That One Time Julius Caesar was Kidnapped By Pirates

First, when the pirates demanded a ransom of twenty talents, Caesar burst out laughing. They did not know, he said, who it was that they had captured, and he volunteered to pay fifty. Then, when he had sent his followers to the various cities in order to raise the money and was left with one friend and two servants among these Cilicians, about the most bloodthirsty people in the world, he treated them so highhandedly that, whenever he wanted to sleep, he would send to them and tell them to stop talking.

For thirty-eight days, with the greatest unconcern, he joined in all their games and exercises, just as if he was their leader instead of their prisoner. He also wrote poems and speeches which he read aloud to them, and if they failed to admire his work, he would call them to their faces illiterate savages, and would often laughingly threaten to have them all hanged. They were much taken with this and attributed his freedom of speech to a kind of simplicity in his character or boyish playfulness.

However, the ransom arrived from Miletus and, as soon as he had paid it and been set free, he immediately manned some ships and set sail from the harbour of Miletus against the pirates. He found them still there, lying at anchor off the island, and he captured nearly all of them. He took their property as spoils of war and put the men themselves into the prison at Pergamon. He then went in person to [Marcus] Junius, the governor of Asia, thinking it proper that he, as praetor in charge of the province, should see to the punishment of the prisoners. Junius, however, cast longing eyes at the money, which came to a considerable sum, and kept saying that he needed time to look into the case.

Caesar paid no further attention to him. He went to Pergamon, took the pirates out of prison and crucified the lot of them, just as he had often told them he would do when he was on the island and they imagined that he was joking.

Oh that Julius. Such a joker. 

(Plutarch’s Lives, 46-c.120, trans. Robin Seager)


August 19th 14 AD: Augustus dies

On this day in 14 AD the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, died aged 75. Born Gaius Octavius and known as Octavian, he was named as heir of his great uncle Julius Caesar. Upon Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC, Augustus formed an alliance - the Second Triumvirate - with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Mark Antony, to rule and take vengeance on Caesar’s assassins. The alliance soon fell apart and the three fought for sole rule of Rome. Octavian emerged victorious after defeating Mark Anthony at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. Octavian then set about ‘restoring’ the Roman Republic, which had been ruled by Caesar as Dictator, by formally returning power to the Senate. However in reality the new leader kept considerable power in his person, adopting many titles which became part of the imperial pantheon, including ‘Augustus’ (which loosely translates as ‘magnificent’), ‘princeps’ (first citizen), ‘pontifex maximus’ (priest of Roman religion) and ‘tribunicia potestas’ (power over the tribune assemblies elected by the people). Augustus’s constitutional system gave way to the birth of the Principate, the first period of the Roman Empire. He is also considered the first Roman Emperor because the empire greatly expanded under his rule. Augustus died in 14 AD, and was succeeded by his step-son and adopted heir Tiberius. Augustus thus began the stable line of ‘adoptive’ Roman Emperors which ended with Marcus Aurelius’s decision to name his birth son Commodus, who came to power in 180 AD. This year is the momentous 2000th anniversary of the death of the first Roman Emperor. Even today Rome is remembered as a pinnacle of civilisation and empire and much of modern Europe continues to be shaped by its legacy.

2000 years ago today

Happy Death Day, Augustus!

(…although ‘stable line of adoptive emperors’. Oh honey, the Julio-Claudians were ANYTHING BUT stable (palace coups! poisonings! intrigue and incest!), and they ended their reign in the civil war of 69 AD aka the Year of the Four Emperors. Then Vespasian ruled, followed by his two sons. You may be thinking of the so-called Five Good Emperors, who were all adopted by the previous emperor. Augustus was *desperate* to give his throne to his son or grandsons rather then Tiberius - he was just unfortunate enough that they didn’t make it) 

The Parkes Weber Prize

For anyone interested, the closing date for the Parkes Weber Prize is the 31st of August - which is pretty soon, but I only just realised! (having had an email from the lovely Amelia Dowler of the British Museum)

The Parkes Weber Prize

The Parkes Weber Prize was instituted in 1954 through the generosity of the late F. Parkes Weber and is under the administration of the Council of the Society.

It is awarded for an original essay of not more than 5,000 words on any subject relating to coins, medals, medallions, tokens or paper money. Competitors should choose their own subject, but may seek guidance if they wish.

  • The value of the prize is currently £150.
  • Competitors may be of any nationality, but must be under the age of thirty on the final day of entry, 31 August.
  • The essay should be clearly written or typed in English on one side of the paper only and should be sent to the Hon. Secretary, c/o Department of Coins and Medals, The British Museum, London WC1B 3DG, or emailed to SJansari@ The award will normally be announced in December of the same year.
  • The Council of The Royal Numismatic Society reserves the right to make no award in any given year, if entries are not of a sufficiently high standard. The award shall not be made to any candidate who has won it previously.