Young Julius Caesar

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Podcast Transcript

Before the Ideas of March, before he crossed the Rubicon, and before he became Rome’s dictator for life, Julius Caesar had led a very interesting existence. 

We know more about his early life than most Romans simply because of his accomplishments later in life, but what he did and experienced clearly shaped the person he became.

As such, they indirectly shaped the fate of the entire Roman Republic.

Learn more about the life of young Julius Caesar and the events that shaped him on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily. 

When preparing for this episode, I couldn’t help but think that this would wind up being like an episode of Young Shelding or Muppet Babies. In fact, it is probably going to be closer to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles because even if Julius Caesar hadn’t had such a monumental impact on history, he still would have led a pretty interesting life. 

The story begins on July 12 in the year 100 BC, or, more appropriately, he was born in the month of Sextillius because the month of July hadn’t been created yet because it was named after him. 

He was born Gaius Julius Caesar into the Julii gens. A gens in Rome was an extended family that might include relatives you barely knew, but all of them shared the same family name and the same ancestors. 

The Julii were an ancient patrician family that claimed descent from Iulus, son of the Trojan prince Aeneas, supposedly the son of the goddess Venus.

Gaius was born into the Caesar branch of the Julii. His father had the same name, Gaius Julius Caesar, and was a member of the Senate and had reached the rank of Praetor. The Julii Caesars had three consuls in their history, which was OK but not nearly as prestigious as other families.

According to Pliny The Elder, the name Caesar came from an ancestry who had been born by caesarian section. The word being derived from the Latin word for “to cut.” However, other theories in other histories have suggested the word Caesar meant “having a full head of hair,” “having bright grey eyes,” or “having killed an elephant.”

Gaius’s mother, Aurelia Cotta, came from a much more distinguished family. Three of her brothers alone became consul. Beyond that, all we know is that she is supposedly very strict. 

Gaius also had two older sisters, Julia Major and Julia Minor. If you remember back to my episode on Roman naming conventions, that is exactly how they named women back in those days.

The tutor who was hired to teach him was a Gaul named Marcus Antonius Gnipho.

Beyond that, we don’t know very much about Caesar’s life before he became a teenager. The biographies written by Suetonius and Plutarch don’t mention anything about this part of his life.

We do know that from the years 91 to 88 BC, Rome fought what became known as the Social Wars with other regions of Italy. Right after the conclusion of the Social Wars, the Mithradatic Wars began with the Kingdom of Pontus, which I also covered in a previous episode.

Perhaps the biggest thing that came out of these conflicts was the rise of two individuals who were at odds with each other: Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Marius was considered to be a populari, a supporter of plebeians and the people,  and Sulla was an optimas, a more traditional Roman with the support of the elite.

Most importantly, with regard to Caesar, Gaius Marius was Caesar’s uncle. He was married to his father’s sister. 

Marius served as consul a record seven times but died in 86 BC, the year after Caesar’s father died unexpectedly while putting on his shoes. That left young Gaius, the head of the family, known as the paterfamilias, at the age of 16. 

At the time, he was engaged to a girl named Cossutia, who came from a wealthy plebeian family. However, the opportunity came up for him to be nominated as the Flamen Dialis, the high priest of the temple Jupiter. However, he couldn’t obtain the position if he was married to a plebeian, so he broke off the engagement. 

He instead married Cornelia, the daughter of Lucius Cornelius Cinna, a four-time consul and ally of Marius.

The civil war between Marius and Sulla was extremely bloody, and Rome had never seen anything like it. After the death of Marius, when Sulla came to power, Caesar, due to his family associations, found himself on the wrong side of the conflict.

Sulla issued proscriptions lists where his enemies on the list were subject to being killed and their property confiscated.

It isn’t known if Caesar actually became the Flamen Dialis or not, but if he was, he was removed from the position when Sulla targeted Caesar.  Caesar had his fortune taken, as well as his wife’s dowry, and was targeted for death. This is largely because he refused to divorce his wife, the daughter of Cinna.

Thankfully for Caesar, his mother’s side of the family was allied with Sulla. They petitioned Sulla to have Caesar removed from the proscription list, and Sulla agreed. However, according to legend, he reportedly said, “I see many Marius in Caesar.”

Here, I should note that when Sulla took his army and marched on Rome, it was unprecedented in Roman history, but it set a precedent. When Caesar later marched on Rome, his argument was, “Sulla did it.”

While Caesar was glad that Sulla pardoned him, he also didn’t want to stick around in case he changed his mind. So, he joined the military and headed east. If we were the Flamen Dialis, he would never have been able to join the military because the Flamen Dialis could not spend a night outside of Rome or touch a horse.

This, again, is a period where we don’t know the details of what happened to him, but we do know a few things. He served in the Roman province of Asia, which today is the western part of Asian Turkey, and in Cilicia, which is on the southeastern coast of Turkey. 

During a siege on the city of Mytilene in Asia in 81 BC, he was awarded the Civic Crown. I previously did an episode on the Civic Crown, but it was the highest honor that could be bestowed to a soldier in Rome. It was the ancient equivalent of the Medal of Honor or the Victoria Cross. 

The award was a crown of oak leaves that were worn on the head. If you have ever seen an emperor wearing a laurel on their head, it was the civic crown that was awarded to every emperor. However, the tradition was started by Julius Caesar, who earned it legitimately. 

He was also sent on a mission to King Nicomedes of Bithynia. He spent several months there, which was later used by his political enemies to insinuate that he had a romantic relationship with the king. 

In 78 BC, when Caesar was 22, Sulla died and he finally felt it was safe to return home. 

He took up a career as a lawyer, where he earned a reputation as a skilled orator and legal advocate. 

In 75 BC, he traveled to the island of Rhodes to learn oratory under Apollonius Molon, the man who taught Cicero, who was considered the greatest orator of the era. 

However, he never made it to Rhodes. 

As he was crossing the Aegean Sea, his ship was captured by pirates, and he was held for ransom. 

This was not uncommon during this period. Piracy was rampant in the Mediterranean Sea, and pirates were able to make quite a bit of money if they captured a partition, such as Caesar. 

Caesar’s behavior during his captivity was…..different. He wasn’t timid, frightened, or subservient. He was just the opposite. He was arrogant. 

He’d write poetry and read prose to the pirates, and if they didn’t appreciate it he’d call them illiterate barbarians. He’d tell them to shut up if they were loud. He participated in games and competitions with them, because the pirates grew to like him and his attitude. 

The ransom they demanded for Caesar was twenty talents of gold. However, Caesar told them to increase it to fifty because he was so important. 

Caesar spent 38 days with the pirates. When his ransom was paid and he was being released, as he was leaving, he told them all that he would return and crucify every single one of them. The pirates had one final laugh with their former captive.

However, Caesar wasn’t joking. After he was released, he assembled a fleet of ships and went after the pirates. He captured them all, and, despite the orders of the governor of Asia, he crucified every last one of them. 

After having earned the Civic crown and having had his vengeance against pirates, he returned to Rome and began his political career, working his way up the Curcus Honoram. 

He began being appointed a Tribune, but his appointment is unknown.

In 69 BC, at the age of 31, he won the election as quaestor and was appointed to serve his term in the province of Hispania under Antistius Vetus. That same year, before he left, he made a big splash by giving the eulogy for his aunt Julia, Marius’s wife. During his speech, he mentioned and brought out pictures of Marius, something which had never been done in public since Sulla rose to power. 

His wife Cornelia also died that year, and he remarried the granddaughter of Sulla, Pompeia. 

While in Hispania, at the age of 32, according to legend, he came across a statue of Alexander the Great, who had died at the age of 32. He wept because Alexander had conquered the known world at his age, and he had accomplished nothing. 

He continued his climb up the Cursus Honorum, being appointed curator of the Apian Way in 66 BC, for which he raised money for reconstruction. In 63 BC, he was elected as aedile. 

63 BC also saw one of the most significant milestones in Caesar’s young life. The position of Pontifex Maximus came up. 

The Pontifex Maximus was the highest priest in all of Rome, and it was an elected position that was for life. 

Caesar was likely to never have an opportunity like this again in his life, so he invested himself and everything he owned in winning the position. 

He managed to win the election, but only by incurring massive debts.

The position of Pontifex Maximus was later held by his grand-nephew Augustus, and afterward, it became part of the bundle of powers that every Roman emperor held. 

In 62 BC, he was elected praetor, the next step before the ultimate position of consul. 

That year, there was a scandal involving his wife. The festival of Bona Dea, or the “good goddess,” was held at the residence of the Pontifex Maximus. The festival was only for women, but a man named Publius Clodius Pulcher, who ran a street gang, entered by dressing as a woman. Supposedly to seduce Caesar’s wife Pompeia.

Even though there was no evidence that anything happened, Caesar used it as an excuse to divorce his wife, saying, “The wife of Caesar must be above suspicion.”

After his praetorship, he was appointed governor of Hispania Ulterior, and while there, still heavily in debt, he formed an alliance with the richest man in Rome, Marcus Licinius Crassus.

Crassus agreed to pay some of Caesar’s debts and guarantee much of the rest. 

While in Hispania, Caesar conquered several tribes on the peninsula and was hailed as an imperator by his troops. This entitled him to a triumph back in Rome. 

In order to receive a triumph, he couldn’t enter the city until the triumph took place. However, he also wanted to run for consul and to do that, he had to appear in person in Rome to announce himself as a candidate. 

Everyone assumed he would take the higher honor of a triumph as he could just run for consul next year, an election he would surely win having had a triumph.

However, Caesar confounded everyone by forgoing his triumph and instead being elected consul. 

He won an election with the help of Crassus and his main rival, Pompey Magnus. Only later was it revealed that the three had been working together in what became known as the First Trimvurate. 

This is the point where the story of Julius Caesar usually starts. He is elected consult, is sent to Gaul where he spends ten years conquering all of it and then returns to Rome starting a civil war that ends the Roman Republic….a story I’ve told across several episodes of this podcast. 

The story of Julius Caesar didn’t start when he was elected to Rome’s highest office. It began years before. His experience with Sulla, his valor in combat, his vengeance against the pirates, and the massive debts he incurred in becoming Pontifex Maximus all were part of what made him who he was and were stepping stones in the fall of the Roman Republic.

The Executive Producer of Everything Everywhere Daily is Charles Daniel. 

The associate producers are Benji Long and Cameron Kieffer. 

Today, I have a couple of reviews/questions that were left over Spotify. 

The first comes from listener SubbZero who writes:

I really enjoy every episode of this podcast and varying topics make way more interesting than the other podcasts that are all basically the same. But I do wish there were some episodes about planes.

Well, Subzero, if you go into the back episodes, you’ll find several about planes. I’ve done episodes on the SR-71 Blackbird, the H-4 Hercules (aka the Spruce Goose), and the 747. I’ve also done episodes on stealth aircraft, the history of the airplane. There will be more in the future, but planes are just one small part of…..everything. 

Another listener whose name is just a very long line of random letters and numbers asks:

Is there a transcript?

I post the actual script for every single episode on my website, There you can read the script for every episode, including this one. 

Remember that if you leave a review or send me a boostagram, you too can have it read on the show.