A politically adept and popular leader of the Roman Republic, Julius Caesar significantly transformed what became known as the Roman Empire, by greatly expanding its geographic reach and establishing its imperial system.
While it has long been disputed, it's estimated that Julius Caesar was born in Rome on July 12 or 13, 100 BC. While he hailed from Roman aristocrats, his family was far from rich. When Caesar was 16 his father, Gaius Caesar, died. He remained close to his mother, Aurelia.
The Rome of Caesar's youth was unstable. An element of disorder ruled the Republic, which had discredited its nobility and seemed unable to handle its considerable size and influence.
At around the time of his father's death, Caesar made a concerted effort to side with the country's nobility. His marriage to Cornelia, the daughter of a noble, had drawn the ire of Rome's dictator, Sulla, who ordered the young Roman to divorce his wife or risk losing his property. Caesar refused and found escape in the military, serving first in the province of Asia and then in Cilicia.
Following the death of Sulla, Caesar returned to Rome to begin his career in politics as a prosecuting advocate. He relocated temporarily to Rhodes to study philosophy, but during his travels there was kidnapped by pirates. In a daring display of his negotiation and counter-insurgency tactics, he convinced his captors to raise his ransom. He then organized a naval force to attack them. The pirates were captured and executed.
His stature was enhanced further in 74 BC when he put together a private army and combated Mithradates VI Eupator, king of Pontus, who had declared war on Rome.
When Caesar returned to Rome he began to work with Pompey, a former lieutenant under Sully, who'd switched sides following the dictator's death. Not long after, in 68 or 69 BC, Caesar was elected quaestor (a base political office) and then went to serve in several other key government positions under Pompey.
His personal life meanwhile offered up tragedy when his wife, Cornelia, passed away in 69 BC. Two years later he remarried, taking Pompeia, a distant relative of Pompey, as his wife. Their marriage lasted just a few years, and in 62 BC the couple divorced.
Caesar's political ascendency, however, continued. In 61-60 BC he served as governor of the Roman province of Spain. He also continued his close alliance with Pompey, which enabled him to get elected as consul, a powerful government position, in 59 BC.
As Caesar was cultivating his political partnership with Pompey, the astute leader was also aligning himself with Marcus Licinius Crassus, a Roman general and politician who'd served valiantly during Sulla's rule. Crassus proved to be instrumental in Caesar's rise to power. A leader himself, and cited as the wealthiest man in Roman history, Crassus offered financial and political support to Caesar.
Over the years Pompey and Crassus had come to be intense rivals. But once again Caesar displayed his abilities as a negotiator,
earning the trust of both men and convincing them they'd be better suited as allies instead of enemies.
This partnership among the three men came to be known as the First Triumvirate. For Caesar, this political alliance and the power it gave him was the perfect springboard to greater domination.
An early controversial move came when he tried to pay...