03/15 – The Assassination of Julius Caesar

“The Death of Julius Caesar”, by Vincenzo Camuccini, 1806. (Public Domain)

On this day in 44 BCE, Roman dictator Julius Caesar was murdered in the Senate. Arriving late in the Theatre of Pompey, Caesar was mobbed by senators asking about a petition. As the crowd closed ranks, a senator named Climber made a grab for Caesar, who shouted “Why, this is violence!?” Violence did, in fact, ensue as Casca stabbed Caesar in the neck and called the other senators to action. Brutus, a close friend, appeared and attacked Caesar. Blinded by his own blood, Caesar fell to the floor as the remaining senators grabbed daggers from beneath their togae. Within seconds, the Roman dictator had been stabbed 23 times and lay dead on the Senate floor.

Caesar meeting with Vercingetorix, chieftain of the Gauls (in modern-day France). (Wikimedia Commons)

Following a series of extravagant military campaigns and his victory in the Great Roman Civil War, Caesar was incredibly popular with Roman citizens. The Senate, however, resented his attempts at gaining dictatorial powers and subverting their authority. After Caesar’s death, rioting took place in Rome and many of the 60 Senators involved fled, fearing for their lives. The Liberator’s Civil War ensued as the remaining factions struggled to fill the power vacuum. The Triumvirs – intent on avenging Caesar’s death – waged war against the Liberatores, a faction led by Brutus and Longinus. Under the command of Marc Antony, a close ally of Caesar, the Triumvirs beat the Liberatores into submission, prompting Brutus’ suicide. Caesar’s grand-nephew Octavian eventually emerged as the next in line, signalling the end of the Roman Republic.

The 1862 Johnson Map of the Roman Empire in the wake of Caesar’s death. (Wikimedia Commons)

After beating his former ally Marc Antony in battle, Octavian was renamed Augustus and proclaimed the first Emperor of the new Roman Empire. Armed with unprecedented power, Augustus set about expanding the reaches of the Empire and reforming the taxation system. Despite numerous plots against him, Augustus managed to rule for the duration of his natural life – a truly remarkable feat for a Roman politician. In his final hours, Augustus remarked that “I found a Rome of bricks; I leave to you one of marble.” Although the death of Caesar and the ensuing civil wars were an unbelievably violent period in Roman history, the period that followed (known as the Principate) marked a high water mark for the Empire in terms of cultural and political developments.

Note: A number of primary sources about the death of Caesar contradict one another. William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” is responsible for informing much of the cultural perception of the event, although many of its famous lines were never spoken in real life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s