Julius Caesar left his mark on the world, but nowhere more than Rome itself, where he was immortalised in the Temple of Divus Julius. The temple was not only an exhibition of Caesar's deification, but a symbol of Imperial Rome. Siobhan Christie takes us through what the temple would have looked like, as well as its significance in the Eternal City.
The Death and Funeral of Julius Caesar
The assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March, 44BC, is arguably one of the most famous events of antiquity. When Caesar was ambushed in the Theatre of Pompey by the Roman senators who conspired against him, he was stabbed 23 times (Suet.Iul.82.2) and died. And if Appian (App.B.Civ.II.117) is to be believed, he left this world, rather poetically, at the foot of the statue of Pompey as seen in the painting below.
Caesar's funeral was held a few days later and although a pyre was prepared at the Campus Martius, his cremation took place in the Forum Romanum (Suet.Iul.84.1). Suetonius (Suet.Iul.84.3) and Cassius Dio (Dio.Cass.XLIV.50.2) describe a grief stricken and angry crowd, which seized control of the funeral taking place at the western end of the Forum. The crowd relocated Caesar's bier to the eastern end, near the Regia, and set it ablaze. Sumi notes the symbolic significance of this location for its association with both the urban plebeian populace and the Pontifex Maximus (Sumi,2011:210-1).
A Monument to the Deified Julius
Several ancient sources refer to the erection of a monument at the site of Caesar's cremation, with various descriptions of a column, a statue and an altar.
Appian (App.B.Civ.III.3) and Cassius Dio (Dio.Cass.XLIV.51.1) describe the erection of an altar at the site soon after the cremation, at which sacrifices were made to the deified Julius. Cassius Dio (Dio.Cass.XLIV.51.2) goes on to describe the removal of the altar by the consuls.
Similarly, Cicero (Cic.Att.XIV.15) provides an account of the removal of a monument by Dolabella, however, he refers to the monument as a column. References to a column at the site are also made by Suetonius (Suet.Iul.85.1), who describes a monolith of Numidian marble inscribed with the words Parenti Patriae, "To the Father of his Country".
Cicero (Cic.Att.XVI.15) later refers to a statue at the site in an account of a speech made by Octavian, in which he swears an oath to attain his father's honours by raising his hand towards "his" statue - presumably referring to the Divus Julius statue.
Geoffrey Sumi offers a possible explanation for the varied descriptions of the monument. He suggests a small column was erected by the plebeian supporters of Julius Caesar in the aftermath of the funeral and was, shortly thereafter, removed by Dolabella (Sumi,2011:213). The column was then replaced by Octavian with one made of marble, and bearing a statue of Julius Caesar (Sumi,2011:213). The marble column was in turn replaced by an altar around the time construction began on the Temple of Divus Julius (Sumi,2011:213). It is possible that the altar described by Appian and Cassius Dio is based on the altar which ultimately replaced the other monuments when the temple was built.
It was at this site, where Julius Caesar was cremated and his monuments erected, that the Temple of Divus Julius was built.
The Temple of Divus Julius
The Temple of Divus Julius was authorised by the Second Triumvirate in 42 BC. The construction, however, is claimed by Augustus alone (Mon.Anc.IV.2). The formal dedication of the temple in 29 BC was celebrated with games hosted by Augustus (Dio.Cass.XLVII.22.1-4). Where the earlier monuments were physical manifestations of the divinity bestowed on Julius Caesar by the populace - as well as the development of the cult of Divus Julius - the temple drew a deliberate link between Augustus and his father.
Thanks to descriptions in ancient sources, as well as archaeological evidence, we know the temple was located at the south-eastern end of the Forum Romanum, facing north-west. Architectural historian Diane Favro (1996:275) speculated the temple would have stood as a "visual terminus", positioned as it was at the narrow vista of the forum.
The structure was built with opus caementicium (also known as Roman concrete) foundations, a rubble core - which is now exposed - faced with travertine blocks, and adorned with marble.
The temple itself was approximately 17.11m wide by 18.59m long (Rosińska-Balik,2012:224) and consisted of three major components which can be seen in the floorplan below.
- The naos
- The pronaos
- The entablature and pediment.
However, the entire monument extended beyond these dimensions, totalling approximately 26.1m by 27.3m to encompass two additional components:
- The podium
- The altar
Karolina Rosińska-Balik (2012:224) used column fragments to estimate an overall height of 22m, of which the stacked podium and pronaos made up a combined height of approximately 6m (Favro,1996:151). It has been noted by Diane Favro (1996:225-6) that the increased height facilitated by the tall podium forced passers-by to crane their necks to look up at the "sheer flat surfaces rising at right angles", a tactic typical of Augustan architecture that had the effect of enhancing the grandeur of the structure (Favro,1996:151).
The naos was built with walls of travertine, a type of limestone, and adorned with Corinthian pilasters (Stamper,2005:110). Displayed within was the painting Venus Anadyomere by the Greek artist Apelles (Pliny.XXXV.91). The painting was presumably intended to highlight exalted ancestry of the Julian family, who claimed descendancy from Romulus and Aeneas as well as the goddess Venus herself.
The most prominent feature of the naos was the effigy of Divus Julius that stood within. While there are no archaeological remains of the statue, we know of its existence from ancient coins (as seen below) that depict a figure, ensconced between the columns, wearing a toga and bearing the staff of an augur, representing both Divus Julius' roles as Pontifex Maximus and augur (Gorski & Packer,2015:85). Pliny and Suetonius describe the same statue as bearing a star on the forehead in reference to the comet that appeared in the sky for seven days during Julius Caesar's funeral games in 44BC (Pliny.II.94; Suet.Iul.88.1), seemingly as a mark of his divine status.
Ancient coins depict the temple in tetrastylos1 formation. However, analysis of the column bases and trunks at the site suggest the pronaos was delimited by eight columns, six positioned across the front and two behind at either end in prostylos formation (Rosińska-Balik,2012:225). According to a description by the ancient author Vitruvius, the eight columns were laid out with pyncostylos spacing (Vitruvius,III.3.2), that is, with 1.5 times the width of the columns between each. Otto Richter's calculations of the space using column base fragments indicate the space between the two middle columns was larger, accommodating a better view of the statue of Divus Julius within (Gorski & Packer,2015:90; Rosińska-Balik,2012:225).
Depictions of the columns on Augustan coinage suggest they were of the Ionic or Composite order. John Stamper, however, has argued that the columns were in fact Corinthian . Relying on fragments of Corinthian pilasters from the naos found at the site, he suggests that is unlikely the style used in the pronaos differed to that of the naos (Stamper,2005:110).
The Entablature and Pediment
The temple was crowned with a triangular pediment and entablature which were both made of marble. The entablature consisted of three major components:
- The cornice
- The frieze
- The architrave
The cornice was adored with dentils and modillions. The modillions were decorated with rectangular panels on the underside and cyma reversa at the top. The spaces between the modillions were decorated with plant motifs.
Fragments of the frieze uncovered at the site reveal a pattern of scrolls, gorgon heads and winged figures, identified by John Stamper as an early example of Augusta styling (Stamper,2005:110). The winged figures could be representations of Victoria, the Roman goddess of Victory.
Variations in carving techniques, seen on the front and rear frieze panels, indicate the work was completed by at least two different teams of stonemasons (Stamper,2005:110).
The podium, which remains partially intact, projected out from the temple and was most likely adorned with beaks of ships captured at the battle of Actium in 31 BC (Favro,1996:275).
Frontinus' (Frontin.Aq.129) description of assemblies taking place at the temple, as well as Hadrianic coins which portray speakers on the platform, indicate the temple was a public political centre in Rome, used for meetings and orations for many years after it was built.
The middle of the podium was interrupted by a semicircular niche that contained a round stone altar. Whether this alter already existed at the site or replaced the previous monuments during the construction of the temple is unclear, however, it is most likely dedications to Divus Julius continued to be made at this altar.
The altar was later removed, and the niche walled up, however, it is unknown when this occurred.
The Temple of Julius Caesar in Modern Rome
The memory of Julius Caesar and his assassination on the Ides of March lives on in modern day Rome. The day is marked by theatrical re-enactments of his death and floral dedications left at the alter at the Temple of Julius Caesar, just as dedications were left at the alter over 2000 years ago.
Digitales Forum Romanum provides an outline of the different stages of construction and alterations of the Temple of Divus Julius.
Richardson, L., A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (Baltimore, 1992) and Platner, S. M., A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (Oxford, 1929) both provide great overviews of the Temple of Divus Julius with reference to both modern and ancient sources.
A basic 3D Model of the Aedes Divus Julius has been constructed using SketchUp. It includes the main features of the structure and is helpful in developing a spacial understanding of the complex. Please note that detailed features such as the entablature and middle column spacings have not been included in the reconstruction.
Favro, D. 1996. The Urban Image of Augustan Rome. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Gorski, G. J. 2015. The Roman Forum: A Reconstruction and Architectural Guide. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Rosińska-Balik, K. 2012. Virtual Reconstruction in Archaeological Service: A Case Study of the Temple of Divius Julius in the Forum Romanum. Studies in Ancient Art and Civilisation 16. Księgarnia Akademicka 223-232.
Stamper. J. W. 2005. The Architecture of Roman Temples: The Republic to the Middle Empire Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sumi, G. S. 2011. "Topography and Ideology: Caesar's Monument and the Aedes Divi Ivlii in Augustan Rome." The Classical Quarterly 61 (1). Cambridge University Press 205-229.