In 80 BCE, young Julius Caesar was an ambassador to Nicomedes’ court. He served his first campaign in Asia on the personal staff of Marcus Thermus, governor of the province. Being sent by Thermus to Bithynia, to fetch a fleet, because he had stayed there for so long, a rumor developed that he was suspected of improper relations with the king [The Latin is stronger – “non sine rumore prostratae regi pudicitiae”], leading to the disparaging title, “the Queen of Bithynia”, an allegation that was much brought up by Caesar’s political enemies later on in his life. A political opponent once said that “He is every woman’s man and every man’s woman.” He lent further suspicion to this scandal by going back to Bithynia a few days after his return for the alleged purpose of collecting a debt for a freedman, one of his dependents. During the rest of the campaign he enjoyed a better reputation, and at the storming of Mytilene Thermus awarded him the civic crown.
Julius Caesar is said to have been tall of stature, with a fair complexion, shapely limbs, a somewhat full face, and keen black eyes; sound of health, except that towards the end he was subject to sudden fainting fits and to nightmare as well. He was twice attacked by the falling sickness [what most historians believe to be epilepsy] during his campaigns. He was somewhat overnice in the care of his person, being not only carefully trimmed and shaved, but even having superfluous hair plucked out, as some have charged; while his baldness was a disfigurement which troubled him greatly, since he found that it was often the subject of the gibes of his detractors. Because of it he used to comb forward his scanty locks from the crown of his head, and of all the honors voted him by the senate and people there was none which he received or made use of more gladly than the privilege of wearing a laurel wreath at all times. They say, too, that he was fantastic in his dress; that he wore a senator’s tunic with fringed sleeves reaching to the wrist [i.e. Latus clavis – the braod purple strip, or a tunic with the broad stripe. All senators had the right to wear this; the peculiarity in Caesar’s case consisted in the long fringed sleeves.] , and always had a girdle over it, though rather a loose one. While a girdle was commonly worn with the ordinary tunic, it was not usual to wear one with the latus clavis. The looseness of the girdle was an additional peculiarity. This, they say, was the occasion of Sulla’s mot, when he often warned the nobles to keep an eye on the ill-girt boy.
There was no stain on his reputation for chastity except his intimacy with King Nicomedes, but that was a deep and lasting reproach, which laid him open to insults from every quarter. I say nothing of the notorious lines of Licinius Calvus:
Whate’er Bithynia had, and Caesar’s paramour.
Bithynia quicquid/ et pedicator Caesaris umquam habuit
I pass over, too, the invectives of Dolabella and the elder Curio, in which Dolabella calls him “the queen’s rival, the inner partner of the royal couch,” and Curio, “the brothel of Nicomedes and the stew of Bithynia” I take no account of the edicts of Bibulus, in which he posted his colleague as “the queen of Bithyllia,” saying that ” of yore he was enamoured of a king, but now of a king’s estate.” At this same time, so Marcus Brutus declares, one Octavius, a man whose disordered mind made him sornewhat free with his tongue, after saluting Pompey as ” king ” in a crowded assembly, greeted Caesar as ”Queen.” But Gaius Memmius makes the direct charge that he acted as cup-bearer to Nicomedes with the rest of his wantons at a large dinner-party, and that among the guests were some merchants from Rome, whose names Memmius gives. Cicero, indeed, is not content with having written in sundry letters that Caesar was led by the king’s attendants to the royal apartments, that he lay on a golden couch arrayed in purple, and that the virginity of this son of Venus was lost in Bithynia; but when Caesar was once addressing the senate in defence of Nysa, daughter of Nicomedes, and was enumerating his obligations to the king, Cicero cried: ” No more of that, pray, for it is well known what he gave you, and what you gave him in turn.” Finally, in his Gallic triumph his soldiers, among the bantering songs which are usually sung by those who follow the chariot, shouted these lines, which became a byword
All the Gauls did Caesar vanquish, Nicomedes vanquished him;
Lo ! now Caesar rides in triumph, victor over all the Gauls,
Nicomedes does not triumph, who subdued the conqueror.
As one of his last acts as king of Bithynia, in 74 BCE, Nicomedes bequeathed the entire kingdom of Bithynia to Rome. The Roman Senate quickly voted it as a new province.
That he was unbridled and extravagant in his intrigues is the general opinion, and that he seduced many illustrious women, among them Postumia, wife of Servius Sulpicius, Lollia, wife of Aulus Gabinius, Tertulla, wife of Marcus Crassus, and even Gnaeus Pompey’s wife Mucia. At all events there is no doubt that Pompey was taken to task by the elder and the younger Curio, as well as by many others, because through a desire for power he had afterwards married the daughter of a man on whose account he divorced a wife who had borne him three children, and whom he had often referred to with a groan as an Aegisthus. But beyond all others Caesar loved Servilia, the mother of Marcus Brutus, for whom in his first consulship he bought a pearl costing six million sesterces. During the civil war, too, besides other presents, he knocked down some fine estates to her in a public auction at a nominal price and when some expressed their surprise at the low figure, Cicero wittily remarked: “It’s a better bargain than you think, for there is a third off.” And in fact it was thought that Servilia was prostituting her own daughter Tertia to Caesar.
That he did not refrain from intrigues in the provinces is shown in particular by this couplet, which was also shouted by the soldiers in his Gallic triumph:
Men of Rome, keep close your consorts, here’s a bald adulterer.
Gold in Gaul you spent in dalliance, which you borrowed here in Rome.
He had love affairs with queens too, including Eunoe the Moor, wife of Bogudes, on whom, as well as on her husband, he bestowed many splendid presents, as Naso writes: but above all with Cleopatra, with whom he often feasted until daybreak, and he would have gone through Egypt with her in her state-barge almost to Aethiopia, had not his soldiers refused to follow him. Finally he called her to Rome and did not let her leave until he had ladened her with high honors and rich gifts, and he allowed her to give his name to the child which she bore. In fact, according to certain Greek writers, this child was very like Caesar in looks and carriage. Mark Antony declared to the senate that Caesar had really acknowledged the boy, and that Gaius Matius, Gaius Oppius, and other friends of Caesar knew this. Of these Gaius Oppius, as if admitting that the situation required apology and defense, published a book, to prove that the child whom Cleopatra fathered on Caesar was not his. Helvius Cinna, tribune of the commons, admitted to several that he had a bill drawn up in due form, which Caesar had ordered him to propose to the people in his absence, making it lawful for Caesar to marry what wives he wished, and as many as he wished, “for the purpose of begetting children.” But to remove all doubt that he had an evil reputation both for shameless vice and for adultery (impudicitae et adulteriorum), I have only to add that the elder Curio in one of his speeches calls him “every woman’s man and every man’s woman”
The above history of Julius Caesar is adapted from translations of Suetonius’s The Life of Julius Caesar. Suetonius is my favorite ancient historian. He had a dirty mind and, most likely, a wild imagination, making him a lot of fun to read. He used rumors to write his histories, though there is evidence that he performed a great deal of research. I am currently reading George Gardiner’s The Hadrian Enigma about the death of the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s young Bithynian lover Antinous’s suspicious death on the Nile. Suetonius is he narrator and a prominent character of the book. Since this book is nearly 500 pages long, it might take me a while to read it, since I don’t get a lot of pleasure reading time during the school year.