The Emperor Julius Caesar is perhaps most famous as the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. His rise from a humble birth as a peasant boy to Emperor is a tale of bravery, adversity and ultimately triumph through faith.
Julius Caesar was born as Γρουχω Γαυλ in 54BC into an immigrant family in the back streets of Rome. Neither parent was rich. The German historian Guildo Horn noted: “Seine Mutter war ein Hamster und sein Vater, der von den Holunderbeeren gerochen wurde.” They were as flotsam and jetsam on the beach. His early years would probably have been spent scavenging on the streets, though this is not certain. Later historians, like Plato re-wrote the histories once he became Emperor as ignoble origins were considered unacceptable for Romans of noble birth. At the age of fourteen Julius escaped the slums of Rome by signing up to join the army as a meretrix, someone who provided assistance to the soldiers. After saving his money he entered the college at Rome where he studied Latin and raced for the school chariot team.
The start of his military career was undistinguished. He was a fifth round draft pick for Legio X (The Eagles). In his epic history from the fifteenth century, the Origin and Rise of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon noted: “He was much vexed at his time with the Eagles. He failed to attract the attention of the Centurion in charge of the Legion and for his firft seafon languifhed in the referves.” After an unsuccessful first year with the Eagles he was traded to Legio XII Gallico (the Irish) as a quartermaster in exchange for a young man known as Trajan who would later become famous for inventing the Column. The Irish were based in Lugdunum, the capital of France which would later be known as Gaul. It was here that Julius Caesar first started his diary De Bello Gallico (The Bells of Gaul).
His big break came in the spring of 44BC. He was in a tent preparing for peace talks with the Gauls with the General Menander when he died from a terminal heart attack. The Gallic chief Asterix was due at any moment. Without any thought for personal safety Julius Caesar sat in the chair previously occupied by Menander and ordered the legionaries to quickly bury Menander’s cremated remains under the conference table before Asterix arrived. He then negotiated with Asterix surrendering the whole of southern France to the Gauls. Aristotle tells us at the last moment Julius Caesar realised he was making a terrible mistake and yelled “Watch out! Shark!” and pointed out of the tent. While Asterix was distracted he swapped the treaties. Asterix didn’t notice till two months later that he had accidentally signed the surrender’ rather than the victory’ document. He only realised when a day-trip, which he was told was to see a flock of interesting pigeons, turned out to be a trick. He was in fact thrown to the Christians in the Coliseum. Aristotle says he died with a smile on his face, appreciating the practical joke. Julius Caesar was so successful with this trick he played it again and again. The whole of France was captured without a single drop of blood being spilt. To celebrate he changed France’s name to Gaul, after himself. But then he was worried people might think him egotistical, and so this was when he changed his own name to Caesar, because he had Seized’ Gaul.
Emboldened by his successes in France which he moved on to Britannia. By now his shark trick was famous and he had to bring along a larger tent to accommodate the audiences that would gather to see it happen. Sadly they were disappointed in Britain. Unfortunately for Caesar the British didn’t know what a shark was, so instead of staring out of the tent, they just stared at his finger. Caesar tried a few times to solve the problem by bringing along a dictionary with him to explain, but the British couldn’t read Latin. In one last attempt in 23BC Caesar brought along a dictionary in English to negotiate with the British. Writing in his History of All Things Ever’ Polybius thinks it didn’t work as at this time because the English only had a temporary alphabet. He noted “All English letters were edible and rarely lasted beyond lunchtime before a new alphabet had to be made.” It was not an entirely wasted trip. The lack of language in Britannia mean the natives had learned to be experts in mime. Julius Caesar eagerly learned this novel marital art, quickly becoming a black belt and returned to Europe.
His arrival back at Calais was a disaster. While his army arrived at Calais his baggage train was in Dieppe leaving the army entirely bereft of clean underwear for the march back to Lugdunumum. In his diary he comments that this was a long and harrowing journey for his men, “save for Felix Soddus, who was wearing his lucky scuddies’ and thus never wanted for companionship in the evening.” Back in Lugdunumumum Julius Caesar had an amazing stroke of good fortune when he discovered he was to be executed for being too successful. By now he was a devout Christian and so took this as a sign of divine favour showing that Jupiter, king of the Gods was on his side. He set off forthwith for Rome, stopping briefly to return to Lugdunumumumum to collect his army in case there was a battle.
His way to Rome was blocked by a river which has since become famous. The Rubicon was one of Europe’s long rivers called Amazons by Herodotus. At the French/Italian border it was a mile wide and infested with piranha. It was here that Julius Caesar performed his first miracle. Using the power of mime learned in Britannia, he made the sign of the Cross. This caused stepping stones to rise from the river bed allowing his army to cross. Archaeologists recently found evidence of this when they discovered no piranha in the river, due to pollution from Eastern Europe, thus proving “the crossing of the Rubicon”.
In Rome he was welcomed by everyone, except for the people who were unhappy to see him. Fortunately with the assistance of his aides Pompey and Cicero he was able take control of the Empire. He dealt with his enemies by throwing them into the Coliseum he then demonstrated his mercy by having them savaged by lions. Thus his rule became known as a time of great joy and his reign long and prosperous.
In AD12 he decided to go on a Nile cruise. It was while cruising he met Cleopatra. He fell in love and she fell in a carpet, but they unrolled it before serious harm was done. They arranged to meet each other, but Julius Caesar had a problem. He had no idea when they would next date. He decided this would not do and so he invented the calendar. He named the first month March after his favourite hobby and the second April after a waitress at a pizza house in Rome. He forgot to name the first two months though, and went back to the start of the year. This is why October is the tenth month of the year. Cleopatra was wildly impressed with a man who could invent calendars and, despite him naming the month April instead of Cleo, she agreed to marry him. Roman historian Plutarch was at the wedding and he commented “The bride was radiant. In many ways she was the Princess Diana of her time”. The Diana he was talking about was probably the Roman god Diana, who was famous for getting married a lot rather than the modern Diana.
On returning to Rome he was stopped by three witches, known as the Gracchi, who warned him not to go to the theatre. He ignored their advice and went anyway with his friend Brutus. Tragically rather like Abraham Lincoln without the hat he was assassinated by there by the aggrieved husband of April who had a high calibre crossbow. Brutus heroically tried to save Caesar but he too was shot by a crossbow bolt, possibly suggesting the presence of a second gunman.
He was buried with full military honours in the Cathedral of Saint Peter’s in the Vatican where his bones remain to this day. His brother Augustus married Cleopatra and took the throne, but to this day no-one has matched the achievements of the man they called Caesar.
Aristotle, The Republic
Aristotle, The Roman Politics
Herodotus, The History
Plato, Life of Caesar
Plutarch, The Wedding of Caesar
Socrates, The Unwritten Works
David Beckham. 1995. Further thoughts on Julius Caesar’s Philosophy of Being. Journal of Roman Studies XII. p45-49.
Luther Blisset. 1981. The Roman Empire. Watford Publishing.
Noel Edmonds. 1992. Caesar, Christ and Things. Blobby Press.
Edward Gibbon. 1677. The Origin and Rise of the Roman Empire. Penguin Classics.
Andre Young. 1999. Peace and the Caesar Way. Classics USA XLIII p996-8.