Julius Caesar

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His education, early life and ambitions


There is little stated in the sources about Caesar's education and it can only be assumed that he would have had the standard privileged upbringing and education of a patrician.

Education took place in the home supervised by the boy's mother. Boys were taught reading, writing, grammar, rhetoric and Greek, by a tutor who was usually a slave. Caesar's tutor was M. Antonius Gnipho, a freedman who had been educated at Alexandria (Gelzer p.23).

Tacitus had the following to say about a Roman mother's role in her son's education (and he makes specific reference to the mothers of the Gracchi, Caesar and Augustus):
"Every citizen’s son, the child of a chaste mother, was from the beginning reared, not in the chamber of a purchased nurse, but in that mother’s bosom and embrace, and it was her special glory to study her home and devote herself to her children. It was usual to select an elderly kinswoman of approved and esteemed character to have the entire charge of all the children of the household. In her presence it was the last offence to utter an unseemly word or to do a disgraceful act. With scrupulous piety and modesty she regulated not only the boy’s studies and occupations, but even his recreations and games. Thus it was, as tradition says, that the mothers of the Gracchi, of Caesar, of Augustus, Cornelia, Aurelia, Atia, directed their children’s education and reared the greatest of sons. The strictness of the discipline tended to form in each case a pure and virtuous nature which no vices could warp, and which would at once with the whole heart seize on every noble lesson."
Tacitus A Dialogue on Oratory 28

Caesar showed an aptitude for writing early in his life: "It is said that in his boyhood and early youth he wrote pieces called In Praise of Hercules and The Tragedy of Oedipus and Collected Sayings." (Suetonius 56)

Caesar continued his education into adulthood by taking lessons in rhetoric from Apollonius Molon in Rhodes. (Suetonius 4; Plutarch Caesar 3)

Physical education, including horse riding and swimming, was also of great importance for a noble Roman youth destined for a career in the army. Caesar showed the benefits of his physical training during his military campaigns:
"Caesar was a most skilful swordsman and horseman, and showed surprising powers of endurance. He always led his army, more often on foot than in the saddle, went bareheaded in sun and rain alike, and could travel for long distances at incredible speed in a gig, taking very little luggage. If he reached an unfordable river he would either swim or propel himself across it on an inflated skin; and often arrived at his destination before the messengers whom he had sent ahead to announce his approach." (Seutonius 57)
"He had been an expert rider from boyhood. He had trained himself to put his hands behind his back and then, keeping them tightly clasped, to put his horse to a full gallop."
Plutarch Life of Caesar 17

The final aspect of a young noble's education was to learn the traditions of Rome by following and observing his father as he went about his business. "He would observe his father's dealings with friends and clients and was allowed to sit in during discussions; he could also visit the forum and the lawcourts, when his father would observe and comment on public life." (Meier p58)

Early Life

Refer to your video notes and pp. 7-8 of Booklet 1 "The early career of Caesar" for Caesar's early life up to 69.


Certainly Caesar was ambitious, but it is difficult to say exactly what his ambitions were. There are some references in the sources which give us some hints.

There is the famous example of Caesar, as quaestor in Spain, weeping at the thought of the achievements of Alexander the Great at his age:
  • "At Gades he saw a statue of Alexander the Great in the Temple of Hercules, and was overheard to sigh impatiently: vexed, it seems, that at an age when Alexander had already conquered the whole world, he himself had done nothing in the least epoch-making." (Suetonius 7)
  • "It is also said that at another time when he was in Spain and had some leisure, he was reading some part of the history of Alexander and, after sitting for a long time lost in his own thoughts, burst into tears. His friends were surprised and asked him the reason. 'Don't you think,' he said, 'that I have something worth being sorry about, when I reflect that at my age Alexander was already king over so many peoples, while I have never yet achieved anything really remarkable." (Plutarch Caesar 11)

Suetonius also relates a dream Caesar had, the night following the Alexander incident, of raping his own mother. "... the soothsayers greatly encouraged him by their interpretation of it: namely, that he was destined to conquer the earth, our Universal Mother." (Suetonius 7)

The other demonstration of his ambition comes from when Caesar came to a village in the Alps. His friends joked to him that even in this miserable place there would be struggles and rivalries to get ahead politically. "Caesar then said to them in all seriousness: 'As far as I am concerned, I would rather be the first man here than the second in Rome." (Plutarch Caesar 11)

The problem with these stories is shown by Robin Seager in his introduction to Plutarch's Life of Caesar:
"The most insidious feature of the work as a whole is the assumption, by no means of course peculiar to Plutarch, that Caesar had planned from the outset of his career to overthrow the republic and seize absolute power. This view has found favour in some countries at certain times, but there is nothing to be said for it. Caesar was always daring and ambitious - his social and financial circumstances were such that he had to be, if he was going to make a career at all. But until 59 his successes, though striking (especially has election as pontifex maximus), in no way strained the normal framework of Roman public life." (Robin Seager in Plutarch Fall of the Roman Republic p.243)