Julius Caesar.

Lecture 12, Thursday 1st March 2018

Gaius Julius Caesar (100 — 44 BCE)

Turin Caesar

Portrait of Julius Caesar from forum of Tusculum. 1st c. BCE. Turin, Museo di Antichità. Image: Gautier Poupeau [CC BY 2.0] via wikimedia. Fig. 39 in Paul Zanker’s Roman Art (the twitter prize book). The bust was excavated by Lucien Bonaparte (younger brother of Napoleon) in 1825 (see Ancient Portraits in the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1987: 24).

Zanker (2010: 65): “The competitive politicians at Rome…were interested in presenting themselves as unique individuals. We may also take it that such harsh realism was well suited to depicting Roman values suchas severity and authority… This image of Caesar, from the forum of the town of Tusculum, was probably made during the dictator’s lifetime. The realistic depiction of an aging man with deep furrows and thinning hair agrees with the image on coins minted in 44 BCE and may well have corresponded to the actual appearance of the 56 year old. Unlike Pompey’s images, this one avoids all hints of emotional engagement, showing instead the haughty, aloof expression of an aristocrat. The suggestion of an ironic smile and slightly narrowed eyes seem to have been characteristic features of Caesar.”

Silver denarius with head of Julius Caesar, struck under M. Mettius. 44 BCE. Minted at Rome. Obverse (left): head of C. Julius Caesar, wreathed (like a triumphator), with lituus (augural staff) left of his head. Text: CAESAR DICT QVART (dictator for the fourth time). Reverse (right): goddess Juno Sospita, spear in hand, shield in left, standing in a biga (chariot drawn by a team of two horses) galloping to right. Text (below): MMETT[IVS] (M. Mettius). Image: MFA, Boston. See also MFA Boston Highlights: Classical Art p173. The image of Caesar on this coin is often compared to the Tusculan portrait (above). Julius Caesar was the first living person whose portrait appeared on a coin struck at Rome.

Caesar: the man, the myth, the legend:

Elizabeth Rawson (1994: 438): “It is impossible today to approach Caesar’s acts in his last years without some awareness of the different Caesars created by modern scholars. Perhaps it is unnecessary to go back to the idealized Caesar of Theodor Mommsen [1817 – 1903], that is, the man who saw in advance that a monarchy was the necessary cure for Rome’s ills, and became a democratic ruler by overthrowing a corrupt and arrogant oligarchy — which was identified by the great liberal scholar with the Prussian Junkers whom he hated. But the Caesar of Eduard Meyer [1855 – 1930], though perhaps no one now would accept him without reservation, lives on, if often as a model against which to react. Meyer’s Caesar fought selfishly for power, which he intended to legitimize by becoming another Alexander, ruling as god and king over a world empire; in fact, thought Meyer, this was a false path, and Augustus returned to the precedent of Pompey, who kept his power within Roman and Republican forms. Many scholars accepted this picture, some adding that Cleopatra had had an important role in converting Caesar to the idea of Hellenistic kingship (Gelzer 1921). Others, especially in Britain before the Second World War, denied that there was contemporary evidence to prove that he wished to be either a king or a god, and argued that the fact that he became a dictator for life, dictator perpetuo, was enough to explain his assassination; he was a brilliant opportunist, with no long-term plans (Adcock 1932, Syme 1939). More recently there have been attempts, sometimes on the basis of the coins, to show that Caesar did wish to be king, but conceived kingship in Roman terms, harking back to Romulus or even to the kings of Alba Longa, descended like Caesar himself from Aeneas; and that he did wish to be god, but in that too stood largely in the native tradition.”

Roberts (2015: 12): “The monks [of École de Brienne] subscribed to the Great Man view of history, presenting the heroes of the ancient and modern worlds for the boys’ emulation. Napoleon [1769-1821] borrowed many biographies and history books from the school library, devouring Plutarch’s tales of heroism patriotism, and republican virtue. He also read Caesar, Cicero, Voltaire, Diderot, and the Abbé Raynal, as well as Erasmus, Eutropius, Livy, Phaedrus, Sallust, Virgil, and the first century BCE Cornelius Nepos’ Lives of the Great Captains, which included chapters on Themistocles, Lysander, Alcibiades, and HannibalHe could recite in French whole passages from Virgil, and in class he naturally took the side of his hero Caesar against Pompey. The plays he enjoyed as an adult also tended to focus on the ancient heroes, such as Racine’s Alexandre le Grand, Andromaque, Mithridate, and Corneille’s CinnaHorace, and Attila.” (2015: 31) March 1790: “Napoleon spent his nights writing his history of Corsica and re-reading Caesar’s Gallic Wars, committing whole pages of it to memory.”

Čulík-Baird (2016): “It is precisely the image of Napoleon obsessing over Caesar that makes me uncomfortable about biography. Biography seems to me to generate a feeling of either veneration or voyeurism in its readers, and I find it hard to reconcile this with a scholarly mindset. In certain places and times, the lives of famous men were written precisely to be emulated. But I want to believe that we’ve made it past the need to study ‘great men’ precisely because of their ‘greatness’, which usually has more than something to do with imperialism, colonialism, or cultural chauvinism. But the fact is that these texts which we use were made by people with personalities and lives – and there’s something to be said for trying to find a satisfying way of discussing that fact without falling into fanaticism.”

Anthropologist Paul Connerton (1989: 62) on Thomas Mann (Freud and the Future): “We are to envisage the ego, less sharply defined and less exclusive than we commonly conceive of it, as being so to speak ‘open behind’: open to the resources of myth which are to be understood as existing for the individual not just as a grid of categories, but as a set of possibilities which can become subjective, which can be lived consciously. In this archaising attitude the life of the individual is consciously lived as a ‘sacred repetition’, as the explicit reanimation of prototypes.” (+ see Habinek 2005: 129)

In the shadow of Marius: 

Suetonius (Life of Divine Julius 6): When quaestor [69 BCE], he gave the customary orations from the rostra in praise of his aunt Julia and his wife Cornelia, who had both died. And in the eulogy of his aunt he spoke in the following terms of her paternal and maternal ancestry and that of his own father: “The family of my aunt Julia is descended by her mother from the kings, and on her father’s side is joined with the immortal gods; for the Marcii Reges (her mother’s family name) go back to Ancus Marcius [Rome’s fourth King], and the Julii, the family of which ours is a branch, to Venus. Our stock therefore has at once the sanctity of kings, whose power is supreme among mortal men, and the claim to reverence which attaches to the gods, who hold sway over kings themselves.”

Plutarch (Life of Julius Caesar 1): Now, the reason for Caesar’s hatred of Sulla was Caesar’s relationship to Marius. For Julia, a sister of Caesar’s father, was the wife of Marius the Elder, and the mother of Marius the Younger, who was therefore Caesar’s cousin…When Sulla was deliberating whether to put Caesar to death and some said there was no reason for killing a mere boy like him, Sulla declared that they had no sense if they did not see in this boy many Mariuses.

Suetonius (Life of Divine Julius 1): Everyone knows that when Sulla had long held out against the most devoted and eminent men of his party who interceded for Caesar, and they obstinately persisted, he at last gave way and cried, either by divine inspiration or a shrewd forecast: “Have your way and take him; only bear in mind that the man you are so eager to save will one day deal the death blow to the cause of the aristocracy, which you have joined with me in upholding; for in this Caesar there is more than one Marius.”

Caesar’s rise and fall
consulships — 5x (59, 48, 46, 45, 44 BCE)

  • 69 BCE: quaestor under governor of Spain; death of his aunt, Julia, + his wife, Cornelia
    • Cornelia + Caesar had married in 84 BCE; his daughter, Julia, came from this marriage to Cornelia
  • 67 BCE: speaks in favour of Lex Gabinia (Pompey’s pirate command); marries Pompeia (granddaughter of Sulla)
  • 65 BCE: curule aedile
  • 63 BCE: Pontifex Maximus. Cicero’s consulship with C. Antonius. Catilinarian Conspiracy. On 5th December Caesar argues in senate against the execution of conspirators.
    • Caesar’s speech survives in a highly dramatized form in Sallust’s account of the Catilinarian conspiracy (Bellum Catilinae 51); Sallust bases the debate between Caesar (argues clemency) and Cato the Younger (argues execution) on the ‘Mytilenean Debate‘ in the Greek historian, Thucydides
      • Caesar (Sall. BC 51): Fathers of the Senate, all men who deliberate upon difficult questions ought to be free from hatred and friendship, anger and pity.  When these feelings stand in the way the mind cannot easily discern the truth, and no mortal man has ever served at the same time his passions and his best interests. When you apply your intellect, it prevails; if passion possesses you, it holds sway, and the mind is impotent. [read more]
  • 62 BCE: praetor; divorces his wife, Pompeia, because she is caught in adultery with Publius Clodius Pulcher (= Bona Dea Scandal)
  • 61 BCE: proconsul in Spain; campaigns against Lusitani
  • 60 BCE: “First Triumvirate”
    • private agreement between Marcus Crassus, Pompey, Caesar
      • Crassus: support for publicani + Asian tax contract (61 BCE: Cic. Att. 1.17)
      • Pompey: needs eastern acta ratified, land for veterans
      • Caesar: needs support for consulship (in face of senatorial opposition)
  • 59 BCE: Julius Caesar elected consul with M. Calpurnius Bibulus;
    • 59 BCE: Pompey marries Julia (Caesar’s daughter); Caesar marries Calpurnia
  • 58-50 BCE: Caesar’s command in Gaul
  • 58 BCE: Cicero exiled for illegal executions of conspirators
  • 57 BCE: 4th Aug. — Cicero recalled from exile.
  • 55 BCE: Pompey + Crassus consuls together for the 2nd time. They pass a law prolonging Caesar’s proconsulship for 5 years.
  • 54 BCE: death of Julia
  • 53 BCE: Crassus dies at Battle of Carrhae fighting the Parthians
  • 52 BCE: Violence in Rome. Pompey consul solus (until August)
  • 51 BCE: senators begin to try to recall Caesar prematurely. Caesar publishes 7 books On the Gallic War. 
    • Pompey won’t let Caesar be elected consul without surrendering army; Caesar won’t get rid of his army (Cic. Fam. 8.14)
  • 50 BCE: senators continue to try to recall Caesar, bring him to trial
  • 49-46 BCE: Civil War
    • dictatorships: 49 BCE for 11 days, 48 BCE in absentia; 46 BCE for 10 years; 44 BCE perpetuo
    • 49 BCE:  Jan. 7: senate decrees Caesar must dismiss his army by an appointed day. Jan. 10: Caesar crosses Rubicon
    • 48 BCE: Battle of Pharsalus in Thessaly — death of Pompey in Egypt
      • 48 BCE: Caesar occupies Alexandria + has a liaison with Cleopatra
    • 46 BCE: “The Intercalary Year” = Caesar’s reforms
      • efforts to soothe debt crisis (Suet. Iul. 42)
      • calendar reform (Suet. Iul. 40)
      • land to veterans (Suet. Iul. 38)
      • enlarged senate (Orcus men — Suet. Aug. 35)
      • reduced free grain rations (Suet. Iul. 41)
      • Roman colonies  (Suet. Iul. 42)
      • planned a public library (Suet. Iul. 44)
      • sumptuary legislation (Suet. Iul. 43)
      • judicial reform (Suet. Iul. 41)
      • citizenship: gave or intended to give Sicily Latin status (Cic. Att. 14.12.2); in 49 BCE, Caesar gave full citizenship to Latin colonies beyond the Po (Dio Cassius 41.36)
  • 44 BCE: Ides of March, assassination of Julius Caesar


Caesar’s literary life

  • 7 books On the Gallic War
  • 3 books On the Civil War
  • verse epigram on Terence
  • fragmentary works: various speeches; a treatise on the Latin language (De Analogia) dedicated to Cicero, finished summer 54 BCE; poetry: Laudes Herculis, and a tragedy, Oedipus (suppressed by Augustus, Suet. Iul. 56), Iter (“Journey”) on the expedition to Spain in 45 BCE; pamphlet against Cato of Utica (Anticato), written as a reply to Cicero’s elogium to Cato (Laus Catonis).

Rivals of Venus 

Three different views of a Roman statue of a woman in the Venus Genetrix type. 1st c. CE. Image: MFA, Boston. See also MFA Boston Highlights: Classical Art p166.

Sulla and Venus

Plutarch (Life of Sulla 19), after the Battle of Chaeronea (86 BCE): But Sulla says he missed only fourteen of his soldiers, and that afterwards, towards evening, two of these came in.  He therefore  inscribed upon his trophies the names of Mars, Victory, and Venus, in the belief that his success in the war was due no less to good fortune than to military skill and strength. This trophy of the battle in the plain stands on the spot where the troops of Archelaus first gave way, by the brook Molus.

Plutarch (Life of Sulla 34), which we read in lecture 7: …Sulla gave an account of his achievements in a speech to the people, enumerating the instances of his good fortune with no less emphasis than his deeds of valour, and finally, in view of these, he ordered that he receive the surname of Fortunate (for this is what the word “Felix” most nearly means). But he himself, in writing to the Greeks on official business, styled himself Epaphroditus (ἐπαφρόδιτος), or Favourite of Venus, and on his trophies in our country his name is thus inscribed: Lucius Cornelius Sulla Epaphroditus.

Appian (BC 1.97): Everything that Sulla had done as consul, or as proconsul, was confirmed and ratified, and his gilded equestrian statue was erected in front of the rostra with the inscription, “Cornelius Sulla, the ever Fortunate,” for so his flatterers called him on account of his unbroken success against his enemies. And this flattering title still attaches to him. I have come across a document which relates that Sulla was styled Epaphroditus by a decree of the Senate itself. This does not seem to me to be inappropriate for one of his names was Faustus (lucky), which name seems to have very nearly the same signification as Epaphroditus. There was also an oracle given to him somewhere which, in response to his question concerning the future, assured his prosperous career as follows:

Roman, believe me! On Aeneas’ line
Cypris, its patron, sheddeth power divine; [Κύπρις = Aphrodite/Venus]
To all the immortals bring your yearly gifts;
And especially to Delphi. But where Taurus lifts
His snowy side, and Carian men have walled
A far-spread town, from Aphrodite called, [=the city of Aphrodisias in Caria]
There bring an axe, and power supreme is yours.

Sulla did actually send a golden crown and axe to Venus with this inscription:

Sulla imperator (αὐτοκράτωρ) dedicated this to you, Aphrodite.
For in a dream he saw you as you conducted the army
fighting fully armed, in the armour of Ares.

Sulla_Coin Venus

Denarius from a military mint traveling with Sulla. 84-83 BCE. Obverse (left): head of Venus, with diadem, cupid standing holding long palm branch. Text: L. SULLA. Reverse (right): capis (vessel for sacrifice) and lituus (augural staff) — both object associated with augurs (Sulla augur in 82 BCE) — between two trophies. Text: IMPER (imperator = commander), below ITERV (iterum, ‘again’).

Crawford 1975 I: 373: “The two trophies with lituus and jug between them form, I believe, a type personal to Sulla. The two trophies (with which the iterated title of Imperator need have no connection) are presumably those erected after Chaeronea; they made a deep impression on antiquity and probably figured on Sulla’s signet ring.”

Pompey and Venus

Temple of Venus Victrix (‘the Victorious’) built into Pompey’s monumental theatre complex of 55 BCE. See lecture 5. This temple complex also contained shrines or altars to three other deities: Honor, Virtus, and Felicitas (~ Sulla FELIX).


Caesar and Venus

Left: Plan of the Forum Iulium built by Julius Caesar (begun 54 BCE, dedicated 46 BCE), with its Temple of Venus Genetrix. Image: ‘Cassius Ahenobarbus’ [CC BY-SA 3.0] via wikimedia. Right: photograph of the remains of the forum via wikimedia. For a sense of the space, you can take a look at this video recreation in minecraft.

Temple of Venus Genetrix (‘the mother’, ‘the creator’) central focus of Julius Caesar’s forum in Rome (forum Iulium).

  • planned as early as 54 BCE (financed by spoils from Gaul), work began in 51 BCE
  • Temple of Venus made entirely of marble (Ovid, Art of Love 1.81)
  • Temple to Venus was vowed at the Battle of Pharsalus (48 BCE)
  • The temple and surrounding forum were dedicated on the last day of Caesar’s triumph in 46 BCE (Cassius Dio43.22.2), although the forum was not finished by him, but by Octavian (Res Gestae 20.3)
    • other building projects at Rome started by Caesar:
      • Saepta Iulia: marble enclosure for voting at Campus Martius;
      • Basilica Iulialaw courts, tabernae (shops), and space for government, banking
      • Rawson 1994: 454: “Caesar was also authorized by the Senate to erect a new state-house, the Curia Iulia…The new senate- house was to be at right angles to Caesar’s new Forum, while on the site of the old one a temple to Felicitas was planned to rise. Temples to Concordia and to Clementia Caesaris were also voted. The first two, like the last, commemorated qualities associated with Caesar. As was usual, the builder’s name would be prominent on all his buildings; in fact in 46 the Senate decreed that Caesar’s name should replace that of Catulus on the Capitoline temple. Thus Caesar imposed his presence on the very heart of Rome, and in every public act of his life the Roman citizen was to be reminded of him.” 
  • a statue of Julius Caesar on horseback stood in front of the temple (Suet. Iul. 61):
    • according to Suetonius (Iul. 61), this horse had “feet that were almost human, for its hooves were cloven so as to look like toes”
  • Rawson 1994: 454: “after his last triumph, he was able to dedicate the Forum Iulium and the all-marble temple of the ancestress of his family, Venus Genetrix, which dominated it;…the building contained valuable works of art, so like many temples it also functioned as a museum.”
    • inside the temple two paintings by Timomachus of Byzantium (Plin. NH 7.126)
    • one of Medea: famously killed her children to punish her faithless lover, Jason; tragedies by — Greek: Euripides; Latin: Ennius, Pacuvius, Accius, Ovid.
    • the other of Ajax: famously killed himself after an attempt to murder Odysseus; ancient tragedies by — Greek: Sophocles; Latin: Livius Andronicus, Ennius.

Appian (BC 2.102): He erected the temple to Venus, his ancestress,  as he had vowed to do when he was about to begin the Battle of Pharsalus (48 BCE), and he laid out ground around the temple which he intended to be a forum for the Roman people, not for buying and selling, but a meeting-place for the transaction of public business, like the public squares of the Persians, where the people assemble to seek justice or to learn the laws. He placed a beautiful image of Cleopatra by the side of the goddess, which stands there to this day.

Aspiring King

Suetonius (Iul. 79): But from that time on he could not rid himself of the odium of having aspired to the title of monarch, although he replied to the commons, when they hailed him as king, “I am Caesar and no king,” and at the Lupercalia, when  the consul Antony several times attempted to place a crown upon his head as he spoke from the rostra, he put it aside and at last sent it to the Capitol, to be offered to Jupiter Optimus Maximus.  The report had spread in various quarters that he intended to move to Ilium or Alexandria, taking with him the resources of the state, draining Italy by levies, and leaving the charge of the city to his friends.

The Ides (= 15th) of March 44 BCE

Suetonius (Iul. 82): As Caesar took his seat, the conspirators gathered about him as if to pay their respects, and straightway Tillius Cimber, who had assumed the lead, came nearer as though to ask something; and when Caesar with a gesture put him off to another time, Cimber caught his toga by both shoulders; then as Caesar cried, “Why, this is violence!” one of the Cascas stabbed him from one side just below the throat. Caesar caught Casca’s arm and ran it through with his stylus, but as he tried to leap to his feet, he was stopped by another wound. When he saw that he was beset on every side by drawn daggers, he muffled his head in his robe, and at the same time drew down its lap to his feet with his left hand, in order to fall more decently, with the lower part of his body also covered. And in this wise he was stabbed with three and twenty wounds, uttering not a word, but merely a groan at the first stroke, though some have written that when Marcus Brutus rushed at him, he said in Greek, “You too, my child?”  All the conspirators made off, and he lay there lifeless for some time, and finally three common slaves put him on a litter and carried him home, with one arm hanging down. And of so many wounds none turned out to be mortal, in the opinion of the  physician Antistius, except the second one in the breast. The conspirators had intended after slaying him to drag his body to the Tiber, confiscate his property, and revoke his decrees

Silver denarius with head of Marcus Junius Brutus, struck under L. Plaetorius Cestianus. 43-42 BCE. Minted in northern Greece, military mint. Obverse (left): bearded head of M. Junius Brutus. Text: BRVT IMP L · PLAET · CEST (Brutus Imperator, L. Plaetorius Cestianus). Reverse (right): Pileus (cap of liberty worn by ex-slaves) between two daggers (symbolizing Gaius Cassius Longinus + Brutus as the principal conspirators). Text: EID · MAR (Ides of March). Image: MFA, Boston.

MFA Boston Highlights: Classical Art p173: “On March 15, 44 BCE, a group of senators, convinced that Caesar intended to dismantle the Roman Republic, stabbed him to death. Brutus, the leader of the conspiracy, soon left Rome to prepare for war with Caesar’s supporters. To pay his troops, Brutus issued coins. One of these…presents Brutus’ role in the assassination as a strike in defense of freedom from tyranny. A pair of daggers flanks a pileus, a felt cap symbolizing liberty, above the legend “EID MAR,” referring to the date of Caesar’s death according to the Roman calendar.”

Further Reading:


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