Roman Republic

Roman Italy (1st Century AD)

Caesar (June 46 - March 44 BC) 

Honours Voted to Caesar

Cassius Dio recorded that, when news of Caesar’s victory ay Thapsus reached Rome, the Senate:

  1. “... voted that a supplicatio (festival of thanksgiving) of 40 days should be offered for his victory.  [They also] granted him permission:

  2. to ride in a chariot drawn by white horses in the triumph [see below] that had already been voted him; and

  3. to be accompanied by all the lictors who were then with him, and by as many others as he had employed in his first dictatorship, together with as many more as he had employed in his second.

  4. Furthermore, they elected him  (for some such name was given him, as if the title of censor were not worthy of him) for three years, and dictator for ten in succession [see below]. They moreover voted that he should:

  5. sit in the Senate upon the curule chair with the successive consuls, and should always state his opinion first;

  6. give the signal at all the games in the Circus; and

  7. have the appointment of the magistrates and whatever honours the people were previously accustomed to assign.

  8. Finally, they decreed that:

  9. a chariot of his should be placed on the Capitol facing the statue of Jupiter;

  10. his statue in bronze should be mounted upon a likeness of the inhabited world, with an inscription to the effect that he was hemitheos (a demigod); and

  11. his name should be inscribed upon the [temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the] Capitol in place of that of [Quintus Lutatius Catulus, consul of 78 BC], on the ground that he had completed this temple after calling Catulus to account for [its the conduct of its restoration in 69 BC].

  12. These are the only measures I have recorded, not because they were the only ones voted, — for a great many measures were proposed and of course passed, — but because he declined the rest, whereas he accepted these”, (‘Roman History’, 43: 14: 1-7).

Two items in this list 

  1. Caesar’s ‘rolling dictatorship’; and

  2. the inscription on the bronze statue of Caesar, which described him as a demigod;

are discussed further below. 

Caesar’s Third Dictatorship (46 BC)

Cassius Dio began his account of the events of 46 BC by noting that Caesar:

  1. “... became both dictator and consul... , holding each of the offices for the 3rd time, and with Lepidus as his colleague in both instances”, (‘Roman History’, 43: 1: 1).

  As noted above:

  1. Caesar had become consul for the 3rd time at the start of the year; and

  2. according to Cassius Dio, shortly before his arrival in Rome after his victory in Africa, the Senate had:

  3. “... elected him dictator for ten [years] in succession”, (‘Roman History’, 43: 14: 4).

Thus, Caesar, while remaining consul, now began his 3rd dictatorship, which would henceforth be renewed at the start of each of the following nine years.  

Caesar’s Reception in Rome

As Geoffrey Sumi (referenced below, at p. 48) summarised, Caesar, who had been almost completely absent from Rome (first in Gaul and then defeating Pompey) for over a decade:

  1. “... finally returned to Rome in late July 46 BC, basking in the glory of his victory in the civil war ...”

It seems that this display of enthusiasm  was not universally shared: thus, Cassius Dio continued:

  1. “When these decrees had ... been passed, [Caesar] entered Rome:

  2. perceiving that the people were afraid of his power and suspicious of his proud bearing, ... and

  3. realising that ... they had voted him extravagant honours through flattery and not through goodwill;

  4. he endeavoured to encourage them and to inspire them with hope by [a reassuring] speech delivered in the Senate ... By such statements in the Senate and afterward before the people, Caesar relieved them to some extent of their fears, but was not able to persuade them altogether to be of good courage until he confirmed his promises by his deeds”, (‘Roman History’, 43: 15:1 - 18:6).

Caesar’s Quadruple Triumph

According to Cassius Dio, Caesar:

  1. “... celebrated triumphs in four sections, on four separate days, for:

  2. the Gauls [whom Caesar had defeated in the campaign that had ended some six years earlier];

  3. Egypt [i.e. Caesar’s defeat of King Ptolemy XIII at Alexandria in 47 BC];

  4. Pharnaces [i.e. Caesar’s defeat of King Pharnaces of Pontus at the Battle of Zela in 47 BC]; and

  5. Juba [i.e. Caesar’s defeat of King Juba I of Numidia, who had committed suicide when he had perceived that his Pompeian allies were doomed to defeat at Thapsus in 46 BC]”, (‘Roman History’, 43: 19: 1).

The last three of these victories were celebrated in public festivals  in the early empire:

  1. on 27th March, for Caesar’s victory at Alexandria (fasti Maffeiani);

  2. on 2nd August, for his victory at Zela (fasti Fratrum Arvalium, fasti Vallenses, fasti Amiternini, fasti Antiates Ministrorum); and

  3. on 6th April, for his victory at Thapsus (fasti Praenestini).

Geoffrey Sumi (referenced below, at p. 57) suggested that Caesar was present for the ludi Romani (4th - 18th September, and that he then celebrated his four triumphs on alternate days: 20th, 22nd, 24th and 26th September.  Entries in (for example) the fasti Fratrum Arvalium (ca. 30 BC) and the fasti Praenestini (6-9 AD) records that the temple was  dedicated on 26th September, from which we might reasonably assume that the ludi Veneris Genitricis were first held on 26th September 46 BC.

Caesar’s Fourth Dictatorship (45 BC)

Benjamin Straumann (referenced below, at p. 86) pointed out that the dictatorship of 46 BC had been:

  1. “... designed as a succession of ten dictatorships, each limited to a one-year duration, each of which Caesar was supposed to give up before taking up the next one.”

Nevertheless, as late as October 46 BC, Cicero expected that he would arrange for consular elections to be held before marching to Spain to finish the war with the Pompeians: thus, he asked Atticus to:

  1. “... what [Q. Pilius] Celer {Atticus’ brother-in-law, wh was a Caesarian] reports of Caesar’s arrangements with the candidates, and whether he [probably Celer, possibly Caesar] means to appear himself on the Field of Fennel [i.e. Spain] or the Field of Mars [i.e. the Campus Marius].  I should be very glad to know whether I shall have to be in Rome for the elections”, (‘Letter to Atticus’, 245, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 1999, at vol. 3, pp. 273). 

In fact, Caesar no longer felt the need to go through the motions of elections in order to appoint magistrates: according to Suetonius:

  1. “He held his 3rd and 4th consulships [in 46-5 BC] in name only, content with the power of the dictatorship, [which was] conferred on him at the same time  ... Moreover, in both years, he substituted two consuls for himself for the last 3 months, in the meantime holding no elections except for tribunes and plebeian aediles, and appointing praefecti instead of the praetors, to manage the affairs of Rome during his absence”, (‘Life of Julius Caesar’, 76: 2).

Thus, the fasti Capitolini record the magistrates in office in 45 BC as:

  1. Dictator: C. Julius Caesar (III);

  2. Master of Horse: M. Aemilius Lepidus;

  3. Consul: C. Julius Caesar (IV) (without a colleague)

  4. Consuls (after Caesar’s resignation of this office):

  5. Q. Fabius Q.f. Q.n. Maximus (died in office);

  6. C. Caninius C.f. C.n. Rebilus (elected in his place); and

  7. C. Trebonius [C.f. . .]

It seems that Caesar’s earlier appointment Mark Antony’ as Urban Prefect had re-established the practice, and Caesar was now content to employ it without any reference to Republican precedents: according to Cassius Dio, when Caesar :

  1. “... finally set out himself [for Spain,  he entrusted] the City to [his master of horse, M. Aemilius] Lepidus and a number of praefecti (some think eight, although six is more commonly believed)”, (‘Roman History’, 43: 28: 2)

Cassius Dio later recorded that:

  1. “Caesar was at that time dictator, and at length, near the close of the year, he was appointed consul, after Lepidus, who was master of the horse, had convoked the people for this purpose; for Lepidus had become master of the horse at that time also, having given himself, while still in the consulship, that additional title, contrary to precedent”, (‘Roman History’, 43: 33: 1).

Battle of Munda (March 45 BC)

Towards the end of 46 BC, news reached Rome that Q. Cassius Longinus, whom Caesar had appointed as governor of Further Spain,had antagonised his troops to the extent that they had defected to the cause of Pompey’s sons, Gnaeus and Sextus Pompeius.  Other Pompeian exiles joined the rebels, and Cassius was ignominiously drowned as he tried to escape.  In November, Caesar duly left for Spain, leaving Lepidus in charge at Rome.  His victory over the rebels in 45 BC was celebrated in public festivals  in the early empire on 17th March (fasti Caeretani, fasti Farnesiani).  Gnaeus Pompeius was killed and his forces were destroyed (although Sextus Pompeius managed to escape and survived to challenge Caesar’s successor).  

Parilia (21st April)

According to Cassius Dio, after the news reached Rome, the festival of the Parilia of April 45 was extended so that games could be held in the Circus in celebration of Caesar’s victory:

  1. “The Parilia 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).

The only possible surviving reference to the comparable games of 45 BC is in a letter from Cicero to Atticus of 14th July 45 BC, in which Cicero referred to a procession that Atticus must have described to him:

  1. “What a delightful letter!  Though the procession was odious, it is nevertheless not odious [in every respect] ... . The people were splendid not to clap even the figure of Victory owing to its impious neighbour [by which he meant an image of Caesar]””, (‘Letters to Atticus’, 336: 1, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 1999, at vol. 2, p. 105).

Stefan Weinstock (referenced below, at p. 185 and note 11), who dated Atticus’ letter to 20th or 21st July, suggested that this procession had formed part of games in honour of Caesar’s victory in Spain at this time, and that Caesar’s image had accompanied an image of Victory in this procession (to the evident displeasure of the crowd).  He therefore argued (at p. 91) that:

  1. “... when the ludi Veneris Genitricis were first repeated in 45 BC, they were no longer held on 26th September but from the 20th to the 30th July, and were now called ludi Victoriae Caesaris”.

The circumstantial evidence that supported this hypothesis was as follows:

  1. as discussed below:

  2. the comparable games of 44 BC (which were held by Octavian/ Augustus after Caesar’s murder) were held at some time between May and August; and

  3. while five independent sources (including one that probably quoted Augustus himself) referred to these games as ludi Veneris Genitricis, two referred to them as ludi Victoriae Caesaris; and

  4. the ludi Veneris Genitricis no longer appeared in the fasti from the early in the imperial period, but, according to:

  5. the Fasti Maffeiani (ca. 8AD); and

  6. the Fasti Amiternini, from the reign of Tiberius (14-37 AD;

  7. games known as the ludi Victoriae Caesaris were celebrated during 20-30 July.

In other words, if Weinstock was correct in asserting that the comparable games of 45 BC were called ludi Victoriae Caesaris and held in July, then:

  1. the five sources who designated the games of 44 BC as ludi Veneris Genitricis were mistaken; and

  2. the games had been renamed and moved to 20-30 July in 45 BC, a situation that continued into the imperial period.

However, John Ramsey and Arthur Lewis Licht (referenced below, at p. 33 and note 23) pointed put that, since a winged statue of Victory probably headed the processions of all the ludi circenses:

  1. “... Cicero’s comment does not necessitate the conclusion that the games [to which he referred in this letter] were ‘victory games’.” 

Since these authors dated Atticus’ letter to the 14th July, they further suggested that the incident reported to Cicero had actually occurred at the ludi Apollinares of the previous day.  On this hypothesis (which they set out at p. 35):

  1. “... Cicero and Atticus may have identified the crowd’s reaction at the ludi Apollinares as having [demonstrated opposition to Caesar] ... because [he] was being honoured in the procession, which included his ivory statue for only the second time.”

They also pointed out (at pp. 42-3) that Caesar was probably still in Spain in July 45 BC, but that he returned to Rome soon after, and that he celebrated the triumph for his victory in Spain before 13th October.  This fifth Caesarian triumph would thus:

  1. “... 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.” 

They further pointed out (at p. 42) that the ludi Veneris Genitricis of 46 BC had:

  1. “... capped the celebration of Caesar’s four triumphs [on successive days]”;

and suggested that:

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

Clearly, the scant and sketchy nature of the surviving evidence allows for a wide degree of disagreement.  It seems to me that, given the fact that there is no firm evidence Caesar’s new festival in honour of Venus was given a new name and/or celebrated on a different date in 45 BC, the balance of probabilities is that:

  1. the arrangements for 45 BC  followed the precedent set in 46 BC; and

  2. the subsequent changes (which certainly had occurred by the early imperial period) post-dated Caesar’s murder.

Caesar’s Fifth Triumph (October?)

Cassius Dio recorded that Caesar’s victory in Spain was:

  1. “... the last victory that he won ... As [he] did not know this and still hoped that many successes lay in the future, he showed no moderation, but was filled with arrogance, as if immortal.  [Thus, for example], although he had conquered no foreign nation, but had rather destroyed a vast number of [Roman] citizens, he not only celebrated the triumph himself ... , but also allowed Quintus Fabius and Quintus Pedius to hold a celebration, although they had merely been his legates and had achieved no individual success.  Naturally this occasioned ridicule ... Nevertheless, most brilliant triple triumphs and triple processions of the Romans were held in honour of [this victory], and a thanksgiving of 50 days was observed”, (‘Roman History, 43: 41:2 - 42:2) 

Unfortunately, the line in the Augustan fasti Triumphales that recorded Caesar’e fifth triumph no longer survives: after a gap that began after a triumph of November 54 BC, the surviving record begins:

  1. Q. Fabius Q.f. Q.n. Maximus, cos., ex Hispania, 3 id.Oct. [13th October]

  2. Q. Pedius M.f., pro cos., ex Hispania, id.Dec. [13th December]

  3. C. Julius C.f. C.n. Caesar (VI), dict. (IV), ovans ex monte Albano, 7 k.Feb. [26th January 44 BC - see below]

Plutarch recorded that:

  1. “This was the last war that Caesar waged; and the triumph that was celebrated for it infuriated  the Romans as nothing else had done.  For it commemorated not a victory over foreign commanders or barbarian kings, but the utter annihilation of the sons and the family of the mightiest of the Romans [Pompey the Great], who had fallen upon misfortune;  and it was not meet for Caesar to celebrate a triumph for the calamities of his country, priding himself upon actions which had no defence before gods or men ...” (‘Life of Caesar’, 56:7-9).

The date of this triumph is unknown, but those that were granted to his legates, Quintus Fabius Maximus and Quintus Pedius, took place, respectively, on 13th October and 13th December.

Caesar’s Perpetual Dictatorship (44 BC)

The fasti Capitolini suggest that Caesar formally began 44 BC as dictator for the fourth time:

  1. Dictator: Caius Julius Caesar (IV);

  2. Master of Horse: M. Aemilius Lepidus (II)

However, they then record that

  1. Caesar was appointed dictator for life;

  2. Lepidus would initially remain as Master of Horse; 

  3. Caius Octavius (Caesar’s nephew) would succeed Lepidus when he left for war; and

  4. Cnaeus Domitius Calvinus was designated to succeed him in the following year

Finally, they recorded the consuls of 44 BC:

  1. Consul Caius Julius Caesar (V) (killed in office);

  2. Publius Cornelius Dolabella (elected in his place]

  3. [Mark Antony]

Read more

B. Straumann, “Crisis and Constitutionalism: Roman Political Thought from the Fall of the Republic to the Age of Revolution”, (2016) Oxford

D. R. Shackleton Bailey (translator), “Cicero: Letters to Atticus, Volumes I-IV”, (1999) Cambridge MA

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

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

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