After plunging the Roman Republic into civil war in January of 49 BC, Julius Caesar returned to Rome triumphant. It is claimed that his legions killed almost two million people in fifty decisive battles during his campaign against the Republic. On his return, he was hailed a hero by the general public, but the Roman senate was now cast under shadows of worry and fear – a sentiment that was strong enough for them to plot Caesar’s assassination. The assassination of Julius Caesar is arguably one of most significant incidents in ancient Roman history. It led to some historic repercussions and triggered a chain of events that oversaw the transition of contemporary Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Here is a list of top 10 things you should know about Ides of March – the assassination of Julius Caesar. This list is in chronological order of how the events took place leading up to Caesar’s eventual murder and the impact it had on the subsequent history as we know it.
10. The Might of Julius Caesar
When Gaius Julius Caesar took on the role of General in Roman republic army, he came across as a man of many talents. From his early days of being a part of the First Triumvirate along with Pompey and Crassus, to him becoming a dictator after defeating last remaining forces of Pompey in 46 BC, Caesar had won the popular consent of Roman public. He carried out an impressive transition from the lifestyle of a military commander into a truly capable leader of the Roman Republic.
Furthermore, unlike the other predecessors who led the Roman Republic, Caesar showed an ardent concern for the Roman public. He struck out a number of reforms to better the life of common people – an act that earned him a lot of praise and favor among general Romans. He brought grain to poor urban areas and offered land to all the retired veterans from his many legions. All these reforms made him a populist for the Roman commoners, but also rang alarms among his enemies and senate members. Such was his might, and the general public’s support for him that even when he became a self-declared dictator, there wasn’t much the republic senate could do about it in mutual consensus.
9. The Conspiracy
It was clear to the republic senate that the rise of Caesar as a dictator for life meant the end of Roman republic. Caesar had many enemies in the senate who despised his audacity to nearly dismantle the republic all by himself. And their hands were tied as Caesar had popular support of general public and the army. It was right around this time, as a last-ditch effort to savior the republic, certain members of senate decided to take matter in their hands.
The conspirators rarely met in the open and would meet few at a time at each other’s houses to carefully plan out their attack. In fact, in their discussions, they were adamant to plan out all possible places to carry out a fatal attack on Caesar, making sure any chances of his survival were taken care of. After playing around with all possible options, they decided to act upon their scheme while Caesar sat in the senate. Caesar could not bring his guards in as non-senate members were not allowed and the conspirators could easily bring daggers hidden beneath their togas.
8. Bad Omens
One thing the conspirators could not take care of was the rumors that had started to float around – giving signs of imminent danger to Caesar’s friends, family and well-wishers. Caesar’s friends were rather agitated with the senate being up to something heinous. His wife was frightened by visions in her nightmares. She was determined to keep Caesar from entering the senate on that particular day. In fact, it was Brutus who convinced Caesar to ignore all this ‘foolishness’ and carry out his duty by attending the senate he had called upon.
Right before entering the senate chamber, the priests brought victims for him to make sacrifice as a routine ritual. It is said they noticed something was clearly aloof about the day and its proceedings. They wanted to do another sacrifice to see if the intent of that ill-fated day would become clearer. But much to the relief of the conspirators, Caesar felt annoyed by all this hassle and abandoned any further sacrifices till sunset for that day. He then proceeded to enter the chamber to take his seat in the senate.
7. When it happened?
There is a reason why any piece of literature on the assassination of Julius Caesar usually comes with the title ‘Ides of March’ appended to it. Back in those days, the Romans were not used to counting the numbers of days in a sequence. Unlike the way days are counted today, the Roman calendar counted the days of each month backward from three fixed points. These fixed points were Nones, Ides and Kalends. The ‘Ides’ represented the middle of the month. It was on the 15th day for the month of March, May, July and October, and on the 13th day for the remaining months.
Julius Caesar had planned to leave Rome to further his expansion campaign on March 18. The senate realized they could not wait any longer for he will come back even stronger if he succeeds in his campaign. After carefully mulling over their options, 15th of March, 44 BC was decided as the final date. They would wait for him to take his seat in the senate at the Theater of Pompey on the Ides of March to perpetrate a surprise attack.
6. Attack on Caesar
On the Ides of March, Caesar was accompanied by a number of senate members on his way to the Theater of Pompey. While the senate rose as he entered, the plotters had positioned themselves well within his vicinity. It was Tillius Cimber who set the wheels into motion. He went up and grasped Caesar’s toga under the pretext of requesting on behalf of his exiled brother. This sudden contact from close proximity startled Caesar, and that was right when the remaining of conspirators took out their daggers and lunged at him.
Casca stabbed him first on the left shoulder. An utterly shocked Caesar tried to defend himself but he was surrounded by the attackers and there are no way out. Cassius dealt another blow to his face and Decimus Brutus drove his dagger into his ribs. The attackers impaled him 23 times that day. Caesar had now been brutally murdered at the hands of his friends and enemies – his body lied at the foot of a statue of his late arch-nemesis Pompey.
5. The last words
Right around when Tillius Cimber grabbed his toga to handicap his defense, it has been reported that Caesar said, “Why, this is violence?” A barrage of dagger blows followed suit effectively killing Caesar on the spot. It was the attack from Decimus Brutus that triggered a response from Caesar. Brutus was counted among one of the confidants of Caesar. On a day when almost all of his friends and family warned him against going to the senate, it was Brutus who had convinced him to ignore their heeds and carry out his duty.
In the words of Shakespeare, when Brutus drove his dagger up his ribs, Caesar looked at him and said “E tu, Brute!” – “You, too, Brutus!”. But however beautiful this prose is, there is no proof that those were the actual words said by Caesar. If we are to follow more contemporary resources, there are historians who claim his last words were a Greek phrase that meant “You too, child?”.
The senate conspirators went to great length to connive a great plan that left no room of escape for Caesar. But the scope of their plot never covered the different scenarios that would play out on an aftermath of the event. They were fairly confident that the fall of Caesar would bring about the resurgence of the Roman republic. Right after brutally murdering Caesar, Brutus tried in vain to calm down an enraged public who could not believe their beloved leader was no more.
Things took a rather dramatic swing when Antony stood with Caesar’s robe in his hand at his cremation. The crowd could see the bloody shredded garment, and this further infuriated them to have vengeance against those who murdered Caesar. The flames of Caesar’s funeral had yet to die and a mob of angry citizens was already off to burn down the homes of all involved conspirators. In a few days, all conspirators had to flee from Rome to save their lives, effectively handing the rule in the hands of Mark Antony.
3. Eventual rise of Augustus
In the aftermath of Caesar’s death, Mark Antony has scored an unlikely double win – all his powerful rivals were already on the run and he was now touted to be the next champion of people. On the other end, Caesar’s adopted son Octavian was completing his academic and military studies in Apollonia when the news of Caesar’s murder reached him. He had been preparing to take a senior military command in Caesar’s pre-planned campaign against the Parthians at an early age of 18. He immediately headed for Rome and, on his way back, learnt that Caesar had adopted him in his will – effectively making him the rightful heir of Rome.
This further fueled his desire to get revenge against the assassins. Though he was in for another shock as when he arrived in Rome, the power was now in the hands of Mark Antony and Aemilius Lepidus. But in due time, he started to earn the loyalty of Caesar’s legions and supporters. This sent him in a path of direct conflict against Antony and Lepidus. At the end, he fought Antony in the decisive battle of Actium where he won and crowned himself as Emperor Augustus of the Roman Empire.
2. Historical Significance
The ancient Roman history, or perhaps the history of Europe, could have been much different had Caesar not been assassinated on the Ides of March. Caesar was killed in hopes of rekindling the fire to bring back the days of republic in ancient Rome. But to the utter dismay of his killers, Caesar’s fall back-fired on them with such humongous consequences that the last remaining remnants of Roman republic were irrevocably replaced by Imperial Rome. Some historians state that the Roman republic might have survived for a longer time than in our current historical timeline had Caesar not been dealt with an untimely death.
Caesar’s death also clearly indicates that the Roman senate was never going to stand for a self-declared dictator for life. Their tolerance in such an act could have led to a trend among subsequent heirs of Caesar to declare themselves dictator of ancient Rome. More importantly, Caesar had planned a full-fledged expansion of Rome which he intended to start with the invasion of mighty Persia. This plan never took off once he died. Had he lived to successfully invade Persia, historians state that he had further aspirations to go beyond the boundaries that had been previously expanded by the likes of Alexander the Great.
1. Pop Culture
Julius Caesar is arguably one of the most influential figures from ancient Rome. He has been depicted in different form of art and culture time and again. From ancient poems and recitals to mentions in the documentations written by medieval historians, the name of Julius Caesar reoccurs throughout different points in history.
Perhaps it was in the Shakespearean tragedy aptly named ‘The Tragedy of Julius Caesar’ where his name became truly immortalized. Although the tragedy more of detailed Brutus’ struggle in between honoring his friendship and loyalty for Caesar and his duty towards preserving the Roman republic, its depiction of Caesar’s murder mesmerized readers and onlookers alike. This Shakespearean literature is still played as an enigmatic piece of historical drama in modern theaters. The incidents of the play have also been depicted on cinematic screen in form of various adaptations.
Without any doubt, the assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March is one of the most notorious events in the history of ancient Rome. It is also an event of consequential repercussions and ramifications. The death of Caesar led to such huge ripples across contemporary Rome that the very base of Roman republic was shredded into pieces, only to be replaced by the new Imperial Rome. However ghastly the death of Caesar was, it truly opened the door for a far more stable Roman Empire and saw through the eventual flourish of Augustan era