In one of the worst assassinations in history, Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by members of the Roman Senate in 44 BC. What led to the murder, and what were its consequences?
Julius Caesar rose through the ranks of the Roman elite to restore his family’s name while making his own fortune. A man of the people, he maintained “general ties” by fighting civil wars throughout the Republic.
Caesar’s rise to power disappointed the aristocratic nobility. The way he circumvented Republican ideals, not hesitating along the way to step on the heels of senators.
Shortly after his lifelong appointment as dictator of Rome, the days of the mighty Caesar ended. A group of senators, all friends and fellow Romans, saw the dictator as a threat to the political stability of Rome. And an insult to the ideals of their republic.
They couldn’t stand aside when Rome fell into the hands of a smug dictator. For the sake of the Republic, Caesar had to fall.
Assassination of Caesar
Caesar returned from the battle of Pharsalus, having defeated his rival Pompey. After the defeat of the troops of the Republican Senate, Caesar seized power and became dictator of the Roman Republic in 44 BC.
Just two months later, on the infamous Ides of March, the assassination of Caesar shocked the Republic. The assassination, led by senators Brutus and Longinus, took place in the meeting room of Pompey’s Theatre. Approximately 50 to 60 senators attacked Caesar with drawn daggers. His body was struck 23 times, making it difficult to determine who killed Julius Caesar.
Conspiracy Leaders: Brutus and Longinus
Caesar’s assassins took him by surprise. But the attack was carefully orchestrated by two men he considered friends: Brutus and Cassius Longinus.
These two sided with Pompey at Pharsalus. After the defeat, they reconciled with Caesar and received high posts in the Republic. Despite formal reconciliation, Caesar’s authoritarian methods and callous disdain for the Senate angered them.
A believer in traditional Republican values, Cassius was filled with a sense of duty to the Republic. And he persuaded Brutus to join the conspiracy. They persuaded more senators to get involved so that the assassination would be seen as an act of patriotism rather than revenge.
“A nation can outlive its fools, even ambitious ones. But it cannot survive treason from within… for a traitor infects the political organism. So he can no longer resist” – Marcus Tullius Cicero.
What about you, Brutus?
Caesar recognized Brutus in the crowd of attackers and allegedly uttered the phrase: “Et tu, Brute? (“And you, Brutus?”) before collapsing in his toga.
Did he take Brutus’s mother as his mistress? Servilia. And, therefore, he thought of Brutus as a son. Only those present in this stone echo chamber could know exactly what Caesar’s last words were.
Whether factual or fabricated for poetic effect, Caesar’s legendary last words reflect a sense of betrayal. Which stabbed him like daggers in the back.
Why betrayed Caesar?
There were several final reasons for the betrayal of Julius Caesar. And they go back to one of the most famous events in Roman history.
When Caesar crossed the Rubicon with an army in 49 BC, he imitated the Roman general Sulla. Who returned to Rome after the civil war and became a dictator.
Sulla’s reign was temporary, while Caesar achieved a life appointment. Due to his popularity among the people, Caesar had sufficient support in the Senate. To ensure unanimous rule by legal means.
When the senate made him ruler for life, fears arose that Caesar would have too much power. Even if Rome had remained untouched after his tenure, the power of the consuls, the senators in the republic, would have diminished.
Prevent a lifelong dictatorship
The longevity of Caesar’s reign prompted a group of senators to rebel against him. They ultimately sought to prevent him from becoming a dictator for life. Save the Republic and take personal revenge on the man who wronged them.
Protect the Republic
The assassination was aimed at protecting the republic from disintegration. Caesar’s authoritarian rule threatened to reset the systems of privilege and nepotism. Which have long been used by senators.
For example, he extended citizenship to the inhabitants of Gaul. And even recruited new senators from outside Italy. If Caesar had remained dictator for life, such moves would have weakened the power of the Senate. Undermining its credibility as a legislature.
Where some conspirators saw themselves as liberators, others personally wanted to take revenge on Caesar. The arrival of the dictator to military power brought with him many enemies.
Despite the pardons he issued, the tension within rarely abated. Caesar was notorious for holding the Senate with contempt and regularly undermining its power.
His vanity and narcissism annoyed many of the Roman elites. Especially when he debauched with the wives of senators. The public popularity of Caesar further provoked the conspirators. As they dealt with the consequences of his actions in the Senate room.
Caesar changed the Roman Republican calendar to be more like the solar calendar. The Julian calendar set the year as 365 and ¼ days and divided the calendar into twelve months. It has been in use since 45 BC. until the end of the 16th century, when the Gregorian calendar became dominant.
Fall of the Roman Republic
The saying goes: “Rome was not built in a day.” But also, he did not fall in one day. If there was a date when the fate of the Roman Republic turned for the worse, then the ides of March 44 BC. really stand out.
The conspirators who took his life intended to protect the Republic. But they didn’t foresee the domino effect of the civil wars and chaos that would follow the assassination.
Eventually, the Republic will collapse, and another Caesar will turn its remnants into the foundation of the Roman Empire. Caesar’s adopted nephew, Octavian, later known as Augustus Caesar, embodied the murdered dictator’s desire for power. And moved Rome into a new imperial era.
The assassination of Julius Caesar bridged the ideological gap between Caesar, the megalomaniac autocrat, and the political representatives. Who supported their dying republic. In a time of extreme instability in Rome, Caesar received a legacy that would outlive him. His enemies and even the empire formed after his assassination.
Julius Caesar, key dates
- July 13, 100 BC Caesar was born in the Suburra region of Rome.
- 82 BC: Sulla becomes dictator of Rome; Caesar opposes him and is forced to flee Rome.
- 78 BC: Sulla dies and Caesar returns to Rome soon after.
- 75 BC: Caesar sets out to study oratory, but is detained by pirates.
- 74 BC: Caesar returns to Rome, enters politics, using family fortune to increase influence.
- 69 BC: First wife, Cornelia, dies. Caesar gives a speech about her, which increases his popularity.
- 61-60 years BC: Caesar serves as governor of Iberia, defeats tribes opposed to Roman rule.
- 60 BC: Caesar, Crassus and Pompey form a triumvirate to rule Rome.
- 59 BC: Caesar’s daughter Julia marries Pompey.
- 58-50 years BC: Caesar’s campaigns in Gaul and England, the conquest of vast territories.
- 54 BC: Daughter dies after giving birth to the child Pompey, who also does not survive.
- 53 BC: Crassus is killed in battle with the Parthians.
- January 49 BC: Caesar crosses the Rubicon and marches on Rome.
- August 9, 48 BC: Caesar defeats Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalus. Pompey flees to Egypt.
- September 48 BC: Pompey is killed by the Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy XIII; Caesar is presented with the head and is reportedly disgusted by the way Pompey was treated.
- September 48 BC – January 47 BC: Caesar restores the power of Cleopatra VII.
- June 47 BC: Caesarion, son of Caesar and Cleopatra VII, is born. Caesar does not recognize the child as his.
- 45 BC: Caesar introduces a new calendar system in Rome, with 365 days a year and an extra day in February every four years.
- January 44 BC: Caesar is named “dictator for life” by the Senate.
- March 15, 44 BC: Caesar is stabbed to death in the Roman Senate.