Roman Republic

Roman Italy (1st Century AD)

Divus Julius I: In Caesar’s Lifetime

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 in Rome: July - November 46 BC

As Geoffrey Sumi (referenced below, at p. 48) pointed out, Caesar had been almost completely absent from Rome for over a decade when, after his defeat of the remnants of Pompey’s army at Thapsus in Africa, he:

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

He had become consul for the 3rd time at the start of the year and, according to Cassius Dio, shortly before his return to Rome, the Senate had:

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

All pretence of Republican government was gone and the Romans were awaiting the return of an all-conquering hero who was about to embark on a ten-year rolling dictatorship: their world would never be the same again.   This is clear from the first speech that Cicero (whom Caesar had pardoned for his pro=Pompeian stance in 47 BC) delivered in the Senate after Caesar’s return: in a particularly obsequious passage in which he celebrated Caesar’s clemency, he  gushed that:

  1. “You, [Caesar], have subdued nations that were barbarous in their brutality, innumerable in their multitude, infinite in their extent, and abounding in every description of resource; ... But, to conquer the will, to curb the anger and to moderate the triumph [is an even harder task] ... I do not compare [a man who acts in this way] to the greatest of men: rather I judge him most like to God”, (‘Pro Marcello’, 8. based on the translation by Nathan Watts, referenced below, at p. 429).

Honours Awarded to Caesar

Unsurprisingly, in anticipation of Caesar’s arrival, the Senate had awarded him unprecedented honours: for example, Cassius Dio recorded that they:

  1. “... had voted that sacrifices should be offered for his victory during 40 days ...”, (‘Roman History’, 43: 14: 3)

However, the most striking of these honours was that:

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

Servius, in his commentary on Virgil’s ‘Eclogues’ (at 9: 46: 11) rendered the inscription in Latin as ‘Caesari emitheo’.  However, some scholars doubt that a Greek word would be used in this way on a statue in Rome: for example, after discussing the various possibilities, Duncan Fishwick (referenced below, at p. 628) suggested that the inscription referred to a specific ‘demigod’ with whom he had been associated, in which case:

  1. “...the likeliest candidate would appear to be Romulus. ... An inscription Caesari Romulo would ... tally nicely with the information that Dio provides.  ... 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.”

It seems that the statue was in place when Caesar returned to Rome, since Dio subsequently recorded that:

  1. “... on the first day of [Caesar’s subsequent quadruple triumph - see below],  ... he climbed up the stairs of the Capitol on his knees, without noticing:

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

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

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

Nevertheless, the question of Caesar’s ‘superhuman’ status was clearly on the agenda.

Dedication of the Temple of Venus Genetrix

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).

Geoffrey Sumi (referenced below, at p. 57) suggested that Caesar was probably 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.  Cassius Dio recorded that, after the last  of these triumphs, Caesar dedicated both:

  1. “... the [new] forum called after him ... and the temple to Venus as the founder of his family [i.e. Venus Genetrix] and, in their honour, he instituted many contests of all kinds” (‘Roman History’, 43: 22).

Entries in (for example) the fasti Fratrum Arvalium (ca. 30 BC) and the fasti Praenestini (6-9 AD) record that the temple was indeed dedicated on 26th September, from which we might reasonably assume that the ‘contests’ to which Cassius Dio alluded took place during the ludi Veneris Genitricis.

James Rives (referenced below, at p. 294) observed that, by establishing this new cult in Rome, Caesar:

  1. “... added a new dimension to Roman public religion.  New cults had often been established in the past, but none had the personal associations that this one had.  Although the epithet "Genetrix" had been used of Venus in poetry for over a century, it was as an ancestral goddess of the Roman people in general.  However, Caesar's family, the Iulii, claimed direct descent from Venus through Iulus, the son of Aeneas, and apparently honoured her as their particular ancestral deity.  [Thus], in establishing his cult of Venus Genetrix, Caesar was, for all practical purposes, giving a public form to this family cult, and thereby expressing in religious terms his unique standing in the state:

  2. The institution and organisation ... [of the cult] was traditional enough: Caesar:

  3. vowed [the temple] as a general during a battle, [the battle of Pharsalus];

  4. dedicated it as a Roman magistrate; and

  5. presumably entered an annual sacrifice into the civic calendar as pontifex maximus.

  6. It was in [his] personal associations [with it] that the cult was an innovation.” (I have slightly changed the word order for emphasis.)

I think that we can go further, by recognising that Caesar’s new calendar was about to come into effect: as Censorinus recorded, mismanagement of the calendar had lead to increasing  problems, until:

  1. “ ... [Caesar], as pontifex maximus, in his 3rd consulship and that of M. Aemilius Lepidus, ... [added 90 days to this year].  At the same time, so that the mistake would not be repeated in future, ... he shaped the civil year to the course of the sun ... and added 10 [days to the new solar year].  ... Moreover, to take account of the quarter of a day ... [that was needed] to complete the year, he ordered that [a single day should be added to every fourth year.  These new arrangements started] in the 4th consulship of Caesar”, (‘De Die Natali’, 20, translated by Robert Hannah, referenced below, at pp. 915--6).

In other words, what we call the Julian calendar came into effect on 1st January 45 BC, and the first new entry in it would have recorded that 26th September was the dies natalis of the temple to Venus Genetrix in the Forum of Caesar.

Caesar’s Victory at Munda (17th March 45 BC)

Caesar left Rome in November 46 BC to deal with a rebellion of his legions in Hispania Ulterior, who had defected to Gnaeus and Sextus Pompeius (the sons of Pompey).   He over-wintered there, before engaging with and defeating the rebels at Munda on 17th March 45 BC.  News of this victory reached Rome of 20th April and, according to Cassius Dio:

  1. “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).

The Senate also:

  1. “... decreed that an ivory statue (ἀνδριάς, image of a man) of him, and later that a whole chariot, should appear in the procession at the games in the Circus, together with the αγάλματα (statues) of the gods” (‘Roman History’, 43: 45: 2). 

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).

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

“... this god of the procession, this messmate of Quirinus, ...”, (‘Letters to Atticus’, 299: 3, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 1999, at p. 33).

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. 

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

  2. “... 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”, (‘Roman History’, 44: 6: 3-4).

Cassius Dio then recorded the greatest honour that was awarded to Caesar during his 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”.

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

  1. “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.”

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):   

  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 divus Julius has Mark Antony ”, (‘Philippics’, 2: 110-1). 

Read more:

G-L. Gregori and G. Almagno (authors) and T. Spinelli (editor and translator), “Roman Calendars: Imperial Birthdays, Victories and Triumphs”, (2019) Mauritius

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

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

E. Badian, “From the Iulii to Caesar”, in

  1. M. Griffin (ed.), “A Companion to Julius Caesar”, (2009) Chichester and Malden, MA, at pp. 11-22

D. Wardle, “Caesar and Religion”, in:

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

R. Hannah, “Greek and Roman Calendars”, (2005) London

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

J. Rives, “Venus Genetrix Outside Rome”, Phoenix, 48:4 (1994) 294-306

P. White, “Julius Caesar in Augustan Rome”, Phoenix, 42:4 (1988) 334-56

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

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

D. R. Shackleton Bailey (translator), “Cicero: Pro Milone; In Pisonem; Pro Scauro; Pro Fonteio;Pro Rabirio Postumo; Pro Marcello; Pro Ligario; Pro Rege Deiotaro”, (1931) Cambridge MA

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