Studying Warlords – Caesar Part 1

julius Caesar

      “When I see his overly groomed hair and how he scratches it with one finger, it does on the other hand not appear to me that this man could think about something as terrible as wanting to overthrow the Roman constitution.”

–          Cicero


As hinted by from the quote, Gaius Julius Caesar was considered to be vain by his contemporaries. He would often walk around the forum with his hairdo carefully made up, sporting a loosely fitting belt and wearing his tunic in a special way. He was a trendsetter and some young men imitated his style of dressing while others, mostly older senators, perceived him as being cocky.

Early Life of Caesar & Influences

Caesar was convinced of his own superiority over others from an early age because of how he was raised as a patrician in a royal family. His branch of the family believed they were descendents from the goddess Venus. The Roman people – and in particular the young aristocrats such as the patrician class –  were brought up to strive for virtus, in which a large part consisted of NEVER giving up in the face of adversity. To persist even in spite of death or facing defeat.

Win or die, but don’t surrender. Even in aristocratic or political battles. Never give up. Rather recuperate and gather reinforcements to strike again. (“I’ll keep coming at you til I die!” – kind of like Nicky Santoro in the movie Casino.)

Because Caesar was the only boy among his siblings he was expected to become the family’s patriarch eventually. This led his parents to instill a large sense of duty and responsibility into him from an early age, he was told he was to do great things and was expected to further the family’s good name (though his branch of the family was relatively unknown for being an aristocratic family). His father died when he was sixteen making Caesar the family patriarch quite early.

Caesar was shown to be courageous and have a visibly strong integrity from an early age. When he was eighteen he challenged the dictator Sulla (a very powerful warlord that had all of Rome in his hand and was feared by all) by refusing to agree to a divorce from his current wife Cornelia even though Sulla demanded it. This led Sulla to put a bounty on Caesar’s head. Caesar fled Rome and was later caught, but paid his way out with 12000 silver denarius, which was the equivalent of 100 years of salary for an average soldier.

When he was nineteen and in the army he received a civic crown for valiance in combat. This was the Roman equivalent of the Purple Heart. It was as a very rare and honorable award – not something that was common among nineteen year olds.

civic crown

He went on to serve in Bithynia where he stayed at the royal palace and assisted King Nicomedes. Upon coming back to Rome rumors spread that he had been sexually submissive and served as a lover to King Nicomedes. This rumor never stopped and came to follow him for the rest of his life, even during his times as a general, consul, or dictator. He was often angered by this rumor and never admitted to it.

Upon returning to Rome Caesar lived in a poor neighbourhood and began practicing law. He became known as a skilled orator and notably tried to prosecute a lot of famous people in order to gain personal notoriety. Throughout the larger part of his political career he was heavily indebted, notably so to Crassus.

What Was Caesar Like?

Caesar had an unfathomable work ethic and was constantly working. Throughout all of his life he was always set on doing what was required of him to the best of his abilities. His sense of duty and plight to work was commented on by many of his contemporaries. He was capable of dictating letters to multiple servants while riding a horse. Later when he became dictator it was said that his habit of dictating messages and letters to servants while at public shows such as gladiatorial games annoyed many people. That says something about his workload.

What Caesar didn’t have in physical strength he made up for with hard work, discipline, and willpower. He practiced horse riding with his hands behind his back to make it harder and challenge himself. Caesar suffered from occasional fits of epilepsy as well as migraines. He never used it as an excuse or allowed it to stop him though, even during mile-long marches.

Caesar always ate and drank in moderation. He was never seen drunk. He was not a sloth. Though he was known to be a great host of parties and a generous person.

Caesar was an opportunist and believed that his own fortune/luck was unusually large compared to other people. Luck was perceived as something that you either had or did not. He often made reference to his incredible luck and that of being a descendent from Venus. At one point Caesar traveled by ship disguised as a slave from Brundisium back Italy/Rome in order to gather reinforcements. The ship was caught in a storm and the crew decided to turn back, but Caesar then removed his disguise and used his incredible charisma and influence and convinced them to keep sailing despite the bad weather, so that he could reach his destination more quickly. But in the end his luck was not great enough in this occasion and they were forced to turn back.

On another occasion during a tumultuous time in which a coup had been discovered, there was a senate hearing and Cato (Caesar’s nemesis) was giving a speech. Caesar received a letter from a slave. Cato accused Caesar of being in communication with the people responsible for the coup and asked Caesar to read the letter aloud to everyone in the senate. Caesar politely refused. Cato taunted him and asked him again to read the letter aloud, upon which Caesar reluctantly agreed and handed the letter to Cato for him to read. It was a love letter to Caesar from Servilia, Cato’s sister. Cato became visibly angry and threw the letter at Caesar while calling him a drunken fool – which was ironic because Caesar was known to drink in moderation.

When Caesar was in his thirties he saw a statue of Alexander the Great and become visibly depressed because it made him think that he had accomplished very little during his lifetime in, while Alexander had conquered half of the world.

Caesar built his career on the strategy of making friends, doing favors and becoming popular with the people – rather than crushing his opponents. Caesar was willing to accept help from virtually anybody. He is reported as having said: “I’m willing to reward even a bandit or criminal for assisting me.”


When Caesar was 25-26 and on his way to Rhodos to study rhetoric under the tutelage of the same man who had also taught Cicero, his ship was boarded and he was kidnapped by pirates. It has been said that when the pirates debated whether or they could fetch a price of 20 talents of silver for him, he proudly interjected that they’d be able to get 50 for him. Supposedly the pirates had a lot of respect for him during his imprisonment period in their camp and he commanded them to be silent whenever he needed to rest. Finally when his ransom fee was paid he immediately rode to the town which had contributed the largest sum of the ransom fee and even though he had no auctoritas – by personal charisma he was able to rally a sufficient amount of troops and ships which he led to the pirates’ den. The ransom fee and various treasures were recaptured and the pirates were all killed.

Throughout his life Caesar was a renowned ladies’ man and had numerous affairs – usually with the wives of other senators. There’s been a lot of speculation as to why he was so promiscuous. Some historians have claimed that it was either to overcompensate, or to show people that he truly wasn’t gay – as the rumor about him having been sexually submissive to King Nicomedes implied. Others have speculated that it was to prove to his rivals that he was not only superior to them in politics or as a leader, but also in bed.  On a personal note I think the most probable explanation as to why Caesar had many affairs is simply that it was the results of having a lot of energy and being an ambitious man. By virtue of being a boss.

Click here to read part 2.


Adrian Goldsworthy – Caesar, a Roman Colossus



  1. Caesar was a boss!!!!

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