How the Light of the Wives of Julius Caesar Was Dimmed by an Egyptian Lover
Julius Caesar was married three times. He also had plenty of romances, including a famous one with the last queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII.
Caesar was born on July 13, 100 or 102 BC. During his lifetime, he was often more focused on serving Rome than on his marriages. However, for over sixty years of his life, he experienced much joy and sorrow connected with women.
Apart from being a husband to three different women, Caesar had a long-term mistress, Servilia. She was a few years older than him and the mother of Brutus - his friend and one of his killers. Servilia was also a half-sister of Cato the Younger and the wife of Marcus Junius Brutus the Elder, and later Decimus Junius Silanus. She had four (or perhaps more) children, one son and three daughters. It is believed that Caesar was the father of at least one of them. Their romance took place from 63 BC until his death, or perhaps the day when he met Cleopatra VII. A few more names of Caesar’s possible lovers are known as well.
Julius Caesar by Peter Paul Rubens. (CC BY NC SA 2.0)
Caesar’s Beloved Wife Cornelia
Caesar was a young man when he met a daughter of Lucius Cornelius Cinna from a part called the Populares. In the beginning, this marriage was seen as a key to the doors of success in Caesar's career. However, with time this beautiful and loving woman became much more than just a political alliance.
Cornelia became Caesar’s wife in 84 BC when they were both still young. She was about 3-5 years younger than her husband and it seems that their marriage was very suitable for both of them. Most of the details of Cornelia’s life did not survive the passage of time, but it is known that Lucius Cornelius Sulla commanded Caesar to divorce her and marry a woman from his family instead. It was not often that Caesar was prepared to sacrifice his career for a personal relationship, but he refused to leave Cornelia and did not care about the consequences.
A representation of Caesar’s first wife - Cornelia. (Caesar: Hero or Villain)
Cornelia gave Caesar his greatest treasure – a daughter that was born in 76 BC. His wife’s death during childbirth in 69 BC (in which their baby boy also died), was one of the most dramatic moments in Caesar's life. Julia Caesaris, who was only 7 years old at the time, became the most important person in her father's life.
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Julia married Pompey (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus) in 59 BC. This marriage was very important for political reasons, but Caesar also believed that his daughter deserved to have a very powerful man as a husband. He thought that Pompey was the second of this kind (after himself). When Julia died in 54 BC during childbirth, the good political relationship between Caesar and Pompey collapsed.
Julia Caesaris, Julius Caesar’s daughter. (Public Domain)
A Political Marriage with Pompeia
Two years after the death of his beloved wife, Caesar decided to follow Sulla's suggestions, and he married his supporter’s granddaughter. At those times, his position was not so strong. He was related to Gaius Marius who was like Cinna, a part of a political party which lost in a civil war in the 80s BC.
Pompeia wasn't a good wife for Caesar, and their marriage ended quickly and with a huge scandal. About a year after becoming Caesar’s wife, Pompeia hosted a Bona Dea festival. It was a celebration related to fertility and chastity in women, so no man was allowed to attend the private ceremonies. However, a young man named Publius Clodius Pulcher tried to use this celebration to see the women and seduce Pompeia. He was caught, but there was no evidence that Pompeia betrayed her husband. Nevertheless, Caesar decided to divorce her. He famously explained that his wife “must be above suspicion.”
Pompeia, one of Caesar’s wives. (Public Domain)
The Younger Woman and an Exotic Mistress
After this adventure, Caesar became more focused on politics and war than women. He went to the Iberian Peninsula and conquered new lands; he also improved his career and gained more of the senators’ respect. However, a new woman appeared in his house in 59 BC.
Calpurnia became Caesar’s third, and last, wife in 59 BC. Her reputation largely comes from stories involving Cleopatra VII; in which Calpurnia has been described as a malicious and jealous woman, who was an enemy of the famous Egyptian queen.
Calpurnia was born in 75 BC, so she was young enough that she could have been Caesar’s daughter. As Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus’ child, she grew up in an intellectual environment. She was very interested in studying different themes such as history, literature, etc. She was shy, humble, and smart.
Calpurnia – Caesar’s last wife. (Public Domain)
Historians still doubt that her marriage with Caesar was based on anything more than political interests. However, with time the couple undoubtedly created a strong bond. Calpurnia was supportive of her husband, and a person who was faithful and worthy of trust. She was also a woman who helped him survive after Julia’s death. Calpurnia was young, but also full of wisdom. She was fresh like a spring flower and different from most of the people in Caesar's life. He allowed her to make all of her scientific ambitions come true and he took care of her future in case of his death as well.
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Cleopatra VII appeared in Caesar’s life in 48 BC. He was charmed by and perhaps fell in love with the exotic and unique woman. Due to the nature of their relationship, Calpurnia was probably not jealous, but most likely she was upset with the situation. She knew that the senate would never support the romance of Caesar with the Ptolemaic Queen. However, circumstances became extremely difficult when Cleopatra had a son with Caesar. Some researchers believe that Caesar wanted to divorce Calpurnia and make his Egyptian lover his fourth wife; however, there is no evidence to support this theory.
‘Cleopatra and Caesar’ (1866) by Jean-Léon Gérôme. (Public Domain)
Ancient writers claimed that Calpurnia was close to saving Caesar March 15, 44 BC. She was aware of the impending danger and she had warned her husband that he may be killed. Calpurnia had a prophetic dream and told Caesar about it. Unfortunately, he did not take her dream seriously.
After her husband’s death, Calpurnia delivered all of his personal documents to Marcus Antonius, one of Caesar's most trusted friends. She never remarried, but spent her days instead with her beloved books and lived a life full of interesting discussions and studies.
‘The Death of Caesar’ by Jean-Léon Gérôme. (Walters Art Museum/Public Domain)
Forgotten Ladies of Rome
Calpurnia died as an old woman in a beautiful villa somewhere in the territory of modern day Italy. She was a highly respected noblewoman. The Egypt of Cleopatra’s time was only a Roman province, but her position on the court of Octavian was still strong. It seems that Caesar’s adopted son forgave her supporting Mark Anthony, and allowed her to enjoy life in peace. After all, she was a winner.
Sadly, it is hard to find much detailed information on Julius Caesar’s wives. The women, who were an important part of one of the famous Roman's life, became only shadows as time passed. Their names are only known for their links to the sunrises and sunsets in Julius Caesar’s life.
Aleksander Krawczuk, Gajusz Juliusz Cezar, 1972.
Pat Southern, Julius Caesar, 2001
Michael Grant, Julius Caesar, 1969.
Gajusz Swetoniusz Trankwillus, Żywoty cezarów, 1987.