When Julius Caesar Was Kidnapped By Pirates, He Demanded They Increase His Ransom

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In 75 BCE, 25-year-old Julius Caesar was sailing the Aegean Sea when he was kidnapped by Cilician pirates. According to Plutarch, when the pirates asked for a ransom of 20 talents of silver (approximately 620 kg of silver, or $600,000 in today's silver values), Caesar laughed at their faces. They didn't know who they had captured, he said, and demanded that they ask for 50 (1550 kg of silver), because 20 talents was simply not enough.

More Money, More Problems

The pirates, of course, agreed, and Caesar sent some of his associates off to gather the silver, a task that took 38 days. Now nearly alone with the pirates—only two servants and a friend remained with him—Caesar refused to cower. Instead, he treated the pirates as if they were his subordinates. He even went so far as to demand they not talk whenever he decided to sleep. He spent most of his time with them composing and reciting poetry and writing speeches. He would then recite the works to the pirates. Caesar also played various games with the pirates and participated in their exercises, generally acting as if he wasn’t a prisoner, but rather, their leader. The pirates quickly grew to respect and like him and allowed him the freedom to more or less do as he pleased on their island and ships.

While Caesar was friendly with the pirates, he didn’t appreciate being held captive. He told the pirates that, after his ransom was paid, he would hunt them down and have them crucified. Once he was freed, he made good on that promise: Despite the fact that he was a private citizen, Caesar managed to quickly raise a small fleet which he took back to the island where he had been held captive. Apparently the pirates hadn’t taken his threats seriously, because they were still there when he arrived. He captured them and took back his 50 talents of silver, along with all their possessions.

He next delivered the pirates to the authorities at the prison at Pergamon and then traveled to meet the proconsul of Asia, Marcus Junius, to petition to have the pirates executed. The proconsul refused: He wanted to sell the pirates as slaves and take the spoils for himself. Undeterred, Caesar traveled back to Pergamon where the Cilician pirates were being held and ordered that they be crucified. Before they went through that ordeal, however, Caesar showed some leniency—he cut their throats.

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November 19, 2012 - 11:30am
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