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The head of an ancient statue of a Roman emperor

10 little known facts about Julius Caesar

A war hero at 20, Cleopatra's lover, and great writer: Julius Caesar's life was even more eventful than you think.


Gaius Julius Caesar is so famous that he’s often known by just his third name, Caesar, which after his death was adopted as a title by Roman emperors.

For 2,000 years, Julius Caesar has been the subject of countless books, plays, and films. He is known for his military prowess, his political skill, and his infamous assassination, which happened on 15th March 44 BC.

Here we look at 10 things you probably never knew about Julius Caesar.

1. Caesar won a top bravery award when he was just 20

When Caesar was about 20 years old, he was awarded the prestigious Corona Civica (civic crown), a high honour for gallantry awarded to Roman soldiers who had saved the life of a fellow fighter in battle.

Caesar received this great honour for his role in the Siege of Mytilene in 81 BC. Roman forces had been dispatched to the city of Mytilene, on the island of Lesbos, to put down a rebellion, and the young nobleman had distinguished himself in the fighting.

The civic crown was a big deal in Rome and its wearers were afforded certain privileges, such as senators having to stand for them when they entered a room and getting the best seats at the circus.

2. Caesar was once held prisoner by pirates

In 75 BC, while sailing across the eastern Mediterranean on his way to Apollonius Molon’s finishing school in Rhodes, Caesar was captured and detained by pirates. These corsairs were from an infamous pirate lair in Cilicia (modern-day southern Turkey).

When the Cilician kidnappers told the 25-year-old Caesar that they planned to ransom him for 20 talents, Caesar quipped that he was worth at least 50. He told the pirates that once released he would see them executed. He kept his promise. Once his ransom was paid, he went away and gathered a Roman fleet, returning to the area in which he was captured where he hunted the pirates down and had them crucified.

3. Caesar found gladiator contests boring

While sitting watching the gory gladiator fights in the circus, Caesar would often get bored and start doing admin – catching up on his correspondence, signing orders, and reading reports.

Caesar’s approach to public entertainment in Rome was pragmatic – he was keeping up morale by giving the people ‘bread and circuses’. In fact, Caesar ordered lots of games, races, and sports, and was responsible for upgrading Rome’s Circus Maximus from a capacity of 150,000 to 250,000.

4. Caesar may have had a son with Cleopatra

Caesar was married at least three times and had many mistresses and flings throughout his life, including with the wife of a Roman general and with King Nicomedes IV of Bithynia.

When Queen Cleopatra of Egypt was 21, she arranged to be smuggled wrapped up in a carpet to the private quarters of Caesar in Alexandria. That night, they began a love affair (and a political alliance). Cleopatra then invited Caesar to stay with her at her palace, where he spent two months. Plutarch wrote: ‘[Caesar] often feasted with her until dawn; and they would have sailed together . . . to Ethiopia.’

In 46 BC, Cleopatra then came to Italy to stay as a guest of Caesar – she also brought her infant son, Caesarion, along.

Some said that Caesar was the father of Caesarion, who was the last pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt. Mark Antony reportedly told the senate that Caesar had acknowledged the baby as his own son, but Caesar never confirmed this himself. After Caesar’s death, his close friend Gaius Oppius published a pamphlet declaring that the boy was not Caesar’s son, but Oppius could have been coerced into writing this by Caesar’s killers.

5. Caesar didn’t conquer Britain

Caesar is famous for using the phrase ‘Veni, vidi, vici!’ (‘I came, I saw, I conquered!’) after defeating the King of Pontus in 47 BC. Caesar was a military genius who was successful in campaigns for Rome across the known world, including his conquest of Gaul which he completed in 52 BC. He was also triumphant in the civil war against Pompey the Great, which raged from 49 to 45 BC.

But he wasn’t so successful in Britain. It is a common misconception that the start of Roman rule in Britain began with Caesar’s invasions of the island of Britain in 55 and 54 BC, but, in fact, Rome did not conquer Britain until 43 AD with the campaign of the emperor Claudius.

Caesar’s incursions into Britain were a partial success, though, as they were able to set up local client kings and force several tribes to pay tributes to Rome.

6. Wearing red boots got Caesar killed

Late in 45 BC, many Romans began to fear that Caesar was about to crown himself king. Rome had kings in its distant past, but by this point, it had been a republic for nearly 500 years and Romans liked it that way. They feared that Caesar was becoming too powerful and that he was on the cusp of restoring absolute monarchy to Rome.

These apprehensions were greatly multiplied when, in early 44 BC, Caesar began appearing in public wearing tall red boots – just like the ones worn by Rome’s ancient kings.

He did publicly refuse the offer of the crown, shortly before his death, but this may have been done to gauge public feeling on the matter.

The fear that Caesar was monopolising power was essentially why Brutus and his co-conspirators decided to kill Caesar – in fact, just after they’d killed Caesar, they announced to the public that he was dead and that the republic had been ‘saved’.

7. A soothsayer warned Caesar he was in danger

Famously, in 44 BC, a soothsayer warned Caesar to ‘beware the Ides of March – this was the 15th March in the Roman calendar, a date in Caesar’s diary earmarked for attending the senate.

When the fateful day arrived, Caesar bumped into the same soothsayer on his way to the senate assembly hall. Caesar joked with the fortune teller that he was still alive, to which the seer shot back that the day wasn’t over yet.

Caesar’s wife also tried to warn him. She’d had an ominous dream on the night of 14th March and pleaded with him not to go to the senate the following day. Caesar’s reaction to this warning was to laugh.

8. Caesar’s assassins numbered 60 men

Once inside the assembly hall, Caesar had barely sat down before the conspirators fell on him with their daggers drawn. This group may have numbered up to 60 men. Apparently, not all of them got to use their weapons, though, as Caesar reportedly suffered 23 knife wounds.

The plotters were led by a senator named Marcus Brutus, who was known as a close friend of Caesar. When the war with Pompey ended, Caesar pardoned Brutus for siding with Pompey, so clearly he felt betrayed when he saw Brutus looming over him, knife in hand.

Caesar tried to fight off his assailants initially but once he saw Brutus was one of them, he covered his head with his toga and stopped resisting.

9. Caesar’s last words are unknown

At the end of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the eponymous hero gasps the famous line, ‘Et tu, Brute?’, meaning ‘And you, Brutus?’.

There is no evidence that the real Caesar said these words as he was being murdered, though he may have said something similar. According to one ancient historian, he said, ‘You too, young man’, or possibly ‘you too, my son’.

There was a rumour that Brutus was actually Caesar’s son, as Caesar and Brutus’s mother, Servilia, had had an affair when Caesar was a young man. Modern historians consider this unlikely, though, largely because Caesar would have been just 15 when Brutus was born.

10. Caesar’s writings are important to historians

Caesar was an accomplished author who wrote several books, some of which are lost, but a few have been important works for over 2,000 years. Of Caesar’s surviving works, perhaps the most famous is his account of his campaign in Gaul. This is called Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentaries on the Gallic War) and is regarded as an important primary source, telling historians not just about the wars themselves, but also about the people Caesar encountered.

In one section, Caesar relates his impression of Britain: ‘Most of the inland inhabitants do not cultivate grains, but live on milk and flesh, and are clad with skins. All the Britons, indeed, dye themselves with woad, which occasions a bluish colour, and thereby have a more terrible appearance in fight.’

Caesar’s writings have also been a core text for students of Latin for centuries.