Templum Divi Iuli

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016
(Temple of the Comet Star)

The Temple of Caesar - Templum Divi Iuli - also known as Temple of the Deified Julius Caesar, or Temple of the Comet Star, is located in the Roman Forum of Rome, located near the Temple of Vesta.

Temple of the Comet Star
It was begun by Augustus in 42 BC, after the senate deified Julius Caesar posthumously.
Augustus dedicated the prostyle temple to Caesar (his adoptive father) on August 18, 29 BC, after the Battle of Actium.
It stands on the east side of the main square of the Roman Forum (Forum), between the Regia, Temple of Castor and Pollux and the Basilica Aemilia, on the site of Caesar's cremation (Caesar's testament was read at the funeral by Mark Antony).
Caesar was the first resident of Rome to be deified and so honored with a temple.
A fourth flamen maior was dedicated to him after 44 BC and Mark Antony was appointed as his flamen.
The high platform on which the temple was built served as a rostra ('Rostra ad divi Iuli') and, like the rostra at the opposite end of the Forum, was decorated with the beaks of ships taken at the battle of Actium.

The Temple of Caesar was the only temple to be entirely dedicated to the cult of a comet (referred to as a 'comet star').
The comet, upon its appearance some time after Caesar's murder (44 BC), was considered to be the soul of the deified Julius Caesar, and the symbol of the "new birth" of Augustus as the unique Roman ruler and Emperor.
Here the account by Pliny with parts of a public speech delivered by Augustus about the comet, his father Caesar and his own destiny:
'The only place in the whole world where a comet is the object of worship is a temple at Rome. His late Majesty Augustus had deemed this comet very propitious to himself; as it had appeared not long after the decease of his father Caesar. People believed that this star signified the soul of Caesar received among the spirits of the immortal gods.'
In Greek and Roman culture, comet is an adjective determining the distinctive characteristic of a special star.
So "comet star" means "long-haired star", and it was represented this way on coins and monuments.
The "Divine Star" was represented and worshiped on coins and probably in the temple itself, as a "comet star" or as a "simple star": the simple star has been used as a general symbol of Divinity since 44 BC; after the appearance of the comet, the simple star was transformed into a comet by adding the tail to one of the rays of the simple star.
According to Appian the place near the Regia ,and probably part of the Main Square of the Roman Forum, was a second choice, because the first intention of the Roman people was to bury Caesar on the Capitoline Hill among the other Gods of Rome.
However, the Roman priests prevented them from doing so (in fact, the cremation was considered not safe due to the many wooden structures there), and the corpse of Caesar was carried back to the Forum near the Regia, being the Regia the personal headquarters of Caesar as Pontifex Maximus: this is the reason why, after a violent quarrel about the funeral pyre, and the destiny of the ashes of Caesar, the Roman people, the men of Caesar's party, and the men of Caesar's family, decided to build the pyre in that place.
It seems that in that very place at that time there was probably a tribunal which, after the funeral of Caesar, and the building of the Temple, was then moved in front of the Temple of Caesar, probably in the location of the so-called Rostra Diocletiani.
The tribunal was a 'tribunal praetoris sub divo' with gradus and was known as 'tribunal Aurelium', a structure built by C. Aurelius Cotta around 80 BC, near the so-called Puteal Libonis, a bidental used for the sacred oath before the trials.
The corpse of Caesar was carried to the Roman Forum on an ivory couch, and set up on the Rostra in a gilded shrine modeled on the Temple of Venus Genetrix, the goddess from whom the family of the Iulii claimed to have come from.
Mark Antony delivered his famous speech, and a public reading of the Will of Caesar was made, while a mechanical device, positioned above the bier itself, was showing an image of Caesar made of wax, turning it round and round, so that people were able to clearly see the 23 wounds in all parts of the body and on the face.
So the crowd moved by the words of Mark Antony, by the Will of Caesar and by the sight of the image of wax tried to carry the corpse to Capitol among the gods and failed.
In the end the corpse was set on a funeral pile created near the Regia by using all the wooden things available in the Forum, like wooden benches, and then cremated with a great fire that lasted all the night long.
For the cult of the murdered pontifex maximus, a sacred man, against whom to use cutting weapons and object was strictly prohibited, an altar and a column were briefly erected in the very place of the cremation.
The column was of Numidian yellow stone, and had the inscription 'Parenti Patriae,' i.e. to the founder of the nation, but this first monument was taken down and removed by the anti-Caesarian party almost immediately.
In 42 BC Octavian, Lepidus and Mark Antony decreed the building of a Temple to Caesar.
After some time after the death of Caesar, in the sky of Rome a comet appeared and was clearly visible (every day and for seven days, starting one hour before the sunset).
This comet appeared for the first time during the ritual games in front of the Temple of Venus Genetrix (Venus was the supposed ancestor of the Julii family), in the Forum of Julius Caesar, and everyone in Rome thought it was the soul of Caesar deified called among the other gods.
After the appearance of that sign Augustus delivered a public speech giving an explanation of the appearance of the comet.
The speech is partially known since we have a partial transcription of it by Pliny the Elder.
After the public speech Augustus wanted a few series of coins devoted to the comet star, and to the deified Caesar ("Divus Iulius") to be struck and widely distributed.
So we can have an idea about the type of representation of the comet star of the deified Julius Caesar.
Augustus loved to be considered the real subject of any kind of Messianic prophecies and accounts, so during the public speech about the appearance of the comet, he specified that he, the new ruler of the world, was born (politically) at the very appearance of his father Julius Caesar as a comet in the sky of Rome, and his father was announcing his own (political) birth.
So he was the one who had to be born under the comet, and whom the appearance of the comet was announcing.
Other messianic prophecies about Augustus are told Suetonius, including the story of the massacre of the innocents conceived in order to kill the young Octavius soon after his own birth.
At some time during his princedom, Augustus ordered that all the books of prophecies and Messianic accounts had to be gathered and utterly destroyed.
The temple therefore ended up to represent both Julius Caesar, as a deified being, and Augustus himself as the newborn under the comet, and the comet star itself was object of public worship.
The consecration of the Temple lasted many days, during which Troy siege reconstructions, gladiatorial games, hunting scenes and banquets were held.
During this occasion the hippopotamus and the rhinoceros were shown in Rome for the first time ever.
It seems that the doors of the Temple were left opened so that it was possible to see the statue of the deified pontifex maximus Julius Caesar from the main square of the Roman Forum.
Augustus used to dedicate the spoils of war in this temple.
The altar and the shrine had the right of asylum.
Every four years, in front of the Rostra ad Divi Iuli, a festival was held in honour of Augustus.
The Rostra ad Divi Iuli were used to deliver funeral speeches by the Emperors.
Drusus and Tiberius delivered a double speech in the Forum. - Drusus was reading his speech from the Rostra Augusti, and Tiberius was reading his own from the Rostra ad Divi Iuli, one in front of the other.
The emperor Hadrian delivered a speech (perhaps a funeral one) from the Rostra ad Divi Iuli in 125 AD, as it can be seen on the coins series struck for the occasion.
Caesar's Comet was known to ancient writers as the Sidus Iulium ("Julian Star") or Caesaris astrum ("Star of Caesar"). The bright, daylight-visible comet appeared suddenly during the festival known as the Ludi Victoriae Caesaris - some four months after the assassination of Julius Caesar, as well as Caesar's own birth month. According to Suetonius, as celebrations were getting underway, "a comet shone for seven successive days, rising about the eleventh hour, and was believed to be the soul of Caesar."
The Comet became a powerful symbol in the political propaganda that launched the career of Caesar's great-nephew (and adoptive son) Augustus. At the back of the temple a huge image of Caesar was erected and, according to Ovid, a flaming comet was affixed to its forehead: 'To make that soul a star that burns forever, above the Forum and the gates of Rome.'

Temple of the Comet Star
Augustus used the temple to dedicate offerings from the spoils of war. It included a colossal statue of Julius Caesar, veiled as Pontifex Maximus, with a star on his head and bearing the lituus augural staff in his right hand.
In the cella of the temple there was a famous painting by Apelles of Venus Anadyomene.
During the princedom of Nero the painting by Apelles deteriorated and it could not be restored, so the emperor substituted for it another by Dorotheus.
There was also another painting by Apelles, depicting the Dioscuri with Victoria.
Vitruvius says that the temple was an example of pycnostyle front porch (i.e. six closely spaced columns on the front), however, the real arrangement of the columns is again uncertain, as it could be both prostyle or a peripteral.
The temple measured 26.97 m (width) x 30 m (length), corresponding to 91 by 102 Roman feet.
The podium or platform area was at least 5.5 m high (18 Roman feet) but only 3.5 m at the front.
The columns, if Corinthian, were probably 11.8/12.4 m high, corresponding to 40 or 42 Roman feet.
Which type of order was originally used for this temple is still uncertain.
Ancient coins evidence with representations of the Temple of Divus Iulius suggests the columns were either Ionic or composite, but it is a fact that fragments of Corinthian pilaster capitals have been found on the site by archaeologists, so we may hypothesize that the temple had an Ionic pronaos combined with Corinthian pilasters on the cella walls.
In Ancient Rome, Corinthian and composite were actually part of the same order, but it seems that composite was common on civil buildings and arches exteriors and less common on temples exteriors. Many temples and religious buildings of the Augustan Age were Corinthian, such as the Temple of Mars Ultor, the Maison Carrée in Nîmes and others.
The temple was destroyed by a fire during the reign of Septimius Severus, and then restored: being the coins from the period of Augustus and Hadrian, there is also a possibility that the order of the temple was changed during the restoration by Septimius Severus.
The entablature and the cornice found on the site have a modillions and rose structure typical of the Corinthian order.
The actual position of the staircase of the podium is also uncertain, and is a problem still to be solved.
It has been supposed that staircase was frontwards in front of the podium and at the sides, or that it was backwards, at the rear of the podium and at the side.
There is no clear evidence about the real position of the staircase of the podium.
The backwards position is a reconstruction model based on a hypothesized similarity between this temple and the Temple of Venus Genetrix in the Forum of Caesar.
This similarity is not proved, and is merely based on the fact that during public funeral and Mark Antony's speech the body of Julius Caesar was set on an ivory couch and in a gilded shrine modeled on the Temple of Venus Genetrix.
The frontwards position is based on some evidence from the 19th century excavations, and the overall impression from the actual site and the ancient coins.


Dio Cassius reports the attachment of the rostra from the battle of Actium to the podium.
They are the so-called 'Rostra ad Divi Iuli', a podium used by orators for official and civil speeches, and especially for Imperial funeral orations.
The podium is clearly visible in the coins from the Hadrian period, and in the Anaglypha Traiani, but the connection between the rostra podium and the temple structure is not evident.
So also in this case there are many different hypothetical reconstructions of the general arrangement of the buildings of this part of the Roman Forum: according to the first one, the Rostra podium was attached to the Temple of Divus Iulius, and is actually the podium of the Temple of Divus Iulius with the rostra (i.e. the prows of warships) attached in frontal position.
According to the other reconstruction, the Rostra podium was a separate platform built west of the temple of Divus Iulius and directly in front of it, so the podium of the Temple of Divus Iulius is not the actual platform used by the orators for they speeches, and was not the platform used to attach the prows of ships taken at Actium.
This separate and independent podium or platform, known as 'Rostra ad Divi Iuli', is called also 'Rostra Diocletiani', due to the last arrangement of the building.


By an accurate analysis of the Ancient coins, it is possible to determine two different series of decorations for the upper part of the frontal pediment of the temple.
Fire tongues (but the identification is uncertain) decorated all the pediment as old Etruscan-fashioned decoration antefixes (probably something like the decoration of the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill).
The fire tongues seem to recall the flames of the Comet (Star), as they can be seen on the Augustan period coins.
The frieze was a repetitive scroll pattern with female heads, gorgons and winged figures.
The tympanum, at least during the first years, probably had a colossal Star, as it can be seen on the Augustan coins.
The cornice had dentils and beam type modillions (one of the first examples ever in Roman temple architecture) and undersides decorated with narrow rectangular panels carrying flowers, roses, disks, laurel crowns and pine-cones.
A statue at the very vertex of the frontal pediment, and two statues at the end corners of the pediment (the usual, classical type of decoration for the pediments of the Roman temples), are dated to Hadrian's reign.
Other Augustan Era buildings appear on coins with that particular type of 'Etruscan-style' pediment decoration.
The niche and the altar in the front of the temple podium are also a problem of scarce data interpretation.
They were visible in 29 BC when the temple was dedicated and when the Augustus coins series with the temple of Divus Iulius was struck (from 37 BC to 34 BC).
For the period after the coinage of that Series there is no clear evidence.
At a certain time the altar was removed, and the niche filled in, and closed with stone slabs, so that a continuous wall was created in the podium of the temple.
Since the altar had the right of asylum, it seems strange that the altar had been removed soon after 14 BC.
It has been suggested that the filled in niche may have not been the altar of Julius Caesar, but the Puteal Libonis, the old bidental used during the trials at the Tribunal Aurelium (see above) for the public oath.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016