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The Funeral of Julius Caesar, 44 BCE

[Davis Introduction]:

How after the murder of Julius Caesar (15th of March, 44 B.C.) Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony), his friend, and, in virtue of the consulship, chief magistrate, roused the Roman multitude against the assassins by his famous funeral oration is known mainly through the incomparable version given by Shakespeare [Julius Caesar: Act II, Scene 2]. The account by Appian differs in some particulars from its great imitation. For this reason, as well as for its inherent historic value, the narrative of Appian possesses high interest. It is, of course, far less dramatic, but it is more nearly history.

Caesar's will was now produced and the people ordered that it be read at once. In it, Octavian, his sister's grand-son, was adopted by Caesar. His gardens were given to the people as a place of recreation, and to every Roman living in the city, he gave 75 Attic drachmas [Arkenberg: about $186 in 1998 dollars]. The people too were stirred to anger when they saw the will of this lover of his country, whom they had before heard accused of tyranny. Most of all did it seem pitiful to them that Decimus Brutus, one of the murderers, should have been named by him for adoption in the second degree; for it was usual for the Romans to name alternate heirs in case of the failure of the first.

When Piso brought Caesar's body into the Forum a countless multitude ran together with arms to guard it, and with acclamations and magnificent display placed it on the rostra. Wailing and lamentation were renewed for a long time; the armed men clashed their shields. Antony, seeing how things were going, did not abandon his purpose, but having been chosen to deliver the funeral oration, as a consul for a consul, as a friend for a friend, a relative for a relative (he was kin to Caesar on the mother's side), resumed his artful design, and spoke thus: "It is not fitting, fellow citizens, that the funeral oration of so great a man should be pronounced by me alone, but rather by his whole country. The decrees which all of us, in equal admiration for his merit, voted to him while he was alive---Senate and People acting together---I will read, so that I may voice your sentiments rather than merely mine."

Then he began to read with a severe and gloomy countenance; pronouncing each sentence distinctly, and dwelling especially on those decrees which declared Caesar to be "superhuman, sacred and inviolable," and which named him "The Father of his Country," or "The Benefactor," or "The Chief without a Peer." With each decree, Antony turned his face and his hand towards Caesar's corpse, illustrating his discourse by his action, and at each appellation he added some brief remark full of grief and indignation; as, for example, where the decree spoke of Caesar as "The Father of his Country," he added that this was a testimonial of his clemency; and again, where he was made "Sacred and Inviolable," and that "everybody was to be held sacred and inviolate who should find refuge in him."

"Nobody," said Antony, "who found refuge in him was harmed, but he, whom you declared sacred and inviolate was killed, although he did not extort these honors from you as a tyrant, and did not even ask them. Most servile are we if we give such honors to the unworthy who do not ask for them. But you, faithful citizens, vindicate us from this charge of servility by paying such honors as you now pay to the dead."

Antony resumed his reading, and recited the oaths by which all were pledged to guard Caesar and Caesar's body with all their strength, and all were devoted to perdition who should not avenge him in any conspiracy. Here lifting up his voice, and extending his hand toward the Capitol, he exclaimed, "Jupiter, Guardian of this City, and you other gods, I stand here ready to avenge him as I have sworn and vowed, but since those that are of equal rank with me have considered the decree of amnesty beneficial, I pray that it may prove so."

A commotion arose among the Senators in consequence of this exclamation which seemed to have special reference to them. So Antony quieted them again and recanted, saying, "To me, fellow citizens, this deed seems to be not the work of human beings, but of some evil spirit. It becomes us to consider the present rather than the past. Let us then conduct this sacred one to the abode of the blest, chanting our wonted hymn of lamentation for him."

Having thus spoken, he gathered up his garments like a man inspired, girded himself so that he might have free use of his hands, took his position in front of the bier, as in a play, bending down to it, and rising again, and sang first as to a celestial deity. . . . [Davis: He declaimed on Caesar's "god-like origin," victories, and spoils he had brought to Rome] exclaiming, "You alone have come forth unvanquished from all the battles you have fought! You alone have avenged your country of the outrages put upon it three hundred years ago [Davis: by the Gauls], bringing to their knees the savage tribes, the only ones that ever broke into and burned Rome."

Carried away by extreme passion, he uncovered the body of Caesar, lifted his robe on the top of a spear, and shook it aloft, pierced with the dagger thrusts, and red with the Dictator's blood. Whereupon the people, like a chorus, mourned with him in a most doleful manner, and from sorrow became again filled with anger. After more lamentations the people could stand it no longer. It seemed to them monstrous that all the murderers, who, save Decimus Brutus, had been made prisoners while siding with Pompey, and who, instead of being punished, had been advanced by Caesar to the magistracies of Rome, and to the command of provinces and armies, should have conspired against him, and that Decimus should have been deemed by him worthy of adoption as a son.

While they were in this temper, and were already nigh to violence, someone raised above the bier an image of Caesar himself, wrought of wax. As for the actual body, since it lay on its back upon the couch, it could not be seen. The image was turned around and around by a mechanical device, showing the twenty-three wounds on all parts of the body and the face---which gave him a shocking appearance. The people could no longer bear the pitiful sight presented to them. They groaned, and girding themselves, they burned the Senate chamber, where Caesar had been slain, and ran hither and thither searching for the murderers, who had fled some time previously.

They were so mad with rage and grief, that, like wild beasts, they tore in pieces the tribune Cinna on account of the similarity of his name to the praetor Cinna, who had made a speech against Caesar, not waiting to hear any explanation about the similarity of name---so that no part of him was ever found for burial. They carried fire to the houses of the other murderers, but the servants bravely fought them off, and the neighbors begged them to desist. So the people abstained from using fire, but threatened to come back with arms on the following day.

The murderers fled from the city secretly. The people returned to Caesar's bier, and bore it as something consecrated to the Capitol in order to bury it in the temple and place it among the gods. Being prevented from so doing by the priests, they placed it again in the Forum, where of old had stood the palace of the kings of Rome. There they collected together sticks of wood and benches, of which there were many in the Forum, and anything else that they could find of this sort, for a funeral pile, throwing on it the adornments of the procession, some of which were very costly. Some of them cast their own crowns upon it and many military gifts. Then they set fire to it, and the entire people remained by the funeral pile throughout the night.

There an altar was at first erected, but now stands on the spot the Temple of Caesar himself, for he was deemed worthy of divine honors; since Octavius, his adoptive son, who took the name of Caesar, and following in his footsteps in political policy, greatly strengthened the government founded by Caesar, which government remains to this day---and decreed divine honors to his "fathers." From this example the Romans now pay like honors to each emperor at his death, if he has not reigned in a tyrannical manner or made himself odious, although at first they could not bear to call them kings while living.



From: William Stearns Davis, ed., Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 154-158.

Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg has modernized the text.

This text is part of the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to ancient history.

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© Paul Halsall, June 1998

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