Julius Caesar in Egypt

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Caesar fought many wars and had many adventures throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. One of the most fascinating places he traveled to was Egypt. In this lesson, you will learn why Caesar went to Egypt and the events that happened once he got there.

Background: Why Was Caesar in Egypt?

How did Caesar wind up in Egypt in the first place? For the first forty years of Julius Caesar's life he actively worked to make a name for himself in Rome. During this time he avoided capture by Rome's dictator Sulla, fought a few wars, and was even captured by pirates. But the the story of Caesar's road to Egypt really starts in the year 60 B.C.

At the time, Caesar was in a position of power. He was elected a consul of Rome, one of two leaders who ran the Republic like co-presidents. To stay in power and to increase that power, Caesar entered into an agreement with two senators, Crassus and Pompey. Crassus was the man with the money and Pompey was the man with the muscle. The three men, known by historians as the First Triumvirate, controlled Rome with bribes, backdoor political deals, and brute force.

Bust of Crassus

As consul, Caesar formed a political alliance with the Populare party. He married his third wife, Calpurnia, the daughter of a Populare leader and married off his own daughter to his political partner, Pompey. At the time, marriage was an incredibly powerful political tool.

While things seemed to be going pretty well for Caesar, he did run into a few issues. He owed a lot of people a lot of money, and more importantly, he owed political favors. Many of the things he did as consul were technically illegal, and evidence against him was growing. To solve his money problems and to increase his influence, Caesar decided to take an army and conquer Gaul, a Roman territory located in present-day France.

Unfortunately for Caesar, things began to change in Rome while he was away. Crassus died, so access to his own private banker came to an end. To make matters worse, his daughter Julia who was married to Pompey died as well. Pompey quickly became the most powerful man in Rome and stripped Caesar of his titles. Pompey demanded Caesar come back to Rome where he would be prosecuted for his crimes.

Bust of Pompey

Getting to Egypt

Caesar had two options: go back to Rome and face the music, or fight Pompey. To Caesar, the choice was pretty obvious -- the only way to get what he wanted was to kill Pompey and take over Rome. Caesar rallied his troops and prepared to fight Pompey in the area between Gaul and Rome. Pompey was no dummy, though -- he knew that Caesar was a formidable general and that he would never stand a chance in a fight. Pompey ran away to Spain before eventually taking off for Greece. It might sound like a nice little European vacation, but in reality Pompey was headed towards an awful fate. One of Caesar's smaller armies defeated Pompey in Greece, forcing the Roman ruler to make one final stop in Egypt.

Pompey thought for sure he'd be welcome in Egypt; after all, he had a lot of friends in high places there. In reality, the Egyptians took one look at Pompey, consulted their gods, and determined that the Roman was bad news. Before Caesar could get to Egypt, Pompey was already dead.

Caesar in Egypt

When Caesar heard the news of Pompey's death, he was outraged. From the outside, it might have looked like he was sad to have lost a friend, but more than likely Caesar looked at Pompey's death as an excuse to take over Egypt. Caesar moved into the palace and got rid of the Egyptian leader Ptolemy XIII.

At the time, Ptolemy XIII was co-ruling the empire with his sister Cleopatra. Ptolemy and Cleopatra had some serious sibling rivalry, and Ptolemy had actually kicked her out of Egypt. When Cleopatra heard that Caesar was in the palace and had taken over Egypt, she was smuggled into his quarters wrapped up in a rug to avoid detection. Whether Caesar asked her to come, or if Cleopatra had decided to sneak in on her own is unknown by historians.

Artist depiction of Cleopatra meeting Caesar
Cleopatra and Caesar

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