Topic: Caesar’s marriages and the question of his sexual abstinence after Cornelia’s death
I wanted to add some comments to the original Interview, as clarifications on different points touched on in the Interview, and not touched at all.
First of all there is a clarification, as to the order, number and terminations of Caesar’s marriages.
I take it to be three in number: Cornelia, died; Pompeia, divorced; Calpurnia, widowed by Caesar’s death. Some believe this wrong, and say he had four wives: Cossutia, divorced or annulled; Cornelia died; Pompeia, divorced; Calpurnia widowed by Caesar’s death.
I believe he was betrothed to Cossutia, as arranged by his father, just after his assumption of the toga virilis. This betrothal never blossomed into marriage for two reasons: his father died; and he met, and fell, head over heels, in love with Cornelia. [Some translations of Suetonius make it appear that Suetonius states that Caesar didn’t marry Cossutia, because he had been appointed Flamen (for more on Flamen see below), and that a flamen needed to marry a patrician girl. I believe these were junxtapposed facts, not cause and effect.] Remember, he was a patrician Roman still under the authority of his father, who was absolute master of the family. Once a father had arranged a contract of marriage for a member in his potestas, it could not be changed, except by the will of the head of the family. When Caesar’s father died, Caesar now became the head of his own family, and therefore had complete control over his own destiny. Modern authors seem to forget this. Although there is one fact that all agree on: Caesar truly loved only one of these women… Cornelia!
Next, many seem to think that my idea of Caesar’s lifelong fidelity to Cornelia included a kind of sexual abstinence towards his other wives, which many find unbelievable today (which isn’t surprising in this age of infidelity to just about everything!). I’m afraid the Interview was a little misleading on this subject (as, also, my Author’s notes in the book, which mentions this subject).
Caesar was a very virile man, with the needs and appetites of such a man, especially towards women, as his reputation in later life confirmed! I also believe, he was a very extraordinary man; in the sense that he could control these appetites to a much greater degree, than most men of his day could. There is also some evidence for this (the abstinence, that is) in the scandalous affair of his second wife Pompeia, daughter of Pompeius Rufus.
We sort of wonder why Pompeia, who was a very voracious woman sexually, didn’t find this master philanderer enough to cool her passions? Was he withholding from her; did she find him something of a dud (read abstinence here!)… so she needed a coxcomb, such as Clodius, to cool her passions? Also, why did Caesar pick her as a wife? She was of use politically, no doubt; but there were probably a hundred others, also, which he could have picked. But might she have been picked to bolster the “sexual tyrannosaurus” reputation, he was trying to pass off; and, at the same time, cover up his abstinence? Whatever the case, he definitely blundered with her; her infidelity and indiscretions got totally out of control, when she picked a buffoon, like Clodius, to mate with; so divorce became essential.
After the messy divorce with Pompeia, Caesar seems to have shifted gears in a completely opposite course with his marriage to Calpurnia. Still, there were the important political connections made, but, now, the lady was a virtual paragon of virtue! He would definitely have no problems covering up his abstinence with her. A kiss on the forehead would probably cool her ardor completely. He almost had to have that little fling with Cleopatra, to keep up his reputation, as it was.
So, did Caesar practice sexual abstinence with his later wives? I think he could have, and the records don’t contradict it; but, more than likely, he made love to them, but without any love. So, when I say that he didn’t have any children, except with Cornelia, because he was loyal to her even after her death, what do I mean?
The Romans didn’t need abortion to avoid unwanted offspring. If a little misplaced ardor caused a child to be born, and the father didn’t want it, he just didn’t pick it up in his arms (perform the susceptio or acceptance ceremony). It was that simple. That child simply did not exist, as far as he or his wife, for that matter, were concerned. An unaccepted child of wealthy people probably became a client to that family. But, a child of a destitute free family was probably left to die. Although this alternative was probably a relative rarity, (more than likely, the child would be sold into slavery; this was probably the way in which prostitutes augmented their income, and corrected a messy mistake, now and then) it was a viable alternative. This is what I meant. Caesar may have been lucky, and never had a child; but more likely, he didn’t pick up the children he might have had, so he was loyal to Cornelia, in a very real way.
Remember, a blood offspring, to a Patrician Roman, was extremely important; it was a matter of his dynasty becoming extinct. And, in essence, Caesar accepted this, rather than be disloyal to his love for Cornelia. Technically, adopting Octavian was his way out; but we have only Octavian’s word for that! We also have it that he made the Roman people his heir; which, at least, seems to me to be the more likely gesture, Caesar would made, especially, if my hypotheses concerning his democratic bent were true.
On the office of Flamen Dialis and some chronology
In the book, I say that Caius Marius, in his final Consulship, made the fifteen and one half year old Caesar, Flamen Dialis, as a gift, on his receiving the toga virilis. To be more accurate, I would qualify this, by saying, he appointed him as a nominee to the office at that time. There was, probably, a confirmation period afterwards, which was about a year. So, Caesar was probably confirmed as Flamen, when he was sixteen and a half, in 84 BC; this was at the same time, he married Cornelia. Caesar probably never actually assumed the office, but was in the initiation and training stages, right up until the time that Sulla removed him as Flamen. Sulla, probably, never appointed the new Flamen before his death, and the office remained vacant until Augustus’s time. This explains, why Caesar was able to accept the position as Contubernalis for Thermus and Servilius; the military training needed for the job was probably already accomplished, when he was a young man, as was also his great horsemanship practices. None of these things could have been accomplished had he actually officiated as Flamen, as the job was very restrictive on the office holder, especially as to participation in military and even social events (the scene “On the Banks…” could never have taken place, as a Flamen was not allowed such activity; nor was he, any horse racing, etc).
Perhaps, at this time, I should give a chronology of events as used in the book:
85 BC – a 151/2-year-old Caesar receives the toga virilis, and is appointed, by Mariuis, to the office of Flamen Dialis. Also, Marius, and then Caesar’s father dies at the end of this year; and, of course, Caesar meets Cornelia at his father’s funeral.
84 BC – a 161/2-year-old Caesar marries Cornelia (she is a year younger than him); and is confirmed as Flamen Dialis; later that year, his daughter Julia is born, and his father in law, Cinna, is assassinated at Brundisium.
83 BC – Sulla lands in Italy, and captures Rome.
82 BC – the flashback Chapter in the book occurs, “On The Banks Of The Tiber…”.
71 BC – Caesar’s aunt Julia dies, at the end of this year; and Caesar eulogizes her at her funeral.
71 - 70 BC – Cornelia dies at 29 years of age, at the end of 71 BC (a few months after Julia’s death), or at the beginning of 70 BC; this is just before the Consulship of Crassus and Pompey that year (70 BC).
Topic: Roman Character as related to the later Republic of Caesar
The Roman people, of the Tiber River, the people, who wore the toga, who would assume leadership for most of the known world, under the empire, were quite different from the original Patrician tribes that settled the region, and founded Rome. The latter had been a tough non-individualistic people, ready and willing to give up all, including their lives, for the new state, they had founded.
One need only consider the example of the invasion of Rome, around 279 BC, by the Tyrant of Epirus, Pyrrhus. In battle after battle, he beat this upstart nation. But, the more battles, he won, the more determined the Romans became; and, the better they became in battle, until, finally, he was forced to withdraw, rather then suffer any more such disastrous victories. Today, we call these victories by the name “Pyrrhic “; victories, so costly, they might as well be defeats.
Pyrrhus could beat the Romans in battle, but he could never break their will. At last, he could not help, but admire such an enemy. They were simply extraordinary! Their will was one will; they lived and died for the state, their leaders always in the fore, a model for all others.
By the time of the late republic, the people were very different, than these, founding fathers. But, what had changed them; for one thing… success!
They had conquered all of Italy, and had expanded outside Italy, with colonies and provinces, in far off lands. This wide frontier had made the "citizen soldier" army obsolete. Now, there would need to be a professional, standing army, always on the ready. The professional army, now, was less patriotic, since they fought for the prospect of reward; in money, pensions or land. The poor farmers could no longer go off, and leave their families to take care of their farms, because they would be away too long.
The influx of immigrants and slaves, from the colonies and provinces, also made for a scarcity of jobs; and, a loss of cohesion and trust, which the founding fathers had exhibited. Diversity was causing a breakdown in the unity of the old republic. This widespread immigration also caused the growth of classes, in particular the middle class, and the contention and rivalry between them and the clients and poor.
But the leaders also exhibited change. The patrician class became wealthy, and no longer exhibited the model behavior they had flaunted, as an example to the poor. The old virtues were dying out, as a once altruistic class, became a selfish and arrogant class. They competed with the nouveau riche Plebeians, or “New men”, for wealth, power and honor. A democratic Republic soon became an oligarchy (rule by the wealthy).
But, one man had not changed that much, from the old timers. He knew what the old timers were, and modeled himself upon them. Although his methods were different, and more in line with the puerilities of the time, his virtues were not. Only a man conversant with modern methods and their perverse motivations, such methods as his uncle Marius had introduced, and such motives as his enemies used; but wholly grounded in ancient virtue could succeed in the task, he had undertaken. And, this man was the Julius Caesar that proceeded to virtually conquer much of the world in a quarter of a century. By the time he had finished, the society itself seemed very fragile and on the point of collapse. Only his genius and his legions kept the delicate balance needed, for society to keep going. But trust was gone, replaced by greed and lust for power; and the same senators, he thought would form a model of selfless service to the people, were already conspiring his downfall. Now, he saw that he was too much the idealist. The democracy, he had dreamed of, needed men who were truly “Good”; not the “Good men” (the ‘Boni’), the Senate believed themselves to be.
Topic: More independent evidence for Caesar’s Democratic Ideas… Lex Julia Municipalis A Plaque found at Heraclea; dated 45 BC.
Many people today read a history book, and accept it as gospel. But, when we read these books, especially about a time so remote from our own, as the late Roman Republic and the people who lived then, we must understand that even "the so-called facts" involve much conjecture and speculation.
First, lets define concretely some things:
Historical facts: things that are greater than 99% surely known. For instance: the date of a battle; the participants in a battle; a city’s location; a person’s name, as being at a certain place, at a certain time. These things are usually confirmed by archeological artifacts such as: inscriptions, vases, historical sites and other concrete things, found in archeological digs. Why don’t I say 100%? Because people made mistakes even back then; or, they may have even lied. What archeologists find, are usually what people discarded; or, what was so ubiquitous that an instance of it survived. So, even here, there is an element of chance involved.
Primary Sources: these may be the facts above or confirmed ancient writings. In the case of Caesar, most of these are ancient writings that have come down to us as manuscripts, which are copies made hundreds of years later, during the dark ages by monks, whose job it was to copy these ancient manuscripts (which were even then probably copies of the originals). The primary sources, in Caesar’s case, are copies of copies of his own writings; and the writings of authors, (Plutarch, Seutonius, Aulus Gellius, Sallust, Cicero, etc.) who lived at his time, or approximately hundreds of years later. Note: the words “copies of copies”. Authenticity: 80%, maybe less. Note: this only says that they are authentic; conjectured, largely, by cross-referencing to other documents that mention them, and by Latin writing style. Of course, the interpretation of what the documents say is even less sure, since they must be translated by people living 2000 years later; and their interpretation of the ancient Latin language; not to mention the copyists mistakes in transcribing and interpreting (the copyists spoke medieval Latin, and had their own interpretation of ancient Latin, two very different languages), and/or censorship (I won’t even comment on this, just remember why the dark ages were called dark!).
Secondary Sources: These are historians, in later times, writing or commenting on the interpretation of the primary sources. In the case of Julius Caesar, these are a vast literature, beginning at the time of the middle ages, up to the present. Here we find interpretation to be very varied.
In general, there seems to be two sides: pro Caesar (as I am); and anti Caesar. In general, both sides agree on the major facts of his life; but the details are still argued. The interpretation of his motives is the real stumbling block, and is the basis for the two sides. The same major facts can be argued both ways, as far as motives go. I have pointed out many of the ambiguities and paradoxes that neither side has adequately answered.
A further trouble is that the primary sources represent only one side of the complicated time, Caesar lived in: the Aristocracy or Nobiles. The Popular side has totally disappeared. In lieu of this, I base my conjectures on the consistency of Caesar’s actions, not on assumptions that he was power hungry; and on the fact that actions speak louder than words, and a person’s real innate character doesn’t change much during his life.
Facts before Caesar assumed supreme power in the state:
Fact 1.: Caesar prosecuted former important Roman officials for their actions against provincials.
Fact 2.: Caesar helped to regain the veto power for the Tribunes of the Plebs after Sulla’s demise.
Facts after Caesar assumed supreme power in the state:
Fact 3.: Caesar began introducing provincials (Celts, and other non-Romans) for appointments as Senators.
Fact 4.: Lex Julia Municipalis enacted by Caesar at the height of his power as Dictator. This is a concrete historical fact as described above.
Fact 5.: He refused the offer of King.
Fact 4, a bronze plaque found at Heraclea describes a law, passed by Caesar, in 45 BC, which gave to Roman citizens and colonists living in the provinces and colonies complete autonomy from Rome in local legal matters. This, in itself, shows his first steps toward creating the local representation for the provinces, which a true democratic republic would require. The next step would be to appoint provincials as Senators, to ensure that the provinces could have a say in the creation of laws governing them, which he was, in fact, doing, when they assassinated him, as the preceding fact 3 shows. It is quite obvious, what all these facts point to: disenfranchisement of the Aristocracy, and local representation for all peoples throughout the empire (for Rome was now an empire in extent). There is also here a total consistency with his previous actions, before his assumption of the supreme power in the state, facts 1 and 2.
Romans practiced the cult of the warrior. They glorified and deified the greatest of soldiers, who defended the state. Most of the honors declared by the Senate for Caesar, including deification, was in line with this cult worship. After all, he had, indeed, shown himself to be the greatest soldier, Rome had ever known (having engaged in some 50 pitched battles successfully; not only against barbarians, but also against Roman armies). This didn’t mean that they (the Aristocracy) didn’t hate him any the less. In fact, it was to their benefit to heap these honors on him; the more so to discredit him, and the easier to prove him, the tyrant. But for me, fact 5 shows that this was their real motive (the Romans hated any thought of kingship inherently); and, that his (Caesar’s) real motive was all the more against a tyranny of any kind.
As to Caesar’s character, the gesture, he made as a young man, to keep his wife, even at the risk of his life, says it all. He never changed; as he was with his family, so was he to his unworthy friends: true to the end. Shakespeare, the words you spoke over the traitor Brutus, truly belonged to Caesar; for this was truly, a man, in the fullest sense of the word!
Originally Published:October 24, 2007
Revised:March 6, 2017