15

In Mommsen's History of Rome from the 1850s he argues that although the year of Caesar's birth is usually given as 100 B.C. because Suetonius, Plutarch, and Appian all state that he was in his fifty-sixth year at his death, there are reasons to doubt that:

But this account would make him enter upon the three offices of aedile, praetor, and consul, which he held in 65, 62, and 59 B.C. respectively, in his thirty-fifth, fortieth, and forty-third years, that is, in each case, two years before the legal time. The fact that this irregularity is nowhere noticed, suggests that the statements of Suetonius, Plutarch, and Appian are errors derived from a common source, especially as such errors must have been common before the commencement of the acta diurna. The date 102 B.C. would agree better than 100 B.C. with the statement of Velleius, that Caesar was appointed Flamen Dialis when paene puer; since the latter date would make him thirteen years six months old, i.e., not almost, but actually a boy. Further, the number LII on the coins struck by Caesar about the outbreak of the civil war would agree with the years of his life if he was born in 102 B.C.

Today his birth year is still given as 100 B.C. in reference works, although Wikipedia has a note which makes it sound like the argument isn't quite over yet: "There is some dispute over the year of Caesar's birth. Some scholars have made a case for 101 or 102 BC as the year of his birth, based on the dates that he held certain magistracies, but scholarly consensus favors 100 BC."

I wonder if the reasons for the current consensus are essentially the same as they were for the same consensus in Mommsen's time (and his arguments just haven't been seen as very convincing). Or is there an even stronger case now with new knowledge or new arguments that invalidate some of Mommsen's reasoning?

9

No new evidence on Caesar himself has emerged and it is unlikely that any direct evidence will emerge. However, historians have been writing a lot since Mommsen's time, with contributions about this particular question in 1914 and in 1917 (Mommsen died in 1903). The upshot is that Mommsen was probably wrong.

Note that Mommsen already had plenty of evidence and chose not to believe that evidence. In your quote, he cites three independent sources all saying Caesar was born in 100 BCE, but suggests they may have copied from a common source. All three lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, so 100-200 years after Caesar died (about as close in time to Caesar as we are to Mommsen), and likely had very good sources on the dates of Caesar's life. Now, while it is possible that they were wrong nevertheless, a historian claiming this should provide very strong evidence supporting that claim. Mommsen does not. His only point is that Caesar took certain offices 2 years earlier than the official age.

It turns out, however, that this was not uncommon in Caesar's time. Lily Ross Taylor, writing in 1941, summarizes the evidence as follows:

His quaestorship should be assigned to the year 69. The general opinion of scholars that the office should be placed in 68 is based on a misconception of the provincial quaestor's term of service. If the ancient sources are right in indicating that Caesar was born in 100 B.C., this was the year when Caesar became eligible for the office. Since a man of his ambition would hardly have delayed his candidacy for the magistracy which brought with it admission to the senate, the year of Caesar's quaestorship is in itself an argument for accepting 100 B.C. as the date of Caesar's birth. After his quaestorship (here I follow a suggestion of Deutsch) I believe that Caesar received a dispensation from the laws which enabled him to sue for the three higher offices two years before the legal age. I have argued that such dispensations were commoner in the Republic than has been generally believed and that the legislation of Cornelius in 67 made it easier for Caesar, who was now a vigorous opponent of the ruling nobility, to secure such a privilege.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.