Caesar’s Toga Virilis

It was the middle of March, 85 BC—the Ides, in fact. The whole family turned up at the not-very-big house in the Subura district—hardly an aristocratic one. Julius, still in his toga praetexta, his boy’s toga, went to meet them one by one at the door as they arrived. It was his big day: the day he would become a Roman citizen and put on the toga virilis. He kept adjusting his toga and brushing his hair with his hands. He was handsome and had spent time at the mirror studying what he thought were penetrating glances. But then while he spoke to the guests and followed a thought, he forgot about how he looked.

His family collecting in the atrium were old Roman patricians except for Uncle Marius. Uncle Marius had been a plough-boy. He was a short man with big hands and a peasant’s loud way of talking. Now he was retired but seven-times he had been consul. He had saved Rome at least twice. He had defeated the proud African king Jugurtha in battle and brought him to Rome in chains; he had reformed the army in time to save the Republic from a massive barbarian invasion of Teutons and Cimbri in the north. Marius was insensitive to the fineries Caesar was used to; but Caesar was able to overcome his distaste for Marius’ manners while they talked and to learn from him. And Marius was able to overcome his distaste for Caesar’s foppish manners because he saw that the boy had a mind.

Marius was married to Caesar’s Aunt Julia. Julia and her sister Aurelia, Caesar’s mother, were the kind of educated, intelligent women Rome was famous for. They were from noble old families and ones in which the girls received the same instruction as the boys and joined in the talk on every subject from war and politics to literature and art. They were married to the best men their dad could find. For Aurelia he managed a match with the Julius family—one of the oldest patrician gentilitates in Italy. And for her sister he won a marriage with Marius, now champion of the popular faction and one of the most influential men in Rome.
When they saw each other the two women hugged with tears in their eyes. They were always elegantly dressed but today their ornatrices had been particularly punctilious. “My God you look beautiful,” Julia told her younger sister. “Anyone would say you are Julius’ sister.”

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