Great Europeans

Live by the sword die by the sword

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Julius Caesar got himself captured by pirates and held for ransom when he was twenty-five. Before you feel sorry for him, this was a fairly common practice at the time (75 BCE). His captors required a ransom of 20 talents of silver (about $600,000 in today’s value).

Caesar said, essentially, ‘excuse me, don’t you know who I am?’

Even at a young age, with all his conquests ahead of him, Julius was still part of a large and wealthy family and had many supporters who would pay to get him back. If you commandeered a band of brigands, kidnapping was far more lucrative than war and plunder. So Caesar cocksure and aware of his importance demanded his captors double the ransom demanded.

The pirates were on board with the new ransom. The irascible Julius Caesar sent some of his emissaries to raise the money, which took about a month and a half. In the meantime, he lived with the pirates as a debased and humiliated captive.

Not really. This was Julius Caesar, after all. He demanded the brigands be quiet when he was trying to sleep. Worse, he made them listen to his amateur poetry, and he joined in their games and exercises. He did win their respect and Caesar was given the freedom to move about their ships and their island base with relative freedom.

Toward the end of his captivity, and possibly in response to an unenthusiastic reception for his latest poem, Caesar told the pirates that once he was free he would come back and crucify them all. This got a pretty big laugh; despite his pretensions of grandeur, Julius Caesar was, at the time, just some little rich kid who ended up on the wrong boat.

The ransom was paid and Caesar went off, raised a fleet, came back to the pirate base, captured his former pals, and took back the ransom. He then confined them and went to see the local proconsul to demand that they be executed. The proconsul instead advised selling the brigands into slavery and keeping the money for him.  This was one of the reasons being proconsul was such a great gig in ancient times).

But Caesar was on a mission and he returned to where the pirates were being held and had all of them crucified. However, he cut their throats first as an act of mercy because, after all, they were buddies even if they didn’t like his poetry.

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