gained his dearest wish to the sorrow and chagrin of his enemies, he would henceforth give their heads a good bruising, every one of them; and when someone sneered that such would be no easy task for any woman, he replied, as if in jest: that in Syria too Semiramis had reigned, and a large part of Asia had once been ruled by the Amazons.
Book One: XXIII Threat of Impeachment
When, at the end of his consulship, Gaius Memmius and Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus demanded an official inquiry into his conduct during the preceding year, Caesar referred the matter to the Senate, and when they failed to proceed after three days of useless argument, he left for his province. His quaestor was immediately arraigned on various charges, prior to his own impeachment. And Caesar himself was presently indicted by Lucius Antistius, a tribune of the people, such that it was only by an appeal to the whole college of tribunes that he avoided trial, pleading his absence on public service.
So to render himself secure in future, he took great pains to ensure the magistrates for the year were beholden to him, refusing to support and preventing the election of any candidates unless they promised to defend his cause when absent from Rome. He had no hesitation in demanding, in some cases, that they swear an oath to fulfil this pledge and, in others, a written contract.
Book One: XXIV Power Base in Gaul
Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, when a candidate for the consulship (of 55BC), openly threatened that if elected he would do what he could not achieve as praetor, and deprive Caesar of military power. Caesar demanded that Crassus and Pompey meet him (in the spring of 56BC) at Lucca, just within the boundary of Cisalpine Gaul, where he persuaded them to stand as consuls for a second time (they had been consuls together in 70BC) in order to defeat Domitius. Through their influence he succeeded in extending his governorship of Gaul for a further five years.
Encouraged by his success, Caesar raised legions at his own expense to add to those sanctioned by the state: one actually recruited in Transalpine Gaul, and called the Alauda, Gallic for ‘the Crested Lark’, which he equipped with standard weapons and trained in Roman tactics. Later he made every such legionary a Roman citizen.
He lost no opportunity for waging war, from that time onwards, regardless of how unjust or risk-prone it might be, fomenting disputes with allied tribes as well as hostile and barbarous ones. At one point, the Senate order a commission of inquiry into the condition of the Gallic provinces, and some speakers went so far as to suggest Caesar be handed over to the enemy. But the more his campaigns bore fruit, the more frequently public thanksgivings were approved in his honour, of longer duration than those of any previous general.
Book One: XXV Campaigns in Britain and Beyond the Rhine
This, in brief, is what he achieved in his nine years (58-49BC) of governorship. He reduced to a province the whole of Gaul bounded by the Pyrenees, Cévennes, and Alps, and by the rivers Rhine and Rhone, a border of over 3100 miles, comprising an area of over 250,000 square miles, excluding a few allied states which had rendered him useful aid, and he exacted from it an annual tribute of 400,000 gold pieces (aurei).
He was the first Roman to bridge the Rhine and he inflicted heavy losses on the Germans beyond. He also conquered the Britons, a previously unknown people, and exacted wealth and hostages from them. He suffered misfortune on only three occasions, while achieving his success: in invading Britain, where his fleet was all but destroyed by a storm (55BC); on the German frontier, where his generals Titurius Sabinus and Aurunculeius Cotta were killed in ambush (54BC); and in Gaul when one of his legions was routed at Gergovia (52BC);
Book One: XXVI Mounting Ambition
In one year (54BC) during that period, Caesar had lost, in turn, his mother, daughter, and infant grandchild. Meanwhile (in 52BC), the assassination of Publius Clodius Pulcher caused such widespread consternation that the Senate voted to appoint only a single Consul, and named Pompey as their choice. When the Tribunes wanted Caesar to stand as Pompey’s colleague, he urged them to persuade the people to approve his standing for consul a second time, without travelling to Rome, when his governorship ended, so as to avoid quitting his province prematurely with its conquest incomplete.
The granting of this concession so fired his ambition, and inspired his hopes, that he spared no expense or show of favour, either in a public or private capacity. He began building a new Forum with his spoils from Gaul, the land alone costing more than a million gold pieces. Then he announced an unprecedented event, a gladiatorial show and a public feast in memory of his daughter Julia. In order to create as much excited anticipation as possible, the banquet was catered for partly by his household, but partly also by the market contractors.
He also issued orders that any famous gladiator who failed to win the approval of the crowd should be forcibly saved from execution, and reserved for his employ. Novices were trained, not by professionals in the gladiatorial schools, but in the private houses of Roman knights and even Senators skilled in arms. His surviving letters reveal his earnest requests to them to pay their recruits individual attention, and direct the training personally.
He also doubled the soldiers’ pay, in perpetuity, and whenever there was ample grain, shared it among them lavishly and without restraint, and on occasions granted each man a Gallic slave from among the captives.
Book One: XXVII Buying Favour
Moreover, in order to try and retain Pompey’s friendship, and renew the tie broken by Julia’s death, Caesar unsuccessfully offered him the hand of Octavia, his sister’s granddaughter, though she was already married to Gaius Claudius Marcellus Minor, asking in return the hand of Pompey’s daughter, Pompeia Magna, who was betrothed to Faustus Cornelius Sulla.
Having placed all Pompey’s friends, and a majority of the Senate, under obligation to him, by means of low-rate or interest-free loans, he then lavished gifts on men of less distinction, whether they sought them or not, including slaves and freedmen who were their master’s or patron’s favourite. In brief, he became the sole reliable source of aid to those in legal difficulties, short of funds, or living over-extravagantly, denying help only to those whose crimes were so great, or debts so heavy, or way of life so lavish, that even he could not rescue them, telling them frankly that their only hope was civil war.
Book One: XXVIII Opposition from Marcus Claudius Marcellus
He took equal pains to win the support of kings and provincial authorities everywhere, offering some captives by the thousand, and sending auxiliaries to others whenever they asked, without permission from the Senate or Tribunes. He adorned the main cities of Greece and Asia with fine public works, as well as those of Italy, Gaul and Spain. All were still dazed by his actions and puzzled as to their purpose, when the consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus (51BC) announced that he intended to bring a matter of vital public interest before the Senate, and subsequently proposed that, since the Gallic war had ended, and peace was now established, Caesar be relieved of his governorship before the end of his term, a successor appointed, and the army of conquest disbanded. Further he proposed that Caesar be prohibited from standing for the consulship, unless he appeared at Rome in person, since Pompey’s actions had not annulled the previous statute. Here he referred to Pompey’s bill regulating official privileges, which debarred absentee candidates from office. Pompey had neglected to exclude Caesar’s name from his bill, and had not corrected the oversight before the bill was passed and the law, engraved on its bronze tablet, deposited at the Treasury.
Not content with trying to deprive Caesar of his command and the privilege previously voted him, Marcellus also proposed that the colonists Caesar had settled at Novum Comum (Como) under the Vatinian Act should lose their citizenship, on the basis that it had been done to further Caesar’s ambitions, and was unauthorised in law.
Book One: XXIX An Appeal to the Senate
Provoked by these measures, Caesar, who had often been heard to remark that, now he was the leading man in Rome, it would be harder to push him down to second place than from second to lowest of all, resisted stubbornly. He persuaded the tribunes of the people to use their vetoes, and also enlisted the aid of Servius Sulpicius Rufus, Marcellus’ co-consul.
In the following year (50BC), when Gaius Claudius Marcellus Minor succeeded Marcus Claudius Marcellus his cousin as consul, and attempted the same measures, Caesar heavily bribed the other consul, Aemilius Paullus, and Gaius Curio, the most impetuous of the tribunes, to secure their support.
Realizing the relentless nature of the opposition, which even included the new consuls-elect, he made a written appeal to the Senate asking to retain the privilege granted him by the commons, or else for all the other commanders to be required to resign as well. He was confident, it was thought, of mobilising his veterans whenever he wished, more swiftly than Pompey his new levies. He finally proposed a compromise, offering to relinquish eight legions and quit Transalpine Gaul, but retain two legions and Cisalpine Gaul, or at a minimum one legion and Illyricum, until he was elected as consul.
Book One: XXX The Eve of Civil War
But after the Senate’s refusal to intervene on his behalf, and his opponents’ declaration that compromise was unacceptable in a matter of such national importance, Caesar crossed into Cisalpine Gaul. He held his regular assizes there, and halted at Ravenna (49BC) determined on war if the Senate took drastic action against the tribunes of the people who had used their vetoes on his behalf.
And this indeed became the pretext for civil war, though other motives are suspected. Pompey used to say that Caesar desired general turmoil and confusion because he lacked the means to complete the schemes he had planned, or give the people what they expected on his return. Others say that he feared the necessity of accounting for his actions, in which he had disregarded the laws, the auspices, and all vetoes, during his first consulship. Certainly, Marcus Portius Cato had often pledged to impeach him, the moment his army was disbanded. And it was repeated, openly, that if he was out of office on his return, he would be tried in a court ringed with armed men, as Milo had been (52BC).
Asinius Pollio’s comment in his History renders this more plausible, where he says that Caesar, at Pharsalus, watching his enemies fly or be killed, said in these exact words: ‘They chose this; they would have condemned me, Gaius Caesar, despite my victories, if I had not sought the army’s help.’
Some claim that the constant exercise of power made him enamoured of it; and that, having weighed his enemies’ strength against his own, he grasped this chance of seizing dictatorship, and fulfilling the dreams of his youth. Cicero, it seems, held that opinion, writing in the third book of his De officiis (On Duty), that Caesar was forever quoting Euripides’ lines in his Phoenissae (The Phoenician Women), which Cicero translates as:
‘If force is ever justified, to gain supremacy
By force is right: in all things else, cherish piety.’
Book One: XXXI Advance to the Rubicon
Thus, when word came to him that the tribunes’ veto had been disregarded, and that they had fled the city (49BC), he sent a few cohorts on ahead in secret and disarmed suspicion, while concealing his intentions, by appearing at a public show; inspecting the plans for a gladiatorial school he wished to build; and dining as usual surrounded by a crowd of guests. Then, at dusk, he commandeered some mules from a local bakery, harnessed them to a carriage, and set off quietly with a few of his staff. Though the carriage-lights guttered and he lost his way for a time, he found a guide at dawn, and returned to the road on foot through narrow back-lanes.
He then overtook his advanced guard at the River Rubicon, which formed the boundary between Gaul and Italy. There he paused for a while and, realising the magnitude of the step he was taking, turned to his staff, to remark: ‘We could turn back, even now; but once over that little bridge, and it will all come down to a fight.’
Book One: XXXII The Die is Cast
As he stood there, undecided, he received a sign. A being of marvellous stature and beauty appeared suddenly, seated nearby, and playing on a reed pipe. A knot of shepherds gathered to listen, but when a crowd of his soldiers, including some of the trumpeters, broke ranks to join them, the apparition snatched a trumpet from one of them, ran to the river, and sounding the call to arms blew a thunderous blast, and crossed to the far side. At this, Caesar exclaimed: ‘Let us follow the summons, of the gods’ sign and our enemy’s injustice. The die is cast.’
Book One: XXXIII Exhorting the Troops
And crossing with the army, he welcomed the tribunes of the people, who had fled to him from Rome. Then, in tears, he addressed the troops and, ripping open the breast of his tunic, asked for their loyalty. It is even said that he promised every man there promotion to the Equestrian Order, and the 4000 gold pieces that went with it, but that is a simple misunderstanding. Because, during his speech of exhortation, he kept pointing to his left hand and crying out that he would gladly reward those who helped champion his honour with the very ring from his finger, the soldiers at the fringe of the crowd, who could see more clearly than they could hear, misinterpreted his gesture. So the word went round that he had promised them the right to wear a knight’s gold ring, and the estate to support it.
Book One: XXXIV Victory in Spain
An ordered account of his subsequent movements is as follows. He overran Picenum, Umbria and Etruria; captured Lucius Domitius who had been illegally named his successor in Gaul, and was holding Corfinium (Corfinio) for the Senate, and released him; and then marched along the Adriatic coast to Brundisium (Brindisi), where Pompey and the consuls had taken refuge, as they fled from Rome to Epirus.
When his strenuous efforts to prevent them crossing the straits proved vain, he marched on Rome, where he summoned the Senate to debate the situation. From Rome he set off to confront Pompey’s most substantial forces, commanded in Spain by Pompey’s three generals, Marcus Petreius, Lucius Afranius, and Marcus Varro, saying to his friends as he left: ‘I go to encounter an army without a leader, I shall return to encounter a leader without an army.’ And though his advance was slowed by the siege of Massilia (Marseilles), which had barred its gates against him, and by a failure of his supply-lines, he still gained a swift and total victory.
Book One: XXXV In Pursuit of Pompey
Returning by way of Rome, Caesar crossed the Adriatic, and after blockading Pompey for four months behind immense containing works (at Dyrrhacium in Epirus, from which he was forced to retreat) he finally routed him at the Battle of Pharsalus (in Thessaly, 48BC). He followed Pompey’s flight to Alexandria, and on learning that Ptolemy XIII had murdered his rival, and suspecting that there was a plot against his own life as well, declared war.
It proved a difficult campaign, as regards time and place, fought in winter, and inside the city walls of a well-supplied and devious enemy, while he himself was ill-equipped and lacking supply lines. Nevertheless he conquered, and handed rule in Egypt to Cleopatra VII and her younger brother Ptolemy XIV (in 47BC), fearing lest, as a Roman province, it might prove a source of rebellion under some headstrong governor.
From Alexandria, he advanced to Syria and from there to Pontus, driven by the news that Pharnaces II, the son of Mithridates the Great, had taken advantage of the situation to achieve numerous military successes. But within five days of arriving, and four hours after sighting Pharnaces’ army, Caesar crushed him in battle (at Zela in 47BC) afterwards frequently remarking that Pompey had been fortunate in achieving fame by victory over such poor opponents.
Finally he overpowered Scipio and Juba I in North Africa (at Thapsus in 46BC) where the remnants of Pompey’s followers were gathering, followed by victory over Pompey’s two sons in Spain (at Munda in 45BC).
Book One: XXXVI Victory despite Set-backs
Caesar never actually suffered a defeat throughout the Civil War, but among his generals Gaius Curio was killed fighting in Africa; Gaius Antonius was captured by the enemy off Illyricum while Publius Cornelius Dolabella lost a fleet there; and Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus lost his army, in Pontus. He himself was invariably successful, and only on two occasions was the issue ever in doubt: at Dyrrachium where Pompey forced him to retreat, such that he said of Pompey’s failure to press home his advantage that ‘he did not know how to conquer’; and again in Spain, in the final battle (at Munda), when all seemed lost, and he even contemplated suicide.
Book One: XXXVII His Triumphs
After defeating Scipio (at Thapsus in 46BC), Caesar celebrated four triumphs in a single month, at intervals of a few days, and a fifth after defeating Pompey’s sons (at Munda in 45BC). The first, the most magnificent, was the Gallic, followed by the Alexandrian, the Pontic, the African, and finally the Spanish, each differing from the next in the display of arms and spoils.
Riding through the Velabrum, on the day of his Gallic triumph, he was nearly thrown from his ceremonial chariot which broke its axle, but he later ascended the Capitol between two lines of elephants to right and left, acting as torchbearers. At his Pontic triumph, among the processional wagons, he displayed one with a simple three word inscription, VENI:VIDI:VICI, ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’, thereby celebrating not scenes from the campaign as the other wagons did, but the speed with which it was executed.
Book One: XXXVIII His Gifts to the Soldiers and People
Caesar gave every infantryman of his veteran legions 240 gold pieces as bounty, over and above the 20 paid to them at the start of hostilities. He also granted them land, though to avoid evicting existing owners these farms were scattered about the country.
Every member of the commons received not only ten pecks of grain and a ten pound jar of oil, but also the three gold pieces he had promised at first, as well as another gold piece because of the delay in payment. He also remitted a year’s rent to tenants in Rome paying 20 gold pieces rent or less, and to those in the rest of Italy paying up to 5 gold pieces.
He added to all this a public banquet, and a distribution of meat, as well as two mass luncheons to celebrate his Spanish victory: two, because he judged that the liberality of the first failed to do his generosity credit, and so it was followed five days later by another more lavish one.
Book One: XXXIX His Public Entertainments
He mounted a whole series of diverse public shows, including a gladiatorial contest, stage-plays in every ward in Rome performed in several languages, races in the Circus, athletic competitions, and even a mock naval battle.
At the gladiatorial event in the Forum, a praetorian, Furius Leptinus, fought it out with Quintus Calpenus, a barrister and former senator. The sons of Asian and Bithynian leaders danced a Pyrrhic sword dance.
One of the plays was a farce written and acted by a Roman knight, Decimus Laberius. After his performance on stage he received five thousand gold pieces then his Equestrian’s gold ring was returned to him (as he had forfeited his rank by appearing on stage) so that he could walk from stage to orchestra and take his place among the fourteen rows above reserved for the Order.
The Circus Maximus was extended at either end for the races, and a wide ditch dug all round. Young noblemen raced two and four-horse chariots, or pairs of horses, leaping from back to back. The Troy-game, a mock battle supposedly introduced by Aeneas, was performed by two troops, one of younger, one of older boys. And wild-beast combats were presented five days running, ending in a battle between two armies, each with five hundred infantry, thirty cavalry, and twenty elephants. The barrier and end-posts were removed to allow for this, so that the two camps could be pitched facing each other.
There were three days of athletics, held in a temporary purpose-built stadium on the Campus Martius.
To mount the naval battle, a lake was dug in the Lesser Codeta. It was fought between vessels with two, three, and four-banks of oars, allocated from the Tyrian and Egyptian fleets, and heavily manned with warriors.
The throng of spectators, drawn from every quarter of the city, was so vast that many visitors had to sleep in tents pitched in the streets and thoroughfares, while the crush of people was such that many died, including two senators.
Book One: XL His Reform of the Calendar
Turning next to public affairs and the ordering of the state, Caesar reformed the calendar, which the College of Priests had allowed through their negligence to fall into disorder, adding days or months as it suited them, such that the festivals for the corn harvest and the grape vintage no longer fell in summer and autumn respectively.
He regulated the calendar year by the sun’s course, increasing it from 355 to 365 days and abolishing thereafter the intercalary month that followed February, while adding a leap day every fourth year. Then, to align the next New Year’s Day to the seasons correctly, he inserted two months between November and December, for that year (of 46BC) only, so that including the intercalary month, in the old style, it comprised fifteen months.
Book One: XLI His Reform of the Administration and Electoral System
To fill the Senate vacancies he enrolled new patricians, and increased the quota of praetors, aediles quaestors, and minor officials, reinstating those down-graded by the censors or convicted of corruption by a jury. He arranged the elections with the commons on the following basis: that apart from the consuls, half the magistrates should be chosen by the people, while the other half were his personal nominees. He announced his choices in memos to the tribes of voters, in the following manner: ‘Caesar the Dictator, to such and such a tribe. I recommend so and so to you, to receive your vote.’ And he even admitted to office the sons of men who had been proscribed.
He also restricted jury-service to two orders, the equestrian and the senatorial, disqualifying the treasury tribunes from serving.
Caesar altered the method and location of registering the grain entitlement. Assisted by the city landlords the list was completed street by street, and the number of those entitled to a free allocation of grain was reduced from 320,000 to 150,000. To obviate the need for this exercise in future he allowed the praetors to update their register when anyone died with the name of someone not yet on the list.
Book One: XLII Other Reforms
Since the city population had been depleted by the allocation of 80,000 citizens to overseas colonies, no citizen between the ages of twenty and forty, unless he was restricted by army service, could now absent himself from Italy, legally, for more than three successive years. And no Senator’s son could travel abroad except as a member of a magistrate’s household or staff. And at least a third of the cattlemen employed by graziers must be free-born. Caesar also conferred citizenship on all medical practitioners and teachers of liberal arts in Rome, as an inducement to them to continue in residence there, and to others to do the same.
He disappointed those agitators who sought the cancellation of outstanding debts, but did decree that creditors had to accept a valuation of their debtors’ assets at pre-war prices, while deducting from the principal any interest already paid in cash or committed by way of bank guarantees, which had the effect of reducing the debt by about a quarter.
Caesar dissolved all the guilds except the ancient ones. He increased the penalties for crime, and since the rich committed offences with less compunction because they suffered exile but no loss of property, he punished the murderers of freemen by seizing the whole of their property, as Cicero records, and others by a loss of half their property.
Book One: XLIII His Administration of Justice
He administered justice extremely strictly and conscientiously, dismissing senators convicted of extortion from the order. He even annulled the marriage of an ex-praetor whose wife wed him the day after her previous divorce, despite there being no suspicion of adultery.
He imposed import duties on foreign wares. He forbade the use of litters, and the wearing of scarlet robes and pearls except on set days by those of a suitable age and status. And he specifically enforced the law against luxury, by posting inspectors in various parts of the market, to seize and impound delicacies on sale in violation of the law, occasionally sending guards and lictors into dining-areas to remove any dishes served which had escaped their net.
Book One: XLIV His Civil Projects
For the embellishment and efficiency of the city and the defence and extension of the Empire, Caesar daily increased the size and number of his projects; most importantly, erecting a Temple of Mars, larger than any previous one, while filling in and levelling the lake where the mock naval battle took place, and building a vast theatre, sloping down from the Tarpeian Rock; confining the Civil Code to defined limits, extracting the most essential and effective statutes from the vast and wordy tangle, and reducing them to the least number of volumes; providing public access to the finest libraries of Greek and Latin works, and assigning Marcus Varro the task of collecting and classifying them; draining the Pontine marshes and releasing the waters of Lake Fucinus; laying a highway from the Adriatic over the heights of the Apennines to the Tiber; cutting a canal through the Isthmus of Corinth; pushing back the Dacian advances into Pontus and Thrace; and attacking the Parthians via Lesser Armenia, but without risking battle until he had gauged their qualities.
Death cut short all such plans and enterprises. But before I speak of that, it would not go amiss if I described briefly his appearance, dress, habits and character, as well as his conduct in peace and war.
Book One: XLV His Appearance and Dress
Caesar is said to have been tall, with a fair complexion, well-formed limbs, dark eyes and a broad face. His health was sound, apart from the sudden losses of consciousness and nightmares that affected him in his latter days. Twice on campaign he was subject to an epileptic seizure. He was meticulous over the care of his person, always neatly trimmed and shaved, and even some say having other superfluous hair removed from his body. His baldness was an embarrassment that annoyed him greatly, offering a perfect subject for his enemies’ gibes. As a result he used to comb the sparse hair forward from the crown of his head, and of all the honours voted him by Senate and People, the one that pleased him most, and the one of which he took most advantage, was the privilege of wearing a laurel wreath at all times.
He was also noted they say, for his manner of dress; his senatorial tunic, with its broad purple stripes, owning fringed sleeves to the wrist. And he wore it too with a loose belt, which prompted Sulla’s warning to the aristocrats, to watch out for the ill-constrained boy.
Book One: XLVI His Residences
He occupied at first a modest house in the Subura quarter, but later as High Priest took over the official residence on the Sacred Way. Many writers say he enjoyed luxury and elegance; that having spent a fortune building a country mansion at Nemi, from the foundations up, he had it razed to the ground because it was lacking in various ways, though he was poor at the time and deep in debt; and that on campaign he took with him tessellated and mosaic flooring.
Book One: XLVII His Acquisitiveness
They say also that the hope of acquiring pearls led to his invasion of Britain, and that he would weigh them in his palm to value them; that he was an avid collector of gems, carvings, statues and old frescoes; and that he paid such high prices for exceptionally presentable and able slaves that he was ashamed to allow the amounts to be entered in the accounts.
Book One: XLVIII His Household Management
Also, I find that, when based in the provinces he used to have dinner served in separate rooms, one for his Greek and Roman officers, the other for the use of Roman citizens and the more important provincial notables. He was so severe and punctilious in his household management, in small matters as well as great, that he clapped his baker in irons on one occasion for serving himself and his guests with bread of differing quality; and he had a favourite freedman executed for committing adultery with the wife of a Roman knight, even though no complaint had been made against the man.
Book One: XLIX His Relationship with King Nicomedes
His reputation was only tarnished by accusations of homosexuality in the case of his intimacy with King Nicomedes, though that was a grave and perennial source of reproach, and exposed him to widespread invective, not least Licinius Calvus’ notorious lines:
And Caesar’s sodomite possessed.’
Then too there are Dolabella’s and Curio the Elder’s indictments of him, Dolabella calling him ‘the queen’s rival, and intimate partner of the royal couch’, while Curio speaks of ‘Nicomedes’ brothel and Bithynia’s bordello.’ There is Bibulus, too, Caesar’s colleague in the consulship, who described him in an edict as ‘the Queen of Bithynia…who having loved a king would now be one.’
Marcus Brutus claimed that around the same time, in a crowded assembly, Octavius, a mentally-disturbed individual with too free a tongue, greeted Pompey as ‘king’ and Caesar as ‘queen’, while Gaius Memmius charged Caesar directly with acting as Nicomedes’ cup-bearer at a banquet with his wanton friends, adding that Roman merchants whom he names were among the guests.
Cicero was not content merely with writing, in several letters, that Caesar was led by the king’s attendants to the royal suite, where, dressed in purple, he lay down on a gilded couch, and that this scion of Venus lost his virginity in Bithynia; but also in the Senate called out, during a speech of Caesar’s in defence of Nicomedes’ daughter Nysa in which Caesar was listing his obligations to the king: ‘No more of that, if you please! Everyone knows what he gave you, and you in turn gave him!’
And lastly, his own soldiers, singing the usual ribald songs as they followed his chariot at his Gallic triumph, shouted out these notorious lines:
‘By Caesar, Gaul was conquered, Caesar by Nicomedes:
See our Caesar triumph now, that brought Gaul to its knees,
Though he conquered Caesar, no triumph for Nicomedes.’
Book One: L His Affairs with Roman Women
The general opinion is that he was prone to extravagant affairs, and that he seduced many illustrious women, including Servius Sulpicius’ wife Postumia, Aulus Gabinius’ wife Lollia, Marcus Crassus’ wife Tertulla, and even Pompey’s wife, Mucia. Certainly, Pompey was reproached by, among others, Curio the Elder and Curio the Younger, for betraying his lust for power, by divorcing Mucia, mother of his three children, to marry the daughter of a man whom he had often despairingly called an ‘Aegisthus’.
It was Marcus Brutus’ mother Servilia whom Caesar loved most deeply. In his first consulship he bought her a pearl worth sixty thousand gold pieces, and during the Civil War as well as making her other gifts, he publicly auctioned off great estates to her at knock-down prices. When surprise was expressed at the low values, Cicero showed a neat turn of wit, since it was thought that Servilia was prostituting her daughter Tertia to Caesar: ‘Ah,’ he said,’ it’s a better deal than you think, a third (tertia) has already been handed over.’
Book One: LI His Reputation Elsewhere
The evidence that he indulged in affairs in the provinces too, is another ribald verse sung by the soldiers at his Gallic triumph:
‘Romans, lock your wives away: the bald seducer’s in the rear,
You’ve squandered on his Gallic vice the gold you lent him here.’
Book One: LII His Royal Love Affairs
But the greatest of these was Cleopatra, with whom he often feasted till dawn. They would have sailed through Egypt in her state barge almost to the borders of Ethiopia if his soldiers had not balked at the prospect. He eventually summoned her to Rome and allowed her to leave only after bestowing high honours and rich presents on her. He also permitted her to name the son she had borne him Caesarion, after himself, a child whom the Greek writers say was very like him in bearing and appearance. Mark Antony told the Senate that Caesar had acknowledged his paternity and that Caesar’s friends, including Gaius Matius and Gaius Oppius, knew of this. Gaius Oppius however, seemingly admitting that the assertion needed to be challenged and Caesar’s reputation defended, published a book to prove that the child Cleopatra claimed as Caesar’s was in fact not his at all.
Helvius Cinna, tribune of the people, said he had drawn up a bill for the commons to pass while Caesar was absent from Rome, that legitimized Caesar marrying whichever woman he wished and as many as he wished ‘for the purpose of producing legal heirs.’ And to eliminate all doubt as to his vile reputation for unashamed vice and adultery, I may simply add that Curio the Elder referred to him in a speech as: ‘Every man’s woman and every woman’s man.’
Book One: LIII His Food And Drink
Not even his enemies denied that he drank little wine. Marcus Cato’s comment survives: ‘Caesar was the only sober man who ever set out to overturn the state.’ Gauius Oppius says that he was so indifferent to food, that when as a guest rancid oil was served instead of fresh, and the other guests refused it, Caesar helped himself more freely than usual, so as not to imply his host had been careless or lacking in manners.
Book One: LIV His Cupidity
His integrity in financial matters was less than scrupulous, both in the Provinces and at Rome. Various memoirs record that as Governor of Spain he not only begged money from his allies to help pay off his debts, but also that he invested and sacked several Lusitanian towns, even though the citizens had accepted his terms and opened the gates to receive him.
He robbed temples and shrines in Gaul of their votive offerings, and sacked towns more for their wealth than any offence they might have caused. As a result he collected a pile of gold, and sold it in Italy and the provinces, at a cut-price rate of three thousand sestertii a pound.
During his first consulship, he stole three thousand pounds of gold from the Capitol, and replaced it with an equal weight of gilded bronze. And he bartered treaties and thrones, extracting one and a half million gold pieces from Ptolemy XII for himself and Pompey, while later meeting the heavy costs of the Civil wars, his triumphs, and entertainments, by blatant sacrilege and plunder.
Book One: LV His Oratory
As an orator and general he equalled or surpassed the greatest known. His prosecution of Dolabella set him in the first rank of advocates. Indeed Cicero, discussing oratory in Brutus, says that he knows none to whom Caesar should give place, describing his style as brilliant, elegant, great and noble even. And in a letter to Cornelius Nepos he writes: ‘Well, what specialist in the art of oratory would you rank higher? Who is wittier or displays wit more often? Who is more varied or more tasteful in his choice of words?’
In his youth, Caesar seems to have imitated Caesar Strabo’s style, actually lifting some passages from his On Behalf of the Sardinians, to use in a speech of his own, when competing with other advocates for the right to plead a cause. He is said to have delivered his oratory in a high-pitched voice, with impassioned movements and gestures not lacking in grace.
Several of his speeches survive, with others which are claimed as his but on inadequate evidence. Augustus had reason for thinking that the speech On Behalf Of Quintus Metellus was not published by Caesar, but in transcripts made by shorthand writers who could not keep pace with his delivery. I find that the title in some copies is Composed On Behalf Of Metellus, though it purports to be the speech given by Caesar, in defending Metellus and himself against charges raised by their joint accusers.
Augustus also doubted the authenticity of the address To His Soldiers in Spain, each of its two sections purporting to have been delivered prior to their respective battles, even though Asinius Pollio says the speed of the enemy attack on the second occasion left no time for a speech.
Book One: LVI His Writings
He left personal memoirs of his actions both in the Gallic War and in the Civil War against Pompey. But the authorship of those concerning the Alexandrian, African and Spanish campaigns is unknown. Some say that Oppius wrote them, others Hirtius who did provide the last book of The Gallic War which Caesar left unfinished. Regarding Caesar’s memoirs, Cicero, again in Brutus, speaks as follows: ‘The memoirs he wrote deserve the highest praise; they are bare, direct and full of charm, stripped of all rhetorical flourishes; and content himself to supply the facts for historians to draw on, he has chanced to attract fools also, who would seek to elaborate on them, while deterring men of sense from adding a word.’
Hirtius states, clearly, of these same memoirs: ‘Everyone rates them so highly, that Caesar seems to have denied, rather than granted, other writers an opportunity. Yet our admiration as friends is greater than others, for while they only know how faultlessly well he wrote them, we also know how swiftly and easily they were created.’ Asinius Pollio however thinks they were composed with scant care and little regard for accuracy, since he was often too ready to believe others’ accounts of their actions, and misreported his own, either by design or through forgetfulness, and that he intended to edit and correct them.
Besides two volumes of an essay On Analogy, he left two more of Replies to Cato and also a poem called The Journey. The first he wrote while crossing the Alps, on his way back to the army after holding assizes in Cisalpine Gaul; the second dates from his victory at Munda; while he composed the poem during a twenty-four day journey from Rome to Further Spain.
Various letters he sent the Senate are extant, and he seems the first to have reduced such reports to pages, with neat columns, in book-form, rather than scribbling them across single sheets as generals and consuls had previously done.
There are letters to Cicero too, and private letters to friends, the confidential passages written in code, using a rotational substitution cipher to disguise the meaning. Decipherment involves substituting a letter with the one three letters further on in the alphabet, thus D for A, and so on.
Certain writings, claimed to be from his boyhood or early youth, such as In Praise of Hercules, The Tragedy of Oedipus, and A Collection of Sayings, were mentioned in a brief and frank instruction from Augustus to Pompeius Macer, who was charged with setting his libraries in order, forbidding him from circulating these minor works.
Book One: LVII His Physical Skills and Powers of Endurance
Caesar was an expert soldier and horseman, possessed of incredible stamina. On campaign he led the army, sometimes on foot but more often in the saddle, bareheaded in sun and rain. He travelled long distances incredibly swiftly, taking little luggage, and using a hired gig, covering a hundred miles a day. He swam un-fordable rivers or crossed on inflated skins, and often arrived at his destination before the messengers sent ahead to announce him.
Book One: LVIII His Sound Judgement on Campaign
It is debatable which was more notable, his caution or his daring on campaign. On the one hand he never exposed his army to ambush, carefully reconnoitring the terrain ahead, refusing to make the crossing to Britain until he had enquired into its harbours, the best courses to set, and the likely hazards when approaching the island. Yet on the other hand, hearing the news that his camp in Germany was under siege, he disguised himself as a Gaul to cross the enemy picket lines. He crossed from Brundisium to Dyrrachium in winter too, running the blockade mounted by Pompey’s fleet. And one night, when reinforcements failed to arrive, despite repeated prompting, Caesar muffled his head in a cloak and secretly and incognito, boarded a small boat and forced the helmsman to steer into the teeth of a gale, until the boat was all but wrecked.
Book One: LIX His Lack of Superstition
Religious superstition never deterred him for a moment. Though the victim escaped from the formal sacrifice, he still continued his attack on Scipio and Juba. When he slipped and fell as he disembarked on the African coast, he treated it as a favourable omen, by clasping the earth and crying out: ‘Africa, I hold you fast!’ And in mockery of the former prophecy that Scipios were destined to be eternally fortunate and victorious in the province, he kept beside him in camp a contemptible fellow from the Cornelian branch of that family, who had been nicknamed Salvito (Hail-fellow-well-met!) in reproach for his way of life.
Book One: LX His Battle Tactics
Sometimes he attacked after careful advance planning, at other times seizing the opportunity to fight, frequently after a swift march, and in adverse weather, when a move was least expected. Later he became more cautious about engaging convinced that he should take less chances after his run of victories, thinking that one defeat might easily outweigh his many successes.
He never broke his enemies without routing them, so as to grant them no respite. And when the issue was in doubt, he would have the horses sent back, his own among the first, to encourage the men to stand their ground, by removing that means of escape.
Book One: LXI His Horse
This war-horse of his was remarkable, with feet that looked almost human, its hooves cloven to resemble toes. The horse was foaled on his private estate, and since the soothsayers had prophesied that its master would rule the world, he had it reared most carefully, and was the first to break it in, so that afterwards it would tolerate no other rider. Later, he even dedicated a statue of it, in front of the temple of Venus Genetrix.
Book One: LXII His Rallying of the Troops
If his soldiers gave ground, Caesar often rallied them in person, placing himself in front of the fleeing men, laying hold of them individually, even catching them by the throat, and forcing them to turn and face the enemy; once when they were so panic-stricken that a standard-bearer thrust the point at the butt end of the Eagle’s pole at him, as he tried to halt his flight, and again when another left the standard behind in Caesar’s hand as he tried to restrain him.
Book One: LXIII His Self-Possession after Pharsalus
His self-possession and determination was no less renowned; indeed the examples of it are striking. When he had sent his army ahead into Asia Minor, after Pharsalus, and was crossing the Hellespont in a small ferry-boat, he encountered ten beaked warships commanded by his enemy Lucius Cassius. Making no attempt to escape Caesar had himself rowed towards the flagship, and urged Cassius to surrender. Cassius sought clemency, and was taken on board Caesar’s boat.
Book One: LXIV His Self-Possession at Alexandria
Assaulting a bridge at Alexandria, he was forced to take to a small boat to escape an enemy sortie. So many men followed that he dived into the sea, and swam two hundred yards to the nearest ship, holding his left arm above the waves so as not to wet the documents he had with him, and towing his purple cloak after him, gripped in his teeth, to prevent its capture by the Egyptians.
Book One: LXV His Handling of the Troops
He judged his soldiers by their effectiveness, not by their morals or personal circumstances, and treated them with equal severity, or indulgence, since he did not, in general, restrict their freedom, only insisting on strict discipline in the presence of the enemy. At those times he kept them on the alert, ready to deploy at any time, and never forewarning them of the planned hour for marching or fighting. He often roused them without reason, particularly on holidays or when it rained. Every now and then he would order them to keep a close eye on him, and then would steal away from camp at a moment’s notice, day or night, and march further than usual, wearying the stragglers.
Book One: LXVI His Exhortations to the Army
If the troops were alarmed by reports of the enemy’s strength, Caesar would raise their courage, not by denying rumours or discounting them, but by exaggerating them further. For example, when they were in terror of King Juba’s advance, he gathered them together and announced: ‘I can tell you that the king will be here in a few days time, with ten legions, thirty thousand cavalry, a hundred thousand lightly-armed troops, and three hundred elephants. So you can stop asking and guessing, and listen to the one who knows all the facts. Anyone who won’t I’ll pack into some clapped-out hulk and ship them wherever the winds may blow them.’
Book One: LXVII His Indulgence
He took no notice of much of their misbehaviour, and seldom punished them by rote, but he kept an eye open for deserters and mutineers and punished them severely, turning a blind eye to the rest. Sometimes, after a heavy conflict resulting in victory, he relieved the troops of military duty and gave them licence to indulge themselves indiscriminately, boasting that his men fought just as well when they stank of perfume. Gathered together, he addressed them not as ‘soldiers, but more flatteringly as ‘comrades’, and kept them well-equipped, giving them arms inlaid with silver and gold, to make a show but also to make the men keep a tight hold of them in battle, for fear of losing what was precious to them.
Such was his love for them, that when he heard of Titurius’ disaster, he refused to have his hair or beard trimmed, not cutting them despite their length until he had exacted vengeance.
Book One: LXVIII His Troops Loyalty and Courage
By these means Caesar ensured the army’s entire devotion to him, as well as its supreme courage. At the outbreak of civil war, every centurion in a legion vowed to equip a cavalryman from his savings, and the privates all offered to serve without pay or rations, the wealthy ones providing for those who were less well off. Not one deserted throughout the long struggle, and on being taken prisoner many of them preferred death to taking up arms against him. They faced starvation and every other hardship with such fortitude, whether besieging or under siege, that when Pompey at Dyrrachium was shown the bread, found in the siege-works, made from wild plants, that Caesar’s troops were eating, he cried out that he was fighting with wild beasts; and he gave orders for it to be hidden swiftly so that none of his men saw it, for fear that this evidence of the enemy’s powers of endurance and resolve would break their spirits.
The fighting courage of Caesar’s army is witnessed by the fact that defeated, this once, at Dyrrachium, they demanded to be punished, and he felt called upon to console them rather than discipline them. Elsewhere, they easily overcame the enemy hosts, even when outnumbered. A single cohort of the Sixth legion, held a redoubt against four of Pompey’s legions for several hours, though almost all were wounded by the hail of arrows fired at them, a hundred and thirty thousand barbs being collected inside the ramparts.
It is less amazing, when the actions of individual soldiers are considered, for example among others those of the centurion Cassius Scaeva, or Gaius Acilius a mere private. Cassius Scaeva, blinded in one eye, wounded in shoulder and thigh, his shield pierced in a hundred and twenty places, still defended his post at the entrance to a redoubt. While, in the naval battle off Massilia, Gaius Acilius, grabbed hold of the stern of an enemy ship, and still boarded it even though his right hand was lopped off, driving the enemy back, with his shield-boss, in a manner to rival the Athenian hero Cynegirus, pursuing the Persians after Marathon.
Book One: LXIX His Reaction to Mutiny at Placentia
During the Gallic War, Caesar’s troops never once mutinied, though there were sporadic incidents during the Civil Wars, where they soon resumed their duties, due to the exercise of his authority rather than to any concessions made, since he always faced them boldly and granted nothing to their insubordination. At Placentia, though Pompey’s army was still unbeaten, he discharged the entire Ninth legion, with ignominy, and only reinstated it, unwillingly, after accepting their abject pleas, and punishing the ringleaders.
Book One: LXX His Handling of the Tenth Legion at Rome
And in Rome, where the Tenth legion called, threateningly, for their discharge and bounty, and posed a serious risk to the city, even though the African War was still raging, Caesar, ignoring the advice of his friends, was prepared to confront them, and dismiss them; but he easily won them over and mollified them with a single word, calling them ‘citizens’ rather than ‘soldiers’. They refuted it, shouting back that they were ‘soldiers’, and though he refused them, demanding to follow him to Africa. There too he fined the most insubordinate of them, by withholding a third of both their bounty and the land set aside for them.
Book One: LXXI His Devotion to his Dependents
Even as a young man, he showed himself devoted and loyal to his dependents. In Africa, he defended Masintha, a nobleman’s son, from King Hiempsal II so spiritedly that during the quarrel he grasped Juba, the king’s son, by the beard. On Masintha being declared the king’s vassal, Caesar rescued him from the guards sent to arrest him, and hid him in his own quarters for a while. Embarking for Spain after his praetorship, he spirited the youth away in his own litter, unnoticed by the crowd who had come to see him off, or the lictors bearing their rods of office.
Book One: LXXII His Kindness to his Friends
He invariably treated his friends with kindness and indulgence. So much so that when Gaius Oppius was travelling with him through a forest, and was taken ill, Caesar relinquished the only available shelter to him, while he slept on the ground outside.
On achieving power, he promoted his friends to the highest office, however humble their birth, and replied brusquely to criticism of his actions by declaring that he would have done the same for anyone who had helped defend his honour, be they cut-throats and brigands.
Book One: LXXIII His Reconciliation with Ex-Opponents
Equally he was never so bitter in his enmities that he was not happy to set them aside when the opportunity arose. Though Gaius Memmius made highly barbed speeches against him, to which he replied no less sharply, he still supported Memmius later in his bid for the consulship.
When Gaus Licinius Calvus sought reconciliation, through friends, after publishing scurrilous epigrams about him, Caesar took the initiative in writing to him regardless.
And when Valerius Catullus who had, as Caesar was first to admit, inflicted lasting damage to his reputation with his libellous verses about Mamurra, apologised for the slur, Caesar invited Catullus to dinner that very day, and there was no lapse in his friendship with the poet’s father.
Book One: LXXIV His Clemency
Even in exacting vengeance, he was by nature merciful. He had sworn to crucify the pirates who once held him to ransom, but when he captured them he ordered their throats to be cut first to grant them a quick death.
He could never find it in himself to punish Cornelius Phagites, even though, when ill and hiding from Sulla’s spies, the man had pursued him night after night, and only by bribing him did Caesar escape being detained.
Discovering that Philemon, the slave who was his amanuensis, had contracted with his enemies to poison him, he had him executed, but without condemning him to prior torture.
When he was called as a witness against Publius Clodius, who was accused of adultery with Caesar’s wife, Pompeia, in sacrilegious circumstances, Caesar refused to submit evidence against him, though Caesar’s mother, Aurelia, and his sister, Julia, had both given the jury a detailed account of the whole business; and when being asked why, in that case, he had divorced Pompeia, he answered: ‘Because I consider my family should be above suspicion and beyond accusation.’
Book One: LXXV His Acts of Mercy in Warfare
During the Civil War, he showed truly admirable restraint and clemency throughout, and at the hour of victory. Whereas Pompey declared that those who would not fight for the government were enemies, Caesar treated those who remained neutral and independent of party as friends. All those whom he had confirmed as centurions on Pompey’s recommendation he allowed to fight for his rival. At Ilerda, in Spain, when the conditions of surrender were being negotiated, and the two armies were fraternizing, Afranius and Petreius, in a sudden change of intent, executed every one of Caesar’s soldiers who had wandered into their camp. Nevertheless, Caesar resisted retaliating in kind.
At Pharsalus, he shouted: ‘Spare your fellow-Romans!’, and after the battle allowed each of his men to grant the life of a combatant of the opposing party whom they chose. It seems that no Pompeians were deliberately killed during the Civil War except during the fighting, other than Afranius, Faustus Cornelius Sulla, and the young Lucius Caesar, and that even those killings were against his wishes, despite the two former having fought again after being pardoned, while Lucius had not only burned the dictator’s slaves and freedmen to death or put them to the sword, but had even butchered the wild beasts intended for the arena.
Later in his career, he allowed the exiles he had not yet pardoned to return to Italy, where they were permitted to become magistrates and occupy positions of command in the army. He even went so far as to reinstate those statues of Sulla, the dictator, and Pompey which had been smashed by the people. If any hostile plots were subsequently in danger of coming to fruition, or any slanders were ever uttered against him, he chose to suppress them rather than punish them. So, he ignored conspiratorial meetings and midnight assemblies, merely letting it be known that he was aware of them, while he simply issued a public warning to slanderers and libellers to desist, good-naturedly taking no action against Aulus Caecina for his scurrilous publication or Pitholaus’ for his wicked lampoons.
Book One: LXXVI His Abuse of Power
And yet, others of his words and actions weight the scale against him, such that he was judged to have abused power and deserved assassination. Not only did he accept an excessive list of public honours, such as perpetual consulship, dictatorship for life, and the censorship of morals; the title Imperator before his name and Father of the Country after it; his statue among the ancient kings; and a raised couch in the front row at the theatre; but he should also, as a mere mortal, have refused others which were more than excessive, such as his golden throne in the Senate and the Tribunal; a chariot and litter with his statue in the religious procession round the Circus; temples, altars and statues among those of the gods; a sacred couch; a priest of his own cult; a college of Luperci; and the month of July being named after him. There was not a single honour which he was not pleased to receive, or to grant himself, at will.
His third and fourth consulships were so in name only, since the powers of dictatorship conferred on him at that time were more than sufficient. In both years two new consuls substituted for him during the last quarter, while in the meantime only the elections for tribunes and plebeian aediles were held, prefects instead of praetors being appointed to manage the city during his absences.
When one of the consuls died suddenly on New Year’s Eve, he granted an applicant’s request to assume that office for the remaining few hours. And he flouted law and precedent, in a like manner, by naming magistrates for several years ahead; bestowing consular rank on ten ex-praetors; and admitting foreigners, who had been granted citizenship, to the Senate, including barely-civilised Gauls.
The Mint, and the public finances, he placed in charge of his own slaves. And he sent the son of one of his freedmen, a favourite of his called Rufio, to inspect and take command of three legions still stationed in Alexandria.
Book One: LXXVII His Public Arrogance
His public utterances were no less arrogant, as Titus Ampius records: that the State was a nullity, a mere name without body or form; that Sulla was a dunce for resigning the dictatorship; that his word was law and men should be careful how they addressed him. On one occasion, when a soothsayer reported that the sacrificial entrails were diseased and no heart visible, Caesar was arrogant enough to say: ‘They’ll be propitious when I wish it: a sheep lacking heart’s hardly a portent.’
Book One: LXXVIII The Defining Moment
But in truth what stirred the bitterest hatred against him was this: that he received the delegation of the whole Senate, who brought signed decrees bestowing high honours on him, at the Temple of Venus Genetrix, and did not rise to greet them. According to some, he tried to rise but was prevented from doing so by Cornelius Balbus; while others claim that he made no move, and scowled angrily at Gaius Trebatius for prompting him.
His action seemed the more intolerable because of his own behaviour when he rode past the benches reserved for the tribunes during one of his triumphs, for so incensed was he by Pontius Aquila, a member of the college, who remained seated, that he shouted: ‘Come and reclaim the Republic from me, then, Aquila the tribune!’ and for several days afterwards whenever he confirmed a request, he added: ‘That is, of course, if Pontius Aquila agrees.’
Book One: LXXIX Caesar and the Kingship
He added an even more insolent act to his contemptuous insult to the Senate. On returning to the city from the Alban Hill, where the Latin Festival had been celebrated, and amidst wild and unprecedented popular acclamation, a member of the crowd set a laurel wreath, tied with the white fillet of royalty, on his statue. When two tribunes of the people, Epidius Marullus and Caesetius Flavus, ordered the ribbon to be removed and the man imprisoned, Caesar reprimanded and summarily deposed them, either offended that the suggestion of royalty had been received so unfavourably, or, as he claimed, because the glory of refusing it had been denied him.
However, from that time onwards, he was never free of the suspicion that he aspired to kingship, though when the Commons hailed him as king he answered: ‘I am not king, but Caesar.’ At the Lupercalia, when he spoke from the rostra, Mark Antony, the consul, made several attempts to set a crown on his head, yet he pushed it aside, and finally sent it off to the Capitol as an offering to Jupiter Optimus Maximus.
Moreover, the rumour spread in various quarters that he planned to move to Troy or Alexandria, carrying off the national resources, draining Italy of men by a mass levy, and leaving the city under the command of his friends. At the next meeting of the Senate it was claimed, Lucius Aurelius Cotta would declare a ruling of the Fifteen Custodians of the Sibylline Books, that since the prophecies stated the Parthians would only be overcome by a king, Caesar should be granted that title.
Book One: LXXX The Conspiracy
It was this ruling that led to the plans which the conspirators had formed being hastily brought forward, to prevent assent being granted to such a proposal.
Groups of two or three disparate plotters united in a wide-reaching conspiracy, the people too being displeased by the state of affairs, deploring Caesar’s tyranny both privately and in public, and demanding champions to defend the ancient liberties.
When foreigners were admitted to the Senate, a poster appeared reading: ‘Duly approved: that none shall point out the House to any newly-appointed Senator.’ And the following was sung in the streets:
‘Caesar led the Gauls in triumph, to the Senate, through our town;
Gauls, with no breeches, now sport the broad-striped purple gown.’
While when Quintus Maximus, one of the three-month consuls, entered the theatre, and was announced by his lictor in the usual way, a cry went up: ‘He’s no consul!’ After the two tribunes, Caesetius and Marellus were deposed by Caesar, several votes were still cast for them at the next consular election. Someone wrote: ‘If only you were alive!’ on the pedestal of Lucius Junius Brutus’ statue, and these lines on Caesar’s:
‘Brutus we made consul first, who drove the kings away;
This one drives our consuls out, and plays the king today.’
More than sixty conspirators joined the plot against him, led by Gaius Cassius, Marcus Junius Brutus and Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus. They were undecided at first whether to attack him at the election on the Field of Mars, when he stood on the temporary bridge over which voters went to cast their ballot, some positioned to hurl him from the bridge as he called on the tribes to vote, the others waiting below to finish him off, or whether to assault him on the Sacred Way or at the Theatre entrance. However, when a meeting of the Senate was appointed on the Ides of March in Pompey’s Portico, they swiftly made that time and place their first choice.
Book One: LXXXI Warnings and Portents
Unmistakable portents foretold the approach of Caesar’s assassination. For instance, a few months previously, the veterans sent to colonise Capua under the Julian law, started demolishing some ancient tombs to furnish stone for their farmhouses. They were made all the more eager by discovering a hoard of antique vases in one of the tombs, said to be that of Capys, Capua’s founder, and found a bronze tablet with a Greek inscription which read: ‘If ever Capys’ bones are moved, a son of Troy will be killed by his kin, and then avenged at vast cost to Italy.’ The tale should not be thought a lie or a myth, because Cornelius Balbus attests to it, and he was Caesar’s close friend.
Caesar was told, not long before his death, that the free-ranging herd of horses he had dedicated to the river-god, at his crossing of the Rubicon, stubbornly refused to graze, and were shedding copious tears.
Again, as he offered a sacrifice, Spurinna the augur warned him to beware of danger which threatened him before the Ides of March were past. And on the eve of the Ides a little king-bird with a sprig of laurel in its beak flew into Pompey’s Portico, pursued by a swarm of others from a copse near-by, who tore it to pieces there and then.
Indeed, on the very eve of his assassination, Caesar dreamt that he was soaring beyond the clouds, to clasp the right-hand of Jove, and Calpurnia his wife, dreaming that the pediment of their mansion was falling, while her husband lay stabbed in her arms, awoke when the door of her room suddenly flew open of its own accord.
Due to these portents, and a bout of ill-health, Caesar hesitated for a while over whether to defer what he had planned for the Senate, and remain at home. In the end, Decimus Brutus convinced him not to disappoint the Senate, which was in plenary session and awaiting him. He set out at about ten, and though a note containing details of the plot was handed to him on the way, he merely added it to the bundle of documents in his left hand, intending to read them later.
After several animals had been sacrificed, and despite the lack of favourable omens, he defied the portents and entered the meeting-hall, mocking Spurinna as a false prophet, since the Ides of March had arrived without harm. Spurinna answered him, that indeed they had come, but were not yet gone.
Book One: LXXXII The Assassination
As Caesar sat down, the conspirators gathered round him as if to pay their respects. Tillius Cimber, who had assumed the leading role, came closer as though to make a request. When Caesar made a gesture dismissing his plea to a later time, Cimber grasped his toga by the shoulders, and as Caesar cried out: ‘This is violence!’ one of the Casca brothers stabbed him, as he turned away, just below the throat. Caesar, catching Casca’s arm ran it through with his stylus, and was leaping to his feet when another blow halted him. Seeing that he was surrounded by naked blades, he threw his robe over his face, and released its folds with his left hand to reach his feet, so he might die more decently with both legs covered.
He was stabbed twenty-three times in this manner, and made no sound after the first blow drew a groan from him, though it has been said that when Marcus Brutus attacked him, he reproached him in Greek, saying ‘καί σύ τέκνον: You too, my child!’
All there dispersed, leaving the corpse lying there for some time, until three slave-boys carried him home on a litter, his arm hanging lifelessly by its side. The physician Antistius was of the opinion that despite Caesar’s many wounds, only the second blow in the chest had proved mortal.
It had been the conspirators’ intent to drag the dead man to the Tiber, then seize his property and revoke his decrees, but they were scared off by Mark Antony, the consul, and Lepidus, the master of horse.
Book One: LXXXIII The Will
Caesar’s will, made six months previously at his villa near Lavicum, and entrusted to the Chief Vestal, was opened and read, by request of Lucius Calpurnius Piso, his father-in-law, at Mark Antony’s house.
Quintus Aelius Tubero claimed that, from his first consulship to the start of the Civil War, he had always named Pompey as his heir, and used to read out the clause to the assembled troops. But in his last will, he named instead his sisters’ three grandsons. Gaius Octavius was to receive three quarters of the estate, while Lucius Pinarius and Quintus Pedius shared the rest, and Gaius Octavius, by a final clause, was also adopted into the family and was to take Caesar’s name.
Caesar had appointed several of the assassins-to-be to act as guardians if a legitimate son was born to him, while Decimus Brutus in particular was even named as an heir of the second degree (inheriting if those of the first degree had died or chose to refuse their legacy).
He left to the city his gardens by the Tiber, for public use, with three gold pieces going to every citizen.
Book One: LXXXIV The Funeral
With the announcement of the funeral arrangements, a pyre was built on the Campus Martius, near the tomb of Caesar’s daughter Julia, while a gilded shrine was erected on the Rostra in the Forum, modelled on that of Venus Genetrix. It contained the bier, of ivory, clothed in purple and gold, with a pillar at its head on which hung the robe he had been wearing when he was murdered.
Since a single day was clearly not sufficient for all those who offered gifts to file past the shrine, mourners were told to bring them to the Campus by whatever route they wished regardless of any order of precedence.
At the funeral games, pity and indignation at the murder were aroused by the following line from Pacuvius’ play The Contest for the Arms of Achilles:
‘What: did I save these men that they might murder me?’
and by a similar quotation from Atilius’s Electra.
Instead of the usual eulogy, the consul Mark Antony had a herald recite the Senate decree in which they had voted to grant Caesar all human and divine honours simultaneously, and the oath by which they had all promised to guarantee his personal safety. He then added a few words of his own.
The bier was carried down into the Forum from the Rostra by a group of magistrates and ex-magistrates. While a dispute was taking place as to whether the cremation should take place in the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter, or in Pompey’s Portico, two divine beings suddenly appeared with blazing torches, swords at their sides, each brandishing a pair of javelins, and set the bier alight. The crowd of spectators swiftly heaped dry branches on top, along with the judges’ chairs, the court benches, and whatever else was at hand. The professional mourners and musicians stripped off the robes they had dressed in for the funeral, robes which had been worn at his triumphs, tore them in pieces and flung them into the flames, to which veterans added the arms they had borne, while many noblewomen sacrificed their jewellery together with their children’s gold charms and robes.
At the height of the mourning, crowds of foreigners made their laments according to the customs of their various countries, especially the Jewish community (to whom Caesar was a benefactor), whose members flocked to the Forum for several nights in succession.
Book One: LXXXV The Aftermath of the Funeral
In the immediate aftermath of the funeral, people ran with firebrands to the houses of Brutus and Cassius, from which they were driven back with difficulty. Then they mistook Helvius Cinna for Cornelius Cinna, whom they were seeking and who had delivered a bitter indictment of Caesar the previous day. Killing the man, they set his head on the point of a spear, and paraded with it through the streets.
Later the populace raised a twenty-foot high pillar of solid Numidian marble, in the Forum, with the inscription: ‘To the Father of the Country.’ For years afterward, sacrifices were offered at the foot of this column, vows were made, and disputes settled by the swearing of an oath in Caesar’s name.
Book One: LXXXVI His Anticipation of Death
Caesar left the suspicion, in the minds of various friends that, not wishing to prolong his life due to failing health, he had ignored the portents of death, and the warnings of his associates, and laid himself open to assassination. There are those who claim that trusting in the Senate’s latest decree, and oaths of loyalty, he even dispensed with the Spanish bodyguards who had previously protected him. Others, on the contrary, think that he deliberately exposed himself once and for all to the constant threat of death, rather than live in a perpetual state of anxiety and precaution.
Also he often claimed, they say, that his life was of more value to the his country than to himself, since he was long since sated with power and glory, while if anything happened to him the State would enjoy no peace, but enter on an even more turbulent civil war.
Book One: LXXXVII His Wish for a Swift End
Almost all the authorities agree on this, that he all but sought the death he suffered. Once he read in Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus, of the funeral directions Cyrus had issued during his last illness, and stated his horror of a lingering death of that nature, and his desire for a swift and sudden end. On the very day before his murder, during a dinner conversation at Marcus Lepidus’ house, the topic of which was ‘the most preferable manner of dying’ he had voted for ‘that which was unanticipated and quickly over’.
Book One: LXXXVIII The Comet
He died at the age of fifty-five, and was immediately deified, not merely by formal decree, but in the belief of the people. For, at the first of the games, which Augustus, his heir, had decreed, to honour Caesar’s apotheosis, a comet rose about an hour before sunset, and was visible for several days. This was held to be Caesar’s soul, received in the heavens; which is why the images of him as a god are crowned with a star.
The Senate voted that the assembly hall where he was killed be walled up; that the Ides of March should be called The Day of Parricide; and that no meeting of the Senate should ever be called on that day again.
Book One: LXXXIX The Fate of the Conspirators
Few of his assassins outlived him for more than three years, or died a natural death. All were condemned, and perished in a multitude of ways, some by shipwreck, or in battle; others ending their lives with the self-same weapons with which they had murdered Caesar.
End of Book I