We know from the ancient sources that Julius Caesar had a weakness for women. And it seems that many women found him attractive in turn. But was Caesar handsome? Or were his other many qualities winning them over?
Was Julius Caesar handsome?
No. He did not have classical good looks. None of the ancient authors describe him as beautiful. And they have no problem calling other men handsome.
Authors Plutarch and Pliny dwell on Pompey’s beauty. Plutarch also describes Sulla’s striking appearance. While Suetonius and Nicolas of Damascus write that Octavian was unusually handsome.
Yet, when some of these same authors write about Caesar, they do not mention he was beautiful.
Suetonius and Plutarch even wrote biographies about Caesar that have made it to our days. The first pages of both books are missing. But the authors describe Caesar’s physical appearance later on, in the chapters that we do have. And they don’t call Caesar good-looking. Neither do they say he was majestic-looking or that he had a great presence -which they do say about other prominent Romans.
There is only one ancient author that calls Julius Caesar beautiful: Velleius Paterculus. Velleius was writing when Caesar’s adoptive son, Octavian, was emperor. And Octavian had exiled writers whose works he did not like, and he had murdered his opponents. So when Velleius wrote about the royal family, he was more than flattery -for survival’s sake.
He wrote about Caesar: “Tracing his descent from Venus and Anchises [a Trojan hero]…, he surpassed all his fellow-citizens in excellence of his appearance.” And then continues praising him.
Caesar’s physical characteristics
The more reliable authors describe Caesar as delicate or fragile-looking.
He was tall and slender. He was probably toned since he did a lot of physical exercise while campaigning -and he was almost always campaigning.
He had dark, lively eyes, and his mouth was somewhat wide. His skin was white and soft.
All his coins show him with a thin, long neck and a prominent Adam’s apple. They also show him with a distinctive, rounded, and marked chin. His nose seems to have been straight (at least straight-ish) and long.
When he was older, he began balding, which he disliked since he seems to have had a vain side.
Caesar was very particular about his appearance. He kept himself carefully groomed -overly groomed by the standards of conservative Romans. He tweezed. And he arranged his hair meticulously.
The sources describe Caesar’s looks
“Caesar is said to have been tall of stature, with a white-snow skin, slender limbs, with a rather broad mouth and keen, dark eyes.” Suetonius, Caesar 45
“But that he should undergo toils beyond his body’s apparent powers of endurance amazed them, because he was a slightly built man, had a soft and white skin, suffered from headaches…” Plutarch, Caesar 17
“He was something of a dandy, so that he not only kept himself carefully trimmed and shaved but also, as some people have charged, depilated with tweezers.” Suetonius, Caesar 45
“When I look at Caesar’s hair, which is arranged with such nicety…” Cicero speaking about his contemporary, Caesar. Plutarch, Caesar 4.
“His baldness was a disfigurement which his enemies harped upon, much to his exasperation, but he used to comb the thin strands of hair forward from the crown of his head…” Seutonius, Caesar 45
Quotes on Caesar’s dress style and demeanor in: What Pompey, Brutus, Antony, and 12 Other Famous Romans Looked Like – Their Statues and Coins
Judge for yourself
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” they say.
Hundreds of statues with Caesar’s likeness stood in Rome and other cities. A few of them have made it to our days. Here are the most reliable ones so you can decide for yourself whether you find him handsome or not.
The Tusculum Bust
This bust was made during Caesar’s last years (46 – 44 BC) or shortly after his death. He is in his fifties here.
The Roman statues made in this period tried to convey a person’s uniqueness, including their physical flaws and character. So this (and the following bust) are our best bet as to what Julius Caesar really looked like.
His other early surviving busts were made when Caesar was dead and his adoptive son, Octavian, was emperor. Octavian declared Julius a god. And in the statues he commissioned of Caesar, Julius’ features are idealized.
The Woburn Abbey bust
This bust is another early work. The craftsmanship of the Tusculum bust is better.
Both busts show similar features like the long nose, the wide forehead, the high cheekbones, the slight smile. But since they were made by different artists, they offer a slightly different take on Julius’ appearance.
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It must also be said that no one, not even his enemies, called him unfortunate-looking, either. Not even Cicero.
Cicero, the great orator, used to point out the physical imperfections of his enemies. He mocked and badgered them publicly for the imperfections. And Cicero was Caesar’s enemy. Yet, he never poked fun at Caesar’s face or body.
He, and others, did mercilessly taunt Caesar for his balding head, his vanity, and trendy dress sense, though.
So while Julius was not a great beauty, he had a face that may have been pleasant and that many found attractive.
As part of his physical package, ancient authors do say Caesar had natural dignity and elegance, pleasant manners, charm, charisma, and other qualities. And these, combined with a pleasant face, may have made him irresistible to some.
Read next: What did Cleopatra Look Like? Her Statues and Coins