Assassination of Julius Caesar

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In 44 B.C., after declaring himself “Dictator for Life”, Caesar was crowned with a royal diadem at a religious ceremony, ushering in the era of imperial Rome. Many Romans were appalled by Caesar's audacious seizure of power and riled further when he placed a statue with his likeness next to statues of the founders of Rome. Almost immediately members of the Senate began plotting against him.

On the ides of March (March 15, 44, B.C.), a month after he proclaimed himself Dictator for Life, 55-year-old Caesar was assassinated on the floor of the Senate by Brutus and Cassius, an event recounted in a famous Shakespeare play.

The assassination was at least in part a display of contempt against Caesar’s ruthless impoundment of power and rumors that he was planning to rule the Roman Empire with Cleopatra from Alexandria. Brutus, a close friend of Caesar, and Cassius, the mastermind of the conspiracy, recruited 20 Senators and 40 other conspirators, including many people who had been loyal to Caesar. They ones that planned to participate in the killing carried daggers concealed under their cloaks.

Caesar’s last words, reportedly were “Et tu, Brute,” (“And you, Brutus”), said to be an allusion to hsi friend Brutus betraying him. But, Jamie Frater wrote for Listverse, “Caesar’s last words were actually “And you also” as recorded (in Greek) by Suetonius:(kai su teknon). These words were spoken to Brutus, which is undoubtedly the reason that Shakespeare coined the phrase:“And you, Brutus”. The meaning of his last words is unknown – but it would seem fair to think that he was telling his murderer: “you will be next”. Caesar was bi-lingual (Greek and Latin) and Greek was the dominant language in Rome at the time, so it is not unreasonable that his last words would have been uttered in that language. [Source: Jamie Frater, Listverse, May 5, 2008]

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Book: “The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome” by Michael Parenti

Julius Caesar’s Assassins and Conspirators

The leading conspirators were Brutus (Marcus Junius Brutus, a leading politician and friend of Caesar) and Cassius (Gaius Cassius Longinus, a Roman senator, and the brother in-law of Brutus). They and the other men who conspired to kill Caesar were men who had received special favors from him. Brutus and Cassius had both served in Pompey’s army, and had been pardoned by Caesar and promoted to offices under his government.

Suetonius wrote: “It was this that led the conspirators to hasten in carrying out their designs, in order to avoid giving their assent to this proposal. Therefore the plots which had previously been formed separately, often by groups of two or three, were united in a general conspiracy, since even the populace no longer were pleased with present conditions, but both secretly and openly rebelled at his tyranny and cried out for defenders of their liberty. On the admission of foreigners to the Senate, a placard was posted: "God bless the Republic! let no one consent to point out the Senate to a newly made senator."

The following verses too were sung everwhere:
'Caesar led the Gauls in triumph, led them to the senate house;
Then the Gauls put off their breeches, and put on the latus clavus.'' [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

“When Quintus Maximus, whom he had appointed consul in his place for three months, was entering the theater, and his lictor called attention to his arrival in the usual manner, a general shout was raised: "He's no consul!" At the first election after the deposing of Caesetius and Marullus, the tribunes, several votes were found for their appointment as consuls. Some wrote on the base of Lucius Brutus' statue, "Oh, that you were still alive"; and on that of Caesar himself: 'First of all was Brutus consul, since he drove the kings from Rome; Since this man drove out the consuls, he at last is made our king."

“More than sixty joined the conspiracy against him, led by Gaius Cassius and Marcus and Decimus Brutus. At first they hesitated whether to form two divisions at the elections in the Campus Martius, so that while some hurled him from the bridge [the pons suffragiorum, a temporary bridge of planks over which the voters passed one by one, to cast their ballots] as he summoned the tribes to vote, the rest might wait below and slay him; or to set upon him in the Via Sacra or at the entrance to the theater. When, however, a meeting of the Senate was called for the Ides of March in the curia adjoining the Theater of Gnaeus Pompeius, they readily gave that time and place the preference.”

Brutus and Cassius

Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: “Marcus Brutus, who, by his father’s side, was thought to be descended from that first Brutus, and by his mother’s side from the Servil, another noble family, being besides nephew and son-in-law to Cato. But the honors and favors he had received from Cæsar, took off the edge from the desires he might himself have felt for overthrowing the new monarchy. For he had not only been pardoned himself after Pompey’s defeat at Pharsalia, and had procured the same grace for many of his friends, but was one in whom Cæsar had a particular confidence. He had at that time the most honorable prætorship of the year, and was named for the consulship four years after, being preferred before Cassius, his competitor. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

“Upon the question as to the choice, Cæsar, it is related, said that Cassius had the fairer pretensions, but that he could not pass by Brutus. Nor would he afterwards listen to some who spoke against Brutus, when the conspiracy against him was already afoot, but laying his hand on his body, said to the informers, “Brutus will wait for this skin of mine,” intimating that he was worthy to bear rule on account of his virtue, but would not be base and ungrateful to gain it. Those who desired a change, and looked on him as the only, or at least the most proper, person to effect it, did not venture to speak with him; but in the nighttime laid papers about his chair of state, where he used to sit and determine causes, with such sentences in them as, “You are asleep, Brutus,” “You are no longer Brutus.” Cassius, when he perceived his ambition a little raised upon this, was more instant than before to work him yet further, having himself a private grudge against Cæsar, for some reasons that we have mentioned in the Life of Brutus. Nor was Cæsar without suspicions of him, and said once to his friends, “What do you think Cassius is aiming at? I do n’t like him, he looks so pale.” And when it was told him that Antony and Dolabella were in a plot against him, he said he did not fear such fat, luxurious men, but rather the pale, lean fellows, meaning Cassius and Brutus.


“In this juncture, Decimus Brutus, surnamed Albinus, one whom Cæsar had such confidence in that he made him his second heir, who nevertheless was engaged in the conspiracy with the other Brutus and Cassius, fearing lest if Cæsar should put off the senate to another day, the business might get wind, spoke scoffingly and in mockery of the diviners, and blamed Cæsar for giving the senate so fair an occasion of saying he had put a slight upon them, for that they were met upon his summons, and were ready to vote unanimously, that he should be declared king of all the provinces out of Italy, and might wear a diadem in any other place but Italy, by sea or land. If any one should be sent to tell them they might break up for the present, and meet again when Calpurnia should chance to have better dreams, what would his enemies say? Or who would with any patience hear his friends, if they should presume to defend his government as not arbitrary and tyrannical? But if he was possessed so far as to think this day unfortunate, yet it were more decent to go himself to the senate, and to adjourn it in his own person. Brutus, as he spoke these words, took Cæsar by the hand, and conducted him forth. He was not gone far from the door, when a servant of some other person’s made towards him, but not being able to come up to him, on account of the crowd of those who pressed about him, he made his way into the house, and committed himself to Calpurnia, begging of her to secure him till Cæsar returned, because he had matters of great importance to communicate to him. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

“Artemidorus, a Cnidian, a teacher of Greek logic, and by that means so far acquainted with Brutus and his friends as to have got into the secret, brought Cæsar in a small written memorial, the heads of what he had to depose. He had observed that Cæsar, as he received any papers, presently gave them to the servants who attended on him; and therefore came as near to him as he could, and said, “Read this, Cæsar, alone, and quickly, for it contains matter of great importance which nearly concerns you.” Cæsar received it, and tried several times to read it, but was still hindered by the crowd of those who came to speak to him. However, he kept it in his hand by itself till he came into the senate. Some say it was another who gave Cæsar this note, and that Artemidorus could not get to him, being all along kept off by the crowd.

Motivations for the Assassination of Julius Caesar

It has been said that the murder of Caesar was the most senseless act that the Romans ever committed. His death deprived Rome of the greatest man she ever produced. Some have suggested that the murderers probably believed they were acting on the behalf of Roman democracy but their act did not destroy the work of Caesar.

Caesar is said have failed to adjust himself sufficiently to the conservative spirit of the time. There were still living at Rome men who were blindly attached to the old republican forms. To them the reforms of Caesar looked like a work of destruction, rather than a work of creation. They saw in his projects a scheme for reviving the kingship. It was said that when Caesar was offered a crown he looked at it wistfully; and that he had selected his nephew Octavius as his royal heir. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~] David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “To understand the multiplicity of the motives of the conspirators who stabbed Caesar to death on March 15th, 44, one should remember that Caesar was just about to set off for the far east, to recover the standards lost by Crassus and avenge the defeat at Carrhae in 53. Some no doubt acted from pure and high-minded Catonian principle, to end the tyranny and restore the Republic, although by 44 anyone who thought that the dominance of the senatorial oligarchy could be reconstituted by the elimination of Caesar must be thought naively idealistic. Others may have been outraged by Caesar's having set up his mistress, Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, in his villa across the Tiber. But more urgent than any of these was the virtual certainty that soon after Caesar left the country Rome would see a repetition of what had happened when Sulla left to fight Mithradates, despite the fact that Caesar had tried to appoint hand-picked magistrates for the three years which he estimated he would need to conquer the Parthians. That would help to explain why the conspirators were such a mixed bag, some (such as Cassius and Brutus) former Pompeians, others long time partisans of Caesar himself.” [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

Signs That the Assassination of Caesar Was Coming

Suetonius wrote: “Now Caesar's approaching murder was foretold to him by unmistakable signs. A few months before, when the settlers assigned to the colony at Capua by the Julian Law were demolishing some tombs of great antiquity, to build country houses, and plied their work with the greater vigor because as they rummaged about they found a quantity of vases of ancient workmanship, there was discovered in a tomb, which was said to be that of Capys, the founder of Capua, a bronze tablet, inscribed with Greek words and characters to this purport: "Whenever the bones of Capys shall be moved, it will come to pass that a son of llium shall be slain at the hands of his kindred, and presently avenged at heavy cost to Italia." And let no one think this tale a myth or a lie, for it is vouched for by Cornelius Balbus, an intimate friend of Caesar. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

“Shortly before his death, as he was told, the herds of horses which he had dedicated to the river Rubicon when he crossed it, and had let loose without a keeper, stubbornly refused to graze and wept copiously. Again, when he was offering sacrifice, the soothsayer Spurinna warned him to beware of danger, which would come not later than the Ides of March; and on the day before the Ides of that month a little bird called the king-bird flew into the Curia of Pompeius with a sprig of laurel, pursued by others of various kinds from the grove hard by, which tore it to pieces in the hall. In fact the very night before his murder he dreamt now that he was flying above the clouds, and now that he was clasping the hand of Jupiter; and his wife Calpurnia thought that the pediment of their house fell, and that her husband was stabbed in her arms; and on a sudden the door of the room flew open of its own accord. Both for these reasons and because of poor health he hesitated for a long time whether to stay at home and put off what he had planned to do in the senate; but at last, urged by Decimus Brutus not to disappoint the full meeting which had for some time been waiting for him, he went forth almost at the end of the fifth hour; and when a note revealing the plot was handed him by someone on the way, he put it with others which he held in his left hand, intending to read them presently. Then, after several victims had been slain, and he could not get favorable omens, he entered the Senate in defiance of portents, laughing at Spurinna and calling him a false prophet, because the Ides of March were come without bringing him harm; though Spurinna replied that they had of a truth come, but they had not gone.

On these same events, Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: “Fate, however, is to all appearance more unavoidable than unexpected. For many strange prodigies and apparitions are said to have been observed shortly before the event. As to the lights in the heavens, the noises heard in the night, and the wild birds which perched in the forum, these are not perhaps worth taking notice of in so great a case as this. Strabo, the philosopher, tells us that a number of men were seen, looking as if they were heated through with fire, contending with each other; that a quantity of flame issued from the hand of a soldier’s servant, so that they who saw it thought he must be burnt, but that after all he had no hurt. As Cæsar was sacrificing, the victim’s heart was missing, a very bad omen, because no living creature can subsist without a heart. One finds it also related by many, that a soothsayer bade him prepare for some great danger on the ides of March. When the day was come, Cæsar, as he went to the senate, met this soothsayer, and said to him by way of raillery, “The ides of March are come;” who answered him calmly, “Yes, they are come, but they are not past.” The day before this assassination, he supped with Marcus Lepidus; and as he was signing some letters, according to his custom, as he reclined at table, there arose a question what sort of death was the best. At which he immediately, before any one could speak, said, “A sudden one.” [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

“After this, as he was in bed with his wife, all the doors and windows of the house flew open together; he was startled at the noise, and the light which broke into the room, and sat up in his bed, where by the moonshine he perceived Calpurnia fast asleep, but heard her utter in her dream some indistinct words and inarticulate groans. She fancied at that time she was weeping over Cæsar, and holding him butchered in her arms. Others say this was not her dream, but that she dreamed that a pinnacle which the senate, as Livy relates, had ordered to be raised on Cæsar’s house by way of ornament and grandeur, was tumbling down, which was the occasion of her tears and ejaculations. When it was day, she begged of Cæsar, if it were possible, not to stir out, but to adjourn the senate to another time; and if he slighted her dreams, that he would be pleased to consult his fate by sacrifices, and other kinds of divination. Nor was he himself without some suspicion and fears; for he never before discovered any womanish superstition in Calpurnia, whom he now saw in such great alarm. Upon the report which the priests made to him, that they had killed several sacrifices, and still found them inauspicious, he resolved to send Antony to dismiss the senate.

Details of the Assassination of Caesar

The assassination took place during a routine meeting. Caesar was late. He had been warned by his wife Calpurnia that he shouldn't go to the Senate that day. He had to be fetched from his house and arrived about 11:00am. Shortly after he entered the Senate he was approached by a Senator with a petition. He was then approached by the conspirators.

One Senator grabbed Caesar's robe at the neck, the signal to begin the attack, Another attempted to shove his dagger into Caesar's neck but only grazed him. Caesar tried to escape by twisting his body around but was then was struck by another dagger in the side and was seriously wounded by a dagger blow from Cassius to the face and one from Brutus the groin. Other dagger blows from other Senators finished him off.

Caesar died at the base of a statue of Pompey. His last words were: "Thou, too, Brutus, my son!" The autopsies showed he had been stabbed 23 times, including a fatal one to the chest. After the murder Caesar's onetime ally Marc Anthony, went to the Roman Forum "to bury Caesar, not to praise him." Brutus attempted to give a speech at the Forum and was shouted down and then was forced to barricade himself and other conspirators at the Capitol. After his death Caesar was named a god and a month was named after him.

Events Before the Assassination of Caesar

20120224-Caesars-assassination.jpg Plutarch wrote: “From this time they tried the inclinations of all their acquaintances that they durst trust, and communicated the secret to them, and took into the design not only their familiar friends, but as many as they believed bold and brave and despisers of death. For which reason they concealed the plot from Cicero, though he was very much trusted and as well beloved by them all, lest, to his own disposition, which was naturally timorous, adding now the weariness and caution of old age, by his weighing, as he would do, every particular, that he might not make one step without the greatest security, he should blunt the edge of their forwardness and resolution in a business which required all the despatch imaginable. As indeed there were also two others that were companions of Brutus, Statilius the Epicurean, and Favonius the admirer of Cato, whom he left out for this reason: as he was conversing one day with them, trying them at a distance, and proposing some such question to be disputed of as among philosophers, to see what opinion they were of, Favonius declared his judgment to be that a civil war was worse than the most illegal monarchy; and Statilius held, that to bring himself into troubles and danger upon the account of evil or foolish men did not become a man that had any wisdom or discretion. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), The Assassination of Julius Caesar, from Marcus Brutus, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

“But Labeo, who was present, contradicted them both and Brutus, as if it had been an intricate dispute, and difficult to be decided, held his peace for that time, but afterwards discovered the whole design to Labeo, who readily undertook it. The next thing that was thought convenient was to gain the other Brutus surnamed Albinus, a man of himself of no great bravery or courage, but considerable for the number of gladiators that he was maintaining for a public show, and the great confidence that Caesar put in him. When Cassius and Labeo spoke with him concerning the matter, he gave them no answer; but, seeking an interview with Brutus himself alone, and finding that he was their captain, he readily consented to partake in the action. And among the others, also, the most and best were gained by the name of Brutus. And, though they neither gave nor took any oath of secrecy, nor used any other sacred rite to assure their fidelity to each other, yet all kept their design so close, were so wary, and held it so silently among themselves that, though by prophecies and apparitions and signs in the sacrifices the gods gave warning of it, yet could it not be believed.

Portia, wife of Brutus, a heroine in Shakespeare's play

“But a meeting of the senate being appointed, at which it was believed that Caesar would be present, they agreed to make use of that opportunity; for then they might appear all together without suspicion; and, besides, they hoped that all the noblest and leading men of the commonwealth, being then assembled as soon as the great deed was done, would immediately stand forward and assert the common liberty. The very place too where the senate was to meet seemed to be by divine appointment favourable to their purpose. It was a portico, one of those joining the theatre, with a large recess, in which there stood a statue of Pompey, erected to him by the commonwealth, when he adorned that part of the city with the porticos and the theatre. To this place it was that the senate was summoned for the middle of March (the Ides of March is the Roman name for the day); as if some more than human power were leading the man thither, there to meet his punishment for the death of Pompey.

“As soon as it was day, Brutus, taking with him a dagger, which none but his wife knew of, went out. The rest met together at Cassiuss house, and brought forth his son that was that day to put on the manly gown, as it is called, into the forum; and from thence, going all to Pompeys porch, stayed there, expecting Caesar to come without delay to the senate. Here it was chiefly that any one who had known what they had purposed, would have admired the unconcerned temper and the steady resolution of these men in their most dangerous undertaking; for many of them, being praetors, and called upon by their office to judge and determine causes, did not only hear calmly all that made application to them and pleaded against each other before them, as if they were free from all other thoughts, but decided causes with as much accuracy and judgment as they had heard them with attention and patience. And when one person refused to stand to the award of Brutus, and with great clamour and many attestations appealed to Caesar, Brutus, looking round about him upon those that were present, said, "Caesar does not hinder me, nor will he hinder me, from doing according to the laws."...

“For now news was brought that Caesar was coming, carried in a litter. For, being discouraged by the ill-omens that attended his sacrifice, he had determined to undertake no affairs of any great importance that day, but to defer them till another time, excusing himself that he was sick. As soon as he came out of his litter, Popilius Laenas, he who but a little before had wished Brutus good success in his undertaking, coming up to him, conversed a great while with him, Caesar standing still all the while, and seeming to be very attentive. The conspirators (to give them this name), not being able to hear what he said, but guessing by what themselves were conscious of that this conference was the discovery of their treason, were again disheartened, and, looking upon one another, agreed from each others countenances that they should not stay to be taken, but should all kill themselves. And now when Cassius and some others were laying hands upon their daggers under their robes, and were drawing them out, Brutus, viewing narrowly the looks and gesture of Laenas, and finding that he was earnestly petitioning and not accusing, said nothing, because there were many strangers to the conspiracy mingled amongst them: but by a cheerful countenance encouraged Cassius. And after a little while, Laenas, having kissed Caesars hand, went away, showing plainly that all his discourse was about some particular business relating to himself.”

Suetonius on the Assassination of Caesar

Suetonius wrote: ““As he took his seat, the conspirators gathered about him as if to pay their respects, and straightway Tillius Cimber, who had assumed the lead, came nearer as though to ask something; and when Caesar with a gesture put him off to another time, Cimber caught his toga by both shoulders; then as Caesar cried, "Why, this is violence!" one of the Cascas stabbed him from one side just below the throat. Caesar caught Casca's arm and ran it through with his stylus, but as he tried to leap to his feet, he was stopped by another wound. When he saw that he was beset on every side by drawn daggers, he muffled his head in his robe, and at the same time drew down its lap to his feet with his left hand, in order to fall more decently, with the lower part of his body also covered. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

“And in this wise he was stabbed with three and twenty wounds, uttering not a word, but merely a groan at the first stroke, though some have written that when Marcus Brutus rushed at him, he said in Greek, 'You too, my child?" All the conspirators made off, and he lay there lifeless for some time, until finally three common slaves put him on a litter and carried him home, with one arm hanging down. And of so many wounds none turned out to be mortal, in the opinion of the physician Antistius, except the second one in the breast. The conspirators had intended after slaying him to drag his body to the Tiber, confiscate his property, and revoke his decrees; but they forebore through fear of Marcus Antonius the consul, and Lepidus, the master of horse.

“Then at the request of his father-in-law, Lucius Piso, the will was unsealed and read in Antonius' house, which Caesar had made on the preceding Ides of September at his place near Lavicum [September 18, 45 B.C.], and put in the care of the chief of the Vestals. Quintus Tubero states that from his first consulship until the beginning of the civil war it was his wont to write down Gnaeus Pompeius as his heir, and to read this to the assembled soldiers. In his last will, however, he named three heirs, his sisters' grandsons — Gaius Octavius (to three-fourths of his estate), and Lucius Pinarius and Quintus Pedius (to share the remainder). At the end of the will, too, he adopted Gaius Octavius into his family and gave him his name. He named several of his assassins among the guardians of his son, in case one should be born to him, and Decimus Brutus even among his heirs in the second degree. To the people he left his gardens near the Tiber for their common use and three hundred sesterces to each man.

Plutarch on Caesar’s Assassination

Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: “The scene of this murder, in which the senate met that day, was the same in which Pompey’s statue stood, and was one of the edifices which Pompey had raised and dedicated with his theatre to the use of the public, plainly showing that there was something of a supernatural influence which guided the action, and ordered it to that particular place. Cassius, just before the act, is said to have looked towards Pompey’s statue, and silently implored his assistance, though he had been inclined to the doctrines of Epicurus. But this occasion and the instant danger, carried him away out of all his reasonings, and filled him for the time with a sort of inspiration. As for Antony, who was firm to Cæsar, and a strong man, Brutus Albinus kept him outside the house, and delayed him with a long conversation contrived on purpose. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

“When Cæsar entered, the senate stood up to show their respect to him, and of Brutus’s confederates, some came about his chair and stood behind it, others met him, pretending to add their petitions to those of Tillius Cimber, in behalf of his brother, who was in exile; and they followed him with their joint supplications till he came to his seat. When he was sat down, he refused to comply with their requests, and upon their urging him further, began to reproach them severally for their importunities, when Tillius, laying hold of his robe with both his hands, pulled it down from his neck, which was the signal for the assault. Casca gave him the first cut, in the neck, which was not mortal nor dangerous, as coming from one who at the beginning of such a bold action was probably very much disturbed. Cæsar immediately turned about, and laid his hand upon the dagger and kept hold of it. And both of them at the same time cried out, he that received the blow, in Latin, “Vile Casca, what does this mean?” and he that gave it, in Greek, to his brother, “Brother, help!”


“Upon this first onset, those who were not privy to the design were astonished, and their horror and amazement at what they saw were so great, that they durst not fly nor assist Cæsar, nor so much as speak a word. But those who came prepared for the business inclosed him on every side, with their naked daggers in their hands. Which way soever he turned, he met with blows, and saw their swords levelled at his face and eyes, and was encompassed, like a wild beast in the toils, on every side. For it had been agreed they should each of them make a thrust at him, and flesh themselves with his blood; for which reason Brutus also gave him one stab in the groin. Some say that he fought and resisted all the rest, shifting his body to avoid the blows, and calling out for help, but that when he saw Brutus’s sword drawn, he covered his face with his robe and submitted, letting himself fall, whether it were by chance, or that he was pushed in that direction by his murderers, at the foot of the pedestal on which Pompey’s statue stood, and which was thus wetted with his blood. So that Pompey himself seemed to have presided, as it were, over the revenge done upon his adversary, who lay here at his feet, and breathed out his soul through his multitude of wounds, for they say he received three and twenty. And the conspirators themselves were many of them wounded by each other, whilst they all levelled their blows at the same person.”

In the account of the assassination from Brutus’s biography, Plutarch wrote: “Now when the senate was gone in before to the chamber where they were to sit, the rest of the company placed themselves close about Caesars chair, as if they had some suit to make to him, and Cassius, turning his face to Pompeys statue, is said to have invoked it, as if it had been sensible of his prayers. Trebonius, in the meanwhile, engaged Antonys attention at the door, and kept him in talk outside. When Caesar entered, the whole senate rose up to him. As soon as he was sat down, the men all crowded round about him, and set Tillius Cimber, one of their own number, to intercede in behalf of his brother that was banished; they all joined their prayers with his, and took Caesar by the hand, and kissed his head and his breast. But he putting aside at first their supplications, and afterwards, when he saw they would not desist, violently rising up, Tillius with both hands caught hold of his robe and pulled it off from his shoulders, and Casca, that stood behind him, drawing his dagger, gave him the first, but a slight wound, about the shoulder. Caesar snatching hold of the handle of the dagger, and crying out aloud in Latin, "Villain Casca, what do you?" he, calling in Greek to his brother, bade him come and help. And by this time, finding himself struck by a great many hands, and looking around about him to see if he could force his way out, when he saw Brutus with his dagger drawn against him, he let go Cascas hand, that he had hold of and covering his head with his robe, gave up his body to their blows. And they so eagerly pressed towards the body, and so many daggers were hacking together, that they cut one another; Brutus, particularly, received a wound in his hand, and all of them were besmeared with the blood. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), The Assassination of Julius Caesar, from Marcus Brutus, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

After Caesar’s Assassination

After the murder Caesar's onetime ally Marc Anthony, went to the Roman Forum "to bury Caesar, not to praise him." Brutus attempted to give a speech at the Forum and was shouted down and then was forced to barricade himself and other conspirators at the Capitol. Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: “When Cæsar was dispatched, Brutus stood forth to give a reason for what they had done, but the senate would not hear him, but flew out of doors in all haste, and filled the people with so much alarm and distraction, that some shut up their houses, others left their counters and shops. All ran one way or the other, some to the place to see the sad spectacle, others back again after they had seen it. Antony and Lepidus, Cæsar’s most faithful friends, got off privately, and hid themselves in some friends’ houses. Brutus and his followers, being yet hot from the deed, marched in a body from the senate-house to the capitol with their drawn swords, not like persons who thought of escaping, but with an air of confidence and assurance, and as they went along, called to the people to resume their liberty, and invited the company of any more distinguished people whom they met. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

“And some of these joined the procession and went up along with them, as if they also had been of the conspiracy, and could claim a share in the honor of what had been done. As, for example, Caius Octavius and Lentulus Spinther, who suffered afterwards for their vanity, being taken off by Antony and the young Cæsar, and lost the honor they desired, as well as their lives, which it cost them, since no one believed they had any share in the action. For neither did those who punished them profess to revenge the fact, but the ill-will. The day after, Brutus with the rest came down from the capitol, and made a speech to the people, who listened without expressing either any pleasure or resentment, but showed by their silence that they pitied Cæsar, and respected Brutus. The senate passed acts of oblivion for what was past, and took measures to reconcile all parties. They ordered that Cæsar should be worshipped as a divinity, and nothing, even of the slightest consequence, should be revoked, which he had enacted during his government. At the same time they gave Brutus and his followers the command of provinces, and other considerable posts. So that all people now thought things were well settled, and brought to the happiest adjustment.

“But when Cæsar’s will was opened, and it was found that he had left a considerable legacy to each one of the Roman citizens, and when his body was seen carried through the market-place all mangled with wounds, the multitude could no longer contain themselves within the bounds of tranquillity and order, but heaped together a pile of benches, bars, and tables, which they placed the corpse on, and setting fire to it, burnt it on them. Then they took brands from the pile, and ran some to fire the houses of the conspirators, others up and down the city, to find out the men and tear them to pieces, but met, however, with none of them, they having taken effectual care to secure themselves.”

In the account of the assassination from Brutus’s biography, Plutarch wrote: “Caesar being thus slain, Brutus, stepping forth into the midst, intended to have made a speech, and called back and encouraged the senators to stay; but they all affrighted ran away in great disorder, and there was a great confusion and press at the door, though none pursued or followed. For they had come to an express resolution to kill nobody beside Caesar, but to call and invite all the rest to liberty. It was indeed the opinion of all the others, when they consulted about the execution of their design, that it was necessary to cut off Antony with Caesar, looking upon him as an insolent man, an affecter of monarchy, and one that, by his familiar intercourse, had gained a powerful interest with the soldiers. And this they urged the rather, because at that time to the natural loftiness and ambition of his temper there was added the dignity of being counsel and colleague to Caesar. But Brutus opposed this consul, insisting first upon the injustice of it, and afterwards giving them hopes that a change might be worked in Antony. For he did not despair but that so highly gifted and honourable a man, and such a lover of glory as Antony, stirred up with emulation of their great attempt, might, if Caesar were once removed, lay hold of the occasion to be joint restorer with them of the liberty of his country. Thus did Brutus save Antony's life. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), The Assassination of Julius Caesar, from Marcus Brutus, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

Caesar’s Funeral

Caesar carried out of the Senate

Suetonius wrote: “When the funeral was announced, a pyre was erected in the Campus Martius near the tomb of Julia, and on the rostra a gilded shrine was placed, made after the model of the temple of Venus Genetrix; within was a couch of ivory with coverlets of purple and gold, and at its head a pillar hung with the robe in which he was slain. Since it was clear that the day would not be long enough for those who offered gifts, they were directed to bring them to the Campus by whatsoever streets of the city they wished, regardless of any order of precedence. At the funeral games, to rouse pity and indignation at his death, these words from the Armorum of Pacuvius were sung: — - 'Saved I these men that they might murder me?" and words of a like purport from the Electra of Atilius. Instead of a eulogy the consul Antonius caused a herald to recite the decree of the Senate in which it had voted Caesar all divine and human honors at once, and likewise the oath with which they had all pledged themselves to watch over his personal safety; to which he added a very few words of his own.

The bier on the rostra was carried down into the Forum by magistrates and ex-magistrates; and while some were urging that it be burned in the temple of Jupiter of the Capitol, and others in the Curia of Pompeius, on a sudden two beings [cf. the apparition at the Rubicon] with swords by their sides and brandishing a pair of darts set fire to it with blazing torches, and at once the throng of bystanders heaped upon it dry branches, the judgment seats with the benches, and whatever else could serve as an offering. Then the musicians and actors tore off their robes, which they had taken from the equipment of his triumphs and put on for the occasion, rent them to bits and threw them into the flames, and the veterans of the legions the arms with which they had adorned themselves for the funeral; many of the women too, offered up the jewels which they wore and the amulets and robes of their children. At the height of the public grief a throng of foreigners went about lamenting each after the fashion of his country, above all the Jews, who even flocked to the place for several successive nights. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

“Immediately after the funeral the people ran to the houses of Brutus and Cassius with firebrands, and after being repelled with difficulty, they slew Helvius Cinna when they met him, through a mistake in the name, supposing that he was Cornelius Cinna, who had the day before made a bitter indictment of Caesar and for whom they were looking; and they set his head upon a spear and paraded it about the streets. Afterwards they set up in the Forum a solid column of Numidian marble almost twenty feet high, and inscribed upon it, "To the Father of his Country." At the foot of this they continued for a long time to sacrifice, make vows, and settle some of their disputes by an oath in the name of Caesar.

“Caesar left in the minds of some of his friends the suspicion that he did not wish to live longer and had taken no precautions, because of his failing health; and that therefore he neglected the warnings which came to him from portents and from the reports of his friends. Some think that it was because he had full trust in that last decree of the senators and their oath that he dismissed even the armed bodyguard of Hispanic soldiers that formerly attended him. Others, on the contrary, believe that he elected to expose himself once for all to the plots that threatened him on every hand, rather than to be always anxious and on his guard. Some, too, say that he was wont to declare that it was not so much to his own interest as to that of his country that he remain alive; he had long since had his fill of power and glory; but if aught befell him, the Republic would have no peace, but would be plunged in civil strife under much worse conditions.

“About one thing almost all are fully agreed, that he all but desired such a death as he met; for once when he read in Xenophon [Cyropedeia, 8.7] how Cyrus in his last illness gave directions for his funeral, he expressed his horror of such a lingering kind of end and his wish for one which was swift and sudden. And the day before his murder, in a conversation which arose at a dinner at the house of Marcus Lepidus, as to what manner of death was most to be desired, he had given his preference to one which was sudden and unexpected.

“He died in the fifty-sixth year of his age, and was numbered among the gods, not only by a formal decree, but also in the conviction of the common people. For at the first of the games which his heir Augustus gave in honor of his apotheosis, a comet shone for seven successive days, rising about the eleventh hour [about an hour before sunset] and was believed to be the soul of Caesar, who had been taken to heaven; and this is why a star is set upon the crown of his head in his statue. It was voted that the curia in which he was slain be walled up, that the Ides of March be called the Day of Parricide, and that a meeting of the senate should never be called on that day. Hardly any of his assassins survived him for more than three years, or died a natural death. They were all condemned, and they perished in various ways — some by shipwreck, some in battle; some took their own lives with the self-same dagger with which they had impiously slain Caesar.

Caesar's funeral

Fate of Cassius and Brutus

Plutarch wrote in “Lives”:“One Cinna, a friend of Cæsar’s, chanced the night before to have an odd dream. He fancied that Cæsar invited him to supper, and that upon his refusal to go with him, Cæsar took him by the hand and forced him, though he hung back. Upon hearing the report that Cæsar’s body was burning in the market-place, he got up and went thither, out of respect to his memory, though his dream gave him some ill apprehensions, and though he was suffering from a fever. One of the crowd who saw him there, asked another who that was, and having learned his name, told it to his next neighbor. It presently passed for a certainty that he was one of Cæsar’s murderers, as, indeed, there was another Cinna, a conspirator, and they, taking this to be the man, immediately seized him, and tore him limb from limb upon the spot. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

“Brutus and Cassius, frightened at this, within a few days retired out of the city. What they afterwards did and suffered, and how they died, is written in the Life of Brutus. Cæsar died in his fifty-sixth year, not having survived Pompey above four years. That empire and power which he had pursued through the whole course of his life with so much hazard, he did at last with much difficulty compass, but reaped no other fruits from it than the empty name and invidious glory. But the great genius which attended him through his lifetime, even after his death remained as the avenger of his murder, pursuing through every sea and land all those who were concerned in it, and suffering none to escape, but reaching all who in any sort or kind were either actually engaged in the fact, or by their counsels any way promoted it.

“The most remarkable of mere human coincidences was that which befell Cassius, who, when he was defeated at Philippi, killed himself with the same dagger which he had made use of against Cæsar. The most signal preter-natural appearances were the great comet, which shone very bright for seven nights after Cæsar’s death, and then disappeared, and the dimness of the sun,* whose orb continued pale and dull for the whole of that year, never showing its ordinary radiance at its rising, and giving but a weak and feeble heat. The air consequently was damp and gross, for want of stronger rays to open and rarify it. The fruits, for that reason, never properly ripened, and began to wither and fall off for want of heat, before they were fully formed. But above all, the phantom which appeared to Brutus showed the murder was not pleasing to the gods. The story of it is this.

Caesar's ghost appears to Brutus in the Shakespeare play

“Brutus being to pass his army from Abydos to the continent on the other side, laid himself down one night, as he used to do, in his tent, and was not asleep, but thinking of his affairs, and what events he might expect. For he is related to have been the least inclined to sleep of all men who have commanded armies, and to have had the greatest natural capacity for continuing awake, and employing himself without need of rest. He thought he heard a noise at the door of his tent, and looking that way, by the light of his lamp, which was almost out, saw a terrible figure, like that of a man, but of unusual stature and severe countenance. He was somewhat frightened at first, but seeing it neither did nor spoke any thing to him, only stood silently by his bed-side, he asked who it was. The spectre answered him, “Thy evil genius, Brutus, thou shalt see me at Philippi.” Brutus answered courageously, “Well, I shall see you,” and immediately the appearance vanished. When the time was come, he drew up his army near Philippi against Antony and Cæsar, and in the first battle won the day, routed the enemy, and plundered Cæsar’s camp. The night before the second battle, the same phantom appeared to him again, but spoke not a word. He presently understood his destiny was at hand, and exposed himself to all the danger of the battle. Yet he did not die in the fight, but seeing his men defeated, got up to the top of a rock, and there presenting his sword to his naked breast, and assisted, as they say, by a friend, who helped him to give the thrust, met his death.”

Initial Limited Political Fallout After Caesar’s Death

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Cicero approved of the result if not the method” of Caesar’s death;” he says repeatedly in his letters that the Ides of March was a glorious day. Cicero had encouraged the assassins to their deed on the Ides of March, but neither he nor they had a plan for restoring the Republic afterwards. Having allowed Antony to regain the initiative, Cicero retired to his villa at Puteoli in the spring of 44. There are surviving over 200 letters written by Cicero between the Ides of March and his own death; thus there is a nearly unique opportunity for constructing a detailed account of the politics of the day. Cicero put forward no clear political or military solutions in the aftermath of the Ides; instead, he wrung his hands over the situation and hoped that someone else would take the lead. Is Cicero to blame for his indecision in these months, or was he simply being cautious and prudent, waiting for a better opportunity and greater chances of success? [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“Surprisingly, Caesar's death did not lead to a quick renunciation of his acts or massive retaliation against his supporters. Cicero supported amnesty for the conspirators; The conspirators had not looked far beyond the tyrannicide, nor severed all of the hydra's heads. The second- and third-in-command in Caesar's organization were his magister equitum M. Aemilius Lepidus and his co-consul for 44, M. Antonius (Mark Antony). Cassius had proposed that Antony should be killed along with Caesar, but Brutus had prevailed with his opinion that Antony might live. Cicero's letters to Atticus from April of 44 give a sense of the uncertainty of the political situation. Anthony was rumoured to be hoarding grain in the capital, but for what purpose was not known; ^*^

Lepidus, Antony and Octavian

“Antony managed to effect a rapid deal, brokered by Cicero, with the Republicans: there was to be amnesty for Caesar's killers, but his acts were to be upheld. Why did Brutus and Cassius agree to this compromise, which seems to undercut the purpose of their deed? The answer is military power; the conspirators could kill the dictator, but they could not change the fact that Antony had lost no time in bringing some of Lepidus' legions from Spain and Gallia Narbonensis (S. France). Nor did Antony intend to let go the reins of power. At the funeral oration for Caesar, he surprised his erstwhile Republican "allies" by igniting the wrath of the crowd against the tyrannicides; Brutus and Cassius were forced to flee from Italy, but they fled not into oblivion. Already assigned to safeguard the corn supply from Libya and Egypt, they made for the more fertile recruiting grounds of Macedonia, Asia, and Syria. In fact this episode was a deliberate attempt by Antony to consolidate his position as the successor of Julius Caesar (Plut. Cicero 42 over Suet. Iul. 84). It is true that Caesar managed to curry favor with the people even after his death by leaving 300 sesterces to every Roman citizen. However, there is a further reason why the historical record represented the event as a popular uprising against the murderers of Caesar, that it was consistent with Octavian's later claim to have been carrying out the popular will in avenging the death of Caesar.” ^*^

Rivalry Between Mark Anthony and Octavian After Caesar's Death

After Caesar's assassination in 44 B.C., Octavian's connection to Caesar boosted him on the political scene. At that time Octavian (Augustus) was seen as a “deceptively, malleable-seeming” 18-year-old. “He is wholely devoted to me," Cicero boasted, not long before the youth cut a deal to have him murdered.

Octavian joined with Antony and Lepidus to form a Triumvirate (“Group of Three). Octavian was able get Caesar's old soldiers behind him and win the support of the Senate.

The Triumvirate battled Cassius and Brutus for control of Rome during five years of civil war. After defeating the armies of Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Phillipi in 42 B.C., Lepidus was stripped of his power and Octavian and Marc Antony divided the empire, with Octavian getting Italy and the west and Antony getting the east.

Mark Anthony and Octavian, shared power for ten years until Octavian declared war on Antony's lover's Cleopatra. While Antony and Cleopatra were enjoying themselves, Octavian was building up his army and navy and preparing for a fight.

Caesar’s Legacy

Plutarch wrote in “Lives”:“It is commonly said that public bodies are most insulting and contumelious to a good man, when they are puffed up with prosperity and success. But the contrary often happens; afflictions and public calamities naturally imbittering and souring the minds and tempers of men, and disposing them to such peevishness and irritability, that hardly any word or sentiment of common vigor can be addressed to them, but they will be apt to take offence. He that remonstrates with them on their errors, is presumed to be insulting over their misfortunes, and any free spoken expostulation is construed into contempt. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

Caesar's tomb

“Honey itself is searching in sore and ulcerated parts; and the wisest and most judicious counsels prove provoking to distempered minds, unless offered with those soothing and compliant approaches which made the poet, for instance, characterize agreeable things in general, by a word expressive of a grateful and easy touch,* exciting nothing of offence or resistance. Inflamed eyes require a retreat into dusky places, amongst colors of the deepest shades, and are unable to endure the brilliancy of light. So fares it in the body politic, in times of distress and humiliation; a certain sensitiveness and soreness of humor prevail, with a weak incapacity of enduring any free and open advice, even when the necessity of affairs most requires such plaindealing, and when the consequences of any single error may be beyond retrieving. At such times the conduct of public affairs is on all hands most hazardous. Those who humor the people are swallowed up in the common ruin; those who endeavor to lead them aright, perish the first in their attempt.

“Astronomers tell us, the sun’s motion is neither exactly parallel with that of the heavens in general, nor yet directly and diametrically opposite, but describing an oblique line, with insensible declination he steers his course in such a gentle, easy curve, as to dispense his light and influence, in his annual revolution, at several seasons, in just proportions to the whole creation. So it happens in political affairs; if the motions of rulers be constantly opposite and cross to the tempers and inclination of the people, they will be resented as arbitrary and harsh; as, on the other side, too much deference, or encouragement, as too often it has been, to popular faults and errors, is full of danger and ruinous consequences. But where concession is the response to willing obedience, and a statesman gratifies his people, that he may the more imperatively recall them to a sense of the common interest, then, indeed, human beings, who are ready enough to serve well and submit to much, if they are not always ordered about and roughly handled, like slaves, may be said to be guided and governed upon the method that leads to safety. Though it must be confessed, it is a nice point and extremely difficult, so to temper this lenity as to preserve the authority of the government. But if such a blessed mixture and temperament may be obtained, it seems to be of all concords and harmonies the most concordant and most harmonious. For thus we are taught even God governs the world, not by irresistible force, but persuasive argument and reason, controlling it into compliance with his eternal purposes.”

Place Where Julius Caesar was Stabbed Found

place Caesar was stabbed

In 2012, archaeologists with Spanish National Research Council announced that they had found the spot where it is believed that Julius Caesar was stabbed discovered: a concrete structure in the monumental complex of Torre Argentina in Rome. Stephanie Pappas wrote in Live Science: “Archaeologists have unearthed a concrete structure nearly 10 feet wide and 6.5 feet tall that may have been erected by Augustus, Julius Caesar's successor, to condemn the assassination. [Source: Stephanie Pappas, Live Science, October 11, 2012 +++]

“The structure is at the base of the Curia, or Theater, of Pompey, the spot where classical writers reported the stabbing took place. "We always knew that Julius Caesar was killed in the Curia of Pompey on March 15th 44 B.C. because the classical texts pass on so, but so far no material evidence of this fact, so often depicted in historicist painting and cinema, had been recovered," Antonio Monterroso, a researcher at the Spanish National Research Council, said in a statement. +++

“Classical texts also say that years after the assassination, the Curia was closed and turned into a memorial chapel for Caesar. The researchers are studying this building along with another monument in the same complex, the Portico of the Hundred Columns, or Hecatostylon; they are looking for links between the archaeology of the assassination and what has been portrayed in art. "It is very attractive, in a civic and citizen sense, that thousands of people today take the bus and the tram right next to the place where Julius Caesar was stabbed 2,056 years ago," Monterroso said.” +++

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except last picture Live Science

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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