Friday, April 13, 2012

Young Julius Caesar Killed by Pirates

On approximately December 21, 75 BC, as recorded by the Roman poet Suetonius in his historical morality lessons, pirates murdered a mouthy and ambitious young aristocrat from the Caesar family.

Julius had fled Rome as the dictator Sulla began his purges of all those he found treasonous, including Julius' uncle Marius and his father-in-law Cinna. He was stripped of his titles and wealth and may very well have been executed upon refusing to divorce his wife Cornelia, but intervention by his maternal allowed him to escape into hiding. He joined the military and served in the alliance with King Nicomedes of Bithynia, in whose court he remained until he heard of the death of Sulla and determined it was safe to return to Rome.

On his way across the Aegean Sea, however, Julius and his companions were captured by pirates. As per custom when they ran across wealthy travelers, the pirates would hold him for some ransom and then planned to let him go. The pirates demanded twenty talents of silver, and Julius replied with a laugh. He told them they had no idea who he was, and he suggested they demand fifty. While his servants went away to borrow the money, Julius entertained the pirates with stories and promised, upon gaining his freedom, to raise up a fleet, capture the pirates, and crucify all of them. The pirates had a turn at laughing at such a proud young man.

However, as the winter solstice approached, the pirates began to become nervous as the young Julius insisted he would carry through on the promise. In a violent disagreement, the pirates became divided, and several stormed the "too ambitious" Julius' cell, stabbing him only once, but enough to kill him. The pirates left the body with Julius' remaining servants and fled, never to be captured. The body would be returned to Rome, where it was received by the remainder of the Caesar family, which continued as minor nobility among the Romans for some time to come.

Rome itself continued for several centuries under heavy bureaucratic rule until invasions from Gauls displaced by Germans eventually toppled the city, breaking the empire into various pieces, many under the influence and authority of the Kingdom of Egypt.


In reality, the pirates thought Caesar was joking. He wasn't, and upon payment of his ransom did raise a fleet, attacked and captured the pirates, and crucified them. Out of pardon, he ordered their throats slit before crucifixion, sparing the pirates much pain before death. This leniency would be seen throughout Caesar's career as he rose through the ranks of Rome, conquered Gaul, and was made dictator-for-life before being stabbed 23 times by a conspiracy of senators wary of his ambition.

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