Julius Caesar

Beware the Ides of March. March 15, 44 BC.

“Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, It seems to me most strange that men should fear, Seeing that death, a necessary end, Will come when it will come.” Julius Caesar (Act II, Scene 2, Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare)   By 44 BC Gaius Julius Caesar was the most famous and controversial man in Rome. A populist political star and great writer, he excelled in the military realm as well, pulling off a lightning conquest of Gaul – roughly, France and Belgium – as well as invading Britain and Germany (58–50 BC). When his enemies, the old guard in the Senate, removed him from command, Caesar invaded Italy. He went on to total victory in a civil war (49–45 BC) that ranged across the Mediterranean. ...

Crossing the Rubicon. January 10, 49 BC.

During the Roman Republic, the river Rubicon marked the boundary between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul to the north-west and Italy proper (controlled directly by Rome and its allies) to the south. Exercising imperium when forbidden by the law was a capital offence. Furthermore, obeying the commands of a general who did not legally possess imperium was a capital offence. If a general entered Italy whilst exercising command of an army, both the general and his soldiers became outlaws and were automatically condemned to death. Generals were thus obliged to disband their armies before entering Italy. In 49 BC, perhaps on January 10, Julius Caesar led a single legion, south over the Rubicon from Cisalpine Gaul to Italy to make his way to Rome. In doing so, he deliberately broke the law o...

The Julian Calendar. January 1, 45 BC.

  In the mid-1st century BCE Julius Caesar invited astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria to advise him about the reform of the calendar, and Sosigenes decided that the only practical step was to abandon the lunar calendar altogether. Months must be arranged on a seasonal basis, and a tropical (solar) year used, as in the Egyptian calendar, but with its length taken as 365 1/4 days. To remove the immense discrepancy between calendar date and equinox, it was decided that the year known in modern times as 46 BCE should have two intercalations. This insertion amounted to an addition of 67 days, making a year of no less than 445 days and causing the beginning of March 45 BCE in the Roman republican calendar to fall on what is still called January 1 of the Julian calendar. Previous errors havi...

End of the Siege and Battle of Alesia. 5 October, 52 BC.

The Siege and Battle of Alesia meant the end of the Gallic Wars, and took place from September to October 52 BC. It befell around the Gallic fortified settlement of Alesia, “capital” of the Mandubii tribe. It confronted the Roman army of Julius Caesar against an alliance of Gallic tribes, united under the leadership of Vercingetorix of the Averni. In history, it is considered one of Caesar´s most important military victories, as well as a classic example of siege warfare. This battle marked the end of the Gallic independence of France and Belgium. The day after the battle, Caesar ordered the Gauls to surrender their weapons and deliver their chieftains. The chieftains were brought before him and Vercingetorix was surrendered. For Caesar, Alesia was an enormous personal success, both milita...

Battle of Pharsalus – August 8, 48 BC

Pharsalus, modern-day Farsala, is a city in central Greece, in southern Thessaly. It was the site of one of the most important Roman battles – the climactic clash between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great, on August 9, 48 BC. When Caesar crossed the Rubicon River with Legio XIII Gemina, a treasonous act in January of 49 BC, he knew he was declaring war against the Senate and the optimates. Although he was heading from Gaul to Rome with only one legion, it was enough to force Pompey and most of the Senate to flee to Greece. Caesar didn’t have the resources to chase them, so he worked to strengthen his forces and through Spain gained the fleet he needed. Pompey had the backing of most of the Senate and had a far more substantial number of troops to command. However, the army Caesar did have...

Roman Republican Coins

The Roman Republican period began after the Roman Kingdom was overthrown by Roman nobles in 509 BC and lasted until the establishment of the Roman Empire by Octavian/Augustus in 27 BC. Although coinage began in the Greek world before the beginning of the Republic, sheep and lumps of bronze were used as vehicles of trade. The lumps of bronze had to be weighed during each transaction to determine their value and these are called aes rude and considered proto-money and very collectible. Near the end of the 4th Century BC, some began to make flat bronze bars with or without a design on them, roughly weighing five Roman pounds, or libra. A libra weighed 328.9 grams. These flat bars are called aes signatum and are another form of proto-money. The city of Rome began producing its own aes signatum...

The New Capital – May 11, 330 AD

The city of Byzantium was founded in the 7th Century BC as part of the Greek colonial expansion. Byzantium had the benefits of a large seaport in the form of the Golden Horn, as well as being positioned on the way between Europe and Asia for trade by land, and the Black and Mediterranean Seas for trade by water. In 324 AD, Constantine the Great founded on the site of the still-existing city of Byzantium, and began construction of what would be called Konstantinoupolis. Rome was too distant from the frontiers of the empire, so Constantine set about plans to make some drastic changes. Over the next six years, the city grew until on May 11, 330 AD, Constantine officially dedicated Constantinople the new capital of the Roman Empire. The city was divided into 14 regions to emulate Rome. However...

Ptolemy XIII – March 25, 47 BC

At the time, Cleopatra VII Thea Philopater was coregent with her father, Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos Theos Philopater Theos Philadelphos, before his death. During Spring, 51 BC, Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopater succeeded his father, and became co-ruler with his sister, Cleopatra, as per Ptolemy’s will, executed by the Roman Senate. Cleopatra married her co-ruler brother, and their leadership roles reversed in October, 50 BC. Since Ptolemy was only 11 or 12 at the time, the eunuch Pothinus was appointed regent for him. Cleopatra was seven years older than her brother and over the next two years her influence as queen grew steadily – her portrait appeared on coinage, whereas Ptolemy’s name didn’t appear on official documents. In Spring, 48 BC, Ptolemy and Pothinus attempted to depose Cleopatra, b...

Leap Year – February 29

One of the most well-known events of ancient Rome occurred on March 15, 44 BC – the assassination of Julius Caesar. But, what is the “Ides of March” of which Caesar was warned by a seer to beware? The Roman calendar didn’t mark dates numerically as we do today. Instead, they had three fixed points in each month and worked their way backwards from those three points. The three points were the Nones, Ides and Kalends. The original Roman calendar, the Calendar of Romulus, was said to have been made by the founder of Rome in 753 BC. This calendar consisted of 10 months of either 30 or 31 days, equaling 304 days, with the remainder of days in winter unassigned to any month and called the “intercalary month”. The ten months and their origins were Martius (Mars the god), Aprilis (Virilis the godd...

Father of the Country – February 5, 2 BC

The title of Pater Patriae, or Father of the Country, was first given to a Roman general – Marcus Furius Camillus, in 386 BC. It was an honorary title conferred by the Senate, and in the case of Camillus, it was given because of his role after the siege of Rome in the Battle of the Allia by Gallic invaders, when he routed the Senones and was determined to be the second founder of the city, after Romulus. Roman imperial coinage The title would not be used again for over three hundred years, when the Senate would confer it to consul Marcus Tullius Cicero in 63 BC, for his role in the exposing the Second Catalinarian Conspiracy to overthrow the Roman Republic by senator Lucius Sergius Catalina and various members of the senate and equestrian ranks. Cicero intercepted letters the conspirators ...

Temple of Divus Julius – August 18, 29 BC

After Julius Caesar was murdered by Brutus, Cassius, and the others on the Senate floor in 44 BC, the Senate deified Caesar in 42 BC. Octavian, Caesar’s adopted heir, began construction of the Temple of Divvs Ivlivs (Temple of the Divine Julius Caesar) after the deification. It was completed and dedicated in Rome on August 18, 29 BC, after the Battle of Actium, with the defeat by Octavian of Marc Antony and Cleopatra. The temple stands on the site of Caesar’s cremation. This is a category of  julius caesar coins. After some time after the death of Caesar, a comet appeared and was clearly visible for seven days. The comet appeared for the first time during the ritual games in front of the Temple of Venus Genetrix, the fabled ancestor of the Julii, of which Caesar was part. The Romans though...

Io Saturnalia – December 17-23

Although initially, the feast of Saturnalia began on December 17 in ancient Roman times, it was later expanded run to December 23. The Roman god, Saturn, presided over several aspects of life, including agriculture, wealth, liberation and time. As such, his festival period was a time to exchange gifts and engage in social activities otherwise not acceptable. Slaves were allowed to reverse roles with their masters during feasting and were allowed free speech. The traditional Roman toga was replaced with brightly-colored Greek synthesis, or cenatoria (dinner wear). Citizens and slaves alike were allowed to wear the pileus, as opposed to the bare-headed norm. During the festivities, gambling and playing dice was permitted by everyone. It was a time of over-eating and over-drinking. Horace wro...

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