Liberalia: Julius Caesar’s funeral and Resurrection
The Resurrection of Julius Caesar
on the day of the Liberalia
On Friday, 17 March 44 BCE, the day of the Liberalia, the festival of Liber Pater (Bacchus/Dionysus), Julius Caesar received his state funeral and resurrected as god by the will of the people. A wax effigy of his slain body was presented, raised above the bier, at the exact spot where a cruciform tropaeum stood, and was then rotated for the attending crowd.
The image above shows a reconstruction of Caesar’s simulacrum on the cross from the available archaeological sources. In the context of the Liberalia this cross was not (as usually) only a Roman victory cross, but especially needs to be seen as a liturgical prop commonly found in the rituals of Dionysian festivals. The tropaeum is taken from one of the many Caesarian coins that display Caesar’s tropaea, while the effigy is from a denarius by Caesar’s moneyer Buca, a coin that represented the imagery used at Caesar’s funeral, including his effigy as the legendary shepherd/king Endymion.
Caesar’s real body was cremated by the people in an improvised manner during the same ceremony on the Forum Romanum. In the gospels, which are a diegetic transposition of the historical sources on Caesar’s Civil War, Caesar’s cremation was interpreted as Christ’s Crucifixion, and all of the hypotextual properties are still found in the Passion narrative, for example the Latin cremare (CREMO; “to cremate”), which was understood as the Greek term κρεμαω (κρεμάω; “to hang from”, “to suspend”; Christian: “to crucify”), a striking accordance that was also noted (vice versa) by Church Father Augustine in Quaest. Num. 4.33.5, where he insinuated Christ’s cremation and specifically explained the Resurrection as an apotheosis by fire:
Et cremabunt eam in conspectu eius. Puto quia concrematio ad signum pertinet resurrectionis. Natura est quippe ignis ut in superna moveatur, et in eum convertitur quod crematur. Nam et ipsum cremare de graeco in latinum ductum verbum est a suspensione. Quod vero additum est, in conspectu eius, id est in conspectu sacerdotis, hoc mihi insinuatum videtur, quia illis apparuit resurrectio Christi, qui futuri erant regale sacerdotium. Iam quod sequitur: Et pellis eius et carnes et sanguis eius cum stercore eius comburetur, id ipsum expositum est quomodo concremabitur: et significatum est quod non solum substantia mortalis corporis Christi, quae commemoratione pellis et carnium et sanguinis intimata est; verum etiam contumelia et abiectio plebis, quam nomine stercoris significatam puto, converteretur in gloriam, quam combustionis flamma significat.
For more information, especially on the scientific background and sources, see the following three articles and book excerpts:
Below is a camera snapshot series of a sequence from the documentary feature film Death Masks, which originally aired on History HD in 2009. It shows a 3D reconstruction of Caesar’s wax effigy on the cross during his funeral, however with several omissions and errors, most notably the arms that are not extended, but bound to the body and to the vertical stem, as if Caesar were simply a common criminal being crucified.