Cornelia (wife of Caesar)
Cornelia from Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum, with the inscription cornelia sinnae c. caes. vx., or "Cornelia, Cinna's [daughter], G[aius] Caes[ar's] wife
|Born||circa 97 BC
|Died||circa 69 BC (aged about 28)
|Known for||The first wife of Julius Caesar|
Cornelia (c. 97 – c. 69 BC) was the first wife of Caesar,[i] and the mother of his only daughter, Julia. A daughter of Lucius Cornelius Cinna, Cornelia was related by birth or marriage to many of the most influential figures of the late Republic.
Cornelia was the daughter of Lucius Cornelius Cinna, one of the most influential politicians at Rome during the conflict between the generals Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla. He held the consulship for an unprecedented term of four consecutive years, from BC 87 to 84, when he was slain in a soldiers' mutiny. During this period, he espoused the side of Marius, leaving his family exposed to Sulla's wrath on the latter's return in 82.
By his wife, Annia, Cinna had a son, Lucius, and two daughters, conventionally known as Cornelia Major, who married Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, and Cornelia Minor, the wife of Caesar. The designations Major and Minor were not really part of their names, but were used to distinguish between sisters, who bore the same nomen. Since there were a great many Corneliae at Rome, Caesar's wife is occasionally referred to as Cornelia Cinnae, or "Cinna's Cornelia".
Marriage to Caesar
Suetonius reports that Caesar and Cornelia were married in the consulate occurring after Caesar lost his father, which occurred in his sixteenth year. In Suetonius' chronology, Caesar was born in 100 BC, placing the death of his father in 85 or 84. Thus, he probably married Cornelia in 83, when he was about seventeen years old, and she perhaps a little younger.[ii] Their daughter, Julia, was Caesar's only legitimate child, and the only one he acknowledged.[iii]
The young Caesar was one of those to whom Sulla turned his attention after returning to Rome. Although he had taken no part in the government of Marius and Cinna, and done nothing to oppose Sulla's return, Caesar's aunt, Julia, was the wife of Marius; his cousin was the younger Marius, who as consul in 82 was defeated by Sulla, and had taken his own life as the city fell. Marius and Cinna had appointed the young Caesar to an important priesthood, and by marrying Cinna's daughter, Caesar gained control of a substantial dowry. Sulla regarded Caesar as a potential rival, and commanded him to divorce Cornelia.
However, neither the deprivation of his priesthood, Cornelia's dowry, and his own inheritance, nor the threat of violence, would induce Caesar to forsake his wife. He was proscribed, and escaped Rome in disguise, evading capture by regularly changing his place of concealment, and on at least one occasion by bribing the commander of a patrol sent to search for Sulla's enemies. Eventually Sulla relented, following the intercession of Caesar's numerous friends and kinsmen, and Caesar returned home to Cornelia.
Death and legacy
After about thirteen years of marriage, Cornelia died early in her husband's quaestorship, which occurred in BC 69 or 68.[iv] Caesar was due to depart for Spain, and had already pronounced the funeral oration of his aunt, Julia, from the rostra, as was customary for elderly Roman matrons. He then gave an oration in honour of Cornelia, which was extraordinary in the case of a young woman, although it later became commonplace.
After his quaestorship, Caesar returned to Rome, and married Pompeia, a granddaughter of Sulla. His own daughter, Julia, subsequently married Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, a lieutenant of Sulla's who had since become Rome's most illustrious general, and held the consulship of BC 70. Caesar cultivated a political alliance with Pompeius and his former colleague, Marcus Licinius Crassus, which by 59 evolved into the First Triumvirate. Julia's death in childbirth in 54 was one of the events that hastened the end of this alliance.
- Plutarch refers to Pompeia, Cornelia's successor, as Caesar's third wife, implying that Cornelia was his second, and evidently counting Cossutia, to whom he had been betrothed as a child, as his first. But Suetonius states that Caesar broke off the engagement to Cossutia in order to marry Cornelia. This occurred when Caesar was about seventeen, and no authority indicates that he and Cossutia were ever divorced, suggesting that the statement in Plutarch is erroneous.
- Although 100 BC is still conventionally given as the year of Caesar's birth, some historians place it in 102, which would have made him about nineteen. Goldsworthy places the marriage before Cinna's death in 84.
- It is generally supposed that Caesar was the father of Caesarion, the son of Cleopatra, who was born in 47 BC, although Caesar never openly acknowledged the relationship. In his will, Caesar adopted his grandnephew, Gaius Octavius.
- Usually dated to 68, Broughton provides a strong argument for why Caesar's quaestorship probably occurred in the preceding year.
- Suetonius, "The Life of Caesar", 1, 5, 6.
- Plutarch, "The Life of Caesar", 1, 5.
- Velleius Paterculus, ii. 41.
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, vol. I, p. 854 ("Cornelia", Nos. 2, 3).
- Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd Edition, s. v. "Julia", No. 2.
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, vol. I, pp. 754, 755 ("Cornelius Cinna", Nos. 2, 3).
- Deutsch, "The Women of Caesar's Family", p. 505.
- Goldsworthy, Caesar, p. 58.
- Broughton, vol. II, pp. 132, 136 (note 7).
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, vol. II, pp. 640, 641 ("Julia", Nos. 1, 5).
- Gelzer, Caesar: Politician and Statesman.
- Marcus Velleius Paterculus, Compendium of Roman History.
- Plutarchus, Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans.
- Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, De Vita Caesarum (Lives of the Caesars, or The Twelve Caesars).
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith, ed., Little, Brown and Company, Boston (1849).
- Monroe E. Deutsch, "The Women of Caesar's Family", in The Classical Journal, vol. XIII (1918).
- T. Robert S. Broughton, The Magistrates of the Roman Republic, American Philological Association (1952).
- Matthias Gelzer, Caesar: Politician and Statesman, Peter Needham, translator, Oxford (1968).
- Adrian Goldsworthy, Caesar, Life of a Colossus, Yale University Press (2006).
- Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd Edition, Simon Hornblower and Anthony Spawforth, Eds., Oxford University Press (2009).