Ancient Roman, history and travel, History in Time, History of the Roman Forum, In the footsteps of the Ceasers, Italy, Julius Caesar, Lost and Found, Myths and Legends, Roman History, Rome, Shakespeare, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, The assassanation of Julius Caesar, The Caesars, The Roman Forum, The Roman Republic, Travel, Uncategorized, What to see in Rome, World history

The Roman Forum: Searching for Caesar’s Grave

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

The assassination of Julius Caesar was only the beginnings of this historic story of ancient Roman intrigue, what came next was his funeral and cremation. For this story we’ll return to the Roman Forum, and my surprising find.
As I stated in my last post (The Roman Forum: Searching for the site of Julius Caesar’s assassination) I expected to find where he was murdered in the Forum, and although I didn’t find the site of his assassination there I did find something even more amazing- his grave!
But before I describe what I found I’d like to again go back in time to 44 BC, and the aftermath of Caesar’s assassination.

 
The Funeral of Julius Caesar
There are no firsthand accounts as what took place at Caesar’s funeral and cremation. What we know comes from two sources: the Greek historian Appian of Alexandria (c. 95-c.165), in his Roman history writings History of the Civil Wars, and the Roman scholar Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c.71-c.135), in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, both written decades after Caesar’s funeral. From these two accounts we get a picture as to what may have taken place in 44 BC.

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The reconstructed Rostra in the Roman Forum today

A few days after Caesar’s assassination his body, still in the cloths he wore when murdered, was taken on a bier of ivory and placed on the Rostra in the Roman Forum. In the Forum today is the reconstructed rostra that sits on that site near the Temple of Saturn and the Arch of Serverus. The condition of Caesar’s body couldn’t have been very good after days in the heat of Rome, embalming hadn’t been invented in 44 BC. This would have added to the horror of the event. Also on the Rostra, next to the body, was a torso of Caesar made of wax, which revolved mechanically, showing the 23 stab wounds.
The large crowd that had gathered for the funeral was becoming more and more agitated as time went on, and there was great wailing and moaning coming from them. Armed men were placed in front of the Rostra to hold back the crowd as Caesar’s friend and Consul Marc Antony took to the platform to give the funeral oration.
Friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
Act III, Scene II of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare.

 

 

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Marc Antony giving his address at Caesar’s funeral

These opening lines by Marc Antony in Julius Caesar at Caesars funeral are perhaps the most recognized and well known lines in all of Shakespeare’s works, however Appian presents another version of Antony’s opening words, “It is not right, my fellow-citizens, for the funeral oration in praise of so great a man be delivered by me, a single individual, instead of by his whole country…” Although a word-for-word record of what Antony actually said hasn’t been found both Appian and Tranquillius state that what he said denounced the conspirators for their ghastly act and turned the crowd of mourners into an enraged mob.

 

 

After Antony’s speech the mob rushed the Rostra, pushing passed the guards, seizing the bier with Caesar’s body, and carried it down the Via Sacra to the Forum’s square, between the Basilica Julia and the Temple of Caster and Polllux. There they sat it down, covering it with wood, clothes, furniture, anything that would burn, and set it ablaze. It was said that fire was so large and out of control that several of the building in the Forum were damaged.
After the funeral pyre had burned out the crowed, still enraged, went through the city burning the houses of the conspirators. This caused many of the them to flee the city. Both Antony and Octavian used this anger to their own political ends, getting rid of the senate conspirators and to form their own seat of power in Rome.
One year later, in 42 BC they, along with Marcus Lepidus, formed yet another three person ruling partnership called the Second Triumvirate. Also they got the new puppet senate to formally deify Caesar, making him the first Roman to be named a god. In addition Octavian pushed the senate to name him “Divi filius,” or Son of god, giving him more power than Antony and Lepidus.
Finally after years of another civil war and his political gamesmanship Octavian had killed all of Caesar’s murders and Marc Antony, and exiled Lepidus, leaving him in absolute power of Rome. This culminated with the senate titling him with the name “Augustus,” in Latin meaning “the illustrious one.” This title was more of a religious title of authority than a political one that would allow Augustus Caesar to maneuver his way into becoming Rome’s first emperor, and ending the Roman Republic era.
The Temple of Divus Caesar
Caesar’s ashes had been collected and later placed in the base of the Alter the Rome Senate had erected on the site of his cremation. In 31 BC Octavian began the construction of a temple to honor his adopted father also at that site. In 29 BC, two years later, the temple was dedicated to “Divus Julius,” the Deified Caesar.

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This is what the Temple of Caesar may have looked like. Note the recess with the Alter at the center front

One of the most unique aspects of the Temple of Caesar was the recess built into its front to accommodate the senate’s Alter holding Caesar’s ashes. Around this recess was constructed a raised orators platform designed to be the new rostra for public speeches. This platform was adorned with the bronze rams taken from the ships of Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium. The temple was flanked by two arches, one for the Battle of Actium and the other to celebrate Augustus’ returning the Legionary Standards after the battle of Carrhae. Inside the temple was a large statue of Julius Caesar, which included a star on his head and bearing the augural staff in its right hand. This statue could be seen from the Forum outside when the temple’s doors were open.
It’s recorded that the Temple of Caesar remained mostly intact until the late 15th century, after which it was stripped of its marble and stone.
The Temple of the Deified Caesar today
To find the Temple of Caesar in the Roman Forum when going through the Arch of Constantine entrance you walk down the still unexcavated hill toward the center of the Forum. As you pass the Temple of Antonius and Faustina on the Via Sacra, and behind the columns of the Temple of Vesta and those of the Temple of Castor and Pollus, you’ll see what looks like a small roof covering something; this is what remains of the Temple of Caesar.

 

 

The Temple of Caesar

The remains of the Temple of Caesar in the Forum today

As you walk around to its front all you’ll see are just parts of the temple’s cement core. These were the base which supported the orators’ platform and temple building, and is all that remains of the temple itself. There are segments of the temple’s decorations around the site and also in the Forum Museum but that all. What really amazed and thrilled me is what I found the roof protecting.
As you walk under the roof and around the cement wall of the old temple you’ll see what looks like a pile of gray dirt. This is what’s left of the Alter that the Roman Senate erected over 2,000 years ago, the Alter holding the ashes of Julius Caesar. It’s then that it hits you, you are looking at the grave and final resting place of the most famous Roman in history, Julius Caesar.

The Altar in the Temple of Caesar, which is said to have held Julius Caesars ashes

The remains of the senate’s Alter with Caesar’s ashes

Still today people of Rome, and visitors, pay homage to this great man by offering coins and flowers on his grave, and for me it was a fabulous, and unexpected discovery.

 

 

 

 

This ends my seven part series on the Roman Forums. I hope you’ll read, or re-read them all:
The Roman Forum: Part I, the center of an empire
The Roman Forum: Part II, a walking exploration
The Imperial Fora of Rome: Julius and Augustus Caesar
The Imperial Fora of Rome: Emperors Vespasian and Nerva
The Imperial Fora of Rome: Forum of Trajan
The Roman Forum: Searching for the site of Julius Caesar’s assassination

 

 

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Ancient Roman, history and travel, History in Time, History of the Roman Forum, In the footsteps of the Ceasers, Italy, Julius Caesar, Lost and Found, Myths and Legends, Roman History, Rome, Shakespeare, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, The assassanation of Julius Caesar, The Caesars, The Roman Forum, The Roman Republic, Travel, Uncategorized, What to see in Rome, World history

The Roman Forum: Searching for the site of Julius Caesar’s assassination.

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

Perhaps there isn’t a more famous and well known ancient Roman than Julius Caesar. This is due in part to William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar and the many movies and television programs done on him. However, many of us only know  this man from just these plays and movies, which aren’t necessarily historically factual.
On my list of sites to see while at the Roman Forum was where Julius Caesar was murdered. From what little I knew, again from the fore mentioned sources, he was murdered on the steps of the Roman Senate by his enemies on March 15th 44 BC, the Ides of March. I figured since the Roman Senate met in the Roman Forum that’s where I’d find where it happened, but I was wrong. Caesar, I found, wasn’t assassinated in the Forum but at another location. Although he wasn’t murdered in the Forum I did find something there on Caesar that was totally unexpected and much more amazing, but that’s for another post.
Hail Caesar!
Before I take you on my journey of discovery I feel I should give a little background on the man we’re searching for.
Gaius Julius Caesar was born on July 13 in 100 BC to a well to do Roman political family. Caesar believed that his political ambitions would be realized through a successful military career. Caesar advanced thru the ranks quickly becoming General of the legendary 13th Legion.

Julius Caesar, the Tusculum bust, the only known sculpture during his life

The Tusclum bust of Julius Caesar, the only one known to have been done while he was alive.

His fame grew when he expanded the Roman Empire into Europe and Britain. This gave Caesar immense military and popular power that he used to his advantage.
In 60 BC Caesar formed a political alliance with two of his rivals, Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey “the Great,” against the wishes of the Roman Senate. This alliance ended in 53 BC with the death of Crassus. Pompey feeling threated by Caesar’s popularity, switched this alliance to the Senate.
The Senate ordered Caesar to step down from his command, which he refused to do. Instead on January 10 in 49 BC Caesar broke Roman law by leading his army across the Rubicon River, the northern border of ancient Roman Italy, starting a civil war.
The Great Roman Civil War lasted four years, ending with Pompey’s murder and those that opposed Caesar being overthrown in 46 BC. Caesar now had full say over the Senate, who named him dictator for life; however there were still those in the Senate that opposed Caesar.
With his complete control of the government he began instituting programs of social and governmental reform. He also began major building projects in the Forum.
As I had presented in my previous posts (the Roman Forum, Part II- A walking exploration and the Imperial Fora of Rome: Julius and Augustus Caesar) Julius Caesar began major reconstruction projects including building his Curia Julia. On March 15, 44 BC Caesar’s Curia wasn’t finished and the old Curia had been torn down forcing the Senate to meet in another location. That’s what threw me off as to where the assassination took place.

“Beware the Ides of March”
While the new Curia was being finished the Senate had moved their meetings to the Curia Pompey, part of the magnificent Theater of Pompey located in the Campus Martius, the new section of Rome north of the Forum.

 

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The assassination of Julius Caesar by Vincenzo Camuccini

At first Caesar refused to meet with the Senate, after being warned by his wife and a soothsayer that told him, “Beware the Ides of March.” But after the conspirators convinced him of the importance of the meeting Caesar changed his mind. Legend has it that as Caesar was on his way to the meeting he again met the seer and joked, “The Ides of March has come,” to which the seer replied solemnly, “Aye, Caesar, but not gone.”
It was a little more than a mile from his house on Forum to Campus Martius where he would meet with the Senate in the Curia of Pompey. I would imagine that even after having seen Pompey’s Theater many times it still amazed him.

The Theater of Pompey
Pompey had been inspired by the Greek theater at Mytilene and chose to build one even more magnificent and larger in Rome. Pompey used his own money for its construction, but had to build it outside of the old city because of a law prohibiting the construction of permanent theaters within the city.

The Theater of Pompey

The Theater of Pompey, the Curia of Pompey is at the center above the garden area.

Construction of his theater began in around 61 BC, taking seven years to complete. It was dedicated in 52 BC. When finished the theater’s back curved wall stood 115 feet above the street and stretched 500 feet across. At the center of its back wall was the temple to Venus Victrix which rose high above the theater’s roof.  The stage is thought to have been 95 feet wide. Writings at the time said the theater held 17,500 patrons.
Behind the stage was a long landscaped garden with flowers and fountains in which patrons could walk during intermissions. This garden was surrounded by a columned portico that held statues and paintings by popular Roman artists.

At the opposite end of the garden stood the Curia of Pompey, with its almost temple like design. Pompey had built his theater behind four earlier temples; the entrance to the Curia was opposite the circular columned temple to Aedes Lutatius Catulus, “Luck of the Current Day.”

The Curia of Pompey

 

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The Curia of Pompey as it would have looked from the garden of the Theater of Pompey in 44 BC. By A derivative work of a 3D model by Lasha Tskhondia 

The Curia of Pompey held meeting rooms and featured a large statue of Pompey himself at its entrance. It was here that the Roman Senate was meeting on that fateful day. Some stories of Julius Caesar’s murder has it happening on the steps as he walked into the building, while others say he was inside sitting in front of the Senators. What is known is that Caser was attacked by sixty conspirators who stabbed him twenty-three times.
The conspirators believed that Caesar’s death would be welcomed among the people, but they vastly underestimated his popularity.

 

Following the assassination Caesar’s adopted son Gaius Octavius quickly took power and killed all the conspirators. Octavius would change his name to Augustus and become what many consider the first Roman Emperor.
It is also believed that Augustus marked the site of his father’s murder with a concert memorial, 10 feet wide by 6 feet high. As for the Curia itself it is said that after the murder it was closed and walled up. After a fire destroyed the structure a latrine was put in its place.

What’s left of the Theater of Pompey and its Curia today?
Except for the Curia the rest of the Theater and its complex remained in use long after Julius Caesar’s murder. The emperors that followed continued to maintain and to restore the complex throughout the decades that followed. Records show that the theater was still in use after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, and did so until around 554 AD when the population of Rome declined to the point that it wasn’t used anymore. As with the other buildings of ancient Rome the Theater of Pompey’s structural materials were striped and used for other building.

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The Theater of Pompey overlaying the streets today. Notice the round diagram center right (the Temple of Aedes Lutatius Catulus), just to the left of it was the Curia of Pompey.

Today there isn’t much visible of this amazing structure, and its historic Curia, to be seen. Some of its walls have been enveloped into newer buildings; its foundations now support many of the buildings in the Campo de’ Fiori and Largo di Torre Argentina sections of the city, or used as wine cellars for hotels and restaurants in that part of the city.
You can however still see the curved outline of the theater in the street as you walk east from the Campo de’ Fiori through the Palazzo Orsini Pio Righetti, and the Via di Grotta Pinta roughly follows the line of its stage. But for the most part this grand structure, Theater of Pompey and the site of were Caesar met his fate, has been buried and lost, their remains covered over and lying under the city square of Largo di Torre Argentina.
In 1927 during demolition work in the square a large marble head and arms were uncovered; this began an archaeological dig which unearthed four Republican era temples. These temples were the ones located at the back of the theaters garden and opposite its Curia.
Using the locations of these temples in 2012 a group of Spanish archaeologists believe they have discovered the location of Augustus’ concert memorial over the site of Caesars murders. However there is still much debate on this finding. What we do know is that the Curia of Pompey stills rests beneath the street, bus and streetcar stop on the Largo di Torre Argentina.

Largo di Torre Argentina, Rome Italy where Ceaser was murdered

Largo di Torre Argentina as seen today. The Curia of Pompey is thought to be under the street behind the tree next to the circle temple.

When you go to Rome make sure you visit Largo di Torre Argentina, and look past the ruins of the circular temple to the area that goes under the street, and you’ll be looking at were Julius Caesar fell at the hands of his enemies.

So now that we’ve found were Caesar was murdered what happened to his body? For that we’ll go back to the Roman Forum and I’ll show you what I found there in my next post.

 

 

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