Lecture 12, Thursday 16th October 2019
Syme 1939: 97: “Caesar lay dead, stricken by twenty-three wounds. The Senate broke up in fear and confusion, the assassins made their way to the Capitol to render thanks to the gods of the Roman State. They had no further plans — the tyrant was slain, therefore liberty was restored.”
Man as God — the Iulium sidus, ‘Julian star’
Silver denarius minted by Augustus, c. 19–18 BCE. Obverse (left): wreathed head of Augustus. Text: CAESAR AVGVSTVS (Caesar Augustus). Reverse (right): comet (star) of eight rays, tail upward. Text: DIVVS IVLIV[S] (Divine Julius). RIC I 37a. Image: Classical Numismatic Group (CC BY-SA 3.0) via wikimedia. Many other coins of this type:
[…] among them all shines
the Julian star like the moon
among the lesser lights.
In ancient sources, the star of Julius Caesar (Iulium sidus) is associated with either:
- a) goddess Venus herself as a star
- b) The sight of a comet at games of Venus Genetrix (=Ludi Victoriae Caesaris) given by Octavian (July 44 BCE).
- c) 31 BCE: Battle of Actium (Octavian vs. Antony and Cleopatra)
Explanations of the Iulium Sidus?:
a) goddess Venus herself as a star
Silver denarius of Julius Caesar, minted in Spain (46-45 BCE). Obverse (left): bust of Venus, draped, wearing a diadem and with a star in her hair. Lituus. Reverse (right): trophy with an oval shield and the Gallic war horn (carnyx); bearded captive (left) kneels with hands tied behind back, seated woman (right) rests head on hands. Text: CAESAR (Caesar). RRC 468/2. Image: Mantis, Numismatic Technologies Integration Service (American Numismatic Society). See Gurval 1997: 48 on this iconography.
Gurval 1997: 48: “the star is surely the evening star of Venus, which the antiquarian Varro explained…had led Aeneas through the day (per diem) to Italy.”
b) sight of a comet at the games for Venus Genetrix in July 44 BCE
Pliny (NH 2.94): The only place in the whole world where a comet (cometes, κομήτης*) is worshiped is at a temple at Rome [=Temple of Divine Julius]. The late divine Augustus considered this comet a good omen (faustus) to himself, since it had appeared at the beginning of his rule (44 BCE), at some games which, not long after the death of his father Caesar, as a member of the college founded by him he was celebrating in honour of Mother Venus (Venus Genetrix). In fact he made public the joy that it gave him in these words: ‘On the very days of my games a comet was visible for seven days under the constellation Septentriones*. It was rising about an hour before sunset, and was a bright star, visible from all lands. The common people believed that this star signified the spirit (anima) of Caesar received among the spirits of the immortal gods, and because of this the symbol of a star was added to the statue of Caesar that we shortly afterwards dedicated in the forum.’ This was his public utterance, but privately he rejoiced because he interpreted the comet as having been born for his own sake and as containing his own birth within it; and, to confess the truth, it did have a healthgiving influence over the world.
*Septentriones = the seven (septem) stars closest to the current north star, Polaris; in different sources this word is used for either the Great Bear (Ursa Major) or the Little Bear (Ursa Minor). Generally used as word meaning ‘northern’.
Ursa Major and Ursa Minor next to the north star, Polaris. In Roman texts, the term Septentriones — a set of seven stars (‘triones’ was thought by the Romans to refer to oxen, Varro LL 7.74-75, Gellius 2.21), were variously applied to either the larger (Vitr. 9.4.6) or the smaller constellation (Cic. ND 2.111). The Greeks called the same constellations ἅμαξαι, hamaxai, ‘wagons’ as well as the Bears (e.g. Homer, Iliad 18.487), and Helice (‘twisty’, Ursa Major) and Cynosure (‘dog-tail’, Ursa Minor). Image: (CC BY-SA 3.0) via wikimedia.
Suetonius (Life of Divine Julius 88): Caesar died in the fifty-sixth 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 Augustus gave in honour of his apotheosis, a comet (stella crinita*) shone for seven successive days, rising about the eleventh hour, [= about an hour before sunset] and was believed to be the spirit (anima) of Caesar, who had been taken to the sky; and this is why a star is set upon the crown of his head in his statue. It was voted that the hall in which he was slain be walled up, that the Ides of March be called the Day of Parricide, and that a meeting of the senate should never be called on that day.
*Both the Greek and Latin for ‘comet‘ = ‘hairy star’ (Greek: κομήτης = cometes, Latin: stella crinita).
Science and Humanities combine!:
Screenshots from Ramsey and Licht’s The Comet of 44 BCE and Caesar’s Funeral Games (1997). On which, Gurval 1997: 40n 3: “The study by Ramsey and Licht is an interdisciplinary, richly documented, and detailed investigation of the appearance of a comet in 44 as both an astronomical phenomenon and a historical event. The collaborative work of a classicist and physicist, it seeks to identify the comet’s sighting; with the assistance of ancient Chinese texts and modern calculations, charts, and graphs, the authors can trace its course, not always or easily visible to mortals below, across two continents”
c) associated with the Battle of Actium (31 BCE)
Vergil, Aeneid 8.675-689, translated by Sarah Ruden.
The bronze-braced fleets at Actium, in the middle,
Were lined up there to see. All of Leucate
Was seething with them. Gold shone on the waves.
Caesar Augustus led the Roman forces —
Senate and people, hearth gods, mighty sky gods.
High on the stern he stood; from his glad forehead
poured two flames. From his head his father’s star rose.
Near him Agrippa — gods and winds both helped him —
Led the line from on high, his head ennobled
With the bright ship beaks of a naval crown.
Antony, victor of the East, the Red Sea,
Brought foreign wealth and jumbled troops against them.
He hauled in Egypt, Oriental powers,
And farthest Bactra. His Egyptian wife
Followed him — outrage! Now the navies clashed.
Site of Actium
Site of Actium, off whose waters the Mark Antony and Cleopatra were defeated by Octavian in 31 BCE. Image: Pleiades.
After Octavian’s defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra at Actium (September 2nd 31 BCE):
- Octavian founded a new city near Actium called Nikopolis (‘Victory City’)
- established games there
- enlarged the temple of Apollo
- monumentalized the site of his camp with the naval trophies,
- consecrating it to Neptune and Mars (Suet. Aug. 18)
- city became the political, economic, and social focus of northwestern Greece
- very 4 years games held in celebration of Actium
Kostantinos Zachos 2003: 65: “on the spot where he had pitched his tent before the battle and where the leaders of Antony’s decimated army had come to declare their submission, he erected a magnificent trophy monument (tropaeum) with 36 bronze rostra [beaks of ships]* on its facade in an open-air sanctuary.”
*rostrum = the curved end of a ship’s prow, a ship’s beak (originally, ‘bird’s beak’, ‘mouth of an animal’). The speaker’s platforum at Rome was called the ROSTRA because it had been adorned with the prows of enemy ships captured from Antium in 338 BCE. A number of ship prows still survive:
11 bronze rostra have been found in water near Egadi islands off NW Sicily since 2004. Scholars think that the ships were sunk as part of the final battle of First Punic War, Battle of Aegates Islands (March 10th 241 BCE). Some of the rostra have Latin inscriptions, others Punic (see Prag 2014). Images: 1) bronze rostrum (Egadi 3) on the seabed bronze (source: rpmnautical.org), 2) Egadi 3 being rasied from the seabed, September 2010 (source: historytoday.com), 2) Egadi 3 inspected (source: rpmnautical.org), 3) photograph of Egadi 3 (source: rpmnautical.org).
Significance of Iulium sidus:
Robert Gurval 1997: 41: “Whether fact or fiction, Caesar’s comet or, more importantly, claims of its appearances and interpretations of its meanings must be seen as a conspicuous manifestation of politics and Augustan ideology. What role the myth of the comet played in the political discourse of Caesar’s heir and later in the ideology of a Princeps engaged in the act of legitimizing his established position and securing a succession is the focal point of this.” p45: “Representations of a star as an allusion to the divinity of Caesar can be found on the issues of Octavian dating from the early 30s [BCE]. Representations of the comet, however, appear almost twenty years later, and they be long to the ideology of an emergent Augustan Principate.”
New Pauly (‘Ruler cult’): “After his death, Caesar was worshipped at an altar erected on the site of his cremation, then identified with the comet (sidus Iulium) that appeared at the ludi Victoriae Caesaris (July 44 BC) and finally consecrated (consecratio) as diuus Iulius on a Senate resolution. He was worshipped in the temple of Venus Genetrix until he was given his own temple in 29 BC.”
Rivals in inheritance — Octavian (63 BCE – 14 CE)
- 15th March 44 BCE: murder of Julius Caesar. C. Octavius (grandson of Caesar’s sister) is adopted through Caesar’s will, becomes his heir. He is 18 years old.
Syme 1939: 112-113: “When C. Octavius passed by adoption into the Julian house he acquired the new legal designation of C. Julius Caesar Octavianus. It will be understood that the aspirant to Caesar’s power preferred to drop the name that betrayed his origin, and be styled ‘C. Julius Caesar‘. Further, the official deification of his adoptive parent soon [42 BCE] provided the title of ‘Diui Julii filius‘ [= “son of the Divine Julius”]; and from 38 BCE onwards the military leader of the Caesarian faction took to calling himself ‘Imperator Caesar’*…As enemies bitterly observed, the name of Caesar was the young man’s fortune. Italy and the world accepted him as Caesar’s son and heir; that the relationship by blood was distant was a fact of little moment in the Roman conception of the family, barely known or soon forgotten by the inhabitants of the provinces.”
*imperator was a name given by the troops to generals after a victorious battle, sometimes the senate gave or confirmed the title: imperator (Oxf. Class. Dict.): “The first certainly attested imperator is L. Aemilius Paullus in 189 BCE… The increasing influence of the army in the late republic made imperator the symbol of military authority. Agrippa in 38 BCE refused a triumph for victories won under Octavian‘s superior command and established the rule that the princeps should assume the salutations and the triumphs of his legates. Henceforth, apparently, Octavian used imperator as praenomen (imperator Caesar, not Caesar imperator), perhaps intending to emphasize the personal and family value of the title. Thus the title came to denote the supreme power and was commonly used in this sense. But, officially, Otho (ruled 3 months in 69 CE) was the first to imitate Augustus, and only with Vespasian (ruled 69-79 CE) did Imperator (‘emperor’) become a title by which the ruler was known.”
Rivals in inheritance — Mark Antony (c. 83-30 BCE)
- served Caesar in Gaul till the end of 50 BCE (quaestor 51 BCE)
- tribune of plebs 49 BCE, supported Caesar’s interests
- 48 BCE: commanded Caesar’s left wing at the Battle of Pharsalus (against Pompey)
- he served as magister equitum, Master of Horse to Caesar’s dictator (till late 47 BCE)
- 44BCE: consul with Julius Caesar
Cicero (Philippics 13.24): You [Mark Antony], on the contrary, who cannot deny that you were favored by the same Caesar, what would you be today, if Caesar had not conferred so much on you? Would your worth or your lineage have got you anywhere at all? You would have spent your entire life in brothels, gorging, gaming, drinking, as you used to do when you were laying your mouth and mind in the lap of actresses.“—and you, boy,—”‘Boy,’ he calls him; but he has found him and will find him not only a man but a very brave man too. That name does indeed go with his age, but it comes very ill from one who makes this boy glorious through his own madness.“—who owe everything to your name—” Yes, he ‘owes,’ and splendidly he pays. If Caesar was ‘the father of the fatherland,’* (parens patriae) as you call him—never mind what I think—is not this young man more truly a father to whom we assuredly owe our lives which he snatched from your most villainous hands?
*parens patriae, or pater patriae = ‘father of the fatherland’, an honour granted by the senate. It was given to Cicero for his role against the Catilinarian conspirators (63 BCE), to Caesar after the Battle of Munda (45 BCE), and to Augustus in 2 BCE.
Suetonius (Life of Divine Julius 79): But from that time on [Caesar] 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 Mark 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.
Smith 1875: LUPERCALIA — “The festival was held every year, on the 15th of February, in the Lupercal, where Romulus and Remus were said to have been nurtured by the she-wolf; the place contained an altar and a grove sacred to the god Lupercus. Here the Luperci assembled on the day of the Lupercalia, and sacrificed to the god goats and young dogs, which animals are remarkable for their strong sexual instinct, and thus were appropriate sacrifices to the god of fertility…Mark Antony, in his consulship, was one of the Luperci, and not only ran with them half-naked and covered with pieces of goat-skin through the city, but even addressed the people in the forum in this rude attire.” (Compare Plutarch’s account in his Life of Caesar 61).
Octavian vs. Antony
- ENEMIES: 43 BCE: Battle of Mutina (Northern Italy). Mark Antony vs. Octavian and the senate (both consuls die); 19 August 43 BCE, Octavian consul for the first time.
- FRIENDS: 43 BCE: LEX TITIA. A law is passed which creates the Triumvirate, a legally sanctioned arrangement between Mark Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus (who had also been Caesar’s Master of Horse). [Mark Antony had abolished dictatorship in 44 BCE, Cic. Ph. 1.3.6]
- FRIENDS: 42 BCE: Battles of Philippi (Greece). Mark Antony and Octavian fight Caesar’s assassins, Brutus and Cassius.
Site of Philippi, where Republican army of Brutus and Cassius was defeated by the forces of Mark Antony and Octavian in 42 BCE. Image: Pleiades.
Battles of Philippi (42 BCE):
Mark Antony and Octavian vs. Brutus and Cassius
Syme (1939): 204-204: “The [first] battle was indecisive. Brutus on the right flank swept over the Caesarian lines and captured the camp of Octavianus, who was not there. A certain mystery envelops his movements: on his own account he obeyed a warning dream which had visited his favourite doctor. The other wing of the Caesarians, led by Antonius, broke through the front of Cassius and pillaged his camp. Cassius despaired too soon. Unaware of the brilliant success of Brutus on the right wing, deceived perhaps, as one account runs, through a defect of his eyesight (Plut. Brut. 43), and believing all was lost, Cassius fell upon his sword. Such as the first Battle of Philippi (Oct. 23rd)…After a tenacious and bloody contest, the Caesarian army prevailed. Once again the Balkan lands witnessed a Roman disaster and entombed the armies of the Republic (Lucan, Pharsalia 7.862). This time the decision was final and irrevocable, the last struggle of the Free State. Henceforth, nothing but a contests of despots over the corpse of liberty. The men who fell at Philippi fought for a principle, a tradition and a class — narrow, imperfect and outworn, but for all that the soul and spirit of Rome.”
Suetonius (Life of Divine Augustus 13): Then, forming a league with Mark Antony and Lepidus, he finished the war of Philippi also in two battles, although weakened by illness, being driven from his camp in the first battle and barely making his escape by fleeing to Antony’s division. He did not use his victory with moderation, but after sending Brutus’s head to Rome, to be cast at the feet of Caesar’s statue, he vented his spleen upon the most distinguished of his captives, not even sparing them insulting language. For instance, to one man who begged humbly for burial, he is said to have replied: “The birds will soon settle that question.” When two others, father and son, begged for their lives, he is said to have bidden them cast lots to decide which should be spared, and then to have looked on while both died, since the father was executed because he offered to die for his son, and the latter thereupon took his own life. Because of this the rest, including Marcus Favonius, the well-known imitator of Cato, saluted Mark Antony respectfully as Imperator, when they were led out in chains, but lashed Augustus to his face with the foulest abuse.
- FRIENDS: 41BCE: Antony goes to the East. Antony meets Cleopatra at Tarsus.
Antony in the East (41 BCE) — Becoming Dionysus
Plutarch (Life of Mark Antony 24): Antony crossed over to Asia and laid hands on the wealth that was there. Kings would often come to his doors, and wives of kings, vying with one another in their gifts and their beauty, would yield up their honour for his pleasure; and while at Rome Caesar was wearing himself out in civil strifes and wars, Antony himself was enjoying abundant peace and leisure, and was swept back by his passions into his accustomed mode of life. Cithara-players like Anaxenor, aulos-players like Xuthus, one Metrodorus, a dancer, and such other rabble of Asiatic performers, who surpassed in impudence and effrontery the pests from Italy, poured like a flood into his quarters and held sway there….When Antony made his entry into Ephesus, women arrayed like Bacchants, and men and boys like Satyrs and Pans, led the way before him, and the city was full of ivy and thyrsus-wands and harps and pipes and flutes, the people hailing him as Dionysus Giver of Joy and Beneficent. For he was such, undoubtedly, to some; but to the greater part he was Dionysus Carnivorous and Savage.
1) Seated cithara player from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor (50 BCE). Image: Met Museum. 2) Dionysiac scene on the interior of a drinking cup from Athens (c. 470 BCE). Bacchant (= follower of Dionysus) with a thyrsus is seized by a satyr. The pair are flanked by satyrs. In the field are phallic flowers. Image: Boston MFA. 3) Bacchant holding a thyrsus, wall painting from Casa del Naviglio (Pompeii VI.10.11), 1st c. CE. Image: wikimedia. See pompeiiinpictures.com for line drawings of the Bacchant wall paintings from this house.
Antony and Cleopatra
Plutarch (Life of Mark Antony 25): Such, then, was the nature of Antony, where now as a crowning evil his love for Cleopatra supervened, roused and drove to frenzy many of the passions that were still hidden and quiescent in him, and dissipated and destroyed whatever good and saving qualities still offered resistance. And he was taken captive in this manner. As he was getting ready for the Parthian war, he sent to Cleopatra, ordering her to meet him in Cilicia in order to make answer to the charges made against her of raising and giving to Cassius much money for the war. But Dellius, Antony’s messenger, when he saw how Cleopatra looked, and noticed her subtlety and cleverness in conversation, at once perceived that Antony would not so much as think of doing such a woman any harm, but that she would have the greatest influence with him. He therefore resorted to flattery and tried to induce the Egyptian to go to Cilicia “decked out in fine array”* (as Homer would say), and not to be afraid of Antony, who was the most agreeable and humane of commanders.”
*“decked out in fine array” = a quotation from Homer Iliad 14.162, where Hera prepares her body to be beautiful so that she can seduce and deceive Zeus. Hera enlists the help of Aphrodite (Iliad 14.190ff.).
Tarsus in Cilicia, where Mark Antony and Cleopatra met in 41 BCE. Image: pleiades.
Plutarch (Life of Mark Antony 26): Though she received many letters of summons both from Antony himself and from his friends, she so despised and laughed the man to scorn as to sail up the river Cydnus in a barge with gilded poop, its sails spread purple, its rowers urging it on with silver oars to the sound of the flute blended with pipes and lutes. She herself reclined beneath a canopy spangled with gold, adorned like Venus in a painting, while boys like Cupids in paintings stood on either side and fanned her. Likewise also the fairest of her serving-girls, attired like Nereïds and Graces, were stationed, some at the rudder-sweeps, and others at the reefing-ropes. Wondrous scents from countless incense-offerings diffused themselves along the river-banks. Of the inhabitants, some accompanied her on either bank of the river from its very mouth, while others went down from the city to behold the sight. The throng in the market-place gradually streamed away, until at last Antony himself, seated on his tribunal, was left alone. And a rumour spread on every hand that Venus was come to revel with Bacchus for the good of Asia… (27) Cleopatra observed in the jests of Antony much of the soldier and the common man, and adopted this manner also towards him, without restraint now, and boldly. For her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her; but conversation with her had an irresistible charm, and her presence, combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the character which was somehow diffused about her behaviour towards others, had something stimulating about it. There was sweetness also in the tones of her voice; and her tongue, like an instrument of many strings, she could readily turn to whatever language she pleased, so that in her interviews with barbarians she very seldom had need of an interpreter, but made her replies to most of them herself and unassisted, whether they were Ethiopians, Troglodytes, Hebrews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes or Parthians. It’s said that she knew the speech of many other peoples also, although the kings of Egypt before her had not even made an effort to learn the native language, and some actually gave up their Macedonian dialect.
P. 25239 (= P. Bingen 45) Royal Egyptian decree granting a tax exemption to a Roman [text uncertain: scholars have suggested Publius Canidius, who commanded Antony’s land forces during Battle of Actium (Van Minnen 2000: 29-34); or Quintus Cascellius (Zimmerman 2002: 133-139), see Sarri 2017: 168 n592]. Allegedly contains the signature of Cleopatra herself — γινέσθωι, “ginesthō” = “Make it happen.” Image: Berliner Papyrusdatenbank.
- ENEMIES: 41-40 BCE. War of Perusia. Octavian fights Mark Antony’s brother, L. Antonius, and wife, Fulvia.
War of Perusia (41-40 BCE)
Beard 2016: 344-345: “In and around the modern town of Perugia, dozens of small sling bullets have been unearthed, deadly lead projectiles that were catapulted back and forth between the forces of Octavian when he was besieging the city and Lucius Antonius and Fulvia inside. Many were made in moulds that imprinted a short slogan on the bullet, as if to take a message to the enemy. This was not an uncommon idea in the ancient world: earlier Greek specimens appear with the equivalent of ‘Gotcha’ or ‘Ouch’, and some from the Social War declare ‘Get Pompeius’ (meaning Pompey the Great’s father) or ‘In your gut.’ But the bullets from Perugia are far more eloquent. Some are taunting: ‘You’re famished and pretending not to be,’ reads one message lobbed into the city, where starvation eventually led to surrender. Several others carry brutally obscene messages aimed at predictable pars of the anatomy of their different targets, male and female: ‘Lucius Antonius, you baldy, and you too, Fulvia, open your arsehole’; ‘I’m going for Madam Octavius’ arsehole’; or ‘I’m going for Fulvia’s clitoris.'”
Inscribed lead bullets from the War of Perusia. Image: Companion to the Worlds of Roman Women.
Martial (11.20): Malignant one, you who read Latin words with a sour face, read six wanton verses of Caesar Augustus: “Because Antony fucks Glaphyra, Fulvia determined to punish me by making me fuck her in turn. I fuck Fulvia? What if Manius begged me to sodomize him, would I do it? I think not, if I were in my right mind. ‘Either fuck me or let us fight,’ says she. Ah, but my cock is dearer to me than life itself. Let the trumpets sound.” Augustus, you surely absolve my witty little books, knowing how to speak with Roman candor.
- FRIENDS: 40 BCE: Pact of Brundisium (port in South East Italy). Mark Antony + Octavian’s armies refuse to fight each other (Appian 5.59).
- FRIENDS: 37 BCE: Pact of Tarentum (Southern Italy). Renewal of the Triumvirate for 5 years.
- CRACKS SHOWING? 34 BCE:
Antony at Alexandria (34 BCE)
Plutarch (Life of Antony 54): Mark Antony was hated, too, for the distribution which he made to his children in Alexandria; it was seen to be theatrical and arrogant, and to evince hatred of Rome. For after filling the gymnasium with a throng and placing on a tribunal of silver two thrones of gold, one for himself and the other for Cleopatra, and other lower thrones for his sons, in the first place he declared Cleopatra Queen of Egypt, Cyprus, Libya, and Coele Syria, and she was to share her throne with Caesarion. Caesarion was believed to be a son of the former Caesar, by whom Cleopatra was left pregnant. In the second place, he proclaimed his own sons by Cleopatra Kings of Kings, and to Alexander he allotted Armenia, Media and Parthia (when he should have subdued it), to Ptolemy Phoenicia, Syria, and Cilicia. At the same time he also produced his sons, Alexander arrayed in Median garb, which included a tiara and upright head-dress, Ptolemy in boots, short cloak, and broad-brimmed hat surmounted by a diadem. For the latter was the dress of the kings who followed Alexander, the former that of Medes and Armenians. And when the boys had embraced their parents, one was given a bodyguard of Armenians, the other of Macedonians. Cleopatra, indeed, both then and at other times when she appeared in public, assumed a robe sacred to Isis, and was addressed as the New Isis.