Caesar standing beside a statue base with his name and introduction on it.
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Gaius Julius Caesar

One of the greatest figures in history and a central character in Nomenclator: Initium. Caesar appears first as Polybius' master and, in time, his friend, confidant, and father figure.

Gaius Julius Caesar was born in July of the year 100 BCE into the patrician family, the Julii. Members of the Julii gens claimed descent from Iulus, son of the mythical Trojan prince Aeneas, mentioned in Homer's Illiad and given the lead role in Virgil's Aeneid, son of the goddess Venus.

There are various explanations for the cognomen, or family name, Caesar. Pliny the Elder claimed that the name originated with a distant ancestor who was delivered by caesarean section. He based his hypothesis on the Latin word, caedere, meaning "to cut." Another explanation was that an ancestor had bright gray eyes, from the Latin, oculis caesiis, while still a third explanation is that an ancestor fighting in Africa had killed an elephant, as the Moorish word for that animal is caesai. This seems to be the version Caesar himself preferred, as he later featured elephants on some of the coins he issued. However, this may have been an attempt to deflect attention from his own thinning hair, since a fourth explanation for the cognomen is that it derives from an ancestor with a thick head of hair, caesaries, in Latin.

Very little is known of Caesar's childhood, but in 85 BCE, Caesar's father died suddenly. According to Roman tradition and law, as the eldest male and at only sixteen years of age, Caesar became the head of his family and guardian of his mother, Aurelia Cotta, and his sister, Julia. It is not known whether Caesar's coming of age ceremony was held before his father's death or he officially became a man at the death of the elder Julius Caesar, but it certainly occurred in his mid-teens.

Until Julius Caesar rose to power, his family wasn't very politically prominent. His mother, Aurelia Cotta was from an illustrious and influential family, but except, perhaps, in the distant past, few of the men on his father's side made much of a name for themselves. When Caesar was a child, Caesar's father was appointed to govern the province of Asia and a marriage was arranged for Caesar's aunt, Julia, to the powerful and influential Gaius Marius.

When Caesar was still a young man there was an often violent political rivalry between his uncle, Gaius Marius, and another powerful senator, Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Political control shifted back and forth between these two powerful men, often resulting in bloody purges of their rival's supporters. At a time when Caesar's uncle, Gaius Marius, was in power, Caesar was married to Cornelia, daughter of Marius' ally, Lucius Cornelia Cinna. At about the same time, Caesar was named as the next Flamen Dialis, (high priest of Jupiter). With the flaminate came drastic restrictions limiting Caesar's opportunities for a political career. The Flamen Dialis was not allowed to leave the city for even a single night, nor was he allowed to sleep in a bed other than his own for more than three consecutive nights. The Flamen was not allowed to touch a horse or iron, thus preventing him from having any sort of military career or governing a province, and without that a man could never advance to any high position in Roman politics.

In the power struggle between Marius and Sulla, it was Sulla who triumphed and became dictator of Rome. Because of his connection to Marius through his father-in-law, Cornelius, Caesar became a target of Sulla. Sulla ordered him to divorce his wife and Sulla stripped him of his priesthood. Caesar's mother saw this as an opportunity for her son to be released from the priesthood that neither wanted for him, but Caesar stood his ground and refused to give up either his wife or the priesthood. As a result, he was stripped of both his wife's dowry and his inheritance. At the time, Sulla had drawn up lists of proscribed men and offered a bounty, quite literally, for their heads. Caesar's name was added to the list and he was forced to go into hiding, moving from place to place each night, in spite of having contracted a serious illness (perhaps malaria). It was only through the intervention of his mother and her family's influence that Caesar was saved. Sulla reluctantly spared the young man, famously saying, "There are many Marius's in this fellow Caesar." It was only after Sulla gave in that Caesar let his nomination to the priesthood quietly be forgotten.

Probably feeling he would be safer away from Rome, in the year 79 BC Caesar began his military career, serving under Marcus Minucius Thermus, propraetor of the province of Asia, during the protracted siege of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. While serving with Thermus, Caesar was sent to Bithynia on a diplomatic mission to gain the cooperation of King Nicomedes and his substantial war fleet. While there, Caesar became a favorite of the king and spent so long at his court that rumors circulated that he was involved in a sexual affair with the elderly monarch. These rumors followed Caesar throughout his life in spite of his vehement denials. In Nomenclator: Initium, Polybius tells young Seneca that the real reason for Caesar's protracted stay in Bithynia was an affair with the king's young queen.

Sulla retired from public life in 78 BC, and died shortly after, making it safe for Caesar to return to Rome.

A story is told of an event that happened when Caesar was a young man that illustrates his confidence, boldness, and resourcefulness. While traveling across the Aegean Sea to Greece to further his education Caesar was kidnapped and held for ransom by pirates. He maintained an attitude of friendly superiority from the start of his captivity, insisting that the pirates would not prevail. The pirates demanded Caesar secure twenty talents of silver for his release. Caesar, however, maintained he was worth much more than that and insisted they demand fifty talents. During his captivity, Caesar boldly promised the pirates that after his release he would find them and crucify them. The pirates, being in control at the time, assumed he was joking. Caesar was able to, through correspondence with family and friends, raise the ransom. Upon his release, Caesar raised a fleet and men and hunted down and captured the pirates, recovering the ransom. As a show of leniency that would mark his career, Caesar first had their throats cut before he fulfilled his promise by having the men crucified. Soon after this he was called into military service in the east.

Shortly after he returned to Rome, Caesar began his political career, being elected military tribune. In 69 BC he was elected quaestor. In that same year Caesar's aunt Julia died and he delivered her funeral oration. In a patrician funeral, it was customary to include the images of deceased ancestors and family members in the funeral procession. For the first time since the rule of Sulla, Caesar allowed the image of Marius to be displayed in public.

It is at this point in Caesar's life that Polybius' account in Nomenclator: Initium picks up the thread of his story so, rather than deprive the reader of the chance to discover what is to come, I will leave Caesar's story here.