Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) - did he have a brain tumour?

François P Retief, Johannes F G Cilliers


Julius Caesar, one of the outstanding leaders of antiquity, is perhaps best remembered for his military achievements, but he was also a cultured person, a writer and historian, orator and statesman. Except for an attack of quartan malaria early in life, he was healthy and physically fit up to his fifties, when various authors reported the onset of epilepsy. The evidence is that he experienced only two epileptic attacks – probably at the age of 51 and 54 years. He was assassinated at age 56. It has been suggested that his epilepsy was almost certainly secondary to cerebral disease, with a benign brain tumour being highly probable. Contemporary historians also recorded accompanying symptoms which could fit such pathology, including vague disturbances of consciousness, ‘diseases of the head’ (which might indicate headache), terrifying nocturnal experiences interpreted as nightmares, and periodic episodes of giddiness, even tremors. Caesar’s relatively careless reaction to rumours of assassination could be interpreted as erratic behaviour, and some of his friends suspected that he no longer wished to live.

Authors' affiliations

François P Retief, Research Fellow, Univ. of the Free State

Johannes F G Cilliers, University of the Free State

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epilepsy, brain tumour, giddiness, tremors, erratic behaviour

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2010;100(1):26-28.

Article History

Date submitted: 2009-03-24
Date published: 2010-01-13

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