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Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44 B.C. by a group of senators.

The assassination of Julius Caesar is probably one of the most famous murders in history.  In ancient Rome, the government consisted of two Consuls elected each year and a Senate made up of influential men.  Julius Caesar was a consul who was killed by a group of senators who worried that he had too much power.

Julius Caesar’s downfall came from his ambition.  Caesar was a brilliant military leader. He led successful campaigns in Gaul and other places which made him wealthy and influential.  Unfortunately, Caesar’s son-in-law Pompey tried to usurp his power, which led to Caesar marching on Rome.  It was a calculated and potentially dangerous move, because it was illegal for an army to cross the Rubicon and march on Rome. 

Caesar’s march on Rome led to a civil war of grand proportions.  Pompey fled, taking most of the senate with him.  Caesar planted himself in Rome and declared them outlaws.  He then pursued them doggedly until most of them surrendered or were killed.  Caesar pardoned the senators to return stability to Rome.  Pompey fled to Egypt, where he was assassinated by Ptolemy as a gift to Caesar.  Caesar was reportedly not pleased, because the man was still a Roman.  Nonetheless, the war was over.

In order to stabilize the government, Caesar named himself dictator with the senate’s blessing.  Not everyone in the senate supported them.  A group called the boni, or good old men, talked about restoring Rome to its former glory.  That involved not having a dictator, and certainly no king.  The Romans considered going back to a king the worst possible thing that could happen to Rome.

Caesar reportedly did not want to become king or at least be called a king.  A dictator was not the same as a king, because his power was temporary.  When a man called him “Rex” publicly, he responded that it was not his name, but the incident disturbed him.  He did not want anyone to think he was posturing to become king.  At the same time, Caesar did a few things that irritated the Roman people, especially the boni.

Caesar insisted on triumphing in Rome.  It was a Roman general’s right to triumph.  A triumph was a special parade in which the spoils of victory were shown off and the enemy prisoners were executed.  Many people thought it was bad taste for Caesar to triumph when the enemies were Roman.  Caesar did it anyway, showing off his victory over Pompey and the other senators who fled and died in the war.

Caesar also was said to have had statues commissioned and coins minted.  Many people thought he was overstepping.  In a twin move intended to placate Caesar and help the public realize how arrogant he was, he was given deity status upon his death and the senate continuously awarded him honors.  Caesar took most of them in stride, but the most interesting one was an unusual display on the Feast of Lupercal.

History has not looked kindly on Mark Antony, perhaps, but no one is really sure of his motives in the Feast of Lupercal.  We know that he presented Caesar with a small crown several times, and Caesar publicly refused it.  It is also said that Caesar had some kind of fit.  He might have been suffering by epilepsy, diabetes, or any number of other serious conditions at this point.  Caesar did not like appearing weak.

The crown was the last straw.  A group of senators secretly began plotting against Caesar from around February of 44 B.C., and it consisted of some of the most influential men in Rome.  Around this time rumors of assassination attempts abounded, as did graffiti against Caesar.  Some of the graffiti reportedly urged Brutus to assassinate Caesar.

Brutus was one of the most influential men in Rome, but not by his own right.  He came from an old and important family.  He was rumored to have been Caesar’s actual son, but it was more likely that Caesar’s affair with his mother began after he was born.  Either way, Brutus’s involvement was a boon to the boni and an embarrassment to Caesar.

We do not know exactly how many men were involved or who was really in charge.  Decius Brutus was one of Caesar’s most trusted military aids.  In addition to Decius Brutus and Marcus Brutus, the conspiracy included several other men who were on the losing side in the war with Pompey, including Cassius, Casca, and the Cimber brothers.

The actual sequence of events on the Ides of March is not exactly clear.  Mark Antony was either part of the conspiracy or separated from Caesar by some subterfuge.  He was a brute of a man and one of Caesar’s staunchest supporters, so conventional wisdom is that he would have protected Caesar if he was there.  The men ensured, somehow, that Caesar made it to the capital where the senate was convening at Pompey’s Theater.

Once there, the senators surrounded Caesar with an imaginary suit.  They had daggers hidden either in their tunics or in the building.  Casca apparently stabbed Caesar first, and an autopsy later suggested that his was the fatal blow.  As Caesar was bleeding out, the other men stabbed him, ending with Brutus.  Caesar reportedly had 23 stab wounds.

After Caesar’s assassination, Rome was thrown into turmoil.  Brutus, Cassius, and the other conspirators tried to gain control of the senate but it was not easy.  For a while Rome was in another civil war where it seemed like everyone had an army and whoever had the best army would win.  The turning point seems to be when the senate sent Lepidus out to defeat Mark Antony, and he somehow convinced Lepidus to join him instead.  The two of them then combined forces with Caesar’s heir, Octavius Caesar, and formed a triumvirate.

The triumvirate forces took control of Rome, enacting bloody transcriptions to finance their war against Brutus and Cassius.  Those two fled, recruiting an army of their own.  At Philippi the triumvirate finally succeeded, with Cassius and then Brutus committing suicide rather than let themselves be captured and led in triumph through Rome.  Octavius ensured that there were on conspirators left.

 

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