Ancient Rome

Did legionaries serving under Caesar’s command dislike him so much that they insulted him during his own’s triumph?

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The historian Suetonius told us that, during the triumph of Julius Caesar, something unexpected, even shocking, happened. Legionnaires passing through the city’s squares, singing rude and bawdy rhymes at the top of their lungs. Some of them are:

  • Men of Rome, keep close to your consorts, here’s a bald adulterer.
  • Gold in Gaul you spent in dalliance, which you borrowed here in Rome.
  • Nicomedes does not triumph, who subdued the conqueror.

Did Caesar’s soldiers despised and hated him to such an extent that even during his most glorious moment, they did not hesitate to express their attitude towards him? The fact is Caesar’s soldiers remained faithful to him in all circumstances. During the civil war with Pompey, for instance, cases of soldiers moving from Pompey’s legions to Caesar were often recorded, but the opposite rarely happened. If that is the case then why did these loyal legionnaires display such contemptuous behavior toward their beloved commander, especially in such a solemn celebration?

The point is that a triumph is not only a victory parade, but a civic and religious one as well. The Romans believed that victories and defeats in wars were bestowed by the gods. And through solemn processions, like a triumph, the Romans expressing their gratitude to the gods. In other words, arrogant behaviors are not supposed to be displayed, especially the person who was granted the triumph, which in this case Julius Caesar. A trustworthy slave, who was known as a auriga, held a laurel crown over the head of victorious generals, continuously  whispered in his ear that he was only a mortal. Among the crowd, actors were paid to mock the man of hour. And then there were soldiers signing bawdy rhymes, insulting their beloved commander and hero of the triumph.

In the end, the Romans were showing the gods that despite these ultimate glories and honors that were given to the victorious general, they still only recognized him as a mortal. Otherwise the gods, who were insulted by such arrogance, would punish the hero and possible the whole of Rome.

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