Jesus Christ was the Model for some legends surrounding Julius Caesar. Part Two: Hellenistic Influence.

Published August 10, 2015 by amaic



 Damien F. Mackey



In Part One we learned that much of the ‘Julius Caesar’ that has come down to us constitutes a composite figure drawn from, e.g., Jesus Christ; Alexander the Great; and “perhaps other composites as well”, such as Julius Caesar Octavianus Augustus.  

The ‘heretical’ question had to be asked (though without an answer so far given):

Did Julius Caesar really exist?


Now, enlarging upon the Alexander factor, this Part Two will consider a broader Hellenistic influence upon the composition of the one we know as ‘Julius Caesar’.  

Hellenistic Influence

A common theme of mine, as also referred to and referenced in Part One, has been the constant Greco-Roman appropriations of various aspects of ancient Near Eastern culture and civilisation – most notably that of the Hebrews.

The younger histories borrowing from the vastly older ones.

But might not the younger Roman Republican ‘history’ have also absorbed, and appropriated, certain elements of the widespread Hellenistic empire? Biblically (I accept the Catholic canon), Rome emerges very late, but with glowing praise. I refer to 1 Maccabees 8, in which Judas Maccabeus makes a treaty with Rome. The conventional date for this is c. 160 BC, but I would imagine that this will need to be, through astute revisionism, significantly lowered. The Maccabean writer eulogises both Roman military might and Roman fair dealing (1-13):

Judas had heard of the reputation of the Romans. They were valiant fighters and acted amiably to all who took their side. They established a friendly alliance with all who applied to them. He was also told of their battles and the brave deeds that they performed against the Gauls, conquering them and forcing them to pay tribute; and what they did in Spain to get possession of the silver and gold mines there. By planning and persistence they subjugated the whole region, although it was very remote from their own. They also subjugated the kings who had come against them from the far corners of the earth until they crushed them and inflicted on them severe defeat. The rest paid tribute to them every year. Philip and Perseus, king of the Macedonians, and the others who opposed them in battle they overwhelmed and subjugated. Antiochus the Great, king of Asia, who fought against them with a hundred and twenty elephants and with cavalry and chariots and a very great army, was defeated by them. They took him alive and obliged him and the kings who succeeded him to pay a heavy tribute, to give hostages and to cede Lycia, Mysia, and Lydia from among their best provinces. The Romans took these from him and gave them to King Eumenes. When the Greeks planned to come and destroy them, the Romans discovered it, and sent against the Greeks a single general who made war on them. Many were wounded and fell, and the Romans took their wives and children captive. They plundered them, took possession of their land, tore down their strongholds and reduced them to slavery even to this day. All the other kingdoms and islands that had ever opposed them they destroyed and enslaved; with their friends, however, and those who relied on them, they maintained friendship. They subjugated kings both near and far, and all who heard of their fame were afraid of them. Those whom they wish to help and to make kings, they make kings; and those whom they wish, they depose; and they were greatly exalted.

This terrifying military strength and domination was, however, modified by wise government (vv. 14-16):

Yet with all this, none of them put on a diadem or wore purple as a display of grandeur. But they made for themselves a senate chamber, and every day three hundred and twenty men took counsel, deliberating on all that concerned the people and their well-being. They entrust their government to one man every year, to rule over their entire land, and they all obey that one, and there is no envy or jealousy among them.

Unfortunately, the Maccabean account of the journey to Rome for Treaty purposes by “Eupolemus, son of John, son of Accos, and Jason, son of Eleazar” (vv. 17-32) does not include any Roman names whatsoever.

“Later, Simon sent Numenius to Rome with the gift of a large gold shield weighing half a ton, to confirm the Jews’ alliance with the Romans” (14:24). Judas Maccabeus was now dead and his brother Simon was High Priest. Conventionally, this second Jewish approach to Rome is dated about 20 years later (c. 140 BC) than the one at the time of Judas.

Finally, this time, we are given a Roman name, “Lucius”, a consul, most generally thought to have been Lucius Calpurnius Piso.

A Roman consul who is said (1 Maccabees 15:16;) to have written a letter to Ptolemy Euergetes securing to Simon the high priest and to the Jews the protection of Rome. As the praenomen only of the consul is given, there has been much discussion as to the person intended. The weight of probability has been assigned to Lucius Calpurnius Piso, who was one of the consuls in 139-138 B.C., the fact of his praenomen being Cneius and not Lucius being explained by an error in transcription and the fragmentary character of the documents. The authority of the Romans not being as yet thoroughly established in Asia, they were naturally anxious to form alliances with the kings of Egypt and with the Jews to keep Syria in check. The imperfections that are generally admitted in the transcription of the Roman letter are not such as in any serious degree to invalidate the authority of the narrative in 1 Maccabees.

The Maccabean text reads as follows (15:5-24):

 Meanwhile, Numenius and those with him arrived in Jerusalem from Rome with the following letter addressed to various kings and countries:

From Lucius, consul of the Romans, to King Ptolemy, greetings. A delegation from our friends and allies the Jews has come to us to renew the earlier treaty of friendship and alliance. They were sent by the High Priest Simon and the Jewish people, and they have brought as a gift a gold shield weighing half a ton. So we have decided to write to various kings and countries urging them not to harm the Jews, their towns, or their country in any way. They must not make war against the Jews or give support to those who attack them. We have decided to accept the shield and grant them protection. Therefore if any traitors escape from Judea and seek refuge in your land, hand them over to Simon the High Priest, so that he may punish them according to Jewish law.

Lucius wrote the same letter to King Demetrius, to Attalus, Ariarathes, and Arsaces, and to all the following countries: Sampsames, Sparta, Delos, Myndos, Sicyon, Caria, Samos, Pamphylia, Lycia, Halicarnassus, Rhodes, Phaselis, Cos, Side, Aradus, Gortyna, Cnidus, Cyprus, and Cyrene.

A copy of the letter was also sent to Simon the High Priest.

The Divine Julius

That the ‘Julius Caesar’ that has come down to us exhibits some marked Hellenistic aspects is apparent from the account of Caesar given by N. Fields in his Warlords of Republican Rome. Caesar versus Pompey (2008). Fields, writing in his section, “The Second Dictator”, finds himself confronted with those vexed questions regarding Caesar’s status and intentions (pp. 175-176):

[Caesar’s] acceptance of the title dictator perpetuus demonstrates that Caesar did intend to retain power indefinitely, but this then raise two further extraordinary questions. First, was Caesar seeking a quasi-divine status, and second, was he going to convert the perpetual dictatorship into a hereditary monarchy? Even to this day both of these points are fiercely argued about by academics. Balsdon, for instance, coolly argues that the notion that Caesar hankered after divine status and kingship was the invention and elaboration of his assassins. On the other hand, others such as Taylor and Weinstock earnestly believe that Caesar was seeking divine status, that is to say, a Hellenistic-type monarch, despotic and absolute, worshipped with god-like honours ….

Fields becomes more explicit in his section, “The ‘Divine King’”. Following the battle of Munda, Fields writes (pp. 176-177):

… the Senate awarded Caesar another heap of honours in his absence. Again this included an ivory statue, which was inscribed ‘To the undefeated God’ and carried in procession with a statue of Victory at the opening of all games in the circus. The inscription itself had strong overtones of Alexander the Great and admittedly this is a difficult one to explain away, especially as the master of Rome did not over-rule the Senate this time.



But such excessive honour also smacked of the post-Alexander Ptolemies (p. 177): “Naturally Caesar was worshipped in the Greek east, where Hellenistic monarchs (and powerful Romans before Caesar) had been typically granted divine status while alive, the most celebrated being the Ptolemies of Egypt”.

Without my having yet done really thorough research on the matter, I would nonetheless anticipate that Hellenistic history – just like I have shown to be the case with Egyptian, Assyro-Babylonian and Persian history – will require significant streamlining.

How many of those many Ptolemies and Cleopatras are actually repetitions?

And how much belongs to Greece, and how much to Rome? Contemporaneous with the famous Cicero (c. 106-43 BC), or “Chickpea”, for example, was a Ptolemaïc “Chickpea”, Ptolemy IX Lathyrus (= Chickpea).

There is much sorting out to be done here.

Fields’ account of the enigmatic Caesar is full of questions, often with Hellenistic answers.

  1. 178:

Herein lies a possible solution to the question of Caesar’s so-called divine status. It is certainly true that the divine worship of Hellenistic monarchs became the model for the Roman emperors, and thus we could argue that Caesar, dictator for life, was the first example of this practice.


King of Rome?

But why did Caesar need the more glamorous but invidious title of rex, especially as he now held all the power he required by ruling Rome through the position of dictator perpetuus? Syme believes it is not necessary to accept that he sought to establish a Hellenistic-style monarchy, because the dictatorship was sufficient ….

Did Julius Caesar really exist?

Stay posted.


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