Back in the day of the Roman Empire, getting kidnapped by pirates usually meant that you would either die or be sold into slavery, or both. When kidnapped by pirates at the young age of 25, Julius Caesar seemed to treat it as a minor annoyance rather than a life-threatening event.
Instead of the expected whimpering and pleading, the young nobleman at the time kept an air of dominance and confidence. The way he handled his captivity and came out on top really showed his leadership qualities and the confidence that lead to his success. The arrogant young Caesar had his own way of dealing with this unfortunate occurrence, and surprisingly it worked for him.
How it Happened
Plutarch wrote about this event in a biography about Julius Caesar. He reported that Caesar was kidnapped by Cilician pirates while he was on his way to study rhetoric under an important teacher at the time, Molon of Rhodes. The kidnapping happened in the year 75BC, and they were sailing on the Aegean Sea, right by the Dodecanese islands.
The Piracy Problem
Piracy was very common on the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding areas during the time of the Roman Empire. The Romans hardly kept the Pirates in check mainly because they were useful to them. One of the main reason pirates were useful was because the Senators bought slaves for their plantations from them. Slave labor was much needed at that time, and Pirates were very good at providing it. The Cilician pirates that took Caesar captive would usually attack Egyptian grain ships and take the crews as slaves to sell to the Romans. They lived on islands off the Turkish coast and inhabited other little islands from Asia all the way to Crete.
Worth More than That
When the pirates demanded 20 talents of silver (620kg) as a ransom for his freedom, he laughed at them and told them to ask for 50 talents of silver (1550kg) because he believed he was worth more than just 20 talents. In this exchange, Caesar was not only declaring his worth, but he was also enforcing his status and implementing a form of control over the pirates.
He refused to send his people out to gather just 20 talents in return for him. In a way, he was playing mind games with them to switch the situation to work in his favor. The Pirates agreed on the higher ransom of course, and Caesar sent most of his party to collect the appropriate ransom.
Even after he had sent most of his crew to retrieve the ransom, Caesar made it clear he was in charge. He seemed to pay no heed to the fact that the Cilician pirates were some of the most ruthless people in the world. Caesar acted more like their leader than their captive during his stay with the Pirates. Whenever he would go to sleep, he would have one of his servants go tell the pirates to stop talking.
Julius Caesar stayed with the Pirates for approximately 38 days while his people were out collecting his ransom, so he spent his time staying active and involved. Caesar seemed to act somewhat friendly with them and would join in with the pirates on all their exercises and games as if he were one of their leaders.
He seemed completely unconcerned that they would turn against him. He made the most of his time by writing poems and speeches. Unshaken, he would show off his work to the pirates and if they didn’t have the appropriate levels of enthusiasm for his work, he would call them all illiterate savages.
The pirates actually seemed to take a liking to young Caesar even though he would insult and degrade them. They attributed this to him being boyish and playful rather than menacing and threatening. Caesar would often threaten to have them all hanged or vow to return and crucify them all when he was free again and yet; they never seemed to be worried about it.
They seemed to admire his tenacity and ability to speak freely without fear. Unfortunately, for them, they must not have taken his threats seriously because when Caesar returned home, he immediately carried out his threat and returned to the same island where the pirates were to destroy them. They were still there, so he took back his ransom and confiscated all of their property.
Caesar planned to make good on his promises – to hang and crucify the pirates. However, he first sent the pirates into prison and went to Marcus Junius, who was the governor of that area, to ask him to deal with the punishment of the pirates. Junius took too long to make a decision on the pirates and Caesar ended up taking matters back into his own hands by retrieving the pirates from prison and crucifying every single one of them.
The Beginning of the End
Some say that this was a catalyst event that began the end of the Mediterranean pirates. The end of the pirates was not necessarily their demise, though. The Roman general Pompey the Great was able to solve the problem of piracy on the Mediterranean only a few years later in the year of 67 BC. Pompey had a different way of handling and sentencing criminals.
With a fleet of 500 ships, he took the pirates prisoners and then set them up with plots of land so they could all become farmers. He conquered them with very little violence and succeeded in eradicating piracy from the area by creating stability and roots for the criminals.
The Confidence of Caesar
Although young Julius Caesar was merely a private citizen at the time of these occurrences, he carried himself like a leader and people believed him. The way he took charge of his own ransom and captivity and stayed productive and unharmed truly shows why he ended up as such a powerful ruler. Although he was a bit brash and cocky, his confidence helped him pull it off perfectly.
Video: Julius Caesar Was Kidnapped By Cilician Pirates
Here’s a completely crazy Julius Caesar story you might not know. He was once kidnapped by Cilician pirates on the Aegean Sea!
The pirates asked for a ransom of 20 talents of silver. Caesar’s response? … He laughed and said. “Make it 50!” Seriously. The pirates agreed and Caesar sent some of his associates to gather the silver, a trip that would take 38 days. During those 38 days, Caesar acted like he was the one in charge.
He wrote poetry and speeches and performed them for his captors. He also Demanded silence from the pirates while he napped. Basically, Caesar became best buds with his kidnappers. But he also promised that he’d return to kill them. And that’s exactly what happened.
Once the ransom was paid, Caesar gathered a small fleet, returned to the island where he was held, took it back from the pirates…aAnd had them all crucified.
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