The Lives of the Twelve Cœsars

Date: 1855

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Chapter XIX the Makers of Imperial Rome: Character Sketches by Suetonius



Julius Cæsar


It is said that he was tall, of a fair complexion, round-limbed, rather full-faced, with eyes black and piercing. He enjoyed excellent health, except toward the close of his life, when he was subject to sudden fainting-fits, and disturbance in his sleep. He was likewise twice seized with the falling sickness while engaged in active service. He was so nice in the care of his person, that he not only kept the hair of his head closely cut and had his face smoothly shaved, but even caused the hair on other parts of the body to be plucked out by the roots. This was a practice for which some persons rallied him. His baldness gave him much uneasiness, having often found himself upon that account exposed to the jibes of his enemies. He therefore used to bring forward the hair from the crown of his head. Of all the honors conferred upon him by the Senate and people, there was none which he either accepted or used with greater pleasure than the right of wearing constantly a laurel crown. It is said that he was particular in his dress, using the latus clavus1 with fringes about the wrists, and always had it girded about him, but rather loosely. This circumstance gave origin to the expression of Sulla, who often advised the nobles to beware of "the ill-girt boy." . . .

In eloquence and warlike achievements, he equaled, at least, if he did not surpass, the greatest of men. . . . Cicero, in recounting to Brutus the famous orators, declares that he does not see that Cæsar was inferior to any one of them; and adds that "Cæsar had an elegant, splendid, noble, and magnificent vein of eloquence." . . . In his delivery Cæsar is said to have had a shrill voice. His action was animated, but not ungraceful. He has left behind him some speeches, among which are ranked a few that are not genuine. . . .

He has likewise left Commentaries of his own actions both in the war in Gaul and in the civil war with Pompey. . . . Of these productions Cicero, in one of his works speaks thus, "He wrote his Commentaries in a manner deserving of great approbation: they are plain, precise, and elegant, without any affectation of rhetorical ornament." . . .

He was perfect in the use of arms, an accomplished rider, and able to endure fatigue beyond all belief. On a march, he used to go at the head of his troops, sometimes on horseback, but oftener on foot, with his head bare in all kinds of weather. He would travel post in a light carriage without baggage, at the rate of a hundred miles a day. If he was stopped by floods in the rivers, he swam across, or floated on skins inflated with wind, so that he often anticipated intelligence of his movements. . . . He not only fought pitched battles, but made sudden attacks when an opportunity offered; often at the end of a march, and sometimes during the most violent storms, when nobody would imagine he could stir. Nor was he ever backward in fighting, until toward the end of his life. . . . He never defeated the enemy without driving them from their camp and giving them no time to rally their forces. When the issue of a battle was doubtful, he sent away all the horses, and his own first, that having no means of flight, his men might be under the greater necessity of standing their ground. . . .

The following are remarkable instances of his resolution. After the battle of Pharsalus, having sent his troops before him into Asia, he was passing the strait of the Hellespont in a ferryboat. Here he met Lucius Cassius, one of the opposite party, with ten ships of war. So far from endeavoring to escape, Cæsar went alongside his ship and called upon him to surrender. Cassius humbly gave him his submission. At Alexandria, in the attack of a bridge, he was forced by a sudden sally of the enemy into a boat. Several others hurrying in with him, he leaped into the sea, and saved himself by swimming to the next ship, which lay at the distance of two hundred paces. In this exploit he held his left hand out of the water, for fear of wetting some papers which he held in it; and pulled his general’s cloak after him with his teeth, lest it should fall into the hands of the enemy. . . .

His temper was naturally averse to severity in retaliation. After he had captured some pirates, by whom he had been taken, having sworn that he would crucify them, he did so indeed; but he first ordered their throats to be cut.1 He could never bear the thought of doing any harm to Cornelius Phagitas, who had dogged him in the night when he was sick and a fugitive, with the design of carrying him to Sulla, and from whose hands he had escaped with some difficulty by giving him a bribe. Philemon, his amanuensis, who had promised his enemies to poison him, he put to death without torture. When he was summoned as a witness against Publius Clodius, who was prosecuted for the profanation of religious ceremonies, he declared he knew nothing of the affair, although his mother Aurelia and his sister Julia gave the court an exact and full account of the circumstances. And being asked why then he had divorced his wife, he said, "Because my family should not only be free from guilt, but even from the suspicion of it." . . .

His other words and actions, however, so far outweigh all his good qualities, that it is thought he abused his power and was justly cut off. For he not only obtained excessive honors, such as the consulship every year, the dictatorship for life, and the censorship, but also the title of emperor and the surname of FATHER OF HIS COUNTRY . . . . He even suffered some honors to be decreed to him, which were unbefitting the most exalted of mankind; such as a gilded chair of state in the Senatehouse, a consecrated chariot, altars, statues among the gods, a bed of state in the temples, a priest, and a college of priests dedicated to himself. He also allowed one of the months to be called by his name. There were, indeed, no honors which he did not either assume himself or grant to others, at his will and pleasure. . . .

1 Suetonius, . The translation of Alexander Thomson, revised by T. Forester. London, 1855. George Bell and Sons.

2 Suetonius, Julius Cœsar, 45, 55–57, 60, 63–64, 74, 76.

1 A broad strip of purple worn on the front of the toga.

1 To save them from the torture of a lingering death.

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Chicago: Alexander Thomson, trans., The Lives of the Twelve Cœsars in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 219–221. Original Sources, accessed July 21, 2024,

MLA: . The Lives of the Twelve Cœsars, translted by Alexander Thomson, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, pp. 219–221. Original Sources. 21 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: (trans.), The Lives of the Twelve Cœsars. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.219–221. Original Sources, retrieved 21 July 2024, from