Roman Conquest of Italy


Imperial Cult: Divus Julius

Denarius (early 44 BC): CAESAR DICT QVART: M METTIVS

This bust of Caesar is probably the earliest image of a living person on a Roman coin

Caesar’s Cult in his Lifetime

David Wardle (referenced below, at p. 106) discussed three honours given to Caesar during his lifetime that at least alluded to his putative divinity. All three were recorded by Cassius Dio:

  1. After Caesar’s victory at Thapsus in 46 BC, the Senate decreed, inter alia, that:

  2. “... one of his chariots should be placed on the Capitol facing the statue of Jupiterhis statue in bronze should be mounted upon a representation of the inhabited world, with an inscription to the effect that he was hemitheos (a demigod)” (‘Roman History’, 43: 14: 6)).

  3. Dio subsequently recorded that:

  4. “... on the first day of [Caesar’s subsequent quadruple triumph in April 46 BC],  ... he climbed up the stairs of the Capitol on his knees, without noticing:

  5. the chariot that had been dedicated to Jupiter in his honour;

  6. the image in which the inhabited world lay beneath his feet; or

  7. the inscription upon it, [from which he later] erased ... the term hemitheos”, (‘Roman History’, 43: 21: 1-2).

  8. Scholars have long-debated how the word hemitheos in Cassius Dio’s record would have been rendered in Latin.  After discussing the various possibilities, Duncan Fishwick (referenced below, at p. 628) suggested that the word that Caesar erased was in fact the name of a specific ‘demigod’ with whom he had been associated, in which case:

  9. “...the likeliest candidate would appear to be Romulus. ... An inscription Caesari Romulo would ... tally nicely with the information Dio provides.  Furthermore, on this view, it would be easy to see why Caesar had the name removed in 46 BC, [when] to be compared with Romulus could provoke hostility and play into the hands of adversaries ... It is significant ... that Dio describes the atmosphere of Caesar's entry into Rome [on this occasion] as one of sullen hostility ... Under these circumstances, the erasure of a name such as Romulus would make sense as a prudent attempt to avoid giving further offence ... Proof of the point is naturally out of the question, but the possibility seems worth stating, if only by way of rounding out a long-standing controversy.  I suggest that the epithet that Caesar removed could well have been not a common noun but a proper name, [that] of the demigod Romulus.”

  10. Michael Koortbojian (referenced below, at pp. 256-7, note 23) referred to this as an ‘intriguing suggestion’.

  11. News of Caesar’s victory at Munda in 45 BC reached Rome of 20th April.  According to Cassius Dio:

  12. “The Parilia [of the following day] was honoured by permanent annual games in the Circus, not  because the city had been founded on that very day, but because the news of Caesar's victory had arrived the day before, toward evening” (‘Roman History’, (43: 42: 3).

  13. The Senate also:

  14. “... decreed that an ivory statue of him, and later that a whole chariot, should appear in the procession at the games in the Circus, together with the statues of the gods.  They set up another statue of him in the temple of Quirinus with the inscription Θεῷ ἀνικήτῳ (Deo Invicto)  ...” (‘Roman History’, 43: 45: 2-3).

  15. Although the invincible god might have been Quirinius (the deified Romulus), it was clearly ambiguous:  for example, in a letter of 26th May 45 BC, Cicero referred to Caesar as:

  16. “... this god of the procession, this messmate of Quirinus, ...”. (Letter to Atticus, 13: 28: 3).

  17. This suggests that the statues of Caesar and Quirinus had been carried together in procession preceding the games in the Circus, implying equal status between them. 

  18. Shortly before Caesar’s murder, the Senate:.

  19. “... voted that his golden chair and his crown set with precious gems and overlaid with gold should be carried into the theatres in the same manner as those of the gods, and that on the occasion of the games in the Circus, his chariot should be brought in.  And finally, they addressed him explicitly as Jupiter Julius and ordered a temple to be consecrated to Caesar himself and to his Clemency, electing [Mark] Antony as their priest, like some flamen Dialis (‘Roman History’, 44: 6: 3-4).

  20. David Wardle (referenced below, at p. 106) observed that:

  21. “The contemporary testimony of Cicero, who was hostile to the cult innovations, is crucial in establishing the historicity of the formal deification, cult honours and the title assumed by the new divinity.”

  22. Cicero’s testimony comes in a speech attacking Mark Antony that he claimed to have delivered in the Senate on 20th July 44 BC (see below):   

  23. “And are you [Mark Antony] diligent in doing honour to Caesar’s memory?  Do you love him even now that he is dead?  What greater honour had he obtained [while alive, at your urging] than that of having:

  24. a pulvinar [a cushioned couch for the gods];

  25. a simulacrum [an image, usually of a god];

  26. a fastigium [a gable added to his official house that made it resemble a temple]; and

  27. a flamen [priest]? 

  28. Thus, as Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus all have priests, so divus Julius has Mark Antony ”, (‘Philippics’, 2:110-1). 

Caesar’s Cult after his Funeral

The first manifestations of a posthumous cult for Caesar appeared during his funeral:

  1. According to Appian:

  2. “The people returned to Caesar's bier and bore it as a consecrated thing to the Capitol in order to bury it in the [Capitoline] temple and place it among the gods.  Being prevented from doing so by the priests, they placed it again in the forum where stands the ancient palace of the kings of Rome.  There, they collected together pieces of wood ... for a funeral pile ... Then, they set fire to it, and the entire people remained by the funeral pile throughout the night. There, an altar was ... erected ...” (‘Civil Wars’, 2:148).

  3. Cassius Dio provided additional details:

  4. “... the throng was at first excited, then enraged, and finally so inflamed with passion that they sought [Caesar’s] murderers ... Then, [they seized] his body, which some had wished to convey [for burning] to the place in which he had been slaughtered [i.e. the Theatre of Pompey] and others to the Capitol; but, being prevented by the soldiers, who feared that the theatre and temples would be burned to the ground at the same time, they placed it upon a pyre there in the forum ... After this, ... [they] set up an altar on the site of the pyre (for the freedmen of Caesar had previously taken up his bones and deposited them in the family tomb), and undertook to sacrifice upon it and to offer victims to Caesar, as to a god” (‘Roman History’, 44: 50:1 - 51:1).

In other words, Caesar’s funeral culminated in his consecration by the Roman mob, and the altar that they erected in the forum constituted an impromptu cult site.

The surviving descriptions of this cult site and its fate are confusing, but it is clear that it was short-lived:

  1. Cassius Dio, who is quoted above describing the erection of an altar here during or soon after the funeral, added:

  2. “But the consuls [now Publius Cornelius Dolabella as well as Mark Antony] overthrew this altar and punished some who showed displeasure at the act, at the same time publishing a law that no one should ever again be dictator ...” (‘Roman History’, 44: 51:2).

  3. Appian gave further details of the construction of the altar and its subsequent destruction:

  4. “There was a certain pseudo-Marius in Rome named Amatius.  He pretended to be a grandson of Marius, and for this reason was very popular with the masses. Being, according to this pretence, a relative of Caesar, he ... erected an altar on the site of his funeral pyre.  He collected a band of reckless men and made himself a perpetual terror to the murderers [of Caesar]. ... It was said that Amatius was only waiting for an opportunity to entrap Brutus and Cassius [the most prominent of Caesar’s assassins].  ... [Mark] Antony, making capital out of the [alleged] plot and using his consular authority, arrested Amatius and boldly put him to death without a trial. ... The followers of Amatius, and the plebeians generally ... [then] took possession of the forum, exclaiming violently against [Mark] Antony, and called on the magistrates to dedicate the altar in place of [that of] Amatius, and to offer the first sacrifices on it to Caesar.  ... they became still more indignant ... [when someone]  told them that he could show them the shop where the statues [of Caesar, which had been torn from their pedestals] were being broken up:  ... having witnessed this, they set fire to the place.  Finally, [Mark] Antony sent more soldiers and some of those who resisted were killed, others were captured and, of these, the slaves were crucified and the freemen thrown over the Tarpeian rock” (‘Civil Wars’, 3:2-3).

  5. In April, while Mark Antony was away from Rome during the recess of the Senate, Dolabella finally cleared the site (which by that time had a commemorative column) and executed those who tried to stop him, much to the delight of Cicero (his father-in-law):

  6. In a letter to Atticus a few weeks later, Cicero exclaimed:

  7. “My admirable Dolabella!  For now I call him mine.  Before this, believe me, I had my secret doubts.  It is indeed a notable achievement: execution [of rebellious freedmen] from the [Tarpeian] rock, [and of slaves] on the cross; the removal of the column [that presumably marked the place of Caesar’s cremation]; the contract given out for paving the whole spot.  In short, positively heroic!” (Letter to Atticus, 14:15).

  8. In an oration that he delivered in early September in the Senate, Cicero looked back on the Consuls’ suppression of the cult site as the light before the storm:

  9. “A new light, as it were, seemed to be brought over us, now that not only the kingly power [of Caesar] that we had endured ... was taken away from us; and a great pledge appeared to have been given by Mark Antony to the Republic that he wished the city to be free, when he utterly abolished out of the Republic the name of dictator [i.e. of Caesar] ... A few days afterwards, the Senate was delivered from the danger of bloodshed, and a hook was fixed into that runaway slave who had usurped the name of Caius Marius [i.e. of Amatius].  And [Mark Antony] did all these things in concert with his colleague [Dolabella].  Some other things that were done were the acts of Dolabella alone; but, if his colleague had not been absent, would, I believe, have been done by both of them in concert.  For when enormous evil was insinuating itself into the Republic ...; when the same men who had performed that irregular funeral were erecting a tomb in the forum; and when abandoned men, with slaves like themselves, were every day threatening ... the houses and temples of the city; so severe was the rigour of Dolabella ... and so prompt was his overthrow of that accursed pillar [at Caesar’s cult site], that it seems marvellous to me that the subsequent time has been so different from that one day.  For behold, on the first of June, on which day [Mark Antony and Dolabella] had given notice that we were all to attend the Senate, everything was changed” (‘Philippics’, 1:4-6). 

Octavian, Divi Filius

Caesar’s Cult in April and May 44 BC

At the time of Caesar’s murder in the spring of 44 BC, his great nephew, the eighteen-year-old Caius Octavius, was with the army in Apollonia (in modern Albania).  When news reached him, he quickly returned to Italy, where he learned that Caesar had posthumously adopted him in his will.  He immediately signalled his intention to accept his inheritance by changing his name to Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus, or Caesar for short (although hereafter I call him ‘Octavian’, for the sake of clarity). 

A year later, Octavian received a letter from his rival Mark Antony that was apparently intended to secure his alliance: nevertheless, Mark Antony famously addressed him as:

  1. “You boy, you who owes everything to [Julius Caesar’s] name” (‘Philippics’, 13:24). 

The letter was passed to Cicero, who quoted it pejoratively in the speech in the Senate referenced above: the irony is that, despite his rhetoric, Cicero almost certainly shared this sentiment.  Indeed, there was much justice in it.  However, what neither Mark Antony nor Cicero had yet appreciated was just how powerful Caesar’s name would become in the hands of the young Octavian.

In the period after the murder, opinion about Caesar was sharply divided:

  1. for some, including Caesar’s soldiers and veterans, he had been an invincible general who had brought security, prosperity and glory to Rome; while

  2. for others, including Caesar’s murderers and those like Cicero who applauded their action, he had been a tyrant whose murder had liberated Rome and paved the way for the restoration of the Republic.

Mark Antony, as we shall see, flitted between these two positions for his own political advantage.  As far as we know from the surviving sources, Octavian chose not to engage in this debate in these terms.  Instead, he concentrated on the verdict that really mattered, insisting that the gods had vindicated Caesar’s actions by welcoming him into their councils as one of their own.  What mattered for Octavian (at least when it came to public opinion) was that he should be recognised as divi filius, the son of a god.

Octavian did not invent the cult of divus Julius: Caesar had begun to receive honours usually reserved for the gods during the last few months of his life (as discussed below).  Octavian’s achievement was to keep the nascent cult alive, despite the best efforts of Mark Antony to stamp it out.  This page attempts a chronological account of how he achieved his aim and how it furthered his fundamental objective: to inherit Caesar’s power.

Caesar’s Throne and Crown

Cassius Dio recorded that, among the divine honours awarded to Caesar during his lifetime:

  1. “[The Senate] voted that [Caesar’s] golden chair and his crown set with precious gems and overlaid with gold should be carried into the theatres [during religious festivals] in the same manner as those of the gods” (‘Roman History’, 44: 4).

Stefan Weinstock (referenced below, at p. 283) suggested that:

  1. “The chair was never exhibited while Caesar was alive.  After his death, Octavian tried twice to exhibit it in 44 BC, but was prevented from doing so by [Mark] Antony.”

Plutarch described what was probably the first of these occasions among his list of the insults that Mark Antony offered to Octavian after their first meeting in Rome:

  1. For instance, [Mark Antony] opposed [Octavian] in his canvass for a tribuneship and, when [Octavian] attempted to dedicate a golden chair in honour of his father by adoption according to a decree of the Senate, [Mark] Antony threatened to haul him off to prison unless he stopped trying to win popular favour” (‘Life of Mark Antony’, 16).

Appian also recorded this occasion:

  1. “Meanwhile, when the time had arrived for the games that the aedile Critonius was about to hold, Octavian made preparations to display [Caesar’s] gilded throne and garland, which the Senate had voted should be placed in front of him at all games.  When Critonius said that he could not allow Caesar to be honoured in this way at games given at his expense, Octavian brought him before [Mark] Antony as consul.  [Mark] Antony said he would refer the matter to the Senate.  Octavian was vexed and said:

  2. ‘Refer it; [but] I will place the throne there as long as the decree is in force.’ 

  3. [Mark] Antony became angry and prohibited it” (‘Civil Wars’, 3:28).

The identity of the games in question is unclear:

  1. According to William Butler (referenced below, at p. 895), Lucius Critonius was one of the aedilis Ceriales, which suggests that the games in question were the ludi Ceriales.  However, these games were celebrated in early April, so those of 44 BC would have taken place before Octavian arrived in Rome. 

  2. Geoffrey Sumi (referenced below, 2005, at p. 118) suggested that the ludi Ceriales had been delayed into May because of the recent riots in the forum.

  3. Karl Galinsky (referenced below, at p. 184) asserted that Critonius was responsible for the ludi Floriales (28th April - 3rd May 44 BC)

The games had certainly taken place by the 22nd May, when Cicero reacted to Atticus’ report of the incident:

  1. About Caesar's chair [i.e. about this incident, of which Atticus had recently informed him], well done the tribunes! Well done, too, the 14 rows of knights [who presumably applauded their action]!”  (Letter to Atticus, 15:3).

Thus Cicero had Octavian thwarted by the the tribunes.  (Perhaps this is why one of their number, Tiberius Cannutius, was among those executed by Octavian’s army after the Siege of Perusia in 40 BC, as discussed in my page on the Perusine War).  Whatever the precise details, it seems likely that the decision to ignore the decree relating to Caesar’s golden throne had ultimately been Mark Antony’s.

Announcement of Caesar’s Funerary Games

On 18th May,  Cicero wrote to Atticus about what had probably been Octavian’s first public speech made in Rome:

  1. “...concerning Octavian’s speech, I feel the same as you do: the preparations for his games and [the fact that he has secured the services of] Matius and Postumus as his procuratores (agents) are displeasing ... ” (‘Letter to Atticus”, 15: 2: 3).

As we shall see below, these games were the ludi Veneris Genitricis, which Octavian was to hold on 20th July, which seem to have been combined with (nominally private) funerary games for his ‘father’, Caesar.  Matius and Postumus, who had been prominent among Caesar’s financial advisers, had now apparently transferred their allegiance to Octavian and, since Octavian could not immediately access Caesar’s bequests, were presumably helping him to find other sources of finance for (inter alia) these games. 

Revival of the Cult Site in the Forum

On 1st June, Brutus and Cassius wrote a letter to Mark Antony (that was fortunately preserved by Cicero) to ask his advice on the wisdom of their returning to Rome, since they had wind that there were moves afoot to revive Caesar’s cult:

  1. “We therefore ask that you let us know your inclination towards us; whether you think that we will be safe [in Rome] amid such a crowd of veterans [loyal to Caesar’s memory], who we hear are contemplating replacing the altar” (‘Letters to Familiars’, 11:2).

From this, we can reasonably assume that Caesar’s veterans were planning a replacement for the altar in the forum that had been destroyed by Dolabella.  They would presumably have enjoyed Octavian’s support. 

Geoffrey Sumi (referenced below, 2011, at p. 171) reasonably suggested that this replacement monument, now protected from demolition by the veterans, was probably the one that Suetonius described as follow:

  1. “[After Caesar’s funeral, the mob] set up in the forum a solid column of Numidian marble, almost 20 feet high, and inscribed upon it ‘PARENTI PATRIAE’ (To the father of his country).  At the foot of this they continued for a long time to sacrifice, to make vows, and to settle some of their disputes by an oath in the name of Caesar”  (‘Life of Julius Caesar’, 85).

Ludi Veneris Genitricis (July 44 BC) 

As noted above, Cicero wrote to Atticus on 18th May 44 BC expressing dismay that Matius and Postumus were involved in the organisation of games that Octavian had recently announced.  In August 44 BC, after the event, Matius wrote to Cicero justifying his actions:

  1. “[My critics complain that] I superintended the ludos quos Caesaris victoriae [games in honour of Caesar's victory] that were  given by [Octavian].  That is a matter of private obligation with no constitutional significance.  [It was merely] a service that I was bound to render to the memory of a dear friend even after his death, and I could not refuse  the request of a young man [Octavian] of very great promise and in the highest degree worthy of Caesar” (‘Letters to Familiars’, 11:28).

Pliny the Elder’s account of these games is the most important of the surviving sources, not only because it is the earliest to describe them in any detail but also because (as noted, for example, by Tim Cornell, referenced below, volume II, p. 881) Pliny included what is probably a direct quotation from the lost memoirs of the late Emperor Augustus (i.e. of Octavian himself).  Pliny reported that:

  1. “Rome is the only place in the whole world where there is a temple dedicated to a comet; [Octavian] regarded this comet as auspicious to [himself] because it appeared during the games that he was celebrating in honour of Venus Genetrix, not long after the death of his father Caesar, as a member of the college that Caesar had founded.  He [Octavian] expressed his joy in these terms:

  2. ‘During the very time of these games of mine, a hairy star was seen for 7 days in the part of the heavens that is under the Great Bear.  It rose about the 11th hour of the day, was very bright, and was conspicuous in all parts of the earth.  The common people supposed the star to indicate that the soul of Caesar had been admitted among the immortal Gods; [and thus] the star was placed on the bust [of Caesar] that had been lately consecrated in the forum’.

  3. This is what [Octavian] proclaimed in public but, in secret, he rejoiced at this auspicious omen, believing that it had been for himself and that he was born in it; and, to tell the truth, it really proved a salutary omen for the world at large” (Natural History’, 2: 23).

Both Suetonius and Cassius Dio believed that Octavian’s games of 44 BC had already been planned before Caesar’s death:

  1. Suetonius:

  2. “Furthermore, since those who had been appointed to celebrate the ludos autem victoriae Cesaris [games in honour of Caesar's victory] did not dare to do so [in 44 BC, Octavian] gave them himself” (‘Life of Augustus’, 10).

  3. Cassius Dio:

  4. “After [Octavian’s speech of May 44 BC] came the games appointed in honour of the completion of the temple of Venus [Genetrix], which some, while Caesar was still alive, had promised to celebrate, but which they were now holding in slight regard ... ; so, to win the favour of the populace, [Octavian] provided for them at his private expense, on the grounds that they concerned him because of his family”, (Roman History’, 45: 6: 4).

According to Pliny the Elder these undefined people whom Caesar had been appointed to celebrate the games in fact belonged to a college that he had established for the purpose, to which Octavian actually belonged.  John Ramsey and Arthur Lewis Licht (referenced below, at p. 50) suggested that the dereliction of duty attributed to the other members of the college in the quotes above:

  1. “... sound like pretexts for Octavian to take matters into his own hands.”

After all (as discussed further below), Octavian held the games in July, well in advance of the ‘normal’ date of 26th September.

There is no suggestion in the surviving sources that Mark Antony tried to block the games.  However, this was the second of the two occasions on which he prevented Octavian from exhibiting Caesar’s golden throne and crown: Appian, who recorded that Mark Antony had already prohibited the lawful exhibition these divine attributes earlier in the year (as discussed above), now recorded that he:

  1. “... prohibited this still more unreasonably in the next games, [which were] given by Octavian himself, and which had been instituted by his father in honour of Venus Genetrix when he dedicated a temple to her in a forum, together with that forum itself” (‘Civil Wars’, 3:28).

Cassius Dio gave a similar account relating of this second occasion:

  1. “At this time, out of fear of [Mark] Antony, [Octavian]e did not bring into the theatre either Caesar's gilded chair or his crown set with precious stones, as had been permitted by decree” (‘Roman History, 45: 6:4).

Sidus Iulium (Julian Star)

As noted above, these games became famous for the appearance of a comet, an event that Octavian/ Augustus apparently described in his memoirs:

  1. “During the very time of these games of mine, a hairy star was seen for 7 days, in the part of the heavens that is under the Great Bear.  It rose about the 11th hour of the day, was very bright, and was conspicuous in all parts of the earth.  The common people supposed the star to indicate that the soul of Caesar had been admitted among the immortal Gods; [and thus] the star was placed on the bust [of Caesar] that had been lately consecrated in the forum” (reproduced by Pliny the Elder, ‘Natural History’, 2:23).

Other authors produced similar reports:

  1. Suetonius:

  2. “[Caesar] died in the 56th year of his age and was numbered among the gods, not only by a formal decree, but also in the conviction of the common people.  For at the first of the games which his heir [Octavian] gave in honour of his apotheosis, a comet shone for 7 successive days, rising about the 11th hour, and was believed to be the soul of Caesar, who had been taken to heaven; and this is why a star is set upon the crown of his head in his statue” (‘Life of Julius Caesar’, 88).

  3. Cassius Dio:

  4. “When, however, a certain star, which some called a comet, appeared in the north toward evening during [every day of the games], the majority ... ascribed it to Caesar, interpreting it to mean that he had become immortal and had been received into the number of the stars.  [Octavian] then took courage and set up a bronze statue of Caesar with a star above his head in the temple of Venus”  (‘Roman History, 45:7:1).

Date and Nature of the Games 

As  set out in the page on Caesar’s Divine Honours, Caesar had inaugurated the the ludi Veneris Genitricis on 26 September 46 BC.  John Ramsey and Arthur Lewis Licht (referenced below, at p. 43) argued that he had almost certainly celebrated these games for the second time shortly after his victory in Spain of 45 BC:

  1. “Caesar’s [Spanish] triumph [of 45 BC] will have taken place ... precisely in the period during which  the games to Venus [Genetrix] had been celebrated in 46 BC, ... [which] presumably began on 26th September and ran at least through to the end of the month and probably into October [as discussed above].” 

They also   observed (at p. 42) that:

  1. “ ... this double connection with triumphal returns of Caesar - in 46 and again in 45 BC - ... most probably explains why the festival was transformed into [the ludi Victoria Caesaris, which were [subsequently] celebrated on 20-30 July] under the empire.”

I think that it probably also explains why Matius (in his letter to Cicero) and Suetonius, both quoted above, referred to Octavian’s games as “games in honour of Caesar's victory”.

As John Ramsey and Arthur Lewis Licht (referenced below, at p. 41) pointed out:

  1. “The bulk of our sources [which they reproduced in Appendix I, pp. 157-77] would lead us to believe that the games were still being called ludi Veneris Genitricis [when Octavian held them] in 44 BC.”

This did not preclude their being additionally funerary games: as set out in the page on Caesar’s Divine Honours, the inaugural games of 46 BC had included funerary games for Caesar’s daughter, Julia.  Matius stated in his letter to Cicero that Octavian’s games of 44 BC were funerary games for Caesar.  So too did Servius, in his commentary on this passage from Virgil, in which the poet described Octavian at the Battle of Actium, when:

  1. “... his father’s star adorned the crest [of his helmet]” (‘Aenid’, (8.681);

Servius noted that this star/comet had appeared:

  1. “... dum sacrificaretur Veneri Genetrici et ludi funebres Caesari exhiberentur” (‘Vergilii Aeneidos Commentarius’, 8, 681)

  2. “... while [Octavian] was sacrificing to Venus Genetrix and holding funerary games for Caesar” (my translation).

However, as noted above, it is clear that Octavian announced his intention to hold these games in May 44 BC, and that they had certainly been held before Matius’ letter to Cicero in the following August.  The date might be inferred from the fact that the ludi Victoria Caesaris were subsequently celebrated on 20-30 July: John Ramsey and Arthur Lewis Licht (referenced below, at p. 41) argued that:

  1. “... in 44 BC, conditions were ripe for holding in July the games that were to be the forerunner of the imperial ludi Victoria Caesaris”;

but that, despite the change of date, the name of the games initially remained unchanged.  Indeed, as they noted at p. 56, Cassius Dio recorded that:

  1. “... the consuls [of 34 BC] celebrated the festival held in honour of Venus Genetrix” (‘Roman History, 49:42:1).

Clearly, these games subsequently became the ludi Victoria Caesaris.

Octavian had a number of reasons for wishing to hold funerary games for his father, not the least of which was probably his desire to demonstrate filial piety and to draw attention to the fact that Mark Antony was still blocking the formalisation his posthumous adoption by Caesar.  July was an excellent month for his purposes: it was the month of Caesar’s  birth and had been renamed in his honour: and 20th July was exactly four months after Caesar’s funeral.  Unfortunately, as Matius had pointed out (above), funerary games were a matter of private obligation with no constitutional significance.  However, as John Ramsey and Arthur Lewis Licht (referenced below, at p. 52 ) pointed out:

  1. “If [Octavian] could not openly advertise Caesar’s divinity [by, for example, securing the enactment of the decree relating to the exhibition of his golden throne and crown in the theatre], he could at least indirectly convey his message by using the  ludi Veneris Genitricis to lend an aura of divine majesty to Caesar’s funeral games. The close connection between Venus [Genetrix] and he most famous descendant [Caesar] had recently been demonstrated during [his] funeral, when [as noted in the main page on Octavian] his body had been laid out in a gilded replica of [her temple] that was placed on the rostra ”. 

By advancing the date of these public games to 20th July, just a week after Brutus’ ludi Apollinares (see the main page on Octavian), Octavian was able to secure a major boost to Caesar’s cult. 

The fortuitous appearance of the comet during the games provided the icing on the cake.  As John Ramsay (referenced below, at p. 255) pointed out, our main sources on its effect on the public - i.e not only Pliny the Elder but also Suetonius and Cassius Dio - probably all relied on Octavian’s memoirs, which were hardly unbiased.  Nevertheless, Adrian Goldsworthy (referenced below, at p. 99), for example, judged that: 

  1. “The story caught on and ... in many ways it built on the semi-divine honours awarded to [Caesar] during his lifetime and the altar to him [that had been] set up [in the forum after his funeral] but later knocked down on the consuls’ orders.”

Perhaps the best evidence for this is the fact that (as we shall see) Mark Antony now began to relax to an extent his earlier opposition to the establishment of Caesar’s cult.

Caesar’s Cult in Late 44 BC

Mark Antony’s Honours for Caesar

As noted above, in the months following Caesar’s murder, Mark Antony had apparently opposed his deification.  However, Cassius Dio recorded that, after the public reaction to the appearance of the comet on 21st July (described above):

  1. “... at last, some of the other decrees already passed in honour of Caesar were put into effect.  Thus ... , in the course of certain festivals of thanksgiving for victory [known as supplicationes, the Romans] sacrificed during one special day in memory of his name”, (‘Roman History’, 45: 7: 2).

As we shall see, this signified a softening of Mark Antony’s position on the deification question.

Supplicationes in Caesar’s Name

Cassius Dio recorded that, in 45 BC (i.e. during Casear’s lifetime), the Senate had decreed that:

  1. “... a special supplicatio should be held] whenever any victory should occur, and sacrifices should be offered for it, even if [Caesar] had not been [directly involved] ... ”, (‘Roman History’, 43: 44: 6).

In other words, as John Ramsey (referenced below, 2008, at p. 113) pointed out, even before his death:

  1. “... Caesar had been granted the honour of a supplicatio in his name at all celebrations of victory.”

A speech that Cicero gave before the Senate on 2nd September indicates that this decree had been put into effect on the previous day: Cicero had not attended the earlier meeting, but the speech that he gave the day after encapsulates what he would have said, had he attended.  (See John Ramsey, referenced below, 2008, at p. 81 for the context.)  The passage in the speech that refers to the decree under discussion here began:

  1. “There was a motion being made [yesterday] about some supplications”, (‘Philippics’, 1: 12). 

In his commentary on this introduction, John Ramsey (referenced below, 2008, at p. 110,) explained that, at this time, a ‘normal’ supplicatio in the name of a victorious general would have involved a festival lasting for:

  1. “... a period of five days, during which prayers were publicly offered at all temples in thanks for ... success in war.  [However], Antony’s proposal [of 1st September had apparently] ... provided for the permanent addition of an extra day in Caesar’s honour to all future supplicationes.  It therefore marked  a radical innovation, and contributed to the elevation of Caesar to the status of being a new Roman god.”

Cicero’s substantive remarks on the decree under discussion here were as follows:

  1. “Do you think, O conscript fathers, that I would have voted for the resolution that you adopted ... :

  2. of mingling funeral obsequies with supplications?

  3. of introducing inexplicable impiety into the Republic?”, (‘Philippics’, 1: 13). 

In his commentary on this passage, John Ramsey (referenced below, 2008, at p. 113) explained that Cicero argued here that honouring a dead mortal with a supplicatio (rather than honouring him in the normal way, at the festival of the Parentalia) constituted a heinous sacrilege., and that:

  1. “... in providing for Caesar to be so honoured [in supplicationes], even after his death, [the Senate allowed] the boundary between human and divine [to be] blurred.” 

He also suggested (on the basis of Cassius Dio’s passage at 45: 7: 2 quoted above) that:

  1. “Mark Antony’s proposal [of 1st September] was quite likely inspired by [the public reaction to the appearance of the comet of 21st July].”

Spencer Cole (referenced below, at p. 171) similarly suggested that Mark Antony’s action:

  1. “... was most likely an expedient responding to the popular reaction after the [ludi Veneris Genitricis]: nevertheless, it stopped well short of Octavian’s ultimate aims for Caesar’s cult.”

Mark Antony’s Ambivalent Attitude to the Cult of Divus Julius

Cicero’s speech of 2nd September seriously soured his relations with Mark Antony.  Thus, Cicero wisely avoided attending a meeting of the Senate that Mark Antony convened on 19th September.  He did however compose a speech that was highly critical of Mark Antony: it was written as if it had been delivered on 19th September, and was probably published in late December.  (See John Ramsey, referenced below, 2008, at pp. 155-9 for the context.).  It contained a particular accusation against Mark Antony that is of relevance here: that, since Caesar’s death, he had been extremely selective in maintaining the honours that had been granted to Caesar in his lifetime, including some that had implied or actually acknowledged his divinity:

  1. “And are you [Mark Antony] diligent in doing honour to Caesar’s memory?  Do you love him even now that he is dead?  What greater honour had he obtained [while alive, at your urging] than that of having:

  2. -a pulvinar [a cushioned couch for the gods];

  3. -a simulacrum [an image, usually of a god];

  4. -a fastigium [a gable added to his official house that made it resemble a temple]; and

  5. -a flamen [priest]? 

  6. Thus, as Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus all have priests, so [too Mark Antony is now] the priest of divus Julius (the god Julius).  Why then do you delay?  Why are not you inaugurated?  Choose a day; select someone to inaugurate you; we are colleagues; no one will refuse.  O you detestable man, whether you are the priest of a tyrant or of a dead man!”, (‘Philippics’, 2:110-1). 

This last taunt would have ben particularly embarrassing for Mark Antony.  Cassius Dio later recorded the fact that Mark Antony had been appointed as the priest responsible for Caesar’s cult during Caesar’s lifetime, although the relevant passage seems to be somewhat garbled:

  1. “And finally [the Senate] addressed [Caesar] outright as Jupiter Julius and ordered a temple to be consecrated to him and to his Clementia (clemency), electing [Mark] Antony as their priest like some flamen Dialis” (‘Roman History’, 44: 6: 4).

Stefan Weinstock (referenced below, at p. 287) plausibly suggested that Cassius Dio:

  1. “... had conflated two pieces of evidence into one:

  2. one was concerned with the temple of Clementia Caesaris [which was decreed but apparently never built; while]

  3. the other [was concerned with Caesar] alone as Jupiter Julius, and with his own priest, comparable to the flamen Dialis [and thus putting ‘Jupiter Julius’ on a par with Quirinus, Jupiter, and Mars].”

  4. [These] ... honours had probably been decreed very shortly before Caesar’s murder: the temple had not been started and, although Mark Antony had been chosen as the first priest of the imperial cult, he remained to be inaugurated”.

Cicero now wondered disingenuously why, now that Caesar was now dead, Mark Antony, as the designated flamen Divi Julii, had failed in his duty towards Caesar’s cult.  The speech then turned to another example of Mark Antony’s dereliction:

  1. “I ask you then, [Mark Antony], whether you are ignorant of what day this is?  Are you ignorant that yesterday was the 4th day of the ludi Romani in the Circus, and that you yourself submitted a motion to the people that a 5th day should be added besides, in honour of Caesar?  Why are we not all clad in the praetexta [the appropriate attire]?  Why are we permitting the honour that was appointed for Caesar by your law to be neglected? 

  2. You had no objection to so holy a day being polluted by the addition of supplicationes [see above];

  3. yet you did not choose [that this holy day] should be similarly [polluted] by the addition of ceremonies connected with a pulvinar [sacred cushion - i.e. by a specific ritual that would have been held before the statue of Caesar on his sacred couch if the last day of the games been held].  

  4. Either take away religion in every case, or preserve it in every case”, (‘Philippics’, 2:110-1).

Cicero then summed up what all this said about Mark Antony:

  1. “You will ask whether I approve of [either the living or the dead Caesar] having a sacred cushion, a temple and a priest?  I approve of none of those things.  But you, who are defending the acts of Caesar, what reason can you give for defending some [of his honours] and disregarding others?  Unless, indeed, you choose to admit that you measure everything by your own gain, and not by his dignity”, (‘Philippics’, 2:110-1).

Octavian’s Oath

When Mark Antony erected a statue of Caesar in the forum in October 44 BC, Cicero’s indignation reached new heights.  In a letter to Cassius, one of the assassins, he complained:

  1. “Your friend [Mark Antony] daily becomes madder.  To begin with, he has caused [the words]  ‘Parenti optime merito’ [To the father for his eminent service] to be inscribed on the statue that he has placed on the rostra, so that you [presumably Cassius and his accomplices] are now condemned not only as murderers, but as parricides [i.e. as the murders of the father of the nation]” (‘Letters to Familiars’, 12:3).  

This statue had presumably been Mark Antony’s response to the similarly inscribed statue on the pillar that now marked the place at the other end of the forum where Caesar had been cremated.  Note, however, that Cicero did not express here objections to the statue itself, but rather to the inscription and its implication that Caesar’s murder had been parricide. 

As described in the main page on Octavian, while Mark Antony was away from Rome in November 44 BC, Octavian made clear his exasperation with Mark Antony at a public in the forum.  Appian described it thus::

  1. “When Octavian arrived, he proceeded to the temple of Castor and Pollux, which his soldiers surrounded carrying concealed daggers.  Cannutius [the tribune who had convened the meeting] addressed the people first, speaking against Mark Antony.  Afterwards Octavian also reminded them of his father [Caesar] and of what he [Octavian] had also suffered at the hands of Mark Antony ... He declared himself the obedient servant of his country in all things, and said that he was ready to confront Mark Antony in the present emergency” (‘Civil Wars’, 3:41).

Cicero provides us with further details of contents of Octavian’s speech:

  1. “Why, what a speech!  It has been sent to me.  He qualifies his oath by the words:

  2. ‘So may I [be permitted to] achieve the honours of my father’,

  3. and, at the same time, he held out his right hand in the direction of his [father’s] statue.  Heaven forfend that we should be saved by such a man!]” (Letter to Atticus, 16:15; the phrase in italics is from the translation of Geoffrey Sumi, referenced below, 2005, p. 164).

Octavian’s immediate purpose in having raised his private army was now clear: he was determined to secure in full his legacy from Caesar and the enactment of Caesar’s divine honours, which had been his (i.e. Caesar’s) by decree and which did not fall away now that he was dead.  If Mark Antony would not aco-operate, then Octaviab would achieve his objectives by force.

What is less clear is what was meant by Octavian’s qualification of his oath:

  1. So may I [be permitted to] achieve the honours of my father”;

Michael Koortbojian (referenced below, at pp. 37-8) considered three possibilities:

  1. that Octavian swore by his hopes of emulating all of Caesar’s honours, including his divine honours;

  2. that he swore by his hopes that all the honours decreed for Caesar would be “achieved (i.e. acted upon); or

  3. that he simply swore to emulate Caesar’s cursus honorum.

There is considerable room for discussion between their respective merits,  For example:

  1. Geoffrey Sumi (referenced below, 2005, at p. 161) put forward the first possibility,  adding (at p. 164) that:

  2. “The cautious language of his oath might have been intended to demonstrate that he was acting at the behest of the army: they would ‘permit’ him to achieve his father’s honours ...”.

  3. Michael Koortbojian himself:

  4. -rejected the first possibility on the grounds that Octavian’s audience would not have found it credible, for example, for Octavian to chieve Caesar’s divine honours; and

  5. -rejected the second, since:

  6. “Mark Antony had already succeeded in enacting many of these honours.”

  7. and thus favoured the third.  However, Geoffrey Sumi (referenced below, 2005, at p. 164) observed that this implied that:

  8. “... Octavian, by his oath, could express his hopes of becoming quaestor, aedile and consul, as Caesar had before him - perhaps not an overly ambitions statement.”

  9. It is certainly odd that Cicero would have chosen to quote this passage if that is all it implied.

For what it is worth, I think that the second of these possibilities is the most likely, given that Octavian probably swore the oath while pointing to a statue of Caesar that stood near the altar to Caesar that had been rebuilt on the site of his cremation (which would have been behind him as he spoke).  In other words, I think that Octavian swore to defeat Mark Antony in order to achieve the enactment in full of the decrees that prescribed Caesar’s cult, which Mark Antony was signally failing to do (as Cicero had pointed out in his second Philippic, quoted above).  If so, as we shall see below, once he became consul in 43 BC, Octavian redeemed his oath.

Consecration of Divus Julius (42 BC ?)

                                         Divus Julius (RRC 526/2)           Divi Filius (Octavian, RRC 526/3)

       Obverses of two coins issued by Q. Voconius Vitulus in 40 BC

The momentous events of 43 BC are set out in the main page on Octavian.  To summarise: 

  1. On 19th August, Octavian became the youngest consul in the history of the Republic, with his uncle, Quintus Pedius, as his colleague.  Among his first acts, Octavian:

  2. reversed the amnesty that had been decreed for Caesar’s assassins, who were duly tried in absentia and pronounced guilty; 

  3. used public funds to pay the bonuses owed to his soldiers and the outstanding bequests to the Romans that Caesar had made in his will; and

  4. put in motion the formal process for the ratification of his own posthumous adoption by Caesar. 

  5. In October, he came to terms with Mark Antony and Lepidus at Bononia, and the three men agreed to share power in a legally constituted triumvirate.  They returned to Rome, where the triumvirate was duly constituted on 27th November, with a mandate to rule for five years.  They also unleashed a vicious programmes of proscription against  their enemies.

According to Cassius Dio:

  1. “While [the triumvirs] were behaving in this manner [i.e. engaged in proscriptions], they were also magnifying the former Caesar to the utmost degree, ... [and] did everything that tended to his honour, in expectation of some day being themselves deemed worthy of like honours.  For this reason, they exalted him, not only by the honours that had already been voted him, but also by others which they now added. Thus, on the first day of [42 BC], they:

  2. -took an oath and made all the rest swear that they would consider all his acts binding ...;

  3. -... laid the foundation of a shrine to him, as hero, [i.e of the Temple of Divus Julius] in the forum, on the spot where his body had been burned;

  4. -caused an image of him, together with an image, that of Venus, to be carried in the procession at the Circensian games; 

  5. -[decreed that], whenever news came of a victory anywhere, ... the honour of supplicationes [should be due] to both the victor by himself and to Caesar, though dead ...;

  6. -... compelled everybody to celebrate his birthday ...;

  7. -... made the day on which he had been murdered ... an unlucky day, closed the room in which he had been murdered and later transformed it into a privy;

  8. -built the Curia Julia, named after him ...;

  9. -... forbade any likeness of him to be carried at the funerals of his relatives, just as if he were in very truth a god ...; and

  10. -enacted that no one who took refuge in his shrine to secure immunity should be driven or dragged away from there, a distinction that had never been granted even to any of the gods since the days of Romulus” (‘Roman History’, 47: 18-19).

Appian gave a shorter account of these events, in which he seemed to equate the decree that allowed the triumvirs to lay the foundation stone of the shrine mentioned by Cassius Dio above with the later practice of formal consecration and deification of ‘good’ emperors:

  1. “[On the place in the forum where Caesar’s bier had been burned and where the mob had erected an altar] now stands the temple of Caesar himself, as he was deemed worthy of divine honours; for Octavian, his son by adoption, who took the name of Caesar, ... decreed divine honours to his father.  From this example the Romans now pay like honours to each emperor at his death if he has not reigned in a tyrannical manner or made himself odious, although at first they could not bear to call them kings even while alive.” (‘Civil Wars’, 2:148).

The formal consecration of Caesar by the Senate is evidenced by the fortunate survival of an inscription (CIL IX 2628) from Aesernia (modern Isernia, some 180 km east of Rome):

Genio deivi Iuli / parentis patriae

quem senatus / populusque / Romanus

in / deorum numerum / rettulit

To the Genius of divus Julius, parent of his country

whom the Senate and the People of Rome

have restored to the number of the gods

The date of this inscription is unknown, but the decree to which it relates was almost certainly passed at some time after Cicero’s death 7th December on 7th December 43 BC, since he would surely have referred to it in his correspondence.  Most scholars assume that it was passed on 1st January 42 BC, paving the way for the laying of the foundation stone of the Aedes Divi Julii.  Suetonius seems to have drawn on a similar inscription when he reported that:

  1. “[Caesar] died in the 56th year of his age and was numbered among the gods, not only by a formal decree, but also in the conviction of the common people.  For at the first of the games which his heir [Octavian] gave in honour of his apotheosis, a comet shone for 7 successive days, rising about the 11th hour, and was believed to be the soul of Caesar, who had been taken to heaven; and this is why a star is set upon the crown of his head in his statue” (‘Life of Julius Caesar’, 88).

The ‘formal decree’ presumably ratified the desire of the common people after the omen at Caesar’s funerary games.

Development of the Cult (42 - 40 BC)

Lex Rufrena (42 BC ?)

An inscribed statue base (CIL VI 0872) from Ocriculum, which is now in the Sala Rotunda, Musei Vaticani, reads

Divo Iulio iussu / populi Romani/ statutum est lege/ Rufrena

It records that the base supported a statue of divus Julius that had been erected by order of the Roman people in accordance with the Lex Rufrena.  The existence of  two other similar inscriptions:

  1. CIL I 2972, from Minturnae in Latium et Campania (now in the lapidarium of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Minturno); and

  2. CIL IX 5136, from Interamna Praetuttiorum in Picenum (now in the church of San Pietro at Campli, near Teramoo, in the Abruzzo region);

suggests that this law required such cult statues to be erected across Italy.  Stefan Weinstock (referenced below, at p.397, note 5) noted that Rufrenus, whom Cicero mentioned as serving under Lepidus in 43 BC, could have issued this law as Tribune of the Plebs (a post that he might have held in 42 BC), but this is far from certain.

Inauguration of Mark Antony as Flamen Divi Julius (40 BC)

According to Plutarch, after Octavian and Mark Antony made peace at Brundisium in 40 BC (cemented by Mark Antony’s marriage to Octavia, Octavian’s sister):

  1. “... Antony..., as a favour to [Octavian], was appointed to the priesthood of [divus Julius]: [Mark Antony and Octavian] transacted everything else also of the most important political nature ... in a friendly spirit” (‘Life of Mark Antony’, 33:1).

Read more:

B. Strauss, “The Death of Caesar: The Story of History’s Most Famous Assassination”, (2015) New York

A. Goldsworthy, “Augustus: First Emperor of Rome”, (2014) New Haven and London

J. Neel, “Legendary Rivals: Collegiality and Ambition in the Tales of Early Rome”, (2014) Leiden; Boston

S. Cole, “Cicero and the Rise of Deification at Rome”, (2013) Cambridge

T. J. Cornell, “The Fragments of the Roman Historians” (2013) Oxford

M. Koortbojian, “The Divinisation of Caesar and Augustus: Precedents, Consequences, Implications”, (2013) New York

D. A. Phillips, "The Temple of Divus Iulus and the Restoration of Legislative Assemblies under Augustus", Phoenix, 65: 3-4 (2011), 371-92

G. Sumi, “Topography and Ideology: Caesar's Monument and the Aedes Divi Iulii in Augustan Rome”, Classical Quarterly 61.1 (2011): 205–19

D, Wardle, “Caesar and Religion”, in:

  1. M. Griffin (Ed.), “Companion to Julius Caesar’ (2009) Chichester, at pp. 100-11

J. Ramsey, “Cicero: Philippics I-II”, (2008) Cambridge

K. Galinsky, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Augustus”, (2005) New York

G. Sumi, “Ceremony and Power: Performing Politics in Rome between Republic and Empire”, (2005) Michigan

J. Ramsey, “Did Mark Antony Contemplate an Alliance with His Political Enemies in July 44 BC ?”, Classical Philology, 96:3 (2001) 253-68

J. Ramsey and A. L. Licht, “The Comet of 44 B.C. and Caesar's Funeral Games”, (1997) Atlanta, Georgia

R. Weigel, “Lepidus: The Tarnished Triumvir”, (1992) London and New York

D. Fishwick, ‘‘The Name of the Demigod,’’ Historia, 24 (1975) 624–8

A. Alföldi , “La Divinisation de César dans la Politique d'Antoine et d'Octavien entre 44 et 40 avant JC”, Revue Numismatique, 15 (1973) 99-128

S. Weinstock, “Divus Julius”, (1971) Oxford

W. Butler, “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology”, (1844) London 

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