What led to Julius Caesar's death?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's probably best to approach the question by examining the motives of those who killed Caesar. Some, but not all, of Caesar's assassins, were motivated by a desire to protect the republican political system that had existed in Rome for centuries. The Roman Republic, much like the American Republic, was forged in the heat of battle against a tyrannical power. And the Romans, again like the American colonists, had rid themselves of the rule of monarchs. As such, there was widespread suspicion among the Roman political classes of anyone who might even give the appearance of wanting to make himself king.

Julius Caesar was believed by his opponents to be just such an individual. According to them, he had systematically corrupted every aspect of Roman public life, using his enormous wealth to bribe politicians, soldiers, and public officials alike to do his bidding. He'd turned himself into a dictator, a supposedly temporary title which turned out to be anything but. He was a shameless demagogue, pandering to the mob and distributing his vast largesse to the plebs, or common people.

Caesar was himself an aristocrat, yet large sections of the Roman aristocracy loathed him for his populism, seeing him as a traitor to his class. Noble, high-flown rhetoric about defending ancient republican traditions and liberties was often a cover for self-serving class warfare on behalf of the social and political elite. Whatever Caesar's motivation for cultivating the support of the plebs, there can be little doubt that he was immensely popular with them. There can also be little doubt that it was Caesar's popular touch which proved to be one of the main reasons for his ultimate downfall.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many issues that lead to Caesar's death. To say that there was one issue is simplistic. Here are a few reasons (in no particular order).

1. There was a feeling that Caesar was transgressing Republican boundaries more than anyone else in the past. For example, Caesar became dictator for life (Feb. 44 BC). This was tantamount to "kingship" to some, a concept the Romans deplored! You should remember that the Romans expelled the kings in their past and established a Republic, where there was plurality and parity in power.

2. In connection to point one, there were dictators in the past, but the Roman reserved this office for only a short period of time for extraordinary circumstances.

3. Caesar's past also probably had a role to play. So, when he crossed the Rubicon, there was the beginnings of a civil war.

4. Caesar had the loyalty of the army. From this perspective, he had all the power and people knew it. He did celebrate four triumphs with great splendor!

5. Finally, he was planning campaign against Parthia. If he was successful, then what else? There was nothing for him to do. People probably feared that he would become a tyrant.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A simple answer would be that an insatiable desire for power led to Caesar's death.  The senators who planned and carried out the assassination did so partly out of revenge (because they were followers of Pompey and believed that Caesar in his own quest for power had caused Pompey's death) and partly because they felt that Caesar might be crowned king and lead Rome back into a tyrannical monarchy, overthrowing the republic which sought to establish and maintain a balance of power.

An interesting theory about Caesar's assassination is that Caesar might have known about the plot and allowed it to happen because of the embarrassing symptoms of his epilepsy, because he knew that an assassination would immortalize him, and because he had carefully plotted out who would succeed him and how he would be remembered. This is simply a theory, but Caesar did dismiss his bodyguards shortly before he was killed, finalized his will, and gripped in his dead hand a note of warning (this was discovered in the recorded autopsy of Caesar's death).

lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After beginning a civil war in around 50 B.C. that left Caesar without rival in ruling the world of Rome, Caesar began instituting a series of changes that centralized control of the Republic, as well as other reforms in Roman society and government.  Eventually, he was able to assign himself the title "dictator perpetuo," the Latin term meaning "dicator in perpetuity," a development none too popular with the group of senators who assassinated him.  The senators' attempts to return the Republic to the previous manner of operation backfired, however, with the onset of another civil war and the establishment of yet another dictator.