16: The Temple of Divine Julius
Little of the Temple of Divine Julius remains however a lot is known about the events that led to its construction and what it looked like. Julius Caesar was assassinated on the 15th March in the year 44 BCE at a session of the Senate convened in a hall that was part of the Theater of Pompey. He died as a result of 23 stab wounds inflicted by a mob of dagger wielding senators that ambushed him as he entered the hall. The mob included his ally Brutus. Brutus and the rest of the senators had grown quickly unhappy with Caesar’s move to secure power and, specifically, in establishing himself as “dictator in perpetuum” or dictator in perpetuity. The temple was commissioned two years after Caesar’s death at the direction of Augustus and following Caesar’s posthumous deification. The location of his cremation was chosen very much in the spur of the moment. Mark Antony’s funeral speech had so affected the crowd that they, together with Caesar’s family and followers, took charge of the funeral service and created an impromptu funeral pyre and burned Caesar’s body here in the Forum. Shortly after the funeral the cremation site was marked by a column but, over time, this was replaced with a much more substantial temple that sat on a raised platform. Set in the front of the temple was a circular sacrificial alter – this was set in a semi-circular alcove – the concrete core of the altar can be seen and is set underneath a modern covering. The main temple building would have been accessed by steps to the right and left as you face what remains of the alter. A denarius coin minted 8 years after Caesar’s death clearly shows his temple, its alter, the pediment decoration, lettering marking the temple’s dedication as well as a statue of Julius Caesar wearing a toga and holding an augur. From this we can assume that, like other Roman temples dedicated to gods, there would have been a single large statue of Caesar standing inside the Temple’s main hall. The temple of Divine Julius was later sandwiched between two triumphal arches. On the north side (that’s the left while facing the altar) Augustus erected the Actium Arch in 29 BCE further commemorating his victory over Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. On the south side of the temple Augustus erected the Parthian Arch, celebrating the return of surrendered Roman standards that had been lost to the Parthians some 24 years earlier under Caesar’s reign.