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The assassination of Julius Caesar weighed heavily upon Brutus and Cassius

Posted in Ancient History, Famous crimes, Famous Last Words, Historical articles, History on Tuesday, 26 November 2013

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This edited article about Julius Caesar first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 463 published on 28 November 1970.

Assassination of Caesar, picture, image, illustration

The assassination of Julius Caesar by Tancredi Scarpelli

The plan was simple enough. Each conspirator was to come to the Senate with a dagger concealed in his toga. At a given signal they would throw themselves at their victim and stab him to death. The act was to be carried out in full view of the Senate – thus making it clear that this was an honourable deed carried out by patriots determined that no tyrant should ever rule Rome again.

And so one by one, the conspirators had arrived at the Senate. Standing now in an uneasy group, they waited for their intended victim. Even at this late stage some were troubled by the enormity of the deed they were about to commit. The victim was, after all, Julius Caesar, Rome’s greatest son, on whom the State had bestowed honours never accorded to any other Roman. Loved and respected as a military genius and an inspired leader, his death could only lead to bloodshed. Why then had these men embarked on this course of action?

To answer this we have to know something of the powers and privileges which had been granted to this remarkable man whose military conquests had enriched Rome with so many new territories on other continents. After quelling a civil war, Caesar had been made a dictator with a complete control over the affairs of Rome. Such power was likely to corrupt any man, but generally speaking, Caesar had used it wisely, mainly by trying to eliminate the many injustices which were constantly being inflicted on the masses by the aristocracy. Under his orders statutes were prepared to see that the roads were well maintained and that the grain supply should be supervised in such a way that it could be shared fairly.

The announcement of every new law or project was greeted with resentment by the aristocracy, and many members of the Senate, who realised that by placing such power in the hands of Caesar, they had reduced themselves to mere figureheads.

Although their motives were selfish, they had some just cause for complaint. All Romans had been brought up to believe in the soundness of a republican government in which every issue affecting the State could be voted on by the Senate, which was supposed to exist primarily as an instrument for carrying out the wishes of the people. Under Caesar’s rule, this was now a thing of the past.

To make matters worse there had recently been indications that Caesar wanted to be recognised as a king, which would force Rome to become a monarchy, a hateful idea to all the noble families of Rome, who saw only too clearly that this would take them even further away from the cherished ideals of a Republican state. Less than six months after he had come to power, at least sixty senators agreed to assassinate Caesar.

The leading figures in the plot were Gaius Cassius, a senator, and Marcus Brutus, a Roman of such stern virtue that he was prepared to sacrifice a man who had once been his friend and benefactor for what he believed was the cause of liberty. Together they had fixed the date for the assassination – 15th March.

Now that day had come. Anxiously the conspirators waited; anxiously they scanned the faces in the litters as the senators arrived one by one. Why had he not come? Had he been warned by a traitor among them? One of the conspirators went off to Caesar’s house, where he was met by Calpurnia, the wife of Caesar, who told him that she had begged Caesar not to go to the Senate that day because she had dreamed that something terrible was going to occur there. As it happened, Caesar was feeling unwell, and he had decided not to go anyway. He was, however, feeling better now, and he allowed himself to be prevailed upon to attend the meeting.

Several people tried hard to save Caesar that day. On his arrival at the Senate, he was stopped by a friend who handed him a note, urging him to read it at once. Unfortunately, the milling people who had come to see Caesar arrive, pressed so hard against him that he had no time to read the note. It would seem fairly certain that it contained a warning. As if this were not enough, Caesar noticed among the jostling crowds, a soothsayer who had warned him some time before to beware of the Ides of March – the 15th of the month. “Well,” Caesar called out, “the Ides have come.”

“But they have not gone,” the soothsayer replied, before disappearing into the crowd once more.

Inside the Senate, Caesar made as if to take his customary place. But before he could do so, the conspirators moved in on him. One caught his toga and pulled roughly at it, exposing his neck and chest. Then, one by one, the conspirators leapt upon him and stabbed him. The last to plunge his dagger into Caesar was his friend, Brutus.

The tragedy was that in Caesar they had killed a superb soldier, a scholar, a fine writer, and a magnificent statesman. And they had killed him for something which was never to materialise. Caesar’s death led not to a rebirth of the Republic but to a blood bath. Mark Anthony, a soldier and popular hero, sought to seize power, only to find himself baulked by the senators who wanted no more dictators. In desperation he formed a triumvirate with Octavian, the nephew of Caesar, and Lepidus, who had once served as a consul. Under their rule, thousands of Romans were put to death for imaginary crimes against the state.

Brutus and Cassius, vainly trying to maintain the vanishing ideals of the Republic, raised an army which was defeated by Mark Anthony. In despair, they both committed suicide.

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