When you hear the name Julius Caesar a few things may come to mind, whether it be the name of a salad dressing, a man in a toga and laurel crown, or the iconic Roman dictator who was tragically murdered over 2,000 years ago.
But who really is this famous figure? For those of you who have studied ancient Roman history or are total first-timers, this article will tell you the surprising facts and history behind the legendary Julius Caesar so that you leave feeling like a pro!
What You Need to Know About Caesar
It’s a little known fact that Julius isn’t this legendary dictator’s first name, but it’s Gaius
Born in July of the year 100 BC, Julius Caesar would grow up to become one of the most famous and influential leaders of all time. As a prolific writer and a great orator, Caesar’s communication skills helped him to gain the respect, adoration, and support of the Roman people.
Throughout his lifetime, Caesar worked as a lawyer in the Basilica Giulia, held the position of Pontifex Maximus, and even ranked as an Army General, defeating areas that were long believed to be unconquerable such as Britain and Gaul. Furthermore, he was named the governor of Gaul and held various high-profile political positions within the Roman Republic.
During his rise to fame, Caesar became quite powerful and never shied away from showing his disapproval of the Roman Senate. Meanwhile, the conservative leaders of the Senate including his frenemy, Pompey, decided to take action in fear that Caesar may stir up trouble for them.
Thus, they ordered Caesar to disband his armies and return to Rome to face prosecution following his rise to power in Gaul. But, alas, Caesar would not bear to face this punishment as he was stronger and more confident than ever.
After defying the Roman Senate’s orders and winning a few major battles along the way, Caesar returned to Rome to proclaim himself Dictator for Life. Little did he know, he would be brutally assassinated by his so called ‘peers’ just two months later.
This exact moment would alter the course of history forever. The legacy of Julius Caesar very well lives on today as he remains at the forefront of history books and as a prominent icon in pop-culture. Read on to discover ten lesser-known facts about Julius Caesar and find out what makes him so memorable even after all this time!
1. Origins of Caesar’s Name
While most people immediately recognize the name Julius Caesar, few know that his first name was actually Gaius, after both his father and grandfather. Contrary to popular belief, the ‘caesarean section’ birthing procedure was not named after Julius.
In reality, the procedure existed long before the leader was born and was reserved for mothers who often experienced complications or death during childbirth. Thus, historians dismiss the claim that Julius Caesar created the term ‘caesarean section’ due to the fact that Caesar’s mother, Aurelia, lived a long and healthy life after childbirth.
So where did the iconic Caesar name originate? According to the ancient historian Pliny the Elder, the name may have come from one of Julius’s great ancestors who happened to be born by the cesarean procedure. Other interpretations of the name suggests that it roots from latin words for bright grey eyes or a thick head of hair.
Another interesting idea is that the name Caesar stems for the Moorish world for elephant, hinting that one of Julius’s ancient relatives may have once killed an elephant in battle. It is uncertain as to which of these is true, but perhaps Caesar favored the latter as he used the large animal in battle and even had his own coinage printed with the image of elephants!
2. Caesar Had a Love Affair & Son with Cleopatra
Caesar developed a relationship with the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. Talk about a power-couple, am I right?
Julius Caesar was, no doubt, a lady’s man. His first marriage was to Cornelia in 84 BC, followed by Pompeia in 67 BC, but his final wife was the teenage Calpurnia, to whom he was married from 59 BC until his death.
Some historians say that Caesar may have had other mistresses and even male lovers, so it is hard to put an exact number on his relationship count. However the most notorious and perhaps scandalous, was his relationship with the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. This power-couple met after Caesar chased down his enemy, Pompey, to Egypt. There, Caesar and Cleopatra formed a mutually beneficial relationship full of wealth and military power.
Not long after, Cleopatra gave birth to a son named Caesarian, undoubtedly named after the famous and beloved dictator of whom this entire post is about. Following unrest in Alexandria, Cleopatra and Caesarian fled to Rome for protection.
There, Caesar supposedly erected golden statue of the Queen and never denied his paternity of Cesarean. However, it is unknown if their love affair actually continued in the Eternal City.
Since it certainly was’t admirable for Caesar to have a foreign lover, especially when he was already married, Cleopatra and her son fled back to Egypt following his assassination. There, Caesarian would ultimately be killed by Caesar’s great-nephew and heir, Octavian- and to think you thought your family was crazy!
3. Caesar Was the Father of Leap Year
The Julian Calendar was the last calendar used before the one we know today and, you guessed it, it was introduced by none other than Julius Caesar. As we know it, an ordinary year is made up of 365 days. However, the real amount of time it takes for the Earth to go once around the sun is 365.24 days. Hence, adding a leap year was necessary to make up for the time difference that was building up over the years.
Before Caesar, the early Roman method of timekeeping was inaccurate, causing the holidays and seasons to fall a little off-track. Therefore, Caesar consulted with the astronomer Sosigenes in 45 BC in an effort to come up with a solution. Together, they designed the Julian Calendar which consisted of 365 days and a leap year that occurred every four years where an extra 29th day was added at the end of February.
This timekeeping system was so effective that it remained in use for over 1,500 years. However, even the slightest miscalculations add up over time proving the Julian Calendar to be just a little bit off. By how much exactly? Caesar’s year was too long by just eleven minutes and fourteen seconds!
Though it may seem like a tiny inaccuracy, the time had added up over the years when Pope Gregory XIII decided to modify the system in 1582. Thus, he changed the Julian Calendar to make leap years occur every four years, except in years divisible by 100 but not 400. This is the calendar that we know today!
4. Caesar Was the First Roman to Make a Coin in His Image
It may have seemed arrogant, but the loving people of ancient Rome didn’t care!
Julius Caesar was the first Roman politician to have his own portrait minted on coins during his lifetime. Up until 44 BC, no living man or woman had appeared on Roman denarii. Thus, this widely exchanged image served as propaganda for Caesar’s power and influence.
While the adoring public may not have minded, this act was most likely regarded as an unacceptable act of arrogance by the Senate. Back in the day, a Roman denarius, or silver coin, was an ordinary means of payment. However, collectors today are willing to pay thousands of dollars for one of these relics!
So how can you distinguish Julius Caesar’s portrait from any other Roman figure of the time? Well, there are a few telltale signs! For one, portraits of Caesar look more realistic than idealized. This means that you are able to see folds in his neck, along with any wrinkles or imperfections he might have had.
Typically, you can also tell that he is a man of older age, perhaps representing his wisdom. Though you may not be able to see these particular details in such small coins, you can definitely tell it is him by his large and crooked nose evident in the depictions of his side-profile!
5. Caesar Was Adored by the People & Left Them in His Will
The Roman people were in disbelief over the death of their beloved Caesar. Their admiration for their dictator grew even stronger when they found out that he had included them in his will.
It is undoubtedly true that Caesar was a ruler loved by the people. During his dictatorship he made many strides to reduce debt, unemployment, and give the Roman people better lives. To start, Caesar proposed new laws that redistributed lands to the poor and limited the amount of money that one single person could have on them at one time.
Furthermore, Caesar offered jobs to the poor to work in Rome’s overseas colonies and even granted citizenship to foreigners living in the Republic. Caesar also manifested various public work projects to benefit the Roman populus. To start, Caesar constructed a new harbour, canal, Senate house, and the Forum Julium, which you can still walk through today!
Even after his death, Caesar kept on giving! In his will he allocated his villa, gardens, and art gallery be made open to the general public. Not only that, he also left his riches to be divided between the people of Rome, giving a portion of his own money to each citizen.
It is without question that Caesar made an effort to show the Roman people he cared. With the admiration of all of Rome, Julius Caesar was able to climb up in the ranks and become one of the most powerful leaders of all time.
6. Julius Caesar Ignited a Violent Civil War
After raising his legions in Gaul, Caesar had all of the military power he needed to end up victorious in the Civil War that he started himself.
After Caesar’s term as the governor of Gaul had expired, the Roman Senate commanded that Caesar disband his army and return to Rome. In fear that he would be prosecuted for treason and live a shameful life, Caesar decided to rebel against Pompey and keep his pride.
It was this decision that caused Caesar to resist the Senate’s orders and cross the Rubicon river one fateful day in 49 BC. By crossing over Italy’s border without permission, he ignited a violent civil war that would last nearly five years. However, this single move would change the course of Roman history forever.
Marching alongside his powerful and well-trained legions, Caesar chased his enemies down to the bottom of Italy’s boot, then later to Greece. Though Caesar seamingly always had an edge on his enemies, Caesar’s forces were forced to retreat on one instance during the Battle of Pharsalus.
Despite this one-time loss, Pompey ultimately fled Egypt, where he was murdered on command of the Egyption King. After the Civil War ended, Caesar basked in his victories and became more powerful than ever. When he finally returned to Rome, he appointed himself dictator for life in 44 BC, but we all know how that ends, don’t we?
7. The Success of Others Made Caesar Ambitious
After seeing a bust of Alexander the Great, who had accomplished so much at such a young age, Julius Caesar gained the ambition he needed to make his own name known around the world
So just what gave Julius Caesar the drive to accomplish so much? According to two ancient accounts, it has been said that Caesar drew inspiration from Alexander the Great, the legendary king and conqueror of Macedonia. While traveling in Cadiz, now known as modern day Spain, Caesar came across a bust of Alexander the Great and had a shocking realization.
At the time, Caesar was over thirty years old and aging quickly, yet he had accomplished nothing that he thought was worthwhile. Caesar admired how Alexander had achieved so much before his death at just 32 years old, so he decided it was time for him to make a change in his own life. Following this incident, Caesar gained the ambition he needed to do whatever it took to prove himself and his family name. Whether it was this exact realization or something different, for the second half of his life, he made his name known to all.
While ambition may be a positive thing in today’s language, Shakespeare gave off a different idea in his play The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, which opened at the famous Globe Theatre in 1599. In his play, Shakespeare suggests that Caesar’s drive and motivation to be the best caused an unbalance in society. As a result, certain people did what they had to even out the playing field. In other words, ambition was not a good thing for Caesar, but was rather the very thing that got him killed.
8. Over 60 People Were Involved in Caesar’s Assassination
Caesar was stabbed in the back, literally, but the one fatal blow that killed him was struck to his aorta
Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC in curia of the Theatre of Pompey. Here, more than sixty conspirators who had feared that Caesar would overthrow the Senate and become king, participated in the assassination. Caesar was stabbed 23 times but only one wound, to his aorta, was ultimately fatal.
The Senators were quite sly to have so many people involved in the killing, this prevented any individual person from taking the blame. To make the story even more tragic, Brutus, the main conspirator of the assassination, was at one time a close friend to Caesar. This betrayal is a main theme in William Shakespeare’s famous play, where Caesar’s last words translate to “even you, Brutus?” However, Caesar’s actual last words are unknown and widely debated by scholars.
The Roman people loved Caesar. To put it quite simply, the strength of his support made him such a powerful political dictator that the Senate planned a brutal assassination. So how did they explain this to the public? They exclaimed that Caesar was a tyrant and that they believed that the Republic should be ruled by many, not just by one. However, there was no convincing the devastated Roman citizens as most considered those involved in the murder to be traitors.
9. Julius Caesar’s Death Marked the End of the Republic
You can still visit the exact ruins where Julius Caesar was tragically assassinated over 2,000 years ago marking the end of the Roman Republic. However, a lot has changed since then as the same grounds are now home to a cat sanctuary
In the minds of the conspirators, the whole point of Caesar’s assassination was to save the Roman Republic and prevent any one man from taking all of the power. However, things didn’t go the way that they planned. As Caesar’s body lay lifeless in the Theatre of Pompey, his murderers fled. Just a few days later, Caesar’s corpse was carried to the Roman Forum where a massive funeral took place that was attended by grieving Roman citizens still in disbelief over the death of their beloved idol.
There, Marc Antony, Caesar’s friend, gave a speech that enraged a fire in the hearts of the Roman people. This series of events sparked the Liberators’ Civil War in which Marc Antony, Octavian, and the angry Roman people fought versus the conspirators of Caesar’s murder. This war ultimately ended with the rise of Octavian as emperor which signified the end of the Roman Republicand beginning of the new Roman Empire.
So what exactly happened to Caesar’s body? Well, the people of Rome were so devastated at the loss of their beloved dictator that they cremated him right in the Roman Forum. In the same spot many years later, the Temple of the Deified Julius Caesar was built in his honor by his heir, Octavion. Today, you can visit the exact spot of Caesar’s cremation as a mound marks the spot where his ashes were burned over 2,000 years ago. Clearly, Julius Caesar has not been forgotten as the mound is regularly decorated with commemorative flowers and coins.
10. Caesar Was the First Roman to Become Deified
Caesar was the first Roman to become deified following his death. Today, you can visit the site of his cremation and see where the temple erected in his name once stood
Shortly after Caesar’s assassination, a large comet flashed in the sky leading many Romans to beleive it was a symbol of Caesar’s divine ascension into the heavens. In ancient Roman culture, deification was of the highest honors, and it was not given out to just anyone. In fact, Caesar was the first Roman to become deified in history.
So what does it mean to become deified? If a deceased person was believed to be worthy, the Senate would vote to decide if they should be considered divine and ascend to a god-like level. Following Caesar, several other beloved emperors along with some of their family members earned this prestigious and noble title following their deaths.
Before his death, Caesar had designated his nephew, Octavian, as his sole heir. At the ripe age of eighteen, Octavian, later known by the name Augustus, stepped in to fill his uncle’s shoes and he was well-received by the public. It is widely believed to have been a smart play by Octavian in initiating the deification of his deceased uncle.
In doing so, Octavian designated Julius Caesar as a god and, since he was family, he too would be considered great. Either way, having a “god” for an uncle certainly didn’t hurt when his reputation when he became the first Roman Emperor in 27 B.C. It just so happens that Augustus too, became deified following his death.
Walk in the Footsteps of This Timeless Roman Leader
Amazingly enough, it is possible today to trace the steps of where Julius Caesar himself spent his days in Rome. Visit the site of his assasination at Largo di Torre Argentina, see the site of his cremation and even stand in the exact spot where a temple was erected in his name at the Roman Forum! Join one of our expert guides on a tour to see the stories of ancient Rome and the great Julius Caesar come to life for yourself!
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