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Caesar, queen of Nicomedes

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Gaius Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar, according to Suetonius, throughout his life had to deal with unsavoury jokes about himself. These comments were associated with an infamous adventure, which more than twenty-year-old Caesar had at the court of King Nicomedes in Bithynia.

In 80 BCE young Gaius Julius Caesar served in Asia Minor in the army of Lucius Lucullus. As part of his official duties, Caesar came to the court of Nicomedes IV – the king of Bithynia, a country located in northwest Asia Minor. Caesar was sent there by pretor Marcus Minucius Thermus to obtain the Bithyan fleet to assist in the siege of the city of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. He did this mission very well, he even managed to become a friend of the king. According to Suetonius, it was often suggested – probably rightly – that they were lovers. The young Roman was to dazzle with the splendour of the oriental court of the king and the fascination with the lifestyle of the Nicomedes court.

This is what the Suetonius tells:

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, he dawdled so long at the court of Nicomedes that he was suspected of improper relations with the king; and he lent colour to this scandal by going back to Bithynia a few days after his return, with 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.

Suetonius, Julius Caesar, 2

There would be nothing wrong with the whole situation if Caesar played a dominant role. According to the messages, however, he was to be seduced by the ruler of Bithynia and be a passive side. Apparently, he was even caught wearing a ladies’ outfit.

From this story one can infer about the bisexuality of Caesar, later known from loud romances with numerous women; bisexuality was at that time a phenomenon common to the Roman aristocracy. The episode in Bithynia became the subject of satirical commentary many times. Political opponents sought to discredit Caesar at all costs, creating him as pederasty, a lover of absolute monarchy, or simply accusing him of contaminating Roman blood. According to Roman law, a Roman citizen in the course of a homosexual relationship with a passive side was punished. In the end, Caesar, however, did not meet anything worse than satirical comments about him.

  • Koper Sławomir, Życie prywatne i erotyczne w starożytnej Grecji i Rzymie, Warszawa 1998

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