On Tiber Island, a strong and sudden breeze would have been making the torches that illuminated the single sacred standard behind which the retired legionaries marched flicker violently. Were this still a serving legion, legion trumpeters would be marking changes of watches every three hours, and three sentries would have taken station outside the praetorium, or headquarters, eight outside the quarters of the legion’s duty tribune, ten at each of the camp gates, and one at every group of twenty tents.¹ But all was quiet on Tiber Island, as the former soldiers slumbered on.
Across the city, the breeze gusted so strongly at the Regia on the Via Sacra that all the window shutters and the door of Julius Caesar’s bedchamber flew open.² The wind was so strong that it even rattled the sacred spears of Mars in the shrine next door to the Dictator’s bedchamber. ³ Caesar, apparently a light sleeper, awoke with a start. Moonlight flooded into the room. Sitting up, Caesar looked at his wife, Calpurnia, lying, asleep still, beside him.⁴
Calpurnia was Caesar’s third wife, having married him in 59 B.C. The first, Cornelia Cinnilla, his wife for close to fifteen years, had died in childbirth. Caesar’s second wife had been Pompeia, granddaughter of Sulla the Dictator, whom he had divorced after six years following the Clodius incident. But if Cleopatra had her way, Caesar also would divorce Calpurnia and make the Egyptian queen his next wife. Divorce was, after all, simple for Romans. It was instant, at the wish of either party or both, and required no formality, documentation, or involvement from a third party.
Caesar was infamous for his rampant sexuality. According to Suetonius, Caesar had a long list of affairs with the wives of other leading men of Rome, including the senator Servius Sulpicius’s wife, Postumia; the elderly general Aulus Gabinius’s wife, Lollia; Marcus Crassus’s wife, Tertulla; and Pompey the Great’s wife, Mucia. He also had kept several mistresses at various times, including Eunoe, queen of Mauritania, not to mention Cleopatra.
“ But Marcus Brutus’s mother, Servilia, was the woman whom Caesar loved best,” said Suetonius.⁵ “And she [was] passionately in love with him,” said Plutarch.⁶ Their illicit relationship, which may or may not have spawned Brutus, had begun and ended in their youth, but had resumed when Caesar became consul in 61 B.C., when he separated from Pompeia. According to Suetonius, Caesar had at that time given Servilia a pearl worth 240,000 sesterces; its worth can be compared to the annual salary of Caesar’s legionaries, of 900 sesterces. Between 49 and 45 B.C., during the Civil War, said Suetonius, Caesar had continued to give Servilia presents, “as well as knocking down certain valuable estates to her at a public auction for a song.” It was even rumored, said Suetonius, that Servilia “was also suspected at the time of having prostituted her daughter Tertia to Caesar.”⁷
Calpurnia must have known about Caesar’s affairs and mistresses, which continued throughout their marriage, yet there is no record of her ever complaining about her husband’s roving eye, to him or to anyone else. Normally a pragmatic, unemotional woman, she remained the constant, faithful, supportive wife through it all. It was common for wealthy and powerful Roman men to have numerous affairs, and like so many Roman wives, Calpurnia looked the other way as Caesar bedded his various conquests. What Calpurnia thought of her husband keeping Cleopatra just across the Tiber can only be imagined; perhaps it made her all the more determined not to give Caesar cause to divorce her.
Lying beside Caesar in the bed now, Calpurnia was murmuring to herself, and groaning; she was having a troubling dream.⁸ Caesar let her sleep. After quietly closing the door and shutters, he returned to the bed, eased back down beside his wife, and went back to sleep.