The 6th Legion had to wait for its promised rewards and honors. Caesar still had a civil war to wrap up. And, as he learned when he returned to Rome, his republican opponents had gathered a massive army in the province of Africa—fourteen legions under the command of Pompey’s father-in-law, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio Nasica.
Scipio, as he was known, had pulled together ten Roman legions plus the four native legions of King Juba of Numidia that had wiped out Caesar’s ill-fated general Curio and his two legions in Africa two years back, plus thousands of cavalry under Caesar’s former loyal deputy, the ubiquitous General Labienus, and 120 war elephants supplied by King Juba. In all, the republican army under Scipio numbered more than eighty thousand men.
Of the ten Roman legions in this army that was now preparing to face Caesar, two had comprised the original Roman garrison of the province of Africa, units that had fought without distinction against Curio in 49 B.C. when he’d invaded Africa from Sicily. Five were newly created legions filled with hastily drafted local recruits, and three were units that had been evacuated from Greece following the Battle of Pharsalus. The latter three were the substantially intact 1st Legion, and the three cohorts of the 4th Legion and the two cohorts of the 6th Legion that had escaped with their eagles across the Enipeus River at Farsala when the two remaining cohorts of the 6th had been trapped and forced to surrender to Mark Antony.
There would have been a temptation to combine these cohorts of the 4th and 6th Legions that reached Africa to create a single legion of five cohorts, but the proud Spanish legionaries of the two units would not have it. They had not saved their sacred eagles at the Battle of Pharsalus only to abandon one of them. So Scipio conscripted thousands of local African youths into the two units in an attempt to bring the 4th Legion and the 6th Legion back up to strength. Some of these recruits were Roman citizens, but with most available draftees of the right age and in good health enrolled in the five new legions created by Scipio’s recruiting officers, the vast majority of the new men conscripted into the 4th and the 6th were slaves.
This was an unheard-of thing, slaves serving in a legion beside Roman citizens. Even the Egyptians had relegated the slaves they enlisted to the militia units that had fought Caesar at Alexandria and on the Nile, and had not tried to have them fight in the regular army. But Scipio was not a commander who was sensitive to the feelings of the men he led, and he ignored complaints from the experienced Spanish legionaries in the ranks of his 6th and the 4th Legions.
So a then unique situation arose that there were two Roman 6th Legions in this civil war, each born of Pompey’s original 6th: one on Caesar’s side, the other marching for the senatorial side under Scipio. The men of the 6th who had gone over to Caesar after Pharsalus had no desire to fight their former comrades of the 6th, men now serving Scipio who were their friends, relatives, and fellow townsmen, and they’d apparently stipulated this when they signed up for Caesar. So Caesar was not to include his now celebrated 6th in the task force he assembled for an invasion of Africa.
As soon as he returned to Rome in the late summer of 47 B.C., fresh from his successes in the East, Caesar acted decisively to end the administrative problems that had plagued Rome in his absence. Disappointed with the job that Mark Antony had done at Rome while he was away, he began by dismissing Antony from his post as his Master of Horse and chief deputy. To maintain order he brought the 7th Legion into Rome from the Field of Mars, where they had been camped for well over a year, and stationed the unit in the city and around his own house on the Sacred Way—thedomus publicus of the Pontifex Maximus, the high priest of Rome, that he had been occupying since receiving the high priest’s appointment for life in 63 B.C.
Antony was not happy at his removal from power, and even less happy when Caesar put up for auction all Pompey’s property in and around the capital—his house in the Keels district that Antony had taken over as his own, another mansion on the Field of Mars, a magnificent estate on the Alban Mount south of Rome—all would eventually become property of the imperial family once the empire came under the rule of Augustus. Antony felt that Caesar should have given him Pompey’s house for nothing. Sulking, Antony didn’t volunteer to join Caesar for the planned African operation.
To succeed with that operation, Caesar felt he needed his best Spanish legions. The 7th was obeying his orders, but he wanted them to be joined by the 8th, 9th, and 10th to form the core of his African task force, a force of sufficient size and quality to take on the fourteen senatorial legions now assembled in North Africa. Even though they were back in camp on the Field of Mars, the men of these three rebellious legions were still refusing to obey orders and still demanding their promised bonuses and discharges.
To begin with, Caesar sent his staff officer Gaius Sallustius Crispus—who would become known to history as the writer Sallust—to the Field of Mars to address an assembly of the mutinous legions. When Caesar had parted with these legions at the Pharsalus battlefield back in August 48 B.C., he had declared that he could win this civil war without them, and his pride would not permit him to stand before them and admit that he did need them after all. It was Sallust’s job to convince the Spanish legionaries to now march for Caesar in one last campaign. He did his best, but he was no Caesar. Even when he offered these men a substantial additional bonus, Sallust received an angry reaction from the troops. They rioted, and Sallust barely escaped with his life.
Caesar was forced to swallow his pride. He went himself to address the three legions on the Field of Mars. They assembled when summoned, but they were in no mood for fine speeches. They began to call for their discharge. In response, Caesar blithely said that, fine, they were now discharged, and he would continue the civil war with other legions. But only after he had won the war, he said, and when those other loyal legions had received their rewards, would he give these men their promised rewards. He was bluffing, of course, but stung by this, and by the fact that Caesar was now addressing them as “citizens” rather than “soldiers,” the men begged him to reinstate them and to take them on his next campaign.
Leaving Mark Antony and other troublemakers at Rome, Caesar set off for Sicily, his jumping-off point for the planned African invasion. The 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th Legions formed the vanguard of the army of eleven legions he created for the African operation. The other units included a new enlistment of the 5th, a legion that had previously marched for Pompey in Spain, plus the 13th and the 14th; these three units marched all the way from Spain to Sicily to take part in the invasion, joining the 25th, the 26th, and the 29th. Finally, because they had recent combat experience, the five cohorts of the 28th were summoned from their station in Egypt for this operation, and apparently came from Alexandria to Sicily by sea to join the landing force.
In the late fall, the men of Caesar’s 6th Legion would have arrived at Rome, as they had been ordered, escorting their column of fearful Bosporan prisoners. Their arrival at the capital, probably at night to avoid the congested daytime streets, would have been an event to strike awe into the hearts of both the soldiers of the 6th and their prisoners. Its very size, spreading over some eight square miles around the famous seven hills of Rome, would have astonished them. This was a city that, within a hundred years, would boast a free population of 1.2 to 1.8 million people, according to one authoritative estimate based on the number of residences recorded in a census of A.D. 73. The number of slaves that further boosted the population can only be guessed at.
The new arrivals would have been dazzled by “the smoke, the show, and the noise of Rome,” as one Roman author was to write. Even in the half light of torches and wall lamps the city, with its unending nightlife, would have intoxicated the virgin visitor. Wide-eyed with wonder, the otherwise tough men of the 6th would have herded the Bosporans into the Lautimiarum, the city prison of Rome, on the Street of the Banker below the Capitoline Mount and just outside the old city walls, then set up their tents on the open space on the Field of Mars where the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th Legions had previously been encamped.
For the legionaries, this was their first sight of the place from where their world was ruled—their careers prior to this had seen them born and raised in Spain, then serving in Spain and Gaul, Greece, Egypt, and the Roman East, but never setting foot in Italy. Here were the massive temples, the vast public buildings, the monuments, the symbols of power of which they had heard so much. Just as this would have daunted their prisoners, who would have dreaded what might lay in store for them, the experience would have made the soldiers of the 6th proud to be Romans.
They arrived at Rome to find that Caesar and his four veteran Spanish legions had weeks before marched for the south of Italy to be ferried to Sicily and from there to launch the invasion of North Africa. The 6th would have to wait for Caesar’s return before they received their promised rewards. For the time being, they settled down to serve as the capital’s guard unit until their commander in chief returned from what would be a five-month war in North Africa.
In late December, Caesar sailed from Sicily with the first of what would be a series of convoys, landing unopposed in Tunisia. Over the next few months he engaged in skirmishes as he built up his forces via a number of troop convoys from Sicily. Twice during the early months of 46 B.C. groups of Spanish veterans in Scipio’s 6th Legion defected to Caesar—they had become disgusted at the way Scipio had polluted their legion by drafting slaves into the unit, and they had refused to march with such inferiors any longer.
On April 4, Caesar’s eleven legions did battle with Scipio’s ten legions and three of King Juba’s legions and sixty war elephants, at Thapsus in Tunisia. With the recent Spanish recruits of the 5th Legion dealing with the elephants on the republican army’s wings and the 10th Legion leading a breakthrough on the enemy’s left, the day-long battle was won by Caesar’s army. Again the 1st Legion retained its discipline and escaped; it was evacuated from the port of Utique to Spain’s Balearic Isles to join Pompey the Great’s two sons, Gnaeus—the former lover of Cleopatra—and the younger Sextus.
Scipio also escaped Africa by sea, but committed suicide after his ship was forced into a bay by a storm and he was surrounded by hostile warships. General Afranius, the 6th Legion’s commander in chief in Spain, was caught trying to escape and executed. Afranius’s deputy in Spain, General Petreius, fled inland with King Juba. They later had a dinner followed by a duel to the death, the survivor of which then committed suicide.
Following the Battle of Thapsus, as Caesar advanced up the coast toward Utica, the capital of the province of Africa, today’s Utique, the senatorial commander there, Cato the Younger, calmly organized the evacuation by sea of as many republicans as he could. That night, Cato, father-in-law of Marcus Brutus, and long a vehement critic of both Caesar and Pompey before he chose to support the Senate in the civil war, committed suicide rather than surrender to Caesar.
When Caesar returned to Rome at the end of July 46 B.C., it seemed that the civil war was over, that Caesar was undisputed ruler of the Roman world. In a long speech delivered to the Senate, he told the senators, according to Dio, that he would not be their master. Instead, he would be their champion. “Not your tyrant, but your leader,” he said. They should, he urged them, “conduct yourselves toward me as a father.” In return, “I will take thought for you as for my children.” Soon Caesar was being referred to as the father of his country.
To celebrate his victories, Caesar now ordered that an unrivaled extravaganza be laid on for the Roman people—four Triumphs during September. For hundreds of years, the Triumph had been the ultimate reward for a Roman general. Voted by the Senate and preceded by a number of days of public thanksgiving, the Triumph had several components. There was a large cash prize, and a statue of the triumphant general, the triumphator, was set up in the Forum. But the major feature of any Triumph was a ceremonial procession through the streets of Rome, which were lined by the cheering population. For this street parade, the triumphator rode in a golden chariot, a quadriga, drawn by four white horses. He wore a special crimson cloak, and a crown of bay leaves. And he carried a laurel branch, the symbol of victory. Traditionally, too, a slave stood behind the general as he was driven past the adoring crowds; the slave whispered in his ear, over and over again, “You are not a god.” Caesar, who would before long be worshiped as a god, dispensed with that humbling touch for his Triumphs.
Pompey had been awarded several Triumphs in his lifetime. Caesar had not celebrated a Triumph prior to this. He’d qualified for one with his 61 B.C. campaign in Spain, and the official thanksgiving at Rome, the prelude to a Triumph, had been decreed by the Senate and had taken place, but when given the choice of either accepting a Triumph or running for election as a consul in 60 B.C., he’d opted for the consulship—a case of power before glory. Now that Caesar had ultimate power, he was ready for an overdose of glory. For a man who seems to have been obsessed by the need to eclipse Pompey’s record in all things, this was another way that Caesar could outshine his late rival.
The attraction of a Triumph was such that Cicero, a great critic of the vanities of other Romans, was most disappointed at the news that the civil war had broken out in 49 B.C., not because of what this meant for Rome, but because he would not be able to celebrate the Triumph he had been promised for his 51 B.C. campaign in Cilicia—the thanksgiving days had already been celebrated as a prelude to his Triumph. Plutarch was to consider Cicero guilty of “an uncontrollable appetite for distinction.”
A Triumph could not be celebrated for the defeat of Romans. The victory had to be over foreigners. A Triumph for Caesar’s conquest of Gaul was to be the first of the four he celebrated in 46 B.C. It would be followed by a Triumph for the defeat of the Egyptian army, then another for the victory in Pontus over Pharnaces and his Bosporans, and last of all a Triumph for his victory in Africa. To achieve this fourth Triumph, Caesar classed Thapsus as a victory over the Numidian legions of King Juba, ignoring the ten Roman legions he’d also defeated on that occasion.
In all Triumphal processions, the conquering general was borne along in his golden quadriga preceded by his lictors bearing his fasces entwined with laurel, the symbol of victory to which a general hailed as imperator, as Caesar had been, was entitled. Behind the general came prisoners taken in his campaign, all in chains, with their leaders prominent. Then came the spoils of war displayed on a succession of wagons, followed by more wagons bearing stage sets and large paintings depicting the battle in question, like floats in a modern-day parade, all with inscriptions in large letters so the public knew what they were looking at. Last of all came soldiers representing the general’s army that had won the victory. These soldiers were permitted to march along the processional route singing bawdy ditties about their general, receiving the adulation of the cheering, applauding crowd as they passed.
The men of the 6th Legion camped at Rome now found themselves the stars of three out of four of Caesar’s Triumphs. They had marched for him for two years during the Gallic War, they had won both the Egyptian campaign and Zela for him. And so they would march in the relevant Triumphs. The other Spanish legions, the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th, had returned from Africa, and it is likely they, too, marched in the Gallic Triumph with the 6th.
Caesar’s Gallic War had been one of the bloodiest military episodes in Rome’s history; according to Plutarch the Gallic War had resulted in the death of a million Gauls and had seen another million sold into slavery. It had certainly been the longest and ultimately most rewarding of Caesar’s career. This was reflected in Caesar’s Gallic Triumph, which was the first and by far the largest and most lavish of all his Triumphs.
At dawn on the September morning of the Gallic Triumph, the men of Caesar’s 6th Legion formed up behind their standards on the Villa Publica, the public open space on the northern outskirts of the city, part of the Field of Mars and official assembly point for all Triumphs, where they were joined by the other troops who were taking part in the procession. All wore their red tunics and red cloaks, their heavy armor, their plumed helmets, their belted swords and daggers, their decorations for bravery. The laws of Rome prevented them from going “fully armed” into the city proper, so they would leave behind their shields and javelins. Those same laws gave them the right, as soldiers of a Triumphing general, to wear swords in the city. This glorious day, the men of the 6th would have told themselves, was worth all the pain over their years in military service.
Here, too, at the Villa Publica were assembled the many wagons of the procession, the small army of freedmen and slaves who were responsible for running the show, and the host of chained prisoners who would unhappily vie with the soldiers and Caesar himself as the main attractions.
At the appointed hour, Caesar himself arrived, carried in a litter. Alighting, he mounted the waiting golden quadriga. In addition to the bay leaf crown and the rich scarlet Triumphal cloak, he wore the tunica palmata, the tunic of the triumphator, which was embroidered with a palm frond design. The palm was the Roman symbol of a victor; winners in gladiatorial contests received small golden palms. Apart from a driver, Caesar rode in the chariot alone. Little more than sixty years later, when Germanicus Caesar rode through Rome’s streets in celebration of a Triumph for his campaigns against the Germans, Germanicus would take his young children in the chariot with him. One of those children would be his son Caligula.
Behind Caesar this September day, toward the Tiber River, rose a huge, half-moon-shaped drama theater, Rome’s largest, whose construction was close to completion. This was the Theater of Pompey, financed by Pompey personally when he was in power and given by him as a gift to the Roman people. Caesar had taken care not to portray Pompey on any of the giant paintings that would be shown in his Triumphs. He knew, as Appian was to say, that Pompey “was still much missed by all.” Pompey’s memory would not be easily erased.
And then the time had come to begin the parade. Caesar was possibly heralded by legion trumpeters—for all their love of pomp and splendor, the Romans had no marching bands, not even drummers. Then came Caesar himself, preceded by a small army of lictors, his official attendants, bearing his fasces. As Dictator, Caesar was legally entitled to twenty-four lictors, as opposed to the mere twelve of a consul. But, says Dio, in addition to his current lictors, Caesar had himself escorted by all the men who had served him as lictor over the years—the term of a lictor being just one year.
This throng of scores of lictors, says Dio, did not go down well with the status-conscious Roman elite, there being a set number of lictors permissible for magistrates under Roman law, from one for a quaestor up to the Dictator’s twenty-four. To ignore that rule and give himself such a horde of attendants, while Caesar may have thought it an honor for his former lictors, was considered, at the very least, ostentatious.
The streets along the procession’s route were lined with many hundreds of thousands of people, come to watch the parade—some to sit down to the free banquet for leading citizens that was to follow, and all to enjoy the free entertainments that were planned for the coming days. Word of the upcoming celebrations had been sent throughout Italy, and Suetonius says that people flocked to the capital from all directions, and that many of the spectators had to sleep in tents pitched along streets and roads, or on rooftops in the city. More than once during these Triumphs the crowds were so immense that people were crushed to death. According to Suetonius, two of the victims of these accidents were senators.
The roar of the crowd rose and became a constant crescendo as Caesar appeared. Then cheers turned to deafening boos and crude insults as Gallic soldiers taken prisoner six years before, in the failed Gallic Revolt, were led by. But by far the greatest reaction was reserved for the number one prisoner. His name was Vercingetorix. A noble of the Arverni tribe in south-central France, Vercingetorix had only been in his twenties when he led a revolt by many of the tribes of Gaul against the recently imposed rule of Rome. At first the Gallic rebels had posed great problems for the Romans, with Caesar being forced to abandon the siege of one rebel city, after taking heavy casualties, and retreat. But in the end Caesar had defeated Vercingetorix and destroyed a massive Gallic army at the 52 B.C. siege of Alesia. There, Vercingetorix had surrendered to Caesar, and he had been a prisoner in Rome ever since. Now the long-haired young man was dragged in chains past the booing, hooting, cursing, spitting mob.
Behind Vercingetorix came many of the spoils of Caesar’s conquest in Gaul, followed by the wagons bearing stage sets and twenty massive paintings of the war, painted on vast canvases the size of ships’ sails, showing key scenes of the Gallic conflict such as Vercingetorix’s surrender to Caesar.
Agog at the sight of the humbled enemy, of the bloody war illustrated so dramatically before their eyes, and then the captured enemy weapons and glittering spoils that were also trailed past them—Appian was to write that a total of 2,822 captured golden crowns were displayed in the four Triumphs—the members of the crowd then turned their heads at the sound of rough voices singing even rougher songs. And they cheered with all their might at the sight of the legionaries of the 6th and their comrades of the other victorious legions striding along behind their silver eagles and other standards with beaming smiles on their faces and slanderous lyrics on their lips.
The songs they sang during this and the later Triumphs, according to Dio, ranged from ditties that poked fun at former fellow soldiers from the ranks, centurions such as Gaius Fuficius Fango, who had been appointed to the Senate by Caesar, to witty lines about Caesar’s romance with Cleopatra. They also repeated a rumor that had been circulating for years, that in his youth Caesar had enjoyed a brief homosexual relationship with King Nicomedes of Bithynia while serving in the East. The anonymous lyricist responsible for this song implied that while Caesar had enslaved the Gauls, Caesar had been enslaved by Nicomedes. According to Suetonius, the verse went like this:
Gaul was brought to shame by Caesar,
By King Nicomedes was he.
There goes Caesar, wreathed in Triumph,
For his Gallic victory.
Nicomedes wears no laurels,
Though he’s the greatest of the three.
Caesar was not impressed by this particular ditty, and soon after went to the trouble of declaring on oath that there had been no such intimate relationship between King Nicomedes and himself. This, says Dio, only made some people believe that where there was smoke, there was fire.
In another ribald verse recorded by Suetonius, the legionaries sang about Caesar’s sexual proclivities:
Home we bring our bald whoremonger,
Romans lock your wives away.
All the bags of gold you loaned him,
Went his Gallic whores to pay.
Dio noted that in the chorus of the last of their irreverent songs—more of a chant than a song in this case, apparently—the soldiers in the Triumph bellowed these almost seditious lines:
If you do right, you will be punished,
But if you do wrong, you will be king.
The time-honored processional route followed by the soldiers of the 6th and their commander in chief took them from the Field of Mars along the Vicus Triumphalis, or Triumph Street, and through a gateway in Rome’s old Servian Walls called the Porta Triumphalis, whose thick wooden gate was only raised into the open position during Triumphs and even then merely for the exclusive use of the official procession. From there the Triumph proceeded to a low-lying, half-moon-shaped street within the old city walls called the Velabrum.
There in the Velabrum, says Suetonius, right opposite the Temple of Fortune, according to Dio, the axle of Caesar’s golden chariot suddenly broke, and Caesar almost tumbled out before he grabbed the side to steady himself. Some among the very superstitious Romans witnessing this hiccup would have interpreted this as a sign that Caesar’s fortunes were soon to take a tumble of a different kind. Attendants dashed to Caesar’s aid, slaves hurried to pull the damaged chariot aside, the quadriga was quickly replaced by another chariot, and then the parade resumed as if nothing had happened.
The Triumphal procession moved into the Forum Boarium, home to Rome’s meat market, then past the Temple of Janus and into and around the Circus Maximus. The banked wooden tiers of this massive stadium, home to Rome’s chariot races, could seat hundreds of thousands (the Circus Maximus’s capacity was said to then be at least 200,000, growing to 365,000 within another 200 years), and on Triumph day the circus was packed with excited, cheering, waving spectators.
After leaving the Circus Maximus, the procession progressed down the Via Triumphalis to the Via Sacra, the Sacred Way, swinging back toward the Capitol. Passing Caesar’s mansion and the adjacent residence of the Vestal Virgins and their circular temple with its eternal flame, it continued toward the Capitoline Mount. In Rome’s first days, the hill of the Capitol had been occupied by Romulus’s walled citadel. Here, too, had stood his circular, mud-walled hut, and in reverence to and remembrance of Romulus, a round mud hut was still maintained on the Capitoline Mount at the very spot where tradition held that Romulus had lived.
Caesar’s chariot passed through the Capitol’s gateway and climbed an inclined street, the Clivus Capitolinus, to the hill’s southern peak. There it came to a halt at the foot of the steps that led up to the huge, 450-year-old temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus (Jupiter Best and Greatest). It was the largest temple in Rome, as befitted the principal god of the Romans, and rectangular in the classic Greek style, built of volcanic rock covered with stucco, its wooden roof supported by massive pillars. Every year, the first session of the Senate was traditionally held inside the temple, so that the senators—the “conscript fathers” as they were known—might gain divine guidance for their deliberations and decisions over the coming year.
Suetonius says that here, on this Triumph day, forty elephants were lined up, twenty on either side of the temple steps, each with a burning torch held in its trunk. In actuality they would have been lined up along the Clivus Capitolinus. Pompey also had displayed elephants in one of his Triumphs, and it seems that, as he did in other respects, Caesar was trying to outdo Pompey with his elephantine lineup.
These particular pachyderms had been captured from King Juba’s troops by Caesar’s 5th Legion at the Battle of Thapsus, and were subsequently shipped to Rome. They would be permanently based at Laurentum just outside Rome, for use in spectacles. Some ninety years later the descendants of these beasts would be put on standby for the emperor Claudius’s invasion of Britain, but would never be used in it.
At the foot of the temple steps Caesar alighted from his ceremonial chariot. He and his lictors then ascended the broad stairway. Whether Caesar slowly, reverentially went up the long flight of steps on his knees, as tradition required of a Triumphing general, we are not told.
Meanwhile, part of the Triumphal procession had peeled off from its rear. The prisoner Vercingetorix was led away from the procession in chains to a small building called the Tullianum, situated beside the Gemonian Stairs, below the Capitoline Mount, next door to the city prison. There was a windowless chamber in a former cistern beneath the Tullianum that traditionally served as the state dungeon of Rome, and the long-haired Vercingetorix was led down the steps into the chamber, where, in the light of oil lamps, the executioner awaited him.
Inside the Temple of Jupiter, Caesar offered all-powerful Jove his laurel branch, and his lictors offered the laurels that had been wound around their fasces, in thanks for the general’s victory. Caesar then emerged from the temple to host a giant feast for thousands of invited guests at hundreds of tables set up in the open. Much of the food for the banquet had been provided by leading members of society as they vied with each other to impress Caesar and seek his favor.
The banquet did not commence until a message had been received from the Tullianum to say that the leader of the Gallic Revolt, Vercingetorix, was dead. In the Tullianum basement, an executioner tightly bound the Gaul’s neck with rope, then placed a hood over his head—this is how Tacitus describes the preliminaries of this form of execution. Then, standing behind the condemned man, the executioner tightened the garrote until Vercingetorix asphyxiated. Such executions were the traditional climax to Triumphs, but occasionally rebel leaders were permitted to live after being paraded. Caesar, despite the reputation for clemency of which he was proud, did not choose to pardon Vercingetorix.
In further celebration of his Gallic conquest, over the next five days Caesar presented a series of public entertainments that grew grander with each passing day. Plays were performed, in several languages, in all the then twelve districts of the city. Athletic contests were staged for three consecutive days in a temporary wooden stadium erected on the Field of Mars. But most of the entertainments involved the letting of blood, and death. There was a gladiatorial contest in the Forum, in which contestants included the son of a praetor who fought an ex-senator to the death.
An artificial lake had been dug on the Field of Mars, and here a naval battle took place between several of the old Egyptian warships that had fought against Caesar at Alexandria and had been sailed or towed up from Egypt since, along with their captive crews, and ships from Tyre in Syria. In preparation for this novel show, the organizers of the Triumphal spectacles would have had the ships manhandled overland from the Tiber River to the lake by thousands of slaves. Why the Tyrians were involved in this battle we are not told; it’s possible the city of Tyre had declined to support Mithradates of Pergamum when he was gathering the force that he took to Caesar’s aid in Egypt, and this was the city’s punishment—to have their finest young men fight to the death aboard ships on the Field of Mars in front of Caesar and a vast, bloodthirsty Roman crowd.
Appian says that a total of four thousand rowers were involved, plus two thousand marines. The objective of the two contesting navies was to sink or capture the ships of the other side, for the amusement of the thousands of spectators sitting on tiers of temporary wooden seating that lined the banks of the lake. If this were an even contest, there would have been about two thousand men manning the oars belowdecks and a thousand fighting men above in each of two little flotillas of five or six cruisers per side. Naumachiae,or sea battle spectacles of this nature that were staged in the following century, ended only when the sun set or when all the ships of one side had been sunk or captured. It would seem that the same rules applied for Caesar’s waterborne show.
At the Circus Maximus there were wild-beast hunts every morning for five days. One afternoon there were chariot races between young noblemen driving two-horse chariots and the more demanding four-horse chariots, and horse races where the riders rode two horses at once. On another day the Troy Games were staged, a sham battle between two troops of boys, sons of Roman knights. Once they came of age at fifteen, these sons of the nobility joined a society, the Collega Juvena, a kind of military cadet corps that trained them to ride and fight prior to their doing service in the army as officers, and these Troy Games offered them an opportunity to display their skills, albeit with blunt wooden weapons.
On the final day, a battle took place in the Circus Maximus between two armies, each consisting, says Suetonius, of five hundred infantry, thirty cavalry, and twenty elephants. The men involved were a mixture of POWs—captives from Caesar’s Gallic campaign who had been paraded in his Triumph—and condemned criminals taken from the city’s prison and armed for the show. As the audience watched, each force hurriedly built a fortified camp on the floor of the circus, from which the central spine had previously been removed just for this occasion. The object of the battle was to take the other side’s camp. And it was to be no mock battle—this was a real life-and-death struggle for the men involved. The combatants were given a simple incentive to fight, and fight well: only the victors could expect to see another sunrise.
This battle in the circus was, according to Dio, a particularly bloody one, for which Caesar was to be criticized by some among the Roman aristocracy—they were to say that Rome had seen enough killing in the civil war, in which many sons of great families had given their lives, without Caesar so graphically reminding them of the nation’s sacrifices in the name of entertainment.
A week later, with the population still reeling from the excesses of the Gallic Triumph, it was the turn of the Alexandrian Triumph, and this time, as the conquerors of the Egyptians, the men of the 6th really took center stage. The Alexandrian procession was much like that of the Gallic Triumph, but this time it wasn’t followed by an extravagant series of public shows. Among the paintings displayed in this Triumph were scenes depicting the executions of Achillas and Pothinus, and Appian says the Roman crowd was exultant at the sight.
Leading the Egyptian prisoners being dragged through the streets on this occasion was Arsinoe, Cleopatra’s younger sister and briefly queen of Egypt during the war with Caesar. Unlike Vercingetorix, she was not to be executed—following the Triumph she would be sent to Asia to begin her exile at Ephesus.
Just the same, a woman had never before been seen being led in a Roman Triumph, and this sight of a former queen being dragged at the end of a chain like a common criminal shocked many spectators. For her part, young Arsinoe was visibly distressed by the soul-destroying parade through the streets of Rome, and she won the sympathy of the crowd, arousing very great pity, according to Dio.
By this time Cleopatra was in Rome as Caesar’s guest, staying at his suburban villa high on the Janiculum Hill, today’s Gianicolo, across the Tiber River from the city. She was not alone, having been accompanied to Rome by her brother and “coruler,” Ptolemy XIV, and the son she had borne Caesar, Caesarion, plus a bevy of servants. The three of them would remain at the capital for close to two years. Officially, the party had come to Rome at the invitation of the Senate. Cleopatra’s presence in the capital was no secret; she was a foreign queen and Roman ally, and, officially at least, her visit was like that of many foreign dignitaries who had come to Rome before and would do so in the future.
Officially, Cleopatra was treated as a guest of the state, and no doubt many a senator, curious to see this by now famous Egyptian temptress, the Queen of the Nile, for themselves, made appointments to call on the visitor and in due course made the journey across the river using the bridges of Tiber Island, then climbed the slopes of the Gianicolo in litters carried by perspiring slaves to reach the villa crowning the summit of the hill. And there they would have presented their compliments to a bedecked Queen Cleopatra, and she would have charmed and beguiled them.
What Caesar’s third wife, Calpurnia, daughter of former consul Lucius Piso, thought of Cleopatra’s presence, even if the young queen was based outside the city during her stay, we can only imagine. It was almost expected of Roman nobles to have mistresses. Many a Roman marriage among the nobility was an arranged one, for the political benefit of the father of the bride, and a loving relationship between husband and wife was not always expected, just as long as each respected the other and did nothing to humiliate them in public. While decorum and decency were seen to prevail, a marriage lasted. Caesar had himself divorced his second wife, Pompeia, after a male admirer of hers had been scandalously caught in Caesar’s house, the house of the high priest, when only women were supposed to be present during the celebration of the rites of a female deity, Bona Dea.
Cleopatra was wise enough to maintain a low profile while living on Rome’s doorstep. There is no record of her actually entering the city. In fact, she probably infrequently ventured from her residence. As it was, Roman women of the upper class rarely ventured out; it was not considered seemly. When they did, they wore a head covering and veil, as Muslim women do today, and were conveyed about in a closed litter. Only freedwomen and female slaves were to be seen on the streets of Rome, while their mistresses led a restricted life, bound to the home, made bearable only by the fact that the wealthy owned many homes—typically, the house in Rome and several more at estates within a day or two of the city, as well as a seaside villa—on Italy’s western coast in particular—and farming properties throughout the empire. Wives and daughters could travel among these at their leisure.
Caesar would have gone to visit Cleopatra, as he was entitled to do—she was a state visitor, and she was staying at his villa, after all. So, while it was common knowledge that Caesar and Cleopatra were intimately involved, and while Cleopatra was younger than she, and famous now as a temptress, Caesar’s wife would have felt reassured that under old Roman law Caesar could not marry a foreigner. And while Caesar changed many a law once he came to power, to change that marriage law would have caused uproar among the Roman elite.
So, while she said nothing about the affair, Calpurnia was safe from divorce—on Cleopatra’s account, at any rate. Besides, despite his affairs, Caesar seems to have retained great affection and respect for Calpurnia.
Just the same, it is likely that Cleopatra badgered Caesar to be able to witness his Alexandrian Triumph, especially as several of her greatest foes were to be paraded in chains during that Triumph. Later events suggest it is probable that Caesar arranged a discreet viewing place for Cleopatra in a building overlooking the Triumph’s route, a place with a good view but where she could watch Caesar and her enemies pass by without being seen by the crowd or by the participants in the parade.
From that place she would have seen her sister Arsinoe’s anguish. Perhaps Cleopatra initially smiled at what she saw, perhaps she enjoyed the fact that her treacherous sibling was suffering for her ambition. But from later events it would become clear that the event made an indelible impression, that Cleopatra never forgot the sight of her sister in chains, the subject of public derision and ridicule in Caesar’s Triumph.
According to the first-century poet Lucan, the other principal prisoner displayed during this Triumph was Ganymede, Arsinoe’s former tutor and commander of the Egyptian army during the latter stages of the war with Caesar in Egypt. As mentioned earlier, the author of The Alexandrian War,almost certainly Aulus Hirtius, was to quote several speeches in his book from Egyptian leaders, including Ganymede, and it is quite likely that Hirtius interviewed Ganymede once he was incarcerated behind the walls of Rome’s prison. Either that, or another of Caesar’s staff officers, such as Colonel Pollio, interviewed Ganymede following his capture, in Egypt or at Rome, and passed on the resulting information to Hirtius. If Ganymede was questioned while awaiting his appearance in the Alexandrian Triumph, it is easy to imagine the Egyptian willingly detailing his side of the story, reliving his few months of glory when he was commander of the Egyptian army and had Julius Caesar against the ropes in Alexandria.
We can assume that Ganymede’s days ended in the Tullianum at the conclusion of the Alexandrian Triumph, meeting the executioner and his rope garrote just as the Gallic leader Vercingetorix had done. Both tradition and the clamoring crowd demanded a high-ranked victim as the climax to a Triumph, and Caesar would not have hesitated to do away with the likes of Ganymede.
A week later, the Pontic Triumph was celebrated, and again, as heroes of the Battle of Zela, the men of the 6th Legion would have led the military contingent in the parade. They may, in fact, have been the only unit fully represented in this Triumph, with the other legions that had taken part being still in the East. The Bosporan prisoners ushered to Rome by the men of the 6th were displayed in this Triumph, before being consigned to either slavery or gladiatorial schools. Such was the nature of the paintings displayed on wagons in this procession, with Pharnaces’ men depicted running for their lives down the hill at Zela, that Appian says the Roman crowd lining the Pontic Triumph’s route roared with laughter at the sight.
Years before, Pompey’s Triumph for his conquest of the East had, after a string of painted wagons depicting the various nations he had subdued, finished with a wagon bearing a huge sign that read, “The Rest of the Known World.” Caesar’s Pontic Triumph was to mirror this graphic touch—Suetonius notes that one of the wagons in this procession simply carried a large banner that bore the words “I came, I saw, I conquered,” Caesar’s own description of his Pontic campaign in his original dispatch to Rome following his victory at Zela.
It is unlikely that the men of the 6th Legion took part in the fourth Triumph, the African. Apart from the fact that they had not been involved in the African campaign, the Triumph celebrated the defeat of their comrades of the 6th, and they would not have wanted any part of such an event.
Among the prisoners paraded in the African Triumph was a five-year-old boy, Juba, the son of the late King Juba of Numidia, the defeated cocommander of the senatorial forces at the Battle of Thapsus in Africa and the man responsible for the defeat of Curio and his two legions in Africa several years before. Far from being tarred with the same brush as his father, Juba Jr. would be raised and educated in Italy, growing up to display a talent with the pen and becoming a writer, in Greek, who was to gain some note among the Romans. Befriended by Caesar’s great-nephew Octavian as he grew up among the leading members of Roman society, Juba would be granted the kingdoms of Numidia and Mauretania by Octavian once he become the emperor Augustus, and as King Juba II he would rule his father’s former dominion, marrying Cleopatra Selene (Selene meaning the Moon), the only daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. But that was yet some way in the future.
Perhaps becoming overconfident as a result of the laudatory public reception to his first three Triumphs, Caesar miscalculated with the African Triumph. While he refrained from depicting Pompey in this parade, he had no compunction about showing members of Pompey’s party, Roman senators and former consuls, even though this Triumph was supposed to be celebrating the defeat of King Juba and his Numidians. In this parade the Roman people were shown a picture of the Roman senatorial commander Scipio committing suicide by stabbing himself in the chest, then throwing himself into the Mediterranean. Another painting depicted General Petreius at his last, fatal meal with King Juba. Yet another showed the highly respected Cato the Younger bloodily taking his own life in the African capital, Utique, following the Thapsus defeat. Appian says that when they saw these pictures the Roman people lining the Triumph’s route groaned out loud. These sights only served to remind Romans of the tragedies their country had only so recently gone through, Appian was to write.
The paintings in the African Triumph seemed to suggest that Caesar was gloating over the demise of his chief political adversaries, rather than celebrating the defeat of Rome’s foreign enemies. Overall, the previous Triumphs had been successes. But as propaganda, the paintings in the African Triumph failed miserably. This miscalculation, this insensitivity, combined with the other excesses of the Triumphs, would not be forgotten by an increasing number of Caesar’s critics in the years to come.
These critics reminded each other how Pompey the Great had celebrated his last Triumph seventeen years before. Voted a number of Triumphs by the Senate for his many victories in the East, Pompey had combined them into a single Triumph, and had rejected the vast majority of honors showered on him by a grateful Senate. As Cassius Dio was to remark, Pompey had declined honors and appointments that were liable to bring him envy and hate. Now Caesar, in his determination to outshine Pompey, showed no such modesty or restraint.
Perhaps it was during Caesar’s African Triumph that a small demonstration of dissent from a member of Caesar’s own handpicked Senate took place. During one of his Triumphs, says Suetonius, Caesar, riding in his quadriga, was passing the benches reserved for the ten Tribunes of the Plebs, almost certainly in the Circus Maximus, when all but one of them respectfully rose to their feet. The exception, who stayed stubbornly sitting in his place, was a tribune named Pontius Aquila.
“Hey there, Aquila the tribune!,” Caesar called out to him. “Do you want me to restore the republic?” For a number of days after this incident, according to Suetonius, Caesar would sarcastically add to every undertaking he gave, “With the kind permission of Pontius Aquila.”
Finally, following celebration of the Triumphs, Caesar distributed the promised rewards to his veteran troops. According to Suetonius, each legionary received 24,000 sesterces, and the men of the 6th Legion would have been awarded this and more. According to Appian, centurions received twice as much as the rank and file in this payout, and military tribunes and cavalry prefects twice as much as centurions. The Roman public also received a payment at Caesar’s instigation—400 sesterces to every citizen, plus a large ration of grain and of olive oil.
Where did the hundreds of millions of sesterces come from for these payouts and for the extravagant Triumphs that preceded them, when just two years before, Caesar’s purse had been so dramatically empty? Certainly Caesar now raised taxes throughout the empire, and he imposed big fines on cities, towns, and individuals who had supported Pompey and the republican Senate during the civil war. But the primary source of his vast and overnight expenditure was Egypt, the prize for which Caesar and the 6th Legion had fought so long and so stubbornly; for when he had won the war there, his spoils of victory had included the keys to the treasury of Alexandria.
Cassius Dio has Mark Antony say, in a 44 B.C. speech to the Roman people, while reciting a long list of instances of how Caesar had made Rome great, “How after this he brought Egypt to terms and how much money he brought to you from there, it would be superfluous to relate.”
The legionaries also had been promised land grants, and the men of the 6th were assured that a colony was to be founded in Gaul just for them. But still Caesar would not discharge these troops for whom, officially, that discharge was now more than three years overdue. He knew that there was still soldiering to do; the civil war was not yet at an end after all. In western Spain, the Pompey brothers had landed from the Balearic Isles and gathered thousands of eager local recruits around their standard. They also had been joined by the 1st Legion after its evacuation from Africa, together with several of Scipio’s best officers, including Generals Labienus and Varus.
What really made Caesar sit up and take notice of Pompey’s sons was the news that two of his own legions, the 2nd and the Indigena, both former Pompeian units, had defected to Gnaeus and Sextus Pompey shortly after the pair set foot in Spain. Realizing that the civil war would not truly be over until he had dealt with Pompey’s sons in Spain, Caesar issued orders for a task force of infantry and cavalry to be readied to march to Spain to deal with the Pompeys. The men of the 6th Legion at Rome were informed that they would be in that task force, and ordered to prepare for one last campaign for Caesar in the new year.
This Spanish campaign, Caesar would have assured the 6th and the other legions assigned to the campaign, would truly bring Rome’s civil war to an end. And then they finally could receive their discharges, hang up their swords, and start their new lives as civilians and honored citizens.