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The Writer’s Almanac for March 15, 2017: Home

Mar. 15, 2017: death: Julius Caesar

Today is the Ides of Marchthe day Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by conspirators in 44 B.C.E.

The ambitious Julius had a tense relationship with the Roman Senate. The Senate felt he was a threat to the Republic, and that he had tyrannical leanings. The Senate had the real power, and any titles they gave him were intended to be honorary. They had conferred upon him the title of “dictator in perpetuity,” but when they went to where he sat in the Temple of Venus Genetrix to give him the news, he remained seated, which was considered a mark of disrespect. Thus offended, the Senate became sensitive to any hints that Julius Caesar viewed himself as a king or — worse — a god. The tribunes arrested any citizen who placed laurel crowns on statues of Julius, and Julius in turn censured the tribunes.

Senators Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus formed a group called the Liberators, who met in secret to conspire against Julius. Several assassination plots were put forward and rejected for one reason or another, but finally they settled on attacking him at a meeting of the Senate in the Theatre of Pompey. Only senators were allowed to be present, and knives could be easily concealed in the drapery of their togas.

In the days leading up to the assassination, several people warned Caesar not to attend the meeting of the Senate. Even his wife Calpurnia begged him not to go on the basis of a dream she had had, but Brutus convinced him that it would be unmanly to listen to gossip and the pleadings of a mere woman, so Julius set off. According to Plutarch, he passed a seer on his way. The seer had recently told Julius that great harm would come to him on the ides of March. Julius recognized the seer, and quipped, “The ides of March have come.” The seer remarked, “Aye, Caesar; but not gone.” When Julius arrived at the Senate, he was set upon by Brutus, Cassius, and the others, who stabbed him dozens of times. He slowly bled to death, and for several hours afterward, his body was left where he fell.

The assassination that was meant to save the Republic actually resulted, ultimately, in its downfall. It sparked a series of civil wars and led to Julius’ heir, Octavian, becoming Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor.