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Caesar's Triumph

Bust of Caesar. Antikensammlung, Berlin (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering. In April 46, Julius Caesar celebrated a quadruple triumph, which became famous for its extravagance. The end of four wars was celebrated: the war in Gaul, the war in Egypt, the war against Pharnaces of Pontus and the war against king Juba of Numidia. This last war had in fact been a war against the last defenders of the Roman republic, Cato and Scipio.

The triumphs are described by the great Greek historian Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165) in his History of the Civil wars (2.101). The translation was made by John Carter.

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Caesar himself returned to Rome to celebrate four triumphs at once:
  • one over Gaul, where he had brought many large tribes under Roman control and subdued others which had rebelled;
  • a Pontic triumph over Pharnaces;
  • an African triumph over the Africans who had supported Scipio, in which Juba's son, the writer Juba, was carried when he was only a baby;
  • and also a kind of Egyptian triumph, between the Gallic and Pontic processions, for the naval battle on the Nile. 
Although he was careful not to label anything in a triumph as belonging to Romans, because the civil wars were discreditable to himself and bad and ill-omened for the Romans, he none the less carried in procession in these triumphs twenty very varied pictures showing all the events and the persons involved - apart from Pompey, whom alone he decided not to portray, since he was still much missed by all.

The crowd, although they felt intimidated, groaned at the disasters to their own people, and particularly when they saw Lucius Scipio [1], the commander-in-chief, stabbing himself in the chest and throwing himself into the sea, and Petreius committing suicide at his meal [2], and Cato tearing himself apart like a wild animal [3]. They were exultant over Achillas and Pothinus [4] and laughed at the rout of Pharnaces [5].

It is said that money to the value of 65,000 talents was paraded in the triumphal processions, and also 2,822 golden crowns weighing 20,414 pounds. From this, immediately after the triumph, Caesar made distributions in excess of all his promises. To each soldier he gave 5,000 denarii, to each centurion double that amount, to each military tribune and prefect of cavalry double again, and to each member of the Plebs one hundred denarii.

In addition, he put on various shows. There was horse-racing, and musical contests, and combats -one with a thousand foot soldiers opposing another thousand, another with 200 cavalry on each side, and another that was a mixed infantry and cavalry combat, as well as an elephant fight with twenty beasts a side and a naval  battle with 4,000 oarsmen plus a thousand marines on each side to fight.

He built the temple of Venus Genetrix, according to his vow on the eve of the battle of Pharsalus [6], and around the temple he laid out a precinct which he made into a square for the Romans, not a market-square but a place where people could meet to settle business, like the Persians who also had a square for those who wanted to obtain or learn about justice [7]. He put beside the goddess a beautiful statue of Cleopatra, which is still there.

Coin of Caesar, legend 'veni, vidi, vici' (I came, saw, conquered).


Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio (95-46) was the son of Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica but had been adopted into the extremely influential Metelli family. After 52, he belonged to the faction of Pompey, and he continued the struggle against Caesar from Africa, where he was defeated (text).

Marcus Petreius had been with Cato and Scipio during the African campaign. He survived the battle of Thapsus and went to Numidia, where he stayed with king Juba, another ally of the republicans. They stabbed each other over their evening meal.

The conservative politician Marcus Porcius Cato (95-46) was Caesar's worst enemy. From the very first beginning of Caesar's career, Cato had tried to obstruct his policies, which was the main cause of Caesar's chaotic consulship (59). Cato tried to defend the old republic, whereas men like Pompey and Caesar were looking for new ways of government. After 52, he belonged to the faction of Pompey, and he continued the struggle against Caesar from Africa, where he was besieged at Utica near Carthage. When surrender became unavoidable, he tried to commit suicide by cutting open his stomach; however, he was found and rescued. During the night, he cut open his belly again and died.

Achillas and Pothinus were courtiers who had played a role during the war in Egypt.

The battle of Zela (47) had been an easy one for the Romans, or so it was believed. Caesar's famous summary of the campaign: veni, vidi, vici (came, saw, conquered), however, may be exaggerated.

In August 48, Caesar had defeated the republicans near Pharsalus in Greece. It meant the end of the organized resistance against his monarchy. The war against Cato and Scipio was, after Pharsalus, a mere mopping-up operation.

This is the Forum of Caesar, Rome's second forum, situated right north of the old Forum Romanum. The temple of Venus Genetrix was on this new forum, and the statue of Cleopatra was one of the wonders of ancient Rome. It has been described by several authors.

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