Although he was born into the Julian gens, one of the oldest patrician families in Rome, Caesar was always a member of the democratic or popular party. He benefited from the patronage of his uncle by marriage, Caius Marius. In 82 B.C., when Caesar refused to obey Sulla's order to divorce Cornelia, the wealthy daughter of Lucius Cornelius Cinna, he was proscribed and subsequently fled from Rome (81 B.C.).
On Sulla's death, Caesar returned (78 B.C.) and began his political career. He quickly gained popularity with his party and a reputation for oratory. In 74 B.C. he went into Asia to repulse a Cappadocian army. Upon his return, he agitated for reform of the government on popular lines and helped to advance the position of Pompey, the virtual head of the popular party. Caesar was made military tribune before 70 B.C. and was quaestor in Farther Spain in 69 B.C.; he helped Pompey to obtain the supreme command for the war in the East. He returned to Rome in 68 B.C., and in Pompey's absence was becoming the recognized head of the popular party. His praise of Marius and Cinna made him popular with the people, but earned him the hatred of the senate.
In 63 B.C. he was elected pontifex maximus [high priest], allegedly by heavy bribes. His later reform of the calendar with the help of Sosigenes, was one of his greatest contributions to history. In Dec., 63 B.C., Caesar advocated mercy for Catiline and the conspirators, thereby increasing the enmity of the senatorial party and its leaders, Cato the Younger and Quintus Lutatius Catulus (see Catulus, family). In 62 B.C., Clodius and Caesar's second wife, Pompeia, were involved in a scandal concerning the violation of the secret rites of Bona Dea, and Caesar obtained a divorce, saying, "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion."
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.