Early life and career of Julius Caesar

The early career of Julius Caesar was characterized by military adventurism and political persecution. Julius Caesar was born on July 12 or 13, 100 BC, Subura in Rome [1] into a patrician family, the gens Julia, which claimed descent from Iulus, son of the legendary Trojan prince Aeneas, supposedly the son of the goddess Venus. His father died when he was just 16, leaving Caesar as the head of the household. His family status put him at odds with the Dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who almost had him executed.

Early life and career of Julius Caesar (100 BC – 60 BC)

At about that time, Caesar found himself captured by pirates, only to crucify his former captors after he was ransomed. Soon he began his military career. He served in Hispania, married Sulla’s granddaughter and was elected chief priest, all in rapid succession.

Shortly after this, he was suspected, though not convicted, of involvement in the Catiline Conspiracy. Soon he was leaving for a governorship in Hispania and positioning himself to be one of the most important figures in history.

. . . Early life and career of Julius Caesar . . .

Caesar was born into an aristocratic family, the gensJulia, which claimed descent from Iulus, son of the legendary Trojan prince Aeneas, supposedly the son of the goddess Venus.[2] The cognomen “Caesar” originated, according to Pliny the Elder, with an ancestor who was born by caesarean section (from the Latin verb to cut, caedere, caes-).[3] The Historia Augusta suggests three alternative explanations: that the first Caesar had a thick head of hair (Latin caesaries); that he had bright grey eyes (Latin oculis caesiis); or that he killed an elephant (caesai in Moorish) in battle.[4] Caesar issued coins featuring images of elephants, suggesting that he favoured this interpretation of his name.[5]

Despite their ancient pedigree, the Julii Caesares were not especially politically influential, having produced only three consuls. Caesar’s father, also called Gaius Julius Caesar, reached the rank of praetor, the second highest of the Republic’s elected magistracies, and governed the province of Asia, perhaps through the influence of his prominent brother-in-law Gaius Marius.[6]

His mother, Aurelia Cotta, came from an influential family which had produced several consuls. Marcus Antonius Gnipho, an orator and grammarian of Gaulish origin, was employed as Caesar’s tutor.[7] Caesar had two older sisters, known as Julia Major and Julia Minor. Little else is recorded of Caesar’s childhood. Suetonius and Plutarch‘s biographies of him both begin abruptly in Caesar’s teens; the opening paragraphs of both appear to be lost.[8]

Caesar’s formative years were a time of turmoil, and “savage bloodshed”.[9] The Social War was fought from 91 to 88 BC between Rome and her Italian allies over the issue of Roman citizenship, while Mithridates of Pontus threatened Rome’s eastern provinces. Domestically, Roman politics was divided between politicians known as optimates and populares. The optimates tended to be more conservative,[10][11][12] defended the interests of the upper class[11][12] and used and promoted the authority of the Senate;[13] the populares advocated reform in the interests of the masses[10][12] and used and promoted the authority of the Popular Assemblies.[11][13] These were not official political parties, but were instead loose confederations of like-minded individuals who would often switch sides. Caesar’s uncle Gaius Marius was a popularis, Marius’ protégé Lucius Cornelius Sulla was an optimas, and in Caesar’s youth their rivalry led to civil war.

Both Marius and Sulla distinguished themselves in the Social War, and both wanted command of the war against Mithridates, which was initially given to Sulla; but when Sulla left the city to take command of his army, a tribune passed a law transferring the appointment to Marius. Sulla responded by marching his army on Rome (the first time ever this happened and an influence for Caesar in his later career as he contemplated crossing the Rubicon), reclaiming his command and forcing Marius into exile, but when he left on campaign Marius returned at the head of a makeshift army. He and his ally Lucius Cornelius Cinna seized the city and declared Sulla a public enemy, and Marius’s troops took violent revenge on Sulla’s supporters. Marius died early in 86 BC, but his followers remained in power.[14]

In 85 BC Caesar’s father died suddenly while putting on his shoes one morning, without any apparent cause,[15] and at sixteen, Caesar was the head of the family. The following year he was nominated to be the new Flamen Dialis, high priest of Jupiter, as Merula, the previous incumbent, had died in Marius’s purges.[16] Since the holder of that position not only had to be a patrician but also be married to a patrician, he broke off his engagement to Cossutia, a plebeian girl of wealthy equestrian family he had been betrothed to since boyhood, and married Cinna’s daughter Cornelia.[17]

Then, having brought Mithridates to terms, Sulla returned to finish the civil war against Marius’ followers. After a campaign throughout Italy he seized Rome at the Battle of the Colline Gate in November 82 BC and had himself appointed to the revived office of dictator; but whereas a dictator was traditionally appointed for six months at a time, Sulla’s appointment had no term limit. Statues of Marius were destroyed and Marius’ body was exhumed and thrown in the Tiber. Cinna was already dead, killed by his own soldiers in a mutiny.[18]

Sulla’s proscriptions saw hundreds of his political enemies killed or exiled. Caesar, as the nephew of Marius and son-in-law of Cinna, was targeted. He was stripped of his inheritance, his wife’s dowry and his priesthood, but he refused to divorce Cornelia and was forced to go into hiding. The threat against him was lifted by the intervention of his mother’s family, which included supporters of Sulla, and the Vestal Virgins. Sulla gave in reluctantly, and is said to have declared that he saw many a Marius in Caesar.[8]

. . . Early life and career of Julius Caesar . . .

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. . . Early life and career of Julius Caesar . . .