I wish I could have seen at least one of the parades in the first week of September, 46 B.C..E. They lasted over four days and the spectacle must have been magnificent. Each morning the units formed up on property once owned by the last King of Rome - renamed the Field of Mars. There were cohorts of unarmed soldiers, battalions of slaves, wagons piled high with booty and treasures, and bizarre animals from distant conquered lands. All four parades were to exalt just one man, Julius Ceasar. When all was ready each day, Ceasar, dressed in his Senatorial robe (called in Latin "a candidus") edged in divine purple and with a laurel wreath atop his bald head, would climb into his chariot, and enter the usually bared Gate of Triumph. Just inside the city walls Ceasar would symbolically surrender his command to representatives of the Roman Senate and the Urban Praetir – the mayor. But if he bothered to notice each day, Ceasar would have seen increasing tension on the face of one man in particular, the Praetor and Senator, Marcus Junius Brutus.
The politician Cicero described his contemporary Brutus as having “the courage of a man but the brains of a child”. You see, Brutus suffered from daddy issues. His father had been a first rate lawyer and a second rate politician. In 78 B.C.E. Brutus the elder had gotten involved with the Catiline Conspiracy. How much Burtus the elder actually knew of the murky plot is debatable, but he ended up in the Cisalpine city of Mutina (modern Modena), besieged by an army loyal to the Senate. The elder Brutus worked out a deal to surrender the town and switch sides. But the Senate army commander, Pompey the Great, decided he couldn't trust the elder Brutus, and had him executed. Thirty years later Brutus the Younger took up to the sword to fight for the Senate and for his idol, Pompey - the man who had orphaned him.
The senators now led the Triumph along the Sacred Way, between cheering crowds. Behind them came the trumpeters, followed by the carts of booty, the slaves, and two white sacrificial bulls. Then came the stacks of captured arms, and then the political prisoners, the generals, kings and queens, staggering in their chains. And only then came Ceasar, under a shower of flowers. He was over 50 now, but still handsome to Roman eyes. Behind him came men from his legions, singing obscene soldier songs, mostly about their commander.
The widow of Brutus the Elder had become the mistress of the young Julius Ceasar. Their affair was so well known in Rome that it was rumored Ceasar was the younger Brutus' real father. It was an absurd claim. The year Brutus was born, Ceasar was just 15. Still, the rumors reufsed to die, and even gained popularity after Pompey's defeat at Physallus in 48 B.C. After fighting alongside Pompey in that battle, Brutus had written Ceasar a letter of apology. And amazingly, Ceasar had forgiven him, even adopting him and appointing him governor of TransAlpine Gaul, one of Ceasar's old posts.
Now, Ceasar's policy of magnanimity was an obvious attempt to make his one-time enemies beholden to him. But in the case of Brutus, Ceasar was also trying to avoiding hurting his old girlfriend, Burtus' mother. I get the feeling this is what passed for love with Ceasar, dispensing favors as a substitute for affection and intimacy. And if you were expecting more from the great man, you were certain to be disappointed. Open affection was not Ceasar's style. Besides, after Pompey's death, he was pretty busy.
Once each Triumphant parade had reached the Capitoline Hill, Ceasar climbed the steps to the Temple of Jupiter. Before entering he removed his laurel wreath as a sign of humility. Then, inside, he watched the two while bulls sacrificed, and their blood was smeared on his face. Then he handed over his political prisoners, such as Leader of the Gauls, Vercongetroix. In fact the big Gaul had spent the last five years held a few hundred yards away, in the prison atop Tullianum Rock. Now he was returned to the prison, lowered back into the dungeon, and tied to a post. A strung bow was slipped over his head and twisted until he was slowly strangled to death. Not all political prisoners were sacrificed during Ceasar's four triumphs. On day two Celepatra 7's younger sister, Arsinoe 4, was spared, but sent to a temple in Greece, which she was not permitted to leave for the rest of her life.
In October 48 B.C., after learning of the death of Pompey, Ceasar had taken possession of the royal palace in Alexandria, Egypt. He then destroyed the army of the Pharoah Ptolemy 13 and his younger sister Arsinoe 4. He drowned, she had been captured. Then Ceasar set Cleopatra 7 on the throne, making a firm alliance with her to feed his armies and refill his purse. After a fertile diversion with Cleo, on June 23, 47 B.C., Ceasar set off on a forced march, reminiscent of his quick invasion of Spain two years earlier. Ceasar crossed the Sinai, marched through Judea and Syria, and the eastern half of modern day Turkey, covering 800 miles in just 47days. On August 2nd at Zile, Ceasar crushed an army under the the rebellous King Pharnaces, and captured his Roman Senate advisor, Gaius Cassius Longinus. So smashing was his victory, that Ceasar's message informing the Senate was reduced to only three words - “veni, vidi, vici”. The translation reads, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” But in this case, Ceasar proved to be slightly optimistic.
His mistake was underestimating Cassius, a smart and feisty aristocrat. Cassius had warned against the invasion of Parthia back in 53 B.C. The few legionnaires who survived the debacle of Carrhea, were saved because Cassius lead them to safety. But after his own capture in 47 B.C., when Caesar offered Cassius a command in the expedition to destroy the last of the Senates' forces in Tunisia, Cassius said no. Almost any other Roman politician would have killed Cassius for that refusal. But again, Caesar was being magnanimous. He even decided to risk leaving this hot head unattended, loose in Rome.
Leaving the Temple of Jupiter, Ceasar now stood at the top of the steps while Marc Anthony held the laural wreath over his head. The crowd cheered this ritual, meant to display the hero's rejection of an offer of Kingship. But it seemed to those with suspicious minds that on each of the four days, Ceasar waited a little longer before rejecting the laurel wreath. Brutus wasn't certain he noticed such reluctance on Ceasar's part. But his brother-in-law Cassius, assured Brutus that he had indeed seen it.
From the Capitaline Hill, the Sacred Way and the the Triumpate parade led to the Circus Flaminius, adjacent to the Tiber River and Mars' Field. Here the city held amateur chariot races, and public meetings. Now long tables were set for a banquet, where thousands of average Roman citizens could feast on exotic foods from the newly conquered lands. But this had been a civil war, Roman had killed Roman, and other than the first days triumph to celebrate Ceasar's conquest of Gaul (50 B.C.), the lands Ceasar had recently conquered had already been Roman lands. There were many within the Senate who did not feel Ceasar should have been granted a triumph for his victories over Egypt (48 B.C.), King Pharnaces (47 B.C.) and the Senate Armies in North Africa and Spain (46 B.C.)
But the promise of parades and free meals, and the hundreds of new Senators Ceasar had appointed, had swayed the Senate to vote to approve the unprecedented four Triumphs. As the sun set on the final Triumph, as the last tipsy guest staggered off to the vomitorium, Julius Ceasar was at the pinnacle of his power.
But of all men, Ceasar was the most likely to have known, there was nowhere left to go from here but down.
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