Julius Caesar is perhaps the most famous Roman ruler in history, and his brutal assassination at the age of 55 lives in infamy—yet few people know his even darker history. The brilliant Caesar quickly rose from the rank of Army general to the dictator of all Rome, and he lived a fascinating life full of conquest, lust, and betrayal. Here are 50 facts about the military genius.
1. Chapter One: A New Beginning
Caesar was quite the blue blood. Born Gaius Julius Caesar to an aristocratic Roman family, the young boy didn’t want for anything growing up. Still, much of his childhood remains a mystery. Ancient sources start pretty abruptly during his teen years, as if his first pages were lost. Coincidence or conspiracy? You decide.
2. Holier Than Thou
Before settling on total domination, Caesar almost became a devoted man of god(s). There was just one problem. At the time, priests were forbidden from touching horses, sleeping outside of Rome, or even looking at an army. Not exactly great prospects for a guy who wanted to…murder people on horseback in the military.
3. A Roman 10
According to Ancient Roman sources, Caesar was quite a handsome man. One account describes him as “tall of stature with a fair complexion, shapely limbs, a somewhat full face, and keen black eyes.”
4. Cutting His Teeth
The young Caesar was forged in brutal war. When he was growing up, Rome was in a savage civil conflict called The Social War, and his acquaintances Marius and Sulla were on different sides of the struggle. The teenaged Julius had to be very careful to stay alive in this game of thrones, but it helped him hone his signature shrewdness.
5. Rumor Has It
According to some ancient rumors, Caesar was hiding a ruinous secret. Many claimed he was involved in a passionate affair with King Nicomedes IV of Bithynia. When the Roman travelled to the King’s court to secure a fleet for battle, he apparently spent a little too much time there, causing his enemies to whisper that the two men were much more than allies.
6. Equal Opportunity Offenders
These rumors were very damaging to Caesar’s reputation. Although Romans were pretty lax about same-sex relationships, they didn’t like what they thought were Caesar’s submissive bedroom behaviors. Caesar’s soldiers started singing, “Caesar may have conquered the Gauls, but Nicomedes conquered Caesar,” while his enemies mocked him as “The Queen of Bithynia.”
7. You’re up, Son
Caesar understood power from a young age. When he was 16, his father died suddenly while putting on his shoes, leaving the teenager as the head of the household.
8. Trading Her in for a Better Model
The wealthy and well-appointed Cossutia had been betrothed to Caesar since they were both children—but this didn’t stop him from dealing her a bitter betrayal. You see, Cossutia’s family was wealthy, but they weren’t aristocrats. In order to pursue his ambitions, Caesar unceremoniously dumped his long-time girlfriend to marry the rich and noble Cornelia instead.
9. Card in Hand
Experts speculate that the King of Diamonds in a deck of cards is actually a representation of Julius Caesar.
10. Rome’s Most Wanted
When Caesar was just 18 years old, he became a hunted man. Sulla gained power over Rome as dictator and immediately started purging his enemies—and he considered Caesar chief among them. Young Julius narrowly avoided getting killed, but Sulla still stripped him of all his inheritance and drove him into hiding.
11. Take a Leap
We have Julius Caesar to thank for Leap Years. In 45 BC, he grew concerned about the mismatch between the calendar and the seasons, and added an extra day to the month of February every four years.
12. It’s Alive!
The term “Caesarian Section” supposedly comes from Caesar’s family; one of his ancestors was reportedly born via this method, which was probably a really gruesome way to come into the Ancient world.
13. Show Me the Money
Caesar was confident—some might even say arrogant—about his brilliance as a military commander. As a virile young man, he went to his superior officers and struck a deal with them: They’d pay him if he won battles. It paid off. Caesar was able to capture many key areas for the Romans, and he got rich in the process.
Julius Caesar, as depicted in Spartacus.
14. All in the Family
Caesar granted citizens’ rights to all conquered people of the Roman Empire. He felt this would unite the Empire and make new Romans more willing to accept his rule.
15. Imposter Syndrome
Despite all his military confidence, Caesar still often suffered from crippling disappointment in himself. In 69 BC, Caesar was in Spain and saw something that sent him into a tailspin. He came across a statue of Alexander the Great and realized that when Alexander was his age, he had already conquered the world. Next to him, Caesar felt like he had achieved almost nothing.
16. Till Death Do Us Part
Of all his three wives, Caesar was likely the most devoted to Cornelia. When the political tide turned against him as a young man, his enemies wanted him to divorce her as a way to cut off access to some of his power. Caesar loyally refused, risking his own life in the process. Sadly, Cornelia died in childbirth a short time later.
17. Cult Figure
After his violent death, Caesar became an absolute god. In fact, he was the first man of his time to be posthumously deified, which is no small feat.
18. Child’s Play
Caesar’s infamous arrogance reared its ugly head when his rival Sulla ended up resigning as dictator. After Sulla bowed out, Caesar mocked him ruthlessly by saying, “Sulla did not know his political ABCs.”
19. That’s My Boy
Caesar frequently engaged in steamy affairs—and one led to an incredibly dark secret. During his youth, he took the beautiful and well-connected Servilia as his mistress. When she later had a child, Marcus Junius Brutus, Caesar reportedly believed the boy was his illegitimate son. If that’s the case, it may be one of the greatest tragedies in history.
As we know now, Brutus was the one who helped lead the assassination against Caesar. That’s right, he may have killed his own father.
20. I Appoint Me, Me, and…Me
By 60 BC, Caesar was so powerful that Roman satirists referred to the year as “The consulship of Julius and Caesar.”
21. You Dog, You
When it came to affairs, Caesar didn’t stop at Servilia. His infamous tryst with Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, has gone down in history as a legendary love affair. They lived together for 14 years, and many believed that if Caesar were ever permitted to marry someone who wasn’t a Roman citizen, he would have chosen her.
22. The Elephant in the Room
There are other explanations for Julius’ famous last name. Some say the very first Caesar had a full head of hair, because the Latin word for “hair” is caesaries. Others say the mystery man had grey eyes, or oculis caesiis, but maybe the most outlandish theory is that the ancestor killed a full-on elephant, which was known as caesai in Moorish.
23. Golden Boy
At the height of his powers as dictator, Caesar got to sit on a golden chair in the Senate.
24. Speak up
Caesar was a glorious orator, and people often complimented his clear, high-pitched voice. He often got fired up, making impassioned speeches and gesticulating wildly, and spent most of his time prosecuting corrupt governors. Even the famed speaker Cicero said of Caesar, ” Come now, what orator would you rank above him…?”
25. He Looks Just Like His Dad
Caesar and Cleopatra likely had a child together: a boy named Caesarion. Well, the name does kind of give it away.
26. Take Notes
The handsome Caesar was something of a lothario, and his ravenous appetite once got him into deep trouble. One day while at a debate, someone passed Caesar a note in the middle of the proceedings. When a fellow politician spotted it, he angrily accused Caesar of a conspiracy and demanded he read the message out loud. It wasn’t what he thought at all.
Embarrassingly, the missive turned out to be a steamy letter from Caesar’s lover Servilia.
27. God Complex
The Julia clan, to which Julius Caesar belongs, believed they were descendants of the goddess Venus.
28. Once, Twice, Three Times a Dictator
Though we now think of Caesar’s death as a hateful crime, that doesn’t mean he didn’t deserve it. Few people remember that Caesar was a true dictator of the Roman Republic. In fact, he even earned the title “dictator for life” a month before his death, which gave him enormous power and secured his iron grip on Rome. What were his enemies to do but kill him?
29. Sister, Sister
Caesar had two sisters, who were both named Julia. Feel free to pitch that one to a major network.
30. Your Cheating Heart
Caesar’s second marriage to his wife Pompeia was unhappy, and it ended in utter scandal. One year during the women-only festival of the Bona Dea, a man named Clodius snuck into the celebrations dressed as a woman, apparently to rendez-vous with Pompeia. After authorities caught Clodius and charged him with sacrilege, Caesar punished his wife accordingly.
He divorced her almost on the spot, telling her, “the wife of Caesar must be above suspicion.”
31. We All Start Somewhere
Caesar started his military career at the Siege of Mytilene in 81 BC. For his efforts, his peers awarded him the second-highest military honor, the Civic Crown.
32. Put on the Red Light
When Caesar was down and out as a young man, he lived in a working-class section of Rome that was a notorious red-light district. Maybe that’s where he got his appetites…
33. Stay-at-Home Wife
Caesar’s third and final marriage to Calpurnia, the daughter of a powerful senator, was more business than pleasure. Sure, Calpurnia was sort of pretty and definitely humble (like a woman should be, naturally), but that didn’t stop Caesar from engaging in multiple affairs while married to her. Still, Calpurnia was loyal until the bitter end.
34. My Daughter, My Lover
Caesar’s long-term side dish Servilia was a piece of work. In addition to their illicit relationship together, Servilia also offered up her daughter Junia Tertia for Caesar’s pleasure. Oh, but it gets even worse. According to the rumor mill, Junia was actually their daughter.
35. Final Victory
Caesar’s final major triumph came on the battlefield at The Siege of Alesia in 52 BC. It was a Gallic stronghold where Julius built two lines of forts to defeat two larger armies.
36. The GOAT
It’s no wonder that Caesar was famous for his way with words. He’s the one who came up with the classic line “Veni, Vidi, Vici,” or “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Caesar sent the iconic words in a letter to the Senate, boasting about his quick and brutal victory against the King of Pontus. This guy sure knew how to be his own hype man.
37. Through the Looking Glass
According to the Roman historian Suetonius, Caesar went to visit a soothsayer (the Roman version of a psychic) named Spurinna. When he sat down and Spurinna performed her rituals, what she saw made her gasp in horror. She foretold his death and warned the ruler to “Beware the Ides of March.” This, of course, was the day that Caesar was assassinated.
38. You OK, Dude?
The ruler struggled with terrifying illnesses. Specifically, he often suffered from mysterious seizures. Though modern scholars mostly agree that he had major health problems, they aren’t sure whether it was epilepsy, migraine headaches, malaria, or even tapeworms. Medical records were too poorly kept to know for sure.
39. Greatest Form of Flattery
Caesar was an inspiration to several historical tyrants. Italy’s Benito Mussolini saw himself as a new Caesar and actively imitated the ways of the Roman Empire.
40. Night Terrors
The night before Caesar’s assassination, his wife Calpurnia reportedly had an ominous dream that illustrated his death. When she awoke, she frantically begged her husband not to go to the Senate that day, and he initially agreed. But there was a cruel twist of fate ahead. One of the conspirators, Decimus, was Caesar’s friend, and he re-convinced Julius to go to his death.
41. All Gone
Unlike other historical figures such as Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar has no living descendants today.
42. Ahead of His Time
Despite his infamy, Caesar was never actually a Roman Emperor. Nonetheless, his dictatorship of Rome did crumble the more democratic Roman Republic and pave the way for the decadent, powerful Roman Empire.
43. Your Time Has Come
On March 15th in 44 BC, Caesar finally met his horrific fate. He had an appointment to appear at the Senate, and a group of conspirators were lying in wait to kill their ruler. When they started attacking him, Caesar tried to flee, but, blinded by his own blood, he tripped and fell on the steps. A group of around 60 men quickly mobbed the dictator of Rome.
44. A Dangerous Job
Caesar’s brutal death kicked off a trend. After him, only 20 Roman emperors died a natural death. Most were assassinated or suspected to have been assassinated, while others were forced to commit suicide, executed, or killed on the battlefield.
At the time of Caesar’s assassination, the mob stabbed him a total of 23 times.
46. Get It Right, Shakespeare
The famous line “Et tu, Brute?” from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar has gone down in history as his heartbreaking final words, but his true last words might have been even more tragic. According to once source, Caesar’s last words were actually, “You too, child?” This may bolster the claim that Brutus was Caesar’s son.
47. Dude, Where’s My Audience?
After killing Caesar, the conspirators ran out into the streets screaming, “People of Rome, we are once again free!” They were met with crushing silence. The people had already fled into the safety of their houses.
48. I’m Gonna Go With…Nah
Everyone knows Caesar crossed the Rubicon river, but few people understand just how much of a legendary “screw you guys” move it was. At the time, Rome was super uncomfortable with how much power the young Caesar was gaining, and they ordered him to disband his army and to definitely, definitely not cross the Rubicon into Italy with his men in tow.
Well, what do you think he did? He crossed the heck out of that river with a buttload of soldiers. It was an act of war that eventually won him the dictatorship of Rome, but Caesar was pretty chill about it at the time. After he did it, he reportedly tossed out the now-iconic one-liner: “alea iacta est,” or “the die is cast.”
49. Event Horizon
To this day, “crossing the Rubicon” is a saying that means entering the point of no return.
50. You’re Gonna Need More Booty, Mates
During one of his return trips home from ransacking and pillaging, pirates hijacked Caesar’s ship and ransomed him for 20 silver pieces. Instead of cowering, Caesar made sure they would live to regret their mistake. First, he befriended the kidnappers and persuaded them to double their ransom, since wasn’t he worth more than that? But he wasn’t done yet.
Once his uncle paid the ransom and Caesar was free, he enacted his ingenious plot. He took a fleet of men, chased down the pirates, and slit all their throats. What’s the moral here? Know who you’re kidnapping, folks.
51. That’s One Way to Make an Entrance
Cleopatra, clever and charming, certainly knew how to make an entrance. In order to meet Caesar face to face, in hopes of enticing him over to her side, she had herself smuggled through enemy lines while rolled up in a carpet, which was brought to Caesar’s private quarters. When unrolled, she charmed Caesar and the two became allies, leading to her retaking the Egyptian throne.