Biographies & Memoirs



AT THE BEGINNING OF OCTOBER 45 B.C., after a long stay at his villa at Labici, Caesar finally entered Rome. It was his fifth triumph. This one marked his victory in Hispania and its theme was silver, symbol of Hispania’s famous mineral wealth. It was even harder than in 46 B.C. to hide the fact that the war was a civil war—a fight against Romans rather than foreign foes—and so a triumph was offensive if not illegal. Still, Caesar was determined to mark the occasion, but it didn’t go without incident.

As the dictator rode past the benches of the People’s Tribunes in his triumphal chariot, nine of them stood in salute, but one tribune remained seated. Ten People’s Tribunes were elected each year, in principle to represent ordinary people, but they sometimes came from the Best Men. The seated tribune was Lucius Pontius Aquila, who had supported Pompey in the Civil War. This Pontius was possibly a friend of Cicero. He might have been the same Pontius who lost his estate near Naples (it became Servilia’s property) and if so, he had a personal grudge against Caesar.

Caesar was furious. “Ask me for the Republic back, Tribune Aquila!” he cried. Nor was that all. For days, whenever Caesar promised something in public, he added sarcastically, “That is, if Pontius Aquila will let me.” Surely, not everyone appreciated the joke. Ordinary Romans considered the People’s Tribunes their champions.

Caesar capped his Spanish triumph with a public banquet for the people of Rome. Then, four days later, he gave them an unprecedented second feast. He said that he wanted to make up for cutting corners in the first meal. Caesar was a politician, though, and it might be that he felt the public’s anger about the People’s Tribune and he wanted to make amends. Having killed Romans in Hispania, he now fed other Romans.

Caesar threw open his new estate to the public to hold the banquets. Not to be confused with Caesar’s villa at Labici about twenty miles south of Rome, this estate was called the horti Caesaris—Caesar’s Gardens. The Gardens were located about a mile southeast of the Tiber Island, on the hills overlooking the west bank of the river, near Rome but outside it. It was one of those pleasure palaces that the grandees of Rome built on the hills in and around the city; estates that took in the summer breezes and avoided the bogs where the malarial mosquitos bred. Caesar’s Gardens contained great halls and expansive colonnades as well as a park, all decorated with fine sculpture and paintings. There might have been a shrine to Dionysius—in those days a favorite god of Egypt. There was certainly a stunning view of the great city across the river as well as a dock for private access to it.

But Caesar’s Gardens were more than just a stately home and its grounds. Caesar planned to use the colonnade as a backdrop for political theater. It worked only too well—it backfired, actually—during one of the posttriumph feasts. Caesar stood in an open space between the columns and took the salute of the crowd. Unfortunately, a man known as Herophilus or Amatius stood practically beside him in the next open space and got almost an equally enthusiastic reception. Herophilus claimed to be the grandson of the great Marius, making him a favorite of the poor. Gaius Marius (ca. 157–86 B.C.), Sulla’s archrival, was a great general and Populist. He was married to Caesar’s aunt, his father’s sister Julia. Marius impersonators or his alleged descendants kept turning up in Rome.

Nothing survives of Caesar’s Gardens today and we have only a general sense of their location. Two statues were found in Rome that may well come from them. Both are Roman copies of Greek originals. They illustrate the classical themes of the power of the gods and the fickleness of fate.

Both are of the highest-quality marble—Pentelic marble—from outside Athens. One shows the god Apollo. He is sitting on a rock in his shrine at Delphi, at the spot that the Greeks thought marked the center of the world. The fragmentary piece shows the god’s imposing body turned toward the viewer. He might originally have held a scepter in his right hand. The second statue shows a son of Niobe. The boy is leaning on the ground in a dramatic pose, his body facing the viewer, his head turned upward and sideways in a look of fear and emotion. According to myth, Niobe had fourteen children, all healthy, but she bragged about them and insulted the gods. In retaliation, the gods sent Apollo and his sister Artemis, who struck the children dead in a matter of minutes. Niobe and her husband soon died as well in grief and anger.

Did the statues remind Caesar that he too was just human, regardless of what his flatterers said? Or were they just two more beautiful trophies?


Caesar spent six months in Rome, from early October 45 B.C. to mid-March 44 B.C. It was his longest stay in the city in fifteen years, but it was less a return than a respite. He already decided to go east at the start of spring to command the war against Parthia just as he went west a year before to command the war in Hispania. What then was the purpose of his time in Rome? To settle things, wrote Cicero, “They say he [Caesar] wouldn’t go against the Parthians unless matters were settled in Rome.” Precisely what “settled” means is unclear, but by the end of 45 B.C., no one could mistake Caesar for a friend of the Republic.

It was irregular enough that he was sole consul instead of one of the usual two consuls, but then he stepped down in September. He remained dictator for ten years and in fact, the Senate reaffirmed that position. Still, Caesar insisted that two of his staunchest generals be appointed suffect (that is, supplemental) consuls for the rest of the year—Gaius Trebonius and Gaius Fabius. He did not bother with a vote. Later, people booed Fabius when he entered the theater because he lacked the legitimacy of an elected official. It showed that people resented how Caesar took away their power as voters.

The last straw seemed to come on December 31, 45 B.C.—New Year’s Eve. Fabius died suddenly. Caesar made his old comrade-in-arms, Gaius Caninius Rebilus, suffect consul for the rest of the year—that is, for less than twenty-four hours. Caesar was hurrying along the prizes of Civil War, as the historian Tacitus wrote many years later. At the time, Cicero joked that Caninius was so very vigilant that he never closed his eyes while consul, but this was bitter humor from the pen of a conservative. Cicero also wrote that it was hard to hold back the tears. There were, he said, innumerable other things of this kind going on in those days.

All this, however, was just a prologue. The main act took place in late January or early February of 44 B.C. when the Senate named Caesar DICTATOR IN PERPETUO—that is, Dictator in Perpetuity. The new title was important both for what it was and what it wasn’t.

The issue wasn’t power, as Caesar already had massive powers. No one held high office without his approval even if technically he lacked a veto. He controlled the army and the treasury. He could be consul if he chose.

The issue wasn’t formal monarchy, either. Caesar kept proclaiming that he wasn’t a king. It’s credible enough that he didn’t aspire to the title rex, as he said. The hated title was more trouble than it was worth. But a dictator for life was virtually a king, as people understood in antiquity. Shortly after the Ides of March, Cicero wrote, “We should actually call King the man whom we in fact had as king.” Asinius Pollio, a supporter of Caesar and later a great historian, wrote in 43 B.C. that he loved Caesar but he knew that with him Rome suffered unrestricted rule where everything was in the power of one man.

The issue was the future. Once Caesar was Dictator in Perpetuity, there was no turning back. Not even Sulla held such a title. On the contrary, Sulla stepped down and ended his life in retirement. Caesar let people know what he thought of that in a witticism,“Sulla didn’t know his ABCs when he laid down his dictatorship,” meaning that Sulla didn’t know the basic rules of politics. The source of the quotation is an enemy of Caesar, it is true, so it might be made up, but it bears the sharp mark of Caesar’s intelligence.

Another sign that Caesar’s dictatorship was here to stay is the oath that the Senate voted to swear. Every senator promised to maintain Caesar’s safety and to consider him sacrosanct—that is, to threaten the death penalty to anyone who harmed him.

Kings have heirs. The public did not know that Caesar had chosen his grandnephew Octavian as his heir, but they did learn that Caesar named him as the dictator’s formal second-in-command, the Master of the Horse, for most of the next year. The appointment would begin on March 18, 44 B.C., when both Caesar and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, one of Caesar’s generals and the current Master of the Horse, were scheduled to leave Rome on their respective military campaigns for the rest of 44 B.C. This was an astonishing honor for an eighteen-year-old, especially considering the Romans’ distrust of youth. Combine this with the provisions of Caesar’s will and it becomes clear that the Dictator in Perpetuity planned for a successor. You might as well have tolled all the bells in Rome for the death of the Republic.

The cascade of new honors, though only details, shows just how low some Romans were willing to bow before the new realities of power.

The Senate wasted no time in flattering Caesar once news of the victory at Munda reached Rome on April 20, 45 B.C. The senators called for fifty days of Thanksgiving—ten more than they granted the previous year for Caesar’s victory in North Africa. They made April 21 an annual day of commemoration, with races to be held in the circus. They called Caesar Pater Patriae, or “Father of the Fatherland.” They gave Caesar the title of liberator and authorized the building of a Temple of Liberty. They also allowed him to use the title of imperator permanently—previous generals used it only temporarily. Imperator, or “commander,” was a title given to a general by his troops after an especially great victory. The Senate also allowed Caesar to wear the purple and gold of a triumph on all formal occasions as well as a laurel wreath–symbol of the king of the gods, Jupiter. People joked that this was Caesar’s favorite honor because it allowed him to cover up his receding hairline—he was vain about going bald.

The Senate of Cato and men like him would never sink so low, but those men were gone. The Civil War had killed them. Cicero was the last lion of the Senate and he was in semiretirement. Besides, he was not about to roar at Caesar. There were, it seems, no big senatorial cats left.

So the flattery sweepstakes now escalated with the commissioning of new statues. Take, for example, Quirinus. He was one of the many obscure gods whom the Romans worshipped. Originally perhaps a local deity, by Caesar’s day Quirinus was taken to represent the hero Romulus, legendary founder of Rome, after Romulus became a god. So it was decided to erect a statue of Caesar in the Temple of Quirinus on the Quirinal Hill with the inscription “To the undefeated god.” Symbolically this made Caesar almost the second founder of Rome. Cicero registered a private protest by writing wittily to a friend that it was better to have Caesar share a temple with the god Quirinus than with the goddess Salvation. Why? If Caesar was like Quirinus there was hope of getting rid of him, since tradition stated that the senators killed the original Quirinus—Romulus—in order to stop him from becoming a tyrant.

Another statue of Caesar was placed on the Capitoline Hill next to the statues of the seven kings of Rome and an eighth statue, of the man who drove out the last king and established the Roman Republic in the traditional founding date of 509 B.C. That eighth man was Lucius Junius Brutus, whom Brutus and Decimus each claimed as an ancestor. Yet another statue of Caesar was carried in the procession that opened the games celebrating Munda in July 45 B.C. behind a statue of Victory. This third statue of Caesar was made of ivory, an honor usually reserved for the gods.

The placement, processional use, and material of the statues—at least one was made of ivory—came close to calling Caesar a god. The inscription on the statue in the Temple of Quirinus made no bones about it. One wonders if Caesar erased it as he erased the inscription calling him a “demigod” the year before. Some people did object. According to Cicero, no one applauded Caesar’s statue in the summer procession—the “odious” procession, as he called it.

Never mind. By early 44 B.C., the Senate took the final steps. They made Caesar an official god of the Roman state. He would have his own temple, priest, sacred couch for his image, and name—Divus Julius, the Deified Julius. None of this was put into effect while Caesar was alive.

It’s not clear which, if any of these honors came on Caesar’s initiative. By making Caesar a god, the Senate was possibly trying to win support among the many inhabitants of Rome who came from the Greek East and who might appreciate the gesture.


Not long after Caesar threw open his gardens across the Tiber to the public, he closed them again for the exclusive use of Cleopatra. It was Cleopatra’s second visit to Rome, which she had visited the previous year as well. It was not unusual for foreign rulers to come to the city on diplomatic business. Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy XII, did so in his day. But, diplomat or not, Cleopatra was also Caesar’s mistress and she had the added incentive of conceiving another child by him.

As a busy head of state, Cleopatra surely spent much of her time in Rome in the traditional business of visiting kings and queens—that is, networking with important people. They gave each other gifts. Cleopatra brought bangles from Egypt while the Romans offered information and access.

Mark Antony came to see her. Perhaps that lit the spark that later flamed into one of history’s most passionate love affairs. Cicero came to see her, too, but love was not on his mind—far from it. He received a promise of some choice books from Egypt’s famous royal collection. But he never got them.

“I hate the Queen,” Cicero wrote in spring 44 B.C. He was probably not alone in that sentiment. Romans distrusted foreigners, especially Greeks and powerful women. Her royal presence only fueled the rumors that Caesar wanted to be a king himself or that Caesar planned to move permanently from Rome to Alexandria, the city of his mistress, or to Troy, the city of his mythic ancestor Aeneas. They also said he would take the wealth of the empire with him, drain Italy of its manpower, and leave the city of Rome in the hands of his friends.


Caesar wanted to settle things in Rome first before embarking for Parthia. He said he was concerned about his laws being disregarded. But Caesar spent too little time in Rome for us to think that he was seriously worried about this. More likely he found politics in Rome frustrating and dull compared to his favorite arena—war. And perhaps Caesar thought a breathing space would make the Romans used to his rule. In fact, if the men he left behind fell short of his standards, people might even long for his return.

He was gathering a huge army, one so big that plans were in motion by fall 45 B.C. at the latest. It would be the largest force that Caesar ever commanded—16 legions, or 80,000 infantrymen if full strength and 10,000 cavalrymen. Six of the legions, along with auxiliary troops, were to winter near Apollonia (in modern Albania) at the western end of the Via Egnatia, the Roman road that ran eastward to the Hellespont. Caesar planned to leave Rome for his new war on March 18, 44 B.C.—the usual springtime start of the campaign season, and a year and a day after his victory at Munda.

At first glance, Caesar’s Parthian Expedition looks like a matter of national security, but on closer look, it had explosive consequences in domestic politics. The national security argument focused on defending Rome’s eastern frontier against a rival empire that had already invaded Roman Syria. Powerful Parthia stretched from eastern Iran to what is now eastern Turkey and Kurdistan. Parthia was the only border state that threatened Rome. Conquering Parthia would end the threat, yet the Romans split on party lines when it came to this war. The Populists were hawks and the Best Men were doves.

Crassus, with Caesar’s encouragement, had attacked Parthia in 53 B.C. and lost. For Caesar, Parthia represented another grand military campaign, this time, as in Gaul, against foreigners rather than against fellow Romans, as in the Civil War. Victory in Gaul had made Caesar Dictator in Perpetuity; the victory in Parthia might make him king. No one who still believed in the Republic could face the new war with ease.

But the war was probably popular with ambitious young Roman men, both in the elite and the masses, for reverse reasons. Fighting in Gaul had made tens of thousands of men rich and powerful. The Parthian War offered the ambitious a new opportunity for the same success. They probably jumped at the chance.

One young Roman had more to gain from the war than anyone else—Octavian. In December 45 B.C., Caesar sent him to Apollonia, a major Roman military base, to spend the winter with the legions and a military tutor. The tutor would teach him the art of war, while the legions would let Octavian practice his political skills. It was a way of introducing Caesar’s chosen heir to Caesar’s soldiers. To anyone watching closely, it was another reason to fear the Parthian War.

In the Republic, opposition to the war would be aired in full in the Senate. There would be a no-holds-barred debate, set-piece speeches, accusations, boasts, divisions, votes, and repercussions. But now the dictator decided.

Caesar claimed that he already had enough glory, but maybe not. Maybe he wanted to end his military career fighting foreigners and not in a civil war. Because he had encouraged Crassus to attack Parthia in 53 B.C., Caesar might feel that now his dignitas demanded that he avenge the loss. He might want to avenge others who also fell at the decisive Battle of Carrhae—Crassus’s son, Publius, who fought for Caesar as an officer in Gaul, as well as a unit of Gallic cavalrymen. He might want to eliminate the possibility of Parthian support for Pompey’s son Sextus, who was still at large.

On his way to Parthia Caesar would have to deal with the situation in the Roman province of Syria. An able and dangerous man, Quintus Caecilius Bassus took control there in 46 B.C. He was a supporter of Pompey and he promptly arranged for the murder of Caesar’s cousin Sextus Caesar. When Caesar sent out a new governor the next year, Bassus defeated him. Now Caesar decided to deal with Bassus himself.


Everybody who was anybody in Rome had a country villa. Actually, they often had several. Cicero, for instance, owned three villas on the Bay of Naples as well as another in Tusculum, in the Alban Hills. The Roman elite loved both locales. Cicero had a lovely Neapolitan villa outside Puteoli (the modern city of Puzzuoli near Naples) on the high ground of the eastern shore of Lake Lucrinus with a view of the sea.

He complained about his rich and apathetic neighbor, Lucius Marcius Philippus, whose huge estate included fishponds—to Cicero, the symbol of idle, irresponsible wealth. A former consul, Philippus was a schemer who although related to Caesar managed to get through the Civil War without choosing sides. He had Caesar’s approval at the war’s end. Philippus was married to Caesar’s niece Atia and was stepfather to her son, Octavian. He was, in short, very well-connected.

It’s no surprise that on the night of December 18, 45 B.C., Philippus received a visit from Caesar. It was the second night of the Saturnalia, the Roman winter festival. The dictator was no easy guest because he did not travel light—two thousand soldiers as well as additional staff accompanied Caesar, as Cicero claimed. It’s possibly an exaggeration, but surely Caesar had a large number of men and the army crammed the estate. Cicero took note because Caesar was coming to his house the next day. To prepare, Cicero borrowed guards from a friend and pitched a camp for the soldiers. Cicero describes the whole thing in a breathless letter that he dashed off the same day to his friend Atticus, full of verbal shortcuts and Greek words, as if he couldn’t wait to get the story out but wanted to make it pretty.

Cicero was probably glad to have Caesar’s attention after a long year. In February, Cicero’s beloved daughter Tullia died after childbirth. Her son survived, as did his father, her former husband, Publius Cornelius Dolabella. The two had divorced a few months earlier after an unhappy marriage. Cicero was inconsolable, although many friends and colleagues sent their condolences. Caesar wrote from Hispania. A friend wrote archly that Tullia lived no longer than the Republic.

In May, Cicero drafted a letter to Caesar, sending it first to Balbus and Oppius. They asked for so many changes that Cicero thought better of it and gave up the idea. Now, he would actually speak to the great man.

On December 19, 44 B.C., after Caesar spent the morning working and taking a walk on the beach, he arrived at Cicero’s. There followed a bath, no doubt including a massage and scrape-down, then an anointment with a thin layer of perfumed oil. Finally, Caesar sat down to a sumptuous meal and ate freely. Caesar engaged in his usual act of vomiting after dinner. Like many other elite Romans, Caesar followed a regular course of emetics to keep his weight down while indulging in gastronomy.

It was all very jovial and very disciplined. Cicero felt satisfied that he made a good impression after a serious but not crushing effort. Caesar seemed pleased. Yet Cicero noticed that Caesar did not change expression when he heard bad news about a supporter. Behind Caesar’s smiling face was the man who had taken away Cicero’s political power and sway. And behind Cicero’s flattery and gratitude was the man who resented it intensely.

There was no talk of anything serious, said Cicero, but plenty of talk about literature. How did the former consul feel about that? “Not a guest to whom you would say, ‘I’d love it if you’d come back to see me here.’ Once was enough.” After leaving Cicero’s villa, Caesar’s next stop was the estate of Dolabella. A demagogue who once tried to outbid Caesar for popular support, Dolabella had fought for Caesar in Africa and Hispania. The dictator planned to make use of him in the future. Now, Caesar’s entourage passed Dolabella’s villa nearby. While Caesar sat on his horse, the whole force of armed men lined up on either side of him in a salute to Dolabella.

Cicero ends his letter with this almost cinematic image of the reality of Roman power. The orator who once steered the fate of nations from the well of the Senate was reduced to reporting about a man on horseback. The question was, would anyone take the horseman down?


Titus Livius was a teenager at the time of the Ides of March. A citizen of Patavium (modern Padua) in northern Italy, he was swept up in the civil wars of the era. But Livy, as he is better known, stayed alive and wrote one of the greatest histories of ancient Rome. Large parts of it survive today, but unfortunately we have only a capsule sketch of the chapters on Julius Caesar—a summary written later during the Roman Empire. Still, the summary includes an important analysis. It shows the enormous public relations challenge facing Caesar as he was about to take on a new role. His whole life, Caesar was a master manipulator and stage director. But the role of Dictator in Perpetuity required a new script. No Roman “rewrite man,” no matter how skilled, could tell it without arousing resistance in some part of his audience.

The Senate granted Caesar the highest of honors, but they in turn generated a Roman politician’s bad dream—invidia, that is, ill will. As Livy states, three incidents in December 45 B.C., January 44 B.C., and February 44 B.C. tipped the balance against Caesar in a crucial segment of public opinion. They were, it seems, the last straws as far as some Romans were concerned.

The first incident probably took place in December 45 B.C. or possibly early 44 B.C. The Senate was voting honor after honor to the dictator. Some said that his enemies jumped on the bandwagon in order to embarrass Caesar with an overload of distinctions. Only a few senators voted no. Eventually the Senate decided to present the honors to Caesar formally. They marched as one to Caesar’s Forum. The consuls and praetors headed up the group followed by the other officials and the rest of the senators. Typically, attendance at a Senate meeting was low, but they might have numbered 100 to 200 of the 800–900 total Senate body. They were wearing their robes of office and no doubt made an impressive sight. A large crowd of ordinary people followed behind.

Caesar was sitting in front of the Temple of Mother Venus. Etiquette called for him to stand to greet the senators but he did not get up. Not only that, but he also made a joke about their news, saying his honors needed to be cut back rather than increased. By practically rejecting a gift and by refusing to recognize the senators’ rank, Caesar insulted them—and, some said, insulted the Roman people as well. Why a man as shrewd as Caesar did this is not clear. Perhaps he wanted to test the limits of his power.

The sources are full of commentary about this incident. There are explanations for why Caesar might have insulted the senators, but no one knows for certain whether the insult was intentional. Some say that it was the main and deadliest cause of ill will against Caesar, others merely that it gave the future conspirators one of their chief excuses. It allowed Caesar’s enemies to argue that he wanted to be addressed as a king.

The Romans often thought of their government as “the Senate and the Roman People,” SENATUS POPULUSQUE ROMANUS, the famous SPQR. In the incident in the Forum Julium, Caesar gave the strong impression that he no longer cared about the Senate. Next he seemed to turn on the Roman people.

The second incident pitted Caesar against two of the People’s Tribunes for 44 B.C., Gaius Epidius Marullus and Lucius Caesetius Flavus. One day in January 44 B.C., they found a diadem on the head of Caesar’s statue on the Speaker’s Platform in the Roman Forum. Some one—no one knew who—put it there. A diadem was the ancient Greek equivalent of a crown—far simpler, but still a symbol of royalty. It was an embroidered white silk ribbon that ended in a knot and two fringed strips. Marullus and Caesetius removed the diadem and said that, to his credit, Caesar had no need of such a thing. Caesar was angry even so. He suspected a put-up job—the tribunes arranged for the diadem to appear so that they could remove it and look good. Meanwhile, people would suspect him of wanting to be a king. Then, shortly afterward, on January 26, 44 B.C., matters escalated.

Caesar and his entourage were traveling the Appian Way after coming down the narrow path from the shrine of Jupiter Lattiaris on the Alban Mount (now Monte Cavo), which rises above the crystalline waters of Lake Albanus, southeast of Rome. There, they celebrated the Feriae Latinae, the old, annual festival of the Latin-speaking peoples. Normally it was held in the spring but the dictator had moved it to January because of his planned departure for the Parthian War. As they traveled north they passed the town of Bovillae, where Caesar’s family, the Julii, traced their roots to a time even before the founding of Rome.

The Senate granted Caesar the right to come back to Rome on horseback as if celebrating a minor triumph. So, people crowded around the mounted dictator as he reached the city’s Appian Gate. Suddenly, someone in the crowd greeted him as king—rex. Others took up the cry. Caesar answered: “I am Caesar, not Rex.” It was witty because, like the English word king, Rex was a family name as well as a royal title. Caesar’s ancestors, in fact, included “Kings”—the Marcius Rex family. Caesar’s wordplay suggested that someone merely had his name wrong. Cynics figured that the whole thing was staged, making it just another occasion for Caesar to show off his supposed republican sentiments.

The tribunes Marullus and Caesetius were not amused. They had the man who first cried “Rex” arrested. Now Caesar finally expressed his anger, accusing them of stirring up opposition to him. They in turn issued a declaration that they felt threatened in the exercise of their office. Caesar called a meeting of the Senate.

There were calls for the death penalty for the tribunes but he rejected that. He spoke more in sorrow than anger, he said. He wanted to grant his usual clemency but the issue, said Caesar, was his dignitas. So he insisted that the tribunes be removed from office and ousted from membership in the Senate. And so they were. As his parting shot, Caesar demanded that the tribune Caesetius’s father disinherit his son, but the man refused and Caesar dropped the issue.

The removal of the tribunes should have ended the matter but some people accused Caesar of blaming the messengers—they said that he should have been angry at those who called him Rex rather than at the tribunes. Shortly afterward, elections were held to choose new consuls and some people voted for Marullus and Caesetius. That suggests resentment as well at Caesar’s tendency to turn elections into rubber stamps.

The Roman plebs took their tribunes seriously as the champions of the common people. Caesar did too at one time. In 49 B.C., he said that one of the main reasons for crossing the Rubicon was to protect the People’s Tribunes from abuse by the Senate. Now he put himself on the wrong side of public opinion. The result was to generate invidia—ill will—on the grounds that Caesar wanted to be king. But Caesar actually indulged in the finery of Rome’s ancient kings such as high red boots and golden wreaths.

Which brings us to Livy’s third incident, the celebration of the Lupercalia festival on February 15, 44 B.C. The incident in Caesar’s Forum was unscripted, while the incident at the Appian Gate was either unscripted or veered out of control. The Lupercalia was definitely scripted, but who wrote the script and what it was are unclear.

The story is as follows. The Lupercalia was an annual festival associated with fertility. After a sacrifice, the priests, wearing only loin cloths, ran around central Rome and touched bystanders, especially women, with goatskin straps. The festival was associated with Romulus, mythical founder of Rome, which no doubt appealed to Caesar or anyone who saw him as Rome’s second founder. Before February 15, the Senate set up a special association of priests in Caesar’s honor in connection with the festival. Mark Antony was the Chief Priest, so he led the runners.

The Lupercalia was an annual celebration, but in 44 B.C. it was a festival like no other. The jaw-dropping main event saw Caesar offered a diadem and ostentatiously refusing it. Caesar was sitting in the Roman Forum on the Speaker’s Platform, or Rostra.

The Speaker’s Platform itself was an impressive new monument that was part of Caesar’s redesign of Rome’s civic center. The old Speaker’s Platform stood for centuries before being demolished. Rostra means the Beaks, a name referring to the bronze-covered rams or “beaks” of captured warships with which it was decorated. The Speaker’s Platform was the main place for addressing the Roman people and, accordingly, the old Speaker’s Platform stood in a central position. When Caesar rebuilt Rome’s civic space, he moved the new Speaker’s Platform to a corner of the Roman Forum, a sign of what the dictator thought of public speakers.

Caesar’s Speaker’s Platform stood over 11 feet high and was more than 43 feet long. It had a curved front, probably extended on supports into a rectangular platform. Seven steps led up to the Speaker’s Platform from the back, while the front faced the open space of the Forum. The whole thing was lined with marble. Four statues decorated the platform. Caesar restored the statues of Sulla and Pompey, each on horseback, which the people had earlier destroyed. In addition, two statues of Caesar were erected, one with his famous oak wreath—the Medal of Honor or Civic Crown—and the other with a grass-and-wildflower wreath, an even higher military honor. One of the two statues was on horseback. In short, the only images on the Speaker’s Platform were two dictators and a domineering general and politician who was also Caesar’s son-in-law. There were no champions of liberty like Brutus’s ancestor, Lucius Junius Brutus.

It was here that Caesar sat on February 15 on the occasion of the Lupercalia. He was dressed in a triumphing general’s purple toga as well as the high boots and long-sleeved tunic of a king of old. He wore a gold wreath and sat on a gilded chair. A large crowd had gathered.

After his run, Mark Antony climbed up to the Speaker’s Platform and placed a diadem on Caesar’s head, saying, “The People give this to you through me.” A few applauded but most people responded with silence. Lepidus, newly appointed Master of the Horse, was there. His response was a groan and gloomy look. Caesar removed the diadem and Antony tried again, only to get the same response. Finally Caesar ordered it to be taken to the Capitoline Temple with the words “Jupiter alone of the Romans is King.” This received an enthusiastic response.

To commemorate the event, Caesar had an entry made in the fasti, the official calendar of the Roman state, writing that “the Consul Mark Antony had offered the Kingship, by the People’s command, to the Dictator in Perpetuity Gaius Caesar but Caesar had refused.”

The sources buzz with speculation about who was behind the event and why. Some make Antony the prime mover and say that he surprised Caesar, either to flatter him or maybe even to embarrass him. Later on it was claimed that Antony was just trying to bring Caesar to his senses and to get him to give up any thoughts of kingship. Others give Caesar’s enemies a central role. In this version, two opponents of Caesar came up to the Speaker’s Platform and tried to get Caesar to accept the diadem. We’ll never know the real story of the Lupercalia, but it is clear enough that Caesar had fences to mend with a public that feared his ambition.

Caesar still had many supporters. His loyal colleague Aulus Hirtius, for example, later insisted that Caesar was a vir clarissimus—a man of extraordinary brilliance—who made the Republic stronger. He and others called Caesar a great man. It was only the nobles and those “with claims to power” who found Caesar “unbearable,” claimed one ancient supporter. Most people “gloried in his many great victories” and “admired someone who they thought was more than just a man.” Yet, in the winter of 44 B.C., precisely what ordinary Romans thought was debatable. Caesar brought the urban plebs land and peace by ending the violent feuds of the nobles, while also enriching their lives with feasts and spectacles. Yet the urban plebs resented Caesar’s attacks on the People’s Tribunes and his undermining of elections. They probably had little regard for the new senators from Gaul. To some, it seemed that Caesar was losing the people.

At the time, many believed that Caesar’s rejection of the crown at the Lupercalia was a way of trying to see if there was support for him to become king. They believed that he wanted to be king and they despised him for it.

Hatred is one of a ruler’s greatest dangers, especially hatred from the common people. Hatred stirs conspiracies, while hatred by the people makes conspirators think they can get away with their plans. Caesar was about to test that principle.

In three months, Caesar had disrespected the Senate, dispensed with People’s Tribunes, and flirted with monarchy. By February, the conspiracy that would bring Caesar down was being born. In fact, it might already have been alive.

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