Ancient History & Civilisation

Servilia & Julius Caesar:
History’s first cougar

Ashton Kutcher wasn’t the first famous man to fall in love with an older woman. Some 2,100 years ago, a man universally famous in his time (and ours) fell hard for a Roman patrician pushing fifty, with four kids and two marriages under her belt.

Her name? Servilia Caepionis. She came from one of Rome’s most distinguished families. A shrewd, well-connected political dynamo, she remains unsung even after being brought to vivid life in several films and television series in recent years.

Her thirty six-year-old lover? None other than Gaius Julius Caesar.

The two met while Servilia was raising her children from her first and second marriages. After an immediate and mutual attraction, she became Caesar’s mistress around 64 B.C. Julius soon gave his lover a gorgeous black pearl rumored to have cost around six million sesterces—a huge sum in any language. She stayed married to her second husband, Decimus Silanus, who seems to have been a go-along guy. It paid off, too. A couple of years later, Caesar supported Silanus in his successful political bid for Roman consul.

Likewise, Caesar’s string of three wives seemed to have put up with the long-term arrangement.

Like her lover Caesar, Servilia was outrageous—even reckless at times. In 63 B.C., her half brother Cato, also a senator, and Caesar opposed each other during a fierce debate over the Cataline conspiracy. At one point, someone handed Julius a letter—which Cato took to be from the Cataline conspirators.

“Read it aloud!” Cato demanded. Oh, boy. As the smokin’ hot note from Servilia was read to the titillated Roman senators, Cato learned that his half sister had been doing the wild thing with his senatorial opponent. Awkward moment. And small wonder that Cato and his conservative clique became even more rabid foes of Julius Caesar.

Caesar spent years away from Rome, fighting wars, conquering Gauls, raising money, and building his power base. Despite his long absences—or perhaps because of them—his relationship with Servilia remained feverishly hot, lasting for two decades until his shocking assassination in March of 44 B.C.

Roman high society was a complex one and relatively small, meaning that most people became intimately connected (and thus obligated) by multiple marriages, divorces, adoptions, and melded families.

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The passion of Julius Caesar’s life? Servilia, his lover for decades. Tragically her own son Brutus spearheaded Caesar’s murder.

Thus when Julius Caesar was murdered on the Senate floor, Servilia not only lost the love of her life—she also became the horrified mother of an assassin: her son Marcus Brutus. She also found herself the mother-in-law of another key man in the assassination, since Cassius was married to her daughter Junia Tertia.

In the aftermath, a grieving Servilia sought to protect her murderous kin from the dire consequences of their actions, but failed. Her astute political advice, which she freely offered to friends in her political circle, including Cicero, was also rejected for the most part. She, however, survived the years of chaos and bloody civil war that tore Italy apart following the assassination—about the only one in her elite circle who did. Servilia ended her days at the country home of Titus Atticus, the great-hearted friend of Cicero, who had also mentored her son Brutus.

Servilia may not be recognized as a trailblazing “cougar” like modern-day icons from Mae West to Madonna. Nevertheless, her fascinating love story cries out to be told, doesn’t it?

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