10 Facts About Julius Caesar’s Rise to Power

Colin Ricketts

3 mins

27 Jul 2018

Benefitting from an advantageous birth, Julius Caesar was primed for life in the public eye. Though he experienced more than a few bumps along the way, his career started with an active military service, effectively raising his stakes in Roman political society. Caesar then progressed to more civil and bureaucratic roles before returning to the life that he became famous for.

Here are 10 facts that concern Caesar’s early career and path towards greatness.

1. Caesar began his military career at the Siege of Mytilene in 81 BC

Map showing Mytilene on Lesbos

The island city, situated on Lesbos, was suspected of helping local pirates. The Romans under Marcus Minucius Thermus and Lucius Licinius Lucullus won the day.

2. From the start he was a brave soldier and was decorated with the Civic Crown during the siege

The civic crown

This was the second highest military honour after the Grass Crown and entitled its winner to enter the Senate.

3. An ambassadorial mission to Bithynia in 80 BC was to haunt Caesar for the rest of his life

King-Nicomedes-IV

King Nicomedes IV.

He was sent to seek naval help from King Nicomedes IV, but spent so long at court that rumours of an affair with the king started. His enemies later mocked him with the title ‘the Queen of Bithynia’.

4. Caesar was kidnapped by pirates in 75 BC while crossing the Aegean Sea

Ancient crucifixion

He told his captors the ransom they had demanded was not high enough and promised to crucify them when he was free, which they thought a joke. On his release he raised a fleet, captured them and did have them crucified, mercifully ordering their throats cut first.

Narrated by Sir Ian McKellen, The Road To Rome documents the journey of three authors of historical fiction as they walk from Naples to Rome dressed as Roman soldiers to raise money for charity. Their exploits raised over £25,000 in donations for charities Médecins Sans Frontières and Combat Stress.Watch Now

5. When his enemy Sulla died, Caesar felt safe enough to return to Rome

Model of Ancient Rome

Sulla was able to retire from political life and died on his country estate. His appointment as dictator when Rome was not in crisis by the Senate set a precedent for Caesar’s career.

6. In Rome Caesar lived an ordinary life

the district of Subara in Rome

Photo by Lalupa via Wikimedia Commons.

He wasn’t rich, Sulla having confiscated his inheritance, and lived in a working class neighbourhood that was a notorious red-light district.

7. He found his voice as a lawyer

Portrait of a Roman lawyer on a Sarcophagus

Needing to earn money, Caesar turned to the courts. He was a successful lawyer and his speaking was very highly praised, though he was noted for his high-pitched voice. He particularly liked prosecuting corrupt government officials.

8. He was back in military and political life soon

Historian and archaeologist Simon Elliott answers the key questions surrounding one of history's most compelling figures - Julius Caesar.Watch Now

He was elected a military tribune and then quaestor – a travelling auditor –  in 69 BC. He was then was sent to Spain as a governor.

9. He found a hero on his travels

Statue of Alexander the Great

In Spain Caesar is reported to have seen a statue of Alexander the Great. He was disappointed to note that he was now the same age as Alexander had been when he was master of the known world.

10. More powerful offices were soon to follow

Emperor Augustus as Pontifex Maximus

Emperor Augustus in the robes of Pontifex Maximus.

In 63 BC he was elected to the top religious position in Rome, Pontifex Maximus (he had been a priest as a boy) and two years later he was governor of a large part of Spain where his military talent shone through as he defeated two local tribes.