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This Week In History

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.

Temple of Caesar

Temple of Julius Caesar

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 thought the comet was the soul of Caesar being called to take its place with the other gods. Octavian, now called Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, gave a public speech about the comet, how it symbolized the soul of Julius Caesar, and how it related to his own destiny. After the speech, Augustus issued a series of coins devoted to the comet star and the Divine Caesar.

Caesar was the first Roman citizen to be deified and have a temple built in his honor and the only temple built exclusively for the cult of a comet. The consecration of the temple lasted for days. During this time, games were held, plays were performed and for the first time, the Romans were treated to the appearance of a hippopotamus and a rhinoceros. The doors to the temple were left open during the dedication, enabling viewers from the Roman Forum to clearly see the large statue of the deified Caesar, holding a lituus and dressed in his priestly garb for his position of Pontifex Maximus.

The temple itself was largely intact until the 15th century, when the exterior was repurposed for new churches and palaces. However, the cement interior core is still partially in place today. Thankfully, there are ancient coins which show some of the details so we can get an idea of how the temple looked. It is still unknown how the columns were arranged, as well as how the rostra and podium were attached.

What is likely accurately reflected is the upper section of the temple. Fire tongues decorated the pediment in Etruscan style, likely similar to the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. The flames can be seen on some of the coins from the Augustan period and are likely meant to symbolize the flame of the comet. The architrave was inscribed DIVO IVL on coins, which may or may not have actually been part of the building design. The tympanum likely did contain a large central star, representing the comet, as coins show.

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