You probably never learned about Julius Cesar’s rumored gay affair in history class

Antique statue of Roman dictator, politician, historian and military general Gaius Julius Caesar.
Photo: Shutterstock

Julius Caesar, the general and dictator who transformed the Roman Republic into a formidable empire, was embroiled in wrongdoing and innuendo throughout his life, even up to his infamous demise in 44 BCE. Among the most persistent rumors was his alleged relationship with King Nicomedes IV of Bithynia, a kingdom along modern Turkey’s northern coast that became a Roman client state and later a province.

Around 80 BCE, young Caesar — serving under Praetor Marcus Minucius Thermus, a senior executive magistrate — was sent to Bithynia to seek military support from Nicomedes IV. Historian Suetonius noted that Caesar spent an unusually long time at the Bithynian court, prompting rumors that he had a physically intimate relationship with the king. Roman traders claimed to have seen Caesar lounging with Nicomedes and entering his bedroom.

In Rome, such allegations were scandalous. Being accused of having “passive” relations with a man was a significant insult meant to tarnish the reputation of young Roman men. Critics used this against Caesar, with Cicero, one of his fiercest adversaries, making pointed remarks about the benefits Rome supposedly received from Nicomedes. Gaius Scribonius Curio, one of Rome’s elected magistrates dubbed Caesar “every man’s wife and every woman’s husband,” and even Caesar’s soldiers sang mocking songs.

Despite Caesar’s denials under oath, the rumors persisted, repeated by notable figures like Cicero, poet Licinius Calvus, and Gaius Memmius, another Roman magistrate. After Caesar’s bloody demise, Marc Antony accused Octavian, Caesar’s heir, of having slept with Caesar to secure his position.

Ancient Rome - Drawing of crowd of men and women passing through the Roman Forum
Shutterstock Ancient Rome – Drawing of crowd of men and women passing through the Roman Forum

The question remains: did Caesar have a gay relationship? While concrete evidence is lacking, the context of Roman sexuality must be considered.

Caesar’s broader legacy also challenges modern perceptions. His political reforms, extension of citizenship, and defiance of conservative elites marked him as a transformative yet controversial figure. His flamboyant dress and mannerisms contributed to his complex image.

Assigning modern labels to historical figures is complicated. Whether or not Julius Caesar had a physically intimate relationship with Nicomedes IV, his story fits a pattern seen in other historical ‘great men’ like Alexander the Great and Frederick the Great, who also had documented same-sex relationships. These figures reshaped their worlds while defying conventional norms of masculinity and leadership.

In the end, whether Caesar’s relationship with Nicomedes was real or not may be less important than what the rumors reveal about Roman society and the lasting impact of Caesar’s multifaceted legacy.

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