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Caesar and pirates

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Caesar and the pirates
Caesar and pirates. | Author: Edward Mortelmens

In 75 BCE, during his trip to Rhodes in order to study with Apollonius Molon, Gaius Julius Caesar, 25 years old back then, was kidnapped by Cilician pirates. Piracy was widespread at the Mediterranean Sea. It was greatly due to Roman elites: since the pirates provided great deal of slaves, they did not send a Roman fleet against them. Those slaves were next used as workforce at huge estates in Italy.

A well-known anecdote expressed by Plutarch, says that Caesar, when being kidnapped, was told that the pirates wanted 20 talents as a ransom for him, burst with laughter. He said that it is not enough and proposed a ransom totaling 50 talents.

Consequently, Caesar sent his supporters to various cities in order to collect the needed amount. One friend and two slaves stayed with him. Allegedly, Caesar was very confident and arrogant, daring to scold pirates for talking to loudly and preventing him from falling asleep.

He was held in captivity for 38 days, during which time he had fun, exercised and wrote poems and speeches. When he was presenting them to pirates, they mocked him. Furious, he called them illiterates and wildlings, also promising to crucify them all one day.

When the ransom was brought from the Greek city of Miletus, Caesar was released. Immediately after that, he gathered the Greeks, who were hostile to the pirates, and took revenge. He arrived on the island, incarcerated the pirates and put them in prison in Pergamon. Then he went to the intendant of province of Asia and praetor Marcus Junius Silanus so that he decided on the pirates’ fate.

However, when he was told that the decision could not be made straightaway, Caesar chose to deliver justice himself. He crucified all Cilician pirates, just as he promised during his captivity.

  • Plutarch, Caesar, 2

Author of translation: Paweł Fiedorowicz

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