Piracy, alongside prostitution and medicine, is one of the world’s oldest professions and is recorded long before Julius Caesar’s day but he was amongst the most notable men to be captured by pirates. In 78 BC pirate bands were dominant in the Mediterranean Sea with many governments paying them tribute giving them free rein to their activities.
On being exiled from Rome for supporting the party of his uncle Marius, Gaius Julius Caesar decided to go to Rhodes to take elocution lessons from the great orator, Apolonius Molon. However, a pirate galley seized his ship whilst on voyage off the coast of Caria in Asia Minor and jailed Caesar, with other passengers, in crudely built huts whilst demanding a ransom be paid for them.
Caesar spent his time reading and practising javelin throwing, and even wrote poetry until his friends sent fifty talents some thirty eight days later. This was double the amount that the pirates demanded because Caesar himself said that twenty five talents was not enough for a man of his status. Showing the strength, arrogance and boldness that characterised him for the rest of his life, he vowed that he would have their lives for his kidnapping. No one had ever threatened them before as they were virtually immune from prosecution.
Caesar persuaded one of his friends, the legate of Miletus (an ancient Greek city on the West coast of Anatolia in Turkey) to provide soldiers and ships for him to attack his erstwhile captors. As soon as the fleet was assembled he sailed and reached Pharmacussa, a small island in the Aegean Sea close to the mainland of Asia Minor (now Turkey), late at night when the pirates were sleeping off the effects of drunken celebrations. He found them stretched out in front of their campfires and captured all of them without a struggle.
Caesar had vowed that the pirates would be executed but he now discovered that they were protected by Junius , the powerful praetor (governor) of Asia Minor who had agreed to leave the pirates alone if they did not attack any Roman commercial ships. Amazed at Caesar’s presumption but rather fearing his political influence – he was, after all, to eventually become the ruler of Rome – Junius promised that he would decide when he returned to Pergamus.
This was not good enough for Caesar who was too impatient to wait this decision, so went to Pergamus and informed the acting praetor there that Junius had ordered the pirates to be punished. Julius Caesar’s presence was so strong that the man did not dare to ask for written orders and Caesar’s vow came true.
The pirates were all crucified on the same day.
by Terry Took © 2015
Terry Took was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Tynemouth for over 50 years. He spent 45 years in the Merchant Navy which included 27 years as North Sea Pilot. He then spent five years as a lecturer at the Marine Department of South Tyneside College.
He is now an Elder Brother in Trinity House and Marine Director.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at email@example.com.