It was the last day of the Ludi Megalenses, a religious festival in honor of the goddess Cybele, the Great Mother. That morning, a number of members of the Senate, led by Lucius Piso, Caesar’s father-in-law, met at the Temple of Concord on the Capitol. They were there to witness the committing to law of Caesar’s intended measure granting Jews freedom from service with the Roman army, for Piso was determined that the late Dictator’s wishes be adhered to in all things.
Caesar’s dispensations had been endorsed by a recent sitting of the Senate presided over by Antony and Dolabella, at which four Jewish ambassadors sent from Jerusalem by Hyrcanus I, the Jewish high priest, had been presented to the House by the consuls. “They both introduced Hyrcanus’s ambassadors into it, and spoke of what they desired, and made a league of friendship with them. The Senate also decreed to grant them all they requested.” And now the law was inscribed on brass tablets at the temple, to be displayed for all the world to see.¹
Late that afternoon, young Octavian’s party came up the Appian Way from Brundisium and arrived outside Rome. Eleven weeks before, Julius Caesar had ridden along this same road, over these same cambered paving stones, on his way back from Alba Longa and on his way to the first of the controversial incidents that would lead to his death. Word of Octavian’s approach had spread through the city in the preceding days, and he was met beyond the Servian Walls by a vast, enthusiastic crowd that spilled out of the city to escort him into the capital.
The exact date of Octavian’s arrival at Rome is not recorded. However, the courts were operating the next day, and it is recorded that Octavian attended the courts the day after his arrival at Rome, meaning that Octavian must have arrived on April 10, for between April 4 and 19, public holidays prevented official business from being conducted on every day but April 11. The courts would not thereafter reopen until April 20. Other events rule out a later, April 19 arrival.²
The city was in good humor on April 10; there had been chariot racing at the Circus Maximus during the day, the last festivity connected with the Ludi Megalenses. A day at the races always cheered the population, as much because gambling was permitted on the race outcomes as for the rough and tumble of the competition among the four racing factions.
With the sun setting in the west behind Octavian, “at the moment of his entering the city men saw above his head the orb of the sun with a circle about it, colored like the rainbow.” This, Velleius would write, seemed “to place a crown on the head of one destined soon for greatness.” ³ Octavian went directly to his mother’s house in the city. His family was of course pleased and relieved to see him, but “his mother, Atia, and Philippus, his stepfather, disliked the thought of his assuming the name of Caesar, whose fortune had aroused such jealousy.”⁴
In the event, Octavian showed that he was so single-minded in his determination to take up his inheritance and seek revenge for Caesar’s murder that Atia “wished him all good fortune” with his plans. At the same time, “she advised him to proceed craftily and patiently for the moment.”⁵ Crafty he would be, but Octavian ignored his mother’s advice about being patient. That evening, Octavian sent messages to his friends, asking them to join him in the Forum at dawn the next day, urging them to bring as many companions as they could muster.⁶ April 11 was the lone business day prior to the commencement of the long Ludi Ceriales festival holiday; it offered Octavian a one-day window to publicly advance his claim as Caesar’s heir.