🔼The name Caesar
Caesar is not really a name but it came from one and it's used as one, and as such it appears 30 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
The first recorded instance of the name Caesar occurs as the last name of Sextus Julius Caesar, who was a Roman military commander two centuries before Christ, and from whose family (that is: the Caesarean clan within the larger Julian family) would come Gaius Julius Caesar (100 — 44 BC), the famous dictator of the Roman Republic (48 — 44 BC).
The title Caesar became the hereditary title of the Roman emperor, and in effect marks the instigator and perpetrators of the most heinous and persistent case of nationalistic crime in humanity's history, namely the murder of a republic headed by a popular senate and its replacement by a totalitarian empire headed by one man, and one deified to boot.
The title Caesar continues to be used until today as the German noun Kaiser, the Dutch keizer, the Bulgarian and Serbian tsar and the Russian czar. A similar venerative assimilation occurred with the name Karl (the first name of Charlemagne), which became the Slavic noun kral (Serbo-Croatian, Turkish, Bulgarian), krol (Polish), and korol (Russian) meaning king.
🔼The divine father and his son the savior
Julius Caesar was the first Roman leader to be called "god" and "savior," which became dominant phrases in Roman Imperial theology. The idea behind these lofty titles was that while the Roman Republic collapsed in the first century BC, Julius Caesar but mostly his son Caesar Augustus resurrected Rome from the dead. And was Rome once a mere conglomerate of human effort, it rose as a divine being: the Holy Roman Empire!
Especially the apostle Paul began to apply these typical phrases of the Imperial cult (son of God, king of kings, savior of the world) to Jesus of Nazareth, which indicates that these phrases don't reflect the gospel's primary ideas, as many people today still believe, but were applied to Christ only secondarily, as counter-response to Roman Imperial Theology. This Imperial Theology was needed to explain why the destroyer of the people's Republic was of any benefit to anyone, and why a totalitarian regime was better than a senate. Amazingly, many people bought it and still do today, since the belief in a concocted empire, headed by a divine man who takes care of business with his super-powers, is much more appealing than having to live in a world in which every human being is equal, and every person is responsible for his own life.
A very large portion of the message of Jesus of Nazareth, and of the imagery with which He became surrounded in the gospels, are direct responses to Rome's detrimental transition between a free people governed by just laws and an enslaved people governed by one "divine" man. The gospel has many facets, but relative to Rome its message was that no man is higher than another; no man can stand between another man and the Creator, and no man can relieve another man of his sovereignty and his responsibilities as a free man under God.
Jesus and His disciples envisioned a world without human dominion (Matthew 23:10, 1 Corinthians 15:24) while the Roman Empire depended for its very existence on the opposite. The word Christ means Anointed One (and an anointed one was someone without a human superior: kings, high priests and prophets; read our articles on the names Christ, Christian and Antichrist for more details). That is why humanity can only function properly when it consists of free people, who are anointed into their own personal kinghood (2 Corinthians 1:21, 1 John 2:20). And any form of government that is not based on the personal sovereignty of man is based on his enslavement.
🔼The Seal of Perfection
The clash between personal sovereignty and personal slavery (that is the clash between Christ and Antichrist) exists until today in every situation in which one person restricts another person in whatever way or form. It's important that people know how easily their personal thrones can be usurped, which is why it is important to contemplate the history of how humanity managed to get most of its thrones stolen:
The Phoenicians were a Semitic people who originally lived just north of Israel (Tyre and Sidon were Phoenician), and whose culture was kept in very high regards by Israel's early prophets. According to Ezekiel 28 they had the seal of perfection, and were full of wisdom and perfect in beauty — for a more detailed look at the Phoenicians, see our article on the name Hannibal.
Around the time that the Phoenicians proved to be so brilliant that they could built Solomon's temple of YHWH (roughly 1000 BC), they began to fan out into the Mediterranean basin, founded colonies galore and in the ensuing centuries created an empire based solely on trade, respect for the target markets, and voluntary participation of the latter. In their early days, the Phoenicians would leave goods on people's beaches and return the next day to see what was left in return. If the Phoenicians found the trade agreeable, they'd come back with more; if not, then they would peacefully move on.
But as the Phoenician empire grew stronger, their resentment of being attacked and robbed by the occasional bandit tribe enticed them to create a standing army to protect their interests. That army gave them power, the power corrupted and the Phoenician empire began its gradual decline. Meanwhile, Rome was a minor settlement on the Latin side of the border between the territories of the Latins and the Etruscans. The Latins would ultimately assimilate the Etruscans, and by doing so, they assimilated the remnants of the Hittite empire, which had moved west from Lydia (modern Turkey; the area containing the seven churches addressed by John the Revelator).
In the eighth or seventh century BC or so, he Lydians had invented something that would come to rule the trade world: the monetary coin. That little invention stopped the actual exchange of equally-valued goods and services, and produced a world in which one's possessions and skills could be represented by something that fitted in someone else's pocket. It became far more easy to pay soldiers, and thus expand armies. One could easily finance ventures abroad without actually having to leave one's house. And, most wonderfully, one could rob blind entire nations without having to launch a costly war, and amass wealth that could be precisely counted and compared to the next guy's.
Rome evolved from being a nation of cashiers and dedicated administrators to a people obsessed with rules and law. And since law without a means to enforce it might as well not exist, Rome also began to develop its army and sent it wherever Rome felt its laws should apply. Which was everywhere.
The Phoenicians were fortified merchants, the Romans were armed lawyers, and where the twain met a clash emerged that lasted for centuries, and perhaps quintessentially to this day everywhere a government over-regulates the commercial market and merchants devise schemes to regain their freedoms. Later mythologists of Rome would devise that Rome and Phoenicia's glorious capital Carthage were founded in the same year, namely 753 BC, like two twins brothers. But as mythological twin brothers so often do, one killed the other when Rome defeated and utterly leveled Carthage in 146 BC.
🔼And there was a war in heaven
With the Phoenicians out of the way, Rome swept over the known world and in stead of trading with others on a voluntary basis, Rome conquered and destroyed and "liberated" its neighbors from their ignorance and lawlessness, and "civilized" them according to Rome's ideals. And apart from arrogantly believing in one's own superiority in matters of righteousness, Rome was a republic and sported a pretty descent senatorial government. Its cardinal rule was that no one man was to ever have all power. Another rule was that every citizen could appeal to the justice system and rectify perceived wrongs (note that 25% of Rome's populace were citizens; the rest were slaves).
These glorious ideals lasted until the first century BC, when the generals of Rome's now vast army were waking up to the fact that even though the senators had the power in a formal sense, the army represented the power in a practical sense. One of these generals was Pompey, who in 63 BC had commanded the army that invaded Judea and deposed the last of the rightful Jewish kings. He had also entered the Holy of Holies to check out the God of the Jews (and found both an empty room and the conviction that the Jews were crazy) and instated the Pharisaic high priesthood because the Pharisees were more compatible with Rome's take on things than the Sadducees (see our article on the name Annas).
Another one of those generals was Julius Caesar. Pompey was married to Julius' only child Julia and the two were best friends, but while Julius was in Europe "liberating" the Celts (of their gold, mostly; the Celts were basically the Phoenicians of Europe and had a vast trading network without central rule), general Pompey decided he deserved a degree of political power on a par with his military stature, retired from the army and managed to wrestle a position of limited but solitary power from the senate. Immediately he began to rectify Rome's crooked state of affairs by pulling laws out of his hat.
Pompey's semi-totalitarianism and molestation of Rome's legislative machine were of course barbarous atrocities, and desecrated everything the Republic stood for. Julius, duly indignant, took action. Because coins were also the first mass-media and propaganda device and an excellent means to demonstrate directly how much wealth one had added to the economy, Julius turned the looted Celtic treasures into 22.5 million personalized coins and injected these into the Roman economy. These coins showed the image of an advancing war elephant striding atop Julius' family name: CAESAR; the famous "elephant denarius", and would be the third most minted coin in the Republican era (says Debra Nousek in an article called Turning Points in Roman History).
Pompey and the senate ordered Julius to relinquish command over his troops, but Julius decided that the world would be better off when the open debate at the heart of the Republic would be replaced by him giving orders. Julius' wouldn't be the first military coup, but it would prove to be the most crucial one in human history. In 49 BC Julius marched on Rome with his legion: Legio XII Fulminata, and defeated Pompey. This famous and crucially important legion XII was finally defeated at the battle of Beth-horon, which marked the formal beginning of the Jewish War. Fulminata means "armed with lightning" and in Luke 17:24 Jesus either says something rather odd about both lightning and Himself, or He refers to Julius' legion.
Pompey was defeated and took flight, but much to the chagrin of true believers in the Republic, Julius was just like Pompey, except much better at it. If the Republic had been mortally wounded by Pompey, it died at the hands of Julius.
Julius had himself declared Dictator for Life, which lasted until 44 BC, when he was assassinated by Republicans who called themselves the Liberators (namely the republic from tyranny). Julius' adopted son Octavian pursued and killed the Liberators (see our articles on Nicopolis and Philippi), stabilized the remaining populace and became emperor Augustus. The Republic was now definitely dead and buried, and Rome had become an Empire which was to keen observers an obvious crime against humanity of an unprecedented degree, and to most others a wonderful new thing to believe in.
🔼Rome and the Gospel
The authors of the Gospel of Jesus Christ protested the Roman take on absolute justice and the divinity of man, and argued that all men are equally made in God's image and are thus all equally free and equally responsible for their own lives. Only full submission to the Law of God (the natural laws upon which the universe, and thus ourselves, run) can be perceived as utter freedom, and every deviation from the Law of God causes bondage. An unjust law is no law at all, saw some, from which was derived that Roman law was lawlessness in essence (Matthew 7:23, 13:41, 23:28).
The Roman empire deeply resented free people and free thinking, and needed humanity to be a machine, which ran on rigid rules and hierarchies from top to bottom. The Jewish War was not simply a war against some local uprisers, as is commonly believed, but against a large portion of the intelligentsia and academia of the known world; that part which preached against forcing humanity on a grid and for the importance of individual freedom. In modern times, namely in 17th century Britain, this non-compliance became known as the Jewish Problem, and its Final Solution was famously proposed by Hitler, who was obviously deeply amoured by Rome's sense of symbolisms and theatrics, and totalitarian rule and hate of non-compliance (the only difference between Hitler and Augustus is that Augustus won).
When Jerusalem was sacked and the temple of YHWH destroyed (in 70 AD), but the promotion of individual sovereignty would still not stop, Rome under Constantine (a worshipper of Sol Invictus, the invincible sun) cleverly hijacked the movement's key phrases (much like Paul had done with Rome's phrases three centuries earlier) and easily lead the freedom-seeking masses back into its clutches (like modern companies diverting the health craze by calling their sugar-doused candy bars "health-bars" in order to cash in on the gullibility of less informed health seekers). Thus Jesus of Nazareth ceased to be a commoner and became the Pantokrator, and since He had ascended and was out of sight, the emperor-slash-pope would generously take His place. The common man was pummeled back into the mud from which he sprang, and the Roman elite feasted on the lies and false devotion that still keeps us dumb and scared today.
A "good Christian" was now no longer someone who obeyed only the Lord of Life and questioned even Him (1 Corinthians 2:10), and became someone who obeyed human superiors and questioned nothing. Churches were erected in which the classical Greco-Roman pantheon was revived. The gods and demigods of old were now named by their Biblical saint names, but their heads were adorned with a solar disk in reverence of Sol Invictus. The national mother-goddess (with her divine son, the emperor) was reinstated in the worship of Mary.
Even today we can walk into any Catholic of Orthodox church and see vividly celebrated a continuation of the Greco-Roman world view, which is based on bosses and slaves and not on the Biblical model of personal sovereignty. The crucifixes you'll see everywhere have nothing to do with Jesus of Nazareth and everything with Caesar Augustus, and the death and resurrection of Rome. Obvious to even the least keen observers, Christmas and Easter are pagan festivals, and the Nicene creed is a snowclone of Roman Imperialism (to give a few hints: shepherds don't abide in the field in dead winter, and the phrase descendit ad inferna or "descended into hell", which was not even part of the Nicene Creed but was inserted later by the Aquileian Church, is not based on a Biblical premise but on the story of Ishtar, a Babylonian fertility goddess).
The house style of the traditional church, with its banners, brazen symbols and pseudo-divine pope, was obviously a continuation of that of the Roman Empire (and not of the gospel, in case you were wondering), and so was, most blatantly, that of Hitler's Third Reich. Less clearly derived but still closely akin in essence and working are those present societies in which the fatherland (or motherland, or homeland, etcetera) is personified and venerated in some way or other, a national rally contains more flags than people, and the leader is endowed with titles and honors beyond those befitting a chief clerk. Fortunately, displays like that become increasingly scarce as humanity becomes increasingly enlightened.
The Bible predicts that all this nonsense will end, not by human effort but by God's, which will make it seem like a natural occurrence. In time, humanity will evolve into two kinds of post-humans: one kind will form a global government that will make sure that nobody is suppressing anyone, and the other kind will people the earth, all as free human beings, or Christs (Revelation 21:24). So very few churches depict the Biblical predictions that the world at large and an overwhelming majority of religious Christians no longer have any idea what the gospel is. But as the quest for truth and the human rights movement in all its forms have moved considerable mountains over the last few centuries, we can take solace in the fact that the gospel is very much alive in the world, despite the world's silliest beliefs and its most evil of men.
Julius Caesar's grand-nephew, adopted son and successor Gaius Octavius (63 BC — 14 AD) became emperor Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus (27 BC — 14 AD), who turned the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Caesar Augustus was incumbent when Jesus was born (Luke 2:1), and by that time he was worshipped as "deliverer" or "savior," and more strikingly as divi filius, "son of the divinity" (namely the "divine" Julius Caesar). During his reign, in 6 AD, the Roman province of Judea was created, which covered the original Judah, Samaria and Idumea.
The name Augustus means Glorious One, and if we look at the gospel accounts strictly from a literary point of view (that means: if, for argument sake, we analyze the gospels as a work of literary fiction in which the characters are organized in a deliberate composition), emperor Augustus would serve as Jesus' evil twin.
Augustus the self-proclaimed Glorious One, the godly son of the divine Julius, saved the world from demise by taking control of every single human life in it. Jesus the humble one, but glorified by God, the son of the one and only real Divinity, saved the world from demise by liberating every single human life in it. Augustus was originally a remote kin but was adopted by the godly Julius; Jesus was originally divine but adopted by man, while His followers are adopted as sons by the Real God (Ephesians 1:5, Romans 8:23). Augustus glorified the empire by killing his opponents and glorifying himself. Jesus glorified His empire by forgiving His enemies and dying for His friends.
After Augustus came his (also adopted) son Tiberius Claudius Nero (42 BC — 37 AD) who became emperor Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti Filius Augustus(14 AD — 37 AD). Three years after Tiberius' son Drusus's death in 23 AD, he moved to the island of Capri and left the empire in the hands of one Lucius Aelius Sejanus. Sejanus subsequently plotted against Tiberius, was found out, executed and replaced by one Naevius Sutorius Macro in 31 AD. Lacking clear leadership, the Empire was largely freewheeling at that time.
John the Baptist began his ministry when Tiberius moved to Capri (Luke 3:1), and since Jesus was tried by Pontius Pilate (who ruled from 26 AD to 36 AD), Tiberius was also emperor when Jesus was crucified (somewhere between 30 and 36 AD). He was certainly the Caesar mentioned by Jesus in Luke 20:25 and invoked by the Jews in John 19:12.
When Tiberius died his grand-nephew and adopted grandson Caligula (12 AD — 41 AD) became emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (37 AD — 41 AD). He refused to officially deify his predecessor and appears to not have been officially deified himself, or at least while living. He nevertheless obviously flirted with and promoted the idea of his own divinity and began to pass the precept of divinity to associated women (his sister Drusilla). Caligula appears to have been an exemplary emperor for the first half year of his reign but then began to focus on the more carnal liberties his office yielded. He began to kill innocent bystanders on whims and for amusement, slept with married women and his sisters, and pimped them off to his men. At some point he made his horse Incitatus a priest in the cult to himself (or so the story goes: Dio LIX.28.6).
In around 40 AD Caligula decided to adorn the temple of YHWH in Jerusalem with a statue of himself, and sent in a legion to accomplish that. This was the first time that Roman Imperial rule infringed on Jewish authority, and the legion was met by tens of thousands of relatively peacefully protesting Jews.
The Jews went on strike and held noisy sit-ins, but their leaders feared an imminent armed revolt. Finally the legion's commander Petronius wrote to his emperor that the statue wasn't going to happen, and by signing his letter he also signed his death warrant. Fortunately for Petronius and many others, Caligula became the first emperor to be assassinated. The plot that produced his assassins consisted of members of his government and security. They also killed his wife and young daughter and immediately declared Caligula's uncle Claudius his successor.
Because Caligula's reign came after the death of Christ and before the first epistles, he is not mentioned in the New Testament.
Claudius (10 BC — 54 AD) was the first emperor who was not an (adopted) descendant of Julius (he was nevertheless his great-great-grandnephew), and he was the first to assume the name Caesar as a title: Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (41 — 54 AD). Very early in Claudius' rule, the Roman Province of Judea became autonomous under "king of the Jews" Herod Agrippa. He deified Augustus' deceased wife Livia but forbade the formation of a cult around himself (having said that only gods may choose new gods). Worried about religious depolarization, Claudius expelled the practitioners of various religions from Rome, particularly proselytizing religions and those incompatible with the Imperial cult: mostly Druids and Jews and along with them early Christians (Acts 18:2, also see Acts 11:26-28). As the Roman historian Suetonius famously wrote:
Suetonius — Lives of the Caesars, Claudius.25
Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus; he expelled them from Rome.
As a majority of scholars attests, the Chrestus Suetonius refers to is almost certainly Christus or Christ.
Claudius too was murdered and some say by his own (fourth) wife. His grandnephew and adopted son Nero succeeded him.
Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (37-68) was seventeen years old when he became emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (54-68) . He was the nephew of Caligula and the great-great-grandson of Augustus through his mother Agrippa, and the grandnephew of Augustus through his father's maternal grandmother Octavia Minor. Early threats to his throne resulted in intrigues, the unexplained death of Nero's young stepbrother Britanicus and the execution of his mother Agrippa.
Nero was obsessed with himself and frequently granted his subjects public demonstrations of his skills as actor, athlete and singer (see our article on the name Nicopolis). After deifying Claudius, he gladly allowed the formation of cults for himself, his wife and infant daughter, and at one point a proposal came from the Senate to dedicate a temple to Nero as living deity. That never happened.
What did happen was that both Peter and Paul vanished from the historic records during Nero's reign. Paul was last seen in Rome and Peter probably somewhere in Asia Minor (1 Corinthians 9:5, also see 1 Peter 5:13), but that's where the trails go cold. Starting from the late first or early second century, authors report of their deaths; Paul by beheading and Peter by reversed crucifixion, both in Rome. And if Peter died in Rome, he must have done so before Paul got there, or else he would probably have mentioned his old friend. But perhaps he did and those texts no longer exist. Nero was the Caesar Paul appealed to (Acts 25:8-12) and whose household contained people he had converted (Philippians 4:22). The fact that Paul could request an audience with the emperor demonstrates that at this time, this new theology was no longer considered the manifestation of a mere local skirmish.
In 64 AD Rome went up in flames and rebuilding it was so costly that it devaluated the larger economy of the Empire. How the fire started is not certain, but the populous blamed Nero, and he subsequently blamed Christians. As the Roman historian Tacitus famously wrote:
Tacitus — Annals XV.44
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.
Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.
Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car.
Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.
Note that the "abominations" of Christians were felt as real threats to the Romans. Romans welcomed any theology as long as believers also kneeled to the Imperial deities; after all, the god(s) of Rome had defeated their gods. The theology of the Christians not only explained that kneeling before Rome was both a folly and a fallacy, it also seemed to mock the Imperial cult by borrowing its phrases. Like Pompey before and the vast majority of people today, the Romans simply didn't understand the gospel, and had no other means to handle it than to treat it like a religious manifesto and compare it with any other religion, including their own.
The Romans were faced with the choice to either allow this mockery and by doing so undermine the dignity of the Empire, or else infringe upon their signature pseudo-freedom of creed and as such unravel the fabric of Roman Imperial theology. The Roman Empire sustained millions of people in a huge interconnected economy, and any threat thereto was considered evil and unnatural. Christians were invaders that the Romans couldn't properly fight and their theology was recognized as an assault on pax deorum; the divine peace that marked most of life in the Roman world.
Also note that especially Paul made it a point to stress that Christians are obliged to obey their rulers and governments (Acts 23:5, Titus 3:1), but this was to distinguish Christianity from a political movement, and to establish it as a natural movement. Christianity didn't occur because people thought it was a good idea; it occurred naturally (God made it happen) and people were caught up by it.
Finally note that the legend which holds that Nero was playing the violin while Rome burned is utterly ludicrous. There were guns before there were violins.
🔼The Year of Four Emperors
At the end of Nero's reign there wasn't much left of the pax deorum he dreamt of. The empire spiraled into disarray and civil war broke out. In the one year of 69 AD, the imperial throne was occupied by four different emperors, the first three of which, Galba, Otho, Vitelius, all promoted their own cult and were all murdered (Otho committed suicide). On 21 December 69, Vespasian was made emperor.
During much of the Year of Four Emperors, Titus Flavius Vespianus (9 - 79 AD) was in Judea trying to quell the Jewish Revolt. There he learned about widely circulating rumors, based on ancient prophecies, that the rulers of the world would come from Judea (Cassius Dio Roman History LXVI-1). He left the army in the care of his son Titus, and departed for Rome via Egypt to en passant secure the city's grain supplies. While still in Egypt, the Senate declared him Caesar Vespasianus Augustus (69 - 79 AD). The Senate also conferred the title of Caesar upon his two sons Titus and Domitian, making it a general title of honor and no longer solely the title of the incumbent emperor.
Vespasian brought back the cult of the divine Julius Caesar. After the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, he rerouted the tax that Jews paid for temple maintenance to benefit the temple of Jupiter Capitolius, "the victor of the Jews and their God," and decreed that all Jews who paid the tax were exempt from the otherwise mandatory imperial worship. Since the gospels as we have them were completed after the destruction of the temple, this fundamental dilemma indubitably was discussed at length, projected back on the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17, Luke 20:20-26).
General Titus Flavius Vespianus (39 - 81 AD), son of Vespasian, swang his legions into Judea with the intent to once and for all suppress any Jewish uprisings. This ended with the three-year siege of Jerusalem, during which his father left for Rome to be coronated. In 70 AD, Titus finally sacked Jerusalem, during which the temple was destroyed (by Jewish rebels themselves, according to Josephus; see our article on Dalmanutha), and the state of Israel ceased to exist until it was resurrected in 1948.
While in Egypt Vespasian had been forced to resort to trade, which earned himself the nickname The Muleteer, and that made Titus the Mule's Foal. Also because Jesus had compared His own death and resurrection to the destruction of the temple (John 2:19, Matthew 24:2), very few in the original audience of the gospels would not have recognized in Jesus' triumphant entry of Jerusalem on a mule's foal, the idea that the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus was to be a catalyst for the furtherance of mankind's collective wisdom, of which the Jews had been the ambassadors (Zechariah 9:9, Matthew 21:5).
Upon the death of Vespasian, Titus became emperor Titus Caesar Vespasianus Augustus (79 - 81 AD). His destruction of Israel was commemorated on an arch, which stands in Rome until today. During his reign, the Colosseum, which also remains to today, was opened. Titus died at age 41 after less than two years in office, and was eagerly (suspiciously so even) succeeded by his younger brother Domitian.
Titus Flavius Domitianus (51 - 96 AD) succeeded emperor Titus as Caesar Domitianus Augustus (81 - 96 AD). He was, apparently, very happy with himself (besides hating the fact that he was bald), immediately restored the cult around the living emperor, and demanded to be referred to as dominus et deus, "master and god". He stripped the Senate of its powers and appointed himself as divine despot. Contemporary historians depict Domitian as a recluse and cruel and hated ruler, which doesn't explain why he was longer in office than any emperor since Tiberius, but it does clarify why he was finally knocked off.
Talmudic, Midrashic and early Christian authors ascribed an administration of cruel persecution to Domitian in retrospect, but modern scholars note the near total absence of references to such campaigns in writings of the time. The earliest reference to, what Greg Beale calls "persecutions of an occasional nature and apparently insignificant from the Emperor's perspective" (G. K. Beale, The Book Of Revelation, page 5) occurs in Trajan's response to Pliny the Younger, circa 113 AD (Epistles 10.96-97). Since the Book of Revelation isn't dated, it's difficult to establish when it was written. Scholars generally tend to also recognize reflections on Nero's reign in Revelation, but the majority of it appears to be inspired by events during the reign Domitian. The fact that Revelation isn't dated, or even explained by inserting names of emperors, makes it very well possible that the core concerns of this Book are timeless and universal and only projected on the goings on in Rome of the late first century.
Domitian was assassinated and succeeded by the unrelated Nerva. The title Caesar (as Tsar or Kaiser) remained in use until the twentieth century.
🔼Meaning of the name Caesar
The name Caesar is not a common word and the hunt for its true meaning and etymology has been open for two millennia. But the quest for the meaning and etymology of the name Caesar results in two different endeavors. By the time people began to wonder about the actual etymology of the name Caesar, the meaning of it had been firmly established: it described the divine Savior of the World; a man-god of astounding handsomeness and vigor, the father of the divine Roman empire. With the Imperial Cult firmly in place, people would ponder Caesarology like we ponder Theology. And take our word "God" for instance. We use it liberally, counting without reservation on our audiences' familiarity with it, but very few of us feel that its actual etymology has any bearing on its meaning (it's thought to come from a proto-indo-European root meaning to pour, libate, or else from one meaning to call, invoke; it's really quite irrelevant).
Wherever it came from, the evolution of the meaning of the name Caesar is possibly comparable with that of the expression "your name is mud," which existed long before Samuel Mudd helped John Wilkes Booth assassinate president Lincoln, but which gained popularity because of it. Or the popularization of the flush toilet by Thomas Crapper, whose name became attached to it also because the related verb had long been used to describe defecation. Or the term sharpshooter, which originally described someone who would shoot with a highly accurate rifle designed by Christian Sharps.
When Roman scholars began to contemplate the origin of the name Caesar, they did so out of the conviction that a mighty river can not spring from a silly trickle, and were, as always, more concerned with bending reality to fit the tradition than vice versa. They had a lot to choose from:
🔼Etymology of the name Caesar
The etymology of the name Caesar is officially obscure, but it's pretty safe to bet that it shares its origin with a vast cluster of Latin words that are all based on the element cid or its declined form cis. This element reflects both suddenness and severance, and still lives on in our English words accident, occasion and occident (named after the vanishing of the sun), and via the Greek cognate σχιζω (schizo), meaning to split, rend, or violently divide, it abides in our words schism and schizophrenia.
In Latin, this fundamental element is expressed most dominantly in the common Latin verb caedo, which means to strike with a similar broad compass as the English verb. Our Latin verb is used to reflect a cutting or hewing down trees or chopping into pieces of wood (or even blocks of frozen wine). And it is used to describe a striking upon or against something, and as such it became a military term that means to strike mortally, to fall upon an enemy and crush it wholly. It's also used in the sense of slaying animals for sacrifice and offering. Via the latter use, it came to denote the forfeiture of a security deposit (initially an animal, which was slaughtered upon default). Finally, our verb is used figuratively in the sense of "chopping" words: to talk or converse (hence our English word caesura, meaning a break or interruption).
Note how pretty much every usage of this verb can be applied to the mission of Christ, which again argues that the stories of Jesus were secondarily designed as a response to Caesarism or totalitarianism. In a remarkable display of brilliant satire, Paul, when tried by Felix and Herod Agrippa quotes the Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus (254 - 184 BC) via the voice of Jesus: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads" (Acts 26:14). In Plautus' play Truculentus (which means savage or cruel; hence our English word trucidation), a man called Diniarchus reflects on his bankruptcy by the trickery of the girl Astaphium, who relates to her prostitute-madam Phronesium the way Agrippa relates to Caesar. Diniarchus fumes: "Upon my faith, I'll forthwith cause your name to be before every magistrate, and after that I'll sue you for fourfold, you sorceress, you kidnapper of children! By the Powers [c. Romans 13:1], I'll now disclose all your disgraceful deeds. Worthless creature that I am, who have lost everything I had! [c. 2 Corinthians 12:11] [...] It's nonsense. If you thump a goad [Stimulos pugnis caedere] with your fists, your hands are hurt the most. It's no good to be angry at a thing of nothing; a creature that doesn't value you a straw" (Truculentus Act IV, scene 2).
Felix was baffled and began to bray about madness and great learning, but Agrippa, who knew his classics (Acts 26:3 and 26:26-27), understood that Paul was not some fanatical blabbermouth but a highly skilled master of words who knew his business (26:28). Perhaps Agrippa understood that if Jesus told Paul that Paul kicked the goad, then the Gospel was the goad and the pre-converted Paul the pained kicker. By extension, Caesar too would be the pained kicker who kicked against the movement around Jesus of Nazareth. And if Paul identified with the bankrupted Diniarchus, he also said that he would declare the injustice of Agrippa and Caesar to every righteous magistrate. Amazingly, Agrippa declared that Paul wasn't doing anything illegal, which seems to suggest that Agrippa's understanding didn't reach very far. Paul was obviously committing high treason against Caesar and the Empire.
The Latin noun for a cut is caesa, which is closely related to the participle caesio, a cutting. The latter is used either for the cutting or lopping of trees, or for a wounding or killing of people, and is in turn related to the adjective caesius, meaning cutting or sharp. This adjective is only used to describe a quality of eyes ("piercing" eyes), more specifically those of Minerva, and is commonly translated with cat-eyed or gray-eyed (hence our English word caesious, meaning grayish-blue or -green). Minerva, of course, was the Roman goddess of wisdom; arts, trade and strategy, from the 2nd century equated with the Greek goddess Athena. In his book Julius Caesar: Leadership, Strategy, Conflict (2010), Nic Fields writes: "For us moderns the conquest of Gaul [Celtic territory in modern France] stands as the greatest of Caesar's achievements, yet at the time it was little other than a stepping stone in his struggle for power. In this Caesar had the great advantage of being a man of letters as well as a man of war, the embodiment of Mars and Minerva".
🔼Caesar according to Aelius Spartianus
Late in the third century AD, a historian named Aelius Spartianus decided to enlighten his emperor Diocletian in regard to the possible origins and meanings of his high title. Spartianus' musings were incorporated in the famous Historia Augusta, which contains a fabulous array of errors and blunders, but still provides modern scholars with an invaluable insight into the first few centuries of the Roman empire. In a covert stroke of satire Spartianus evokes the averments of "men of the greatest learning and scholarship," who, while pondering the origin of the name Caesar, managed to provide four wild and widely varying guesses (The Life Of Aelius 2.3). "The first man to be called Caesar" was called such because:
- He had slain an elephant (caesai) in battle,
- Or his mother had died and he was delivered through a Caesarian section,
- Or he had a thick head of hair (caesaries) when he came forth from his mother's womb (Lewis and Short submit that this word comes from an ancient Sanskrit root, but there were probably Latins galore who figured that it meant "hair cut"),
- Or because he had bright grey eyes (oculis caesiis) and "was vigorous beyond the wont of human beings".
And he adds: "At any rate, whatever the truth, it was a happy fate which ordained the growth of a name so illustrious, destined to last as long as the universe endures".
Despite the dubiosity of the Historia Augusta itself, it's overly clear that Aelius Spartianus had no intention to provide an array of serious suggestions concerning the meaning of the name Caesar. In fact, all his statements are comparable to joke-etymologies such as "the space shuttle was called such because it was so large that you could play badminton in it". Spartianus obviously depends on the common understanding of the title Caesar, and his little treatise is deliberately humorous and designed to impress the emperor with literary versatility. His phrase "men of the greatest learning and scholarship" is facetious and a euphemism for "what everybody knows to apply to any Caesar (and particularly Diocletian)".
Let's have a look at the first two of Spartianus' etymologies:
🔼Caesar means Elephant(-slayer)
According to the men of the greatest learning and scholarship whom Spartianus says to have consulted, the name Caesar might have come from someone slaying an elephant in battle. An elephant, Spartianus reveals, is called caesai in the Moorish language.
The Moors or Mauri lived in Mauretania in north Africa from at least the third century BC on, and were right in the thick of the Punic Wars (264 - 146 BC); the second of which (218 - 201 BC) produced Hannibal's near victory over Rome. Hannibal famously made use of thirty-seven war elephants, and the reverence for the name Caesar may have been amplified by the narrow victory of Rome over Hannibal's army. Rome wouldn't come as close to annihilation until the joint Illyrian and German Revolts of 9 AD.
Why Caesar would be called Elephant in Moorish and not Elephantus or Barrus (in Latin), Spartianus doesn't explain. In fact, the link to some Moorish word might be misleading and the real relation to elephants a touch more compelling. In his Natural History (78 AD), Pliny the Elder writes, perhaps also a touch biased:
Pliny — Natural History VIII.1
The elephant is the largest of them all, and in intelligence approaches the nearest to man. It understands the language of its country, it obeys commands, and it remembers all the duties which it has been taught. It is sensible alike of the pleasures of love and glory, and, to a degree that is rare among men even, possesses notions of honesty, prudence, and equity; it has a religious respect also for the stars, and a veneration for the sun and the moon.
About a century before Pliny wrote this, the young general Pompey was rooting for the approval of the people, and decided to graft the Alexandrian victory-symbol of the elephant upon his own reputation. After a string of military victories in Africa, he designed a triumphal entry into Rome for himself, during which his chariot would be towed by four elephants. But, alas, the gates of the city were too narrow for the elephants to pass and Pompey had to be content with horses. This much to his chagrin and the amusement of his spectators (Plutarch, Life of Pompey).
Twenty years later, in 55 AD, Pompey tried to thrill his audiences with elephants once again and organized a festival in which black warriors from Numidia would fight elephants to the death. But, unlike lions and bears, the eighteen recruited elephants refused to fight and ran away from their tormentors. When they figured out that they couldn't escape, they stopped running and turned to the spectators with such human-like wailing and gestures of entreaty that everybody went home upset and feeling rather feeble, lavishly cursing Pompey for his stupid ideas of a good time (Pliny, NH VIII.7.20; Seneca BV 18; Cassius Dio 39.38). Thus ended public elephant killing, and Pompey was stabbed to death in Egypt seven years later.
Probably just prior to Pompey's death, Julius Caesar had his elephant denarius minted. Why Julius chose the elephant as his symbol is not known and perhaps it's a convenient coincidence but he defeated Pompey in much the same way as the elephants did: by popular opinion. This renders to believe that Spartianus wasn't talking about some "first man to be called Caesar" but about the first of the Caesars: Julius Caesar, who hadn't slain an elephant in battle but who was the elephant who had slain Pompey. And apart from Spartianus' facetious "men of the greatest learning" and perhaps some wandering Moors, nobody in either the Republic or the Empire would have linked the name Caesar to the elephant. They would have linked it to the slaying.
🔼He was delivered through a Caesarean section.
In antiquity, childbirth was tricky business. About one in forty women would die while giving birth (this fate too befell Julia, Julius' daughter and Pompey's fourth wife, in 54 BC) but the Romans understood that even when the mother died, the child might still be excised alive by cutting through the mother's parietes. The Romans would only perform this operation on deceased women (even when the child had died too, it had to be extracted, according to the Lex Regis of Numa Pompilia, 715 - 672 BC), but apparently at that time Jews were successfully performing Caesarean sections on living and surviving women (shows Jeffrey Boss in his outstanding 2012 study The Antiquity Of Caesarean Section With Maternal Survival: The Jewish Tradition). But that the Caesarean section was not simply one of many medical procedures, but rather the king of medical procedures, an act of creation bordering on the divine, is argued by the origin of the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, who too was born by Caesarean section upon the death of his human mother Coronis. His cult spread to Rome in 293 BC, where he became known as Aesculapius.
When Pliny the Elder wrote his Natural History (78 AD; dedicated to his friend Caesar Vespasian), the name Caesar had become the supreme imperial title, a divine title even, but Pliny stated that the first one called such "was so named from his having been removed by an incision in his mother's womb" (NH VII.7). Pliny was not bound by the strict scientific method we use today, and his etymology of the name Agrippa (which he forwards in the preceding chapter) is generally rejected (as well as several other fantastic claims he makes in this book). In his chapter VII.6, Monstrous Births, Pliny submits that people who are born feet-first are either unfortunate and the father of children "who all proved a very curse to the earth" (like Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, who was in fact the highly successful personal friend and son-in-law of Caesar Augustus) or unfavorable (Nero, "the enemy of the human race"). In chapter VII.7, Of Those Who Have Been Cut Out Of The Womb, Pliny asserts that children whose birth had cost the mother her life, were "evidently born under more favorable auspices..". and lists Scipio Africanus (the general who had defeated Hannibal), the mythical first of the Caesars, the Caesones (those of the Caeso family of the Fabian clan; a prominent family during the formation years of the Republic), and Manius Manilius, to whom Pliny ascribes the fall of Carthage (while in fact Manilius couldn't get it done; Scipio Aemilianus had to come over and finish the job).
Pliny is clearly not too concerned with the formal etymology of the name Caesar, but aims to stress that (a) the Caesars were of miraculous, even divine birth, and (b) their origin tied directly into the birth of the Republic and the victory over its most formidable enemies.
As everybody back then knew, Julius Caesar's mother Aurelia Cotta hadn't died in childbirth and had lived long after delivering Julius. By the tenth century AD, however, scholars maintained that "the emperors of the Romans receive [the name Caesar] from Julius Caesar, who was "not born" (μη γεννηθεντος), "for when his mother died in the ninth month, they cut her open, took him out, and named him thus; for in the Roman tongue this dissection is called "Caesar" (Suda encyclopedia, kappa, 1199).
The distinction is quite substantial. Pliny thought that emperors inherited Julius' name, which he had inherited from some distant ancestor, who was born via Caesarean section. But ten centuries later, scholars believed that the emperors were known as Caesars because the arch-emperor was not born but cut out from his mother. The question is: which mother is that?
Julius and later Octavian/Augustus had gone through great lengths to establish and defend the idea that their family descended from Venus (Venus Genetrix; Mother Venus), who was also known as the Mother of the Roman People (Cassius Dio XLII.22.2). It seems plausible that the rise of the Empire was considered closely related to both the birth of Julius and that of Augustus. When the famous Julian Star (or Caesar's Comet) appeared in the sky over Rome, closely after the death of Julius, Augustus held a public speech in which he declared the comet to herald both his birth and that of his father, obviously not as physical humans but as gods in a divine empire (a notion by the evangelists responded to in the star of Bethlehem). It was Rome which was on the brink of collapse, only to produce her finest of sons: Julius, who became the arch-emperor when his star appeared and whose name assumed the meaning for which it was henceforth known.
To the Roman elite, the name Caesar told the story of how the dying Republic gave birth to the Empire via a Caesarian section applied by the Minerva-eyed Julius and his elephantine slaying of Rome's enemies.
To people who value righteousness, justice and their personal freedom, the name Caesar personifies the worst kind of human evil and means (Humanity-)Slayer. And to those of us who have insight enough to see what inevitably must come about, the name Caesar means Kicker (Against The Goad).