Zoilos was born in the first half of the 1st century BCE in the Roman city of Aphrodisias (today’s southern Turkey). The excavations carried out there over the last fifty years have revealed his magnificent tomb. At first, archaeologists thought they were dealing with an aristocratic person until an inscription was discovered identifying him as “Gaius Julius Zoilos, freedman of the divine Julius Caesar”.
He was born as a free man, but over time he was kidnapped by pirates or human traffickers, or he ended up a prisoner of war during one of the conflicts of the time. Consequently, he ended up in Rome and became a slave to Gaius Julius Caesar himself. The latter, in turn, gave him freedom, as well as Roman citizenship and the Roman name Gaius Julius Zoilos.
The liberator Zoilos later collaborated with Emperor Octavian Augustus, who must have known him quite well and sympathized with him (in Augustus’ letter, written in 39 or 38 BCE and placed by the people of Aphrodisias on a stone plaque in the city centre, it reads “You know how I like my Zoilos”).
After returning to his native Aphrodisias, Zoilos was already fabulously wealthy, probably thanks to the spoils of Caesar’s campaign, a handful of which went even to slaves or freedmen. He began to build his position. Thanks to his riches, he financed various construction works in the city, including a new stage in the theatre or a general renovation of the main temple. His name has become synonymous with a patron and benefactor.
After his death, the people of Aphrodisias erected him a wonderful tomb. It should also be mentioned about the epitaph of Zoilos’ son discovered in Rome, which if it belongs to a descendant of Zoilos (it is possible that it is only the same names) means that part of his family did not return to Aphrodisias with their father. For this “Tiberius Julius Pappus, son of Zoilos” was commemorated as the superior of imperial libraries from the middle of the 1st century during the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius.