The Earliest Recorded Autopsy in History Was Performed on Julius Caesar
The Earliest Recorded Autopsy in History Was Performed on This Roman Emperor

The Earliest Recorded Autopsy in History Was Performed on This Roman Emperor

Natasha sheldon - June 6, 2017

The Earliest Recorded Autopsy in History Was Performed on This Roman Emperor
Digital autopsy. Google Images

Autopsy Number Two: A Digital Autopsy.

Antistius delivered his finding to the Roman people in the place for important political announcements- the forum. As well as being the first recorded account of a doctor acting as an expert witness at murder, the event gives us the word ‘forensic ‘ -‘from the forum’. 2000 years later, that term was being applied once again to a very different kind of autopsy.

In 2003, a team of modern experts led by Italian forensic investigator Luciano Garafano decided to conduct their own digital autopsy. Using specialist software to create a three-dimensional reconstruction of Caesar’s corpse, they took the ancient evidence- including the original autopsy and recreated the circumstances of the murder. The modern team of pathologists, police profilers, and classical historians then set out to see what they could deduce.

Using Antistius’s account, Caesar’s injuries were applied to the 3D reconstruction. This done, Garafano used his experience of mob violence to recreate the attack.

Multiple scenarios were applied and Garafano concluded that it was impossible for 23 men to all have ‘stuck their knives in”. In fact, it was more likely that between 5-10 men were actively involved in the murder, with the rest forming a screen around them to prevent other senators from intervening.

The Earliest Recorded Autopsy in History Was Performed on This Roman Emperor
The Death of Julius Caesar. Google Images

Was Caesar Complicit in His own Death?

But Garafano also believed that Caesar was well aware he was going to die. This is something speculated upon by chroniclers of the event. Suetonius recorded how many of the dictator’s friends stated that Caesar’s health was declining and he had said he did not wish to live much longer. Only days before his death, when dining with Marcus Lepidus, the conversation turned to the ideal manner of death. “Let it come swiftly and unexpectedly” Caesar reputedly said.

Caesar also ignored the warnings. He could have been forgiven for ignoring the so-called signs and portents foretelling doom. had warnings. But on the day of the murder, he did not even read the warning note thrust into his hand. More suspicious still, only days before, he had inexplicably dismissed his bodyguard.

Garafano believes Caesar wanted a swift end because of his declining health. The evidence for this lies in the infamous Senate meeting that sealed Caesar’s fate. Plutarch and Cassius Dio both suggest the real reason Caesar did not stand was he was unwell. Plutarch states he was afraid of having an epileptic seizure. Dio believes it was because he had diarrhea. The two symptoms aren’t as disparate as they may seem. Professor Bursztajn, part of Garafano’s team believed Caesar suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy – which could cause loss of consciousness, extreme behavior, and incontinence.

By allowing himself to be murdered, Caesar could go out speedily and with a bang- rather than slowly and ingloriously. But it also ensured his immortality. Six months before his death, Caesar changed his will in favor of his great-nephew Octavian. Not only did this preserve Caesar’s bloodline but it also preserved his political legacy, for the shrewd and capable 19-year-old was to become the first emperor, Augustus. The will also granted every Roman citizen enough money to live on for 3 months, guaranteeing a wave of mourning and adulation that allowed Caesar’s advocates the popular support they needed to weed out his assassins.

Which they did. For within months, all of Caesar’s assassins were dead- outmaneuvered one more time by the grand tactician who ensured that even if his life was over, his memory lived on.