Tales of Big Julie and Foraging the Forum
There is something about pondering the Forum and its place in Roman history so perhaps this tale of deceit and intrigue may well be a trigger to forage and search for pieces of the past near the birth of Rome as we did.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Located around the centre of the Roman Forum area ruins is the Regia on the Via Sacra .In front of you lurks the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina and behind is the House of the Vestal Virgins (Atrium Vestae) plus the Temple of Vesta.
Complicated ? What you need is a good Forum guide.
Julius Caesar enters the “Shrine of Mars” on the evening of March 14, 44BC prior to leaving in 4 days for war with Parthia. (Iran & Mesopotamia – no doubt looking for weapons of massed distraction) He needs the Gods in place prior to tomorrows Senate meeting with his friend Marcus Lepidus “Master of the Horse” Commander of the Cavalry.
Was he going to, as is suspected, accede to Royalty and proclaim himself king?
It’s written that at the Shrine the “Sacred Spears” vibrated on their own as legend proscribes they do when something terrible is about too happen. It is not the first omen JC has received and it will not be his last! Could the sonic boom from a nearby lighting strike have caused the Spears to vibrate.
Was this omen just a myth? Read on cherubs!
Walk up the Via Sacra to the Temple of Romulus a circular temple with bronze doors, the back of this Temple faces the House of the Vestal Virgins and the Palatine Hill. Always buy your Colluseum passes at this ticket box so no need to line up with the terror-tourists in a queue.
The “Domus Publica” was located in front of a small grove of trees on right over to the left between the Via Sacra and the House of the Vestals. This is a prime piece of real estate where the Pontifex Maximus lived ….in short it’s where the Pope presides over the Vestal Virgins plus other duties. Oh how things have changed.
JC had been the Pontifex Maximus since 62BC and lived in this house with his 4th wife Calpurnia… (Cleopatra and his son Caesarion lived on his estate in Trastevere).
Morning March 15, 44BC, sun is shining, birds are singing, the chariots a clanking. It is the “Ides of March”. JC is hung-over after hitting the amphorae and his wife begs him not to go to the Senate meeting that day. She tells him of a bad dream & JC is worried by her pleas as she is not normally an overly superstitious person. The priests report to him that they have made several animal type sacrifices and found them to be inauspicious.
What with ill health, bad omens, Calpurnia’s dream and pleas, and now these unfavourable sacrifices, its not looking good!
JC hesitates for quite a while and was going to send Marc Anthony to the Curia Pompey to dismiss the Senate, but he decides to go anway to the Senate meeting with a small entourage of friends and unbeknowingly some future conspirators. The group, against advice, went without Spanish bodyguards as he had dismissed them earlier.
Even if JC had heard rumours of a conspiracy this would be typical of him for if battles were turning against him, he would send away his horse and his bodguards to fight alongside his men. His bravery would rally his troops on to victory. What a man?
The Via Sacra outside his home has people waiting to give petitions for spurious needs amongst them Artemidorus a teacher of Greek with a message to warn JC of the conspiracy which somehow he is privy to. Artemidorus pushes thru the crowd and hands JC his message which he attempts to read but he gets distracted by the people. It will still be in his hand and unread when he enters the Senate.
Too late it seems.
The Curia is 1km away on the other side of the Capitoline Hill so go behind the Arch of Septimius Severus anti-clockwise around the Hill (JC’s route). Check out Clivus Argentarius the road he took with the original paving stones on the road directly behind the Forum of Julius Caesar.
The Curia Pompey was a little smaller, the 2 backdoors would have been large windows, the Senator’s seats would also be on the right & left of these steps and the Statue of Pompey would have been centre against the back wall on the slightly raised podium in the rear.
Exit the Forum in front of the Vittorio Emmanuelle II Monument and face the large traffic square in front of it – the Piazza Venezia. The main street at the opposite end coming in is Via Del Corso which goes to the Piazza d. Popolo and then continues on as the Via Flamina to the path of the ancient road that left Rome.
JC’s litter would have taken Via San Marco, across the street is Piazza d. S. Marco on the left side of the Piazza Venezia. Left of the piazza is a green wooden kiosk in the middle of the sidewalk which sells tickets for the Archeobus Tours so pick-up a pamphlet ‘Catacombs & other sites outside the Walls of Rome’ to perve on.
“Area Sacra” in the Largo di Torre Argentina has four temples in an excavated block below street level. JC’s litter would have passed-by the left side of this temple and somehow entered the Porticus of Pompey in the south eastern corner or side which turned right to go to the front steps of the Curia. This was centred in the backend of the Porticus with the Theatre of Pompey at the other end.
Cross Via di Torre Argentina and turn right behind the temples in the Temple area across the street you’ll see 6 columns rising above street level. A black iron and plexiglass fence surrounds these temples. On the right stairs leading down into the site with sign no admittance go to the left of this to a brick wall which is part of this fence. A short section of this fence connected to a white stone fence post section is a tree which is in the centre front of the Curia. The front steps were most likely located beneath the building behind where JC’s litter was put down upon the ground.
The local news says on the 14th March a King-Bird flew into the Curia carrying a sprig of laurel pursued by other birds which attacked tearing it to pieces – yet more omens? Of course JC wears a gold laurel wreath crown.
The Senator – cum Conspirators – have been waiting around since early morning with their daggers clutched beneath their robes. Also hidden nearby are a group of Gladiators which will be called upon if things start to go belly-up. Senator Popilius Laenas whispers to Brutus and Cassius “My wishes are with you, may you accomplish what you design and I advise you to make no delay, for this is now no secret”.
Well talk about everyone but the bride knowing what was going on as the lads are now probably past the point of no return, it is either kill or be killed.
JC’s litter arrives and Popilius Laenas walks over and starts chatting and the conspirators surmise the worst. Popilius chews the fat & kisses JC’s hand and walks away. Perhaps backing each way with the conspirators if they won and acting if everything was normal with JC in case he won?
Up the steps goes Caesar past the Soothsayer Spurina who had told him… “Beware of a danger that will come no later than the Ides of March”
This is Beware the Ides of March of Billy Shakespeare’s fame.
Tales of legend say that JC tosses him an aside “The Ides of March have come”. Spurina calmly replies “Yes, but not yet passed”. Marc Anthony and Marcus Lepidus are snookered outside in a contrived conversation so JC entered the Curia alone. The stairs to the right marks the ‘Remains of the central exedra of Pompey’s Porticus or Senate House’ the site that JC was assassinated on March 15, 44BC in front of the Statue of Pompey.
Pompey was a General & political ally in an arraigned marriage to Caesars daughter Julia but JC had defeated Pompey in a civil war and he was murdered trying to escape to Egypt so some what prophetically he dies at the foot of the Pompey’s Statue.
Big Julius is surrounded by the conspirators, many of these men are men he trusts or had pardoned after winning the civil war, all probably paying phoney respect. Suddenly Tillius grasps JC’s robe with both hands as a signal to attack. Publius Casca stabs him in the shoulder and Caesar shouts “Vile Casca, What does this mean?”
A frenzied attack ensues as the conspiritors thrusted madly in a pact in blood. Caesar in fighting for his life sees a trusted friend Brutus whom he had pardoned after the civil war, with his dagger drawn and raised. Stepping up to the plate the words we all know but not all agree. “Et tu, Brute?” then “You to Brutus?” in Latin of course circa Shakespeare.
Suetonius claims JC said to Brutus in Greek “Kai su, teknon. Even you, my child?”
My head chef says “Ate yet Brute?” to which he replied “No thanks, eaten already”
Bleeding from stab wounds he dies at the base of the bloodied Statue of Pompey as his head is covered with his robe. Brutus attempts to give a speech on the reason for their act but nobody is hanging about to listen as the Senators rapidly fled in shock panic.
Antony and Lepidus flee the area and go into hiding from the conspirators not knowing Brutus has forbidden their deaths. This is a fatal mistake for the big B. The conspirators leave the Curia and march en mass to the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill confidently calling to the people to “Resume your liberty, Julius Caesar is dead”.
That afternoon Brutus talked to the people in the Forum that the deed is done, it’s over no in-fighting, civil war or revenge, just Peace. Lepidus, master of the Horse-Cavalry, occupies the centre of the city that night hoping to keep the peace as he probably expects to be the one to assume power.
Morning of the 16th the Senate convenes as, Cicero wants amnesty, Lepidus wants justice and revenge and Antony wants a compromise so a deal is struck. The conspirators will get amnesty and positions, Caesar will be deified, all acts and laws must remain, including allowing the troops to keep their goods and money.
The main man Lepidus loses his “ace-in-the-hole” with his troops getting paid out so Marc Antony convinces him to accept the status quo. The Senate finalizes the new deals thankful to Marc Antony for the compromise that avoided another civil war as the conspirators received overseas postings – Brutus to Crete – Cassius to Africa – Decimus Brutus to Cisalpine Gaul.
Everything seems well for the conspirators but Brutus had made two fatal mistakes. Cassius had wanted to kill Antony with Caesar and was opposed to a public funeral and Will reading that Brutus had agreed to. The funeral is held in the Forum on the 18th (some say the 20th) where the body is to be brought to the Campus Martius for a funeral pyre built near his family tomb.
Julius Caesar’s Will is read to the crowd naming several of the conspirators as guardians to any son that he might father, he leaves 300 Sesterces to each Roman Citizen and his gardens near the Tiber to use as a public park! Here folks is the catalyst to ramping up the great unwashed as Antony steps-up to the edge of the Rostra and addresses the crowd possibly reminiscent a la Marlon Brando Hollywood circa 1960.
A eulogy for his friend, Julius Caesar ended with these words. “Of what avail, O Caesar was your humanity, of what avail your inviolability, of what avail the laws?” “Nay, though you enacted many laws that men might not be killed by their personal foes, yet now mercilessly you yourself were slain by your Friends!” “And now, the victim of assassination, you lie dead in the Forum through which you often led the Triumph crowned; wounded to death, you have been cast down upon the Rostra from which you often addressed the People.”
“Woe for the blood-bespattered locks of gray, alas the rent robe (purple was only worn by rulers), which you assumed, it seems, only that you might be slain in it!”
Antony then grabs and holds up Caesar’s blood-soaked robe to the crowd showing the cuts made by the assassin’s knives leaving no doubt that the great man was the victim of tyranny. Who knows if any of the conspirators were at the Will reading & funeral that day but if they were they would have been on the fastest chariot out of town heading for the Dolomites.
Roman rulers were always cremated and buried outside of the city walls but the Mob took Caesars body to cremate on a pyre in front of the Regia. The Mob marches to torch Brutus and Cassius’s houses and kill them but the conspirators had fled Rome. The civil war that all wished to avoid is about to begin eventually leading to the demise of all 60 conspirators within 3 years.
I have walked past the Curia to the Temple of Julius Caesar through the little entrance under a tin roof which looks like a garden shed where upon the ground the remains of the concrete core of the Altar had a few flowers placed upon it. It certainly is the barest, most unassuming sacred historical site and is hard to believe it’s where JC was cremated and the Temple built. Wander the Forum site and suck in the ambient atmosphere recharging your water bottle at Il Naso the big nose fountain whilst pondering these historical scenes.
Brutus falls on his own sword after being defeated in battle by Antony but is given an honourable cremation and a miester does the right thing sending his ashes to his mother.
Cicero is killed by Antony’s troops while attempting to flee Italy and his head and hands are returned to Rome and displayed on the Rostra. Cassius uses the same dagger he stabbed JC with to kill himself, Octavian (later called Augustus) becomes Caesar as per JC’s will and with Antony and Lepidus as co-rulers fight the civil war until a falling-out in latter years.
Cleopatra and her three year old son Caesarion by Caesar flee Rome to Alexandria but she gathers up Antony to become lovers as he battled to retain Egypt for Rome. Caesarion has no chance and is murdered on Augustus’s orders stating…“A multiplicity of Caesars is not a good thing”.
Later Augustus has the Statue of Pompey moved into Pompey’s theatre, the Curia walled-up, the Ides of March called the “Day of Parricide” and the Senate is to never meet again on that fateful day.
The civil war ends with Marc Antony and Cleopatra’s naval defeat at Actium in Sept 31BC. Antony’s commits suicide no doubt this leads to the famous Asp clutch as Cleopatra followed in Aug 30BC. Lepidus lost his wealth and power but he was made Pontifex Maximus after a period thus saving his own bacon.