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Funeral of Julius Caesar

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

On March 15, 44 BCE, the Roman dictator Gaius Julius Caesar was murdered. A few days later, he was cremated in the Roman forum. Several ancient sources have survived about this event. One of them is the work of Suetonius.

During Caesar’s funeral, the host of the ceremony Antony, with his dramatic speech and the raising of a bloody gown of the deceased, caused the agitation of the Roman people. What’s more, a wax doll hung over the body of the deceased, on which it was demonstrated where the blows were given. Riots broke out, which forced the conspirators to leave the city. This description of further events was left to us by Suetonius:

When the funeral was announced, a pyre was erected in the Campus Martius near the tomb of Julia1, and on the rostra a gilded shrine was placed, made after the model of the temple of Venus Genetrix; within was a couch of ivory with coverlets of purple and gold, and at its head a pillar hung with the robe in which he was slain. Since it was clear that the day would not be long enough for those who offered gifts, they were directed to bring them to the Campus by whatsoever streets of the city they wished, regardless of any order of precedence. At the funeral games, to rouse pity and indignation at his death, these words from the “Contest for the Arms”2 of Pacuvius3 were sung: “Saved I these men that they might murder me?”4 and words of like purport from the “Electra” of Atilius. Instead of a eulogy the consul Antonius caused a herald to recite the decree of the Senate in which it had voted Caesar all divine and human honours at once, and likewise the oath with which they had all pledged themselves to watch over his personal safety; to which he added a very few words of his own. The bier on the rostra was carried down into the Forum by magistrates and ex-magistrates; and while some were urging that it be burned in the temple of Jupiter on the Capitol, and others in the Hall of Pompey, on a sudden two beings with swords by their sides and brandishing a pair of darts set fire to it with blazing torches, and at once the throng of bystanders heaped upon it dry branches, the judgment seats with the benches, and whatever else could serve as an offering. Then the musicians and actors tore off their robes, which they had taken from the equipment of his triumphs and put on for the occasion, rent them to bits and threw them into the flames, and the veterans of the legions the arms with which they had adorned themselves for the funeral; many of the women too, offered up the jewels which they wore and the amulets5 and robes of their children6. At the height of the public grief a throng of foreigners went about lamenting each after the fashion of his country, above all the Jews7, who even flocked to the place for several successive nights.

Immediately after the funeral the commons ran to the houses of Brutus and Cassius with firebrands, and after being repelled with difficulty, they slew Helvius Cinna8 when they met him, through a mistake in the name, supposing that he was Cornelius Cinna9, who had the day before made a bitter indictment of Caesar and for whom they were looking; and they set his head upon a spear and paraded it about the streets. Afterwards they set up in the Forum a solid column of Numidian marble •almost twenty feet high, and inscribed upon it, “To the Father of his Country.” At the foot of this they continued for a long time to sacrifice, make vows, and settle some of their disputes by an oath in the name of Caesar.

  1. Daughter of Caesar, Pompey's wife, whose death was mentioned by Suetonius.
  2. Contest for the Arms presented a dispute between Odysseus and Ajax for the shield after Achilles. The court awarded Achilles' armor to Odysseus. Ajax out of revenge decided to kill Atrides (Agamemnon. Menelaus) as unjust judges, but Athena confused his mind; when he walked with the sword to their tent, he slaughtered a flock of rams instead of Atreides. The laughter of the army evoked such a sense of knightly shame in the sobered Ajax that he went to the sea and broke his sword. This subject was developed by Sophocles in Ajax.
  3. M. Pacuvius, a tragedy writer from Brundisium. lived in the 3rd century BCE. The themes for his tragedies were drawn from Greek models: Homer and tragedies. He also wrote national tragedies, so-called praetexlae.
  4. Ribbeck. Trag. Rom. fragm., Pacuv. w. 40
  5. Bulla, jewel in the form of a can, round, made of gold, silver or copper, which the children wore around the neck.
  6. The children of free-born Romans wore so-called toga praetexta. i.e. a purple glass gown up to 16-17 years old. Then young boys put on a men's toga, i.e. toga viriIis.
  7. Because Caesar conquered Pompey, who conquered Jerusalem.
  8. Caius Helvius Cinna, people's tribune, Caesar's supporter.
  9. Lucius Cornelius Cinna, supporter of the Republican opposition to Caesar. Praetor in 44 BCE.
  • Beard Mary, SPQR. Historia starożytnego Rzymu, Poznań 2016
  • Suetonius, Julius Caesar

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