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Tobias

Gaius Julius Caesar - Flamen Dialis?

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G'day All

 

I've been doing a lot of reading into the republic lately. In reaching the time of Gaius Marius, Lucius Cornelius Sulla and the young Julius Caesar, there are some references to Julius Caesar being made to become the Flamen Dialis - special priest to Jupiter Optimus Maximus. In looking into this further, i haven't found anything solid. I was wondering if anyone here knows anything about Julius Caesar becoming Flamen Dialis, and how he can possibly have escaped the bonds of this position. A general description/history of the position of Flamen Dialis would also be appreciated.

 

Cheers

Edited by Tobias

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As I recall, he was appointed by Marius at a young age - the post required a patrician.

 

The Flamen - who wore special clothing and a spiked coif - was circumscribed by a host of taboos. he could not look on a dead body, wear any clothing involving knots. I cannot recall whether he could ride or not.

 

At any rate continuance in the post would have rendered Caesar incapable of becoming the man he did (following the career path he chose) - especially as a soldier.

 

The mystery is how, under sulla, he escaped from the "bondage" of this preisthood.

 

But having held it may have helped him later when he came to stand as Pontifex Maximus - head of the Roman priesthood.

 

Any biography of caesar, not least the latest from Goldsworthy should give more details.

 

The above was all from memory. Fellow posters with more time and knowledge may be able to confirm or provide more detail.

 

Phil

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Unfortunately the ancient don't make much mention of the entire affair. Suetonius suggests simply that Sulla punished Caesar by taking away his priesthood, but offers no real details.

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Given Caesar's known character and the restrictions the office placed on him, that must have been some punishment!!

 

lLke saying to a prisoner, "I'm going to punish you by letting you go free".

 

Phil

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Given Caesar's known character and the restrictions the office placed on him, that must have been some punishment!!

 

lLke saying to a prisoner, "I'm going to punish you by letting you go free".

 

Phil

 

LOL indeed. Which has led to much speculation that Caesar manipulated his own dismissal from office, but that of course stems from the benefits of looking at a subject in retrospect. Personally, I think it was the priesthood (and the very likely intervention by the college of pontiffs and vestals) that helped save his life.

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Probably a very sound judgement.

 

I also think Sulla may have seen something of his own character - charisma, drive, intelligence, insight, brilliance, glamour, in the young patrician. Both of course were also members of that "class".

 

Men of outstanding ability are rare in any society. I think Caesar would have already shown signs of his talent, notwithstanding his youth. And Sulla may have thought him too young to be a direct threat; too "interesting" to kill.

 

But that is not to say that practical intercession, and special pleading by others might not have been crucisl to persuading Sulla to listen to his inner impulse.

 

Phil

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Thanks very much for those inputs.

 

I believe the Flamen Dialis could also not touch anything made of iron or handle a weapon, and he could not ride. They could stand for no curule executive position. The Flamen Dialis automatically qualified to enter the senate upon becoming Jupiter's special priest. For someone like Caesar, i imagine that qualifying for automatic respect and honour without ever earning it would be a torture.

 

Interestingly enough, none of the other flamines seemed to be very restricted by things they could not look upon, touch etc. I daresay that it is these restrictions that reiterate the importance of Jupiter Optimus Maximus to the Romans.

Edited by Tobias

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What I never understood, was the REASON for the restrictions. I mean, alot of it just didn't make sense. There were many more restrictions than those mentioned here, for instance the flammen dialis could not look upon raw meat or an open wound, and I believe he also was not permitted to mention the "name" of raw meat either. He also had to sleep in a special bed with clay at the bottom of it, and he could not spend three nights in a row away from that bed.

 

His wife also had restrictions, for instance she could not climb more than three stairs.

 

If a prisoner in shackles came into the home of the flammen dialis, the shackles were to be cut off and lifted up through the...skylight (atrium?) and thrown from the roof.

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Presumably all the restrictions related to taboos of some form - their origin lost in time (perhaps even before the Kings?).

 

As I understand it, and I know I simplify greatly, Roman religeon was first about "contracts" with the heavenly/supernatural powers (I deliberately avoid using the slightly misleading term "gods"); and secondly the "powers" were originally numinous - they lacked the sort of human form the greeks gave to their Olympians.

 

Maybe on that basis a contract had been established - such as an early Flamen saying, "If I don't touch iron you will do X, oh Jupiter best and greatest". Whatever it was, X worked out, and after that iron was taboo for the Flamen.

 

The other possibility - and I don't see the two as mutually exclusive - is that Romans were superstitious, rather like some modern sportsmen who always wear their "lucky" socks or whatever on a match day, or have a ritual before leaving the locker room. It was what they did on the day of great success and they attach their "luck" to that ritual. If it is broken their luck will go from them.

 

Others may have other ideas, but my own view is that traditions or religious taboos of this sort are rarely created or devised intellectually. They arise from events and become hallowed over generations.

 

Phil

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Others may have other ideas, but my own view is that traditions or religious taboos of this sort are rarely created or devised intellectually. They arise from events and become hallowed over generations.

 

Agreed, in my opinion and in this case at least, some of the oddities must be explained by some long lost strange occurrences. What I suppose is rather odd is that this particular priesthood was so incredibly laden with taboos. Perhaps the earliest Romans were a bit practical in the development of their religion and heaped everything onto this one position in order to limit the inconveniences to other priests.

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Perhaps, seeing as the flamen dialis was the special priest to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, the restrictions on the position were meant to only make a certain type of person become the flamen dialis...perhaps someone with strong character, strong willpower or strong Stoicism, to have to live under such restrictions, and hence be a man a slight cut above normal men. The special priest was probably meant to be "special" in more ways than one.

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Perhaps, seeing as the flamen dialis was the special priest to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, the restrictions on the position were meant to only make a certain type of person become the flamen dialis...perhaps someone with strong character, strong willpower or strong Stoicism, to have to live under such restrictions, and hence be a man a slight cut above normal men. The special priest was probably meant to be "special" in more ways than one.

 

Given the restrictions of the office--not being able to take an oath, not being allowed to spend more than three nights away from the city, nor being allowed to gaze upon a dead body, nor mount a horse, nor even gaze upon an army arrayed for war--it would have been more rational to choose for the office anyone UNFIT for a military career. As far as I can tell, a coward and a liar would have been the ideal candidate for the flamen Dialis because then the reprobate would be kept out of honorable positions like the military tribuneship.

 

In any case, the sources contradict each other on whether Caesar was ever inaugurated into the flamenate. Tacitus and Dio say that Merula was the last flamen dialis before Augustus. Velleius says Caesar was appointed by Marius and Cinna (presumably between the death of Merula in 87 and the death of Marius in Jan 86). Suetonius says only that Caesar was intended for the office. Certainly, Caesar's divorce from the plebian Cossutia and hasty marriage to Cornelia, the patrician daughter of Cinna, makes sense in this light, because the flamen Dialis had to married to a patrician wife who could serve as flaminica.

 

Moreover, Caesar (as usual) did not meet the requirements of the office. For one, the flamen Dialis had to be the son of parents married by confarreatio, and Caesar's mother Aurelia was a plebeian. Normally, Caesar skirted the requirements of office by hiding behind the petticoats of his patrons, but in this case, Cinna and Marius were of absolutely no use: The flamen Dialis was chosen by pontifex maximus, who in 87 was the incorruptible Q. Mucius Scaevola. Cinna's henchmen made an attempt on Scaevola's life at Marius' funeral, but to Caesar's disappointment, Scaevola survived. Later, Scaevola was murdered by the younger Marius on the eve of Sulla's march to Rome, but Sulla had his own general Metellus Pius put in the office to replace Scaevola, so again, there would have been no chance for Caesar to serve in the position.

 

Thus, although Suetonius and Velleius both claim that Sulla deprived Caesar of his priesthood, the most logical interpretation is that Sulla simply prevented Caesar from attaining a priesthood that he had hoped to attain. As is typical with Caesar, he saw no difference between his hopes and his rights, but we needn't succumb to the same megalomania.

 

For more on this matter, I'd recommend Lily Ross Taylor's 1941 article in Classical Philology.

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I've always found the taboos of the cult rather strange given the fact that Jupiter was the god of victorious generals. The taboos don't match the personality and provinces of the god behind it.

 

Oh, well. Roman paganism was never a tidy afffair. :-)

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Personally, I think it was the priesthood (and the very likely intervention by the college of pontiffs and vestals) that helped save his life.

 

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum! (Lucretius)

 

If Caesar in fact did not serve in this priesthood, as Tacitus and Dio imply, is there any remaining evidence that the college of pontiffs interceded on Caesar's behalf?

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Colleen McCullough covers the subject well in her series of books on the Republic and I think this particular topic is found in her third book, "Fortune's Favorites" where there is an interesting scene between the dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla and Caesar. Sulla has his own private reasons for freeing Caesar from the offices of the flamen dialis, a clever way for Marius to get rid of a potential rival, as Caesar could never distinguish himself militarily or have any political career in Rome, as long as he remained in that office.

 

According to Colleen's version, Sulla frees Caesar not because he wants to do him a good turn but out of a sheer sense of spite or dislike of Marius, his way of evening the score by undoing what he wanted done. There is also another great scene in that book between Sulla and Caesar's mother, Aurelia, as Sulla had originally wanted Caesar killed and it is on her request or rather, plea, that he is spared by the dictator. I'm not sure if this is how all this occurred, as this is really fiction but good fiction at that, very believable in the way it is presented to the reader.

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