In the footsteps of the Caesars
He was both God and the son of God. And, because his ‘common’ father was not his ‘real’ father, it was said his was a virgin birth.
A few months before his birth, a portent was observed which gave warning that nature was pregnant with a king for the people. So, the rulers in consternation decreed that no male child born that year should be reared, but, as this was badly implemented, the infant, and many others, escaped an early death.
He was born next to the head of an ox and considered the bringer of peace and a unifier, indeed, a messiah.
God was murdered after being betrayed by someone he trusted. Then, though accused of acting against the interests of both the people and its rules, he in fact forgave everyone who had acted against him.
After the betrayal, his body was put up for all to see, with fresh wounds clearly visible to all. Later, the first to convert to the new religion, praising the new God, where Jews who dispersed throughout the Roman empire. And their story was particularly dominant in communities in the more distant, particularly Middle Eastern, regions of the lands controlled by Rome.
I am, of course, talking about Augustus, the first Roman emperor, and his adopted father, Julius Caesar.
The portent about the future king was observed in Rome and, as a consequence, the senate declared that all newborns should not be raised.
Augustus (then still Octavian) was born in a part of Rome called Ox Head. Though I’m not aware of a connection to a donkey, the donkey and the ox being the two animals that, at minimum are typically displayed in a nativity scene.
It was Caesar who was betrayed. By many, not just one, though the betrayal of Brutus, with Caesar considering Brutus like a son, stung the most. After Caesar’s death, his body was cremated, but before that, a wax effigy, a copy of Caesar’s body made after his death, was ‘raised for all to see’, with copies of all his stab wounds, while Caesar’s best friend was giving a passionate speech.
How the effigy was erected is not really clear from historical sources, only one describes the funeral in detail, and some speculate the effigy was raised using a tropaeum, the cross-like Roman banner carried into battle.
Caesar’s best friend was Marc Anthony, who pointed out in his speech that those who had betrayed and killed him were exactly the ones Caesar had first forgiven for their earlier actions against him, keeping them in their earlier positions, and even promoting them. On top of that, a crier accompanied Marc Anthony and the body of Caesar, with the crier responding to Marc Anthony’s speech, the crier essentially being the voice of Caesar.
Caesar had annulled many of the restrictions on Jews in Rome and in the Roman empire, specifically lowering their taxes. The Jews were said to be the biggest mourners at his cremation and, after his death, dispersed throughout the empire. In addition, Caesar’s, and later Augustus’, veterans, telling and re-telling their story, were settled in remote regions of the Empire, given land to retire with, spreading the story of their lives and commanders to peoples with whom they could not easily communicate, for their difficulty in understanding Latin and the veterans’ difficulty in understanding the local vernacular.
I would have preferred visiting Rome on the ides of March, the anniversary of Caesar’s death, indeed pretty much coinciding with easter celebrations. On that day, yearly, at the location of Caesar’s killing, the betrayal of Caesar is reenacted by a troupe of actors and fans. The location itself was only positively identified a few years ago, and has been a cat sanctuary for a long time, taking up a city block of Roman ruins.
Instead, I visited two weeks later, coinciding exactly with easter itself.
Turns out there’s an easter ceremony I was not aware of: In the center of Rome, the pope performs the steps of the way of the cross, Jesus’ journey to his crucifixion. A ceremony, or service, is then performed from the top of the Palatine hill, the same hill occupied by Rome’s leaders and emperors, with the people attending below.
The crowds were thick, but the pope, holding many of the same titles Caesar, and the emperors that followed, held, said nothing before I had seen enough.
Coincidentally, or not, Jesus also says nothing from the moment he is betrayed. That is, except for some meaningless responses like ‘that is what you say’, affirming what is said to him, making some scholars believe that Jesus, or whomever the story was based on, died at his betrayal.
Remains of the temple of the deified Julius Caesar still exist in the Forum Romanum, though little is left. The place where he was stabbed can still be seen, but only by accident, modern Rome not having taken over. The exact place where Octavian, Augustus, was born is unknown, though the remains of where he lived as emperor Augustus can still be visited and impressive. In a remote corner of the Palatine hill, most tourists forego a visit.
Augustus’ mausoleum was given additional attention by Mussolini, who saw himself as the first emperor of a new Rome, Augustus being the first of the old Rome, but the mausoleum can not be visited, only seen, having been under renovation for years.
I was lucky enough to join a ‘free’ bicycle tour of Rome, moving around with a knowledge architect. The world needs fewer ‘free’ walking tours and more ‘free’ cycling tours.