Julius Caesar

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Paths to power: priesthoods; Marian connections; political alliances and marriages


  • What priesthoods did Caesar hold?
  • When and how did he get these positions?
  • What was the importance of these positions in his career?

"... he was co-opted into the college of pontifices in 73 on the death of his cousin, the consular Gaius Cotta... We should pay special attention to this co-option. If Caesar was taking the place of Gaius Cotta, it is reasonable to suppose that his mother Aurelia played a part in the business... it evidently met with no opposition from the remaining optimate members of the college... The nobility accepted him as one of themselves."
Gelzer p.25

His opponents in the election for Ponitifex Maximus in 63 BC were P. Servilius Vatia Isauricus (cos. 79) and Q. Lutatius Catulus (cos. 78). Both were leading conservatives: "... two of the most distinguished men in Rome with the greatest influence in the senate..." (Plutarch Life of Caesar 7)

"He (Caesar) turned to the people and put himself forward as a rival candidate... Catulus, who, with his greater reputation in the first place was most disturbed at the prospect of this uncertainty, sent to Caesar and tried to bribe him with a large sum of money to stand down... Caesar replied that he would fight the election to the end, even if he had to borrow more money than Catulus had offered him... The contest was a close one, but, when the votes were taken, Caesar came out on top, and this made the senate and the nobles afraid that he would go on to lead the people forward on a course of violent extremism." (Plutarch Life of Caesar 7)

"Caesar stood for the office of Chief Priest, and used the most flagrant bribery to secure it... However, he defeated his two prominent rivals, both of whom were much older and more distinguished than himself, and the votes he won from their own tribes exceeded those cast for them in the entire poll." (Suetonius 13)

Marian connections

Pages 7-8 The early career of Caesar
  • Describe Caesar's Marian connections.
  • How did he exploit these connections in 69 BC?
  • How would the optimates have felt about Caesar at this stage?

Gelzer on the impact of Caesar's relationship to Cinna (son-in-law):
"I am inclined to think that this connection significantly strengthened the impulses which were afterwards to make Caesar follow so distinctly 'popular' a line."
Gelzer p.20

Meier on the effect of Julia's marriage to Marius on Caesar's family and Caesar himself:
"Caesar's family not only basked in the reflected glory that it acquired through the surprising rise of their relative by marriage, but seems at some stage to have become quite closely connected with him - a connection that had a decisive influence on Caesar's youth and subsequent career."
Meier p.55

The following is when Caesar was quaestor in 69 BC:
"... after the death of his aunt Julia, the wife of Marius, he made a brilliant public speech in praise of her in the forum, and was bold enough to display in the funeral procession images of Marius himself. These had not been seen since the time that Sulla came into power, Marius and his friends having been branded as public enemies. On this occasion there were some who shouted out against Caesar for what he had done, but the people shouted them down in no uncertain manner. They welcomed Caesar with loud applause and showed the greatest admiration for him for having, after such a long time, brought back to Rome, as it were from the dead, the honours due to Marius."
Plutarch, Life of Caesar, 5

The following is when Caesar was aedile in 65 BC:
"Caesar tried to get himself the control of Egypt... However the aristocratic party opposed the measure; so, as aedile, Caesar took vengeance by replacing the public monuments - destroyed by Sulla many years ago - that had commemorated Marius' victories over Jugurtha, the Cimbri, and the Teutones."
Suetonius 11

"...during his aedileship... he had images of Marius made in secret and figures of Victory carrying trophies and brought them to the capitol by night and had them set up there... there were inscriptions too commemorating Marius' victories over the Cimbri... There were some who shouted out that this revival of honours which by laws and decrees were properly dead and done with was a sign that Caesar was aiming at securing supreme power in the state for himself... On the other hand, Marius' party took heart and encouraged each other; it was amazing how many of them there were who suddenly showed themselves openly, and they filled the capitol with the noise of their applause. Many burst into tears of joy at the sight of Marius' features; they praised Caesar to the skies and declared him to be, more than anyone, worthy to be Marius' relation."
Plutarch, Life of Caesar, 6

Political alliances

With reference to pages 9-20, describe Caesar's political alliances. In what ways did these alliances advance Caesar's own interests?
(You have already read all these pages and made notes for the Historical Period topic. You don't need to read them all again at this stage. Use your knowledge of this period to find references to incidents involving Caesar.)

The view that "Caesar's enmity towards the leaders of the nobility was based on resentment against Sulla which he had never overcome seems wrong to me. If this were the case, he would surely not have married Sulla's granddaughter."
Gelzer p.38 footnote#5


84 broke off engagement to Cossutia as she was only equestrian. (Suetonius JC. 1)

1. Cornelia. Married 84, died 69; daughter of L. Cornelius Cinna – Marian opponent of Sulla – cos. 87 (deposed), 86, 85, 84. Sulla attempted to get Caesar to divorce Cornelia. Caesar refused. “We certainly see the authentic Caesar in his brave resistance to Sulla’s demand.” (Gelzer p.21) Forced to go into hiding. Pardoned after representations by relatives (C. Aurelius Cotta) and Vestal Virgins. “But never forget that the man whom you want me to spare will one day prove the ruin of the party which you and I have so long defended. There are many Mariuses in this fellow Caesar” (Sulla in Suetonius JC 1) Daughter Julia born c.76 BC. “I am inclined to think that this connection significantly strengthened the impulses which were afterwards to make Caesar follow so distinctly a ‘popular’ line.” (Gelzer p.20)

2. Pompeia. “He next married Pompeia, Quintus Pompeius’ daughter, who was also Sulla’s grand-daughter, but divorced her on suspicion of adultery with Publius Clodius.” (Suetonius JC 6) “I consider that my wife ought not to be even suspected.” (Plutarch Caesar 10)

3. Calpurnia. Daughter of L. Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus cos.58.